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Posts Tagged ‘Regulative Principle of Worship’


The third part of Organic Outreach for Churches by Kevin Harney is called The Hands of Your Congregation. It is only two chapters long.

“As our hearts grow healthy, we can engage our minds and think deeply about ways that a church can take the good news of Jesus to the world. … Once our hearts and minds have connected with the outreach vision of God, it’s now time for our hands to get active.”

He begins the section with the “The Two-Degree Rule” or The Power of Vectoring. He points out that most churches, if left to themselves, will focus on themselves. The resources of time, money, gifts and abilities will be invested in those who are already part of the congregation. People want their needs met. I don’t blame them. The problem is that people often confuse wants with needs. American Christians struggle with consumerism. They shop for churches that meet their needs rather than being concerned with faithfulness to the Scriptures in teaching (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy) as well as love. Since we are still sinners, we will struggle with selfishness.

The Two-Degree Rule comes into play in light of this.

“The Two-Degree Rule involves identifying what we are already doing for those who are a part of the church and then finding creative ways to vector this activity into our community to engage unbelievers. It’s taking what we are already doing to care for, equip, and minister to our church family and giving it an evangelistic focus.”

Fellow RTS grad Ken Priddy advocated for something similar in his Turn Around Churches material for revitalization. For him it was making sure the gospel is a part of everything you do. If your church has a marriage seminar, you invite non-Christians. You don’t have to dumb it down, but you need to acknowledge that not everyone present may believe. They now have an opportunity to engage and be engaged by Christianity.

This means that not only should each ministry have an outward focus, but all activities should have an outward focus. You aren’t necessarily adding activities, but you are seeing them as part of the outreach strategy. But sometimes this means taking our activities outside of our space, our facilities.

Harney gives an example of a church expanding its meals ministry to people outside the church. They began to serve the people they knew who had health issues, or new babies etc. They brought meals to unchurched people as signs of the love of Christ for sinners.

“It is not about starting new ministries with new volunteers and additional resources. It’s simply taking what you’re already doing, something that is natural and normal, organic to the life of your church, and extending it to the people in your community.”

He encourages churches to think bigger, promote more widely and take action. This can be challenging for churches of 100 or under people. But it is worth considering or you will stay stuck.

The second chapter is the Value of Innovation. I was not as wild about this chapter. It seemed to prize (exalt?) innovation. I guess the question is, what is innovation? If it is a new way to fulfill a biblical mandate, I am good with it. We can get set in our ways. But sometimes we can also make an idol of being on the cutting edge and feel the need to “fit in” or keep up with culture.

This is a hard balance. We are to be different than the culture around us. I’m of the opinion that our worship services shouldn’t be confused with rock concerts. That’s actually not innovation but mimicry.

One of his examples was interrupting the worship service for time to mingle and grab coffee, and extended form of “Greet the family” or “pass the peace”. This church loved it. I’ve spoken to others who visited churches that did this and hated it. This innovation helped them grow numerically, but does that alone make it a good innovation? The standard isn’t “does it work?” which is pragmatism. We have a responsibility to measure things by the Scriptures, particularly if we embrace the Regulative Principle of Worship. Harney mentions biblical norms earlier in the book, but it would be great if he brought that back to have appropriate boundaries for innovation.

“Innovation involves trying things. It also means there are times for certain programs, events, and activities to end.”

There is some wisdom here. Some programs, events or activities have a shelf life. That same church ended up ending their extended break during worship to have a continental breakfast before worship each week. Programs, events and activities can become ineffective in fulfilling biblical mandates. Perhaps they are an inefficient use of resources (which can change over time). Churches do tend to stick with things that are perceived to be successful. They become “tradition”. And traditions die hard. A helpful question he didn’t ask was “how can we fulfill this biblical mandate better?” This helps us to see what we should be doing, and finding the best legitimate way for us to do it. Too often the conversation becomes “what do we want to do.”

Bottom line is that this was another mixed section. There were some helpful thoughts and some that needed clarification and qualification at the bare minimum.

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The time was ripe for Rosaria Butterfield’s recent book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. The time is ripe because everyone seems to be talking about homosexuality and same sex marriage. The church, or at least some of it, is struggling to be faithful to both the call to mission and a biblical morality. Some parts of the church focus on only one and lose sight of the other.

“I often wonder: God, why pick me? I didn’t ask to be a Christian convert. I didn’t ‘seek the Lord.’ Instead, I ran like the wind when I suspected someone would start peddling the gospel to me.”

While the subtitle focuses on Rosaria’s work as an English Professor, the first chapter makes clear that as an English professor she was a gay activist and lesbian who taught Queer Theory. Hers is an interesting story in many regards. It seems difficult to try and squeeze the first 36 years of a life into a chapter, albeit a long one, but that is what she does.

She was not looking to become a Christian. She felt no spiritual need. She was actually out to get Christianity or at least the Religious Right as part of her need to publish for her job. As she began to read the Bible things slowly changed. Just as important was a new friendship with one of those conservative Christians who happened to be the pastor of a local church.  It is an engaging journey as she is confronted with the truth of Christianity.

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In my first pastorate, I served in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP), which had a long history of Psalm singing. While they no longer practice exclusive psalmody, they still break out the Bible Song Books for Synod each year. It was always foreign to me, having not grown up in the ARP. The songs seemed more adaptations of Psalms than a true Psalter.

Recently someone gave me a copy of Psalm Singing Revisited: The Case for Exclusive Psalmody by Bruce Stewart. It is a short booklet, but I finally found some time to read through it. I thought I’d share my interactions with the booklet, and therefore his position as noted in the subtitle.

The Reformed heritage has a long tradition of singing the Psalms. This has long been understood to be necessary on the basis of the Regulative Principle of Worship as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as well as the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

1. The light of nature sheweth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. WCF, XXI

The argument is that the Psalms are songs given to us by God. All other songs are the product of the imaginations and devices of men and therefore unacceptable for worship. The question is, is this a proper interpretation and application of the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW)? Is it consistent with how we apply the RPW to other elements of worship prescribed in Scripture?

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Yes, it has been since before my vacation that I’ve read any of Recovering the Reformed Confession. I’ve been quite busy since I’ve been back.  But I’m picking up with Recovering Reformed Worship.

Immediately he is lamenting the changes to worship liturgy in the last 30 years, including the loss of the Psalter.  He quotes D.G. Hart:

“… more congregations in the PCUSA are likely to follow the Genevan order of service than those in the OPC or PCA.”

My initial response is that the Genevan order of service isn’t getting them too far.  I’d rather keep Calvin’s theology than his order of service.

We actually utilize a fairly traditional liturgy or structure to our worship (Call to Worship, Invocation, Confession of Sin, Confession of Faith, Pastoral Prayer, Scripture Reading & Sermon, Benediction).  We want the heritage to inform us, but not enslave us.  Clark is alarmed that Calvin, the Heidelberg Reformers and others would not recognize our worship services.  Neither would the Apostles.  For that matter, they wouldn’t recognize the services of Calvin and the others either.

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Richard Lovelace’s discussion of destructive and protective enculturation in Dynamics of Spiritual Lifegot me to thinking about worship and nominal Christianity.  He mentions the Puritan Regulative Principle of worship as a type of protective enculturation.  It can be, if used improperly (thinking only the worship of a particular time is pure & acceptable).  And Luther’s view of worship can easily lead to destructive enculturation (worshipping like false religions).

The Regulative Principle states that Scripture regulates our worship.  How one interprets that makes all the difference in the world.  Scripture does address the elements of worship- and these are what should be regulated.  We find lots of singing, prayer, offerings, confession, sacraments and preaching as part of worship.  We then remove the cultural baggage, disenculturation, of previous cultures so we can exercise these elements of worship in our particular culture.  We cannot put a protective cocoon around them that says only Psalms, or hymns written in a certain time frame, or only certain kinds of prayers and songs may be said and sung.

Our worship should be both like and unlike our culture.  It should fit in regarding style, who we dress & speak, how affection is shown etc.  It should be unlike our culture in that it conveys the gospel clearly and consistently, and removes any cultural aspects that are contrary to the gospel.  Christian worship will look different as you cross cultures- even within the same city.  But it should have the unifying aspects of leading us to faith in the triune God, particularly depending on the person and work of Jesus for our salvation, and dependence on the Holy Spirit.  It should emphasize God’s holiness & love, our sin and humility, reverence and joy in the reality of justification & sanctification etc. (John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truthis a great book to work through some of these issues in interpreting the Regulative Principle)

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