Liturgical Nestorianism (Jordan)

The Elements of Worship

terminism: defining one term by its other. There is a tendency to reduce everything in theology to laws. Laws are important, but God didn’t always do that. There are types, symbols, analogies, etc (66). This means God is only allowed to communicate his desires via commands and not in patterns.

Disclaimer: I am certainly NOT advocating Jordan’s approach to worship nor really much else associated with the man. But I do think Jordan neatly summarizes the situation and points out several flaws in some (not all) RPW approaches. Jordan’s thesis is more or less correct: As (practical) Nestorianism is the separating the human and divine natures in Christ, leading to a diminution of the human nature, so liturgical Nestorianism means keeping the human so far away from worship that he is nothing more than a recipient who hears preaching sings (a little).

Initial key points:

(1) Strict RPW advocates charge any kind of maximalism in worship as going back to OT types and shadows, as best seen in Roman Catholic worship. Jordan asks the obvious question: “Why do you assume (without proof) that Rome got Old Covenant worship correct?”

(2) The contrast in biblical is not a move from exterior to interior (this is Plato on crack) but from glory to glory. The goal is eschatological maturation, not Platonic interiorizing.

(3) Strict RPW advocates claim that a) NT worship is based on the Synagogue and not the Temple; and b) NT worship is regulated by God by direct command. Jordan points out that obvious: If this is true, then it is a meeting of silence. Nowhere does God command what goes on in the Synagogue. God simply commanded a holy convocation every Sabbath (Lev. 23). He didn’t say anything else.

(4)If something is “Fulfilled” in the New Covenant why do we normally assume that “fulfilled” means “done away with?” Isn’t this the textbook definition of dispensationalism? Mind you, I don’t think that everything should be done in the New Covenant.

(5) When God commands singing in the Bible, it is always accompanied by instruments. The 4th book of the Psalter (specifically Psalms 90-98) progresses from the arrival to the enthronement of Yahweh’s king). Music is connected with ascension and enthronement (Jordan 37).

(6) Levitical priests weren’t really mediators. There weren’t any mediators before Moses (not systematically). Levitical priests were household servants. Psalm 110 tells us who the true Mediator is in the old covenant. Only priests in union with the Melchizedekian priest-king mediate. But this is exactly what new covenant believers are (44).

(7)Can Revelation be used as an order of worship? Maybe.

Exclusive Psalmody

Jordan points out that Eph. 5.19 and Col. 3:16, which some used to refer to “three types of Psalms,” do not refer to corporate worship at all, but to the daily life of the believer (85).

If the Song is an element in worship, it should be applied the same as other elements (86). When we preach, we use “new words.” When we pray in worship, we use “new words.”

Conclusion

This book highlights all of the weak points in an overly strict interpretation of the Regulative Principle of Worship. Jordan’s idiosyncrasies are kept at a blessed minimum.

The Word of God and the Word of Man (Richard Hooker)

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Richard Hooker’s aim in these two books can be seen as a pair of concentric circles.  In the outer circle he refutes the claim that we have to have a Scriptural proof for every action. On one level this claim is absurd and it is hard to imagine that his opponents took it seriously.  Perhaps, though, his opponents mean something like, “You must have a Scriptural justification for every ethical and doctrinal stance.”  Having refuted the first position, his inner circle is an attack upon the Regulative Principle of Worship.

The larger context, though, is Hooker’s defense and presentation of natural law.  While Scripture is sufficient unto salvation, Hooker warns us not to epistemologically push Scripture “beyond what the truth will bear” (Hooker 4).  To mix metaphors, you can’t force Scripture to be a Platonic database from which you can download a response to every issue in life.

Book II mainly deals with sectarian claims that you have to have a Scriptural command for each individual action, not simply in the church, but for all of life.  This is extreme and, quite frankly, absurd.  I won’t spend much time on Hooker’s rebuttals.  He draws an example from David’s life.  David had no divine command to build the temple.  True, Nathan told him he couldn’t’ do it, but he commended his intent.

Technical terminology:

Perfect: a perfect action is one that lacks nothing necessary to the end for which it was instituted (42).

Book III

The Church of Christ is his spiritual body, which cannot be perceived by the senses (III.1.1).  The visible church is one.  Wickedness in the church does not cancel the church.  This is what we tell to critics when they ask “Where was your church before Luther?”  It was in the same place the Israelites were in when they were worshiping idols.  The only change in our church was when it went from being idolatrous to more godly.

The visible church is more of a society than an assembly.  Assemblies only last for the duration to which men are called to it.

Hooker rebuts the RPW along the following lines: Either Scripture puts down a church polity in part or in whole. The latter is simply false, for there is no NT equivalent for the book of Leviticus. If they say “taken from Scripture” from its parts, then they are no different from Anglicans.

Furthermore, a “general command” necessarily excludes particular cases.  If we chose any particular, we would be violating the general command (78).

Hooker then examines the grammar of the argument: a thing ‘commanded’ in the word is not the same as ‘grounded’ in the word.  The former is positive, the latter negative.

 

John Frame: Doctrine of the Christian Life

If you have read Frame before, then you know what you are getting: carefully argued positions, fair treatment to opponents, and a staggering amount of biblical reflection. His tri-perspectivalism is on display here, as in earlier books. I will address it as the review moves forward.

He defines ethics as “living under God’s law, in God’s world, in the presence of God himself” (Frame 3). Further, these are Lordship ethics, and Lordship has three attributes:

1) Control:
2) Authority
3) Covenant presence.

He begins with a description of ethics and a brief (too brief, perhaps) survey of autonomous ethics. He notes that autonomous ethics are hamstrung by rationalist/irrationalist dialectic: man proclaims his own reason as the standard yet denies it is able to reach knowledge of God.

Following this he gives a commentary on the Decalogue, noting key particular applications. I am not going to give a summary of each commandment. Rather, I will note some of his more controversial claims, his more helpful sections, and other notae bene he makes.

Per the Second Commandment, and the Regulative Principle:

RPW advocates see three categories for what is biblically permissible: 1) express commands, 2) approved examples, and 3) theological inferences. Well and good, but adding these extra categories mitigates the simplicity of the RPW. Even worse, it “gives considerable scope for human reflection, in even determining ‘elements’” (471).

What about the specific words of our prayers? They don’t fit in the above categories. Are they circumstances? They can’t be that, since they aren’t “common to human actions and societies.”

What about temple worship? Not everything in the temple was typological of Christ’s sacrifice. It had prayer, teaching, and praise, yet these weren’t abrogated.

On the sixth commandment he gives an eloquent, and quite frankly emotionally-moving, defense of the unborn, with some interesting history on Operation Rescue. On sexual ethics he points out the naturalistic fallacy in the Roman Catholic arguments against *some* birth control methods.

Frame: Worship in Spirit and Truth

Frame, John. Worship in Spirit and Truth.

Caveat: I generally don’t like contemporary worship, so while I might agree with Frame, that doesn’t mean I like modern worship services per se.

The first 40 pages or so is a basic review of Covenantal history. This is familiar topic to most reformed readers, and while quite good, is probably not why people are reading this text. He then analyzes the RPW. He agrees with the claim that worship must be regulated by the Bible, but is concerned that RPW advocates have painted themselves in the corner. Per the RPW, Frame asks

What are these “circumstances” (WCF 21.1)? The Confession doesn’t say, except to note “light of nature.” I’m open to general revelation, and I would agree with the WCF on this point, but general revelation by its very definition resists specificity.

Saying “circumstances” are secular elements (also common to ordinary life–time, place) isn’t quite accurate. Frame notes, “There seem to be some matters in worship which are ‘not common to human actions and societies,” concerning which we must use our judgment (Frame 41; e.g., what precise words to use in our prayers). Prayer is not “common to society,” yet aside from repeating the psalms as prayers (and one could do far worse), it appears that we will have to use our own judgment. Frame scores points here.

Frame suggests we use “application” instead of “circumstance” (41). This avoids the Aristotelianism of earlier language. Can one use the language without adopting the concepts? Probably, but it’s hard and eventually something must change. I understand the Aristotelian distinction between substance and accidents, but when applied to worship we really don’t see the Bible using that approach.

Regarding Nadab and Abihu, Frame is correct to point out that this verse does not teach “What is not commanded is forbidden,” but “what is explicitly forbidden is forbidden.” Nadab and Abihu did not use the right kind of fire. They were doing a forbidden act.

Elements

I agree that the Bible regulates our worship. This statement is quite different from the typical RPW claim (see below). We have the premise:

1. We may only perform what Scripture commands.

We must add another premise:

2. In the end God only commands broad generalities (52).

Frame develops (2): Where does Scripture bifurcate worship into elements and circumstances? Scripture (a) nowhere divides worship into independent elements and (b) then brings them together. Which activity is elemental in character and which is simply an application of carrying out certain elements (53).

For example, per the above view, the Scripture prescribes singing psalms, whose content is identified. Scripture also prescribes public prayer and preaching, whose content is not really specified beyond “being biblical,” etc.

The things we do in worship are not always easily separated into elements and circumstances. Singing and teaching are not always distinct. When we sing a hymn, we teach other people (Col. 3:16).

In pp. 56-60 Frame gives his own list of a worship service, which is basically what you will find in any Reformed, non-covenanter service.

Instruments

The no-instruments Presbyterians say that instruments were tied to the temple worship and were abolished in the death of Christ. Frame responds:

Instruments were not always tied to Temple worship (see Miriam and David in the Tabernacle). Later, they were, and one could argue for progressive revelation, but the point is that they did not always have a Temple-only function (nor did God say that).
Further, we do actions today that were part of Temple worship: we pray in worship; we take oaths in worship; and we teach God’s word, yet none of this was abolished in the death of Christ.

We don’t really see Music in the OT as being set forth to typify the work of Christ.
True, we don’t see music in the synagogues, but we don’t know why so we can’t give a firm reason why not. How can one claim to be no-instruments yet still rely on a pitch pipe?

What about the body?

I can agree with Frame that dancing, clapping, etc is biblical. But there are also other biblical premises: don’t distract others. Let it be done decently and in good order (the OPC theme verse). It’s hard to imagine how one can have “spontaneous dancing and clapping” and not distract others in worship.

Criticisms

Frame doesn’t seem give weight to a particular sequential format of worship. To be fair, Scripture is not explicit on this point, but if there are biblical patterns of God’s redemption, should not our worship incorporate that? Personally, I am undecided on this point, but it is probably not accidental that many Reformed churches have a generally similar sequential order.

On another point, I understand his concerns about needing to express God’s truth in contemporary language, but it’s really hard to separate the medium from the message on this point. Frame acknowledges the point concerning “thrash metal” music in the service (141). Some forms of entertainment are so thoroughly identified with the most degenerate elements of culture that it is not wise to import them.

And Frame is very aware that worship is “not to cater to unbelievers” (146). Being a Christian has a grammar and a way of living. Yes, it should be intelligible to others, but the Christian life is also one of growth and maturity; sometimes it might be legitimate to express worship in a way that adequately corresponds to the richness of God’s redemption. On the other hand, I understand the Puritan desire for simplicity for the sake of not distracting from Chris

Radicalism: When Reform Becomes Revolution (Hooker)

Feature-header

Hooker, Richard. Radicalism: When Reform Becomes Revolution. The Preface to Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization. Eds. Littlejohn, Brad. Marr, Brian. Belschner, Bradley. Lincoln, NE: Davenant Institute, 2017.

Hooker’s argument is that when you “want to reform the church according to the word of God:” given the lack of some clear precepts and patterns, you are going to have people who a) believe any deviation from the RPW is sin, b) some who believe a) will nonetheless have different practices, which leads to c) they, too, are necessarily in sin.  

On one hand he is correct.  This is exactly what happened in history.  On the other hand he completely misses his target.  He labels those who think like this as “Presbyterians,” since they are following Knox and Calvin.  Historically, however, at least in England, the true radicals were the Independents. Presbyterians in England (and Scotland!) never really had the political competence to hold on to power.

Here is a survey and structure of Hooker’s argument:

(1) The “Radicals” have nowhere shown that the Established are breaking God’s law in their liturgy.

(2) The radicals sought to get as far away from popery as possible.  This ultimately lead to getting rid of the Lord’s Prayer et al in the service.  Anyone who disagreed was “disobeying the will of Christ” (2.2).

(3) Instead of civil authorities having authority in the church, we have lay leaders who have close to the same amount of authority.  Further compounding the problem, and Hooker doesn’t specifically make this argument, what if leaders in the community, yet not actually holding office, are also church leaders? This isn’t all that different in the end.

(4) Hooker asks where Scripture teaches the entire “Presbyterian package” (2.7). You can’t point to verses that teach “rule by elders.”  That’s not the issue. The problem is where are the elders’ session to report to a presbytery which reports to the Assembly?  

(5) This next argument isn’t a knock-down argument, but the radical types need to consider it: how come no church body in history (over the long term and in the mainstream) ever held to Calvin’s type of government?  While Rome, EO, and Canterbury view bishops differently, they at least hold to episcopalian government as a given–and this was a given since the earliest days.

(6) Related to (4), we can’t say we are following Scripture simply because Scripture doesn’t give us an outline of First Presbyterian Church, Colossae.  Nor does it give us an order of worship.

Hooker’s arguments simply show the difficulties in some hyper-Reformed views.  He doesn’t in the preface give an argument for his own position, nor does he offer any knock-down logical arguments.  

Liturgical Nestorianism (1)

I picked up Jordan’s treatise rebutting Greenville Seminary’s Worship in the Presence of God.  Disclaimer: I am certainly NOT advocating Jordan’s approach to worship nor really much else associated with the man.  But I do think Jordan neatly summarizes the situation and points out several flaws in some (not all) RPW approaches.  Jordan’s thesis is more or less correct: As (practical) Nestorianism is the separating the human and divine natures in Christ, leading to a diminution of the human nature, so liturgical Nestorianism means keeping the human so far away from worship that he is nothing more than a recipient who hears preaching sings (a little).

Initial key points:

  1. Strict RPW advocates charge any kind of maximalism in worship as going back to OT types and shadows, as best seen in Roman Catholic worship.  Jordan asks the obvious question: “Why do you assume (without proof) that Rome got Old Covenant worship correct?”
  2. The contrast in biblical is not a move from exterior to interior (this is Plato on crack) but from glory to glory.  The goal is eschatological maturation, not Platonic interiorizing.
  3. Strict RPW advocates claim that a) NT worship is based on the Synagogue and not the Temple; and b) NT worship is regulated by God by direct command.  Jordan points out that obvious: If this is true, then it is a meeting of silence.  Nowhere does God command what goes on in the Synagogue.  God simply commanded a holy convocation every Sabbath (Lev. 23).  He didn’t say anything else.
  4. If something is “Fulfilled” in the New Covenant why do we normally assume that “fulfilled” means “done away with?”  Isn’t this the textbook definition of dispensationalism?  Mind you, I don’t think that everything should be done in the New Covenant.
  5. When God commands singing in the Bible, it is always accompanied by instruments.  The 4th book of the Psalter (specifically Psalms 90-98) progresses from the arrival to the enthronement of Yahweh’s king).  Music is connected with ascension and enthronement (Jordan 37).
  6. Levitical priests weren’t really mediators.  There weren’t any mediators before Moses (not systematically).  Levitical priests were household servants.  Psalm 110 tells us who the true Mediator is in the old covenant.  Only priests in union with the Melchizedekian priest-king mediate. But this is exactly what new covenant believers are (44).
  7. Can Revelation be used as an order of worship?  Maybe.

Worship in Spirit and Truth (Frame)

Frame does a decent job defining the RPW, and he is aware of the element/circumstance distinction, but he asks a number of tough questions:

What are these “circumstances” (WCF 21.1)?  The Confession doesn’t say, except to note “light of nature.”  I’m open to general revelation, and I would agree with the WCF on this point, but general revelation by its very definition resists specificity.

  • Saying “circumstances” are secular elements (also common to ordinary life–time, place) isn’t quite accurate.  Frame notes, “There seem to be some matters in worship which are ‘not common to human actions and societies,” concerning which we must use our judgment (Frame 41; e.g., what precise words to use in our prayers).  Prayer is not “common to society,” yet aside from repeating the psalms as prayers (and one could do far worse), it appears that we will have to use our own judgment.  Frame scores points here.
  • Frame suggests we use “application” instead of “circumstance” (41).  This avoids the Aristotelianism of earlier language.  Can one use the language without adopting the concepts?  Probably, but it’s hard and eventually something must change.
  • Regarding Nadab and Abihu, Frame is correct to point out that this verse does not teach “What is not commanded is forbidden,” but “what is explicitly forbidden is forbidden.”  It is not simply that Nadab and Abihu did not use the right kind of fire.  They were doing a forbidden act.  

Elements

Agreed that the Bible regulates our worship.  We have the premise:

(1) We may only perform what Scripture commands.

We must add another premise:

(2) In the end God only reveals broad generalities (52).

Frame develops (2):  Where does Scripture bifurcate worship into elements and circumstances?   Scripture (a) nowhere divides worship into independent elements and (b) then brings them together.  Which activity is elemental in character and which is simply an application of carrying out certain elements (53).  

(3) For example, per the above view, the Scripture prescribes singing psalms, whose content is identified.  Scripture also prescribes public prayer and preaching, whose content is not really identified.

(4) The things we do in worship are not always easily separated into elements and circumstances.  Singing and teaching are not always distinct.  When we sing a hymn, we teach other people (Col. 3:16).

In pp. 56-60 Frame gives his own list of a worship service, which is basically what you will find in any sane Reformed, non-covenanter service.

Celebrating Holidays

What do we mean by the word “celebrate?”

Exclusive Psalmody

Frame gives a number of powerful arguments against exclusive psalmody.

  • EP works if one can prove that “song” is an element of worship, and not a circumstance.  Frame, however, has shown that this distinction breaks down.  Further, we teach by songs (Colossians 3:16), yet few would deny the so-called elemental nature of singing.
  • Scripture never says the Psalter is the “divine hymnbook.”  In fact, such a view would militate against Scripture.  There were worship songs before the Psalter (Ex. 15; Num. 27; Dt. 32; Judgs 5).  After the Psalter, did God then forbid the use of these songs?
  • God often calls for “a new song,” even in the Psalms themselves! (Pss. 33:3; 40:3; 144:9; 149).  In fact, his people are supposed to respond to his mighty works with new songs and praise.
  • The last criticism is practical:  how seriously can we take the EP claim when the only way it works is to severely “work over” the psalms into metrical and versified form?  

Instruments

The no-instruments Presbyterians say that instruments were tied to the temple worship and were abolished in the death of Christ.   Frame responds:

  • Instruments were not always tied to Temple worship (see Miriam and David in the Tabernacle).  Later, they were, and one could argue for progressive revelation, but the point is that they did not always have a Temple-only function (nor did God say that).
  • Further, we do actions today that were part of Temple worship:  we pray in worship; we take oaths in worship; and we teach God’s word.
  • We don’t really see Music in the OT as being set forth to typify the work of Christ.
  • True, we don’t see music in the synagogues, but we don’t know why so we can’t give a firm reason why not.
  • How can one claim to be no-instruments yet still rely on a pitch pipe?

What about the body?

I can go with frame that dancing, clapping, etc is biblical.  But there are also other biblical premises:  don’t distract others.  Let it be done decently and in good order (the OPC theme verse).  Charismatics routinely fail on these two points.

Criticisms

Frame doesn’t seem give weight to a particular sequential format of worship.  To be fair, Scripture is not explicit on this point, but if there are biblical patterns of God’s redemption, should not our worship incorporate that?  

On another point, I understand his concerns about needing to express God’s truth in contemporary language, but it’s really hard to separate the medium from the message on this point.  Frame acknowledges the point concerning “thrash metal” music in the service (141).  Some forms of entertainment are so thoroughly identified with the most degenerate elements of culture that it is not wise to import them.  

And Frame is very aware that worship is “not to cater to unbelievers” (146).  Being a Christian has a grammar and a way of living.  Yes, it should be intelligible to others–and this is my main criticism of Greek Orthodox in America–but the Christian life is also one of growth and maturity