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Twanging Hearts

Your classification of instrumental accompaniment as an attending “circumstance” of worship where the church has liberty, rather than as an element of worship regulated by express command of Scripture, is erroneous (Standard Bearer, May 15, 2000, “Shall We Please God or [Certain Kinds of] People…?”).

Instrumental accompaniment was introduced into the Old Covenant worship by (and only by) the express command of God. “And he (king Hezekiah) stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets” (II Chron. 29:25). This mandatory musical accompaniment was closely tied to the required animal sacrifices (II Chron. 29:27, 28). It would have been sinful for David to introduce musical instruments into the worship of the tabernacle without the command of God, just as it would have been sinful for Hezekiah to withhold musical accompaniment during his restoration of temple worship.

Nor is instrumental accompaniment (rightly understood) optional in New Covenant worship. 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.

Under the New Covenant all believers can finally and meaningfully sing Psalm 144:9, “on a harp of ten strings I will sing praise unto thee.” We are no longer dependent on mediating Levites with their instruments making sound during a burnt offering. By virtue of the universal priesthood of believers, we now may and must “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15).

While Scripture alone is our only infallible rule of faith and practice, the testimony of church history is corroboratory. The early church was unanimously opposed to the use of literal instruments in worship, and to this day the Eastern Orthodox churches practice a cappella (“as in the chapel”) singing. It is not clear from history when the Roman Church introduced instruments. Some sources claim the practice began as early as AD 666 under Pope Vitalian, although Aquinas (c. AD 1250) writes as if a cappella singing was yet the norm. You surely do not mean to imply that the proper biblical position on this issue was uncovered by the Roman Church, just as she was descending into the Dark Ages.

Also, your justification for 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.

Renwick B. Adams

Clarinda, IA

Proper Use of the Creeds

I read with keen interest the letter, “Baptism by Women,” by J.L. Reckman and your reply (Standard Bearer, May 1, 2000). May I make so bold as to suggest that you are both wrong.

Mr. Reckman’s position is based on a failure to imbibe the whole doctrine of Scripture. This becomes plain as one reads the letter. So many passages from the New Testament flow through the mind contemporaneous with the reading as to refute the ideas presented conclusively the nearer one gets to the end of the letter.

But I believe you were wrong in answering Mr. Reckman’s notions from the confessional position of the Reformed church. It is axiomatic to religious liberty that one is free to disagree with a confession if he feels it does not faithfully represent the teaching of Scripture. Men and women have died for this liberty of conscience in times past against a corrupt Church of England and the Roman Institution (you can’t call the latter a church). De facto, an answer based on creeds is inadequate to convince. Why is it necessary in order to maintain the doctrinal purity of the church to appeal to uninspired creedalism to refute propositions which fundamentally are at odds with the inscripturated Word? Would it not have been more to the point (and tellingly so) to have answered the propositions espoused in Mr. Reckman’s letter by applying Scripture to them? Thus the matter would be grounded on a much sounder footing. If the answers given from this source are rejected, then it is the Scripture which is denied and not the uninspired words of men. No matter how good those men were when they compiled creeds, they were not gifted with inspiration. The biblical writers were. This is not to say that creeds have no value. They do, but in establishing the doctrine of the Scripture, Scripture alone, and unsupported (it doesn’t need support from men, no matter how good they are), must have unrestrained free course.

It is one of the criticisms frequently leveled at covenant theologians: they make too much of their confessions. The risk is run of appearing to have an incomplete revelation, at best—one which needs bolstering up by creeds. This position has been criticized as creedalism contra Scripture. That criticism may be a bit strong, but God forbid there is truth in it! The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes a beautiful statement: “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.” If this is not true, then we are of all men the most miserable. In answer to Mr. Reckman, Scripture (sola Scriptura) would have provided the element of incontrovertibility and finality.

Geoff Thomas

Bournemouth, England

Response:

It is my understanding that Mr. Reckman, like myself, is a member of a Reformed church that has the “Three Forms of Unity” as its confessions. He may even be an officebearer. Therefore, he, like myself, is bound to the teachings of these confessions as the faithful expression of the Word of God, Holy Scripture. He must confess these teachings. He may not call any of them into question. Among Reformed people, every debate must begin with the question, “Do the confessions address this issue, and, if so, what do they say?” If the confessions do speak to the issue, what the confessions say is decisive.

One of the important documents of confessional Reformed churches (a tautology) is the “Public Declaration of Agreement with the Forms of Unity”—the form read and assented to at every meeting of synod. Included is the following:

All the congregations of these churches believe all the books of the Old and of the New Testaments to be the Word of God and confess as the true expression of their faith the Thirty-seven Articles of the Confession of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, formulated by the Synod of 1618-’19, together with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of the Dordrecht Synod against the Remonstrants (Arminians). In conformity with the belief of all these congregations, we, as members of their synod, declare that from the heart we feel and believe that all articles and expressions of doctrine contained in the three above-named confessions, jointly called the Three Forms of Unity, in all respects agree with the Word of God, whence we reject all doctrines repugnant thereto; that we desire to conform all our actions to them, agreeably to the accepted Church Order of Dordrecht, 1618-’19, and desire to receive into our church communion everyone that agrees to our confession.

If a non-Reformed correspondent were to ask about women preachers, I would take him to Scripture.

If a Reformed correspondent were to inquire about the biblical basis for the creedal rejection of women officebearers, I would point out the texts.

But among Reformed people, the confessions are first and decisive. No challenge to them may be countenanced. To paraphrase the Roman aphorism, “Confessio dixit, causa locuta est” (“the confession has spoken, the matter is settled”). The exception is that every member has the right to overture synod to correct some teaching of the confession about which he is convinced that it is in error. Scripture then judges the confession.

There is no liberty in a Reformed church to militate against any teaching of the confessions.

With no reflection on any correspondent, history has shown that agitation in the Reformed churches against the authority of the confessions in fact betrays rebellion against the authority of Scripture, even though the agitation against the confessions is made in the name of the sole authority of Scripture.

— Ed.