Extra Services?

The Puritans generally rejected extra services of worship besides the Sunday Sabbath services. They lived in a context where the churches in power tended to require lots of extra services. There were feast-days, holy days, saint-days, etc. The Puritans believed that requiring all these extra services bound the conscience to something that was not God’s Word. Their position became clear: only the Sunday services of worship were required by Scripture. However, they did not forbid extra services entirely. WCF 21.5 states that “thanksgivings upon special occasions” are appropriate. The WCF does not specify what those special occasions are. We know from the rest of the standards that none of these extra services can be forced upon the people. However, that is a very different thing from saying that therefore they are not allowed.

If a congregation, therefore, decides that it wants to give thanks to God generally by holding a Thanksgiving service; give thanks to God for the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas; and give thanks to God for Christ’s resurrection at Easter, this does not fall foul of the Regulative Principle, and it falls within the parameters of WCF 21.5. The congregation would then have decided that those are the special occasions on which it wants to give thanks. If someone were to respond by saying “those aren’t special occasions,” I would respond by saying, “who gets to decide what the special occasions are?” Is it not the congregation, led by the session? In my situation, for instance, the congregation is used to having a Thanksgiving service, a Christmas service and an Easter service. No one feels bound in their conscience to go. They go freely. This is very different, obviously, from what the Puritans were facing, in terms of required services.

Now, can we require people to go to extra services? Of course not. That would definitely be a violation of Scripture. Nor could we, hypothetically speaking, discipline anyone who did not come to the special services. They must be kept voluntary. This is the understanding of many Reformed churches through the years. One could not fault a church for holding only to the Sabbath services. However, it seems to go too far to judge churches that have Christmas and Easter services. There seems to be a range here of acceptable practice.

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9 Comments

  1. reiterations said,

    November 11, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    You must be on a real tear, Lane. You’ve had thought-provoking posts here almost every day this month!

  2. greenbaggins said,

    November 11, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    I am trying to resurrect the blog. It is good discipline for my mind.

  3. Bob S said,

    November 12, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    If we are going to do justice to the question, much more the primary sources, the range of “acceptable practice” for the Puritan divines is further delineated in the Directory for Public Worship which, along with the Directory for Church Government, was also included in the charge from the Solemn League and Covenant for religious uniformity. The Confession and Catechisms were never intended to stand or be interpreted alone.

    For instance the Appendix to the Directory for Publick (sic) Worship says:

    THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.
    Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.

    Neither were the divines talking about Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving in the previous respective rubrics on days of fasting and thanksgiving in the DPW.

    FTM if Gillespie, a Scotch delegate to the Westminster Assembly, in his Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland rings the changes on all the (Anglican) arguments for days observing different events in the life of Christ, as well as anniversary days that like rote clockwork are observed in the church, what are we left with? Arguing for worship services, but not days?

    True, Calvin was more than willing to preach on a Lord’s Day before or after Dec. 25th regarding the birth of Christ, but again the day itself or a “Christmas service”?
    I don’t think so.

    Rather with the Westminster divines, the church of Christ has enough days already in the year (52) to preach about the life of Christ as well as give thanks rather than following hard on the footsteps of familiar customs/superstitions or the civil magistrate, which if we do not flee, we at least do not countenance as a church.

    Two kingdom aside, what business does the church of Jesus Christ in America have in regularly observing the annual day of thanksgiving called for by the president? Roe Wade anyone? How about Obergfel?

    I mean at least if we are going to talk about reasons for taking a knee during the weekly call to worship in respective congregations in the Church of the NFL

    Oh, wrong church.

    Never mind.

  4. Pete Rambo said,

    November 13, 2017 at 4:04 am

    Lane,

    Could you please send me your current mailing address through my ‘contact us’ page. My co-author and I have just finished a book (gong to the printer this week…) in which you are listed in the Acknowledgments and we would like to send you a complimentary copy. The book is titled Ten Parts in the King; The Prophesied Reconciliation of God’s Two Witnesses.

    Thank you, sir,

    Pete Rambo

  5. greenbaggins said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Pete, I have extremely limited shelf-space at this point in time, and it is needed mostly for my Th.M. and Ph.D. books. Could you first send me an electronic copy, so that I can determine if it is a book I want in my library? Thanks.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Bob, it is well-known that many, if not most Puritans, held the position you outline. I have my doubts whether they all did. And certainly not all the Reformed did. Given the fact that the Westminster divines did not outline the process or criteria for determining which extra services might be added, there is still some leeway. I am also choosing to pay special attention to the historical situation of the Westminster divines, which is radically different than today’s situation. What they were reacting against is just as important as any other historical or literary context that we can identify.

  7. Pete Rambo said,

    November 13, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    @#5, Yes, I would be happy to do so upon publication. Either a comp Amazon Kindle link or a pdf?

    Thanks.

  8. Pete Rambo said,

    November 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Oh, btw, https://tenpartsintheking.com/ for flavor and chapter headings and short preview.

  9. Bob S said,

    November 14, 2017 at 12:02 am

    GB, there is no need to outline the process or criteria per se. The days of fasting and thanksgiving outlined in the Directory clearly do not lend themselves to being turned into special worship services respecting various aspects of Christ’s life, which in themselves are a way of getting around the religious feastdays which are also plainly reprobated. IOW respectfully, bluntly and briefly. a shell game is not an argument.
    9/11 different story. We even had a ecumenical service in the National Cathedral called by the pres who wasn’t even presbyterian.

    Legalized abortion and homosexual marriage is “radically different” than pagan Rome or England during the the 1640″s?

    Many or most of the Puritans is no matter. The question of the OP was in re. to the WCF which while it mentioned the “rest of the standards” really did not do justice to them in attempting to substitute Christmas and Easter services for days of fasting and thanksgiving. (Turkey day doesn’t count because it is an annual rote anniversary day that is observed regardless of Gaia/the Big Bang’s judgements or blessings.)

    thnx

    .


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