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Topic: The RPW Series

RPW Series (Part 3)

July 31, 2002
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All I Really Need to Know About Worship
…I Don’t Learn from the Regulative Principle (Part 3)

Dear Friends,

Greetings in our Messiah. We’ve sought to show why the Regulative Principle of Worship— if it is not commanded, it is forbidden— cannot survive when measured against the Scripture. RPW chauvinists…

Discover their principle where it is not. They isolate words and incidents from their qualifying contexts.

Miss it where it is. The Tabernacle/ Temple system was indeed strictly regulated, but why? Because it was the gospel, not because it was worship.

Miss the humongous implications of the synagogue, a man-made worship institution functioning alongside the Temple system.

Fail to fairly account for the approbated celebration of man-instituted special days in Scripture.

Fail to fairly account for approbated man-made traditions, some of which modified even explicit divine instructions.

Fail to be consistent with their own principle, upon which singing in New Testament-era worship services cannot be justified.

Have landed themselves in so many pickles they could open a deli.

Speaking of pickles, not more than one or two sourpusses have responded bitterly to our series so far. Sweet mail received from ministers and elders (TR-variety) in the PCA, the OPC and other Presbyterian denominations was almost uniformly positive (a pleasant surprise), with many expressing sincere gratitude for the salty series.

The responses certainly have been interesting. It’s been about six months since our first critique of the RPW was sent out. Together with reprintings in other publications since that time, we estimate that our arguments have been sent to well over 11,000 ministers, elders, churches and Reformed families. Yet the only feedback resembling an argument against the position taken in these pages was received (separately) from two men from the same church. We’ll let the minister of that church be the spokesman. A proud-to-be-strict-RPW brother, a good and well-loved man whom I rejoice to call my friend (though we certainly disagree on this issue!)– expressed in a colorfully worded question what we suspect is on the minds of many: If there’s no RPW, then rock ‘n’ roll bands, long-haired hippies, dancing in the aisles, ‘slain in the Spirit,’ incense waving, smoking peyote, singing of my latest poem I wrote two weeks ago, are all OK in worship?

To this we must say, first, we are not seeking to overthrow the sort of worship found in churches which seek to abide by the RPW. Rather, we are hoping to advance that very sort of worship, but on grounds less vulnerable to informed, Biblical challenge. That is the nail-on-the-head issue: Must we impose a man-made principle, such as the RPW, in order to have God-honoring, people-of-God-edifying worship? Our answer is a flat No. We do not need a manufactured principle. We have many clear Biblical principles which, if applied, lead to the desired results.

Second, one goal of replacing the RPW with what is hopefully a stronger set of principles is to allow dialogue and debate in terms of good, better, best, as opposed to those recurring, barren ultimatums of true/false or acceptable/abominable. The ultimatum approach has stagnated the progress and propagation of Reformed-style worship. Further, where it has prevailed it has frequently bequeathed to the church a cadre of Tartuffes who make some Pharisees look like rank amateurs.

Third, as we suggested in our last letter, the sort of argumentation which insists that chaos is the alternative to the RPW is precisely the sort which Reformed people can reject with a laugh, or even a humble swagger. For it is an argument of identical construction to that which has ever been waged against the Reformed doctrine of justification, a doctrine regarded by many as residing at the very heart of the true Christian faith.

Faith Works

If you tell people they are justified– declared forensically righteous by God– apart from their own works, sin will know no restraint, chaos will abound!

Such arguments against the doctrine of justification by grace through faith were refuted more than 400 years ago in the Heidelberg Catechism. Q64: But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane? A64: No, for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.

A free and gracious justification was and is regarded as a reality inseparable from sanctification, expressed through good works as defined by God’s Law. No symbols on earth exalt the Law of God, in its rightful place, like the Reformed symbols. The Westminster Confession’s treatment of Good Works (Chapter XVI), is excellent. Section II says, …good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.

The Second Helvetic, in its time the most widely held Reformed confession, speaking of justification by faith in Chapter XV, says, Wherefore, in this matter we are not speaking of a fictitious, empty, lazy and dead faith, but of a living, quickening faith. It is and is called a living faith because it apprehends Christ who is life and makes alive, and shows that it is alive by living works. And so James does not contradict anything in this doctrine of ours. For he speaks of an empty, dead faith of which some boasted but who did not have Christ living in them by faith (James 2:14 ff.). James said that works justify, yet without contradicting the apostle (otherwise he would have to be rejected) but showing that Abraham proved his living and justifying faith by works. This all the pious do, but they trust in Christ alone and not in their own works.

Earlier (in Chapter XII), Helvetic II refuted antinomianism in the most concise manner imaginable: We condemn everything that heretics old and new have taught against the law.

And these have not been mere paper convictions! Reformed and Presbyterian communities have a deserved reputation for living out the Puritan sayings, Justified by faith alone, but faith which appears alone [that is, without good works] does not justify, and, Faith proves justification; good works prove faith. We Reformed have been a people who have lived lawfully without seeking justification by merit. It is obvious, therefore, not only from the Bible but from the lives of those who believe it, that the fears of bedlam overtaking a freely justified people were/are unwarranted.

So are fears of lawless worship. It is not a man-made principle which produces reverential worship, but thankful hearts set free to live according to His will. Our history proves that unbiblical inducements to lawful behavior are both unnecessary and unwelcome among the truly Reformed. The boogeyman will get you!–type arguments leave us unimpressed. Indeed, that the slippery slope appears as the only argument left in the case before us may represent the swan song of the regulativists. The RPW is, in fact, now giving way, even among orthodox Presbyterians, to the far more Biblical and balanced covenantal view of worship. Shedding the RPW as a once popular but nevertheless extreme view does not leave us with nothing! A faithful husband is not such because he is being followed by a shamus, but because he lawfully loves his wife. We have a heavenly Father we love to lawfully worship, a blessed Savior we seek to faithfully serve, and a Holy Spirit who has given us 66 covenantal books to guide us in so doing.

Continental Divide

On the Continental Reformed side of our feedback, we received So what else is new? mail. Though some Continental Reformed, through cross-pollination from Puritans, have embraced a version of the RPW, very few have been in the strict camp. Nevertheless, the Continental Reformed have long been a people who worship in a God-centered, orderly and covenantal manner without the RPW. Rev. Donald Van Dyken, pastor of an Orthodox Christian Reformed Church, wrote to us, I must say that I never heard of the Regulative Principle of Worship until exposure to my ministerial colleagues here in the OCRCs who were from Presbyterian background.

Rev. Van Dyken provided us with an instructive outline. My understanding of worship is governed by the Covenantal Principle. That works itself out in several ways, all of them, I believe, covenantal.

Covenant is relationship, and the relationship we are concerned with in worship is between the Covenant God (Triune) and His people. Worship, therefore, consists of communion between these two: God and His people.

As God initiates covenant, and covenant demands response, so worship basically consists of God speaking and His people responding.

Worship as a covenant body means every soul in the church (no ecclesiastical daycare centers for children) gathered as covenantal family units.

Worship in the New Covenant grows out of the Old and is characterized by immediacy because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. The vicarious character of Old order worship is removed, the congregation of the Lord not being dependent upon human mediators or priests.

The New Covenant brings the wonderful liberty of maturity.

I don't know where people miss the boat on this thing, says Rev. Van Dyken. The maturity of the church gives her the freedom to work out varying practices so long as they are consistent with the principles in which she was supposed to have been soaked in her OT childhood. New Covenant is covenant maturity. Maturity means work, and perhaps that is why so many want to revert to childhood.

Rev. Van Dyken’s thoughts emit the clean fragrance of covenantal air. And his notation concerning maturity is particularly appropriate. But I doubt that our RPW friends are averse to work.

In some ways we might view maintenance of the RPW as more work. An illustration of what I mean by more work occurred in the course of ministry here. God provided us an opportunity to witness to an official from a United Nations delegation whose native country is still plunged deep in communist darkness (may God deliver them!). Every contact we had with him, though, was not with him alone: he was accompanied by a chaperone. Though the cost and inconvenience of assigning the chaperone were great, the commies thought it not only worth it, but necessary. They treat their own officials like infants– nay, like recreants just itching to switch sides.

My RPW friends who are terrified of what might happen to worship without the RPW are a bit like the Communist Party officials afraid of what might happen to their delegates without chaperones. The presupposition is the same in both cases: the people who are supposed to be friends & servants are actually regarded as enemies, turncoats-in-waiting. Such a view sees the church void of friends-of-God. That such is our state by nature, we heartily agree. To think that such is our state by grace, however, turns grace into nothing.

For our purposes, the chaperone in the above example represents the unbiblical principles of both extreme positions dealing with the regulation of worship. Both Rome and regulativists treat their votaries as people not to be trusted, ready to bolt at the first opportunity, in desperate need of the Watchful Eye. Rome is totalitarian in what it imposes while regulativists are totalitarian in what they exclude. Both Rome and regulativists treat the people of God like infants, incapable of maturity or sound judgment. Rome tells her minions that they must observe special days (for example; the list of musts is long). Those confined to the regulativists’ barracks are told that they must not observe special days (the list of must nots is nearly as long).

The Informed Principle of Worship, based on a covenantal view of things, rejects both extremes and insists upon considering worship in the light of tota scriptura.

All parties agree that what is forbidden must be excluded. But for the rest, what? High-churchers say, Not forbidden, then fine. Regulativists say, If it is not commanded, it is forbidden. Both propositions fail to meet the test of tota scriptura. We propose the IPW: What is not forbidden might be permitted. It depends. Biblical worship is in harmony with the whole of Scripture and keeps a focused eye on Christ’s covenantal achievements in history and the impact of His completed work on worship in the New Order. We’ll consider some particulars of the IPW momentarily. First, let’s discuss why the church is to be addressed as mature and bound by principles suited to maturity. For in capturing this we can see how our appeal on behalf of Reformed worship should be more like this: You should not worship in a manner which is beneath your calling, than this: You abominable, idolatrous wretches! God hates you, and your worship too!

Coming of Age

When children are small, loving parents regulate their behavior down to minutiae. As the children grow the regulations cascade like scales. They fall not to the emergence of antinomian behavior but (hopefully) to the living out of those principles which they learned as children. We forbid our children to go in the gutter when they are toddlers; when they mature, they apply that principle by guarding life. For God’s will for us in the sixth commandment is …that I do not harm myself, nor willfully run into any danger. The toddler prohibition was an in-order-to matter. A 36 year-old who is afraid to cross the street has a problem.

There is no need to rehearse the New Testament Scripture’s praise of maturity, but we will remind you that the Pentecost event recorded in Acts 2 was the covenantal equivalent of the church emerging into a new maturity. In fact, it was then that the church became capable of reproduction. Pentecost was the adolescent church’s first hormonal rush. The church wasn’t born at Pentecost: it was bar mitzvah’d.

Just as each individual is reckoned to be the same person though passing through several stages en route to maturity, so also the one church grew up in accordance with God’s plan. We confess that the church, from Adam forward, is organically one. Our catechism properly teaches that the Son of God, through His Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for Himself a community chosen to eternal life and united in true faith (A. 54).

The one church has been from Eden, but, like a child on its way to adulthood, the church has not had its affairs identically administered at each stage of its development. There was continual, superintended growth of the covenant, leading– according to God’s express plan– to the Christ event and its consequent fruit which ripened at Pentecost. It was only then that the church could truly be fruitful and multiply, being freed to carry the meaning of the Tabernacle/ temple system around the world in the very portable form of the Gospel. The truth was no longer tied to the apron strings of an earthly center. Headquarters, Zion, Jerusalem, was now fixed in heaven, equidistant from all earthly locations. The kingdoms of this world had, in principle, become the kingdoms of our Lord.

When Jesus our Savior had accomplished His incarnation, perfect life, substitutionary death on the cross, burial, resurrection and ascension, the one church (which had existed from the beginning) could enter upon a new phase of its being. It could grow up and begin to live out, in all the world, the principles it had learned from infancy. From Moses to Pentecost the church, like a child, was kept at home, more or less confined to one geographical location. Now, with the Spirit of maturity, it could leave home, reproduce, and encompass the earth.

Looked at this way, the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost was less the goal of Christ’s work than the provided means to empower her and enable her to accomplish the goal. That goal was clearly articulated by our Lord before His ascension: to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations, to baptize all nations, and to teach all nations to obey everything He has commanded.

The self-identification of a people bound to one geographical location, united by a common language and common customs, and distinguished by an exclusive access to God– for such a people to achieve and maintain a strong self-identification as a people is a rather simple affair. But to give people from all the disparate nations of the earth, speaking different languages and having different customs– to provide a common identity in Christ to this group required a special operation of the Spirit. That is the unity in the Spirit of which Paul speaks. That is how Jews and Gentiles are made one: not by common access to an earthly Temple, but by common reception of the Spirit of Truth, by whom they have access– from anywhere on earth– to the heavenly Temple.

Thus the New administration is characterized by a universalism which forbids the imposition of Jewish– that is, Sinaitic– worship forms upon the Gentiles. Any honest reading of the New Testament Scriptures reveals this to be the administrative issue confronting the church at that time. To impose upon the Gentiles now a principle which regulated only the Temple service during a specific developmental phase of the covenant would be as improper, as covenantally anachronistic, as wrongheaded, as requiring Gentile males to be circumcised or to visit Jerusalem thrice annually. Such regulation belonged to another day.

Yet some regulativists seem positively terrified of treating churches as maturing entities. They would keep them bound to the old Jerusalem’s precincts via punctilious regulation.

Such an approach is backwards. It reminds me of the suburban sot who lived on a tree lined acre. Night after night, driving home from his favorite pub in an intoxicated stupor, he would smash into yet another tree. The tippler’s solution was to cut down all the trees on his property. A good regulativist answer. There was a better way, however. He should have controlled himself.

This difference of approach is evident if we examine how the Apostle reasons with God’s people. Though this is an argument from texture it is nonetheless instructive. Simply compare any standard regulativist tome with St. Paul’s admonitions to, say, the Corinthians. To the Corinthian mantra– Everything is permissible for me– Paul responds thus: But not everything is beneficial. And again: But I will not be mastered by anything. And once more: But not everything is beneficial. And lastly: But not everything is constructive. This is the IPW!

The IPW speaks as Paul spoke to his beloved churches: as if they were adult entities. He always spoke to them in terms of their calling. He knew that the nurturing and development of Christian character would yield the desired results: the living out of a God-glorifying life in all spheres, worship included.

When Paul devotes several chapters to dealing with worship irregularities, he does so without once suggesting that the Corinthian problem was soluble simply by forbidding whatever was not expressly commanded. He could have saved himself a lot of effort! But then, he was constrained by God’s actual will and God’s preferred methods of correction.

Many are the Biblical arguments to govern behavior and restrain excess which appeal to simple principles, e.g., Nobody should seek his own good but the good of others. There are also arguments which rely on mere authority. When God has spoken on a subject, mere authority is a good form of argument! But when He has not– as is the case with many New Order worship details– one must pursue other avenues of argumentation. Consider church architecture.

Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. It can be justly said that from Moses to Messiah the architecture of the House of God was as strictly regulated as the worship within it. Yet God has not given to the post-Pentecost church a blueprint for its architecture. To see this freedom that we now have– in fitting church form (architecture) to function (the activities occurring within)– is to see the church exercising one of its many prerogatives as a mature entity in Christ. God treats us as grown-ups; regulativists treat us as toddlers. Instead of basing their appeals for improvement on higher sensibilities and principles, as one would reason with an adult, they seek simply to child-proof every house with their must nots. There are locks everywhere because God’s covenant people, in their view, are not to be trusted.

But this matter of church architecture also serves as an illustration of the first element of Informed Worship, namely, that it is…

I: Doctrinally-Driven

For good or ill, for about the last 14 years, Messiah’s Congregation has been worshipping in facilities rented from an Episcopal church. Like virtually all high churches, its doctrine is immediately evident in its architecture. About half the sanctuary is taken up by an altar area where the critical drama for high-Episcopalians occurs. A notice is hung at the entrance that the body of Christ (so they say) is in the bread at the altar, therefore the faithful ought to genuflect upon entering. There are Stations of the Cross, candles, crosses, and kneeling benches in the pews. The pulpit is stage-right.

The problem, though, is not the church’s architecture. Rather, it’s the church’s erroneous set of beliefs which compels it to build church facilities this way. The architecture of the church is merely following its belief system. The form of their building is informed by their form of worship which is informed by their doctrine. The buck stops there.

Our high church friends fail to comprehend the full implications of Christ’s work. Specifically, high-churchers fail to see, first, our Savior’s work as the terminus of the Tabernacle/ Temple system. They seek to maintain, mutatis mutandis, the offering system of the Old administration. They believe they need to offer Christ again and again on an altar. To this they add a second error: that for this to happen efficaciously they need a priestly caste.

These two errors replace 1) the Biblical teaching of Christ’s once-for-all, sufficient work, and 2) the Biblical treasure which tells us of our right to full, unfettered access to this Christ by faith, apart from earthly mediation.

The architecture of high churches, then, is not the problem. It is their doctrine. To realize my dream of tearing down their altar (thus accommodating more living altars, AKA worshippers) requires only the tearing down of their erroneous doctrine. Like night follows day, church architecture follows church doctrine. They’ll change their architecture when they change their doctrine.

So too will many worship errors evaporate as people are instructed in the sound, 200-proof truth of the Reformed faith. Our response to high church excesses should less often be, You’re not allowed to!, than, Why would you want to? After all,

‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.’

Similarly, our response to the silly worship of evangelicaldom must avoid treating it as an abstraction, as a thing in itself. Rather, it is the result of theology gone awry– or simply left undone. What should bother us is the modern indifference to the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of worship as well as of wisdom. What these churches need so desperately is not the RPW, but a proper vision (so to speak) of God, and of what He has accomplished– yes, accomplished– in Christ!

That doctrine is the principle thing in the foundation of worship ought not to surprise us. You will recall that Tabernacle/ Temple worship was strictly regulated because Christ was therein being revealed. When our Lord had completed His earthly work that strictness was immediately, without a beat skipped, transferred to the guardianship of the Gospel. New Testament anathemas are pronounced on deviant teachers, not errant worshippers.

The relationship between doctrine and life is revealed in the architecture of several Pauline letters: First, what God has done in Christ; then, what we should be and do in response. Christians, above all peoples on earth, must be aware that ideas and beliefs have consequences. Trusting you already hold this as a presupposition, I’ll not labor to prove it. I’ll only remind you that the weeds of errant doctrines will inevitably appear in worship. Therefore, those concerned with reforming worship must first concern themselves with reforming doctrine.

Errant doctrines of God, of Scripture, of the Spirit’s work, of the ordo salutis, of worship– errors concerning these and many doctrines beside will leave a deeper impact on worship than the presence or absence of the RPW.

Thus, the best way to help God’s people worship Him acceptably is to help them see more clearly just who He is! Knowing God and His grace will have a profounder influence on the texture and details of worship than perhaps any other single factor. As St. Paul said, Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.

Informed worship is doctrinally driven, and it is…

II: Word-Centered

This, as you might have guessed, is a pretty big chunk of the IPW, for it is here that much of it comes together. Therefore we’ll have to divide the subject.

A) To begin, informed worship is Word-centered because it self-consciously follows the synagogue pattern endorsed by our Lord and His apostles. As to the place of the Word in this venerable institution, J. Julius Scott, Jr. says succinctly and well, The synagogue was first and foremost a place for reading of Scripture and for prayer…Intertestamental Judaism expected everyone to be thoroughly familiar with [God’s Law] as a basis for life. It was the synagogue, with its regular reading and interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, and with its schools for the young, that wove the Scriptures into the fabric of life and experience of the people. There were no altars nor sacrifices in the synagogue; instead only the sacred books (scrolls) were absolutely necessary.

Just as Moses had been preached in every city from the earliest times and was made known by being read in the synagogues on every Sabbath, so Christ was to be made known in the very same way: decentralized synagogues of Christ would be planted around the earth, connected to one another and the heavenly Temple by the Spirit.

Whatever the relation between Temple and synagogue– and we certainly recognize a relationship– they remained quite distinct institutions. And it was the synagogue which became the model for New Order worship. Some seek to argue against the normativity of the synagogue model for the church by asserting that the temple rather than the synagogue is the ultimate source of a number of the most important aspects of Christian worship. I’m from Missouri. Show me any element of early Biblical Christian (or current Reformed!) worship which can ultimately be traced to the Temple alone– or which came to the church in any way other than via the synagogue.

Sermons? Nope. Benedictions? They predate the Temple by at least half a millennium (Gen 14). Corporate prayer? Uh-uh (Gen 4). Singing? Don’t be silly (Exodus 15). Circumcision was not Temple-dependent. Nor could baptism, as practiced by the Jews, by John or by Jesus be ultimately traced to the Temple.

No, my friends, the above assertion is mere legerdemain. The Temple was not the liturgical mother of the church. Wandering down that avenue will lead you to an Italian address. The distinction of the Temple was this: God there demonstrated that He was to be found among the people who had the atoning blood which He alone could provide. In that sense we agree, all covenant communities are little Temples.

But the post-Pentecost churches as organized by the apostles were instructed to do nothing uniquely or exclusively related to Temple worship, except if we include believing in the Lord Jesus Christ who had been prefigured there in a thousand ways. Now, however, the knowledge of what He has done is propagated in none of those ways. Now it is by preaching and teaching, the very strengths of the synagogue service.

A pre-70AD inscription found on the Ophel hill in Jerusalem reads in part: Theodotus…built the synagogue for the reading of the law and for the teaching of the commandments… Please note that Scripture reading was not part of the services in the Temple before the Babylonian exile, while The primary and seminal element in the synagogue was…Scripture reading. It was the elements of the synagogue service, not the Temple, which were appropriated by the early, Biblical Christian church.

A look at Acts 2 and subsequent passages lends zero support to any contention to the contrary. There we read how They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. If we take the breaking of bread to be communion, we find its antecedent source not in the Temple but in the Passover, a covenant meal celebrated in covenant homes. The other elements are manifestly synagogal.

Interestingly, though they continued to meet together in the temple courts every day they there engaged in practices which marked synagogue, not Temple, worship. In fact: It is thought that there was a synagogue even within the precincts of the Temple. Thus, alongside the sacrificial rites of the Temple there were arrangements for divine service along the lines of what was done in the synagogue, with prayers and Scripture reading. The apostolic church in Jerusalem, even when gathered in the Temple precincts, also is described as engaged in synagogal and familial rites, not Temple rites.

This is why we might find the Apostle liberally employing Temple terminology as metaphor, but never enjoining the practices of the Temple on the church. What we find him doing in the churches is straight out of the synagogue: reading Scripture, explaining Scripture, teaching how to apply Scripture, and praying. Consider what Paul does at the gathering of the church in Troas: he teaches until midnight. After Eutychus falls out the window to his death, Paul revives him, brings him back into the gathered assembly, has communion, then teaches until daylight. The Word is central.

Read through the Pastoral Epistles and see how Paul emphasizes teaching. The church, like the synagogue, exists as a teaching center. Teaching God’s Word is both an act of worship and a demand for worship. Teaching is what distinguished the early Christian church (Acts 4:18; 5:28; 5:42; 11:26). Teaching is what established each early Christian church (Acts 15:35; 20:20; 1 Cor 4:17; Eph 4:21-22; Col 2:7; 1 Tim 3:2; 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2; Titus 1:9, etc.). Teaching is what continues to identify each Christian church as Christian!

Rushdoony has noted that The Old Testament clergy was divided into two classes, priests and Levites. The work of the priests was hieratic, sacrifice and offerings being its essential function. For Christians, this aspect of Old Testament ministry ended with Christ…The function of the Levitical ministry was instruction (Deut 33:10). As a result, education was basic to the life of the synagogue and the Levitical ministry… Many critical scholars…assume a rootless church, i.e., a church without the fact of the synagogue and the Levite in the background as its origin… The point is that the church itself in the New Testament was more a school than a temple. The Reformation, and later the Puritans, restored this instructional emphasis to church meetings.

And in so doing they were being true to their synagogue roots. The Informed Principle of Worship insists that New Order worship be heavy on instruction.

B) By Word-centered, however, we mean more. It is not merely a matter of the church replacing the synagogue, but of the clear Word replacing an entire system of approach to God. It is vitally important for us to grasp the way the Word comes to the fore in the New Order.

In the beginning was the Word. The coming of the Word into the world was anticipated in type and shadow. The Word finally became flesh in history. The shadows and types are taken up in Him and their meaning is now communicated by the Word. Even the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are dependent upon the Word of explication, and their efficacy is tied, in all Reformed confessions, to faith in that Word.

In the Scriptures of the New Testament we find the glorious Word saving (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25), sanctifying (John 17:17), encouraging (Rom 15:4), and establishing (Rom 16:25-26) the Christian churches, made up of Jew & Gentile.

Since Christ has fulfilled the pre-incarnational Sinaitic order, it is impossible to return to that order. Any attempt to return to that hieratic order will necessarily involve pagan or semi-pagan practices. God put an exclamation point after this truth when He allowed the destruction of the earthly Temple.

From Passover (under Moses) until Pentecost (under Christ) God’s instructions to Israel about Himself and His covenant included bold graphics, bright colors, and large letters. Since then all eyes are pointed to Christ enthroned, whom we behold by faith. This Christ is presented to the conscience by Word, not image!

We declare in the Christian Gospel that Christ has accomplished in reality/history what had been before anticipated in type. He has entered the one perfect place, wherein are found all the perfect particulars, He Himself being both the perfect offering and the perfect priest (see Heb 9:11, 12, 15a; 7:23, 24-28).

Therefore we are no longer anticipating, no longer waiting: the perfect has come. He sets aside the first to establish the second (Heb 10:9). Thus the difference in administration is like that between counting blocks and calculus, between plastic kiddie tools and the tools that built the World Trade Center, between a box of stuffed animals and a Kenyan wildlife preserve. The real thing is here!

This reality is conveyed and appropriated by words. This is what distinguishes the mature man from the infant. In teaching children we rely heavily on symbol. In teaching adults we rely heavily on words. Words are the things which penetrate the conscience and the heart. Words are what we use to make a direct appeal to a mature man’s reason. Words are the true democratizing force behind the Gospel, in God’s providence. For non-verbal symbols are indirect and not equally accessible by all, while virtually all people rely on verbal communication for nitty-gritty understanding. This is why the apostles urged, appealed, pleaded, reasoned and explained, and why they didn’t dance the message.

Rome is looking for God in all the wrong places. In the Romish/High church approach to things, symbol remains paramount in their liturgy. Accordingly, their message is essentially authoritarian (the priest is the real actor while the audience is made up of rankless observers), is directed at child-like vassals (not free men) and encourages implicit faith (faith in the clergy rather than faith in Christ). The drama of the Mass, for most of its existence, need not have been in the vernacular because its supposed efficacy was/is not dependent upon any self-conscious understanding on the part of the worshipper. The Word withers where emblems abound.

High church worship begins with alleged mystery and continues along a path of allusion wherein the true God is not directly encountered. Informed worship, on the other hand, begins with a direct encounter between God and His people through His own Word, and brings God and His people closer throughout worship by the very same means. It begins & ends with covenant clarity: I am your God, you are my people. Amen.

High church worship, by depending upon symbol, mystery and allusion, hides God and His Word behind incense, altars, confessionals, pantheons of saints, robes, colors, candles, and magic formulas. It is pure show business, keeping the true God apart from the people. High church worshippers are taught in one thousand gross and subtle ways that the God who created the world cannot be approached directly.

Informed worship, following and employing the Word, teaches, by its very elements, the very opposite: that In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph 3:12).

Do you see how much the sort of worship the IPW calls for is beginning to resemble RPW-style worship? Yet we’ve gotten here cleanly and straightway without it.

There’s more, but it will have to await the next issue of Messiah’s Mandate. Perhaps you’ll stay tuned if we whet your appetite by telling you now that among the remaining things we hope to demonstrate is that Scripture, and therefore the IPW, requires worship to be male-led. There are no female pastors any more than there are female fathers. Females might play– or usurp– the role, but that’s a different matter, isn’t it?

Speaking of staying tuned, if you haven’t contributed to any of Messiah’s Ministries in the last 18 months, you’ll soon be dropped from our mailing list. Don’t say I didn’t tell you! But if you are inclined to give, the enclosed notice will explain why now is the perfect time. Do write to us soon.

Until our next letter, may the Lord of Glory bestow upon you every one of His graces in rich abundance through Christ our Lord. Praise God for direct access through Him!

Yours and His,
Steve M. Schlissel

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