Friday, October 24, 2014

Venema, Turretin and Republication

[continued from previous post]

When New Testament writers (especially the apostle Paul) contrast the "law" of Moses and the covenant of grace in Christ, the contrast is not between the Mosaic covenant as such and the covenant of grace. The contrast is between the law abstracted from its setting within the Mosaic administration and considered only in terms of what it demands and promises, and the covenant of grace. However, when the law, narrowly considered, is regarded as having been promulgated by God through Moses to teach Israel to find salvation through works of obedience, then the law has been turned to a design contrary to God's intention. Within the purposes of the God of the covenant, the Mosaic law was designed to serve the preaching of Christ and to point Israel to the only Mediator whose obedience could procure salvation. In a statement that both anticipates and opposes the appeal of the authors of The Law is Not of Faith to a passage like Galatians 3:12, Turretin observes that Paul speaks of the law "not as taken broadly and denoting the Mosaic economy, but strictly as taken for the moral law abstractly and apart from the promises of grace (as the legalists regarded it who sought life from it)."39 In Galatians 3:12, accordingly, the apostle Paul is not equating the "law" with the Mosaic administration as such, and then sharply opposing the Mosaic administration with the covenant of grace. Rather, the apostle is contrasting what the law, wrested from its covenant setting, demands, and arguing against his legalistic opponents who pursued a righteousness that consisted in obedience to the law.


39 Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.267-8

[Cornelius Venema, "The Mosaic Covenant: A 'Republication' of the Covenant of Work?" MAJT 21 (2010): 67-8]

...

XXXI. Meanwhile it pleased God to administer the covenant of grace in his period [Mosaic -DHC] under a rigid legal economy—both on account of the condition of the people still in infancy and on account of the putting off of the advent of Christ and the satisfaction to be rendered by him. A twofold relation (schesis) ought always to obtain: the one legal, more sever, through which by a new promulgation of the law and of the covenant of works, with an intolerable yoke of ceremonies, he wished to set forth what men owed and what was to be expected by them on account of duty unperformed. In this respect, the law is called the letter that kills (2 Cor 3:6) and the handwriting which was contrary to us (Col. 2:14), because by it men professed themselves guilty and children of death, the declaration being written by their own blood in circumcision and by the blood of victims. The other relation was evangelical, sweeter, inasmuch as "the law was a schoolmaster unto Christ" (Gal. 3:24) and contained "the shadow of things to come" (Heb. 10:1), whose body and express image is in Christ. Hence, as much of trouble and vexation as that economy brought in its former relation (schesin), so much of consolation and joy it conferred in the latter upon pious men attending to is and seeking under that bark and veil the spiritual and evangelical truth (which the Holy Spirit taught them by a clearer revelation). ...

XXXII. According to that twofold relation, the administration can be viewed either as to the external economy of legal teaching or as to the internal truth of the gospel promise lying under it. ...

(Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.227)

In his attempt to refute the notion of republication (of which Venema is rather confused), Venema attempted to show historically, biblically and theologically that the contributors to TLNOF are all wrong, and that republication is a novel thing created by Meredith G. Kline. Now, Kline is many things, but just because Kline is in error on the Framework Hypothesis does not mean that he is wrong on everything he promotes.

Here, I would like to focus on one of Venema's arguments, specifically his historical case concerning the views of Francis Turretin. According to Venema, Turretin's position is that the "legal manner" of reading the Mosaic Covenant is a Jewish and legalist distortion of the actual teaching of Scripture. Paul is therefore arguing against those who distort the law to promote works-righteousness in the book of Galatians, and therefore Paul (and Turretin) is not promoting any "works principle" in the Mosaic Covenant.

I find it rather illuminating that Venema's citation of Turretin comes from the portion whereby Turretin poses the question "whether the Sinaitic legal covenant, made by Moses with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, was a certain third covenant distinct in species from the covenant of nature and the covenant of grace." Earlier in Turretin's Institutes however, Turretin dealt with "the twofold economy of the covenant of grace" and "the difference between the old and the new covenants." Surely, those earlier sections should inform our understanding of Turretin's views concerning the relation between the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works? Shouldn't we read Turretin in context all the way from the earlier sections? If one reads the earlier sections, one would surely come to a different conclusion from Venema.

As the citation from the earlier section of Turretin should show, Turretin believes that the Mosaic Covenant is a "rigid legal economy" and that it posses an "external economy of legal teaching." Believers have to go beyond the "bark and veil" to find the Gospel of the Covenant of Grace hidden within it. This is surely a strong affirmation of formal republication. Thus in the earlier sections, it seems that Turretin strongly affirms formal republication of the Covenant of Works, so what are we make of Venema's claims concerning Turretin?

Now, it surely is true that Turretin is indeed arguing against the distortion of the law. But the question is: What does Turretin think IS the distortion of the Law? When one reads from the earlier section, it can be clearly seen that for Turretin, to read the Law correctly is to read it in its twofold relation — its external legal economy and the internal evangelical truth. In other words, for Turretin the "distortion" is a distortion from the Christian point of view from the perspective of the full canon, not the Jewish point of view of merely having the Mosaic economy. Turretin deals with the issue from the perspective of the full light of revelation, not with regards to the historia salutis, and we most certainly should agree with him that focusing on the Mosaic economy alone is a distortion (from the Christian point of view) of the Law.

If however we proceed from the viewpoint of the historia salutis, then it becomes impossible to use the language of "distortion." Rather, the word to be used is "dimly." Old Testament believers therefore see the works principle in the Mosaic economy, while the hidden Covenant of Grace which is its substance is seen dimly. It is not a "distortion" for anyone during that time in redemptive-history to see only the works principle, but rather blindness to the hidden Covenant of Grace underlying the Mosaic Covenant.

Reading Turretin in context therefore shows us Venema's misrepresentation of Turretin's position. Turretin holds strongly to the formal republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, while affirming that its substance is indeed the Covenant of Grace. The distortion of the law is therefore a distortion from our point of view, but mere blindness on the part of the people of the Old Testament.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Mosaic Covenant, Venema and Republication

It was some time ago that I was given a printed copy of an interesting article by Cornelius Venema from the Mid-American Journal of Theology, on the issue of republication. I have finally taken the time to read it, and felt extremely frustrated while doing so. Venema really does not like the book The Law is Not of Faith (hereafter TLNOF), and the 60+ pages in the journal is a response to it. He is welcome to disagree with republication theories of course, but I don't see any indication that he understands what republication itself teaches.

The current controversial topic in Presbyterian and Reformed denominations in the US is the issue of "republication." It is promoted by some P&R ministers and theologians, especially those from my alma mater, Westminster Seminary California. It is opposed by quite a few people, which accuse republication as being a theological novelty and heterodox at best. "Republication" deals with the relation between the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works. Those promoting republication teach that the Mosaic Covenant in some sense is a republication of the Covenant of Works. The question of what sense is however left rather vague and unclear, with multiple senses being promoted by various writers in TLNOF.

I have read TLNOF even before I began my studies, but held to republication before that. Of course, my "version" if you may might not be the same as what others who hold to republication hold to. My version is closer to Herman Witsius' idea of republication, although ultimately it comes from wrestling with what it seems the Scriptures teach in places like Romans 2:6-13. I will of course defend my version of republication here, but I do see in many who promote it some basic themes in common.

In that journal article, Venema defined the type of republication promoted and defended in TLNOF as being "a formal reinstitution of the covenant of works at some level" (p. 56). This is rather astonishing, since it seems to me that it is rather obvious that "republication" is not the same thing as "reinstitution." To "publish" something means that one states its content, to "institute" something means that one implements what it says. But before we go further, Venema cites Brenton C. Ferry's chapter in TLNOF with regards to the difference between "material" and "formal" republication. Supposedly, "material republication" refers to the republication of the law, while "formal republication" refers to something more definite. I however see confusion here, for if by saying "material republication" of the Covenant of Works, one refers to republicizing the "material" of the Law, then we are using "material" as a predicate adjective, i.e. republication of material (noun). However, if one understands the phrase philosophically, then "material republication," as opposed to "formal republication," refers to the actual publication of the substance of the Covenant of Works, since we are using the word "material" adjectivally. Material - substance, Formal - form, appearance! Philosophically therefore, we cannot and should not say that the Mosaic Covenant is a material republication of the Covenant of Works, since we certainly should not entertain the notion that the Mosaic Covenant in substance IS a Covenant of Works.

It is therefore rather interesting that the term Venema uses to describe "formal republication" ("reinstitution") is actually what happens in "material republication" (philosophical meaning), whereas the idea that the Mosaic Covenant in its essence is of the Covenant of Grace yet with the accidents of the principle of works is actually "Formal Republication." Now, here I think Berry is at fault, because he should have thought about Protestant scholastic usage of terms like "formal" and "material" before utilizing them in his own manner. What I would like to say here therefore is that it seems Venema has totally misunderstood what republication proponents are saying. Here, despite the difference among the contributors to TLNOF, it seems from my viewpoint that what they mean by "formal republication" is merely that the Mosaic Covenant as to its accidents seem to have a works principle to it; the Mosaic Covenant has a form that looks like the Covenant of Works. There is no "reinstitution" of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, and thus Venema's critique on the issue of republication starts off on a wrong footing.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On John Henry Newman and doctrine and development

This process, whether it be longer or shorter in point of time, by which the aspects of an idea are brought into consistency and form, I call its development, being the germination and maturation of some truth or apparent truth on a large mental field. On the other hand this process will not be a development, unless the assemblage of aspects, which constitute its ultimate shape, really belongs to the idea from which they start. [John Henry Cardinal Newman, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 29]

But the whole Bible, not its prophetical portions only, is written on the principle of development. As the Revelation proceeds, it is ever new, yet ever old. St. John, who completes it, declares that he writes no "new commandments unto his brethren," but an old commandment which they "had from the beginning" And then he adds, "A new commandments I write unto you." The same test of development is suggested in our Lord's words on the Mount, as has already been noticed, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and the Prophets; I am come to destroy, but to fulfill." He does not reverse, but perfect, what has gone before. ... If then the prophetic sentences have had that development which has really been given them, first by succeeding revelations, and then by the event, it is probably antecedently that those those doctrinal, political, ritual, and ethical sentences, which have the same structure, should admit the same expansion. Such are, "This is My Body," or "Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build My Church," or "The meek shall inherit the earth," and "Suffer little children to come unto Me," or "The pure in heart shall see God." (Ibid., pp. 48-9)

John Henry Newman is perhaps the most famous person associated with the the 19th century Oxford Movement or Tractarianisn, its adherents also known as Pusseyites after its prominent member Edward Bouverie Pussey. As a reaction to Enlightenment changes and the growing pluralism in Britain, the Oxford Movement began as an attempt to reform the Church of England and England itself along apostolic lines, and it ended with the conversion of Newman into Roman Catholicism and the creation of the Anglo-Catholic party within the Church of England.

The Oxford Movement stands at the cusp of Modernity. Even as it reacted against certain aspects of Modernity, it also assimilated other aspects of Modernity in it, since Modernity is the air in which Europeans of that time breathed. The reason for my interest in this movement is that of the issue of adaptation to change. How do people react to change when it arrives? If we as Reformed (and small "e" evangelical) reject the Solo Scriptura of Primitivism, then we need to look at past conflicts and how different peoples have struggled with the issue of change, even Liberals who did not begin with the intention to destroy Christianity but had desired to "save" it.

Liberalism or Progressivism destroys the Christian faith. On the opposite extreme are the Restorationists or Primitivists who want to go back to the "pure" times of the early Church, as if that were possible! As the book The American Quest for the Primitive Church, edited by Richard Hughes, shows, the restorationist/ primitivist ideal is an illusion since every single restorationist movement tend to baptize certain aspects of their times as being true to the early church, when they are probably not. In our times, we see this in the "Organic Church" of Frank Viola which baptized anti-institutionalism and communitarianism as being part of the "early Church." Every restorationist movement disagrees with the next one, and so we see that positing some form of eternalism is flawed. So on the one hand it seems, eternalism is unworkable. On the other hand, the idea of development as posited by Liberalism is not where we want to go, for a "development" that results in a denial of the Faith is not Christian.

Newman, besides his controversial Tract 90 on the topic of Justification, wrote and published a treatise on the development of dogma, which I have just read. However we might disagree with Newman, his arguments warrant examination, and it is this idea of development that I would like to look at. Of course, it is to be noted here that Newman's idea of development seemed to be codified in some form in Vatican II, which means that it is certainly relevant for interacting with contemporary Roman Catholicism as well.

Before Newman, there wasn't much thought within Christendom and Roman Catholicism concerning the philosophy of time and history. Tradition in Tridentine Roman Catholicism was accepted on the partim-partim model (Part of revelation is in the Scriptures, another part of it is in Sacred Tradition). Newman however proposed a different way of looking at doctrines. Scripture and Tradition are like the seed and the tree. Scripture provides the source material (seed), which is then developed into various dogmas by the [Roman Catholic] Church. Tradition is the artifact of history, an artifact of the progress of time as Christian doctrine develops. Thus, one does not have to find any particular doctrine in Scripture. Rather, according to Newman, one merely has to prove that this doctrine can be derived from a teaching found in Scripture. Therefore along this train of thought, the need for continual repentance of sin is the seed for the doctrine of penance, and the doctrine of transubstantiation is found in seed form in the doctrine of Christ's presence in the Supper.

Newman argued for the principle of development by appeal to the progressive nature of revelation in the Scriptures themselves. Now, it is certainly to be admitted that there is a progression in revelation within the pages of Scripture. But agreeing with a progression of redemptive revelation is far from agreeing with Newman's theory of doctrinal development. Scripture according to its own witness is a close canon. As Hebrew 1:1 states, the finality of revelation is in Christ, and thus in the Scriptures as the Logos Engraphon (Inscripturated Word) which corresponds to the Logos Ensarkos (Incarnate Word). Viewed canonically, the closing words of Revelations 22:18-9 wraps up the Scriptures as a whole. The Canon of Scripture is closed; there is to be neither addition nor subtraction from it. Since it is closed, revelation has been completed in the 66 books of the Bible. The progression of revelation therefore is limited to the main theater of redemptive-history, not after it. Revelation is complete, the Canon is closed, and therefore appeal to the progressive nature of revelation WITHIN redemptive history proves nothing whatsoever regarding whether there is any kind of development of doctrine within the history of the Church. In point of fact, the finality of revelation and the Canon is prima facie proof that Newman is wrong.

That said, we should acknowledge some form of development, but it is a development in understanding rather than a development of doctrines. The Church grows in her understanding of the Truth. In this light, there is similarity between Newman and what seems to be the right view in our understanding of how the Church grows in understanding the truth, at least as it pertains to the development of Trinitarian thought. The difference, and the key difference, is that for us, we have a fixed deposit of doctrine, whereas for Newman, since development pertains to doctrines themselves he argued for fixed principles rather than fixed doctrines. For us, the Trinity is something implied in Scripture; for Newman, the Trinity is the developed doctrine from facts and principles in Scripture.

The divergence is only made evident when we move from the Trinitarian controversies into the Medieval and later periods. Here, the Protestant argument is that there was a departure from the Faith by segments within the Medieval Church, while Newman of course denied such a departure. We claim evidence for the departure based upon appeal to Scripture, and it is in Newman's response to the Protestant stance that we see the major problem with his view.

The Protestant's development of understanding compared with Newman's development of doctrine look very similar on the surface in its reaction to changes in the early church, but once we reach the Medieval period where we throw allegations of corruption, the difference are revealed. Newman in response to this posits seven notes to differentiate legitimate development from corruption. First, there is the preservation of type. Second, there is a continuity of principles. Third, developments have the power of assimilation of opposing ideas, while corruptions decay and disappear. Fourth, it flows from the previous thought through logical sequence. Fifth, the previous thought anticipates its future development. Sixth, the development has a conservative action upon its past. Seventh, developments have chronic vigor which is to say that it persists through time. (Ibid., pp. 124-148).

All of these sound reasonable on the surface, but do they actually work? We note here in passing that these notes are not arrived from a study of Scripture but rather through reason. Newman it seems loves [the philosopher Joseph] Butler's analogies, and he arrives at these notes through the use of analogies. We note here the first note: preservation of type. Now, how does one even know whether the "type" has been preserved? It seems here that Newman is rationalistically categorizing the type of both the previous and the "developed" iteration of Christian doctrine, and thus by virtue of casting the categories, he can prove or disprove as he wishes what a "preservation of type" looks like. For example, he castigates Calvinism as being of the principle of Private Judgment, and thus Unitarianism is its proper development (Ibid., pp. 126, 130), a charge which is simply laughable. Now just because Newman cannot understand and misrepresents the principle of Sola Scriptura, as if every person's autonomous reading of the Scriptures is key, should not give him the right to misrepresent Calvinism. Sola Scriptura means that Scripture is supreme in its authority, not that every man can come up with his own interpretation as he wishes. In the case of the supposed "preservation of type" from Calvinism to Unitarianism therefore, we see how this first note is basically a self-serving device since the categorization of types is arbitrary and can prove just about any relation between anything that has some resemblance to each other.

The same criticism can be leveled at the second note of "continuity of principles." We should reject any "criterion" of development where the enemy basically smuggles their own categories as if they were brute facts. Here, we reject also the fifth note of anticipation of its future, since how one determines "anticipation" is clearly subjective. Thus, Protestantism using the note of "anticipation" can claim similarly to be the development of the early church.

The third note of assimilation is laughable, because when one worldview assimilates others it is clearly syncretism, not true development. This feeds into the seventh note of chronic vigor, since whether one worldview dominate has more to do with the political-social climate than with spirituality It is a strange reading of providence indeed when one thinks the truth depends on the actions of humans. Furthermore, practically how does one differentiate between different religions, different sects, which have "chronic vigor." Surely Newman and Roman Catholicism wouldn't countenance Eastern Orthodox as a development based upon their "chronic vigor" despite harsh persecution by Islam.

The fourth note of logical sequence seems valid in the sense that what validly follows from the premises partake of the truth value(s) of the premises. However, it is one thing to state logical sequences, another to prove it. When we look at what Newman means by "logical sequence," we note that it has little to do with the actual process of logical reasoning and instead of any form of reasoning both deduction and induction, and what to him seems logical. It is for example illogical to argue for purgatory from Scripture, but for Newman he thinks that is logical. It is of course too much to expect an actual logical proof from Newman in such a brief section, yet its brevity shows that the idea of "logical sequence" has little to do with actual logic and more to do with the mere act of reasoning per se.

Last but not least, the sixth note on conservative action upon its past sounds laudable, except that the past itself is subject to reinterpretation in Roman Catholicism. Thus, we have the idea that Peter is the first pope of Rome, even though we have no record of Peter ministering in Rome. And just what kind of "conservative action" upon its past is this when Rome sided with the innovative Jesuits against the French Jansenists who were following the teaching of Augustine concerning grace? The fact of the matter is that Rome spins the past, then claims that her version of the past shows that she is conservative and in continuity with her past. So this note is unworkable since Rome reorders the pieces to suit her.

But let us just use the "notes" advocated by Newman for the sake of argument. How does Rome reconcile the "conservative action upon its past" note from Vatican I to Vatican II. How does one accept as truth the statements against Modernism and Socialism hurled by Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors, and the teachings of Roman Catholicism at Vatican II and beyond? How does one reconcile the idea that there is no salvation outside the Roman Church and that heretics and infidels will go to hell promulgated at the Council of Florence, with Vatican II's teaching of Jews and Muslims being in the plan of salvation and that Protestants are no more heretics but "separated brethren"? Whither these changes? Inclusivism is overwhelmingly rejected by Rome and Protestants and Christianity down through the ages, except for Origen whose views were condemned as heresy, so upon what basis can Vatican II's changes be seen as a "development" in light of Newman's notes?

Now, most of the changes postdate Newman, so Newman cannot be held accountable for that. But these should show that contemporary Rome cannot claim real development of Christian doctrine if Newman's seven notes are consistently applied.

The progress of time and change is something of importance. Despite his many errors, Newman is probably the first one to wrestle with the issue of change, at least on the Roman Catholic side. His work on the topic therefore is interesting and could help us know how better to interact with time and deal with changes in society when they come

Why no one ever should trust the LGBTQIA agenda

It wasn't so long ago that Singapore was deliberating whether she should repeal S377a of the Penal Code. Back then, one of the common arguments were that they were just asking for freedom. Well, I didn't buy it then and I don't buy it now. The entire Hwa Chong and Ms. Agatha Tan fiasco has only proved to me that the LGBTQIA crowd are intolerant, bigoted and unable to accept that other people exist who do not accept their agenda. It also proves that their whole "we want freedom" chant is just a charade. They are only interested in ramming their agenda down other people's throats, whether they like it or not.

Of course, Singapore is way behind the curve when it comes to persecution of anyone who disagrees with the homosexualist totalitarian agenda. Europe, Canada and basically the West have been growing in religious intolerance. One of the latest saga in America comes with the homosexualists forcing professing Christians to basically host their "weddings." Where were all the pro- LGBTQIA apologists who were saying that they are all about "freedom" of what they do in their bedrooms? Will they speak up in defense of this couple who are forced to rent out their property for the perversion of marriage?

Martin Niemoller was a German pastor who was jailed for his resistance against the Nazi regime. The Nazis, like probably many other groups, did not move against all their enemies immediately, but rather piecemeal, so as not to provoke too much resistance from the beginning. The homosexual movement with their lies are just like the Nazis in their modus operandi. They begin by claiming they only want "tolerance" of what they do in their private bedrooms, and they end up with telling everyone that they must celebrate homosexuality otherwise they will be sued, fined and forced to go to "re-education camps." No one should ever trust their rhetoric, for it is a pack of lies. Give an inch, take a foot- that's all they do.

To the silent majority, the question is, "Will you be willing to celebrate homosexuality including all that it entails?" If you are not, then you better speak up now, or soon there wouldn't be anyone speaking up for you.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

Adapted:

First they came for the Christian Right, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Dominionist.
Then they came for the outspoken Christian activists and organizations, and I did not speak out— Because I was not an activist and I believed in the "separation of church and state."
Then they came for any other outspoken critic, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a critic and believed in being nice, "positive" and "loving."
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

My ambivalence towards online ministries

During the online memorial service (which I could accept as a memorial, but calling it a service without actual congregational participation on site is sort of a stretch for me), there were words of remembrances from various people who were very much influenced by Pastor Ken. I know these people online, and have interacted with some of them before. Yet, hearing them speak evokes mixed emotions in me.

One of the issues I am thinking of is how they use the term "ministry." Now, besides OPC scruples, at least for me the main thing is that I'm rather uncomfortable with calling what they do ministries unless it's officially linked to and endorsed by a church. Now, I'm not saying that they shouldn't do what they do. Some of them are women, like my former fellow CRN contributor Erin Benzinger. Others like my friend Mike Ratliff are laymen. The Scripture injunction for women to be silent however is within the church, and I have no problems with women speaking their mind on any issue outside the official church structures. But calling what they do ministries is something I would hesitate on. Is what they do beneficial towards the Body of Christ? Yes. Can God call them to sound the alarm in the form of discernment blogs? I do not see why not. But ministries seem to indicate to me official church authority, the delegated authority of Christ in His visible and institutional Church. Since they're not linked to any Church (besides Apprising Ministries), I would think that calling these "ministries" would not really be appropriate.

The second issue has to do with the calling of God and the temptations of such *online ministries*. As someone who was in those circles, I came to feel a certain temptation. Now, I do not know whether others involved in discernment ministries faced this, but the temptation I had felt was pride. I wanted to sound the alarm and I wanted others to come to know the truth, and I still do. But the issue here is that even our best motives are tainted with sin. Yea, I'm probably nobody in my online presence compared to Erin and Mike and many others, but even the slightest "recognition" of any kind feeds a desire to build one's name, to glorify myself as someone who knows it and can instruct others. That is why incidentally, for those who have been reading my blog for some time, they will realize my output has greatly decreased since it began. Partly this was due to busyness and study, but I needed to wrestle with my own flesh. Am I seeking to glorify God, or seeking to make a name for myself? Again, I am not saying that everyone goes online and into *online ministries* to feed their pride and reputation. I am just saying that is a temptation, and it is something I do struggle. You don't have to be a mega-church pastor to be puffed up and arrogant; you just need a few people who cling onto your very words to do so.

Now, the reason why I mentioned this is because of a remark during the online service that Pastor Ken was instrumental in helping and encouraging people to set up their own ministries. In the online discernment community, which tends towards Fundamentalism (at its best not worst), this sort of talk concerns me. Now, it might be the case that someone is indeed called to warn others in this fashion. But it is a fallacy to think that everyone who suddenly has his or her eyes opened should immediately plunge into *online ministry*. By all means, I think that those who are indeed called should do what God calls them to do, but how should we deal with the issue, especially in light of the doctrine of the Church with her offices — that does not seem to be considered, and that concerns me. God is the one who opens eyes, but the opening of eyes does not necessarily mean that God has called the person whose eyes were just opened to ministry.

So yea, I am ambivalent towards online (and by that I mean online-only) ministries. By all means, blog away, but I really think that the online discernment community needs to think more about the doctrine of the church and ministry praxis in general.

Online memorial service for Pastor Ken Silva

Pastor Chris Rosebrough has organized a sort of online memorial service for Pastor Ken Silva, who had passed on to the presence of the Lord he loves. The bulletin can be found here.

[P.S.: I am not necessarily endorsing online services, just posting this as something that has occurred.]

Thursday, October 02, 2014

When smallness is a sin

If the Gospel message is to be proclaimed to all the world, with the expectancy that many might turn to Christ, then surely it seems strange to desire for a church to remain small. Of course, Christians see the church growth movement and the megachurch model and are rightly put off by its unbiblical excess. But does that mean that being against the church growth movement and the megachurch model necessarily means a desire to be small, that smallness is a virtue? Is smallness a sign of fidelity, since many churches grow to be very big through compromising the truth?

When we look at Scripture, the main focus is that the Gospel is to be proclaimed, and the Church ought to be faithful to her Lord. The Church should desire that as many people come to know Christ as possible, and therefore it should desire growth. But if the church is faithful, sometimes that means forgoing large numbers if the way to get those numbers is to compromise the truths of Scripture. These two principles seem to be working antagonistic to each other, so how should they be resolved?

If a church desires to be faithful to her calling, then it will not compromise the Truth yet it desires as many people as possible to be saved. Since we know that Scripture does not commend the Laodicean Church but praised the small numbers of faithful believers in the church in Sardis, we can be certain that absolute numbers are not important to God. In that sense, faithfulness in smallness is commendable. Yet smallness is not commendable in Scripture because the church is to be small, but rather because the church is faithful despite her numerical inferiority. In other words, smallness is not inherently a virtue; faithfulness is.

The Scriptures therefore call us to seek as many believers as possible without sacrificing fidelity to the Truth. If fidelity means that one will stay small, then small it will be. But intentionally being against growth is unbiblical. If God grants the growth, should we not rejoice that many people have turned to Christ?

Oftentimes, the argument for smallness does not state that growth ought not to happen, but rather that when growth comes, the church ought to divide again and again. Now of course, practically, if there is a fondness for smallness, it is doubtful the members will want to grow the church which will force a split, but be that as it may be, let us just deal with the argument theoretically. The crux of this argument for smallness is that small churches are places whereby people can get to know each other easier and better. Phrased this way, the issue becomes a matter more of pragmatics, since small groups can mitigate the issue of impersonality in bigger churches. The danger as I have alluded to already is that the people in the church might prefer their comfort zone and their cliques and refuse to want the church to grow bigger, because a growth in numbers would necessitate a division which will split their fellowship. Practically also, small churches are limited as to what they can do because of their small budgets. Small churches will find it hard to support missionaries, support more than one pastor or any pastoral intern, and thus it will be hard for them to contribute to the building up of future ministers in the church. In a denominational setting, small churches are "parasitic" as it were on the bigger churches to prepare future ministers, since the small churches normally cannot afford another pastor and no interns, and thus must rely on someone else to train up their next pastor.

Smallness therefore, if achieved by discouraging church growth especially when God grants it, is sin. In fact, smallness, unless because of fidelity or environmental factors (i.e. small town), is sin. And while the argument for keeping church small through divisions not through discouraging growth fares much better, churches that have such mindsets have many practical problems and cannot function properly for the building up of the larger church.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Why I come to dislike family oriented churches

Christianity places a huge emphasis on family, and of course traditional society does that too. The family is the basic social unit of society. God works through families and that is why pedobaptism is correct (Take that, Baptists!). But increasingly, I am beginning to dislike the idea of family oriented churches, of which most non-contemporary churches are to some extent.

As per my previous post concerning structure and small groups, I have mentioned that people leak through the social circles in church. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of older singles (i.e. not children and teenagers) in family oriented churches. Whether those singles ought to get married or not is besides the point; it is a separate question altogether. The church needs to be there for her members as they are, not as she wants them to be. And Christian singles, even if they wish to get married one day, do not want to go to church for matchmaking services! Do these families know how to interact with older singles? Or are they are a social anomaly that conservative Christians pray will cease to exist? Out of sight, out of mind! Is the impression given that they will only be treated as full members in a family-oriented church only when they get married?!

Yes, families are important. But the church does not consist only of families. How would the Apostle Paul, who was obviously not married, be treated in all these family-oriented churches? Will they try to pair him off as soon as possible?

The church is to embrace all who believe in Christ. That is another reason why I think small groups should be considered, in which all are free to join, a setting in which singles and married people can mingle. There are no second class Christians in the Kingdom of God, yet sadly that seems to be the case in many family-oriented churches.

Small groups, church programs and activities

The proliferation of programs within the church and the multiplication of roles a pastor takes up, other than preaching it seems, is a bane in the modern Evangelical church. The reaction to this trend which serves to minimize the preaching ministry of the church, is to go back to the Scriptures as to what Scripture teaches pastors are supposed to do, and then to jettison most if not all the accumulated programs and activities that are clearly not listed in Scripture. Now, this stance is something I have sympathy with. While pastors doing administrative work might be necessary in some cases, that is not what the pastor should be primarily doing. The reason for the election of the first deacons in Acts 6:1-6 was so that the Apostles did not have to serve tables, and in so doing divert their time away from what they were called to do. Ministers are to preach the Word and administer the sacraments, shepherd the flock and be in prayer. That is their calling, and not balancing the church budget and filing paperwork.

That said, I have come to realize that perhaps the jettisoning of all programs and activities might just be an over-reaction. Humans are people of habit, and not having programs and activities might result in spiritual lethargy setting in for those who are used to structure. Also, structure when implemented correctly help to correct problems which may arise within the church if the situation is left to take its natural course.

One particular activity I have in mind is the small group, or "cell group" or "home group." Now, yes, I know the history of the small groups in German Pietism with its idea of the ecclesioae in ecclesia, or "small churches within a church." John Wesley of course took his idea of the conventicles from the Moravians, a branch of German Pietism. In that kind of understanding of small groups as being ecclesiolae in ecclesia, the understanding is that the church is where one goes to hear the sermon and partake of the sacraments, while the real business of discipleship and learning the Scripture and caring for other believers is done in these "small churches." Those of us who believe that the institutional church IS the church will certainly find lots of problems with this understanding of "small groups." But we must avoid the genetic fallacy and outrightly condemn all versions of small groups just because of its checkered history.

The question here is this: What happens when there are no "small groups"? Well, what happens is that you have people coming into the church and sometimes they get overlooked. Church members stick in their cliques and if you don't really know people and are not extremely extroverted, you will sortof get left out. (And if you are an older single person in a family-oriented church, you will DEFINITELY be left out!) Since there is but the church service, the idea is that people can come together and meet each other whenever they wish. Occasionally, they just might have church events, of which all who attend are informed of said events. But, I will ask, if you are not one of those extroverts and you don't have the thick skin to crash into an event in which you don't really know people, why would you want to go to said church event? Just because the church informs anyone that they have an event does not mean that the person will feel he is invited to the event! Imparting of information is NOT invitation! He just might think it is for all the other church members who are in the "in" group(s) in church.

The problem with having zero structure is that chances are, some people are going to fall through the cracks of social interaction. Now, in the pre-modern social setting, such is irrelevant since people knew each other in a village. But we are not living in pre-modern society! Individuals in the modern world are fragmented and alienated individuals. The challenge of the church is not just to proclaim to them the Gospel, but to show them how to live as believers in community. The modern church does not have the "privilege" of having the members and visitors of the church being in the same social setting. If we are to try to build up the church as community, then how can we just "let nature takes its course" and focus merely on preaching and Bible study?

The forming of small groups therefore is a way for people to come in and get to know people. Shorn of Pietist ideas, small groups are great for people to come together for fellowship and even Bible study (which in Reformed circles could be led by ministers and elders and pastoral interns). And since they are not mandated in Scripture, they should be optional.

Now of course, some people might then claim that the solution is to have small churches so that we wouldn't have that scenario in the first place. That of course is another discussion altogether, but succinctly, my reply is NO.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tribute to Pastor Ken Silva (d. 2014)

Pastor Ken Silva has recently passed away. Pastor Ken was the head of Apprising Ministries and was a key person in the development of the modern discernment ministries, specifically as he had taken over Christian Research Network (CRN) It was probably in the years 2006 to 2007 that discernment ministries were all the rage on the Internet. Pastor Ken was right in the thick of it, even earning a threat of legal action from Richard Abanes against his at-that-time IP server for his article on him.

It was during that time that I was struggling through issues relating to Rick Warren, Evangelicalism, and what had happened in the church I grew up in. CRN became the news I was reading concerning things in the Christian world. It was rather a tumultuous time for me spiritually and emotionally, and in the midst of the fog, I found CRN (and before that its predecessor Ingrid Schlueter's blog A Slice of Laodicea) to be a beacon for these uncertain times. For growth in the knowledge of God's Word, I have books like Robert Reymond's A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, while I was helped in the apologetic front by people like Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries and his Dividing Line podcast, and regarding philosophical issues I was introduced to the works of Gordon H. Clark. Nevertheless, ministries like Pastor Ken's Apprising Ministries sounded the clarion call, which I must say was not present before. I liaised with Pastor Ken primarily via email and it was a fruitful discussion. Later on, he invited me on as a contributor to CRN and I (cross)-posted some articles there.

Naturally, some people claim the discernment label who used it as a way to be mean and nasty. Nonetheless, the way I see it, the core centered on CRN are fine. Being on the frontline in some sense does invite controversy, and I am not without guilt in the way I might have sometimes conveyed my thoughts. I get to know various people, some of whom have become my friends.

Naturally, I wouldn't say that discernment ministries like CRN have not at times sin. We are all sinners saved by grace yet struggling everyday to mortify the old man. Pastor Ken has been a great mentor during the early times. As time passes, he began to suffer from an illness, presumably the same one that took his life, and slowly retire from the scene. As for me, I was drifting away from the discernment circles. Don't get me wrong. I have benefited from the clarion call they have sounded, which is refreshing compared to the mess of PC-correctness and little conviction, if any, found in Evangelicalism (because perhaps they probably do not believe what they claim to believe). But discernment ministries in general tend towards Fundamentalism, complete with Dispensationalism and a low view of the Church. It was about the time of my last post when I realized that my interests were diverging from that held to especially by the then-editor Erin Benzinger. A submitted article was denied publishing, as although it was still about the problems in the church, I had critiqued the issue from the viewpoint of the doctrine of the church. I am fine with that disagreement, yet it cemented my drift away from the mainstream of discernment ministries.

Pastor Ken and I traded emails rather infrequently, and I must say that I am sorry that I have not met him in person; flying to New Hampshire does require time and money. While many people, especially those in mainstream Evangelicalism, do not treasure him, I am sure he has been a great help to many. Pastor Ken is now in the presence of Christ our Lord, and may he enjoy his reward free from pain and illness, and that God will get the glory through Pastor Ken's life work and testimony.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

MoS: Bully Pulpit and Patriarchy

The recent Mortification of Spin (MoS) podcast has an interesting discussion on the issue of patriarchy, as least as contemporarily interpreted by those who are (over)-reacting to feminism. You can hear it here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Charismatic lovebombing and Reformed hospitality(?)

In Charismatic circles, and also large segments of Evangelicalism, there is a sense in which a culture that is seen to be congruous with Christian love is cultivated. It has been my experience that in the typical evangelical small group setting especially the ones I have visited in Singapore, there is a culture of love and acceptance. Within the small groups, people get to know one another and pray for one another. The more intimate setting of course contributes to the cultivation of such a culture of love and relative safety. The hothouse-type social setting is not necessarily bad, just that it is the social setting (analogous to family) that such intimacy can be cultivated.

Now while small groups have a somewhat checkered history within the church, whether one should now have small groups or not is another question altogether. The main issue I want to look at here is the related problem of what I would call "lovebombing."

There is nothing wrong with loving fellow believers. However, we are all still sinners and extremely selfish by nature. We look to our own first, and oftentimes not even others second. Small group settings however create a somewhat artificial setting; artificial in the sense that the default norm is one of care and concern. Thus, it is possible to create a place whereby love for the brethren is something done because of the conducive social setting, not because it is a fruit of the Spirit. One receives love and support from the group, and one reciprocates in kind.

The reason why it is called "lovebombing" is because a love that comes because of its social setting and not out of the Spirit functions almost like the real thing yet its nature is revealed particularly in Charismatic circles. There, the member is loved and accepted, unless and until he or she violates certain unspoken or spoken norms. This comes about especially when one questions the pastor's teaching as found wanting according to the standards of God's Word, which is not unusual in Charismatic circles. Suddenly, the love and acceptance began to disappear. The questioner is slowly but surely shunned. To have that second (or for some almost primary) "family" disappear is rather traumatic for the one shunned, which creates a huge pressure to conform to the group in order to "win back" their acceptance. The "love" that was once offered so "unconditionally" turned out to be conditional. Church members it seems can tolerate lots of moral weaknesses pre-conversion, but post-conversion, professing believers are placed into a covenant of works whereby grace and love is conditioned upon not committing serious sins especially those concerning doctrine and church leadership. Needless to say, "lovebombing" is not true biblical love at all, regardless of its superficial resemblance.

At the (rather) opposite end is what I have generally seen in Reformed setting, generally. In all my time in Reformed circles, I have yet to seen anything resembling the small group intimacy in Evangelical and Charismatic circles. I must say that Reformed people don't have any idea what to do with single males in general, except for real stupid advice like this by Kevin DeYoung (because you know, if you're single, it's your bloody fault that the poor lady over there is single. Man up, loser!). More and more, I am starting not to like family-based churches, not because families are bad, but none of them it seems have absolutely any clue what to do with singles! One of my impressions in a Reformed church (which I shall not name), was a meeting held by an elder for the singles, which includes me as the only guy and about 7 ladies all of whom I vaguely knew their names. Needless to say, I wasn't interested in any further meetings.

I consider myself as someone who focuses on doctrine more than whether I feel welcome in a church. But it has been very disappointing that hospitality in Reformed circles is generally lacking. While I think telling the congregation to welcome people in the beginning or end of a service might seem forced, perhaps it might really help to get people to greet each other. Families are generally welcomed, but the singles, not much so. We are the second-class members of churches that are preoccupied with families and children. Nobody knows what to do with us. And if you think about seeking the ministry, well, I guess we can forget that.

I do not agree with Charismatic and Evangelical lovebombing. But after nearly 8 years in Reformed circles, I don't know if the alternative is any better. Sometimes I wonder what exactly are we to do.

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

On the surface, Colossians 3:16 seem to militate against exclusive psalmody, and its variants. Yet the exclusive psalmodists have a way around this. They interpret this phrase "psalms, hymns and spirituals songs" as essentially meaning "psalms, psalms and psalms." Of course the whole thing sounds ridiculous, yet there is evidence that make this interpretation plausible.

Now, on the one hand, the contemporary notion that "psalms" refer to the 150 Psalms, "hymns" refer to older worship songs composed by songwriters like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby, and "spiritual songs" refer to contemporary Christian music (CCM) is anachronistic and misguided. Yet, on the other hand, the idea that Paul would waste ink to write 3 terms for one concept sounds stupid. Of course, we have to wrestle with how the words are used in the LXX. But even if the terms are sometimes used synonymously, does that necessarily imply that one is the same as the other? Does an overlap in semantic range imply total equation of meaning? I would suggest not!

Just because some psalms are hymns, some hymns are psalms, does not mean that all hymns are psalms; that is basic set theory. That is the problem with the traditionalist interpretation of the phrase as "psalms, psalms and psalms." What is needed is not a mere proof that some hymns are psalms, some psalms are spiritual songs, or whatever uses these terms have in the 150 Psalms. What is needed to prove their case is that the Scripture teaches that there are no hymns which are not psalms, or something to that effect. Otherwise, if all that can be proven is that some psalms are hymns, it just means that the categories of "psalms," "hymns" and "spiritual songs" are not distinct categories set in stone. One could very well be singing a hymn which is a psalm (of which there are quite a couple in the Trinity Hymnal). One could claim that we are singing a new "psalm," not one of the 150 Psalms, or a "hymn" or a "spiritual song" when we sing a contemporary song with lyrics derived from Scripture.

Work has to be done on the precise manner the three phrases have been used in the Greek, but the main point here is that it is unlikely the Greeks came up with the word hymnos to make it equivalent to psalmos or ode, words which predate the LXX I might add. Colossians 3:16, whatever it is precisely referring to, should certainly include the 150 Psalms, but it is not limited to them, unlike what the Traditionalists believe.

The RPW as ontological, or teleological

As I began to put more thought into the issue, it seems to me that the two competing interpretations of the RPW as to its application mark the difference between the traditionalist understanding, and my proposed understanding of the principle. The traditionalist understanding of the RPW deals with things (i.e. "instruments," "psalms," "timing," etc), and thus could be properly termed ontological. The focus of the traditionalist understanding of the RPW has the adherent looking for things. Is the thing "X" commanded in Scripture? If it is, then yes, we can use it in worship. If not, then it shouldn't be used in worship. This is how the traditionalist tries to justify archaic positions such as "no instruments" and exclusive psalmody. They argue that instruments are not mentioned in the New Testament (simplified argument here), and thus they shouldn't be used in the worship of the church. Inasmuch as the principle is applied to things, their arguments seem plausible.

However, if we look at Scripture, the focus seems to be on principles rather than on things. One would be hard pressed to prove that God is concerned with things in and of themselves as much as He is concerned with principles regarding the usage of things, even in the Old Testament. When God prohibited the strange fire in Leviticus 10:1-3, God wasn't saying there was something ontologically evil with the strange fire. The problem lay in a violation of the principle of coming before God in a way He has not authorized, not that there is anything ontologically evil in incense, fire, censors and anything else. In another example, even the holy bread that was "desecrated," as it were, in 1 Samuel: 21:6 proves that the bread in itself was not inherently holy. It was their proper usage that is necessitated, which in that particular exigency it became proper for David and his men to partake of it. Thus, we see that holiness is not ontological, and thus worships is not about ontology, but principles.

If principles are what Scripture is concerned about, then the RPW should be teleological and not ontological. The whole traditionalist application of the RPW is thus misguided at its very core. They are preoccupied with the wrong things (pun intended), and read things into Scripture that are not there. Take the issue of instruments and note how little the Scriptures actually speak about them in comparison. The absence of instruments in the NT is taken to be a sign that instruments are prohibited under the New Covenant, but that is an argument from silence. Perhaps the absence could be that instruments are seen as indifferent (i.e. adiaphora), as opposed to their role in theocratic Israel? Now, a mountain is made out of a molehill and so much ink is spilled on so little biblical data.

We note one major proof-text for the "no instruments" position in 2 Chron. 29:25-30, which I had refuted in the past. As I had said back then, to claim that there were no instruments in the second part is an argument from silence. Furthermore, the whole narrative is descriptive, so it's ludicrous to even think that this text has any implications at all on the issue at hand. The whole argument that instruments are linked with sacrifices only proves that instruments were used when sacrifices were offered. But since sacrifices are offered during the "worship services," why link instruments to the sacrifices instead of to the worship? In other words, are the instruments there because of worship, or there because of sacrifices? To link it necessarily with the ceremonial law is an exercise in spurious association (otherwise known as "Guilt by Association"). Worship in the Old Covenant is also correlated with sacrifices, yet no one has ever suggested that worship is linked to the ceremonial law and done away with, as they have done with instruments.

A natural way of reading the Bible therefore suggests that God is focused on principles rather than things. Therefore, the RPW must be applied teleologically not ontologically. That of course means that worship is not an eternalist activity, but it actually changes with the cultures and the times, an altogether present truth that traditionalist minimize by calling any changes they'll accept "accidents."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Worship, RPW, Time and Culture

For some reason, Dr. Clark has been repeatedly promoting his "Scripture-only" position of worship on his blog the past couple of days. If Dr. Clark or any congregation wishes to worship with Scripture-only or even exclusive psalmody, that is their prerogative. They can burn the organ, piano or guitar in a bonfire if they so wish. But the problem comes when they want to universalize it for all churches and all Christians, such that not worshiping as they supposed worship ought to be done is a sin. Such a position of course has always been the position of many within the history of the Church; no doubt about that. But that does not make it necessarily right.

Christianity consists of two main parts: belief (doctrine) and praxis (life), or just life and doctrine. One believes what Scripture teaches, and then implements it in life. When it comes to worship, there is also the doctrine of worship found in Scripture, which is the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). Then one has to apply this doctrine to the actual practice of worship. The issue when we come to the issue of instruments and the songs used for worship is that these are all applicational questions. Nowhere in Scripture do we find the commandment, "Thou shalt sing only the 150 psalms of David." No, such is a deduction exclusive psalmodists claim to be the conclusion of the RPW. Whether that is a valid deduction from the RPW however is what those of us who reject exclusive psalmody dispute. As we can see therefore, one cannot just claim "RPW" as if the RPW itself necessitates either exclusive psalmody (EP) or "Scripture-only."

A major factor ignored in much of the discussion over the issue is the failure to see one's historical situatedness and cultural standing in such debates. We have already established that the RPW is not the issue, but its supposed application by traditionalists. While I disavow the idea of a "non-white theology," it is true that those who are not from a European culture and coming from a non-Reformed background could see things that those within it might have missed. In such debates, why it is assumed for example that the metric is the way to sing the Psalms? Since the RPW in the hands of the Scripture-only and EP guys, everything that is not found in Scripture, every "element" which somehow includes instruments as an element, must be thrown out, why shouldn't we throw out the metrical rhythms, and the metrical tunes? Let's go back to Hebrew cantical notations (i.e. the "Selah" you see in the psalms) instead, since these are most certainly found in Scripture. Concerning instruments, why even use a tuner to establish the first note of the song? Those are instruments too, since they produce one or a few musical notes. Speaking of which, I sure hope those promoting EP and Scripture only are promoting singing in unison, not in 4-part harmony, since I am sure the Psalms in Hebrew do not consist of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass parts!

One might object that one has to somehow sing, and thus the metrical tunes are necessary. But why not just chant the Psalms? No metric needed here! We can eliminate another "element" from worship, the variations of metrical tunes that are "not expressively commanded in Scripture."

The problem with the traditionalist argument here is that, in its desire to be specific in opposing something that others want to utilize for worship, the RPW has been used as a catch all concept to justify the prohibition of using whatever it is (other) people are utilizing, while at the same time the stuff Reformed people currently use (i..e metrical tunes, tuning fork, pipes etc) are blindspots exempted from the "rigorous application" of the RPW. If those using the RPW in this manner were to be actually consistent, they should just stop the usage of tunes of any kind. Go back to chanting, and by that I do NOT mean Gregorian chants (which is still music). I mean the type of chant where there is little inflection of voice besides what is necessary to mouth the words, monotonal (any variations of tone would make it musical of sorts), and basically as far away from musical tunes as possible, since we are not given any biblically inspired tunes for the Psalms except for Hebrew cantical notation which we don't exactly know how to interpret and utilize.

If that strike you as being rather ridiculous, I'm just stating what the logical implications of holding to such a "rigorous traditionalist application" of the RPW are. If one doesn't want to bite that bullet, one has to reject the EP and Scripture-only positions. I for one are not going to bite that bullet, not because of aesthetics but because I don't even think the manner of applying the RPW has been properly framed. So yes, I am going on record as saying I disagree with the traditionalist manner of framing the argument with respects to worship, even if that means going against most of church history.

The problem with the traditionalist arguments is that the wrong questions are asked, so therefore one gets all the wrong answers. The questions are not: Which elements Scripture approves of? Is that an element or a circumstance (accidence)? Those are necessary to be asked, but such should not be the starting point of the debate. The question Scripture poses is: What principles God calls for in His worship? Is X congruous or incongruous to the maintenance of any and all the principles taught in God's Word concerning acceptable worship?

Our first attempt is not to use Aristotelian categories and ask the question, "Is this an element or an accidence?" God is NOT an Aristotelian. Last I know, there is no Book of Aristotle in the Bible. This does not mean that Aristotelian categories are not useful, but that is not where we go to first. Within each principle taught in Scripture concerning worship (i.e. the dialogical principle, reverence, God's speech of forgiveness or absolution etc), one can then pose the question as to what is a matter of indifference with regards to the maintenance of the principle (i.e. accidence) and what will affect the maintenance of the principle (i.e. element). Note here how the Aristotelian categories are re-tooled in a proper way. No more do we begin with Aristotle and ask a blanket question of what is element and what is accidence. Instead, we start with Scripture and let Scripture determine how we are to use philosophy to clarify how what the Scriptures says about worship are to be implemented.

Matters of application are always culturally and time-conditioned. That is just the way the world works. Head coverings in the first century AD were certainly not nice ladies' hats worn in the Victorian era, just to mention how the principle of head coverings has changed in its implementations. Similarly, the RWP does not have to be tied to 16th/ 17th century European worship, or even European worship in general. Like it or not, times change. Yes, people are still sinners. Yes, sin and wickedness do not change. But cultures do change, and the change in culture between 16th/17th century Europe and North America to the modern 21st century world is many orders of magnitude greater than the change in culture between 16th century Europe and the Ancient Near-East. To attempt to go back to 16th/ 17th century or even 1st century culture is naive. It only reinforces the cultural insensitivity of the church, and give people the portrayal of total irrelevance. Going to a church practicing these almost seems like a trip back in time, a reconstruction of the past almost. Now, if I want to see history, I go to a museum. Why do I have to go to church to worship the living God who still IS in the 21st century, by trying to go back in time to the 16th century? Do I not have museums to go back into time?

I hold on to the RPW. However, that does not mean I hold on to the traditionalist application of the RPW. Time is unidirectional, and while there is nothing wrong with people worshiping God like He only desires 17th century forms of worship, such is certainly not mandated by Scripture, much less do I think it wise.