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Worship According to the Man on the Street

A neighbor of my mother-in-law recently handed me the Standard Bearer issues, May 1 and 15, 2000. I read and digested your editorials entitled, “Shall We Please God or (Certain Kinds of) People or, The Regulative Principle of Worship.” My initial response may seem rather remote. Your beliefs regarding worship remind me of Stophorst, Netherlands. Stophorst is a place where nothing has changed over the years. Consequently, Stophorst is a tourist attraction, a quaint place to visit, an oddity. The Stophorst Reformed Churches have quite a bit to offer theologically, even though they are imbalanced in the areas of the sovereignty of God and evangelism, but they are not gaining a hearing at large, because they’ve missed out on true Reformed worship by not connecting with society. They are like a salt shaker that is full of the flavoring of salt that benefits only their own. Many of us who know lament the fact that in the area of our roots only a tiny percentage of people attend worship and that, morally, the Netherlands has sunk to depths beyond the United States. Amazingly, not many people ask the question, “Why?” From having such a strong Reformed faith years ago, why does the Netherlands need missionaries to bring it back to a position of Christian influence? The answer is simple: 1. theologically, many church leaders have become universalists … no longer under the authority of the Word of God; 2. the worship style and music, over the years, has not changed; therefore, they fail to make sense to the man on the street, and “church” or “the Gospel message” has become a museum piece (relic) of the past. I invite you to study the teachings of John Calvin as they relate to worship. The implications are incredible and far reaching. In understanding and applying what his biblical insight is, perhaps you’ll not be so harsh on “progressive worship.” Progressive worship in America is more “Reformed” than what is taking place in Stophorst churches and probably in the churches affected by the Standard Bearer. If you’d like to discuss this matter further, I’d be delighted to meet with you and share thoughts on this crucial subject.

(Rev.) Charles Doornbos

Middleville, MI

P.S. Consider the following quotation from Calvin:

The Lord has in his sacred oracles faithfully embraced and clearly expressed both the whole sum of true righteousness, and all aspects of the worship of his majesty, and whatever was necessary to salvation; therefore, in these the master alone is to be heard. But because he did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages), here we must take refuge in those general rules which he has given, that whatever the necessity of the church will require for order and decorum should be tested against these. Lastly, because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones. Indeed, I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause. But love will best judge what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe. – John Calvin, Institutes, 4.10.30.

RESPONSE:

This letter is especially welcome. It boldly confronts us with the issue in worship today: conform worship to the Word of God, or conform it to the tastes of the “man on the street.” In a commendably naked way, it puts the pressure on us: conform worship to the world, or be regarded as (and called!) a relic and an oddity – a quaint Stophorst on the face of the earth. How many churches, I wonder, are able to stand up to this pressure? Our response – the response of the Protestant Reformed Churches – is that we choose to conform our worship, specifically our music, to the Word of God. We do so because the Spirit of Christ works obedience in us to the second commandment of the law of God: Worship God only in the way that He has commanded in His Word (Heid. Cat., Q. 96). We are willing to pay the price of being an oddity. At the same time, we on our part have a message for the man on the street, a message concerning worship. It is even stronger and more urgent than the warning to us, “Conform to the world, or become a quaint Stophorst.” Our admonition is this: Submitting to God by believing on Christ, worship God as we do, that is, in the way that He has commanded in His Word, or perish! P.S. Regarding the citation from Calvin. Calvin taught that the manner of the church’s public worship of God is regulated by God in Scripture. Therefore, the manner of the New Testament church’s worship of God is unchangeably the same always and everywhere. Calvin expresses this plainly enough in the chapter of the Institutes appealed to in Rev. Doornbos’ letter.

He [God] alone (when we seek the way to worship him aright and fitly) has authority over our souls, him we ought to obey, and upon his will we ought to wait (4.10.8). We are not to seek from men [whether on the street or in their seeker-friendly, megachurches-DJE] the doctrine of the true worship of God, for the Lord has faithfully and fully instructed us how he is to be worshiped (4.10.8). Many marvel why the Lord so sharply threatens to astound the people who worshiped him with the commands of men

Isa. 29:13, 14

and declares that he is vainly worshiped by the precepts of men.

Matt. 15:9

But if they were to weigh what it is to depend upon God’s bidding alone in matters of religion (that is, on account of heavenly wisdom), they would at the same time see that the Lord has strong reasons to abominate such perverse rites, which are performed for him according to the willfulness of human nature. For even though those who obey such laws in the worship of God have some semblance of humility in this obedience of theirs, they are nevertheless not at all humble in God’s sight, since they prescribe for him these same laws which they observe (4.10.24).

In the section quoted by Rev. Doornbos, Calvin is speaking of rules of church order: “all the laws by which the order of the church is shaped” (4.10.27). Calvin explicitly distinguishes these rules, which make up what Calvin calls “a well-ordered constitution” of the church, from God’s commandments prescribing how He is to be worshiped: “But in these observances one thing must be guarded against. They are not to be considered necessary for salvation and thus bind consciences by scruples; nor are they to be associated with the worship of God, and piety thus be lodged in them” (4.10.27). Calvin himself informs us what he has in mind: rules as to the times of public worship, the times of the administration of the Lord’s Supper, posture in prayer, and the like (4.10.29). The quotation itself specifies matters of “outward discipline and ceremonies,” in distinction from “the whole sum of true righteousness, and all aspects of the worship of his majesty.” In these matters of “outward discipline and ceremonies,” the rulers of the church have liberty to accommodate “the state of the times” and “the customs of each nation and age.” But even in this carefully restricted area of church life, Calvin, typically, warns against rash innovation: “I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause” (4.10.30).

More on Instrumental Accompaniment in Worship

I respond to the letter by Renwick B. Adams, “Twanging Hearts” (Standard Bearer, July, 2000). Adams’ concern is a distinction made by the editor in the article, “Shall We Please God…?” (SB, May 15, 2000), a distinction which he regards as erroneous in its application to musical accompaniment. Adams writes, “Your classification of instrumental music as an attending ‘circumstance’ of worship where the church has liberty, rather than as an element of worship regulated by express commandment of Scripture, is erroneous.” The distinction at issue may be reduced for the purpose of brevity to a distinction between an act of worship regulated by God and an attending circumstance. The irony of Adams’ letter is that the author unwittingly demonstrates and establishes the point in his very disagreement with instrumental accompaniment as an attendant circumstance that it is an attendant circumstance. Adams points out that “instrumental accompaniment was introduced into the Old Covenant worship by (and only by) the express command of God.” Having pointed out that this accompaniment was required under David in connection with the institution of temple worship, he adds, “It would have been sinful for David to introduce musical instruments into the worship of the tabernacle without the command of God….” Now concerning this there is first of all no genuine disagreement. The music and also the singing of the Old Testament church were given to the Levites and regulated by God’s Word. The Old Testament church, as Adams himself indicates, was “… dependent on mediating Levites with their instruments making a sound during the burnt offering.” However, exactly because of this, music was not an attendant circumstance in the Old Testament, neither was it simply, “instrumental accompaniment.” It was in fact a commanded act of worship and an official element of worship. In the Old Testament, New Testament Christian liberty had not come into force; the church was under the tutors and governors of the Law. Moreover, as Adams points out indirectly, this use of music in the Old Testament has a symbolic-typical function which is fulfilled in the New Testament. He writes, “Paul commands that while singing we are also to be ‘making melody’ in our hearts (Eph. 5:19). A very literal rendering of the original phrase is ‘plucking on the strings of your heart.’ We must accompany our voices with twanging hearts, so to speak.” No one disagrees on this point either. What it demonstrates, however, is that music in the Old Testament worship was in fact an act of worship, having a symbolic-typical significance, of the worship of the heart, which is fulfilled in the New Testament and is now realized in the singing and worship of God’s people in the priesthood of all believers. Two conclusions ought properly to be drawn from this however. First, that instrumental music as an act of worship, or official element of worship in the New Testament church is not to be done. By an act of worship we have in view elements introduced into the worship service which are in themselves elements of public worship or in themselves have some special symbolic significance. Introducing choirs, special numbers, special musical interludes in their own place in the service as a performance, or a devotional cantata such as those written by Bach, as elements of the worship service, violate the principle that the whole congregation must worship from the heart. Secondly, however, what the argument actually demonstrates is that Old Testament passages about music, where music was not mere accompaniment but an act of worship having symbolic-typical significance, are totally irrelevant to the subject of an attendant circumstance, which is not an act of worship but merely serves to assist worship. Music in the worship service which is used to assist the musically unlearned and aid the congregation in singing together is not itself an act of worship nor does it have a symbolic-typical significance. It in no way sets aside or hinders the calling to worship God from the heart. Moreover, background music which is used to promote a reverent atmosphere prior to the official worship service and after it, as well as during the taking of the offering and which serves to cover the sounds of people entering pews, dropping coins, etc., is likewise not an act of worship. These are attendant circumstances. Adams’ second argument also unwittingly demonstrates the same point. He writes, “Also, your justification of the ‘optional’ position (‘if only the instrument serves the singing of the congregation’) is the same argument the Romanists use to justify incense and candles accompanying prayer. Calvin’s logic in linking and rejecting these two ‘aids’ to worship is impeccable.” The fact is that this argument mixes two different things or uses of the word “aids” and sets up a straw man. Calvin’s objection to the Roman use of candles as an “aid” to prayer was not an objection to the use of candles as an attendant circumstance in worship in illuminating the church building prior to the electric light bulb. The Roman church uses candles as a symbolic-typical picture of the prayers being offered by the worshiper. This is particularly true as these candles are ordinarily lighted in front of images with bowing and genuflection. What Rome means by “aids” to prayer and to which the Reformers objected was not an “attendant circumstance” but a symbolic-typical act of worship. These “aids” are part of what Rome calls “sacramentals.” Similarly, the Eastern Orthodox churches use incense. The altar in their churches is hidden behind a screen called an iconstasis, with holy images of the saints on it. The mass is to be shrouded in mystery. In performing it the priest symbolically enters the temple. In connection with this the priest burns incense in a censor before the door just as did the priests of the Old Testament. He also walks around the congregation with the censor, clanking it as a symbolic-typical act of worship to sanctify the congregation to participate in the holy mystery of the mass about to be performed. It is an act of worship in these churches. It is not an “attendant circumstance.” To attempt to draw an analogy from the Reformer’s logic and objection to this use of incense to musical accompaniment is to set up a straw man. The parallel to musical accompaniment in the use of incense would be to use it to freshen a stale odor, to remove a sour smell in a church building which would detract from public worship. That is, to use it as an air freshener to make the place of worship more pleasant. The fact is that this argument of Adams really serves to illustrate that there is a very real difference between an “attendant circumstance” as the term is intended and what is in fact an act of worship. It also illustrates that the point made concerning music, “if the instrument serves the singing of the congregation,” is a valid one since it has no spiritual significance in itself. It is justified in the light of the principles of Christian liberty in the New Testament.

Rev. Thomas Miersma

Home Missionary, PRC

Blessings of Childlessness

I appreciated the fine article entitled “Childlessness,” by the Rev. Daniel Kleyn, which appeared in the May 1, 2000 issue of the Standard Bearer. In addition to the reasons mentioned by Rev. Kleyn why the Lord in His wisdom chooses not to give children to some couples in the church, let me suggest one more: perhaps it is to enable them to minister more effectively to other childless couples in the church. However all this may be, childless couples can be and in many instances have been a rich blessing to their fellow saints in God’s church.

(Prof.) Robert D. Decker

Protestant Reformed Seminary