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.


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.


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.


The Presbyterian Clerical Collar

JamesHenleyThornwellI have more than once heard a harsh word by fellow Reformed Presbyterians against the Presbyterian clerical collar. The charge is typically made that this attire is Romish and contrary to the Regulative Principle of Worship. On the former charge, it turns out that the clerical collar is of an entirely Presbyterian origin. A Presbyterian minister on facebook thoughtfully shared [a very enlightening article](http://j.mp/J1p1jn) which dispels a good deal of the misinformation regarding the history of the clerical collar.

On the latter charge, if this attire were laden with worship significance, then it would be contrary to the RPW since no such attire is commanded particularly for worship. But again, such is not the case. Rather, the collar was historically worn as the ordinary attire appropriate for those holding the *public office* of the Ministry of the Word. As such, it is simply a *public uniform* relating to the public station of the one wearing it. It has no particular significance in relation to worship, *per se*. Its significance is generic in relation to the public office of the Minister in any public context.


American Presbyterians and Holy Days

Pastor Andrew Webb has a [brief paper](http://www.fpcjackson.org/resources/apologetics/Sabbath,%20Worship%20and%20Holidays/Sabbath/sabbath_webb.htm) describing the change in American Presbyterian practise over the better part of the last two centuries. He begins as follows.

> Dr. Samuel Miller, Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton Seminary wrote confidently in 1835, “Presbyterians do not observe Holy Days.”1 Yet some 164 years after the book in which Miller made that bold declaration was published, an informal survey of 30 churches in the Presbyterian Church in America, the largest of the theologically conservative Presbyterian bodies in the United States, indicated that 83% of the churches do regularly celebrate Holy Days.

> What happened in those intervening 164 years? Did the practice of Presbyterians change significantly in that time or was Miller’s declaration inaccurate when he made it? What might have brought about such a radical change if it did in fact occur? This essay will seek to answer these questions. Because of space constraints, considerably more time will be spent examining the history of the development of Presbyterian practice in the United States regarding Holy Days than in examining the theological foundations for that practice.

Here are some interesting excerpts.

> Samuel Miller appears to be largely correct then when he declared, “Presbyterians do not observe Holy Days.” This was certainly the understanding of the first Presbyterians, it had been codified in their creedal documents, and it had been their practice both in Scotland and America for over 200 years. What then happened in the 19th and 20th centuries to change the practice of Presbyterians?


> The 1906 edition of the [PCUSA] Book of Common Worship was eventually replaced twenty-two years later by the edition of 1932. The 1932 edition continued the advance towards a liturgical format and included even more emphasis on the Church Year, with prayers provided for Lent, Palm Sunday, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day. The 1932 edition was also the first edition to be officially accepted by the Southern Presbyterian Church. This was even more startling in light of the fact that in 1899 the Southern General Assembly had declared:

>> “There is no warrant in Scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, rather the contrary (see Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed Faith, conducive to will worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”23


> So while we can answer clearly why Presbyterians who belong to the PCUSA observe Holy Days, for they changed their doctrinal standards to allow for the practice, one cannot answer that question when it comes to members of other bodies that have not, such as the PCA. Their doctrinal standards clearly do not permit the practice, and yet it would seem that the majority of PCA churches observe Holy Days anyway.

*TE Andrew Webb is Pastor of Cross Creek Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, N.C.*


Bookmarks for 13 March 2012 through 28 March 2012

These are my links for 13 March 2012 through 28 March 2012:


Liturgical Mediocrity

I’m grateful to the [Aquila Report](http://theaquilareport.com/) for publishing a [pithy article](http://bit.ly/oWYSt4) by the [Rev. Terry Johnson](http://www.ipcsav.org/our-church/meet-our-pastors/), Senior Minister of [Independent Presbyterian Church](http://www.ipcsav.org/) of Savannah, Georgia, on the topic of worship in the PCA. Pastor Johnson incisively reviews the “liturgical anarchy” that characterises the worship landscape of the PCA, rightly describing it as “Trotyskesque.” He has gathered his observations year after year as he and his family have travelled on vacation and visited PCA churches.

From the article:


> Here’s my basic observation: the PCA is first and foremost a land of liturgical mediocrity. It is Vanillaville; a jar of mayonnaise. Some of us are doing the praise band thing, but not nearly so well as the mega-churches. Others are doing the high-church thing, but without the historic continuity and liturgical excellence of the Anglicans. Others are looking an awful lot like charismatics, but without the uninhibited exuberance of neo-pentecostalism. Still others are blending in a bit of this and a bit of that, but without the creativity of the Emergents.

> …

> Here’s my question: Why? Why look for models everywhere but Geneva and Westminster? Why is so little respect shown for the liturgical traditions of Reformed Protestantism? Is it just a matter of ignorance? We are not anabaptists, the charismatics of the Reformation era. We’re not Episcopalians. We’re not historically rootless Emergents. Why, then, are so many of us, on the one hand, adopting the introductory 20-minute song set, the raised hands, the closed eyes, the gentle swaying, the emotionalism of the neo-pentecostalism; and on the other hand, dolling up the service by expanding the number of congregational responses (e.g. sanctus, gloria, sursum corda, etc.) removed by Reformed Protestants nearly 500 years ago?

> Does anyone out there in PCA land still do the regular Reformed thing of reading the word, preaching the word, singing the word, praying the word, and administering the visible word? Does anyone still feature lectio continua reading and preaching, a “full diet” of free prayer, biblical psalmody and hymnody, and the covenantal administration of the sacraments?

Yes, Rev Johnson, some of us still do, and we thank God for the part your ministry has played in the reformation of worship in our small corner of Christ’s Kingdom at [Brainerd Hills Presbyterian Church](http://brainerdhills.org/). Next vacation, why don’t you stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and spend the Sabbath with us? I trust that as you enter worship you’ll feel right at home.

Read the rest of article *[Vacationland PCA — “Should We Be Doing That?”](http://bit.ly/oWYSt4)* at [The Aquila Report](http://theaquilareport.com/).


Why I love MY Church (It’s All About ME) (via OldLife.org)

A touch of humour from Darryl G. Hart’s OldLife.orgso good I had to share it.

A couple of comments recently suggested that it’s all negative all the time at Oldlife. So here’s a list of reasons why I love my congregation and its ministry.

We sing from a hymnal (and a good one at that).

We pray at least six times during an average service (eight or nine with a sacrament).

We have two preaching services each Sunday (different sermons).

Our pastor wears a suit and a tie.

Our congregation stands still to sing.

Our services feature the Word of God – the salutation, the call to worship, the lessons, the declaration of pardon, the exhortation to give, the sermon text, and the benediction.

Our people do not dress like they are going to Vacation Bible School – even in the summer.

Our pastor explains the sacraments before administering them.

We hear the law and the gospel.

We assemble at Mt. Zion.

Women sit on one side of the room, men on the other (kidding).