In case they don’t approve these

To my surprise OB approved one of my comments.  I wonder why they haven’t approved this one.  Maybe they know, apropos my last sentence, that they can’t give a non-circular justification of their traditions.
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    I’m not saying the distinction is perfect, but an answer does hint itself. The concept of equity. Paul even acknowledged this in 1 Corinthians. A circumstance of worship is choosing whether to worship at 3 AM or 11 AM. Both could be pleasing to God, but equity–for most communities, anyway–facilitates the latter.

    And even some Scottish churches–especially during the Killing Times–worshiped standing up (since they were in the fields!). In fact, we can even see hints of a congregation sitting in 1 Corithians. When Paul admonishes their bad Eucharistic practices, he seems to suggest they are to be at something akin to a feast, which most people celebrate in a sitting or reclining position. In fact, if we are to go back to even the Institution of the Supper, all of the disciples–John anyway–were reclining.

    As to your latter two paragraphs, I simply dispute the assertion that your traditions today are the same ones that Paul mentioned in his letters.

Some other five points

The biggest defenders of TULIP today are not Reformed Presbyterians, but young, Reformed and Restless baptists.  The difference is that the former see TULIP, such as it is, within the larger setting of Reformed Worship and the Covenant.  The latter see it as a freer floating system of doctrine.

Today’s Five Points are the Five Points of Perth, an attempted imposition of prelatic worship upon the people of Scotland.  For the most part, they are not immediately logically connected with soteriology.  I highlight them, though, because the Reformation–especially in its Scottish and Reformed manifestations–was a Reformation of worship.  If you do not grant that point you will never understand Reformation Thought.

If we want to reduce theology to serieses of Five Points, why limit it to soteriology?   Why not go the Covenantal Route?  Or the worship route.  Below are the Five Points of Perth that the Reformers rejected.

  1. Kneeling at Communion
  2. Private Communion
  3. Immediacy of Baptism to Infants
  4. Confirmation by Bishops
  5. Recognition of Holy Days

The Reformers rejected (1) because it implied a worship of the host. I agree, but I will take the rejection a step further: it is the Lord’s Supper.  We feast and sit at a supper.  We eat and commune with one another.   Kneeling makes this all but impossible.

In line with the above, we reject (2) because it is a communion of the church with one another.  How can we commune with one another when we are by ourselves?

(3) is different.  Provided health reasons aren’t an obstacle, there isn’t a problem with immediacy of baptism,  The Reformers objected because the article implies extreme baptismal regeneration.  The only way to keep the infant from hell was to get him baptized immediately in case he died.

(4) This can get interesting.  If one is using bishop in the original sense of adminstrator, then this isn’t much different from a Presbyterial ordination.  If on the other hand the bishop is the dispenser of sacramental grace and mediates a higher reality to us lower realities, then it is wrong.  That is neo-Platonism.

(5) I don’t have much to add on this beyond what is normally said.  What is interesting, though, is how this plays out.  I saw a generic evangelical minister argue that “If the church has a mid-week Christmas/Eostre service, then the believer is obligated to attend.”  He meant well, but this is nothing more than binding the conscience beyond what the word of God allows.

Are you using the right incense?

I have one more post in my series on High Southern Culture.  I plan to address the historiography of the so-called “Confederates in the Pulpit.”   A minor detour for the moment.  The closest any high church tradition can get in the bible’s commanding our use of incense is in Malachi 1:11

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be[b] great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.

Granted this isn’t actually a command but it seems that God sees their use of incense in the coming generations.  Several difficulties come to mind:

  1. To be consistent with the text, are you also offering “the pure offering?”   If you spiritualize that part of the text, why is the Protestant wrong in spiritualizing the incense part?
  2. Are you using the proper formula set forth in Exodus 30:9 (You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it)?
  3. If you are not offering the 1:1 formula, you are literally playing with fire, since the “non-judge-non-wrathful-God not-killed” Nadab and Abihu for offering unauthorized incense.
  4. If you are using the 1:1 formula, then one has to ask why we as New Covenant Christians have to go back to the types and shadows which the Book of Hebrews put a stop to?

Turretin on post New-Covenant, non-canonical festivals

(These–and others–are some old notes that I had on Turretin which I thought I had published)

First of all, festivals properly so-called must be commanded by the divine word because God has the right of proscribing how he wants to be worshiped.  The question then follows, do we see any such command?  Any appeal to “unwritten tradition” assumes what it is trying to prove and thus commits the fallacy of “asserting the consequence” (It looks like this:  if p, then q.   Q; therefore, p.  A Protestant inquirer could ask of the anchorites, “Where is the biblical warrant for practicing x?   The anchorite could then respond, ‘St Paul told us to ‘hold to the traditions.’” The problem comes in the next question, “How do we know that the traditions that Paul mentioned are the ones you are doing today?”  The anchorite can give one of two answers to this question:  if he says that the the church has remained unbroken in its liturgy; therefore, it is the practices observed today, then he has just affirmed the consequent of his argument and reasoned fallaciously.  On the other hand, he can admit that he doesn’t know if the traditions are the same, in which case the Reformed objection stands).

But what of Paul’s keeping the feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16)?  Several things may be observed:  1) This could be seen as the time-between-times of Old and New Covenant; 2) Paul nowhere intimates that it should be kept necessarily; 3) if it Pentecost is to be kept necessarily, in no way does it follow that saints’ days today are binding on the conscience.

An interesting Puritan take is seen in the following clip, where Generals Cromwell and Rainsborough force the surrender of some Cavaliers.

Review: Recovering Reformed Confession

Whether intended or not, Dr Clark’s book can be focused around three themes: 1) a distinctively Reformed piety flows from a Reformed theology and this piety will be directly counter to the 2) Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) and 3) The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). The latter two are evident when people want to have a type of infallible knowledge beyond that which human beings are capable of (QIRC) and a religious experience that promises more of heaven than is possible in this present age (QIRE).

Dr Clark has an interesting chapter on confessional subscription and thoroughly summarizes the debates within conservative Reformdom. To be honest, I couldn’t follow it, though I suspect it raised an interesting point for Dr Clark: he wants to hold to a thorough and strict confessional subscription, yet he recognizes the he differs from the Confessions on the civil magistrate and creation.

He has a strong chapter on the Regulative Principle and convincingly argues for the singing of only inspired songs (not EP, though).

Analysis and Conclusion

Sometimes God does promise and give heaven

Clark’s larger argument is that we should be suspicious of those who claim that we should have spiritual experiences outside the divinely-established means of grace and preaching of the Word. Admittedly, this is a fair point. Clark’s antagonist is Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). MLJ repeatedly urged for a “revival” to come, understanding revival as an experimental outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Clark, 79). Clark rebuts him, noting that MLJ is advocating Calvin’s doctrine without Calvin’s sacramental piety. Clark does admit, though, that MLJ never used “revival” to manipulate his own people (81).

Clark takes issue with Iain Murray’s distinction between “revival” and “revivalism.” In the first category would be Reformed evangelists like Edwards and Whitefield. In the latter category we have the horror of today’s evangelicalism. Clark accuses Murray of using providence to justify revivals he likes but ignoring providence on revivals he doesn’t like (81-82). Clark concludes his critique of Murray by asserting on Murray’s gloss what unites true Christianity is “experience, not doctrine” (82).

Clark does a good job in pointing out some weaknesses in individual Reformed evangelists and in some of the more inane happenings in the First Great Awakening. He also points out what many are now beginning to realize: Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed confession on a number of key philosophical points. Clark also establishes that Harry Stout’s narrative of Whitefield cannot be so easily dismissed.

There are some inconsistencies and factual errors in Clark’s analysis, though. Murray does not simply lump the Arminian and Calvinistic revivals in the same category. He is very critical of the Second Great Awakening towards its end. Further, Murray does not promote experience over doctrine as the basis of unity. Murray is specifically arguing, however, that the communions in North America shared a common, if somewhat broad, doctrinal agreement on soteriological concerns. I would probably side with Clark on this one, since Murray’s account downplays important ecclesial issues, but it is not the case that Murray simply compromised doctrinal agreement. Most importantly, however, is that Clark does not come to grips with Iain Murray’s distinction between revival and revivalism. The latter is not merely hoping for the Spirit of God to be poured out as an alternative to the means of grace. It is more properly seen as “whooping and hollering” until the decisions come. Revival, on the other hand, is when God sovereignly displays his power among his people in an unusual way. Further, Clark seems to grant that distinction with regard to MLJ (Clark, 81) but not with Murray.

I suspect MLJ overplayed his hand on the importance of revival. Clark is correct on one point: the church’s sanctification is through the means of grace and discipline. That is the established norm. I think I can also argue, though, that MLJ’s views can be modified and accommodate some of Clark’s concerns on this point. MLJ strongly argued “that the New Testament appeal to sanctification is always an appeal to the reason of the believing man” (Murray, The Fight of Faith, 173). Of course, one would need to supplement this statement with a discussion on the Lord’s Supper, but it is a good start.

While Clark is correct that MLJ probably doesn’t represent good Reformed ecclesiology, MLJ’s exegesis is not so easily dismissed. Perhaps MLJ’s understanding of the 1859 revival doesn’t rest on exegesis (with that I agree with Clark), but MLJ’s understanding of the nature of revival and even the continuation of spiritual gifts (and I know this is uncomfortable with many) does rest upon carefully-reasoned exegesis (cf. MLJ, Prove all Things, 32-33; Joy Unspeakable, p. 21, 23; The Sovereign Spirit, p. 26, 120, pp. 31-32). In any case, MLJ does encourage his congregation to delight in the day of small things and to be careful in seeking “phenomena.” That at least must be granted. I agree with Clark that MLJ was perhaps a bit too dismissive of anyone who disagreed with him. That was not helpful on the latter’s part.

I fear that Clark’s model of QIRE, while valuable, can be overused to filter out any contrary evidence. Further, it does not account for a lot of the Puritans’ experiences where they were in fact met with much of the Spirit of God. At this point if Clark dismisses them and uses Calvin’s praxis against them, then it is hard to see how he is not adopting some form of the Calvin vs. Calvinists scheme.

I have had some questions about Clark’s analysis. I think I have demonstrated that it is incomplete. I agree with his overall vision for the Reformed church’s sanctification through Word and Sacrament and that those who constantly seek revival downplay this. Further, I agree with all of his criticisms of Edwards and most of his criticisms of Whitefield. That said, however, Clark’s analysis really can’t account for the fact that God indeed does refresh his church in powerful ways from time to time. Admittedly, we are interpreting facts at this point, but they are still facts. While we shouldn’t sit on our hands waiting for revival to come, that does not mean that when God sovereignly displays his power in our lives we should say to him, “No God, this isn’t how you work.” (Of course, I don’t think Clark is saying that).

An Infallible Assurance?

We are grateful that Clark has shown us how to develop a piety around a specifically Reformed epistemology. A proper use of the ectypal distinction can save one from spiritual death. The ectypal distinction is one of the most useful Reformed tools against some traditionalistic apologetics. If we can only know according and within the human limits of knowledge, then we can rest content with a modest certainty on some important issues (election, the canon, etc). I have to wonder, though, if Clark’s model can accommodate all the evidence. For example, how can a proper limited certainty coexist with the WCF’s affirmation that we can have “an infallible assurance?”

Clark’s model is good and should be employed in the Reformed world. I think, however, it might become a victim to its own successes. As when Vos’ “already-not yet” model proved very helpful in eschatology, it also unwittingly served to stifle further discussion.


Two good cessationist responses to Strange Fire

I cite Doug Wilson with caution.  Few men have done more mischief to the Reformed faith, but this is a good article.  The next one is by a Fundamentalist Baptist.   They are both perceptive.  Exactly on what grounds can 90% of the Conservative Evangelical world criticize these guys for “strange fire” when nobody in this discussion even pretends to have a biblical view of worship (e.g., what God commands)?

Problems with using Temple as liturgical template

Scott Clark hits a home run on this point.   Critics of Reformed worship point out that high church traditions have a rich heritage that draws upon the intricate symbolism of the Mosaic temple.   We Reformed agree, actually.   That is the problem.  Clark notes (244ff):

  1. The temple was instituted under Moses as part of a theological system that was temporary.  It was the center of the cultus that Paul described as “fading” (2 Cor. 3:7-11).
  2. The NT does use temple imagery to describe Christians, but it never draws liturgical inferences from that imagery, only moral and theological.
  3. To use the temple as the center of Christian worship is inherently defective from the writer of Hebrews perspective (Heb. 8:1–10:18).

Critical Suggestions for Charismatics

While I have defended some exegetical conclusions which favor the charismatic movement, there are a number of places where some adherents are heretical and dangerous.   The following list is not exhaustive:

  1. Sever ties with non-Trinitarians.   I am open to the fact that not all Pentecostals are Oneness Pentecostals.  I also grant that many people in their communions, Oneness or Trinitarian, probably can’t articulate why they (dis)believe in the Trinity.    That said, there is no way to justify communion with people who knowingly reject the Trinity. To commune with them is to share in their doctrine.

  2. Only God can determine how he is to be worshiped. I realize asking many charismatics to commit to the Regulative Principle of Worship is a lot to ask.  I think it is biblical to ask.  I would also kindly ask my Reformed friends to realize that it sometimes takes a while to come to a biblical understanding of worship.  Of course, God’s glory cannot be compromised, and God may indeed have to vindicate his honor, but wasn’t there a time when many of you did not hold to proper views of worship?  Indeed, much of what I have just written could be applied to the PCA instead of the Assemblies of God!

  3. As an addendum to the above, you need to regulate unbiblical or bizarre practices.   This can include public worship, but it can also include private worship.  Some charismatics of the more intellectual stripe quickly point out where many invididuals fall down on the floor “as though dead.”  Yes, we do indeed see that happening.  Further, one should hesitate to make categorical condemnations.  However, I must point out a few things: the falling down, to the degree it happens in the Bible. is something the Spirit of God does independent of human means.  In other words, we NEVER see people in the Bible lining up at the front of the church waiting for this guy to place his hands on them and “zap” them and they fall down.  Ironically, the regulative principle in the NT actually regulates a lot of spiritual gifts and practices.

Edit:  Scott Clark has linked to a noted Jamie Smith article on a Reformed Pentecostalism.  While I don’t agree with all of Clark’s conclusions, I share his concerns.  Smith comes very close to urging a syncretism of some Reformed practices and some (generally undefined) charismatic and postmodern practices.  My Scottish Puritanism comes out with a vengeance here, and for somewhat personal reasons. I am not advocating charismania.  I simply have a few exegetical conclusions which place me at odds with modern Reformed folk on one particular issue (though I am fully in line with much of the Scottish Reformation).  Smith suggests that for icons in worship we should have–I don’t know what they are called.   Think of those screens that can be placed on walls and change pictures and stuff), and instead of incense we can have exotic coffee!   Really, it can’t get sillier.

Beginning Posts on Psalmody

I originally wanted to do a post on Covenanter Continuationism as a response to the uproar over the Strange Fire conference.  Psalmody is more important, though.   I’ve never really explored it in detail.   The following is simply some theses and tentative conclusions (ironically at the beginning of the study).

Whatever else the verses commanding us to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” mean, particularly the latter two terms, the Bible is commanding us to sing Psalms.   How often are psalms sung in today’s churches?


I think we are seeing something like a religious version of Gresham’s law (bad money drives out good money):  Inferior songs tend to eclipse biblical psalms.   It’s interesting to compare the two Trinity Hymnals on this point.  Find the older (Blue) hymnal and compare it with the newer (Red) one..  The Psalms are far more prominent in the former.    It’s interesting that the majority committee that created the former admitted that hymns were not sanctioned by God in his word.


The question that really impressed itself on me was this:  who is a better songwriter than the Holy Spirit?


I don’t think the question is entirely clear-cut, though–and for both sides.   Some in the Reformed camp argue that we see songs sung in the New Testament that are outside the Psalter.  The Christ-Hymn of Phil. 2 for example.   That is a fair point, but it’s difficult to draw modern-day application from it, since if one sang that hymn it would only be 20 seconds long!   Others object that the “pitch whistle” violates the EP exclusion of instruments.  Well, it might but the thesis before the house has to do with Psalms and Hymns, principally, not instrugments.

Reblogging some worship posts

My friend Daniel R. has some excellent sources on worship.  (Go to his site and read the rest of them.  I couldn’t quote all for space reasons) Particularly important is the idea that only God has the right to decide how he wants to be worshiped.  Remember Nadab and Abihu and fear.

Richard Cameron on instrumental music and the ceremonial law

Richard CameronThe Jewish way under the law of praising the Lord was upon the timbrel, the harp, psaltery, and ten-stringed instruments, and other instruments of music that belonged to the ceremonial worship that is now abolished.  Christ, who is the end of the law, has torn or taken away the ceremonies of the law, and there is no warrant now to make use of the organs, as they do in the Popish Church, and the Prelatic Church of England, and even among them that are more reformed, those over in Holland.  Oh, but we have a great advantage in being free of these!

Richard Cameron, ‘Sermon on Psalm 92 (undated)’ in Sermons in times of persecution in Scotland, by sufferers for the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, ed. James Kerr (Edinburgh, 1880), p. 421.

John Calvin: is worship a secondary issue?

April 28, 2013

John CalvinJohn Calvin answers the above question in the negative when he says, “[F]or nothing is more wicked than to contrive various modes of worship without the authority of the word of God.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the gospel according to John, trans. William Pringle (Geneva, 1553) in Calvin’s commentaries (22 vols, Grand Rapids, 1993), xvii, 154.

John Brown of Haddington on the imprecatory psalms

April 14, 2013

RevJohnBrownAs for those psalms which contain DENUNCIATIONS of divine vengeance upon the enemies of God and his church, we are to consider, that these expressions were dictated by the infallible Spirit of God; that the objects of them were foreseen to be irreconcilable enemies of Christ and his church; that those who sing them, only applaud the equity of the doom which God hath justly pronounced upon such offenders; and that they are to be sung with a full persuasion of the event, as a certain, awful and just display of the glory and tremendous justice of JEHOVAH.  Though we ought, therefore, never to apply them to particular parties or persons who have injured us, yet to decline using them, out of a pretence of charity, is to suppose ourselves wiser than him whose understanding is infinite, and more merciful than the Father of mercies, who is full of compassion, and delighteth in mercy.  Moreover, as these external enemies, devoted to destruction, were in some sense emblematic of our spiritual enemies, within or without the passages may be sung with application to ourselves, as directed against these principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness, in high places, with whom we have to wrestle, while on earth, Eph. vi. 10-19. I Pet. v. 8, 9, Rom. viii. 13, Gal. v. 17-24.

John Brown of Haddington, The Psalms of David, in metre: allowed by the authority of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and of the Presbyterian Churches in America.  With notes exhibiting the connexion, explaining the sense, and for directing and animating devotion (Pittsburgh, 1812), v-vi.

Johannes Wollebius on the regulative principle

February 3, 2013

True Religion is, whereby God is worshipped by Rites and Ceremonies prescribed by himself; and his Name truly sanctified both through the whole course of our life, and chiefly at the times by himself appointed.

Johannes Wollebius, The abridgment of Christian divinity, trans. Alexander Ross (3rd edn, London, 1660), pp 329-30.

George Gillespie on the regulative principle of worship and the kingship of Christ

June 27, 2012

But how much more will the King of kings condemn me if I practice the ceremonies which I judge in my conscience to be contrary to the will of God, and to rob him of his royal prerogative?

George Gillespie, A dispute against the English Popish ceremonies obtruded on the Church of Scotland (1637; Edinburgh, 1844), p. 12.

George Gillespie on Christian liberty in worship

May 11, 2012

Either, then, let it be shown out of God’s word that non-conformity, and the refusing of the English popish ceremonies, is a fault, or else let us not be thought bound by men’s laws where God’s law hath left us free.

George Gillespie, A dispute against the English Popish ceremonies obtruded on the Church of Scotland (1637; Edinburgh, 1844), p. 90.