Why The Traditionalists Are of No Help: Willow Creek for the Raised Pinky Class

The following excerpt is from an article a minister in my denomination wrote not too long ago. After reading it, I finally realized why I felt so enormously patronized after visiting his church that one time twelve years ago and never returned.

“The current focus on this kind of worship started with the incredible success of Willow Creek Community Church, a church God has used in a mighty way to reach lost people. Yet even Willow Creek leaders say, ‘Don’t just imitate us. Find out what your target group needs and aim at them.’

“Willow Creek focuses on reaching 20- to 40-year-old unchurched people who live in the suburbs of Chicago. So leaders of Willow Creek shape their worship to attract members of that demographic group.

“But not everyone fits Willow Creek’s target audience. For example, the most popular kind of music in the United States today is not Christian contemporary music; it’s country music. So why don’t we see a proliferation of country-oriented worship?

“Close to the church I serve in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., lives a large enclave of what you might call ‘countercultural’ folks. Suspecting that their neighbors would not resonate with contemporary-style worship, my friends at First United Methodist Church started a service of ‘jazz vespers’ to reach them.

“The example I know best is the worship I experience every Sunday. It begins with God’s people coming into the presence of God, symbolized by a processional led by a cross and Bible, followed by the robed choir and ministers, as the mighty organ accompanies the full-voiced singing of one of the great hymns of faith. The liturgy that follows is an extended dialogue between God and the worshipers, carefully thought out, united around the theme of the sermon, and printed in the bulletin so everyone can participate.

Stan Mast’s “In Praise of Traditional Worship” represents what I find so frustrating about today’s broad regard for Reformed worship. Both sides of the so-called “worship wars” just never seem to capture the point. A defense of a form of worship that merely meets the felt needs of raised-pinky high culture is as misguided as the contemporary expressions to which it seeks to offer alternative. What views like Mast’s miss is that Reformed worship can happen in posh downtown Grand Rapids just as easily as it can happen in the sticks of northern Michigan. But that is only true is one understands that worship is about God, not ourselves. One test is to ask if Mast could move his outfit of processionals, robed choir, stained glass and all that wood into any environment. Probably not. But the thing about Reformed worship according to Scripture is that it can be done anywhere.

As a former evangelical (long e) who has sought true worship in the confessionally Reformed tradition over against the assumptions and dogma’s of contemporary worship with which evangelicalism seems so smitten, a perspective like Mast’s offers no hope; it rests on the same human-centered assumptions. His references to Willow Creek and how contemporary worship is equally sound reveal that this is merely the flip side of a skewed coin. What is needed today is reform and recovery of confessionally Protestant worship in the liturgical tradition. Do we want true diversity in our midst? Then level the playing field by making worship Reformed according to Scripture where diverse social, cultural and political views can exist in submission to true worship instead of divvying us all up by forms of worship designed to divide by these same cultural value systems.

Of course, worship is simply the outward expression (and perpetuation) of a theology. What the wanting categories of “contemporary/traditional” worship tell us is that at the heart of all the rankle of worship wars is a theology that is quite at odds with a historically and confessionally Reformed theology. In some quarters the spirit of war has waned and hands are joined over the phrase “blended worship” where Genevan psalms are set to Metallica riffs. Traditionalists look down their noses less at the contemporary, and vice versa, because all have agreed on one crucial thing: worship is about us, so do what pleases your inward tastes most. Some might think they have transcended the rankle by validating these categories and asking innocuous questions of worship like “is it godly worship; are the words biblical; is God glorified; is it done is spirit and in truth?” Words and phrases like these sound pious, of course, but what do any of those questions really mean other than to show that they merely lean hard on sentimentality and not theology?

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42 Responses to Why The Traditionalists Are of No Help: Willow Creek for the Raised Pinky Class

  1. John Yeazel says:

    Elaborate more on what you mean by “raised-pinky high culture. I witnessed the transformation of downtown Grand Rapids between the years 1988 to 2000. I lived there between 1988-1994 and then made the drive back and forth from Chicago probably 30 to 40 times per year until a couple years ago. It became a night club haven almost overnight. I think most of it came from money donated by the Amway and Meijer families but a lot of the artsy stuff grew as the night life began to flourish. I’m not sure what developed there was what the city planners foresaw when they dumped all the money in the downtown area. Right next to this night club haven is a ghetto area where drugs and violence are a severe problem. It is a strange area to say the least.

    I do not think you see many of the black folk from the ghetto area at Stan Mast’s church. Perhaps some may go to Madison Square Church on Madison St. but they lean towards the Pentecostal there if I remember correctly. I believe it was a Reformed church too.

    I agree that worship should transcend all cultural considerations. And I do not think you will see differing cultural groups worshiping together until this becomes a conscious plan of the clergy which is communicated well in the theology they teach to the congregation. It is a slow going process though and does not catch on quickly.

    There has to be a sense that you are really encountering God in the preached sermon and in the Supper so the clergy needs to be well equipped for those tasks. There are not many seminaries that are equipping the clergy properly although there certainly are stirrings in this regard. It is a main point that makes confessional church’s different than the mainstream that I have experienced in my life. Confessional theology breeds a different type of worship service then what is prevalent in America’s church’s today.

  2. John Yeazel says:

    Even when confessional theology is preached there still are lingering elements of the clergy being influenced by the surrounding culture and what the congregation wants then being centered in how the scriptures instruct us in how to worship.

  3. Pingback: Traditionalists and Willow Creekers: Really the Same Thing « Heidelblog

  4. The regulative principle can be abused as well. The whole point of worship is not just doxological but didactic as well. What’s wrong with using creeds and prayers that are solidly biblical and reformed? Or confessions of sin that are didactic? I like the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and use it regularly for morning and evening prayer. Making up your liturgy as you go along can be a violation of your “regulative principle” as well since we all tend to make God in the image we prefer. I would much rather read lots of Scripture in the service than have some idiot drone on for 20 minutes about Aunt Maybelle and Cousin Luke and save the neighbor down the street.

    I went to a PCA once where there was a “silent confession of sin”. Are presbyterians agnostics or something? The confession sin in the 1662 BCP is not only biblical but it is Reformed.

    Charlie

  5. Samuel Leuenberger, a Swiss Reformed scholar, has said the 1662 BCP is the most reformed and evangelistic liturgy he’s ever seen. I don’t see how that can be accused of “meeting felt needs.”

    Charlie

  6. John Harutunian says:

    >One test is to ask if Mast could move his outfit of processionals, robed choir, stained glass and all that wood into any environment. Probably not. But the thing about Reformed worship according to Scripture is that it can be done anywhere.

    Not so. Does your Reformed congregation meet in a building that has a distinctively “churchy” look? That’s cultural; church buildings look different in different cultures. When you sing the Psalms, do you sing them to music that has tension/resolution chord progressions? That’s [Western-music] cultural.
    What Regulative-Principal adherents tend to forget is that worship is not a “spiritual” act in the Platonic sense of the word “spiritual.” It involves us as total human beings -with an aesthetic sense. God made us that way, and there’s no escaping it.

  7. Zrim says:

    John Y.,

    By “raised pinky” I simply mean high brow culture, the kind that likes a lot of wood, stained glass, gold crosses and processionals in its religion.

    Charlie,

    If I understand you, there’s nothing at all wrong with creeds and prayers that are solidly biblical and reformed, or confessions of sin that are didactic, etc. But I think those R&P churches that better understand the RPW don’t speak the way Mast does, employing the Willow Creek model of worship and evangelism. I linked in the post to Redeemer PCA (Traverse City). The pastor is a friend of mine who years ago was a Willow Creek man. Let’s just say, the stories he tells. Millward/Redeemer understands the RPW in ways that seem to mystify those like Mast/LaGrave. One wants to be faithful to Scripture, the other wants to pack the pews.

    John H.,

    Does it count for anything that Mast’s approach tempts my own felt cultural needs? That’s why we visited all those years ago.

    But if you’re right, then there is no way to determine what worship is right and what worship is wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I get the point that we cannot divorce form and content and quite agree. But my point is that biblical and Reformed content have to match up to biblical and Reformed form, not the forms that appeal to our cultural tastes and styles. If it’s all faithful, then nothing is unfaithful.

  8. Zrim, Amen to the content and form matching up to biblical and Reformed doctrine. I’m sick of both contemporary worship and high church Anglo-Catholicism.

    True worship has to be reformed and reforming….

    Charlie

  9. John Harutunian says:

    >I agree that worship should transcend all cultural considerations.

    As long as worship includes any kind of music -whether Psalms or hymns, whether sung in unison or parts, whether a cappella or instrumentally accompanied- what you’re asking for is an impossibility.
    I’ll go even further: as long as worship involves the medium of a particular human language, what you’re asking for is an impossibility.

  10. John Yeazel says:

    What I am asking for is biblical faithfulness in how God instructs us to worship Him as the main emphasis, that’s all.

  11. Zrim says:

    I’ll go even further: as long as worship involves the medium of a particular human language, what you’re asking for is an impossibility.

    If by “worship Reformed according to Scripture” you think we mean “perfect worship,” then you are surely correct. But here’s the thing, John H., the fact that sinners are the ones called by God to worship him in Spirit and in truth means that the worship of the church militant will never be perfect. Even the most RPW-driven church will offer imperfect worship because sinful creatures are doing it.

    But the reality of our indwelling sin is precisely why we should be RPW-ish about worship, seeking to transcend all cultural considerations as much as is possible in this present evil age. To do so is not to loathe our humanity, it is to be forthright about our sin. Try this analogy: just as marriage vows assume the worst about human sin as a man relates to a woman (and vice versa), the RPW assumes the same about justifed sinners relating to God. Neither marriage vows nor the RPW are asking us to deny our humanity, they are binding us to relate in ways that our humanity naturally resists, and that for our better.

  12. Chris Donato says:

    I get your point here, Zrim—no doubt a church’s worship ought to be rooted in Scripture over against felt needs. But the RPW, as unpacked by the puritans and their heirs, is not a sustainable method. Every Reformed church’s worship (that touts the principle) is crushed under its precepts (every Reformed church I’ve been to has made adiaphoric decisions regarding organs, carptet, pews, etc., etc.).

    The better route is encapsulated in the Augsburg Confession, Article 7 (see also the Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Article XV):

    “Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

    “And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: ‘One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all,’ etc. Eph. 4:5-6.”

    Or the Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article X (I encourage reading the entire section):

    “For settling also this controversy we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that the ceremonies or church rites which are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but have been instituted alone for the sake of propriety and good order, are in and of themselves no divine worship, nor even a part of it. Matt. 15:9: ‘In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’

    “We believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has the power, according to its circumstances, to change such ceremonies in such manner as may be most useful and edifying to the congregation of God.”

    In short, creativity in the worship of the triune God is a blessing, insofar as that creativity stays true to the trajectory of Scripture. Now, that’s an RPW I can get behind.

  13. RubeRad says:

    Back in the day, my grandmother was the organist at LaGrave, and Google sez an uncle of mine is still an elder. I bet a pretty good case could be made that the LaGrave organ (and worship culture that surrounds it) is an idol to some.

    Do you think the Catholics have “solved” this problem better than we have, by staunchly sticking to their guns, and retaining a liturgy that completely reflects their theology, rather than bowing to public pressure to conform to popular standards?

  14. Chris Donato says:

    I realized I could state even more succintly: the RPW is not the same thing as “Reformed according to the Scriptures.” The RPW is more narrow than what the Scriptures require —or allow.

    Being “Reformed according to the Scriptures” necessarily means having the freedom to implement (or not) those things that are not elements of worship but are too substantial to squeeze into a narrow defintion of circumstances. That is, the practice of adaptation.

    I know this isn’t the main point of your post, but I had to get it off my chest. Thanks.

  15. Chris Donato says:

    RubeRad: A great many Catholic parishes, while retaining the outline of the historic Mass, have gone the route of happy-clappy. I suppose the question is why have they done this? And I’m guessing the answer would have something to do with Willow Creek . . .

  16. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    Thanks. Still, and as I am sure you quite understand, Mast seems more inclined to take his cues from the manuals of WC than the confessions of Protestants. If a town had only LaGrave Avenue CRC and a Lutheran church, and a Reformed friend wanted a recommendation on which church to worship while visiting one weekend, the descriptive take on worship of Lutherans may not be up to the Reformed’s prescriptive, but it’s still better than dressed up evangelicalism.

    Rube,

    I know of one church (ahem) that just dropped six figures on their organ rehab. (In case our music director is reading, Rube suggested the “i” word, not me. But I think he’s quite onto something.)

    Catholics should be credited for being way more consistent with their theology-doxology. I think Presbyterian worship should be at least as predictable as Catholic worship. And isn’t it funny how Pentecostal worship is so predictable, while Presbyetrian worship isn’t? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

  17. I get your point here, Zrim—no doubt a church’s worship ought to be rooted in Scripture over against felt needs. But the RPW, as unpacked by the puritans and their heirs, is not a sustainable method. Every Reformed church’s worship (that touts the principle) is crushed under its precepts (every Reformed church I’ve been to has made adiaphoric decisions regarding organs, carptet, pews, etc., etc.).

    Yes, and….. well, I get weary of so-called “reformed” worship that goes so far as having “silent” confessions of sin…. As if sinners do not need to have proper forms for confession??? Most do not recognize that there are sins of ignorance, commission, omission, etc., etc. That’s why I think the forms used in Lutheran and Reformed Anglican service books (1662 BCP) are far superior to the practically idolatrous and pelagian forms used by the so-called RPW.

    Charlie

    Semper Reformanda

  18. Good post. We tend to forget, too, that the so-called “classical hymns” so often sung in Reformed churches are also a reflection of their culture when composed, often the romanticism of the 19th century. And many a Refomred pastor draws his sermon illustrations from popular culture in order to “connect” to the American Idol generation. The RPW is often just a mantelpiece in the Reformed world.

  19. John Harutunian says:

    C.J.

    >“classical hymns” so often sung in Reformed churches are also a reflection of their culture when composed, often the romanticism of the 19th century.

    Most hymnologists consider the 19th century to be one of the weaker periods in hymnody. But, since surviving hymns go back to St. Ambrose in the 4th century, that leaves an awful lot of hymns which don’t fall under the “Romantic” category.
    “I Come to the Garden Alone” is something which we can do without. Does it follow that the same applies to “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”? This hymn sets forth the majesty of the risen Christ; hence it launches Easter Sunday worship in a way that is not only powerful but verbally explicit. A Psalm cannot do this.

  20. RubeRad says:

    Most hymnologists consider the 19th century to be one of the weaker periods in hymnody.

    That is so true — I have a rule of thumb which is 99% effective in identifying hymns written in the late 1800s — if it sounds like it could be used for organ music for a carousel, you know it was written 1880, plus or minus.

  21. Hi John. There are certainly Psalms that speak of the resurrection of Christ, like Psalm 16 (which Peter used to talk about His resurrection). I don’t think we need hymns to improve upon the inspired praises we already have in the Psalter. And Easter, well, is that also just one more tradition that goes beyond the RPW?

  22. John Harutunian says:

    Hi, C.J.-

    Yes, there are Psalms which prophesy the Resurrection. But there are at least two strong reasons for singing hymns in worship. First is the weight which the Bible attaches to the Name of Jesus Christ, as being closely bound up with His identity. Hence in Matthew 1:21 the angel informs Joseph, “thou shalt call his name Jesus [Salvation] for he shall save his people from their sins.” See also Peter’s witness in Acts chapters 3 and 4 (“And his name, through faith in his name, hath made this man strong [3:16]…”there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved [4:12])”. Hence the Name of Jesus Christ is inseparable from His person. Which in turn means that a Christian’s love of extolling that name in prayer and song cannot be dismissed as mere subjective sentimentality.
    A stronger reason: In Old Testament worship, chanted prayers (such as the Psalms) were offered up to Yaweh. The earliest [i.e., Jewish,] Christians continued the practice of chanting prayers in worship (there is no New Testament evidence that the practice ceased). But: their prayers were offered up to Jesus Christ (whom they rightly worshiped as God). Chanting is a form of singing. What is a sung prayer? A hymn. It’s that simple.

  23. Zrim says:

    Does it follow that the same applies to “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”? This hymn sets forth the majesty of the risen Christ; hence it launches Easter Sunday worship in a way that is not only powerful but verbally explicit. A Psalm cannot do this.

    John,

    First, are you distinguishing between Easter on the church calendar and an ordinary Sunday? If so, I’ve become more and more convinced over the years that observing the colander seems problematic. Granted, observing the sacred days seems better than observing secular days, as in Memorial Day sermons and Mother’s Day services, but observing sacred days still has to clear the hurdle of the RPW.

    Second, for better or worse, I get really nervous when there seems to be a presumption of power in Christian worship. “Powerfulness” is the language of super-apostles. But Christian power is manifest in weakness, as in the humble elements of word, water, bread and wine.

    Third, I guess I don’t understand what it means to deem the Psalter as not verbally explicit. What does that mean? The Psalter always strikes me as far outpacing any uninspired work when it comes to verbal richness and expression. To ding the Psalter for being unable to do something in relation to worship just seems quite odd, maybe even a red flag.

  24. John Harutunian says:

    Hi, Zrim-

    >To ding the Psalter for being unable to do something in relation to worship just seems quite odd, maybe even a red flag.

    The Psalter is indeed part of God’s Word, the Bible.
    So are genealogies. Seems like there’s a good deal which genealogies are unable to do in relation to worship.
    The Psalms can of course do a lot more. But they’re not verbally explicit re: the Name of Jesus Christ. And under the New Covenant, one must have faith in His Name in order to be saved. See, in my above reply to C.J., my reference to Acts 3:16.

  25. Zrim says:

    John,

    It seems pretty clear that the two types of literature, genealogies and Psalms, serve two different purposes. The former are not doxological in nature, while the latter are. And I’m not sure how not singing genealogies helps make the case for hymnody.

    Nevertheless, you seem to rest quite a bit on singing the actual, literal name of Jesus to make the case for hymnody. But not only is the name of Jesus is strewn throughout any Reformed worship, regulated by the RPW, I’ve ever experienced, but on your reasoning, should OT scripture lessons be added to with (or even replaced by) clips of uninspired systematic theologies that make explicit the Christocentric/redemptive historical nature of those texts? Hopefully not. But if we shouldn’t read systematic theologies in worship, why should we sing hymns?

  26. John Harutunian says:

    Hi, Zrim-

    >the two types of literature, genealogies and Psalms, serve two different purposes. The former are not doxological in nature, while the latter are.

    Not all of them. Some, like Psalm 22, are prophetic, some are penitential, some are imprecatory.

    >should OT scripture lessons be added to with (or even replaced by) clips of uninspired systematic theologies that make explicit the Christocentric/redemptive historical nature of those texts? Hopefully not. But if we shouldn’t read systematic theologies in worship, why should we sing hymns?

    Zrim, I see your point. But you’ve missed my basic point. Look at the texts of some hymns: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Holy, Holy, Holy”. What are they? They are prayers. And, as prayers, they are sung. Which is exactly what the early [Jewish] Christians did.
    It’s up to you to show New Testament evidence that the centuries-old practice of singing prayers in worship ceased. Where do you see this evidence?

  27. Zrim says:

    John,

    I agree with you that singing is praying, and I think it’s a very good point. It goes a long way against the apparent modern presumption that singing is unbidden self-expression, entertainment or some other such thing.

    But I still don’t see how that makes the case for hymnody. It seems to bolster the case for psalmody, since the Psalms are also prayers. I’m not trying to make the case for exclusive psalmody (I think all Scripture may and should be sung), I’m trying to see what the case for hymnody really is. And much as I like lots of hymns, so far I don’t see it. And I guess I’m confused by the burden you put on me to show “New Testament evidence that the centuries-old practice of singing prayers in worship ceased.” First, that’s not my project, as my agreeing that singing is praying should make evident. Second, as you know, what was believed or even practiced in the early church isn’t the final word. After all, when it comes to justification, proto-Catholics and proto-Protestants existed in the early church. It would seem to me that the burden is actually on those who want the people of God, in the stated worship, after hearing him speak his word, to speak back to him using their own.

  28. Zrim thinks “all Scripture may and should be sung”. I’ve got a new one for you, Zrim!

    So and more also do God
    So and more also do God
    Unto David’s enemies,
    Unto David’s enemies,

    If we spare any of his,
    that pisseth
    that pisseth
    that pisseth against the wall.

    Everybody, now…

    That pisseth,
    That pisseth,
    That pisseth against the wall!

  29. Zrim says:

    Let me clarify, Al. I was trying to say I’m not EP. More than the Psalms may and should be sung, but less than every jot and tittle, as in geneologies. Which was the context of my comment.

  30. John Harutunian says:

    Zrim (and C.J., and all other RP-ers)-

    First: when I said early church, I meant the apostolic church: Peter, John, James, Paul and their contemporaries. In light of that, let’s go on:

    >But not only is the name of Jesus is strewn throughout any Reformed worship, regulated by the RPW, I’ve ever experienced…

    First: I’m assuming that at least some of those instances of the name of Jesus occur in _prayers_. I’m also assuming that most of those prayers are not quotations of prayers found in the Bible.
    Second: As evidenced by the book of Psalms, God intended His covenant people to sing their prayers to Him in worship.
    Conclusion: Since there is no New Testament warrant for replacing sung prayers with spoken ones [please show me if you find such warrant], what does that leave us with? HYMNS!
    The only “out” I can see would be to say that all prayers offered up in worship (either spoken or sung) must be quotations of Scripture. As far as I know, no RP church worships this way.

  31. RubeRad says:

    I was trying to say I’m not EP. More than the Psalms may and should be sung

    Being an exclusive-canonicist is a small compromise indeed. I didn’t know that about you. So are you one of those guys who has to plan ahead and bring metric psalms that are singable with the scheduled hymn tunes?

  32. Zrim says:

    John,

    It seems to me that not only does the book of Psalms evidence that God intends his covenant people to sing their prayers to him in worship, but also shows them how and what God intends in their doxological work. So I don’t necesarily follow how the Psalter leads to hymns. It’s like saying a medical textbook evidences that would-be healers should heal, so the reader should come up with his own way of healing. Huh? Isn’t that what the textbook is for? IOW, a text assumes that something should be happening, but it necessarily also tells us how or what.

    Rube, I’ve tried that. But I’m as gifted with music as I am with math (same side of the brain, I understand), which is to say not at all. So that’s way too much work. It’s easier to either refrain from some singing, awkwardly sing a psalm while hymns are being sung or live something of a compromised worship life. Sorry, I’m an exclusive-canonist in progress.

  33. John Harutunian says:

    Hi, Zrim-

    >I don’t necesarily follow how the Psalter leads to hymns.

    It doesn’t -at least not directly. What does lead to hymns is: a)God has commanded His covenant people to sing their prayers, and b)prayers may be extemporaneous -there’s no New Testament indication that prayers offered up in worship are to be limited to those already found in Scripture.
    What does that leave us with? Hymns.

  34. John Harutunian says:

    Zrim-

    Here’s another way of putting it: Where is the New Testament warrant for substituting spoken prayers for sung ones? (Remember, God’s people had always sung their prayers in worship.) There is none. SO: Sing hymns!
    It’s that simple.

  35. John Harutunian says:

    On Exclusive Psalmody:

    1.God has commanded His covenant people to worship Him with Psalms.
    2. What is a Psalm? A canonical sung prayer.
    3. What do Christians today actually do? Worship God with non-canonical spoken prayers.
    4. Therefore: When Christians do this in worship they are guilty of idolatry, right?

    To All Adherents of the Regulative Principle, A Proposition: If you’ll spare me your hermeneutical monkeyshines, I’ll spare you mine.

    Peace.
    -John Harutunian

  36. RubeRad says:

    What monkeyshines? That’s exactly the EP argument.

  37. Zrim says:

    John, with all due respect, and with all monkeyshining aside, I think the point of the RPW really isn’t so much to sniff out who’s guilty of idolatry. Rather it is to protect consciences from being unduly bound. I’m not sure champions of hymnody understand that distinction.

  38. John Harutunian says:

    Zrim-

    OK, I sympathize with that. (I spent 4 years as organist of a Lutheran church [Missouri Synod], and they too have a high view of conscience.) But: Isn’t the congregation expected to add an Amen (silently if not audibly) to the minister’s prayer? And since the minister is a fallible, sinful human being, this surely binds the conscience. Also: it seems fair to say that in RP circles the congregation’s basic attitude to the sermon is not supposed to be critical interaction[!] but humble submission. Same applies.
    So that’s why I feel that hymns are being unfairly picked on.

  39. Zrim says:

    John,

    One reason I don’t envy a pastor’s place is that conservative Presbyterians are nothing if not (ahem) vocal about giving feedback to his preaching. So, when we say “Amen” to his sermon we don’t mean what Catholics mean when the Pope speaks; we have a Presbyterian view of ordained authority, which is somewhere between a Roman (ecclesial infallibility) and radical (individual autonomy) view.

    But we also believe that worship should be done in a good and decent order, so “humble submission” works much better to that end than standing up an offering “critical interaction.” The latter is saved for the elder’s meeting Tuesday night.

  40. John Harutunian says:

    Zrim-

    >when we say “Amen” to his sermon we don’t mean what Catholics mean when the Pope speaks;

    Seems like whatever you mean by the “Amen” could apply in the same sense to the “Amen” at the end of a hymn, couldn’t it?
    Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on the RP:
    >As the regulative principle is reflected in Calvin’s own thought…it associates musical instruments with icons, which he considered violations of the Ten Commandments’ prohibition of graven images.

    My understanding of the RP is that it teaches that worshiping God through the use of anything not commanded in the New Testament constitutes idolatry. That is, the not-commanded thing becomes an icon, i.e., an idol. Which isn’t to say that most RP churches follow this in practice; that’s the inconsistency which I’m trying to draw attention to.
    Here’s a test. In RP worship, are there non-canonical elements -devices created by men- which the worshipers are to give assent to? It seems that both sermons and extemporaneous prayers fall under this category. The fact that I’ve never seen either of these questioned by an RP adherent is what makes me think that hymns are being singled out (presumably because they involve the aesthetic dimension of worship).

  41. RubeRad says:

    John, I’m with you on hymnody. But I think you have some studying to do yet on the strict RPW position.

    (a) sermons are conducted by ordained ministers of the gospel (not the congregation), and there are plenty of scriptural examples. The content may be non-canonical, but the point is that the practice of preaching to God’s assembled people is commanded (is an element of worship).

    (b) I think the EP/EC out on public prayers is also that they are supposed to be done by either the pastor or an elder. However, see also John Murray’s minority report in the OPC position paper on Song in Worship, where he insists on a distinction between song and prayer “even when the content is identical.”

    (c) You should go listen the friendly “Hoagies&Stogies” debate on Exclusive Psalmody that can be found here

    (d) You should read the EP chapter of Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession

  42. John Harutunian says:

    RubeRad-

    I agree with you about sermons. But the fundamental issue re: hymnody is something which neither John Murray, or Scott Clark (for all their erudition) can seem to see. Murray, for example, actually states that “Prayer is one element of worship. Singing is another.” Does he really not know that the earliest Christians chanted their prayers? (God’s people had been doing this since the Psalms were given.) Chanting is a form of singing! (A couple of familiar examples: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”)
    Of course, the language of music has changed a lot over the centuries. Around the 12th century, music began to incorporate patterns of strong and weak beats. Around the 17th century, harmony (involving tension-resolution chord progressions) started to become more important. This explains why hymn-tunes sound different from chants.
    If I were to pull an RP number on Exclusive Psalmody adherents, I could say that God’s command to _sing_ prayers in worship has been set aside in favor of the practice of _speaking_ prayers in worship -one of the traditions of men!

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