Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the Free Church and the 2nd Commandment

After one post already on this, some might question my right to comment on this. Besides having belonged to the Free Church in the past, currently I belong to a church that inherits from the Free Church of 1843 and retains its constitution. The right to comment, however, is in Leviticus 19:17 "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him". I trust that this will be understood in the light of that and neither will it be thought that I am breaching the first part of that verse in order to keep the second.

The Second Commandment "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image etc." tells us how God is to be worshipped i.e. the means of worship which are to be only according to his appointment and not by our invention. There is emphasis here upon the reflexive "making unto thee" devising and inventing after our own carnal preference and wisdom. Graven images are invented as an aid to worship and so this commandment is linked to the regulative principle of worship which is so abundant in scripture and forbids any aids to worship not appointed by God (Deut. 4:15-20; 12:32; Matt. 4:9-10; 15:8-9; Acts 17:23-25; Exod. 20:4-6, John 4:23-24; Col. 2:18-23; Lev. 10:1-3). A useful article on this is found here, see also here and here.

The Larger Catechism asks: Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding,using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself...

Only only has to look at the arguments to see that what is now being taught and commanded by the Free Church is merely the doctrines and commandments of men. The crux of the matter is that noone has been able to find that God has instituted in Scripture extra-biblical hymns not immediately inspired by Himself. Neither has anyone been able to find that God has instituted in the New Testament the retention of parts of the ceremonial temple worship which typified Christ's perfect work of redemption and were therefore swept away. Musical instruments are included in this.

We can consider the steps to the position taken by the Free Church in the words of the Larger Catechism.

Using religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Board in their Report pointed out that inconsistent practice has been maintained in the Free Church for a long time. "The Assembly had the matter drawn to their attention in 1953 when
they were asked to judge an appeal against a decision by the Synod of Ross. The Synod had sought to prohibit Free Church ministers from participating in worship involving hymns and instrumental music in other churches. The Assembly debated the matter, and upheld the right of Free Church ministers to participate in worship of this kind in other churches - thus moving against the spirit of the 1910 Act." This was what Kenneth Macrae protested against in his booklet "Resurgence of Arminianism" in the 1950s. The growing question becomes, "if the vows can be relaxed outwith the Free Church, why not within?" Neil Macmillan put this at the plenary General Assembly: "There are few of us who think that singing hymns and using musical instruments is sinful – hence the repeal of the Act. It if it sinful we should not do it anywhere. How can worship be acceptable to God in another church but not in the Free Church?" Others referred to the inconsistency of allowing church gatherings to use hymns but not allowing them in public worship. The Board tried to maintain this inconsistency but could not in the face of those taking matters to their logical conclusion.

Approving religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Free Church have now gone the length of approving religious worship not instituted by God Himself. They have done this in a way that is exceedingly difficult to reverse, only an attempt through the barrier Act over several years would change this. Note that the Free Church would have found it a little more difficult and time-consuming to arrive at its current position following this method which was instituted for the prevention of such innovations. The Free Church as a whole with the consent of the majority of the members of her presbyteries approves of religious worship not instituted by God Himself.

Counselling religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The arguments that allow defection from purity of worship that one does not believe in themselves and believe that it will be more attractive to those who would otherwise leave are only counselling that which is sinful that good may come from it.

Commanding religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The result of this position is that the ordination vows and constitution have been changed. The ordination vows under which men took office cannot be maintained any longer. Despite the false assurances there is an imposition upon consciences made by this legislation. It is no longer possible to assert, maintain and defend purity of worship in congregations that will reject purity of worship. While liberty will be granted to use purity of worship when conducting worship there is there liberty to preach against the defection from purity of worship? Will this not be seen as schismatic and proceeded against? Will elders be able to protest against defections within their congregation? The truth is that men are being commanded to accept this. John Kennedy said that if the legislation permitting hymns had gone under the Barrier Act he would have separated from the Free Church due to the constitutional change. This position enters into the difference of views on duty as to the 1892 Declaratory Act. When I referred to this back in 2009 I commented that "I don't think that there are any of John Kennedy's spirit in the present day Free Church". It appears that I may have been wrong and I am very glad to say so because it seems Kenneth Stewart, Dowanvale has principle in view (his statement is here). There were 30 dissents apparently but protest rather than dissent is what is required in order to keep one's conscience and vows entact.

Devising religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Free Church are now devising worship for themselves like Jeroboam "devised of his own heart" his worship (1 Kings 12:33). The Assembly approved as follows: "The General Assembly appoint a Special Committee (using consultants as required) to investigate the feasibility and desirability of producing a recommended list of paraphrases of Scripture and hymns and spiritual songs consistent with the Word of God and the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith [there are none such consistent with WCF 21:1 and 5 - this is a Declaratory Act in relation to confessional subscription], and whether the Free Church ought to produce a praise resource supplementary to the Psalter, and to report to the 2011 General Assembly [with all due haste].” We also note that the anti-verbal inspiration principle of dynamic equivalence has been elevated to constitutional significance in the following instruction to the committee: "to investigate, collect and, if necessary prepare from within the resources of the Church appropriate portions of Scripture, other than the 150 Psalms, in a form which accurately renders the thought of the original [note that] and is suitable for singing in public worship".

This is the seriousness of the step that has been taken: using, approving, commanding, counselling and devising what is sinful in God's eyes. Jeroboam was described as one "who made Israel to sin" by his false aids to the worship of Jehovah not instituted by God Himself. We tremble to say it but this is what must be applied to the Free Church since Friday 19 November 2010.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Free Church votes to allow instruments and man-made hymns

Which makes it an extremely sad day for anyone who prizes the principles of the Scottish Reformation including the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. The vote was carried 98 to 14, defeating a report that proposed a compromise that was unconvincing and clearly not acceptable. As with many of these events in church history it is not the vociferous and determined minority that vote it through but those who do not want the change for themselves but want to keep the minority happy and think that they can and always will be able to harness the forces of change and conservatism. Those who approve of others who express views they personally never could are those who are responsible for the consequences of the change for they have given their support to it.

Take the example of Iain D Campbell who less than 18 months ago was clearly opposed to the change observing at the 2009 General Assembly that the regulative principle was being skewed in the report by a reference to the primacy of Scripture. He pointed out: 'This report affirms the primacy of Scripture. Primacy is something you start from. Scripture is a finality not a primacy'. He then said something important: 'We have taken serious vows regarding a particular position on worship. We’re now being asked to approve a process in this report that begs serious questions. We seem to be asked to reinvent the wheel. It seems to be predetermining the outcome. He did not think he could approve a report that would allow songs of human compositions and instruments.'

His intervention in the debate today was no doubt significant. 'The view I hold is that I want to remain in the same church as the previous two speakers [David Robertson and Kenneth Stewart]. I agree with Mr Stewart’s arguments. I have argued this before - always taken the view that the sufficiency of scripture means the sufficiency of the psalms. Now I need to ask which position safeguuards my position on worship. Alex’s! it safeguards my position insisting on singing psalms. BUT I need to ask what to do with my brethren who have come to another conclusion. What am I going to say to our young people - we’re educating them in the theology of the reformed faith but they drift away to other churches. I want to keep them! Alexs amendment in opening up honestly is a means to that end. We need to fill our pulpits and take more people - but we need to keep our people!' Principled expediency?

The motion carried and the quality of the arguments within the debate (here and here)are most concerning because very little was said of a scriptural character let alone logical consistency. The essence of the motion was that every one had their own 'equally conscientious and Biblically grounded but differing views on the subject' i.e. mere opinion and should be free to do what was right in their own eyes. Scripture wasn't clear on the matter and so it was a matter of conscience and subjective judgement. They had landed themselves in the same morass as John Frame, without a tenth of his rationalising attempts to dilute the regulative principle. Frame says “Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to prove that anything is divinely required specifically for official services” (Worship in Spirit and Truth, p.44).

The most telling contribution and stinging indictment of the whole debate was from Chris Redmond - Dowanvale.
'There is lack of scripture and confusion. I sing Jesus with my understanding when I sing the psalms Going to support the deliverance as lesser of two evils. We are accommodating two different views of scriptures but God is not divided. Are we Reformed? Not if we are subjective and interpret scripture subjectively. My vows speaks of current worship. The pragmatic arguments? We are too accommodating to people rather than the word'.

Previous posts that have discussed this controversy are here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Godliness in everything

even in labouring for these other things, ye must do it in a godly manner. In your love to wife, husband, children, and others relations, ye must be godly, not only in your praying, reading, singing, discoursing in the familie, ye must be godly. But also in your lawful callings, whatever they be. If this be not, all the preaching that ye hear, and all the profession of faith, and of godliness that ye have will not profit you, nor avail you anything in the day of God's reckoning with you, because ye gave not him that which he mainly called for, which is godliness.

James Durham

Monday, November 01, 2010

The hyperinflation of Scripture

Yet more Bible versions - the Common English Bible(New) and the NIV 2011(New) take up their position in a crowded market place with aggressive marketing ($3M marketing budgets). This secular newspaper article entitled "How many versions of the Bible do we need?" lifts the lid on the hypocrisy. (I didn't believe that there was a "Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing Edition" until I googled it).

“Bibles are in many ways a cash cow,” said Phyllis Tickle, a former longtime religion editor at Publishers Weekly. “The Bible is the mainstay of many a publishing program.”

“I think we are drifting more and more to a diverse Babel of translations,” said David Lyle Jeffrey, former provost of Baylor University and an expert on biblical translations. Jeffrey thinks Americans need a “common Bible” — a role the King James version played for centuries — to communicate the grandeur of Scripture without reducing it to “shopping-center-level” discourse.

“When we have so much diversity, we lose our common voice,” he said. “It is in effect moving away from a common membership in the body of Christ into disparate, confusing misrepresentations of the rich wisdom of Scripture, which ought to unify us.”

These comments make the implicit claim of the Common English Bible publishers ludicrous.

Leland Ryken, an English professor at Wheaton College, was more blunt.

“When there is wide divergence among Bible translations, readers have no way of knowing what the original text really says,” Ryken said. “It’s like being given four different scores for the same football game or three contradictory directions for getting to a town in the middle of the state.”

In the process “the Bible loses its identity as the authoritative word of God and becomes something trivial, on par with shoes for hikers or luggage for the international set.”

What has happened? Hyperinflation. This vicious circle occurs in an economy when the currency plummets in value while more and more inflation is created with each iteration of the ever increasing money printing cycle. Wikipedia tells us that it "Hyperinflation becomes visible when there is an unchecked increase in the money supply usually accompanied by a widespread unwillingness on the part of the local population to hold the hypebecomes visible when there is an unchecked increase in the money supply usually accompanied by a widespread unwillingness on the part of the local population to hold the hyperinflationary money for more than the time needed to trade it for something non-monetary to avoid further loss of real value". "The main cause of hyperinflation is a massive and rapid increase in the amount of money that is not supported by a corresponding growth in the output of goods and services. This results in an imbalance between the supply and demand for the money (including currency and bank deposits), accompanied by a complete loss of confidence in the money, similar to a bank run".

This is what is happening with the overprinting of versions of the Bible resulting in a loss of confidence in the value of Scripture.