Worship: As you like it

Title Page of As You Like It from the Second FolioIn an article published recently by The Aquila Report, Rev. Terry Johnson bemoaned the liturgical chaos we find in the PCA and noted the display of this in the General Assembly worship services. I have greatly benefitted from the ministry of Rev. Johnson and I am definitely a co-belligerent in the effort to restore and promote distinctively Presbyterian worship. Although I appreciate his thoughts in this article, his focus upon preferring one style of worship over another is unhelpful and will always be unpersuasive. Moving the discussion in the direction of preferences simply dissolves it into a squabble about subjective tastes. I know Rev. Johnson is trying to find a way around that subjectivity in this article, but I’m afraid his efforts fail. The moment we say that all worship formats are valid, we’ve conceded that this is fundamentally just a debate about differing tastes.

From the article, Rev. Johnson:

‘I’m not saying that anything that was done was wrong or invalid per se. There are many ways to worship God. What separates various Christian groups is their disagreement as to what is the best way to worship.’

I have to disagree. The concert format led by non-ordained ‘worship leaders’ is wrong per se. It is indefensible from Scripture, and clearly contrary in its aims to the intentional framing of worship found everywhere in Scripture. Given other things I’ve heard and read from Rev. Johnson, I think he’d be inclined to agree with me were he in a less conciliatory mood than he appears to be in this article. 🙂

I think most theologically conservative Presbyterians miss how deep and wide the reach of the regulative principle is. Contrary to the modern framing of the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), it is not simply concerned with general worship practices or ideas that end up taking a wide variety of completely divergent forms. Rather, the RPW is concerned with anything that has religious significance in worship. When Rev. Johnson speaks of a ‘worship culture of Presbyterianism’ he’s getting closer to the mark, but I think he has it backwards. He describes this worship culture like a mindset we bring to worship decisions. Surely, there is some of that, but it is more the other way around. God so regulates worship in Scripture that He creates a recognisable ‘worship culture’ in His people that reaches all the way to what we do and how we do it, not merely as one stylistic preference over another, but as a conscious submission to the shaping effects of His commanded worship ordinances.

The decisions that shape our worship are to be driven by theologically thick and biblically defensible imperatives. I’m not talking about the trivialities of ‘chairs vs. pews’. I’m talking about anything that enters into the practice and piety, the devotion and meaning, of worship. God has given us far more to work with on this in Scripture than we are typically willing to admit. Frequently, we are unwilling to go where the Scriptures lead us because we find that direction uncomfortable or not in keeping with our cultural tastes.

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Helping Children Call the Sabbath a Delight

Over at the Purely Presbyterian web site they offer some helpful and practical advice on Sabbath keeping for parents with younger children. In our home, we came to practise all of these as we searched for ways to keep the Christian Sabbath with our children and to make our experience of the Lord’s Day special for them when they were younger. It’s encouraging to see that others have developed similar practices for the same reasons, and have summarised them here so helpfully!

Honoring sabbath with children2

Parents with young children who have recently become convicted about honoring the Christian Sabbath often find it extremely difficult to practically implement in their households. And to our shame, there is a dearth of mentors and church officers in their churches who can counsel them on how to practically honor the Lord’s Day. We don’t want to be legalistic tyrants in the household, yet we want to honor God joyfully with our families. We often think about what not to do, don’t work, don’t purchase things, etc., and those are important, but we rarely think about what positive activities we should do on the Lord’s Day. The following are some practical things Sabbatarian parents can implement to teach their children to joyfully honor God on the Lord’s Day, followed by a list of Sabbath appropriate resources.

Parents, especially fathers, should lead their families in spiritual recreations and worship on the Lord’s Day and seek to make the Sabbath a delight to everyone in the household. We should not divorce the concept of rest from the purpose of resting in Christ. Basically, you have one day a week to prepare yourself to face the trials of the week ahead through closer communion with Christ. Will you spend the hours of this day filling your mind and heart with the things of heaven? The key is spiritual recreation and worship. We participate in that which promotes thinking of, speaking about, and communing with, God. Many Christians continually pursue mountain-top experiences at camps, conferences, and revival meetings, yet our God intends to set us atop Mount Zion at the beginning of every week to behold the wonders of Christ and spend the following days living out of this close approach to our King.

The author goes on to give five very practical pieces of advice as well as many helpful resources for carrying out that advice. Read the brief article here.

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OldLife » Confessing Sin One Church Officer at a Time

Over at OldLife.org, Dr Hart has published a brief article by Pastor Jonathan Inman, a fellow Elder in the PCA. According to the introductory comment, Pastor Inman submitted this to the PCA denominational periodical, ByFaith magazine, but they declined to publish it.

Fully a third of our BCO is devoted to how our courts should deal with our members’ sin, and one section in particular, BCO 38-1, spells out how our courts should receive confessions of sin. I do not begrudge anyone’s earnest attempts to deal honestly and graciously with the sins of God’s people. I am calling upon the officers of the PCA to do so in a fashion to which we’ve all agreed.

If you think you have sinned, and not just a little, or in some ordinary fashion, but in an especially heinous sort of way, then 38-1 is totally the way to go. Serious sins, public sins, sins perpetrated by officers of the church – if ever there were occasion for serious, public and official confession and judgment, wouldn’t this be it? And all without the rigmarole of process!

Read Pastor Inman’s brief and thought provoking article at Old Life!

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Summary Critique of the New PCA Agenda

A friend asked me to summarise my critique of the new PCA Agenda. What follows is a very brief summary of my critique based on many weeks of Sabbath School discussions ranging across the broad sweep of the proposed agenda. It is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to be brief and summary.

There are typically three subjects used as motivations urging the PCA to adopt a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural agenda of ‘diversity’ and racial reconciliation. Those subjects are statistics, bible examples, and history. In relation to our history, it is argued that we must repent and demonstrate our repentance by specific actions. I’ll address these one at a time. Continue reading

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Born this way…

Here are some thoughts I jotted down a while back about whether we are responsible for our feelings and dispositions even if we do not choose them or act upon them. This matter comes up generally in theological discussions of guilt and culpability, often with the assertion that we cannot be held morally responsible for how we feel but only for how we act. This perspective is frequently expanded to vindicate same sex attraction by suggesting that the absence of volition also removes culpability. The follow-on to that suggestion is that such feelings and inclinations must be viewed as innocent and natural if they are inborn. Quite apart from the ethical incoherence of this latter expanded position, the former assertion, that we are not morally responsible for our dispositions or feelings, is entirely contrary to biblical morality.

Heart sins are still sins even if they are not taken to the level of overt actions. For example, this is Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5.21ff regarding heart dispositions of hatred and overt actions of murder, in Matthew 5.27ff regarding heart dispositions of lust and overt actions of adultery, in Matthew 5.33ff regarding heart dispositions of duplicity and overt lies. James teaches us that overt sins arise out of sinful dispositions or desires (1.13ff; 4.1ff). As we confess in Westminster Larger Catechism 99 part 2, the Moral Law of God addresses inward dispositions of the soul and not only outward actions. ‘2. That it is spiritual, and so reacheth the understanding, will, affections, and all other powers of the soul; as well as words, works, and gestures.’ (Romans 7.14; Deuteronomy 6.5; Matthew 22.37-39; Matthew 5.21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37-39, 43-44)

Of course, this is part of what folks find so offensive in this context. If I’m born this way, they say, then I can’t be held responsible because I didn’t choose. This is one reason why Reformed Protestants are sometimes despised: we teach the doctrine of original sin; that is, we are conceived already guilty of Adam’s first sin, and corrupted in our whole nature, apart from any act of our own will (Westminster Shorter Catechism 18).

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Biblical guidance for parents of prodigals

Reverend Batzig provides practical and biblical advice for parents when their children stray from the faith.

What Should We Do When They Stray?

Heart

Of all the painful experiences that I have had to face through nearly a decade in ministry—the death of a mother, couples enduring the heartbreak of miscarriage, strife, abuse, divorce, scandal, etc.—having to walk with a godly father and mother through the dark shadows of having a child rebel is among the most difficult. There are many difficult and painful experiences that ministers face, but the spiritual rebellion of a child of a believer weighs heavily on the heart of any true minister of the Gospel. Perhaps it weighs heavy on my heart because I was one such rebellious child brought up in a Christian home. Though I was nurtured in an extremely spiritually and theologically strong Christians home, I ran from it–and to the spiritual darkness and sin of this world–as far and as fast as I could.

Drawing from the example of his own parents when he strayed from the faith as a young man, Reverend Batzig describes practical spiritual care focussing on the power of prayer and God’s Word in the mystery of God’s Providence. I encourage you to read this helpful article at the Feeding on Christ blog.

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Calvin on Sacramental Efficacy

Calvin offers these helpful insights in his comments on Deuteronomy 30.6.

JohnCalvin

6. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart. This promise far surpasses all the others, and properly refers to the new Covenant, for thus it is interpreted by Jeremiah, who introduces God thus speaking,—“Behold, the days come that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, … which covenant they brake, … but … I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” (Jer. 31:31–33.) Moses now declares the same thing in different words, that, lest the Israelites, according to their wonted instability, should fall back from time to time into new rebellions, a divine remedy was needed, i.e., that God should renew and mould their hearts. In short, he reminds them that this would be the chief advantage of their reconciliation, that God should endow them with the Spirit of regeneration. There is a metaphor in this word circumcise; for Moses alludes to the legal sign of consecration, whereby they were initiated into the service of God. The expression, therefore, is equivalent to his saying, God will create you spiritually to be new men, so that, cleansed from the filth of the flesh and the world, and separated from the unclean nations, you should serve Him in purity. Meanwhile, he shews that, whatever God offers us in the Sacraments, depends on the secret operation of His Spirit. Circumcision was then the Sacrament of repentance and renewal, as Baptism is now to us; but “the letter,” as Paul calls it, (Rom. 2:27,) was useless in itself, as also now many are baptized to no profit. So far, then, is God from resigning the grace of His Spirit to the Sacraments, that all their efficacy and utility is lodged in the Spirit alone.

Calvin, J. & Bingham, C.W., 2010. Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software. (Emphasis added.)

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What’s the big deal with intinction? Who cares?

Bread CupLast week at the Tennessee Valley Presbytery meeting, we had the opportunity to take up the matter of intinction. Intinction is the practice of serving the two elements of the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine, in a mixed form typically by dipping the bread into the wine.

The 2012 General Assembly passed an amendment to our Book of Church Order (BCO) to clarify that intinction is not a proper way to administer the Lord’s Supper. Before that amendment can become an official part of our church order, it must be approved by 2/3 of the Presbyteries. So, this was the matter before us.

Now, the BCO is already sufficiently clear as it states that the bread is to be distributed with distinct biblical instruction prior to the distribution of the cup which also has distinct biblical instruction. However, that is not clear enough for the many who are practising intinction in the PCA.

Sadly, we voted down the amendment leaving the current wording in place without clarification. There was no real opportunity for debate, either. What time was permitted was taken up with a great deal of fussing and fuming over the fact that this matter was even being discussed at all. Much was said against the amendment, but before any answer could be given, someone called for the vote and it was over.

Since there was no opportunity afforded in Presbytery to answer the questions and comments opposing the amendment, I’d like to take the opportunity here. I’ll enumerate many of the arguments raised and provide an answer for each.

  1. ‘The men who are practising intinction are doing a work of evangelism where others are not and we should not hinder them.’

    A: How is intinction a tool for evangelising those whom others have not reached? Are the men practising intinction using it in ‘open’ communion and calling the unreached to come and partake? Surely not. If the sacrament is being served only to those who have made a profession of faith and have been admitted to the table, then how is intinction related to more effective evangelism at all? This would appear to be a bit of a red herring.

  2. ‘These men are actually trying to be more biblical by having a common cup. But to avoid concerns over germs and disease they have to use intinction.’

    A: It is not at all clear that a common cup is more biblical, but even supposing that it is, the common cup does not require intinction. There are other ways to use a common cup without overthrowing the plain instruction of Christ to serve bread separate from wine in two separate sacramental actions. There are other solutions.

  3. ‘How can we address this detail of the Lord’s Supper when there are so many other details that might also be called into question, such as reclining at a table rather than sitting in pews, using wine rather than grape juice, using leavened or unleavened bread?’

    A: This is the fallacy of suggesting that we must do nothing unless we can do everything. That is simply false. By all means, let us consider these other issues in their turn to see if the Bible is as plain about them as it is about intinction! But we have not been asked to address everything. We have been asked to address one thing. Let’s do that.

  4. ‘What about the utility of intinction for ministering the Lord’s Supper to shut-ins or the to infirm?’

    A: The Lord’s Supper is to be administered in public worship and never in private ceremonies (WCF 29.3-4). Consequently, it’s unclear to me how the shut-in question makes sense here. But even if a private ceremony were permissible (and it is not), it would not require intinction. In the case of the infirm, assuming that there is difficulty in eating and drinking, a small flake of bread may be given rather than a full piece, and a small drop of wine on the tongue rather than a full swallow. So, even if intinction were biblically acceptable (and it is not), there is no practical advantage to it here.

  5. ‘I can’t believe we’re even talking about this! Why does this matter at all?’

    A: First, the right administration of the Sacraments is one of the marks of a true church. This is one of the reasons why Presbyterians are not Lutherans or Baptists. The details about the Sacraments matter. Second, the Sacraments are the Gospel in visible form. Getting the details of the Gospel right is important whether in the preached Word or in the visible Word. Third, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of Christ crucified. Christ did not say, ‘Do this for better outreach,’ or ‘Do this however it is most meaningful to you.’ He said, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ It is a memorial of Christ crucified and we should lovingly care about the details of how He said to remember Him right before He took the full bloody wrath of Hell for us. The details of this should matter to us.

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Aquila Report – Dear Worship Pastor: It’s Not About You

And for the new year, The Aquila Report has posted an [article](http://theaquilareport.com/dear-worship-pastor-its-not-about-you/) written by Timothy Dalrymple from Patheos.com urging better ‘praise and worship’ style leadership, with this as the introductory paragraph:

> I enjoy praise and worship. I really do. And I appreciate the enormous effort and the talent that goes into excellent worship leadership. I hesitate to admit the following, because it seems like someone with a theology doctorate ought to be motivated by more cerebral concerns, but a significant (major but not main) part of why I made Perimeter Church my home church is because I enjoy it so much when Laura Story (whose “Blessings” won a Grammy this past year) leads worship there. That woman has an anointing; that’s the only way I can explain it. I am *moved* by her voice and her worship leadership.

Wow. So much broken in such a short introduction — where to begin?

* The Aquila Report focusses on news from a very broadly Reformed and Presbyterian interest perspective; what a shame that an article focussing on fine-tuning ‘praise and worship’ style leadership is worthy of editorial interest in such a religious news venue. Note, it definitely *is* the right editorial choice given the Presbyterian and Reformed landscape today. *That’s* what is a shame.
* Perimeter Church hides it well, but it is a member congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. From what I know of modern church growth dogma, strong denominational convictions are considered a hinderance to outreach, so that may be the motivation for the leadership of Perimeter Church downplaying their PCA affiliation. I could be thankful that they don’t make their affiliation obvious since their worship practice is so embarrassing, but of course Perimeter’s practice is exactly what the mainline of the PCA is all about. So really, why hide it?
* Practically speaking, Dr Dalrymple considers Laura Story of Perimeter Church to be a Worship Pastor. I suppose that Perimeter’s leadership would dispute that assessment, but this is a practical reason why we shouldn’t have women lead in worship. The role of leading in worship is *pastoral* and thus belongs to the ordained ministry, the pastors of the church.
* And, Dr Dalrymple has determined that Laura Story has an anointing! She is uniquely and supernaturally gifted by the Holy Spirit for her pastoral office and calling? Really? By his own confession, this is his *emotional* assessment. However, we know from the Scriptures that his is an errant assessment. This is a good example of why we worship ‘head first’ so that our heart may be enflamed by truth and not led into error.

Let us pray for a revival of Confessional Presbyterianism in our day. Let it start with us.

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Dr Sproul on the Church Celebrating Christmas

Mistletoe - WikipediaThe Aquila Report published a story from the Ligonier Ministries web site where the esteemed Dr R. C. Sproul shared his thoughts on the church celebrating Christmas. In that post Dr Sproul comments, ‘I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating his birthday every year.’

That statement is rather startling as it stands (Really? Nothing more pleasing to Christ?), but I suppose we should understand Dr Sproul to be speaking with some measure of hyperbole. Dr Sproul continues.

While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation…

While Dr Sproul imagines that the invention of an annual church holiday celebrating the Incarnation is a good thing, he admits it is not something required by God in Scripture.

This is remarkable coming from a conservative Presbyterian minister who suggests that the Westminster Standards ‘are the most precise and accurate summaries of the content of biblical Christianity ever set forth in a creedal form…’ That creed speaks specifically and clearly to the matter of worship approved by God, as well as to the matter of ecclesiastical holidays invented by men.

But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (From Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, ¶1.)

Acceptable worship is only that which God has revealed as approved in His Word. This means that God may not be worshipped according to what we imagine may be good but rather He is to be worshiped only in the way He Himself has established in Scripture.

And this is not an isolated teaching of this creed, but is integral to the doctrine of holy worship which it confesses to be revealed in Scripture.

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God … [in] any … way not appointed in his word. (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 51)

Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; all … corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever… (Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 109)

Now, presumably Dr Sproul simply doesn’t believe the portions of this creedal standard that speak to the matter of biblical worship, but Dr Sproul goes much further, even admiring Rome for manufacturing holy days!

I wish we had more annual festivals. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, celebrates with great joy the Feast of the Ascension every year. Some Protestant bodies do, but most do not. I wish we would celebrate that great event…

Christ has established a holy day, the first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath. We have 52 of these divinely appointed holy days each year. Each one of these sacred holidays is filled up to overflowing with worship ordinances that are saturated with the Word and commanded by God! Each Lord’s Day the New Testament priesthood of believers celebrates the fulness of Christ, our exalted Prophet, Priest, and King in all His glorious self revelation through Word and Sacrament. Is this not sufficient for our spiritual good? Are God’s appointments inadequate so that we must manufacture our own holy days and our own ritual piety to meet our own spiritual needs? Does not God’s Word go far enough in telling us what is pleasing to Him in sacred matters? Must we rather add our own inventions? When did God approve of such a thing ever in all of Scripture? To the contrary, has not this behaviour eventually brought the severest judgements of God upon His people?

Let me hasten to say how much I appreciate the benefits I have experienced from the teaching ministry of Dr Sproul. He has been a blessing to countless people and has been used by God to revive the teachings of Calvinism in our day. Also, let me be clear that I am not opposing voluntary annual seasonal festivities by families or general society outside of and altogether apart from the worship of the church and her thankful obedient observation of the one true holy day, the Christian Sabbath.

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