Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Puritan worship

This post will be an extensive analysis of the regulative principle of worship (RPW). I'm going to comment on two articles by William Young, as well as the Westminster Directory of Worship (i.e. The Directory for the Publick Worship of God). I've singled out Young because he's an exceptionally capable proponent of the position in question. When assessing a position, we should consider the best case for that position. 

I'm going to comment on the Westminster Directory of Worship (WDW) because it provides a classic, concrete illustration of the how the RPW was traditionally understood and implemented. The way this post is organized is that I will begin with some definitions, then compare them to the WDW, then go back to assess a more detailed exposition and defense of the RPW. Before doing that I'll make a few preliminary observations:

i) To my knowledge, the RPW was formulated in reaction to Anglican and Roman Catholic modes of worship. It was a root-and-branch solution. Because Catholic worship was so thoroughly corrupt, it was necessary to start from scratch. I don't object to that.

In the case of Anglicanism, I think that was more political than theological. The English crown attempted to subjugate the Scotland through religious uniformity. An expression of colonialism. The Scots rightly rebelled against that imperious imposition. 

ii) I've attended a wide variety of churches over the years. Since Anglicanism is one of Young's targets, I'll discuss that to illustrate. On occasions when I've attended Anglican services, I notice certain customs. Some parishioners, as well as clergy, make the sign of the cross. I don't think that's intrinsically wrong. But it can easily become mechanical or superstitious. 

After communion, some parishioners dip their fingers in the baptismal font ("holy water") and make the sign of the cross. That's rank superstition.

In addition, some parishioners, as well as clergy, genuflect before the altar. That's superstitious, but not rank superstition. Rather, that's based on belief in the real presence and reservation of the Host. I don't do any of these things. 

When I happened to be in town, I attended St. John's Shaughnessy, where J. I. Packer was a member. One time the communion hymn was Pange Lingua by Thomas Aquinas. A Corpus Christi hymn. Propaganda for Transubstantiation. Since I don't subscribe to that dogma, I didn't sing along. 

My point is that worship is that it's quite possible to be selective in one's participation. 

As opposed to the Lutheran view that there is a substantial area of adiaphora in the service of worship, the Reformed view has uniformly been that only that which is prescribed by the Word of God may be introduced into the worship of God.

"The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped 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."(35)

1. The regulative principle is a consequence of the sufficiency of Scripture. Nothing need nor may be added to the Word of God as a rule of faith and practice. Therefore only what is prescribed by the written revelation may be admitted in the worship of God. 2. The mode of prescription need not be that of explicit command in a single text of Scripture. Approved example warrants an element of worship as surely as does an express precept. 

[Perkins] Commandment in the narrow sense is not required. What God reveals to be acceptable to Him is warranted, even though it is not commanded so as to be binding on all. 

A basic problem with this definition is studied equivocation. These are two different, competing principles bundled into one:

i) What is prescribed by Scripture

ii) Approved examples

(ii) is a much weaker, looser principle than (i). (ii) is a permissive rather than prescriptive principle. An approved example doesn't ipso facto demonstrate that we are required to follow precedent; rather, if this is an approved example, then it can't be intrinsically wrong. Even approved examples aren't necessarily obligatory. Take the Nazarite vow in Acts 21:22-24. Is that apostolic example mandatory for Christians? 

At least some apostles performed miracles. Healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons. Does this mean Christians in general have a duty to practice exorcism and perform miracles? 

Unless Young (and other proponents of the RPW) can show that approved examples have the force of a divine command, then they've diluted the RPW by conceding that we are free to do things in worship which we're not required to do. But once they make that concession, how, as a matter of principle, do they distinguish Reformed worship from Lutheran or Anglican worship? 

With these definitions in mind, let's turn to the WDW:

The congregation being assembled, the minister, after solemn calling on them to the worshipping of the great name of God, is to begin with prayer.

In the WDW, worship is structured. Certain things are done in a particular order. One thing is done before or after something else. My point isn't whether that's good or bad. It may be perfectly reasonable. But is there a divinely prescribed sequence of events in a worship service? In that regard, let's compare the WDW to this example of NT worship:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up (1 Cor 14:26).

Unlike the WDW, that's spontaneous. There's no uniform order in which those things are done in relation to each other. Moreover, there's no lay/clerical distinction regarding who does what. 

READING of the word in the congregation, being part of the publick worship of God, (wherein .i.we; acknowledge our dependence upon him, and subjection to him,) and one mean sanctified by him for the edifying of his people, is to be performed by the pastors and teachers. Howbeit, such as intend the ministry, may occasionally both read the word, and exercise their gift in preaching in the congregation, if allowed by the presbytery thereunto.

Notice how that prohibits lay readers. But where do we find that restriction in Scripture? Why can't any literate member of the congregation read aloud the sermon text? Where does Scripture reserve the public reading of Scripture, in a worship service, for church officers? 

Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon.

AFTER reading of the word, (and singing of the psalm,) the minister who is to preach, is to endeavour to get his own and his hearers hearts to be rightly affected with their sins, that they, may all mourn in sense thereof before the Lord, and hunger and thirst after the grace of God in Jesus Christ, by proceeding to a more full confession of sin, with shame and holy confusion of face, and to call upon the Lord to this effect...

Of Prayer after Sermon.

THE sermon being ended, the minister is "To give thanks for the great love of God, in sending his Son Jesus Christ unto us; for the communication of his Holy Spirit; for the light and liberty of the glorious gospel, and the rich and heavenly blessings revealed therein; as, namely, election, vocation, adoption, justification, sanctification, and hope of glory; for the admirable goodness of God in freeing the land from antichristian darkness and tyranny, and for all other national deliverances; for the reformation of religion; for the covenant; and for many temporal blessings.

To pray for the continuance of the gospel, and all ordinances thereof, in their purity, power, and liberty: to turn the chief and most useful heads of the sermon into some few petitions; and to pray that it may abide in the heart, and bring forth fruit.

To pray for preparation for death and judgment, and a watching for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: to entreat of God the forgiveness of the iniquities of our holy things, and the acceptation of our spiritual sacrifice, through the merit and mediation of our great High Priest and Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ."

Where does Scripture confine public prayer to pastoral prayer? Where does Scripture explicitly or implicitly forbid laymen from offering up prayer in a worship service? 

BAPTISM, as it is not unnecessarily to be delayed, so it is not to be administered in any case by any private person, but by a minister of Christ, called to be the steward of the mysteries of God.

Where does Scripture proscribe lay baptism? 

Nor is it to be administered in private places, or privately, but in the place of publick worship, and in the face of the congregation, where the people may most conveniently see and hear; and not in the places where fonts, in the time of Popery, were unfitly and superstitiously placed.

But don't we have "approved examples" of private baptism? The Ethiopian eunuch? The Philippian jailor? 

Concerning Publick Solemn Fasting.

WHEN some great and notable judgments are either inflicted upon a people, or apparently imminent, or by some extraordinary provocations notoriously deserved; as also when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, publick solemn fasting (which is to continue the whole day) is a duty that God expecteth from that nation or people.

A religious fast requires total abstinence, not only from all food, (unless bodily weakness do manifestly disable from holding out till the fast be ended, in which case somewhat may be taken, yet very sparingly, to support nature, when ready to faint,) but also from all worldly labour, discourses, and thoughts, and from all bodily delights, and such like, (although at other times lawful,) rich apparel, ornaments, and such like, during the fast; and much more from whatever is in the nature or use scandalous and offensive, as gaudish attire, lascivious habits and gestures, and other vanities of either sex; which .i.we; recommend to all ministers, in their places, diligently and zealously to reprove, as at other times, so especially at a fast, without respect of persons, as there shall be occasion.

Before the publick meeting, each family and person apart are privately to use all religious care to prepare their hearts to such a solemn work, and to be early at the congregation.

So large a portion of the day as conveniently may be, is to be spent in publick reading and preaching of the word, with singing of psalms, fit to quicken affections suitable to such a duty: but especially in prayer, to this or the like effect

Where does the new covenant prescribe public solemn fasting? 

Concerning the Observation of Days of Publick Thanksgiving.

WHEN any such day is to be kept, let notice be given of it, and of the occasion thereof, some convenient time before, that the people may the better prepare themselves thereunto.

The day being come, and the congregation (after private preparations) being assembled, the minister is to begin with a word of exhortation, to stir up the people to the duty for which they are met, and with a short prayer for God's assistance and blessing, (as at other conventions for publick worship,) according to the particular occasion of their meeting.

IT is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family.

In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.

That the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a psalm book; and all others, not disabled by age or otherwise, are to be exhorted to learn to read. But for the present, where many in the congregation cannot read, it is convenient that the minister, or some other fit person appointed by him and the other ruling officers, do read the psalm, line by line, before the singing thereof. 

Where does Scripture enjoin congregational psalm-singing? In Temple worship, psalms were performed by professional (Levitical) musicians and choristers

THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord's day, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.

Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God's providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people.

Where does the new covenant prescribe separate days for public fasting and thanksgiving? What makes separate days for public fasting and thanksgiving "lawful and necessary", but days commemorating the life of Christ (e.g. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Maudy-Thursday, Good Friday) unlawful? Isn't that a palpably ad hoc dichotomy? 

As no place is capable of any holiness, under pretence of whatsoever dedication or consecration; so neither is it subject to such pollution by any superstition formerly used, and now laid aside, as may render it unlawful or inconvenient for Christians to meet together therein for the publick worship of God. And therefore we hold it requisite, that the places of publick assembling for worship among us should be continued and employed to that use.

I agree with that. 

Now let's go back to a detailed defense of the RPW:

The second commandment embodies the principle that God is to be worshipped only in ways prescribed in Holy Scripture...all elements or parts of worship, all ways and modes of worship, all rites and ceremonies of worship, are prescribed by God Himself in His Word. This principle has universal reference to worship performed by men since the fall. In other words, it has equal application to the Old and the New Testament. It is also universal in that it is regulative of all types of worship, whether public, family or private. 

"All ways and modes of worship"? What about standing or sitting? What about pews? That's not prescribed by Scripture. 

What about Bibles with chapter/verse divisions. That's not prescribed by Scripture. What about editions of Scripture with books in a traditional order. That's not prescribed in Scripture. 

What about worshiping indoors rather than outdoors. That's not prescribed by Scripture. 

The Bible doesn't say what we should wear to church. Does that mean we should wear nothing? 

This principle has been formulated in contrast to other views, particularly to the principle that anything not expressly forbidden in the Word of God is allowable in the worship of God. Quod Scriptura non vetat, permittit, "What Scripture does not forbid, it permits." This is the principle of the Romish Church, also of Lutherans and Anglicans embodied in Article 20 of the Church of England"The church has power to decree rites and ceremonies . . . and yet it is not lawful for the church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written." The doctrine of the Calvinistic churches clearly formulated in the Westminster standards is sharply opposed to this: Quod Scriptura non iubet, vetat, "What Scripture does not command, it forbids." The silence of Scripture is as real a prohibition as a positive injunction to abstain.

Those are simplistic slogans. 

Neither may we say that God's Word provides us with general principles of worship, but leaves the particulars of practice to the discretion of the Church. The whole content of worship includes the specific acts of worship as well as the broad principal basis of these acts. The Word of God, moreover, obviously prescribes specific acts of worship even in quite minute detail, in addition to laying down the general principles of worship. This principle may not be construed as admitting that Scripture itself opens up in the New Testament economy an area of liberty in the worship of God, within which area nothing is prescribed by God and everything left to the judgment of men. The admission of such an area of liberty is tantamount to asserting the un-Reformed principle that anything not expressly forbidden in Scripture is allowable in the worship of God. On the Reformed principle, no part of the content of God's worship can be regarded as belonging to the adiaphora, to the class of actions neither required nor forbidden by divine commandment. Whatever has not been commanded is ipso facto prohibited.

That's a useful statement of the position under review. 

That no misunderstanding may exist with respect to this principle it is necessary to make two qualifications, both of which are stated in section six of the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith. First, that which may be derived by good and necessary consequence from the express statements of Scripture is no less binding than an express command itself. Approved example has equal validity with a direct command, and even where approved example and express command may both be lacking or uncertain, as in the baptism of infants, necessary inference from the doctrine and commandments plainly set forth in Scripture may sufficiently warrant a practice of worship.

To say "[an] approved example has equal validity with a direct command" is a major bait-and-switch. It stipulates equivalence between two things that are clearly not equivalent. As I already explained (see above), an approved example is merely a licit action, not a compulsory action. Take the apostolic example of baptism in natural bodies of water (lakes, rivers, ponds). This suffices to show that baptism in a natural body of water is permissible, but it's hardly tantamount to a direct command.

Secondly, there are "some circumstances concerning the worship of God . . . common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed." 

I'll pass on that. 

First, the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and are therefore sufficient for all the needs of the church.(4) It clearly follows from the accepted Reformed doctrine of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, that Scripture is the sole and sufficient rule for worship, particularly the worship of the church. If the prescriptions of worship contained in Holy Writ are sufficient, why add ordinances of worship for which there is no need? 

i) Scripture is sufficient for its intended purpose. That doesn't settle in advance the question of what Scripture is sufficient for. The scope of Biblical sufficiency must be determined. Clearly, there are many things for which Scripture is insufficient. That's not a defect, since it wasn't designed to address every conceivable issue. 

ii) The conclusion ("and are therefore sufficient for all the needs of the church") doesn't follow from the premise ("the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice"). The fact that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and practice doesn't preclude fallible aids. Let's apply Young's logic to a parallel claim: If Scripture is the sufficient rule of faith and practice, then why add the Westminster Confession? 

Are creeds, sermons, and catechisms needless because Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and practice? What about the Westminster Directory of Worship?

iii) In worship, general revelation complements special revelation. Creation and providence bear witness to God's greatness and goodness. Our worship is informed and enriched by extrabiblical knowledge of the natural world as well as church history, answered prayer, &c.

iv) Extrabiblical knowledge of Middle Eastern geography contributes to our understanding of the Bible, which, in turn, contributes to well-informed worship of God or God in Christ. Extrabiblical information contributes to the content of worship by supplementing our knowledge of God and Scripture. 

Second, the sole object of worship is the absolutely sovereign God. The basic conception of Calvinism, God's absolute sovereignty, excludes worship of human devising. In anthropocentric systems of doctrine like Lutheranism, or Arminianism, the human will may be allowed to define the content of worship at least in part, even as it contributes in part to man's salvation. But in the theocentric system of Calvinism, the autonomy of man's will is rejected in the face of God's absolute sovereignty. This is true at every step of the way, with respect to worship as well as to the plan of salvation. Man's will may contribute nothing more to God's worship than to God's plan of salvation, and it is no accident that will-worship and rejection of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone flourish together. As Sovereign, God is the supreme Law-giver. As His sovereignty extends to His worship, so it is His sole prerogative to appoint the laws of His worship, to command of His subjects the way they ought to worship Him. Can it be anything other than presumption in a subject of the absolute Sovereign to offer as worship anything which has not been commanded? Can the inventions of the human will be set on the same level as the commands of the divine will as proper material of worship? That God shall allow worship other than what He has commanded is contrary to reason itself. 

i) To begin with, that's a grave misstatement of Reformed theology. For instance:

The evangelical doctrine of sanctification common to the Lutheran and Reformed Churches includes the following points:

(i) The soul after regeneration continues dependent upon the constant gracious operations of the Holy Spirit, but is, through grace, able to co-operate with them.

(ii) The sanctifying operations of the Spirit are supernatural, and yet effected in connection with and through the instrumentality of means: the means of sanctification being either internal, such as faith and the co-operation of the regenerated will with grace, or external, such as the word of God, sacraments, prayer, Christian fellowship, and the providential discipline of our heavenly Father.

"Sanctification," Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 2, chap. 21. 

ii) "Will-worship" is a catchy but inaccurate slogan. This is not about the will defining the content of worship, but the mind or intellect. This is not about "human devising", per se, but worship informed by what we know of God from multiple sources. That's not a figment of the human imagination, but God acting in nature and history.

Third, the total corruption and deceitfulness of the human heart disqualifies man from judging what is to be admitted into the worship of God. 

The regenerate are not "totally corrupt". That disregards role of spiritual renewal and sanctifying grace.

The idolatry and superstition, not only of the heathen in their blindness, but also of the professing Christian church enjoying the full light of God's Word, sufficiently demonstrates this to be the case...The enlightened understanding is content to learn God's precepts, and the renewed will to walk in them, but the regenerate heart as such cannot desire to make the slightest addition to God's commandments. Whenever true believers have acted inconsistently in this respect, they have invariably allowed great corruption to be introduced into God's sanctuary.

Whether that's "invariably" the case begs the question. 

Fourth, Christ is the sole Head and King over His body, the church. In the exercise of His headship and kingship, the Lord Jesus Christ has appointed the ordinances of His house. This applies in particular to the public worship of the New Testament church. How may a minister of Christ with a clear conscience administer any rite or ceremony of worship in the Lord's house without warrant from his Lord and King? To add human inventions to Christ's express commands is to usurp an authority which is not ministerial, but which is tantamount to placing the doctrines and commandments of men upon the same level as the commands of the Lord Jesus.

Is Young referring to a building? "The Lord's house"? Is where you worship an essential component of worship? Worship concerns what we think, say, and do rather than when or where we do it. A church building isn't sacred space, compared to the surrounding area. In Pauline ecclesiology, Christians are temples in miniature. 

The pretense that the humanly invented modes of worship are optional, whereas Christ's commands are mandatory, is to no avail. We have already noted the absurdity of distinguishing two kinds of worship, prescribed and allowed. 

Ironically, the RPW of worship distinguishes two kinds of worship, prescribed and allowed, by defining the principle in terms of precept and example. 

It is also worthy of note that in practice no difference is made between the two types of worship. Hymns of human composition and divinely-inspired Psalms are sung the one after the other, as if the one were offered to God in obedience to the Lord's appointment as much as the other. Furthermore, the people are led to feel that the one type of worship is of the same character as the other and that they are no less bound to engage in the one than in the other. Quite apart from the evil of singing the word of man alongside of God's Word, we would now stress the inevitable binding of the conscience of the ordinary worshipper by the inventions of men, as soon as those inventions are given the same place as divine institutions which truly bind the conscience.

i) Singing fallible hymns is not essentially different from hearing fallible sermons, memorizing fallible catechisms, or praying fallible prayers. So "two kinds of worship" coexist, side-by-side, in Puritan worship. Reading Scripture and singing songs alongside sermons and prayers. How is singing the "word of man" evil, but speaking or hearing the word of man (sermons, prayers) not evil? These are makeshift dichotomies. 

ii) The question at issue isn't whether something is the "word of man" but whether it is true. The Westminster Confession is the "word of man". A fallible interpretation of Scripture. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is the "word of man". And if a parishioner has been indoctrinated in the Westminster standards from childhood, it certainly conditions the mind of that worshiper. 

iii) Does Young think worshipers should let their guard down when they attend church, uncritically going along with everything that happens? 

Even as the doctrine, government and discipline of the church have been prescribed by Christ, so also has its worship. May any doctrine be taught which the great Prophet has not revealed? May any new office or function be added to the government of the church that the Head of the church has not provided for? May anything be counted an disciplinary offense but that which Christ has declared to be such in His Word? So also, may anything be added to the content of His worship that He has not prescribed?

i) These complaints suffer from fact-free abstractness. Take occasions that commemorate and celebrate events in the Gospels (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Maundy-Thursday, Good Friday). That's hardly a figment of the human imagination. By the same token, take music that celebrates events in the life of Christ. That's not something the lyricist or composer invented out of thin air. Rather, that's a factual recollection and theological interpretation of something revealed in Scripture. Consider hymns that recast systematic theology in vivid poetic terms. A musical catechism. The crucial question is whether the "content of worship" matches reality. 

iii) Keep in mind that metrical psalters take great liberties with the original text. Where does Scripture prescribe metrical psalters? 

The first passage we may consider in this connection is the second commandment.(7) It might be said that the second commandment contains an express prohibition of idolatry and nothing more, and thus has no bearing upon the question. From the point of view of historic Presbyterianism, however, this is not the case.

The second commandment is proscriptive rather than prescriptive. The crucial distinction is missing. As such, it doesn't support the RPW.  

The correctness of the historic Presbyterian doctrine of the second commandment is verified by several other passages of the Mosaic law, in which the church is expressly forbidden to add anything to the commandments of God respecting His worship and service.(11) When Moses was about to make the tabernacle, he was admonished by God, "And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount."(12) The minuteness of detail in the divine prescriptions as to the construction of the tabernacle and as to the practice of worship to be performed in it made it perfectly plain to God's ancient people that whatever was not commanded was forbidden. 

That overlooks the nature of the ceremonial law. Because gradations of sacred space, sacred time, purity codes, &c., are symbolic and artificial, that was spelled out in the law code. There was nothing intrinsically holy about the tabernacle, or subdivisions of the tabernacle. The inner sanctum wasn't really any holier than other places. So that's scarcely comparable to commemorating objective events in the Gospels–or accessible facts about creation, redemption, and providence. 

A most remarkable passage bearing on the question is Jer. 7:31: "They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." How clearly does this passage show that God does not view sin as does man. Man would revolt at the unnatural and inhuman cruelty of the burning of the fruit of one's own body before an idol. But in God's mind this is but secondary, the essential evil being that it is worship which He did not command, neither came it into His heart.

Owen writes in this connection: "The command is general, 'You shall add nothing to what I have instituted.' And the aggravation of the sin pressed by Him relates not to the particular nature of it, but to the general command or prohibition, 'You have done what I commanded you not.' That the particular evil condemned was also against other special commands of God, is merely accidental to the general nature of the crime they were urged withal."

There's nothing in the text which states or implies that child sacrifice was a secondary evil incidental to the primary, aggravated evil of doing what was not commanded. The text contains no general command or prohibition. In fact, the interpretation is demonstrably false. Child sacrifice was prohibited (e.g. Lev 18:21; Deut 12:31; 18:10). The sin here is twofold:

i) Doing what was explicitly forbidden.

ii) And the aggravated abomination of child sacrifice in particular.

Child-sacrifice isn't evil because wasn't prescribed, but because it was explicitly proscribed. Moreover it wasn't arbitrarily proscribed, but banned due to the heinous nature of that particular crime. Is Young a theological voluntarist? 

The teaching of our Lord and His apostles on this matter is quite express. In condemning the Pharisees for their tradition as to eating bread with unwashen hands, the Lord quotes the words of Isaiah: "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," and comments: "For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do."(16) The Lord goes on to show that human traditions added to God's Word have the effect of making that Word of none effect.

That's because the oral Torah supplanted and contradicted the Mosaic law. In addition, the oral Torah invented moral and religious duties without divine sanction. And that certainly has parallels with Roman Catholic worship. 

That's quite different from traditions that are consistent with Scripture. Traditions that instruct the faithful in Bible history and theology. 

First, we may consider the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. Though Abel was accepted as coming in true faith, which was lacking in the case of Cain, yet it would appear that Abel's offering was also intrinsically more excellent than his brother's. True faith will bring to God the offering of penitence and praise that He has appointed as He has appointed, while unbelief brings an offering of its own choosing in a perfunctory manner. Cain appears not to have brought the best of what he had as did Abel.(20) 

i) There's no evidence for revealed regulations at that time governing religious offerings.

ii) Cain and Abel brought different kinds of offerings because they had different occupations (farmer, shepherd). There's nothing unacceptable about a grain offering (cf. Lev 2:14). Whatever the correct explanation, that's not it. 

Second, if there be doubt as to the case of Cain and Abel, there is no obscurity in the least in the instance of Nadab and Abihu.(22) The strange fire they offered before the Lord, "whereof God had given to them no charge," was "a common fire, and not of that fire which God had commanded to burn day and night upon the altar of burnt sacrifice, which only ought to have been offered unto God."(23) Nadab and Abihu were Aaron's sons, priests next to himself. They seem to have had no unworthy motive in their offering, they desired no earthly gain, but only to honor God, and that in a way he had not expressly forbidden. They did nothing more than substitute fire of their own for that which the Lord had commanded Yet for this act they were instantaneously consumed by fire from the Lord.

If churchgoers who sing hymns or attend a Christmas Eve service were instantly incinerated, that would indeed be an ominous sign, but in the absence of spontaneous combustion in Lutheran and Anglican worship services, that example is counterproductive. 

1 comment:

  1. I want to ask a question back a step; why believe that the Sunday gathering of believers is, in any particular sense, worship? Most evangelicals I'm aware of would agree that the whole Christian life should be one of worship (Cf. Rom 12:1-2). That being the case, why label the Sunday gathering 'worship' in particular? I can think of nowhere in the New Testament that uses the language or motifs of worship/OT exemplars of it, such as the temple to describe Christians meeting together.

    But if the Sunday gathering isn't worship in some particular sense, then the RPW becomes more or less inapplicable - if all of life is worship, and you need some particular prescription or the right form of worship, then we'd need prescriptions for forms of worship in our entire lives, something the Bible self-evidently does not set out to provide!