Monday, October 15, 2012
Retrogression Part I
In some confessionally Protestant churches, the regulative principle of worship is purportedly the basis for rejecting formal liturgical worship services (and books), such as covenant renewal worship (and the Book of Common Prayer). Some even go so far as to presume upon all liturgical traditions as though some form of compromise has been made with "popish" and pagan traditions -- traditions saturated with doctrines that stand against the "truths" of Scripture.
I am mentioning all of this now because I was recently reminded by a dear brother and Protestant friend, albeit in a polite manner, that the church in which my own immediate family attends regularly and are members, does not worship "biblically," and never can because we promote one of the many formal liturgical forms of covenant renewal worship. By adhering to covenant renewal liturgy, not only have we been accused of worshipping contrary to the Scriptures, but we are assured that the Scriptures only promote the Regulative Principle of worship as understood by the Reformers. They brought to light what was buried in darkness by "popish" and pagan traditions for too long!
My friend also appealed to "the Reformers'" rejection of liturgy, noting such famous works as John Owen's Discourse Concerning Liturgies, and The Chamber of Imagery in the Church of Rome Laid Open. Of course, God's Word itself was projected as the ultimate appeal of authority (as it should), but unfortunately, in our discussion it was almost always with the proviso that the new covenant of God's Word only promotes a regulative principle that is anti-liturgy. He meant well in teaching me this, as he assured me. But regardless of whether someone endorses the regulative principle of worship or not, or even John Owen's polemics, how is a christian brother supposed to respond to such allegations?
I did respond to his questions and we did have a healthy discussion for about ten more minutes. After our conversation was over, I asked him if I could post our discussion on my blog and even answer his questions online for future review. He said yes, as long as he is allowed to respond to my posts. I agreed. So to continue where we left off, I have included a sampling of a few things I mentioned to break the ice and steer our conversation in a healthier direction. I hope this helps others too (especially those who share the same Reformed persuasion as my friend).
First of all, I asked who the "Reformers" were that (he claims) "properly understood" the regulative principle? He responded, "Calvin, Knox, Owen" as though his response was rehearsed. And so I continued to ask, "What makes you believe that the 'Reformers' like Calvin, Knox, and Owen didn't continue to worship with liturgical books and formal liturgical patterns of public service? I mentioned that Martin Luther did. John Calvin did. Martin Bucer did. John Knox did. And that John Owen wasn't opposed to prescribed liturgies per se, but rather the legally binding imposition of prescribed liturgies which violated the conscience of individual Ministers. I think that caught his attention, because there was no other rehearsed response to the contrary. Instead, his response was simply, "I'm not so sure about that. I'll have to look into that and get back to you."
I then proceeded to ask him what he thought about the Westminster Divines and their views about formal liturgical worship. I asked, "Do you believe the Westminster Divines were opposed to liturgical books and worship services?" I asked this because I suspected his awareness of the Westminster confessional standards being used among modern adherents of the anti-liturgical approach to the regulative principle of worship. His answer was basically yes, but with a certain caveat attached. He proceeded to argue that most of the Divines were opposed to liturgy, but those who were not were stuck in the rut of "medieval thinking" and "popish" traditions without enough discernment to realize the dangers inflicted upon future generations by their cowardice.
I'm not kidding, and neither was he; That was his argument.
Again, how is a christian brother supposed to respond to such allegations?