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.