Easy as Sunday Morning?

So after a recent post about under-realizing the Ascension, a joking comment about the possibility of an Ascension Day service (which happens to by definition be a Thursday thing) turned into a question of what the RPW has to say about midweek services. In snippet form, the exchange went:

Bruce: How does this fit in with the RPW?

MGB: And where is the command that the elders are only permitted to call the congregation to worship on the Lord’s Day?

RubeRad: That’s not how RPW works. You’re supposed to ask “Where is the command for what I’m doing?”, not “I want to do something. Is it forbidden?”

MGB: Read my sentence again. It’s Calvinistic, not Lutheran.

Bruce: Do you hold a midweek service because it is commanded in scripture or because it is not forbidden by scripture? Or is there some third option?

MGB: I see no command in Scripture that limits worship to the Lord’s Day only.

It would seem we’re talking past each other somehow. Zrim, trying to break the logjam, linked to two articles by OHS Hyde.  I checked them out, and I have some thoughts.

First of all, the second article is not helpful to the question, except that it helps define the RPW as what we already know it to mean, namely that we don’t get to make up the ways we worship.

Second of all, most of the first article is not helpful. Stipulating that the early reformers may well have enthusiastically observed “Evangelical Feast Days” like Easter Monday or Good Friday or Ascension Thursday, that’s not an answer to the question “How does this fit in with the RPW?” Nor is an explanation of “The Benefit of the Practice.” The RPW question is identical to the question “Where’s the scriptural command?” so the only kind of answer that actually adresses the question is in the form of chapter and vesre. As far as I can see, the closest the article gets to answering the question is to note that “Hey, the Jews observed the extra-Mosaic feasts of Purim and Dedication.”

So in an attempt to answer the question (at least in the form I would be satisfied to call an answer), I suggest a discussion of Acts 2:42-47, which describes the life of the brand-spanking new Christian Church. In v42, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” which I think is commonly understood narrowly to be describing elements of worship. V46 describes that “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” So (unless there are other scriptures that come to bear, but I can’t think of any) it would seem that the question turns on whether v46 “day by day” applies way back in v42, and whether “breaking bread” in v46 is the same as in v42, or merely Horton’s “creation work” of “having friends over for dinner.”

Now personally, I have nothing against churches doing things midweek. That’s how I was raised, and even today, we’ve got home bible study on Friday, choir rehearsal on Thursday, and “Family Night” on Wednesday. But even Family Night — the closest thing we have to a midweek service — would not be described by anyone as a “worship service.” The study of the bible is in a more informal, interactive mode, led by unordained men, so it’s definitely not the Preaching of the Word. There’s usually some singing, but Col 3:16 is an admonition for Christians’ everyday interactions. There’s no question of administering Sacraments, and I bet somebody could articulate a qualitative difference between the elder-led Sunday morning Prayer of the Church, and whatever prayer happens on Wednesday night.

So as I see it, the kind of midweek less-than-services that I’m used to are not big-W-Worship, and are thus not subject to RPW. But (short of a favorable exegesis of Acts 2:46), that doesn’t help me with the concept of a Good Friday or Ascension Thursday service, which seems more like it would be full-on administration of Word, Sacrament and Prayer.

So how does that fit in with the RPW?

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This entry was posted in History, Reformed Confessionalism, The Lord's Supper, under-confessionalism, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Easy as Sunday Morning?

  1. Zrim says:

    “Zrim, trying to break the logjam, linked to two articles by OHS Hart.”

    They were links from OHS Hyde, who critiqued OHS Hart in one of them to make his points. [RR: Corrected, thanks]

    Sorry it was unhelpful, but I am not persuaded that a biblicist argument helps anymore here, Rube. Especially with a point like, “I have nothing against churches doing things midweek. That’s how I was raised…”

  2. Danny Hyde says:

    Rube,

    You said: “Stipulating that the early reformers may well have enthusiastically observed “Evangelical Feast Days” like Easter Monday or Good Friday or Ascension Thursday, that’s not an answer to the question “How does this fit in with the RPW?” . . . The RPW question is identical to the question “Where’s the scriptural command?” so the only kind of answer that actually adresses the question is in the form of chapter and verse.”

    I don’t have time to get into all of this, but here is the point: the men who hammered out what we call the RPW (they never called it that; it is a 20th c. designation) celebrated the Evangelical Feast Days as well as weekday worship (in Geneva, Mon-Fri when Calvin preached on alternate weeks). They never saw this as a violation of the very principle they developed.

    So . . . you need to realize that there are nuances to the RPW and that you cannot invoke it in a way it was not intended. This is one of the problems with the RPW: everyone assumes it means what they think it means.

  3. Zrim says:

    “This is one of the problems with the RPW: everyone assumes it means what they think it means.”

    That’s absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable!

    DH, funny, you didn’t mention you were hunting down a five fingered man when we were chatting at the pub a few weeks ago.

  4. Mike Brown says:

    Rube,

    What Danny said. That was my point in the rest of the exchange (which you left out of this post). It is not enough to invoke the RPW, we also have to apply it.

  5. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    If Calvin said, “The Lord’s Supper should be administered at least once a week” (4.17.44, 46), this seems to presume meeting more than on Sunday (unless he meant in the AM and PM Sabbath service? Anyone?), which also seems to preclude something like “Family Night” or glorifed Boy/Girl Scouts (i.e. Cadets and Gems). In other words, the emphasis being on cultic activity on a cultural day rather than glorified cultural activity on cultural days. I’d rather err on the side of Christmas and Ascension Day than “Family Night.”

    But, I digress, since you seem more interested in strictly appealing directly to Scripture. I guess I’d rather listen to more collected wisdom of the saints who do that work.

  6. Can a consistory compel one to attend non-sabbath services on pain of discipline? No. That’s the difference between non-sabbath-day services and sabbath-day services. Attendance to the former must be judged a matter of Christian liberty. Attendance to the latter is not a matter of liberty but obligation.

    Consistories may call services whenever they wish but without the express warrant of the Word of God they may not compel attendance to or performance of anything. We call this principle: Sola scriptura.

    This is one area where the Reformed understanding of the RPW developed from the early 16th-century to the mid-17th century. See the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship, which was adopted in 1644, even before the confession was finished. I don’t think you’ll find any non-sabbath-day services prescribed.

    The 17th-century Reformed also seems to have given up the use of non-inspired songs and the Dutch churches struggled mightily to eradicate them and the organ from their services. The understanding of the RPW did not freeze in the mid-16th century any more than the understanding of covenant theology froze in the mid-16th century.

  7. Danny Hyde says:

    St. Clark,

    Sure, the Westminster Divines did not prescribe Good Friday, etc., but they allowed for worship on days other than the Lord’s Day:

    WCF 21.5: “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.”

    Also, while the Dutch Reformed may have been against organs and uninspired songs (although the Church Order includes the Creed so this thesis is incorrect), this isn’t the same issue since the Dort Church Order said evening prayers [daily] could not be removed without Classis approval since they were edifying and the following days were required to be observed: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and the following day, Epiphany, and Ascension.

    Mike and I are not arguing that what we call the “RPW” froze in the 16th c., but given their practice as well as that of the 17th c., one cannot argue celebrating Ascension is against the RPW.

  8. Chris Sherman says:

    Since y’all are on the subject, perhaps you could help me understand what Paul was saying to the church in Colassae when he wrote,

    ” Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
    (Col 2:16-)

    and whether or not this has any bearing on the above discussion. Forgive my ignorance in these matters. Where might I find good info on the regulative principle?

    Thanks

  9. Zrim says:

    (Anyone else thankful to Rube for putting a Commodores song in their head for the afternoon? I am. Thanks, Rube.)

  10. Chris Sherman says:

    Just as thankful for hearing a few Princess Bride quotes, even if it was a six fingered man.

  11. RubeRad says:

    Especially with a point like, “I have nothing against churches doing things midweek. That’s how I was raised…”

    My point was that “doing things midweek” is not the same as “midweek worship service,” and is thus exempt from RPW (i.e. subject only to the Normative Principle of Worship: whatever is not forbidden is permissible)

  12. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    We may be talking past each other, you being specific and me broad. It seemed to me that your post-proper was saying, “Any references to the collective wisdom is unhelpful…let’s go to the Bible.” Then you appealed to something extra-biblical, namely what the saints around you practiced. So are we doing it solo or sola here?

  13. RubeRad says:

    here is the point: the men who hammered out what we call the RPW … celebrated the Evangelical Feast Days as well as weekday worship …. They never saw this as a violation of the very principle they developed.

    That is the same as (or at least the inverse of) the genetic fallacy of which you accuse Hart.

    As MGB repeats, “It is not enough to invoke the RPW, we also have to apply it.” Fine. Just because the same guys that developed the first RPW also celebrated evangelical feast days, doesn’t mean that they took the trouble to apply the RPW to their practice of evangelical feast days. Could it not be that — as Clark notes that understanding of the RPW evolved — part of that evolution was (or should have been) an evolved application of the RPW that might invalidate some of the practices of the unevolved initial reformers?

    there are nuances to the RPW and that you cannot invoke it in a way it was not intended.

    OK, so what is the fuller definition of the RPW? Where is that intent defined? (I ask sincerely, not sarcastically) I doubt the full-orbed definition is as arbitrary as “Whatever is not commanded is forbidden, except for evangelical feast days.”

    Could it perhaps be something like “For Worship Proper on the Christian Sabbath, RPW applies, while through the rest of the week, ad hoc worship is subject only to NPW”? If this is the case, might we find our exclusive psalmody brethren joining us in a rousing chorus of O Sacred Head Now Wounded on Good Friday, and Up From The Grave He Arose on Easter Monday?

  14. RubeRad says:

    Then you appealed to something extra-biblical, namely what the saints around you practiced.

    I didn’t appeal to what the saints around me practiced, as a means of justifying some practice or other. I explained the “sub-worship service” that saints around me practice, and attempted to justify it based on scripture (Acts 2:46 and Col 3:16). I’m requesting others to do the same to justify a “Proper Worship Service” on a day other than Sunday.

    Put it this way as well: a fuller definition of the RPW must include elements (positively commanded) and circumstances (required in support of elements, by good and necessary inference). Certainly observation of the Christian Sabbath is an element of worship. In order to clear RPW, it still seems to me that the burden is on the evangelical feasters to demonstrate that a midweek service is an element (where is the command?) or a circumstance (what commanded element does it support?)

    Anybody want to engage the bible with me? Acts 2:42–? Esther 9:20–? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

  15. Danny Hyde says:

    All this saint can say is “Uggh!”

    Maybe if and when my article on Lutheran adiaphora (where, among many things, I try to demonstrate that our Reformed insistence that they hold to the so-called “normative principle” is inaccurate and a caricature) and its parallels in Reformed liturgical principle and practice (at least in the area of the feast days) finds a home in an academic journal (I’m awaiting word) I’ll have a coherent, sustained argument to offer.

    Until then, I’ll stand on the side of those non-evolved, crypto-papist, liturgical liberals such as the Divines at Dort and men like Francis Turretin.

  16. RubeRad says:

    Can a consistory compel one to attend non-sabbath services on pain of discipline? No. That’s the difference between non-sabbath-day services and sabbath-day services.

    Is that the only difference? Is RPW the lever by which elders compel attendance to sabbath-day services? As I ask above, is RPW relaxed midweek, such that exclusive psalmists may sing hymns? Or for those who believe that RPW forbids instruments, could a midweek service use the organ? Or electric guitar and drumkit? How about dancing?

  17. RubeRad says:

    MGB: maybe it would help me understand your point if you could take this sentence:

    And where is the command that the elders are only permitted to call the congregation to worship on the Lord’s Day?

    and explain to me how it is “Calvinistic, not Lutheran” — what would the Lutheran form of the question be?

  18. sean says:

    Dancing! Drumkit!

    I like it…. a LOT! I’m just spit-balling here, but can we do a karaoke machine?! You could collect a cover charge and call it a “love offering”. I’ll get back to you on this, this could be something.

  19. Zrim says:

    “…(where, among many things, I try to demonstrate that our Reformed insistence that they hold to the so-called ‘normative principle’ is inaccurate and a caricature)…”

    Or how about how the Lutherans “separate law and gospel as to lead to antinomianism, the dimunition of sanctification and the dismissal of good works.” (Andrew Sandlin). Fesko takes care of this kind of thing in TCP 2007, Volume 3 (same issue OHS Hyde takes on the Descendit, BTW).

    Sheesh, now I know why I get called Lutheran, antinomian, etc. I am with Hyde here as much as I am with Fesko on how misunderstood Lutheranism is.

  20. Echo_ohcE says:

    I’ll say it again:

    What is the justification for celebrating the liturgical calendar?

    I think there’s liberty to call worship services outside of Sunday, and surely our respective denominations have answered that question. I really don’t think this is Bruce’s point.

    I think his point is, WHY should we call Christmas a Christian holy-day, or Easter or Ascension day, when the things especially remembered on those days are properly remembered and preached about every Sabbath?

    As Godfrey says, “Let’s take the Christ OUT of Christmas.” I love him for it.

    E

  21. Echo_ohcE says:

    Let me put it in other terms. How can we say, “Let’s have a special worship service for Christmas or Ascension Day,” and yet not bind the people to celebrate those worship services? How can we say that we’re going to have a special worship service to mark the Ascension of Christ, and then say that you don’t have to come and worship God with us in remembrance of the Ascension of Christ?

    When you hold a worship service for the Ascension, don’t you make the statement that Sabbath worship services don’t do enough to remember the Ascension, and that we need an extra one to do so properly? And if so, how can it be said that that DOESN’T bind peoples’ consciences to participate?

    I think the nature of the thing inherently binds peoples’ consciences to worship other than regular Sabbath practice.

    I think there are some special worship services that can be called for reasons other than the celebration of the liturgical calendar that can be appropriate, such as the service that commemorates a church’s particularization or their calling, ordination and installation of a pastor, etc. But to celebrate the liturgical calendar? No, we have been given the Sabbath for that.

    E

  22. Zrim says:

    “As Godfrey says, ‘Let’s take the Christ OUT of Christmas.’ I love him for it.”

    Admittedly provacative but a bit odd at the same time. I’m all for combatting Constantinianism (cultural Christianity) and the inherent defanging of the Lion of Judah it perpetuates, believe me. But I am not all that persuaded it should be done at the expense of the collective wisdom of the saints that something like the liturgical calendar expresses. There’s the RPW and the doctrine of simplicity, etc., and then there’s white-washing things, Zwinglian and Radical Reformation style.

  23. RubeRad says:

    Let’s take the Christ OUT of Christmas

    Reminds me of Peter Leithart’s Against Christianity. The turns of phrase are similarly Chestertonianly paradoxical, but in support of such opposite agendas!

  24. Zrim says:

    I have not read Leithart’s book. Is it against Christianity or Christendom? Seems taking Christ out of Christmas makes no sense but out of culture does.

  25. RubeRad says:

    I haven’t read it either, but I from what Ron once told me, I think he is arguing for Christendom; for a church that is all-encompassing, rather than a Christianity that is separated.

  26. Echo_ohcE says:

    Godfrey means to let Christmas be a cultural holiday, not having to do with the birth of Christ, but with meeting with family and exchanging gifts, that sort of thing.

    I believe his high view of the Sabbath would be motivating his view.

    And as such, I completely agree with him.

  27. Is there ever a point when anyone who has mounted up on the high horse of normative principle, simply says one day, “Gee, this might be a bit legalistic.”?

    Are some really suggesting now that only Sunday corporate worship is accepted by God? So in Acts 4, the believers should never have “lifted their voices together” to ask God to “stretch out His hand…” on their behalf?

    Just goes to show, you can never satisfy a legalist.

    “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” Hallelujah!

  28. Echo_ohcE says:

    “Are some really suggesting now that only Sunday corporate worship is accepted by God?”

    Not on this thread, no.

  29. Zrim says:

    Al,

    “Are some really suggesting now that only Sunday corporate worship is accepted by God?”

    It is a matter of emphasis, etc. Six-day worship just isn’t the same as Sabbath worship. I know that is hard to swallow, given your egalitarian presuppositions that flatten everything out. It can’t be Christmas or one’s birthday everyday, you know. There’s good reason for that.

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