Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

December 19, 2007

More on the RPW.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 11:12 pm

In this post I am filling in a huge hole in the RPW discussion that I started last go ’round. To overlook this aspect of the RPW would result in stripping the RPW entirely of its secondary – but vital – point. Heretofore, and especially at Blogorrhea where the topic comes up in the discussion of singing exclusive psalmody vs. singing uninspired hymns, the RPW has been vilified as the biggest rip-off ever foisted on the church. The critique is that it is a hair-brained idea being advanced by a bunch of Pharasaical killjoys.

There is beautiful irony in that criticism. The reason for the irony is found in the impetus that revived the RPW in the first place. Here is a little historical background.

Very briefly, we have the Reformation to thank for the RPW. The reformers took issue with the worship practices in the Roman church. Specifically, they objected to the mass and its attendant theology. It was John Knox and particularly his mentor, John Calvin, who took objection to the re-sacrifice of Christ and the kneeling before the “host” that was mandated in Roman “worship” services. In addition to the theological error of rejecting the once-for-all-time nature of the atonement that is clearly spelled out in Hebrews, they charged the Roman church with inventing worship practices that were nowhere mandated in the Bible. They supported their position exegetically by the belief that in church we must only do that which God has commanded us to do in scripture. (As we have seen).

The hallmarks of the pharisees were two-fold. First, they tended to miss the point of the law – love of God and of neighbor. But secondly, and exactly to the point of the RPW, they added to the law. This is exactly what the RPW guards against. The point that is missing in RPW discussions up to now is that Calvin was just as much grieved that the Roman authorities were forcing the masses to participate in the abominable mass , as he was grieved by the Roman doctrines. He saw the Roman church running roughshod over the Christian liberty that worshipers have.

So, what’s the point? The point is that the RPW is not pharisaical oppression against Christian liberty, it protects Christian liberty. This point may be lost on those Christian organizations that operate on the laissez faire principle. But in those groups that apply the third mark of a true church, namely Church discipline, the RPW is a key foundation. How so? Well, the Bible says “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Here is a focal point of church discipline. Ruling elders make rules. That is, they determine what will be done in church worship. If they say that in worship, we will now – to take an extreme example – institute the practice that we express our response to the Lord by slow dancing to some nice dreamy romantic mood music; and in this dance, your partner will be Jesus; you will be embracing the Lord Jesus as you dance around the sanctuary, the people will have to do it. More on point, if the ruling elders say “from now on we will all kneel at the rail during the Lord’s supper as we bow in homage to the King’s Hawaiian bread”, this too we are obligated to do. You see, one of the tenets of Reformed worship is unity. There are to be no individuals “doing their own thing”. We all are in one accord. The membership is thus protected from this type of abomination – hypothetical in the first case but very real in the second case – by the RPW. The membership can appeal to the dictum that our consciences may be bound only by what God has commanded to take place in worship. Anything added to that is Pharisaism. The ruling elders in a church that subscribes to the RPW are pledging to the membership that such a thing will not happen. Discipline is only warranted – in the context of worship – by a refusal to participate in what is commanded by God to be done in worship.

So, you see that this discussion is not just a theoretical hand waving suitable for blog-fights. It is actually a real operating by-law in the constitution of the church that practices church membership and church discipline with the attendant binding of conscience on those members. (See WCF chapter 21.)

Hopefully, you can see that the RPW is a good thing. Just exactly what those things are that God has commanded to be done in Christian worship is another equally important discussion. But here you can see why you should actually champion the RPW. It is a very good thing. In fact, in the church that upholds church discipline it is a mandatory principle. Of course, in para-church organizations, all bets are off. There the dictum “if it feels good, do it” seems to carry the day. This promotes a lack of unity and thus reflects the absence of the third mark of the church.


December 9, 2007

Has God really said?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 2:12 pm

I’m late checking in here with my next installment. The debate has come and gone. I may touch on that later but this is the promised installment that provides scriptural support for the RPW.

I noticed from some quarters the notion that the RPW is merely one opinion among several options. This position is an inevitable result of fallen man trying to interpret scripture. I’m not really all that comfortable with the idea of us creatures bringing judgments against scripture. Ideally, scripture should be the one bringing judgments against us. It should be the one interpreting us, our thoughts, and our deeds.

Nevertheless, I promised a defense of the RPW so here it is. The first word in the acronym is ‘regulative’. To me, having to defend the idea that God regulates worship is somewhat crazy. Of course he makes rules. That’s what the covenant lord does. We as covenant servants don’t make rules. We are called to obey them. The second word in the acronym is ‘principle’. I don’t much like this word here because it seems to imply the idea that we can’t really find any actual rules so we are going to have to settle for a principle that we, if we’re lucky, can cobble together from scripture. Of course, the third word in the acronym is ‘worship’. The weakness here is that it seems to suggest that we need to be reminded that God’s rights of rule making extend to worship, as if somehow this is an afterthought. Maybe it was not really God’s primary consideration in his rule making and we have to extend his rights to regulate things into the domain of worship.

The fundamental texts that the whole notion of RPW hang on are these:

Genesis 3:1-7 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Here we see that our primary sin is adding to or subtracting from the word of God. This is our tendency. God adds to this with later clear rules in this regard:

Deuteronomy 4:1-3 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. Your eyes have seen what the LORD did at Baal-peor, for the LORD your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor.”

See Numbers 25 to note that the context for these words is formal corporate worship as performed by God’s chosen people.

As if to remind us that this is no mere principle that somehow expired in the Church age, the spirit gives us this as well:

Revelation 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

So here we find the exact bookend matching the one in Genesis 3. Do not add or subtract from the word of God. There is continuity across the ages irrespective of the discontinuities that do obtain as the Israelite theocracy was dissolved and the mysteries of the bride of Christ – the church – take full flower in history prior to the consummation.

I have considered that the prescriptions provided in Hebrews “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence [boldness] to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, . . . .” might suggest that rules for worship are laid aside. (It’s the old “we are under grace not under law argument). But I maintain that this verse in no way alters the terms – rules – of worship but changes the basis upon which we may approach God. We are confident that even though God is still a consuming fire (v.27) we no longer have to remain outside of his presence depending on the high priest alone to make the yearly entrance behind the curtain. This is made clear by the writer’s reference to the rules and punishments for laying aside the laws of Moses (v. 28).

The new and living way may be thought of by some to refer to new “ways” of worship. But that is not what it means. The word “way” is odos – the Greek for road or path or journey. It is in fact a covenantal term referring to the covenantal practice of following after our covenant Lord. It was inaugurated in Genesis 15 where the theophanic presence of Christ the Lord made his way between the pieces of the slain animals. As covenant servants we are obligated to make our way following in his footsteps in covenant allegiance and obedience to the great suzerain. This is now an actual possibility for us in the new covenant, whereas before it was possible – typologically – only for the high priest.

That’s enough for now. My next installment will take up some of the thorny questions that do arise when discussing this important matter.

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