Roundup Response

I don’t know whether this will be my last response or not, but I do want to thank Dr. Clark for his challenging and helpful posts. I am having a ball doing this, and I’m hoping he is, too. I’m learning a lot, and am being forced to think through many things about worship, which is always a plus. I plan on replying to both of his posts, so that we can sort of get back to one post, rather than potentially confusing 2-part responses. Part 1 of his reply is here.

The first part of his response has to do with the distinction between public and private worship. I must admit to being a tad confused here. I re-read my own post and was reassured to find that I hadn’t actually disagreed with that distinction. If I may ask, what was it in my post that gave rise to a feeling on Dr. Clark’s part that he needed to defend that distinction? Maybe some of the comments challenged that understanding. But I agree with his distinction, as long as it is understood that there is still at least some sort of organic connection between the two (a connection which does not require the same things of one worship as it does of the other). I do not see the same elements required in the one as in the other, and yet the covenantal context for both would suggest an organic connection. Moving on, then.

Regarding the question of consciences, specifically, the consciences of people who think that hymns are biblical, he writes:

The original Reformed understanding of Scripture and the original understanding of our confession was that God will have us praise him only with his Word. If that’s right, and no one has shown from Scripture or in principle that understanding was wrong, then that must be our goal.

Now, I can agree with this principle whole-heartedly, actually. The question is whether it is required that the Word be sung ipsissima verba only, or whether songs that summarize the teaching of the Word also sing the Word. I do not see in Scripture the principle that only the minister may summarize the Scripture and that the congregation is forbidden to do so. We both agree, of course, that worship must be biblical. However, I would ask what biblical warrant there is for saying that the congregation may not summarize in song, while the minister may summarize in prayers, preaching, etc. I am not convinced that this is simply an issue of distinguishing between the two offices. The question, it seems to me, revolves around what the content actually does.

Concerning biblicism, I would be the last person to accuse Dr. Clark of being, in general, biblicistic. I hesitated a long time before even using that word, given his rather vociferous objections to biblicism in other contexts. To focus the question a bit more, I would ask this: why are hymns that summarize biblical content not biblical? I suspect that he views this as his answer:

The response of God’s people to his Word in the setting of public worship is not primarily didactic (although it always has that function) but doxological and God’s Word is entirely sufficient for doxology.

To me, it is not clear why saying that the singing is doxological answers the question. For instance, there are many Psalms that are not doxological. There are many Scriptures that we might sing that are not (at least explicitly) doxological. For instance, Psalm 1 is most definitely a wisdom Psalm, is it not? Psalm 88 is hardly doxological, but is rather a lament. So, should all the congregational singing be classified as doxological? In order to do that, one has to broaden the category of doxology to include many things that are not typically regarded as doxology. How useful does the category become after that? Dr. Clark admits that the congregation’s involvement always has a didactic function, even though that is not primary. Admitting the various genres of biblical song, then, gets us to this point: if there is a didactic function (even though not primary), then why would summary be rejected? Didactic function always has an element of summary, does it not? If the singing of the congregation has any didactic function at all, then summary should be seen as part of that function.

As to my unintentional mis-characterization of his argument, I did not mean to imply in any way that our “wish” was determinative of worship. I was referring to the fact that God’s people desire to worship God in God’s way. God’s will is our command when it comes to worship. “What does God require in worship?” is certainly the essence of the question.

Moving on to his second post, he argues that my question regarding the metrical versions of Psalms and paraphrase overlooks the distinction between circumstances and elements. He argues that translation is a circumstance, and so, therefore, would meter be a circumstance. My response would be this: then why couldn’t the difference between ipsissima verba and summary be a circumstance? What biblical basis is there for relegating meter to circumstance and not summary or paraphrase? Again, I am assuming here that any hymn in question here is an accurate summary of Scripture. There are, of course, many hymns that are not accurate summaries of Scripture. These should never be considered for worship.

As to the next point concerning who chooses the music, I am not sure that we have gotten to the point here. My point in bringing up the fact that the pastor chooses the music is not to say that such an action confuses the two offices of minister and believer. My point is rather that if the minister chooses the music, then the office of the believer cannot be seen as the sole determining factor for the choice of music. The office of minister is also involved in the choosing of music. And if that is so, then it seems to me that summary is allowable, and Dr. Clark’s objections regarding the separation of office would not hold, since both offices are involved.

I found Dr. Clark’s discussion of creeds most interesting and revealing. He admits that he has been on both sides of this issue in the past (I’m not sure which side he is on now, though it seems like he agrees with Calvin on this). He regards creeds this way: “Calvin’s practice can be justified, however, insofar as the use of creeds by the congregation, in public worship, falls under the heading of “Word” (one of the two basic elements of worship).” Presumably, the singing of the congregation also falls under the same category of Word, does it not? So the question becomes this: if ecclesiastically sanctioned summaries of the Word in the Creeds are the Word, why not ecclesiastically sanctioned summaries of the Word in song?

As to liturgies, I agree that we should be ransacking the old Reformed liturgies of Geneva, Scotland, England, Holland, the Palatinate, and other places for their immense riches. I have been doing this recently, to my great profit and (I hope!) for the great profit of my congregations. They are wonderfully simple, aren’t they? And yet, they are the simplicity of majesty, not the simplicity of naïvete.

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