Seventeen Points of Denominational Renewal, part 1

Rev. Jon Payne’s motion, which became the Northwest Georgia Presbytery’s motion, which was adopted at our 38th General Assembly, has seventeen points related to true denominational renewal. This resolution passed by an overwhelming margin. I’d like to post a few thoughts on these excellent points. Our denomination has passed it, and therefore we should give it due weight.

The first five points relate to the worship of God. They are preaching, sacraments, Sabbath, the Regulative Principle of Worship, and private, family, and corporate worship of God. Let’s take them one at a time.

Preaching is God’s ordained way of getting the Word to people. The Reformed dictum was that the preached Word of God is the Word of God. This generalization is understood to be qualified, of course, by the caution that the preaching must be accurate to what the text says in order to be the Word of God. Nevertheless, this qualification does not take the teeth out of the equation. This preaching, as Payne notes, must be “exegetical, Christ-centered, application-filled, expository preaching.” Notice that this is first in position, as taking pride of place, as it should. Recovery of this will result in the recovery of all the other points. For the rest of the points constitutes a great deal of the whole counsel of God, which is indeed what should be preached.

Sacraments are efficacious. Notice the presence of the word “efficacious” in the second paragraph. While we will not go Federal Vision on this issue, nevertheless, we need to remember that the Sacraments are ordinary means of grace. What kind of grace is conveyed to worthy recipients is a discussion for another time (it’s been discussed ad nauseum on this blog!). The point is that the signs are not empty signs. In other words, we do need a high view of the efficacy of the Sacraments. We need to use them as God has ordained. It is very easy to forget them, and it is also very easy to use them improperly. The Larger Catechism has a great deal to say about how we should use the Sacraments. We would do well to remind ourselves of these truths.

The Sabbath is becoming much neglected these days. I can hardly count the number of young men coming out of seminaries these days who take exception to the Catechism on the Fourth Commandment. They usually go further than this and deny that the purpose of the day is worship, and not some kind of idleness. I have even heard people denying that work is forbidden on the Sabbath day. Now, some of these men have actually done all the research into why and how the Westminster divines wrote what they wrote on the subject of the Sabbath. However, most of the time, they take an exception there only because it is fashionable to do so, and they haven’t a clue as to why the divines wrote what they did. They have done no exegesis of Isaiah 58:13-14. Therefore, they often have no clue as to why the “no recreation” clause is in the Larger Catechism.

The Regulative Principle is also coming under attack. Our Reformed forefathers would be incredulous, to tell you the truth, at some of the attacks on this doctrine that have come up within supposedly Reformed circles. Outright denial of this doctrine, or complete redefinition, is commonplace nowadays. The Regulative Principle is quite simply this: if the Bible has not commanded us to do a certain thing in worship, then we may not do it. If the Bible doesn’t mention it, then it’s forbidden. While this is stated negatively here, it actually has an extremely positive meaning: we are not bound in our conscience to do anything in worship invented by man. Humanity has no right to bind the conscience. Only the Word of God binds our conscience. Sometimes the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of justification receive so much of the limelight that we forget that the RPW can really be described as the third great principle of the Reformation alongside the other two of Scripture and justification. Probably the reason why it is not viewed that way is because the Lutherans do not accept this principle.

Fifthly, private, family, and public worship of God is what we were made to do. This is our highest purpose in life. It is more important than work, play, entertainment, eating, drinking, sports, arts, education, or even evangelism. John Piper understands this, which is why he said, “Evangelism exists because worship doesn’t.” Exactly. Evangelism exists for the purpose of our being God’s instruments to create worshipers of God. That’s the goal of evangelism. And we need to worship God on all these levels (private, family, and public) because each of these levels defines who we are in relation to God. God’s Word speaks to us on these three levels, and so also must we speak back to God on these three levels.

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28 Comments

  1. andrew said,

    July 9, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I must admit to being baffled by the ‘no-recreation’ teaching of our confession.

    Anyone recommend any books, articles or links?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    July 9, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I would recommend Joey Pipa’s book _The Lord’s Day_, and James Dennison’s book _The Market Day of the Soul_, as the two best resources. I have an article in volume 5 of the Confessional Presbyterian Journal on the no recreation clause, especially dealing with the exegesis of Isaiah 58:13-14, as well as the biblical-theological movement from Saturday to Sunday.

  3. Stephen Welch said,

    July 9, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Thanks for the reference to your article, Lane. The confession does make reference to Isaiah 58, which is clear. Certainly any public sporting events would be a violation of the confession.

    I was very excited about this motion from NW Georgia Presbytery. It was great to see the entire assembly vote for this one. This is the kind of strategic planning we need.

  4. July 9, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Andrew, with Lane, I also recommend his article in vol. 5 of the Confessional Presbyterian. It is the most thorough exegesis of Isa. 58:13-14 I’ve seen.

  5. Paige Britton said,

    July 9, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    I find I am woefully ignorant about the RPW. New(ish) Presby and all that. Is WCF 21 the extent of it, or is it stated somewhere else more thoroughly? I understand the principle, but am baffled by its interpretation. (i.e., I have no idea if I am in a church that is ignoring it, tweaking it, or following it.) Why so many differences among PCA churches re. “worship styles,” if we all affirm the RPW? Is there really that much flexibility in the principle, or, on the other hand, is there really that much ignorance of it / ignoring it?

  6. Cris S. said,

    July 9, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Paige,

    You may find the first part of this OPC report useful as an introduction to the RPW, and the rest of it for application of it: OPC Report on Involvement of Unordained Persons in Worship

  7. David Gray said,

    July 9, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Interesting to consider Calvin’s understanding that the Lord’s Supper is the “visible word” of God.

  8. July 9, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Lane, your final paragraph was particularly helpful and encouraging. Well said, and quotable! Thank you.

  9. Matthew Holst said,

    July 10, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Lane

    I’m not in the PCA but support John’s 17 points of renewal. Tell me though, what really does it mean that GA adopted this proposal, while still adopting largely the same Plan that John’s proposal opposed? I take little comfort in the fact that John’s proposals were supported – I mean – the PCA was hardly likely to vote against them! Is it not the modus operandi of the progressives of the PCA – affirm everything and hope to keep people happy? Everyone’s a winner! I’m glad John and his presbytery stood up for the truth, I just don’t think it is such a landmark for the PCA. By all means give it due weight here and in your church – but is this really going to practically affect the way the PCA thinks and works – I doubt it.

    Sorry to be a prophet of doom. Keep up the good work

    Matt

  10. greenbaggins said,

    July 10, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Paige, a couple of books I would recommend on worship: Terry Johnson’s _Reformed Worship: Worship That Is According to Scripture_, Ryken (edited) _Give Praise to God_, Jon Payne’s _In the Splendor of Holiness_, and Hart/Muether’s _With Reverence and Awe_, and, just recently, T. David Gordon’s book _Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns_. All of them are available at the WTS bookstore.

    Matthew, I hear you, and was also somewhat discouraged by the fact that we passed both the Strategic Plan and the NGP’s document. However, it does give us something positive to ground our conservative ideas of renewal. As such, Payne has given us something around which we can rally.

    Thanks, everyone else, for your kind comments.

  11. July 10, 2010 at 10:04 am

    “I have an article in volume 5 of the Confessional Presbyterian Journal on the no recreation clause, especially dealing with the exegesis of Isaiah 58:13-14, as well as the biblical-theological movement from Saturday to Sunday.

    Hi Lane,

    Do you know whether this article is on line?

    FYI – I too appreciate Pipa’s book, very much, and agree with no Sunday “recreation” with all my heart. It’s a blessing indeed and in no way exasperating for my household. We truly delight in the day. Properly understood, I think a proper observance is salvific.

    Warmly yours,

    Ron

  12. greenbaggins said,

    July 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

    I’ll email it to you, Ron. It’s not online. Though, really, you need to purchase the CPJ anyway.

  13. greenbaggins said,

    July 10, 2010 at 10:18 am

    David, both Sacraments can be thought of as visible preaching. Indeed, their efficacy is also best thought of as analogous to the Word of God. They are visible sermons of what Christ has done for His people.

  14. July 10, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Thanks, Lane. I just got the email.

    I went to the site and it would appear that all five volumes can be purchased for five dollars more than the price of two. I’m trying locate a table of contents for the respective volumes, but at the price I might just go ahead and take the blue light special.

    Thanks again……….ron

  15. Paige Britton said,

    July 10, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks, Lane, for the book recs! I’ll look those up. (Though I did blow most of my book allowance this year BEFORE the WTS moving sale, thanks to your earlier recs… :)

  16. greenbaggins said,

    July 10, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    What can I say, Paige? I’m an expensive guy to know…;-)

  17. Paige Britton said,

    July 10, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    yeah, if only your influence wasn’t so great…

  18. rfwhite said,

    July 10, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Lane: your comments about the Sabbath came as a surprise, not in the candidates’ declarations of difference on the “no recreation” clause, but in the other matters you mention. Can you say what the courts did in those cases? That is, did the courts judge those candidates’ declared differences to be exceptions neither hostile to the system nor striking at the vitals of religion?

  19. Robert Berman said,

    July 12, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Re #18, The courts typically declare Sabbath recreation exceptions to be “neither hostile to the system nor striking at the vitals of religion.”

    Re #9, Progressives did not vote for the 17 points just to “hope to keep people happy.” They voted for it because the 17 points reflect gospel priorities which everyone in the PCA shares. Why suggest an impure motive?

    Re #5, the RPW does indeed allow substantial latitude in how the elements of worship should be implemented in a particular church.

  20. David Gray said,

    July 12, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    I think DG Hart says it well regarding the Lord’s Supper as visible Word.

    The Supper as Visible Word & Sacrament

    In addition to his understanding of prayer, Calvin’s estimate of the Lord’s Supper gives further warrant to Presbyterians searching for high-church liturgy. Any Presbyterian frustrated by the monthly to quarterly administration of the Supper in most Presbyterian and Reformed churches will find Calvin’s desire for weekly observance a welcome tonic. But even more important than the liturgical adjustment that weekly observance of the Sacrament requires—not just in the length but also in the gravity of the service—is Calvin’s understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Supper.

    The feature of Reformed worship that distinguishes it from the other Reformation traditions is the centrality of the sermon. And it is precisely the practice of a lengthy exposition of Scripture that appears to conflict with a high regard (and frequent administration) of the Supper. Some have argued that by making the Word of God so central in worship and thus placing great weight upon the sermon, the Reformed tradition has neglected the latter half of Word and Sacrament.

    Although later Reformed Christians and Presbyterians may have slighted the Lord’s Supper, Calvin did not do so, nor did earlier generations of Reformed believers. In fact, rather than regarding the Supper as something that supplements the more central ministry of the Word, Calvin taught that the elements of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were visible forms of the Word. Just as the sermon communicates verbally the promise of God’s forgiveness in Christ, so the Sacraments represent those same promises graphically. Calvin wrote, “He is mistaken who thinks that something more is conferred on him by the Sacraments than is offered by the word of God and received by true faith.”

    At the same time, if the Sacraments present no more than the Word preached, the inverse can also be affirmed, namely that Baptism and the Supper confer no less. As Brian A. Gerrish has argued, “the sacraments, like preaching, are the vehicle of Christ’s self-communication, of the real presence.” “Only the most perverse misreading,” Gerrish adds, “could conclude that the sacraments for Calvin have a purely symbolic or pedagogical function.”

    For this reason it is fitting for those who stand in the Calvinist tradition to speak of the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s presence in the Sacrament stems from the nature of signs as Calvin conceived of them. Though it is possible to distinguish the sign from the thing signified, Calvin wrote that this is a “distinction without division.” In other words, it may be possible to distinguish the substance from the sign, but it was impossible to separate them. And because Christ himself is the substance of the Supper, the bread and wine are nothing less than, in the words of Gerrish, “pledges of the real presence.”

  21. rfwhite said,

    July 13, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    19 Robert Berman: Yes, I acknowledged in #18 and know well from personal experience that church courts typically declare a man’s difference on Sabbath recreation to an exception that are “neither hostile to the system nor striking at the vitals of religion.” My question for Lane pertained to the additional descriptions that he provided, namely that candidates “usually go further than this and deny that the purpose of the day is worship, and not some kind of idleness. I have even heard people denying that work is forbidden on the Sabbath day.”

  22. rfwhite said,

    July 13, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Forgive the typos in 21: it should read ” … to be an exception that is … “

  23. reedhere said,

    July 14, 2010 at 4:10 am

    David: what a great post!

  24. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 16, 2010 at 12:19 am

    Great post about Preaching, Sacraments, Sabbath, RPW, and Worships. I would comment in general I think not many people take them seriously (or as seriously) is because the Seminary (speaking only for WTS which I attended) hasn’t major on them (except Preaching.) If they are so important, as we all seem to agree they are, then they are way-under-taught in the Seminary (at least when I was there, which is 7+ years ago, hopefully things changed.)

    Students follow the teachers and follow where their teachers major on. If a teacher falls in love with teaching all the ins-n-outs of Justification, then the students will fall in love with all the ins-n-outs of Justification. I wonder of it is not just PCA (or any Reformed Confessional Denomination) that needs to wake up and recommit itself, but Reformed Seminaries should also examine what they are teaching and what they should be teaching. Any resolutions cannot stand if the young leaders are foreign and not as exposed to them as they should be.

  25. Richard said,

    July 29, 2010 at 4:42 am

    Hi Lane,

    How would you interract with Frame’s argument concerning recreation on pp. 544-547 in his The Doctrine of the Christian Life?

    I’d be especially interested to know what you do with your children on the Sabbath and how you would organise a church weekend away for the kids, i.e. what would they do?

    I’d be interested to see a copy of your article if you are happy to email me a copy.

  26. Richard said,

    July 29, 2010 at 4:56 am

    Oh and there is Charles Jacob’s “Eat the Fat, Drink the Sweet, and Be Merry: A Biblical Defense For Play on the Lord’s Day”. Personally I have always been of the ‘no recreation’ view but am just thinking it all through again.

  27. greenbaggins said,

    July 29, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Richard, I would go about it this way. First of all, I disagree with his footnote 24 on page 244. The basis of the no recreation clause is Isaiah 58, not particularly Exodus 20:8. His assertion makes it seem like the divines did not know how to distinguish between work and play. Secondly, his definition of “hefets” is simply “the will of a human being” (p. 545). But this would include recreation as being the will of a human being, would it not? In other words, his definition of the word does not get him out of difficulties here. His statement “If recreation is pleasant, enjoyable activity, as opposed to toil, then the Sabbath itself is by nature recreational” equivocates on the definition of the word “recreational.” He opposes recreation to work, when the true opposite of work is rest leading to worship. He thinks, based on his misunderstanding of the divines’ interpretation of Exodus 20:8, that since the divines included recreation under the category of “work,” that therefore the divines thought it only appropriate to the other six days. However, if recreation is not included under the category of work, then his argument falls to the ground. Also, he seems to think that the Puritan view was the dour-faced deprivation as instanced in, say, Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I would say no. The Puritans told us to delight ourselves IN THE LORD. If we cannot do that without resorting to entertainment for ourselves, then we have problems.

    I define recreation, though, as excluding things like walks to enjoy creation, and even the strictest Puritanical view in evidence today recognizes that the energy of children needs to be directed in some form of activity. With them, it is a work of necessity to get the fidgets out of them so that they can properly worship. I therefore have no problem with activities that promote fellowship, and promote worship. We try to do those. Joey Pipa has some good advice on this score.

    My article is in the Confessional Presbyterian Journal, volume 5. You should purchase the CPJ, anyway, since there are so many good articles in there. http://www.cpjournal.com

  28. Richard said,

    July 29, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Hi Lane,

    Thanks for the response.

    How would you define recreation?

    What I find confusing in Frame’s presentation is that what he would allow (e.g. play) I would exclude on the grounds of what he says – “There is of course a difference between feasting before the Lord and mere secular entertainment. Since the Sabbath is a holy day unto the Lord, Sabbath recreation should be focussed upon him.” Further, he states that whilst recreation is permissable in general “This doesn’t mean that all forms of recreation are appropriate for the Sabbath day.”


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