Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Regulative Principle Doesn't Work

And There's Your Problem


A Low Church Episcopal Church




Nick Batzig, editor of Reformation 21, writes: 

I was baptized in the Reformed Episcopal church, spent time in Reformed Presbyterian Churches (mainly PCA and OPC) as a boy, was extremely rebellious and and dechurched for over a decade, came to Christ in repentance and faith in my 20's and now pastor a moderately liturgical Reformed Presbyterian (PCA) church. I am Reformed because of biblical convictions about soteriology and committed to Presbyterianism out of biblical convictions about ecclesiology. My own experience has fueled my interest as I have seen others make dramatic shifts in their ecclesiastical affiliation over the years. The tensions that have recently arisen on account of the debate surrounding the use of the Liturgical Calendar have me once again revisiting this subject.

Mr. Batzig is a graduate of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, interned at Tenth Presbyterian Church (pulpit of James Montgomery Boice among others), and is a now a church planter in Richmond Hill, GA. And, as it turns out, he is a big fan of Jonathan Edwards. Nick is very concerned about the slippery slope on which he sees among some evangelicals, including Presbyterians, slipping toward Anglicanism, Episcopalianism, Anglo-catholicism, and ultimately Roman Catholicism. One of his main concerns is that these churches and their liturgical practices are not compatible with - wait for this - Calvinistic experientialialism (read "Edwards-experimentalism").  

Nick Batzig

But my interest here is not with Nick's history, experience, or theology, but with his liturgical practice. He writes: "(I) now pastor a moderately liturgical Reformed Presbyterian (PCA) church." And there is the problem. As a pastor, Nick does what he thinks best when it comes to the practice of worship, and it is "moderately liturgical." Within the PCA that is the norm. Pastors, in consultation with their staffs and local congregational elders, do what they think best. If you visit churches in the PCA you never know what you are going to get. You can get churches that borrow heavily from the Book of Common Prayer (much of it incorporated into the old Presbyterian Book of Common Worship which was the liturgical standard taught in worship courses when I was a student at RTS-Jackson), Terry Johnson worship, Tim Keller worship, James Ward worship, Bill Hill (PEF) worship, and the list of personalities goes on. In the Jackson, MS, area you can visit a number of churches and get a different worship experience in each - First Presbyterian Church, Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Madison Heights Presbyterian Church, and more. Across the PCA you can find strict regulative principle worship (few), traditional worship, contemporary worship, black worship, near charismatic worship, blues worship, revivalistic worship complete with the invitation system, gospel-driven worship, and all sorts of blended worship. You can find ministers leading worship in black Geneva gowns, suits with white shirts and ties, blazers and open collar shirts, polo shirts and sandals, khakis or jeans and sports shirts tucked in or out standing behind pulpits, sitting on stools, walking across and an empty stage. You can find pulpits, baptismal fonts, and communion tables prominently displayed, or entirely hidden. You can sing Psalms and historic hymns, gospel hymns, praise and worship songs, accompanied by nothing, organs, pianos, orchestras, acoustic guitars, and rock bands. Depending on your worship principles, preferences, and personality, you can find the worship in a PCA church comfortable, compatible, challenging, relevant, irrelevant, or offensive.

There is a phrase I find that describes worship in the PCA: liturgical chaos. This is in a church which in its Confession of Faith, to which all officers vow allegiance, says: 
But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.
This is in a church whose roots are in the Westminster Assembly which produced a Directory for Worship which was binding. This is in a church which with regard to its own Directory of Worship declared all but a couple of chapters non-binding. If all the worship practices one can find among the PCA churches are consistent with the "regulative principle" stated in the paragraph of the Westminster Confession quoted above, then that paragraph is absolutely meaningless. In the PCA it is the days of the Judges - no directory for worship as king, every man doing what is right in his own eyes.

At one General Assembly I attended during my Presbyterian days, on Sunday night there was a worship service in which there was liturgical dance (mercifully I was spared since I did not get there till Monday). Inevitably some TR offered a resolution condemning the practice. In arguing against the adoption of the motion the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly argued that Presbyterians do not have prescribed worship but directed worship, so the worship service should not be condemned. The question that rose in my mind was, "Directed by what?" The only plausible answer is, "Nothing."

Tomorrow I will be walking on a slippery slope. I know what is going to happen when I go to church. We are going to celebrate Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer and its rubrics. We will read the Epistle and Gospel prescribed for the first Sunday in Lent. We will read a Psalm and an Old Testament Lesson chosen from a list of those appropriate for this day. Ministers will lead the service, preach the sermon, administer the Sacrament, but there will be much congregational participation throughout the service in hymns, prayers, responses, and reading of Holy Scripture.

The title of Nick Batzig's Blog at Reformation 21 is "The Ecclesiastical Pendulum Swing," I wonder if, given his history, Nick has had his last swing?

















16 comments:

  1. I cannot for the life of me, understand who hath bewitched [Gal. 3:1] the Pseudo-formed; (I cannot even begin to call them 'Reformed') and, for the moment (though they seem to be trying their darnedest to get there- cf. https://faithandheritage.com/2016/10/its-official-joel-mcdurmon-reveals-himself-to-be-a-trotskyite/ ) they aren't there YET, as 'Deformed' as are the PCUSA.

    The earliest records of the Apostolic Church [Didache] clearly are concerned with 'form and order.'
    Christ and the Apostles went faithfully to both Synagogue and Temple, using Divinely-ordained forms and 'approved sacrifices,' even unto the type and manner of altar they were to use! [Ex. 20:24-25]

    And if someone cheekily will say (and they do- frequently [I Sam. 15: 23]) 'That was in the Old Testament,' well, what about Hebrews 13:10!?

    After my forays in the 'Machen-ite' OPC, back in the day, I realized I not only wanted, but NEEDED the liturgical year, weekly Eucharist, and yes, even 'smells and bells' once in a while. I had purged my mind of the merely ceremonial, and saw the Living and True God mirrored in the New Testament worship in the Anglican ethos, albeit of a moderate-to-high stripe, but I could understand the Low Church types...

    But the modernist Pseudos? Sorry, 'bare ruined choirs,' (Shakespeare Sonnet 73) heading rapidly toward hewn cisterns [Jer. 2:13]....

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  2. Do your examples show that the regulative principle doesn't work, or that churches (and especially the PCA) don't apply it with rigid and consistently? It seems to me that the latter is the case.

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    1. My examples show that at least in the current Reformed world the regulative principle does not work because it cannot work. Did it ever really work? Good question. There are those, who like my friend, Dr. Clark will argue that it did when the churches were committed to it. I am not so sure. But what I can say is that that it has been a very long time since it worked.

      Some of my examples - those from the Jackson, MS, area - are in one of the most conservative presbyteries in the PCA. That presbytery specifically asks about the the regulative principle, and candidates for ordination and ministers transferring from other presbyteries are expected to affirm their allegiance to it. The Presbytery even asks specific questions such as "May women lead in worship? May women read Scripture in worship?" etc. and the answers are to be "no." That does not do anything to insure any uniformity in the practice of worship. You are still going to have both traditional and contemporary worship and mixtures thereof. You are still going to have ministers sitting on the sidelines while worship leaders (or in any old revivalistic churches it will be the "song leader") run the services. And you are going to have almost universal observance of at least Christmas and Easter.

      My point is that the regulative principle has been around more than 500 years and stated explicitly since the Westminster Assembly. The historical test of it has been found wanting. That could mean the faithlessness of the churches (just within the relatively small Presbyterian world - look beyond those churches to the rest of Protestantism and the problem is massive) - or it could mean that the principle is not a Biblical principle and therefore does not work.

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    2. Pretty sure Mark van Heusden is right. The Regulative Principle will not work if church leaders don't apply it; it doesn't matter what the document says, if there is no consistent application. You could just as well say that "the Bible has been around for 6 centuries and no one has unilaterally agreed on its meaning." That doesn't mean that it's a better idea to cobble together what we think God said (a la Thomas Jefferson) instead of working out what Sola Scriptura means.

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    3. See my comment in response to Mark. And of course, my position is not that we cobble together what we think God said instead of working out the sola scriptura principle. BTW, Thomas Jefferson did not cobble together what he though God said. He cobbled together Gospels in which he excised what was not acceptable to him and kept what he thought was acceptable and useful. Thomas Jefferson did not believe the Bible is the Word of God, nor that our Lord was the Divine Savior.

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    4. Linda is right that Mark is right. William is wrong and misses the point. It works for those who apply it. It works when applied because it's correct and utterly biblical. This is clearly evident to those belonging to a church who apply the RPW. William, you couldn't be more wrong. Dr. Clark's arguments crush yours.

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    5. Rubin, unfortunately argument by assertion is no argument at all. To say, "Linda right...Dr. Clark's arguments crush yours" is to say nothing except that you agree with them. To say, "It works when applied because...it's utterly Biblical," is to state an opinion. To say,"This is clearly evident to those..." is to report your experience and evaluation in whatever church of which you are a member. If you want to say that there are churches where the regulative principle is strictly applied you will find no disagreement from me. That is true of how many churches encompassing how many congregants? And what do you mean by following the RPW? How is the RPW applied in this congregations? No church year? No song but Psalms? No instruments? The more you look at the RPW the more you run up against the observation that it does not work across even most of the denominations that profess it. Nor has it worked consistently across history among those churches that profess it. Now that raises a legitimate question. Why does it not work? Why the breakdown? Is it man's sinfulness insisting to worship God as he pleases? Or, could it be that the RPW is not a Biblical principle? If you come up with a theory that, if applied, will result in a rocket hitting the moon, and it is accepted, and using the theory a rocket is fired but misses the moon, you now have a legitimate question.Why? There are several possibilities. One is that you got the theory wrong.

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  3. The regulative principle doesn't work just like Sola Scriptura doesn't work. Followers of each end up doing, and believing, "what is right in their own eyes."

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    1. Of course, you score a point re sola scriptura. There is no doubt that one of the unforeseen and unintended consequences of the Reformation was that, having got rid of one pope, millions of popes have been created. But what Luther saw, when pressed to the wall, was that the church and its magisterium can be wrong because, on the face it, doctrine and practice which Luther challenged contradicted the Bible. So what to choose? The Bible or the pope and church councils? If the Bible is the Word of God and the pope contradicts the Bible, then it is the pope who must be in error. So saw all the magisterial reformers: Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer. If anything the differences among the last 3 popes - especially between 1 and 2 vs 3 - proves that the pope is no preserver of unity of truth regarding faith and practice. The certainty for which some Protestants earn and so submit themselves to the magisterium proves to be no certainty at all - unless God, by giving new guidance and revelation, contradicts his previously given guidance and revelation.

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  4. I am currently attending a PCA seminary and am under care in one of the presbyteries in Florida. The issues addressed in this article are legitimate concerns. I would just ask for prayers from anyone who reads this that God would lead me in these formative years, with hopes that I would seek God's will and not my own tastes. I desire to serve God and His church faithfully, but to be honest I am not sure what that looks like when it comes to worship.

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    1. The Lord be with you and guide you by his Word and Spirit.

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  5. Bill,

    What about the RPCNA. Whether one personally likes/prefers that denomination or not, one could argue that they do indeed practice in modern day times the historic Reformed model of RPW in their Worship.
    Agree or disagree? If disagree, please explain.
    Great blog articles here! Thanks!

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    1. I think they RPCNA comes closest in the US to actually trying to practice the RPW. So, yes, agree. Having worked with RPCNA people in fellowship, I would add they have some of their own tensions about it - and about other things that tug them in different directions.

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  6. I'm reading some good comments here. I've moved to Anglicanism (ANiC) from the PCA and URC. I've been forced to reconcile with the RPW in the last couple years.
    I think the issue for me is that RPW just isn't actually applicable. I see comments saying it needs to be applied. Well, how? The point here is that after 400 years there still is not unity of application and practice within the Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist churches.
    I think the problem rests squarely with our inability to apply a consistent hermeneutic to scripture as to how apostolic worship should look. We pick and choose, we read descriptions and not prescriptive text (there are very few prescriptive texts concerning New Testament corporate worship) and we piece together our services based on Scripture, history (read: tradition), and our own bound consciences.
    We would do well to understand the RPW as reactionary to Roman superstition rather than a legitimate appeal to scripture.

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  7. Coming from a Reformed perspective, I agree with the RPW, but I hold to it lightly because, ironicaly, the RPW itself is not prescribed in the NT. We simply have no NT book of Leviticus, and I have to conclude that was intentional, so while I hold to the idea of order and find much agreement with RPW, I cannot be dogmatic about my stance; therefore, I think that (much of) the PCA gets it right in leaving it up to local elders to decide on their liturgy.

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    1. The problem with each session to do as it deems right (and usually this means as the minister deems right) in a denomination that confessed the RPW is that the RPW becomes meaningless. Another is that worship both expresses and drives theology. When you worship you are saying what you believe about God and you are also being pulled in a direction of what you believe about God. Then there is the problem of unity - literally in the PCA there are places some cannot worship because it is so deformed. A denomination that cannot worship together is a denomination that is going to have difficulty staying together.

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