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.


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