Archive for the ‘Regulative Principle of Worship’ Category

Just Psalms? How about Ephesians and Colossians?

January 19, 2015

From time to time, people ask me about why Christians might sing only Psalms in the worship of God. One of the more understandable arguments they sometimes present is an appeal to one or both of these verses:

Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

My response to them on this is that we need to look at how the terms Paul uses would have been understood to people in a 1st century context. In that context, there was no “Trinity Hymnal” nor any “Praise Song” transparencies or the like. So, Paul wasn’t speaking about three different sources, i.e. the Psalter, the Hymnal, and the Praise Songs licensed by CCLI.

What was Paul referring to? He was referring to the Psalter. This may seem surprising, because we have so closely associated the term “Psalm” with the book of Psalms, whereas we have associated the word “Hymn” with songs that aren’t in the Psalter.

Nevertheless, the terms translated “psalms,” “hymns,” and “songs” are three of the four words commonly used in the Septuagint titles of the Psalms. Specifically: ψαλμοσ (Psalm)(66 times), συνεσεοσ/συνοισ (understanding or wisdom)(13 times), υμνοισ (hymn)(6 times), and ωδη/ωδησ (song or ode)(36 times). (see more detailed analysis here)

2 Kingdoms in 2 Chronicles

April 22, 2013

Some of the advocates of the so-called Escondido view of the two kingdoms (as distinct from the traditional view held by Calvin and Turretin and set forth in the Westminster Confession, 39 Articles, and Belgic Confession) seem to have the idea that “two kingdoms” (i.e. a distinction between civil and religious) is a novel idea in the New Testament era. They are wrong.

There were two kingdoms in the Old Testament era as well, even if they sometimes got a bit blurred, as they did under Moses. Uzziah provides a poignant example of the distinction:

2 Chronicles 26:16-21
But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, that were valiant men: and they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the Lord God.
Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him. And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord: and Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.

The point is that the king – the civil head of the country was not the high priest, the religious head of the country. Rather, there was a distinction between the two kingdoms.
Under the new covenant, we are a nation of priests. We have direct access to God through prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, and consequently we have no use either for priests or for incense. We do not need a merely human mediator, because Jesus Christ, the God-man, is our mediator and high priest, and the Spirit communicates on our behalf.
The passage is also a good reminder of the second commandment, the commandment that teaches us that God must be worshiped as He wills, not as we will. Here, Uzziah was not proposing to offer incense to Baal or to any false God, but rather to YHWH. Nevertheless, he overstepped his bounds and did not follow the way of worship that God had appointed, and so God judged with leprosy.


John Calvin vs. Cardinal Sadoleto

April 30, 2012

September 1, 1539, Calvin delivered a powerful blow to Roman apologetics of his day with his letter to Cardinal Sadoleto (Tony Pietrantonio recently provided an involuntary imitation of Sadoleto). What is interesting about the Calvin vs. Sadoleto dispute is that it begins from the topic of worship. Calvin states:

Therefore, Sadolet, when you uttered this voluntary confession, you laid the foundation of my defense. For if you admit it to be a fearful destruction to the soul, when, by false opinions, divine truth is turned into a lie, it now only remains for us to inquire which of the two parties retains that worship of God which is alone legitimate.

It is with great sorrow that we see some heirs of the Reformation squandering the legacy of legitimate worship of God, replacing it with all manner of will worship. Granted that it does not yet reach the extremes of Rome with its worship of idols of Mary, Angels, and the Saints, and the worship of them and of God by idols – the worship of bread as though it were God – and many other idolatries and blasphemies of like sort. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the purity of worship is something that is sadly too often missing in churches that are aimed at marketing themselves with popular music and other entertainment.

When it comes to doctrine, Justification by Faith takes a chief place, and Calvin’s argument is excellent:

You, in the first place, touch upon justification by faith, the first and keenest subject of controversy between us. Is this a knotty and useless question? Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown. That doctrine, then, though of the highest moment, we maintain that you have nefariously effaced from the memory of men. Our books are filled with convincing proofs of this fact, and the gross ignorance of this doctrine, which even still continues in all your churches, declares that our complaint is by no means ill founded. But you very maliciously stir up prejudice against us, alleging that, by attributing every thing to faith, we leave no room for works.

I will not now enter upon a full discussion, which would require a large volume; but if you would look into the Catechism which I myself drew up for the Genevans, when I held the office of Pastor among them, three words would silence you. Here, however, I will briefly explain to you how we speak on this subject.

First, We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.

What have you here, Sadolet, to bite or carp at? Is it that we leave no room for works? Assuredly we do deny that, in justifying a man, they are worth one single straw. For Scripture everywhere cries aloud, that all are lost; and every mans’s own conscience bitterly accuses him. The same Scripture teaches, that no hope is left but in the mere goodness of God, by which sin is pardoned, and righteousness imputed to us. It declares both to be gratuitous, and finally concludes that a man is justified without works, (Rom. iv. 7.) But what notion, you ask, does the very term Righteousness suggest to us, if respect is not paid to good works ? I answer, if you would attend to the true meaning of the term justifying in Scripture, you would have no difficulty. For it does not refer to a man’s own righteousness, but to the mercy of God, which, contrary to the sinner’s deserts, accepts of a righteousness for him, and that by not imputing his unrighteousness. Our righteousness, I say, is that which is described by Paul, (2 Cor. v. 19,) that God both reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ. The mode is afterwards subjoined — by not imputing sin. He demonstrates that it is by faith only we become partakers of that blessing, when he says that the ministry of reconciliation is contained in the gospel. But faith, you say, is a general term, and has a larger signification. I answer, that Paul, whenever he attributes to it the power of justifying, at the same time restricts it to a gratuitous promise of the divine favor, and keeps it far removed from all respect to works. Hence his familiar inference — if by faith, then not by works. On the other hand — if by works, then not by faith.

But, it seems, injury is done to Christ, if, under the pretence of his grace, good works are repudiated; he having come to prepare a people acceptable to God, zealous of good works, while, to the same effect, are many similar passages which prove that Christ came in order that we, doing good works, might, through him, be accepted by God. This calumny, which our opponents have ever in their mouths, viz., that we take away the desire of well-doing from the Christian life by recommending gratuitous righteousness, is too frivolous to give us much concern. We deny that good works have any share in justification, but we claim full authority for them in the lives of the righteous. For, if he who has obtained justification possesses Christ, and, at the same time, Christ never is where his Spirit in not, it is obvious that gratuitous righteousness is necessarily connected with regeneration. Therefore, if you would duly understand how inseparable faith and works are, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches, (1 Cor. i. 30,) has been given to us for justification and for sanctification. Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life. On the contrary, where zeal for integrity and holiness is not in vigour, there neither is the Spirit of Christ nor Christ himself; and wherever Christ is not, there in no righteousness, nay, there is no faith; for faith cannot apprehend Christ for righteousness without the Spirit of sanctification.

Since, therefore, according to us, Christ regenerates to a blessed life those whom he justifies, and after rescuing them from the dominion of sin, hands them over to the dominion of righteousness, transforms them into the image of God, and so trains them by his Spirit into obedience to his will, there is no ground to complain that, by our doctrine, lust is left with loosened reins. The passages which you adduce have not a meaning at variance with our doctrine. But if you will pervert them in assailing gratuitous justification, see how unskillfully you argue. Paul elsewhere says (Eph. i. 4) that we were chosen in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy and unblameable in the sight of God through love. Who will venture thence to infer, either that election is not gratuitous, or that our love is its cause? Nay, rather, as the end of gratuitous election, so also that of gratuitous justification is, that we may lead pure and unpolluted lives before God. For the saying of Paul is true, (1 Thess. iv. 7,) we have not been called to impurity, but to holiness. This, meanwhile, we constantly maintain, that man is not only justified freely once for all, without any merit of works, but that on this gratuitous justification the salvation of man perpetually depends. Nor is it possible that any work of man can he accepted by God unless it be gratuitously approved. Wherefore, I was amazed when I read your assertion, that love is the first and chief cause of our salvation. O, Sadolet, who could ever have expected such a saying from you? Undoubtedly the very blind, while in darkness, feel the mercy of God too surely to dare to claim for their love the first cause of their salvation, while those who have merely one spark of divine light feel that their salvation consists in nothing else than their being adopted by God. For eternal salvation is the inheritance of the heavenly Father, and has been prepared solely for his children. Moreover, who can assign any other cause of our adoption than that which is uniformly announced in Scripture, viz., that we did not first love him, but were spontaneously received by him into favor and affection?

Your ignorance of this doctrine leads you on to the error of teaching that sins are expiated by penances and satisfactions. Where, then, will be that one expiatory victim, from which, if we depart, there remains, as Scripture testifies, no more sacrifice for sin? Search through all the divine oracles which we possess; if the blood of Christ alone is uniformly act forth as purchasing satisfaction, reconciliation, and ablution, how dare you presume to transfer so great an honor to your works? Nor have you any ground for ascribing this blasphemy to the Church of God. The ancient Church, I admit, had its satisfactions, not those, however, by which sinners might atone to God and ransom themselves from guilt, but by which they might prove that the repentance which they professed was not feigned, and efface the remembrance of that scandal which their sin had occasioned. For satisfactions were not regularly prescribed to all and sundry, but to those only who had fallen into some heinous wickedness.

You can (and really should) read the whole letter here (link to letter). It is excellent.


Rap on Reformed Worship

March 8, 2012

The Sola System has produced the following rap video, which provides an argument for Reformed worship in the style of a rap (apparently recorded back in 2008):


The Worship of the High Places

August 18, 2011

When we read in Scripture about the worship in the “high places,” some of us may automatically assume that this is a reference to pagan worship. That assumption is not fully justified. Although the people of Israel were not commanded to worship God in “high places,” nevertheless it seems that they did.

The first clear reference to this practice can be seen in the softly negative comment about Solomon.

1 Kings 3:1-4

And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the LORD, and the wall of Jerusalem round about. Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days. And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar.

The exception to following the statutes of David was that Solomon sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places. This, in combination with the reference to the fact that people sacrificed in the high places before the temple was built show – or at least suggest – that this was worship to the Lord.

The second reference to this practice is more clearly negative, and is connected with the Jeroboamic worship, which we have previously explained was an aberrant form of worship of the Lord.

1 Kings 13:1-5

And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out. And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him. The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD.

And again, at the end of the same account:

1 Kings 13:29-34

And the prophet took up the carcase of the man of God, and laid it upon the ass, and brought it back: and the old prophet came to the city, to mourn and to bury him. And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother! And it came to pass, after he had buried him, that he spake to his sons, saying, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones: for the saying which he cried by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass. After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places. And this thing became sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.

The use of the high places returned to Judah after Solomon. We see testimony about this at various times, including one curious time that involves Jehoshaphat.

1 Kings 22:42-43

Jehoshaphat was thirty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.

2 Chronicles 17:3-6

And the LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; but sought to the LORD God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel. Therefore the LORD stablished the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance. And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the LORD: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.

2 Chronicles 20:31-33

And Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah: he was thirty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. And he walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the LORD. Howbeit the high places were not taken away: for as yet the people had not prepared their hearts unto the God of their fathers.

One explanation for this apparent contradiction (between 2 Chronicles and 1 Kings and internally within 2 Chronicles) may be found in another account:

2 Chronicles 33:10-18

And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken. Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God. Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah. And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel. Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the LORD their God only. Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer unto his God, and the words of the seers that spake to him in the name of the LORD God of Israel, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel.

So, the solution with respect to Jehosophat is that he took away the high places of Baalim, but not those of Lord. Thus, the high places were not eradicated entirely, though those for Baalim were eradicated.

Hezekiah, however, was apparently more thorough. In fact, Hezekiah is praised this way:

2 Kings 18:1-6

Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Abi, the daughter of Zachariah. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.

This zeal, however, lead to an interesting argument from the invading Assyrian general, Rabshakeh. Arguing to the people of Jerusalem, he stated:

2 Kings 18:22 But if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?

2 Chronicles 32:12 Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it?

Rabshakeh mistakenly thought that Hezekiah had insulted the Lord by destroying the places where the Lord was worshiped. He knew that Hezekiah had removed the high places that were used to worship the Lord, but he did not realize that this was required in order to purify the worship of the Lord in accordance with the law of Moses.

Further evidence that these were high places for the Lord come from the theme of several praising passages for the kings of Judah. Asa, Jehoshaphat (already discussed above), Amaziah, and Jotham are all praised as having done that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and yet are criticized for not removing the high places. Given the harsh condemnation that came upon those who permitted Baal worship, it is reasonable to suppose that these are instances of Jewish inappropriate worship of the Lord, as opposed to purely pagan practices.

1 Kings 15:11-14

And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did David his father. And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron. But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa’s heart was perfect with the LORD all his days.

1 Kings 22:42-43

Jehoshaphat was thirty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.

2 Kings 14:1-4

In the second year of Joash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel reigned Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah. He was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, yet not like David his father: he did according to all things as Joash his father did. Howbeit the high places were not taken away: as yet the people did sacrifice and burnt incense on the high places.

2 Kings 15:32-35

In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah king of Israel began Jotham the son of Uzziah king of Judah to reign. Five and twenty years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jerusha, the daughter of Zadok. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD: he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places. He built the higher gate of the house of the LORD.

What should these passages teach us? First, they should teach us that God values the purity of his own worship. Hezekiah is highly praised for the purity of his worship, and even other righteous kings are criticized for failing to purify the worship of the Lord. Second, they should teach us charity. If even those with impure worship can be said to have done “right in the eyes of the Lord,” we should be charitable toward our brethren who have modern-day high places in their worship. We may rightly encourage them to purify their worship, but we ought not to try to suggest that they are not Christians, simply because of an error of this category.


One More Reason to be a Puritan

December 10, 2010

Thanks to my friend Dr. White, here’s yet another reason to be Puritan, eschew unnecessary holidays, and most of all adhere to the Regulative Principle of Worship:

(caution – the sound levels are pretty high and the video makes the necessary point with no sound)- TurretinFan

Response to Argument for Idols from the Incarnation

July 30, 2010

In the course of the comments on a previous post (link to post), I had asked:

What about the prohibition on picturing God? — Why does that prohibition not apply to pictures of Jesus?

The response I got from one of my Eastern Orthodox readers was this:

“Because on Sinai we saw no image. In the Incarnation, we did.”

This is sort of a standard response from the Eastern Orthodox, and I had tried to anticipate it somewhat in the post, although I wasn’t dealing with an Eastern Orthodox person in the post. There are several responses:

1) There were theophanies before the Incarnation.

There were theophanies, appearances of God, prior to the Incarnation. Those theophanies were around both before Moses (see where the Lord visits Abraham in Genesis 18), and after Moses (see where the Lord appears in the fiery furnace with Daniel’s three friends in Daniel 3).

So, the significance of the absence of the image on Sinai is not that no one ever saw God in a form before the Incarnation. There was no form shown to the people of Israel on Sinai, but there were other forms shown. Even closer to Moses, both Jacob (wrestled with the Lord in Genesis 32) and Joshua (who met with the Lord, see Joshua 5) saw God in human form.

2) We have not seen Jesus.

Jesus is presently in heaven. The apostles, other disciples, and even the unbelieving Jews saw Jesus. We did not. There are no detailed explanations of what Jesus looked like in the Scriptures, and while some Eastern Orthodox seem to think they have access to some kind of authentic tradition of what Jesus looked like, those stories are not credible.

3) There is greater significance to “for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire” than just that they did not know what God looked like

I am referring specifically to this:

Deuteronomy 4:15-19
Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.

Notice that there are two things prohibited – making something that is supposed to be a likeness of God, and worshiping/serving anything other than God (even the sun, moon, and stars).

I’d like to suggest that the point about not seeing God’s form, is that what is significant is that there was no form seen when God was explaining how He is to be honored. Thus, creating a form of God would be an example of something that adds to the law of God.

There are two Sola Scriptura verses in Deuteronomy that specifically provide for a limitation on innovation.

Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Deuteronomy 12:32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Keep in mind that the context of each of those passages supports the point I’m making.

In the first instance:

Deuteronomy 4:1-8
Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you. But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day. Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

Basically, in context, God is saying “do exactly what I say, neither more nor less.” Furthermore, Deuteronomy 4:2 is in the context of the prohibition on images that we’re discussing. Specifically, the linking verses are verses 9-14:

Deuteronomy 4:9-14
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons; specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.

Notice that in this context, of solemnly insisting that the people keep God’s law, God reminds them of the particular day on which the law was given. That day is the day that is then referred to when it comes to the question of making representations of God.

Just as there was no image of God shown to the people so that they would have a pattern after which to illustrate him on the day of Horeb, so also we are not given an image of God (of any person of the Godhead) that is to serve as an illustration so that we may try to show a likeness of God today.

We see no similitude, only words, just as the people of Israel saw no similitude, they only received words.

The same sort of thing is true with respect to the other passage from Deuteronomy 12.

Deuteronomy 12:28-32
Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God. When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Again, God is commanding that people do exactly what he commands, not adding to it or taking away from it. In particular, here, he forbids innovation in the form syncretism or borrowing. In other words, God explicitly tells people not to model their religious life after that of the nations around them, but simply to follow the word of God.

We are not given a portrait of Jesus in the Bible, just as the Jews were not given an image of God on the day the law was given. The same principle that applied then, applies now, notwithstanding the Incarnation.


Athanasius Praising the Psalms

September 21, 2009

The man who was God’s instrument to bring me to faith in Christ recently brought to my attention a letter from Athanasius. The letter is Athanasius’ Letter to Marcellinus. If it were not in the form of a letter, I’d be tempted to call it has work “In Praise of the Psalms.” Here are some excepts that I found particularly interesting:

Briefly, then, if indeed any more is needed to drive home the point, the whole divine Scripture is the teacher of virtue and true faith, but the Psalter gives a picture of the spiritual life. And, just as one who draws near to an earthly king observes the formalities in regard to dress and bearing and the correct forms of words lest, transgressing in these matters, he be deemed a boor, so he who seeks to live the good life and learn about the Saviour’s conduct in the body is by the reading of this holy book first put in mind of his own soul’s condition and then supplied with fit words for a suppliant’s use.

– Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus

Isn’t it nice how Athanasius manages to work in a reference to the unique teaching role of Scriptures in his letter? It is hard for him to talk about his sole rule of faith and consequently we see it bursting forth, even though the subject matter at hand does not really require it. Isn’t it also nice how, in effect, he works in the concept of the regulative principle, reminding his readers that we should learn from the Scriptures how God wishes to be worshiped? After all, the regulative principle of worship is the other side of the coin of Sola Scriptura.

Yet Athanasius is not content simply with praising the Psalms. Athanasius seems to have been one who would not have been fond of Watts’ attempted improvements of the Psalms, just as doubtless he would have been opposed to the modern tendency to derogate the Psalms to a relatively minor role in worship:

There is, however, one word of warning needed. No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments what-ever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too. For as the saints’ lives are lovelier than any others, so too their words are better than ever ours can be, and of much more avail, provided only they be uttered from a righteous heart. For with these words they themselves pleased God, and in uttering them, as the Apostle says, they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens, women received their dead by resurrection. [Heb 11:33-36]

– Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus

For those interested in reading more, including some very exact suggestions as to which Psalms are particularly fitting for various occasions, see the following link (link).

To the Glory of God, whose mercies endure forever and whose grace never fails (Psalm 136),


Reformed Worship – Resources

May 26, 2009

One important aspect of the Reformation was the reformation of worship, a recognition that God wishes to be worshiped according to the patten that he himself has laid out in Scripture rather than according to the imaginations of men. I was pleased to find a web site that is promoting this worship of God and providing a range of resources for metrical Psalm-singing. Already there are number of mp3s that can be listened to, and apparently there is much more to come. (link)

One of my favorites.

To the glory of our Great God and King!


Acorn Located!

December 11, 2008

You know that saying that even a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut? After two documented failures (one) (two), Mr. Matthew Bellisario has finally done it! He has located a “Protestant” service with some inappropriate material (in this case a mime show – link to Bellisario’s post) Mr. Bellisario finds this sort of thing absurd, and states: “By the way, if this nonsense, or anything like it is going on in any Catholic Church, it is equally absurd! I pray no bishop would allow such foolishness.”

Naturally, similar nonsense can be found in Catholicism (as evidenced by this passion mime from “St. Luke’s Catholic Church”):

You’re thinking, “But maybe the YouTube video has just been mislabeled?” No, the web page for St. Luke’s currently advertises that Good Friday 2009 will include “Stations [of the Cross] in Mime” (link). So, it seems safe to say that the labels for the video are correct. And Mr. Bellisario is right (did I just say that?), it is absurd in both cases.

What Mr. Bellisario doesn’t explain is why this miming is not proper worship of God. It’s “absurd” to him, but it mostly seems as though he can only express its supposed absurdity as a matter of taste: and a lot of people will actually find the performance at the “Protestant” church to be musically and artistically superior to the performance at “St. Luke’s” above. They are not equally absurd because of similar artistic value.

Why then are such forms of worship improper and absurd? There is an answer: the Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto they any graven image … .” The Second Commandment forbids explicitly the worship of God by images, and using this metonymy forbids worshiping God in any way not appointed in his Word.

The worship of God must be regulated by the Word of God, not the creativity of man. We must worship God as he desires to be worshiped, not as we desire to worship him. We are supposed to go to church to meet with God, not to be entertained. I know I will step on a lot of toes by pointing this out, but there is no Biblical sanction for the worshiping of God by the use of drama, for miming, or the like in Scripture. There is no call in Scripture to burn candles as an act of worship. There is no call in Scripture to ring bells as an act of worship. There is no call in Scripture to use icons or other images in worship. There is no call in Scripture to offer prayers to anyone but God.

Mr. Bellisario (though I am picking on him a bit – particularly with the blind squirrel analogy) is not alone, which is the greater pity. Most “Protestants” today do not seem to understand that the one authorized representation of our Lord Jesus Christ is the bread and cup in the Lord’s supper. Few “Protestants” openly employ images of God in their worship, but there are certainly numerous “Protestant” churches that are nearly as guilty as the papists in innovating new elements into their worship, whether it be miming or other performance art.

It is only with the Reformed doctrine of the Regulative Principle of Worship as an outgrowth of the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura, that we can explain why the very beautiful performance provided by Mr. Bellisario’s example video is not proper in God’s sight, and why it would be inappropriate for a Christian elder to permit such activity. God has not asked for us to mime in worship to him. If you or your church does this, on what grounds do those who offer such worship hope to have it accepted? For those in Catholicism, what makes you think that saying the “Hail Mary” is pleasing to God? For those in Eastern Orthodoxy, what makes you think that lighting a candle in front of an icon, whether of Jesus, Mary, or anyone else, is pleasing to God?


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