Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Week's Pause

Since I'll be spending the next week on a Army Cadet camp, there'll be a slight pause... But don't worry - I'll have loads to say when I get back!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Duchess of Buckingham on Whitefield

Sachy reminded me of this letter a few days ago, and I have just had occasion to type it into a talk I'm writing. It is a stunning (and consequently very sad) expression of someone spurning the gospel in pride. I felt moved to use it in commenting on Mark 2:13-17.

Letter from the Duchess of Buckingham replying to Lady Huntington's invitation that she come and hear Whitefield preach (quoted in Pollock p. 103).
'I thank your Ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist preachers. Their doctrines are most repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks and to do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.’

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

John Frame 'Worship in Spirit and Truth' (P&R)

Outstanding! JF's sub-title is absolutely right: A refreshing study of the principles and practice of biblical worship. This book does exactly what it says on the tin - examining the said principles and practices in a refreshing way...

The first time I read this (or, more accurately, skim-read this) book I thought it unclear (there may be a moral here for my skim-reading great and wise authors like JF!). Anyway, on this latest reading I think it an excellent book - clear, biblical, refreshing, and broadly right. Let me tell you why.

On the negative side, it is certainly written for the American audience (which has an up-side in that it has the short & simple words & phrases they require!). It is thus written against a different back-drop and into a situation distinct to mine. This is noticeable in small ways - I know very few of the hymns/songs he refers to, and in much larger ways, such as the importance of the Westminster Confession in his argumentation... But I like the WCF and want to take it seriously while not always agreeing with every bit of it (see 'Why does it Matter' in my previous post on the Regulative Principle).

Possibly my major regret is that JF doesn't clarify the distinction between 'worship' and 'gathered worship' right at the start, and use those terms more clearly. This may well be deliberate, but I haven't worked out what positive he derives, and I think it slightly mars his clarity, particularly early on...

But it is great!
Not only from his other outstanding writings, but also because he plans and leads the worship (pp. 33-4 justify this use of that word!) at his home church, we know that this will be a serious and thought-through book.
JF takes seriously the issues of Presbyterianism's Regulative Principle, which has always been taken to state that nothing should be done during formal gathered worship other than those things commanded in Scripture, and argues for a revised understanding of it. Thus after 3 introductory chapters (basic principles, OT & NT) and the aforementioned argument (ch 4) he then describes the what, why and how of gathered worship over 8 chapters, with a final one talking through a real-life exemplar service he put together. Each chapter has questions after it to help us think things through.

I particularly appreciate this book because it avoids the unjustified & stifling minimalism so prevalent in other Conservative Evangelical treatments of worship, presenting exciting concepts with clear and cogent arguments.

JF is particularly excellent and/or challenging (for me) on:
  • The regulative principle, obviously (37-46)
  • What to include (57-60)
  • Worship leaders (63-65)
  • Christmas (66)
  • Covenant Renewal stuff (68-69)
  • Emotion (77-82)
  • Dramas (92-94)
  • Individual participation (106-107)
  • Music (111-120)
  • Psalms (125, 135-138)
  • Clapping & dance (130-132, 148)
As I have typed out that list, I see it is a pretty fair chunk of the book. Don't let that put you off! Anyway, I'll very likely be posting on some of these in the near future...

A great book - truly a r
efreshing study of the principles and practice of biblical worship, that we might all think more about how to worship in spirit and truth.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Regulative Principle - Unprincipled Regulation?

I've been unconvinced by this for a while, and am only just beginning to get my head around why. But, before I get to that, a bit of background...

What is the regulative Principle?
Chapter 21.1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith holds that:
The light of nature shows 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. [Rom. i. 20; Acts xvii. 24; Ps. cxix. 68; Jer. x. 7; Ps. xxxi. 23; Ps. xviii. 3; Rom. x. 12; Ps. Ixii. 8; Josh. xxiv. 14; Mark xii. 33; Deut. xii. 32; Matt. xv. 9; Acts xvii. 25; Matt. iv. 9, 10; Deut. iv. 15 to 20; Exod. xx. 4, 5, 6; Col. ii. 23.]
Why Does this Matter?
Because it was written by a load of very wise and godly men, and so should be taken seriously. Richard Baxter held that 'the Christian world, since the days of the Apostles, had never a Synod of more excellent Divines (taking one thing with another) than this Synod and the Synod of Dort were.' If there is such a thing as a summary of Puritan thought, this is it. John Murray called it 'mature fruit of the whole movement of creed formation ... the crown of the greatest age of confessional exposition, the Protestant Reformation.' (HT David Field for these quotes - during his Puritan course last term - truly a highlight of life at Oak Hill!)
It matters not only because wise godly people said it ages ago, but also because many such hace followed it throughout the intervening years (e.g. Spurgeon) and still do today, particularly within Presbyterianism.

What does it Mean?
It has been generally understood to mean that nothing may be done in formal gathered worship other than what is commanded by Scripture. This seems to be fair to what the WCF writers wrote, taught elsewhere, and practiced.

What do I Think?
I think it is flawed, within its own terms.
For example, I can see no place in the Bible where exposition is commanded during formal gathered worship. Of course (1Tim 4:13) it is commanded that Timothy devote himself to it, but the gathering is not specified - and such examples could be multiplied...
But the particular revelation I experienced last term was that the WCF drafters themselves did not fully submit to it: the gathering was commanded to be on the Sabbath morning - which command cannot be found in the Bible.
This is not to deny that WCF's point that we can't just invent our worship - Nadab & Abihu proved that! But nor can we maintain only those things prescribed in Scripture.

What Should we Do?
My recent revelation on this was in reading John Frame's Worship in Spirit and Truth (P&R) where he expounds the Regulative Principle as a whole-life hermeneutic (the whole of life is, after all, worship). He affirms that the Bible is 'sufficient for our worship, as for all of our life. We must not add to it, and we dare not subtract from it.' (p. 39) He then distinguishes between situations and applications, and argues that the background to the said principle was enforced prescription of public gatherings for formal worship. He goes on to argue that such submission to Scripture must mark all that we do, so that 'we are free from anything "beside" the word, not only in "matters of faith or worship" but in all other areas of life as well... The job of human wisdom is to apply those commands [contained in Scripture] to specific situations.' (p. 43) He thus rejects the Regulative Principle's application only to official worship services, saying that it must govern all worship (pp. 44-5). Thus 'the regulative principle 'limits what we may do in worship, but it also alows different sorts of applications, and therefore a significant area of liberty.' (p. 45)

I like this; it sounds right. OK, it got JF into a whole heap of trouble with the Presbyterians over in the US, but I can live with that. As to whether or not this was the original intention of the Westminster Divines, I'm not convinced. But none of them thought they were writing unalterable perfection, and would be happy that reformata et semper reformanda be applied to their work.

So: I think I agree with JF, and am not entirely clear whether that means I agree with the WCF - but am not too bothered about that, having taken it seriously, and taken it to the bar of Scripture.