Response to Dr. Clark

I am so excited about an EP debate that doesn’t have advocates of each position at each other’s throats (see the many excellent comments on the previous post), that I want to continue this discussion. Dr. Clark has favored me with an excellent response on his blog, with many weighty arguments that will require careful consideration. And, if he wishes to leave me with that word as a sufficient reply, I will not complain.

Dr. Clark’s first argument is to this effect: there is no such thing as a “good hymn” (contrary to my assertion otherwise) for worship, any more than there is a “good” rendition of Jesus Christ in art. Dr. Clark doesn’t say this, but I presume that it is implied that he regards both as equal violations of the second commandment. Furthermore, he argues that public worship and private worship are different things. He would agree with the use of “A Mighty Fortress,” for instance, in the context of private worship, but not in public worship. These are, of course, two distinct parts of his response. We can boil it down to these two assertions: 1. There is no such thing as a good hymn for public worship, and 2. Public worship and private worship are distinct categories. Now, I agree with Dr. Clark’s position on pictures of Jesus. Why is it, then, that I would not agree with his position on hymns? Does his analogy hold? I would argue that it does not hold, for the following reasons. The debate is not about the difference between modes of portrayal of Jesus (we follow the Word’s portrayal of Jesus, not a pictorial portrayal), but rather about the content of the one element of worship, namely, singing. So the question could be framed in this way: if a hymn’s content is a summary of some aspect of the Bible’s teaching, or of some particular Scripture passage, why would that be in a different category from a verbatim singing of that same Scripture? Although Dr. Clark could never be accused of being biblicistic, does his approach come close to what we might call “singing biblicism?”

Secondly, in answer to my question of whether singing hymns is a mark of liberalism, he responds by saying that singing hymns is a mark of indifference to God’s law, and is oppressive to the consciences of those who do not wish to be bound by the consistory/session to sing anything other than the ipsissima verba of Scripture. So my response would be this: if someone, in their conscience, believed that singing hymns was not only biblical but mandated by Scripture, would the consistory/session be binding their conscience by forbidding the singing of hymns in worship? Could this binding thing, in other words, go in reverse? My congregations, for instance, love hymns. We sing Psalms, too, but they can’t get enough of hymns. If I ever tried to restrict the singing to Scripture-only, there would be quite the resistance. They would claim that their consciences were being bound. In RRC, Dr. Clark claims that “Where those who would ask worshipers to sing uninspired songs might think that they are exercising Christian liberty, in fact, they are impinging on the liberty of Christians” (p. 243). Now, this would be true of people who believe in Scripture-only songs in public worship. But how exactly is that true if the whole congregation believes that singing hymns is biblical? He would probably answer that it is a question of “time, pastoral care, and patient instruction to help elders and laity to understand the RPW once again” (p. 265). Perhaps. I’m not sure that’s very workable in most cases. I have not yet seen why it is that the ipsissima verba is required in all circumstances for the congregation as their dialogical response to God speaking to them. A hymn that summarizes what the Bible says is, it seems to me, in the same category as the ipsissima verba. I will address the rest of his post tomorrow, Lord-willing.

Patrick Madrid, Part 2

It’s been a while since I have done a post on the Roman Catholic book Not By Scripture Alone, so read here for my last entry in the series. We left off there talking about the appeal to the majority that Madrid uses that ultimately leaves the Scripture useless. In this post, I would like to address the question of the early church fathers (hereafter ECF), and who is quoting them correctly and who is not, and what they can prove and what they cannot.

It is my opinion that there are several opinions that can be found in the ECF on the question of authority. The bare fact of the matter is that there was only one church at the time. The issues that now divide Romanists and Protestants were not as front and center then as they would be later in history. The early church was more concerned about Christology and the Trinity in their debates (although Pelagianism was certainly a very important debate). This is not to say that they did not think long and hard about some of these issues concerning authority. It is to say that more than one opinion can be found there. This is in contrast to what Madrid says (slanders!) about the Protestant position. He seems to be claiming that Protestants think of ALL the ECF as proto-Protestants “who promoted an unvarnished doctrine of sola scriptura that would have made John Calvin proud” (p. 6). I would claim that the Protestant position on the Bible can certainly be found in the ECF. Can Rome claim that there is support from some of the ECF for the papacy? Yes, they can (which in no way makes their claim correct. After all, the ECF were not infallible). Some of the ECF thought of the Roman bishop as a first among equals (although whether they would have claimed all that the modern Pope claims is another question entirely). Nevertheless, there were also plenty of ECF who did say things that the Protestants would say later. If this is true, then the Romanists were wrong to kick out the Protestants from the church on the basis of the ECF. When Calvin quoted the ECF, his Romanist opponents were speechless.

A related problem to this is how we determine whose interpretation of the ECF is correct. The Romanists claim that the Protestants selectively quote the ECF (see Madrid, p. 6). The Protestants will claim that Romanists selectively quote the ECF. How is one going to determine who is quoting the ECF correctly? The Romanist has a ready-made answer for that: the church tells us how to understand the ECF just as it tells us how to interpret the Scriptures. How convenient! But then the ECF cease to be the real authority, don’t they? What it really comes down to, in the end, is the current church’s position: that is what is authoritative. Tradition is no longer authoritative, the current church is what is authoritative. But if that is the case, then the church is completely unteachable. At least, the church can never be shown to be wrong on any occasion. But wouldn’t this contradict the letters to the seven churches in Asia? Didn’t the Holy Spirit tell them that they were wrong on certain points of doctrine and practice? The next post will deal with Madrid’s example of Basil.