Tuesday, February 24, 2015

We live in a meaningful world; God gives it meaning.

Herman Bavinck on the Proper Roles of Creation and Grace
Creation and Grace
Stephen Wolfe makes this argument:

If Protestants want to reject modernity, then they ought to reject the nominalist assumptions that go into religious observance outside of revelation. This means rediscovering the regulative principle of worship as the means of reconnecting oneself to God’s creation. Only through this principle will one properly join the choir of creation.

Think of C.S. Lewis’s “Great Dance”. Although Lewis is perhaps guilty of the thing that Stephen argues against here:

How the Regulative Principle of Worship Affirms, Supports, and Ensures a Meaningful World.

I think this is one of the most clear and important things he has written. In fact, this piece helps us to think through God’s program in this world, for man and creation, from beginning to end. He says:

This argument is directed at Protestants. For I can see how Roman Catholics can answer this. They would simply say that the Church has the divine authority to recognize and make certain ceremonies meaningful, and by this authority God becomes active in the event. So I think that Roman Catholics are consistent in this regard.

Of course, the idea that the [Roman Catholic] Church has such authority is false, but at least they are consistent. Protestants, on the other hand, do not have the [JB note: I would put the word “benefit” in quotes] benefit of such authority. We could form fuzzy notions of pursuing “catholicity,” but this suffers for want of clear criteria and it cannot legitimately be anything more than an attitude toward pre-reformational traditions.

In making this argument, I think Stephen is showing the difference as well between what we might call “God’s metaphysic” [my term] vs the “classical metaphysics” of Aristotle and Aquinas. Because in truth, “God’s metaphysic”, however that is characterized, is based on that which is given in his own special revelation, and not from the cobbled-together thoughts of human philosophers over time.

The principle is evident in what follows:

Many Protestants who want to reject modernity by returning to “classical metaphysics” naturally also seek to return to medieval liturgy and ceremonies, such as the observance of Ash Wednesday and other traditional ceremonies and rites. It is only natural that when seeking a return to a certain way of being in the world one would also return to liturgical practices of that time. However, we must think this through.

Rejecting modernity involves realizing that one dwells in a meaningful world, one in which meaning is not solely a subjective operation. Meaning is neither subject-originating, nor solely subject-dependent. And we must keep in mind that the medievals thought that their liturgy had originated from the apostolic era and, for this reason, was divinely instituted. It was not, to their minds, something created, of development, and often from a fusion of diverse practices.

As Notre Dame professor of liturgy and [a] Roman Catholic, Paul Bradshaw stated:

We know much, much less about the liturgical practices of the first three centuries of Christianity than we once thought we did. A great deal more is shrouded in the mists of time than we formerly imagined and many of our previous confident assertions about ‘what the early Church did’ now seem more like wishful thinking or the unconscious projections back into ancient times of later practices.

What we do know about patterns of worship in that primitive period points towards considerable variety more often than towards rigid uniformity. Nowadays, when we talk about ‘what the early Church did’, we need to specify where the practice in question is encountered (Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Rome, or some other region) and when (first second, third, or fourth century, for each of these might be very different indeed from one another), and whether it is the only form found in that place at that time, for variant traditions could have coexisted alongside each other.

There is no historical liturgy; there are, rather, liturgies. Tradition alone cannot provide us the liturgy instituted by the apostles. So if even we are to return to the medieval liturgy, we cannot return with the mindset of a medieval, namely that they are rooted in the apostolic faith and thereby have their authenticity and sanction by God. With our current knowledge (which is far greater than any period in Christian history), we can only make these various ceremonies and rites meaningful solely through subject-dependence—through our intention in the act.

Put differently, we must name it worship for it to be worship. And though these ceremonies and rites did not originate with us in this time, we still participate collectively, across time, in the origination of them, since we have no reason to think that they originated through divine institution. Hence, by participating in these ceremonies and rites, we collectively originate them and solely determine their meaning. One must assume a modern perspective on meaning to return to medieval liturgy…

There are some events in which the subject is an essential part of the event’s meaning. This we can call an irreducibly complex event. For example, the preaching of the Word is a divine event at which God speaks by means of it and communicates his promises to the attentive listener. What makes it meaningful is divine action in both the speaking and the enablement of hearing his voice. It requires, then, God as speaker and man as listener…

The same is true with the Lord’s Supper. Man must exercise faith in consuming the Supper, yet the exercising of faith does not alone make it meaningful. For God communicates through it and occasions grace to the partaker. Both events—the preaching of the Word and the Supper—are meaningful, not on the initiation of the participant, but by the Speaker and Host—God. Yet our participation is essential to the meaningfulness of the event….

Now, what is strange about adding to these elements of worship various ceremonies, such as marking the cross on the forehead on Ash Wednesday, is that there is no reason given in the norming norm of theological belief (i.e., Scripture) to think that God plays any active role in the meaning of these events. If God certifies the meaningfulness of the events, then it is purely in passivity. The meaningfulness of Ash Wednesday is purely subject-dependent and reducible to it. In other words, what makes the cross on the forehead meaningful is wholly dependent on the person’s intention for it to be meaningful.

Among the various branches of the Reformation, only the Reformed felt compelled to hold on to the principle of “worshiping the Lord as He specified” in his Word:

Regulative Principle of Worship and Meaningfulness

The regulative principle of worship (RPW) is often rejected as a rigid and biblicist perspective on proper worship. For those who are unaware of the RPW, it is basically the following. One is to conduct corporate worship only in accordance with God’s prescriptions for worship. The classic text cited is the one where God consumed Nadab and Abihu with fire for their offering, what the text calls, “unauthorized” or “strange” fire. Whatever the offering was, it violated Leviticus 9:7, which calls for the priests to “sacrifice…as the LORD has commanded.” One is to worship as the Lord has commanded.

As one might expect, there have been various versions of this principle, ranging from a general principle approach to a strict element/accident approach. The basic commonality is that in worship we ought to do certain things or ought to worship in accordance with certain general and specific prescriptions. The opposite of this (the more Lutheran and Anglican view) is that one can do anything that is not forbidden by Scripture.

If you have tracked my argument so far, the latter, given our knowledge of the diversity of historical liturgy, must presuppose a form of nominalism or, at best, presuppose a fuzzy view of God’s participation in non-apostolic practices as if God recognizes human precedent and long-standing usage.

My argument here is that the RPW supports a meaningful world and rejects the radical subject-dependence inherent in nominalist religious observance. In other words, the RPW is the principle by which one pursues the type of religious observances that God has always hosted and calls before him[self]. The principle seeks to worship naturally; that is, it pursues worship in conformity to creational norms. It is a principled means of pursuing the type of worship God prescribed via creation from the beginning and replicated in Scripture.

To start, we must recognize that all of God’s dealings with man is through covenant. As Herman Bavinck said,

If there is truly to be religion, if there is to be fellowship between God and man, if the relation between the two is to be also (but not exclusively) that of a master to servant, of a potter to clay, as well as that of a king to his people, of a father to his son, of a mother to her child, of an eagle to her young, of a hen to her chicks, and so forth; that is, if not just one relation but all relations and all sorts of relations of dependence, submission, obedience, friendship, love, and so forth among human find their model and achieve their fulfillment in religion, then religion must be the character of a covenant.

This means that worship is in the context of covenant. And the covenant that God initially instituted with Adam (the covenant of works or the covenant of creation) had the same destination or goal as, what we call, the covenant of grace. And what grace does is renewnature to its final destiny. God’s post-Fall special revelation (i.e., Scripture), given by grace, is meant to restore man’s relationship to general revelation. As Herman Bavinck emphasized, all divine activity after the Fall is meant to restore creation (including and most importantly his image-bearers) to its eschatological destiny, which is the maturation of creation from immaturity. He writes,

[Grace] does not grant anything beyond what Adam, if he had remained standing, would have acquired in the way of obedience. The covenant of grace differs from the covenant of works in the road, not in its final destination. The same benefits are promised in the covenant of works and freely given in the covenant of grace. Grace restores nature and raises it to its highest fulfillment, but it does not add a new, heterogeneous component to it.

The image of God in humanity may be mangled and mutilated by the sin of the first Adam; but by the last Adam [Christ] and his re-creating grace they are all the more resplendently restored to their destiny.

So since worship is in the context of covenant and since both the covenant of works and the covenant of grace have the same goal in mind, both Adam’s pre-Fall worship and our worship post-Fall is directed toward the same eschatological end of creation. As Bavinck said, the “road” differs, but not the “final destination.”

Read the whole article here.

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