Thursday, February 18, 2016

On Covenants and the RPCNA Today

I'd like to preface this article by saying that this is a work that represents my own opinion and is not a majority position in the RPCNA today. In fact it might even be a stretch to consider it a minority position as it may in fact be somewhat unique in its basis. It is not my intent to create any division or ill-will between myself and my brothers and sisters in the RP Church and beyond, so please read it with those things in mind.

I have been studying the history of the Covenants of the Reformations in Scotland and their treatment by Reformed Presbyterians through the history of the RPCNA in particular. In my attempt to better understand rightly what Covenant faithfulness looks like in a nation which lacks recognition of a godly basis of authority and without a nationally established Kirk (Church) connected to its citizens from birth, I have come to some preliminary conclusions that I considered worth sharing.

The current Constitution of the RPCNA (2013) includes the Covenant of 1871 which has the following language in it:
"We confess and bewail our forgetfulness of the obligations laid upon us by the Covenants of our fathers, in that we have often walked contrary thereunto, in not testifying fully and clearly in word and act for the claims of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. We have sinned, too, in that, while witnessing for social covenanting as an ordinance of God, binding under the dispensation of the Gospel, we have not as a Church in this country, by our own act, performed the duty.

We do resolve and engage before the Lord carefully obedience to the command of God, comformably to the practice of the godly in former times and recognizing all that is moral in the Covenants of our worthy religious progenitors of the Second Reformation, do hereby give ourselves in covenant to God, to His Church, and to one another.

That after careful examination, having embraced the system of faith, order and worship revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and summarized, as to doctrine, in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and Reformed Presbyterian Testimony, and, as to order and worship, justly set forth in substance and outline in the Westminster Form of Church Government and Directory for Worship, we do publicly profess and own this as the true Christian faith and religion, and the system of order and worship appointed by Christ for His own house, and, by the grace of God, we will sincerely and constantly endeavor to understand it more fully, to hold and observe it in its integrity, and to transmit the knowledge of the same to posterity. We solemnly reject whatever is known by us to be contrary to the Word of God, our recognized and approved manuals of faith and order, and the great principles of the Protestant Reformation... We abjure and condemn Popery with...its corrupt and heretical teachings.

We reject all systems of false religion and will-worship...and pledge ourselves to pray and labor according to our power, that whatever is contrary to godliness may be removed, and the Church beautified with universal conformity to the law and will of her Divine Head and Lord.

Committing ourselves with all our interests to the keeping of Him in whom we have believed; in faithfulness to our own vows, and to the Covenants of our fathers...plainly and decidedly, oppose and discountenance all and every known error, immorality, neglect or perversion of divine institutions. Taking as our example...the great cloud of witnesses who have sealed with their blood the testimony which they held, we will strive to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering."

So, we find in the Covenant of 1871, multiple references to the Covenants of the Scottish Reformation forefathers. They are "obligations laid upon us," which would seem to me to indicate that they are believed to be in some sense binding upon Reformed Presbyterians today.
The Covenant of Communicant Membership vow (page G-1 of the Constitution) states in section 4 that the member does, "promise to submit in the Lord to the teaching and government of this church as being based upon the Scriptures and described in substance in the Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America."
It would seem the sense in which the Covenant of 1871 binds us to the "Covenants of our fathers," especially the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 (SL&C), and the Westminster Standards (listed in the Covenant of 1871 as specifically including the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, Westminster Form of Church Government and Directory for Worship along with the RPCNA Testimony) " is in their "General Equity" - language I've borrowed from WCF 19.4 in reference to the Mosaic law.
Even further to our duties to the SL&C, a small element of the RPCNA swore the SL&C at Octorara Pennsylvania in 1743. (And again renewed in Boston, with an acknowledgement of renovations, 1853.)
If this conclusion is correct, it would seem that we could be in need of review of the SL&C to determine our present obligations (in their general equity) and to revise the rest of the Constitution to bring it into conformity with the General Equity of the original Directories for Publick Worship and perhaps other documents produced by the covenanted reformation forefathers. One such example that comes to mind is the strict condemnation of observing "holy days" other than the Lord's Day as found in the Appendix to the Directory for Publick Worship and the First Book of Discipline of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland (1560).

As part of my research, I carefully examined the text of the original SL&C to see if I could determine what would, in fact, be binding to us from it today. A pastor in the RPCNA responded to an inquiry of mine about the SL&C stating, "All churches descending from what is now the UK are under the Solemn League and Covenant in its ecclesiastic aspects, so far as the circumstances allow. The RPCNA, for example, adopted and swore the Covenant of 1871 that attempted to do just that. There is occasional discussion internally on whether or not it still applies. A minority...believe it still does."

In keeping with his emphasis on its "ecclesiastic aspects, so far as the circumstances allow," I produced this post, entitled, "A Thought Exercise: What Would the SL&C Bind Covenanter Descendants to in America Today?" In the interest of space, I'll outline the elements that are in that revised version of the SL&C which removes its references to Kingdoms and Kings and obligations to them in favor of what remains obligations to the Covenanted Church:

  • Preservation of the reformed religion in the Church, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, against our common enemies
  • Promoting the peace, unity and uniformity in doctrine, and safety of the Church
  • Extirpation of popery and prelacy, superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and all things contrary to sound doctrine
  • To be an example in all these things and in Christian liberty to other nations
  • To discipline in the courts of the Church all those who act contrary to the goals of reformation for the benefit of our posterity
  • Do all in our power to remain zealous to promotion of these goals of reformation and peace in the Church, not defecting or becoming indifferent to them
  • Desire to be humbled for our sins, especially not valuing and defending the purity of the Gospel, seeking after Christ and living worthily of His presence, to repent and endeavor to meet fulfill all duties we owe to GOD and man
  • Implore the Lord to strengthen us for the task by his Holy Spirit
  • The advancement of the kingdom of our Lord and Savior JESUS CHRIST, and the true public liberty, safety, and peace of the [land]

So, if that is indeed our responsibility as the Reformed Presbyterian Church, I can only ask: what reason could we possibly have for not courageously and joyfully submitting to the Covenants of our forerunners in the Reformation of Christ's Church? Which of those things do the Westminster Standards (in their original forms) not already bind us to?

It is my prayer that we all as individual believers and as a denomination would do some prayerful soul-searching so that we might have confident answers to these questions with the Glory of Christ as our metric for the soundness of our answers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Thought Exercise: What Would the SL&C Bind Covenanter Descendants to in America Today?

Jer. 50:5 Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual Covenant that shall not be forgotten.
Prov. 25:5 Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.
2 Chron. 15:15 And all Judah rejoiced at the oath; for they had sworn with all their heart.
Gal. 3:15 Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed by an oath, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto.
All with one voice approve and embrace the same, as the most powerful mean, by the blessing of GOD, for settling and preserving the true Protestant religion with perfect peace, and propagating the same to other nations, that, being received and approven there the same may be, with publick humiliation, and all religious and answerable solemnity, sworn and subscribed by all true professors of the reformed religion
[Divers magistrates] did therefore, in the month of May 1643, meet together with the Commissioners for the common burdens, that, by joint advice, some resolution might be taken therein; and in respect of the danger imminent to the true Protestant religion by the multitude of Papists and their adherents in arms; appointed and caused indict a meeting being frequently kept by the [local magistrates] and they finding these dangers against kirk and state still increasing, resolved, after serious deliberation and advice of the [Reformed Church] that one of the chiefest remedies for preventing of these and the like dangers, for preservation of religion, and from ruin and destruction, and for procuring of peace, That [the Church] should, for these ends, enter into Covenant; which was accordingly drawn up, and cheerfully embraced and allowed.
for reformation and defence of religion, and the peace and safety of the Church; approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and the Assembly of Divines in England, and taken and subscribed by them anno 1643; and thereafter, by the said authority, taken and subscribed by all ranks in the [Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, at Octorara Pennsylvania anno 1743]. (And again renewed in Boston, with an acknowledgement of renovations, anno 1853.)
We, ministers of the Gospel, and commons of all sorts, in [the former colonies of England], by the providence of GOD living [in North America], and being of one reformed religion [the original Westminster Standards], having before our eyes the glory of God, and the advancement of the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST, and the true public liberty, safety, and peace of the [land], wherein every one’s private condition is included: and calling to mind the treacherous and bloody plots, conspiracies, attempts, and practices of the enemies of GOD, against the true religion and professors thereof in all places, ever since the reformation of religion; and how much their rage, power, and presumption, are of late, and at this time, increased and exercised, whereof the deplorable, distressed and dangerous state of the Church, is a present and public testimony: we have now at last (after other means of supplication, remonstrance, protestation, and sufferings), for the preservation of ourselves and our religion from utter ruin and destruction, according to the commendable practice of [covenanted societies] in former times, and the example of GOD’S people in other nations, after mature deliberation, resolved and determined to enter into a Mutual and Solemn League and Covenant, wherein we all subscribe, and each one of us for himself, with our hands lifted up to the Most High GOD, do swear,
I. That we shall sincerely, really, and constantly, through the grace of GOD, endeavor, in our several places and callings, the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, against our common enemies; the reformation of religion, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the Word of GOD, and the example of the best reformed Churches; and shall endeavour to bring the Churches of GOD to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory for Worship and Catechising; that we, and our posterity after us, may, as brethren, live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to dwell in the midst of us.
II. That we shall, in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy (that is, Church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissioners, deans, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness; lest we partake in other men’s sins, and thereby be in danger to receive of their plagues; and that the Lord may be one, and his mane one, in [these lands].
III. We shall, with the same sincerity, reality, and constancy, in our several vocations, endeavour, with our estates and lives, mutually, in the preservation and defence of the true religion and liberties of the [land]; that the world may bear witness with our consciences of our loyalty, and that we have no other thoughts or intentions to diminish [a covenanted government properly and formally recognizing the crown rights of King Jesus over nations of men].
IV. We shall also, with all faithfulness, endeavour the discovery of all such as have been or shall be incendiaries, malignants, or evil instruments, be hindering the reformation of religion, dividing the people, or making any faction or parties among the people, contrary to this League and Covenant; that they may be brought to trial, and receive condign punishment, as the degree of their offences shall require or deserve, or others having power from them for that effect, shall judge convenient.
V. And whereas the happiness of a blessed peace in the land, denied in former times to our progenitors, is, by the good providence of GOD, granted unto us; we shall, each one of us, according to our place and interest, endeavour that they may remain conjoined in a firm peace and union to all posterity; and that justice may be done upon the willful opposers thereof, in manner expressed in the precedent article.
VI. We shall also, according to our places and callings, in this common cause of religion, liberty, and peace of the [land], assist and defend all those that enter into this League and Covenant, in the maintaining and pursuing thereof; and shall not suffer ourselves, directly or indirectly, by whatsoever combination, persuasion, or terror, to be divided or withdrawn from this blessed union and conjunction, whether to make defection to the contrary part, or to give ourselves to a detestable indifferency or neutrality in this cause, which so much concerneth the glory of God, the good of the [land]; but shall, all the days of our lives, zealously and constantly continue therein against all opposition, and promote the same, according to our power, against all lets and impediments whatsoever; and what we are not able ourselves to suppress or overcome, we shall reveal and make known, that it may be timely prevented or removed: All which we shall do as in the sight of God.

And, because these lands are guilty of many sins and provocations against GOD, and his Son JESUS CHRIST, as is too manifest by our present distresses and dangers, the fruits thereof; we profess and declare, before GOD and the world, our unfeigned desire to be humbled for our own sins, and for the sins of these lands; especially that we have not, as we ought, valued the inestimable benefit of the Gospel; that we have not laboured for the purity and power thereof; and the we have not endeavoured to receive Christ in our hearts, not to walk worthy of him in our lives; which are the causes of other sins and transgression so much abounding amongst us: and our true and unfeigned purpose, desire, and endeavour, for ourselves, and all others under our power and charge, both in public and private, in all duties we owe to GOD and man, to amend our lives, and each one to go before another in the example of a real reformation; that the Lord may turn away his wrath and heavy indignation, and establish [His Church] and kingdom in truth and peace. And this Covenant we make in the presence of ALMIGHTY GOD, the Searcher of all hearts, with a true intention to perform the same, as we shall answer at that great day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed; most humbly beseeching the LORD to strengthen us by his HOLY SPIRIT for this end, and to bless our desires and proceedings with such success, as may be deliverance and safety to his people, and encouragement to other Christian Churches, groaning under, or in danger of the yoke of antichristian tyranny, to join in the same or like association and covenant, to the glory of GOD, the enlargement of the kingdom of JESUS CHRIST, and the peace and tranquillity of Christian kingdoms and commonwealths.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

True Doctrine of the Sabbath: Objection that we are in as great a bondage as the Jews under the law

The following is an excerpt from Sabbathum Veteris Et Novi Testamenti: or the True Doctrine of the Sabbath by Nicholas Bownd. A Critical Edition with Introduction and Analysis by Chris Coldwell from Reformation Heritage Books / Naphtali Press. p.255-257

If we are thus straitly bound to rest, we are still in as great a bondage as the Jews were under the law. 
But whereas some men might hereupon gather that if the case is thus between the Lord and us, in the matter of the Sabbath and that the commandment of resting stands in such force and strength, and binds us so strongly as it does; then our estate is no better than the Jews; the same yoke of bondage still lies upon our necks, that was upon them; and the freedom purchased by Christ is of none account; the liberty proper to a Christian man worth nothing, the gospel has no preferment above the law. 

We are not to rest for those ends and purposes for which they did. For answer thereunto we must consider that, first of all, we are delivered from that manner of keeping the Sabbath which the Jews were tied unto; as that it might put them in remembrance of that great rest which the Lord bestowed upon them, from the continual and intolerable work in Egypt, by the hand of Moses, unto the which end they were bound to have a principal respect; and so to keep the Sabbath, as they might most profit in it, even in thankfulness for that benefit received, which it cannot appertain unto us for we have not been in Egypt, and therefore cannot remember our delivery from thence. Though we are bound to the same rest with the Jews, yet our condition is more easy and tolerable, in that we are free from the appurtenance and this other burden is not laid upon us. 

We also have more liberty than they in the manner of sanctifying the day. The which we shall be so much the rather persuaded of, if we look into that liberty which is brought unto us by Christ, concerning the sanctifying also of the day of rest; which consists in such a multitude of purifications, washings and cleansings, and in such a great number of sacrifices and oblations, all which were doubled upon the Sabbath {Heb 9:9; Num 28:9}. And therefore the observation of the Sabbath was more laborious and painful unto them, and sooner might they offend in it; instead of which we have fewer things to do, and they are more simple, plain and easy, as the hearing of the Word, receiving of the sacraments, and prayer {Acts 2:42}. And  generally as our estate is better than was the Jews' in regard of the whole worship of God, which is now more evident, shorter, not so compounded, more significant, and with less difficulty; so upon the Sabbath, because the whole worship is to be performed, in consideration of that also, great are our privileges above theirs, as in all other things, so in the observation of the Sabbath.

And we are set free from all the childish rudiments annexed unto this day. Therefore, as we have great freedom in all other commandments above them, so in this. For must we needs confess that, though we are still bound as the Jews were to meditate upon the law of God, day and night (Ps 1:2), yet for so much as we are not commanded to carry it about in the skirts of our garments, and upon our bracelets (Num 15:38), as they were. And though we be not exempted from teaching it to our children, no more than they, yet because we are not charged with the writing it upon our gates, and the posts of our doors (Deut 6:8,9), as they were; must we not acknowledge that even in those things that we are bound unto in common with the Jews, we have more liberty than they ever had? So it is in the Sabbath. Though we are bound to keep the rest; yet because we are freed from many rudiments of it, which (as childish instructions to further them in it) they were bound unto, as we have seen in the former part of this treatise, we must thankfully profess that the Lord has dealt more liberally with us, than with them. So now, though we are charged to rest upon the Sabbath, yet when we are not overcharged with those Jewish ceremonies, which had been given to them (being children, Gal 4:3) as furtherances unto them; let us not complain before we have cause, neither murmur against God because we can not be so licentious as we would; seeing we are at such liberty as we are, and as it pleases the Lord to bestow upon us. And let us be so much the more careful to rest, by how much we have but this one thing to attend upon, and are made free from many other, which might hinder us.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Uzzah Incident

Scripture captures a fascinating chain of events in the history of King David and the people of Israel that results in a dramatic killing of a Priest named Uzzah who was helping to transport the Ark of the Covenant. This incident in the history of God's people is a highly instructive one as it relates to the principles of obedience to God's commands with respect to our service of worship to Himself. And it further demonstrates that our zeal without right knowledge is no excuse before Him.

The main of the incident is recorded for us in 2 Samuel 6:

And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of GodAnd David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day.

Exodus 25:8-40 gives an extensive description of how the Ark was to be constructed, what it was to contain and how it should be transported. God took great care in this to be very specific so that there would be no lack of understanding of what was to be required.

Note the specific directions on how it should be transported in Exodus 25:14-15:14 And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them. 15 The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it.
Recall that the Ark had been lost to Israel because of their superstition and disobedience. After the Philistines experienced curses upon themselves while they possessed the Ark, they eventually figured out that they must return the Ark to Israel to be rid of God's curses. 1 Sam 6:19 recounts for us:
19 And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter. 20 And the men of Bethshemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? and to whom shall he go up from us? 21 And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjathjearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the Lord; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.

The Philistines are begging them to get the Ark out of there! Now, we might expect that the pagan Philistines have no clue of how the Ark should be handled. But what of the people of God? What of his Priest Uzzah who is specially trained?

1 Sam 7:1-2 shows us that it sat in a man's house for 20 years!
1 And the men of Kirjathjearim came, and fetched up the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.

1 Sam 14:18
18 And Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God. For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel.

The Ark of God has been sitting at some guy's house or another for a total now of about 70 years between the Philistines and Abiniadab. That is generations of negligence toward God's Ark!

David has been in exile through Saul's reign and has become King of Israel and he wants to restore the proper worship of the people after a long period of neglect.

So, David has good intentions. But do good intentions please God in matters of Worship?  Romans 10:2 gives us an important warning, “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”

Look at what David does:

First, he figures out where he went wrong:
1 Chronicles 15 tells us:
Then David said, None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever. 12 And said unto them, Ye are the chief of the fathers of the Levites: sanctify yourselves, both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel unto the place that I have prepared for it. 13 For because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order. 14 So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. 15 And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the Lord.

And we have the parallel account in 2 Samuel as well.

2 Sam 6:1-3
1 Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims.
3 And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart.
But God had not commanded that the ark be transported upon a cart! It was only to be transported by men carrying it by staves inserted into the rings on the side of it as commanded in Exodus 25:14-15. 

In spite of all this ceremony and 30,000 men being present, the disobedience of David and more specifically the Priests who are trained to properly transport the Ark is dealt with by God in the most grave manner!

Uzzah had good intentions. He wanted to prevent the Ark from falling off the cart. But was Uzzah pleasing God?

Matthew Henry writes:
"There he sinned, and there he died, by the ark of God; even the mercy-seat would not save him. Why was God thus severe with him? 1. The touching of the ark was forbidden to the Levites expressly under pain of death - lest they die;  2. God saw the presumption and irreverence of Uzzah's heart. Familiarity, even with that which is most awful [awe-inspiring], is apt to breed contempt 3. David afterwards owned that Uzzah died for an error they were all guilty of, which was carrying the ark in a cart. Because it was not carried on the Levites' shoulders, the Lord made that breach upon us, 1 Chronicles 15:13. But Uzzah was singled out to be made an example, perhaps because he had been most forward in advising that way of conveyance; however he had fallen into another error, which was occasioned by that. Perhaps the ark was not covered, as it should have been, with the covering of badgers' skins (Numbers 4:6), and that was a further provocation. 4. God would hereby strike an awe upon the thousands of Israel, would convince them that the ark was never the less venerable for its having been so long in mean circumstances, and thus he would teach them to rejoice with trembling, and always to treat holy things with reverence and holy fear. 5. God would hereby teach us that a good intention will not justify a bad action; it will not suffice to say of that which is ill done that it was well meant. He will let us know that he can and will secure his ark, and needs not any man's sin to help him to do it. 6. If it was so great a crime for one to lay hold on the ark of the covenant that had no right to do so, what is it for those to lay claim to the privileges of the covenant that come not up to the terms of it? To the wicked God says,What hast thou to do to take my covenant in thy mouth? Psalm 50:16Friend, how camest thou in hither?If the ark was so sacred, and not to be touched irreverently, what is the blood of the covenant? Hebrews 10:29The memorial of this stroke would be a warning to posterity to take heed of all rashness and irreverence in dealing about holy things."

So, we note that in addition to failing to transport the ark in the right manner, they also failed to obey God's command to cover it properly. David's right recognition that the sin was not only of Uzzah but of all those present and doubly so for himself as the King reflects that David has been appropriately chastened by God's correction.

Let us never be guilty of carrying the Ark on an oxcart before the eyes of God in our worship!

My special thanks to my Pastor, the Rev. Mark Koller of Dallas RPCNA for his sermon on this topic, "The Sin of Uzzah," which I commend to you.

The Regulative Principle of Worship in Scripture

Deut. 12:29-32   “When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land,  30 take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, “How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’  31 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.  32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

1 Sam 15:22
And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

Matt 15:9
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Mark 7:7-9
7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as  the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Ex. 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Lev. 10:1-3 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.  2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.  3 And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying:‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” So Aaron held his peace.

Deut. 4:1-2 “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.  2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Deut. 28:1-2 “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth.  2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:

Acts 7:44, Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen.

Hebrews 8:5, They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

Exodus 20:25
25 And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it.

Isaiah 65:2-7
I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts; 3 A people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face; Who sacrifice in gardens, And burn incense on altars of brick; 4 Who sit among the graves, And spend the night in the tombs; Who eat swine’s flesh, And the broth of abominable  things is in their vessels; 5 Who say, “Keep to yourself, Do not come near me, For I am holier than you!’ These are smoke in My nostrils, A fire that burns all the day. 6 “Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence, but will repay— Even repay into their bosom— 7 Your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together,” Says the LORD, “Who have burned incense on the mountains And blasphemed Me on the hills; Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom.”

Col 2:18-23
18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. 20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

John Owen on Psalmody

“Now though spiritual songs of mere human composure may have their use, yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter & words are of immediately Divine inspiration; and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which the Apostle useth, Ephes. 5.19. Col.3.16.” ~ John Owen, Preface to the 1673 edition of the Scottish Metrical Version of the Psalms of David

“Unto this end there is a more glorious power and efficacy in one epistle, one psalm, one chapter, than in all the writings of men, though they have their use also. He that hath not experience hereof is a stranger unto the power of God in the Scripture”. (Works of John Owen, edited by Goold, Vol iv, 190.)

Whatever forms of prayer were given out unto the use of the church by divine authority and inspiration, as the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms or Prayers of David, they are to have their everlasting use therein, according unto what they were designed unto. And be their end and use what it will, they can give no more warranty for human compositions unto the same end, and the injunction of their use, than for other human writings to be added unto the Scripture…So the orthodox and the Arians composed prayers, hymns, and doxologies, the one against the other, inserting in them passages confirming their own profession and condemning that of their adversaries. Now, however this invention might be approved whilst it kept within bounds, yet it proved the Trojan horse that brought in all evils into the city of God in its belly.”
 …Had the churches of Christ been left unto their primitive liberty under the enjoined duties of reading and expounding the Scripture, of singing psalms unto the praise of God, of the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and of diligent preaching the word, all of them with prayer, according unto the abilities and spiritual gifts of them who did preside in them, as it is evident that they were for some ages, it is impossible for any man to imagine what evils would have ensued thereon that might be of any consideration, in comparison of those enormous mischiefs which followed on the contrary practice”. (Ibid,iv, 240-6)

“Offering prayers and praises to God in the name of Jesus Christ, reading the holy Scripture and expounding of it, singing of psalms to God, preaching of the word, with the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, in a religious observation of the Lord’s day unto these ends, all according as God doth enable them by his Spirit, is the sum and substance of the worship of the catholic church, wherein all Christians are agreed. These things the Scripture doth prescribe, and these things the church in all ages hath observed. All differences about this worship, which have filled the world with inhuman contentions, arose from men’s arbitrary addition of forms, rites, modes, ceremonies, languages, cringings, adorations, which they would have observed in it; whereof the Scripture is silent and primitive antiquity utterly ignorant. And it may be it will be one day understood, that the due observance of this catholic worship, according as God enableth any thereunto (leaving others at liberty to use such helps unto their devotion as they shall think meet), is the only communion of worship in the church which the Scripture requires, or which is possible to be attained. About the imposition of other things, there ever were, since they were, and ever will be, endless contentions”. xvi, 218-9.

“Q. 17. Which are the principal institutions of the gospel to be observed in the worship of God? A. The calling, gathering, and settling of churches, with their officers, as the seat and subject of all other solemn instituted worship; prayer, with thanksgiving; singing of psalms; preaching the word; 5administration of the sacraments of baptism and the supper of the Lord; discipline and rule of the church collected and settled” xiv, 477 (From Owen’s Short Catechism – proof texts for the ‘singing of psalms’ are Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 – very similar to WCF, which also has James 5:13).

“And it is merely from a spirit of contention that some call on us or others to produce express testimony or institution for every circumstance in the practice of religious duties in the church, and on a supposed failure herein, do conclude that they have power themselves to institute and ordain such ceremonies as they think meet, under a pretence of their being circumstances of worship; for as the directive light of nature is sufficient to guide us in these things, so the obligation of the church unto it makes all stated additions to be useless, as on other accounts they are noxious. Such things as these are:…translations and tunes of psalms in singing” xiv, 232.

“And this proved the great means of the apostasy of the Christian church also: for, to maintain some appearance of spiritual affections, men introduced carnal incitations of them into evangelical worship, such as singing, with music and pompous ceremonies; for they find such things needful to reconcile the worship of God unto their minds and affections, and through them they appear to have great delight therein. … Hence Austin [Augustine] tells us that singing in the church was laid aside by Athanasius at Alexandria; not the people’s singing of psalms, but a kind of singing in the reading of the Scripture and some offices of worship, which began then to be introduced in the church. And the reason he gave why he did it was, that the modulation of the voice and musical tune might not divert the minds of men from that spiritual affection which is required of them in sacred duties”. vii, 424-5

“The argument will not hold, so far as it is usually extended at least: “God himself hath prescribed some forms of prayer, to be used by some persons on some occasions; therefore, men may invent, yea, and prescribe those that shall be for common and constant use.” He who forbade all images, or all use of them, in sacred things, appointed the making of the cherubims in the tabernacle and temple. David’s Psalms were given out by immediate inspiration, and were most of them mystical and prophetical, appointed to be used in the church, as all other Scriptures, only some of them in a certain manner, namely, of singing, and that manner also was determined by divine appointment.” iv, 349

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

John Calvin on the Regulative Principle of Worship

I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to his worship, if at variance with his command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, "Obedience is better than sacrifice." "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," (1 Sam. 15:22; Matt. 15:9). Every addition to his word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere "will worship" (ethelothreeskeia) is vanity. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate.

Having observed that the word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a licence of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience. If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain. What more would we? God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colors; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom; but as God values obedience more than all sacrifices, it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God.
~ John Calvin, On the Necessity of Reforming the Church”, 1554, for the Imperial Diet at Spires

It must be regarded as a fixed principle, that all modes of worship devised by man are detestable. [Institutes I.XI.4]

The Lord cannot forget himself, and it is long since he declared that nothing is so offensive to him as to be worshipped by human inventions. [Institutes IV.X.17]

The doctrine of the true worship of God is not to be sought from men, because the Lord has faithfully and fully taught us in what way he is to be worshipped. [Institutes IV.X.8]

He has been pleased to prescribe in his Law what is lawful and right, and thus restrict men to a certain rule, lest any should allow themselves to devise a worship of their own. [Institutes I.XII.3]

“We know that elsewhere there are many other ceremonies which we deny not to be very ancient, but because they have been invented at pleasure, or at least on grounds which, be these what they say, must be trivial, since they have been devised without authority from the word of God, and because, on the other hand, so many superstitions have sprung from them, we have felt no hesitation in abolishing them, in order that there might be nothing to prevent the people from going directly to Jesus Christ. First, whatever is not commanded, we are not free to choose. Secondly, nothing which does not tend to edification ought to be received into the Church. If anything of the kind has been introduced, it ought to be taken away, and by much stronger reason, whatever serves only to cause scandal, and is, as it were, an instrument of idolatry and false opinion, ought on no account to be tolerated.”
~ “The Form of Prayers and Ecclesiastical Chants with the Manner of Administering the Sacraments and Solemnizing Marriage, according to the Custom of the Ancient Church”, 1542 John Calvin

“By forbidding the addition, or diminishing of anything, he plainly condemns as illegitimate whatever men invent of their own imagination; whence it follows that they, who in worshipping God are guided by any rule save that which He Himself has prescribed, make to themselves false gods; and, therefore, horrible vengeance is denounced by Him against those who are guilty of this temerity…” (Commentary on Deuteronomy 12:32)

“But Christ has faithfully and accurately given the meaning, that in vain is God worshipped, when the will of men is substituted in the room of doctrine. By these words, all kinds of will-worship, (ethelothzeskeia,) as Paul calls it, (Colossians 2:23,) are plainly condemned. For, as we have said, since God chooses to be worshipped in no other way than according to his own appointment, he cannot endure new modes of worship to be devised. As soon as men allow themselves to wander beyond the limits of the Word of God, the more labor and anxiety they display in worshipping him, the heavier is the condemnation which they draw down upon themselves; for by such inventions religion is dishonored….for Christ declares them to be mistaken who bring forward, in the room of doctrine, the commandments of men, or who seek to obtain from them the rule for worshipping God. Let it therefore be held as a settled principle, that, since obedience is more highly esteemed by God than sacrifices, (1 Samuel 15:22,23,) all kinds of worship invented by men are of no estimation in his sight; nay more, that, as the prophet declares, they are accursed and detestable.” (Commentary on Matthew 15:9)