The Regulative Principle of “Liturgical Sameness?” (Steve Tipton)

In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)–the denomination in which I serve as a minister of the Gospel–quite a number of ministers lament the fact that you can attend five of our churches (all within the same city) only to have five very different worship experiences. Additionally, these same ministers lament what seems to be an utter lack of any kind of corporate worship identity within the denomination as a whole. It is indisputable that there is a lack of uniformity in worship practices within the denomination. In light of that truth, the questions that we should be asking are: “Why is there such diversity regarding worship practices in the PCA?” and “Should we view this diversity as a negative thing?”

Some have suggested that the basis for such divergence in worship practices is due, at least in large part, to a lack of understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW)–a principle that is found in Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Others have suggested that it is due to the fact that the “Directory for the Worship of God” (a section of the PCA’s Book of Church Order) is mostly, non-binding upon the church. Still others have intimated that it is due to what they perceive to be a descent into the dark valley of the Judges, where everyone merely does what is right in their own eyes.

Whatever one may say, of this much we may agree: There is a lack of understanding of the RPW on the part of many who enter into this debate. The PCA’s “Directory for Worship” functions merely as an advisory document; and, apart from chapters 56-58, the Directory has no “force of law” in the PCA. Regardless of that fact, I want to make the following observations about the the greater issues that lie behind the widespread divergence in worship practices in the PCA:

First, I have observed an almost universal lack of understanding as to what the Regulative Principle of Worship actually is. Therefore, there is …

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Luther, and the Creative Power of the Word (Robert Brady)

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and WFIL 560 AM have had a long partnership. In addition to broadcasting The Bible Study Hour with James Boice and No Falling Word with Liam Goligher, they are one of the sponsors of this year’s Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology taking place in Bryn Mawr April 28-30. Advance registration ends on April 23, we encourage you to attend. WFIL’s most recent issue of their magazine FaithTalk features articles on the Reformation including “Luther, and the Creative Power of the Word” by Carl Trueman. Carl, co-host on Mortification of Spin, will be joining us as a conference speaker at PCRT. His article is shared here with permission. Luther, and the Creative Power of the WordThe importance of Luther to the Christian faith cannot be overstated. For many today, he is probably a figure who looks larger as a symbol of defiance or a heroic rebel against a corrupt church and decadent theology.There is much truth in such images. His stand at the Diet of Worms was a remarkable act of courageous defiance. And his theology represented nothing less than a self-conscious attempt to overthrow the medieval thought which he had been taught and replace it with a comprehensive understanding of God and the gospel as refracted the incarnate and crucified Christ.Yet there is more to Luther. Indeed, perhaps his greatest contribution to the faith, and one that we can still learn from today, is his understanding of God’s Word. When we hear this term, our modern evangelical minds typically go to the contemporary debates about inerrancy, infallibility, interpretation and the like. Certainly such questions are legitimate. But for Luther the central point about the Word of God was its creative power. God’s speech is the means by which he does things – makes, destroys, blesses, curses.The idea of the Word as creative is particularly evident in Luther’s Lectures on Genesis.  In reflecting upon Genesis 1, Luther is constantly mesmerized b…

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Ethnic Inclusion, Gender Roles and the Diaconate (William Castro)

In recent years, two ecclesiological issues have come to overshadow almost all others–namely, racial reconciliation and the role of women in the church. There is no shortage of Biblical and historical teaching on these issues, but a serious consideration of Acts 6 is in order if we are seeking to shed light on the way in which these two important matters are met by the formation of the Diaconate (diakonia). In short, Acts 6:1-7 is exceedingly instructive in helping to pave the way toward greater ethnic and gender inclusion in the church.

In Acts 6:1-7, we discover one of the God-instituted means of fostering unity in Christ among various groups in the church in which strong cultural and social differences existed. In the context of the early church, these difference were not limited to, yet included culture and language. At the inception of the New Covenant church, certain Christian Hellenistic Jews–who had not come from the mainstream Hebraic culture of the Apostles–began to complain about discrimination in the daily distributions. The Scriptures do not tell us whether the complaint was verifiable or whether it was a false accusation. Regardless, ignoring the complaint or dismissing it as a simple “misunderstanding” was not the solution proposed by the Apostles. Nor was the solution to follow the common temptation to separate minorities according to their language or cultural preference. Rather, the solution was to form the diakonia. The Apostles insisted that it was their duty to give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (diakonia tou logou), while the church was to elect and ordain certain men to the ministry of the tables (diakonein trapezais). This was the way in which the Apostles solved the problem of disunity.

This solution secured the inclusion and appreciation of the Hellenistic members of the church. Interestingly, the majority of the seven men whom the church appointed to the work themselves had Hellenistic names–names that…

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Geniuses by Enhancement (Bruce Baugus)

Medical procedures for healthy people are nothing new. Surgeries to augment or “enhance” this or that physical feature for “cosmetic” purposes are rather common. According to widely cited statistics supplied by The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, one out of every twenty American women and one out of every five South Korean women have had some form of invasive cosmetic surgery. (This excludes Botox and filler injections, which are considered non-invasive, and reconstructive surgeries, which are not considered cosmetic.)

As cosmetic surgery became a middle class commodity, the ethics of human enhancement flitted across the public mind. But in an era when sex-reassignment surgeries to treat gender dysphoria are covered by standard medical plans, ethical questions about cosmetic enhancements, though not trivial, seem quaint.

An Enhancement Revolution?

New developments in science, medicine, and technology, however, are poised to dramatically raise the ethical ante–and are attracting both popular and academic attention. In a National Science Foundation funded report published in Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology, Allhoff, Lin, Moor, and Weckert note that “since the beginning of history, we . . . have wanted to become more than human, to become Homo superior. . . . We have dreamt–and still dream–of transforming ourselves to overcome our all-too-human limitations.” Indeed, the opportunity to grasp an illusion of equality with God, in terms of knowing good and evil, was the seductive suggestion of the tempter in Eden (Gen. 3:4-7).

The ability to fundamentally alter our humanity, however, has long been the domain of myth, fiction, and lies.

But today, something seems to be different. With ongoing work to unravel the mysteries of our minds and bodies, coupled with the art and science of emerging technologies, we are near the start of the Human Enhancement Revolution (“Ethics of Human Enhancement,” 2010).

The quest to transform humanity by si…

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If Christ is Not Risen… (Nick Batzig)

I’ve always had something of an aversion to the “if Christianity is not true what do you lose” sort of apologetical approach–precisely because Scripture is God’s word and because it is perfect in all that God reveals in it. To raise the question almost seems to inadvertantly jeopardize the veracity of it. Nevertheless, that is precisely the kind of reasoning that the Apostle Paul utilized in 1 Corinthians 15 after he appealed to the clear teaching of Scripture about Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-3). Writing to a church that was in danger of allowing false teaching to creep in, the Apostle tackled the issue of what was at stake if we deny the resurrection. Beginning in verse 12, Paul raises eight “ifs” (following them up with some of the weightiest of all theology) in order to explain the significance of the resurrection for the life of the believers. Consider the following eight “ifs” about the implications of denying the resurrection:If Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (v. 12)If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen…If the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. (vv. 13, 16)If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. (v. 14)We are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up–if in fact the dead do not rise. (v. 15)If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (vv. 17-18)If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (v. 19)If the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? (v. 29)If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (v. 32)According to the Apostle’s argument, one can categorize all that is lost–if the resurrection never occurred–under th…

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The Greek Orthodox Answer Man? (Nick Batzig)

The news of Hank Hanegraaff’s conversion to the Greek Orthodox faith has–not surprisingly–elicited a variety of responses from individuals online. On Twitter, one controversial progressive pastor welcomed Hanegraaff (quite ironically, I would add) to “a greater tradition than biblicism.” Christianity Today featured an article in which the author drew the conclusion that “Hanegraaff’s conversion gives evangelicals one more bridge to Orthodoxy.” A Protestant blogger has sarcastically suggested that “Hanegraaff…should try doing his radio program for a month while relying strictly on Orthodox resources.” The spectrum of opinions has been exceedingly wide ranging; yet, very few have dealt, in any substantive way, with what the Greek Orthodox Church actually believes. It seems to me that before any of us draw conclusions about Hanegraaff’s “conversion,” we should want to understand that to which he has “converted.” Frank Gavin–the Anglican Priest and noted Orthodox scholar–has written a thorough and trustworthy Systematic Theology of Greek Orthodox dogma that goes under the title Some Aspects of Contemporary Greek Orthodox Thought. The breadth of this work serves as a helpful resource to which one may turn when seeking to answer the question, “What does the Greek Orthodox Church believe?” While all pastors and seminarians should do themselves the enormous favor of working through the totality of this work, I want to limit this post to a brief consideration of what the Greek Orthodox Church believes about authority, justification and the nature of the Church. Under the heading “Sources of Dogma,” Gavin noted that in the Orthodox Church, Scripture and tradition “are of equal weight.” In the Orthodox Catechism, we read, “Tradition, as an historical event, begins with the Apostolic preaching and is found in Scriptures, but it is kept, treasured, interpreted, and explained to the Church by the Holy Fathers, the successors of the Apostles.” As the Gree…

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My Jesus, I Love You; Your Bride I Despise! (Aaron Denlinger)

Last week the Barna Group informed us that a whopping ten percent of America’s population “love Jesus but not the church.” Lack of “love” for the church, for Barna’s purposes, is essentially measured by lack of attendance at religious services. Few of those self-identifying with this group would profess contempt for the church. Some, to be sure, do have an admitted bone to pick with the church, but most, it seems, simply can’t be bothered with her. But on the principle that neglect is really a rather potent form of contempt, I think we might define these individuals collectively as professed Jesus-lovers but church-despisers.

The really remarkable thing about this segment of our population is that, at least according to Barna’s editor-in-chief Roxanne Stone, they “still believe in Scripture.” To be sure, the numbers reveal they rarely read Scripture. I’m not sure how convincing or compelling one’s “belief” in Scripture can actually be labeled if the one in question never reads the Bible. Presumably the conviction that Scripture is, say, God-breathed and profitable for doctrine and praxis would inspire one (no pun intended) to pick it up occasionally. Still, we’re told that these individuals “believe in Scripture,” and yet feel no apparent compulsion to follow the rather obvious biblical injunctions to assemble and participate in those rituals that Jesus ordered his assembled followers to perform.

Forgive my bluntness, but claiming to love Jesus while wanting nothing to do with the church is just stupid. If the “Jesus” we’re talking about is the God-man whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension is described and defined for us by the inspired writings of those he commissioned to disciple the nations, then the “church” we’re talking about must be the entity described and defined for us by those same writings. The “church,” according to those writings, is Christ’s bride, whom he loves, whom he nourishes, whom he died for (see Eph. 5:25-32). As the hymnist puts i…

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The Necessity of Preaching (Ryan McGraw)

Salvation is an expansive term. It essentially means “safety.” Salvation includes the application of Christ’s work from the new birth, through faith and repentance, to Justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. Christians share in Christ’s benefits because they are united to him through faith and they enjoy communion in all his benefits. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8), we are being saved (2 Cor. 2:15), and we shall be saved (Rom. 5:9). God uses means such as the Word, the sacraments, and prayer to save sinners (WSC 88). We receive Christ by faith as we use his appointed means to foster and to exercise our faith.

Is reading the Bible in private enough to save us? Not ultimately. Like the Bereans, we must receive the preached Word “with all readiness” and we must search the Scriptures daily “to find out whether these things [are] so” (Acts 17:11). Preaching is necessary for salvation because it is the ordinary means through which we hear Christ and are saved by him. This passage explains why preaching is necessary, who should do it, what it proclaims, its opposition, and its purpose. These truths show us why we need preaching as a means of promoting our salvation through union and communion with Christ.The necessity of preaching of so clearly highlighted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 10, where he wrote:”How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14-17).

Preaching is necessary because people need to hear Christ in order to believe in him for salvation. Romans 9-11 answers the qu…

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Mike Pence, “Truth’s Table” and Fencing the Law (Richard D. Phillips)

The last week provided more disturbing information on the collapse of civilization and reason in secular America. Vice President Mike Pence revealed that he follows the “Billy Graham Rule,” refraining from private meals with women other than his wife in order to protect his marriage from adultery. The secular media responded with hysteria, describing Pence’s policy as “rape culture” (National Post), “sexist” (LA Times), “perpetuating patriarchy” (TIME), and “prophylactic gender separatism” (New Yorker).

Apparently, the leftist media has not noticed how sexual sin has destroyed the American family, wreaking untold ruin to marriages and causing heartbreak to children whose homes are broken. The same media that savaged President Trump (rightly) for his sexual offenses cannot stomach Mike Pence taking prudent steps to avoid the same. Not only is Vice President Pence seeking to ensure that he remains faithful to his wife but also for her to be free from anxiety over the kinds of marital threats that are rife in the workplace. Years ago, I also began practicing the “Billy Graham Rule,” as I think all pastors are wise to do. (It’s actually not that hard and it doesn’t exclude women, since meals can easily be arranged to include more than two.) While the media savages Pence for having so little sexual self-control that he will not eat privately with a woman, the reality is exactly the opposite. Self-control is best manifested not in the face of temptation but in the avoidance of it. Leftist American culture simply does not understand fallen human nature: it is not perverse to think that close working relationships between the sexes are likely to lead to marital infidelity, but rather wisdom.

While the mocking of godly wisdom among pagan media elites is troubling, it is not surprising. But it is noteworthy to find similar reasoning coming from fellow Reformed Christians. At the same time that the liberal media was going apoplectic over Pence’s Christian prudence, a group …

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The Eternal Subordination of the Son Debate: Concluding Reflections (Part 1) (Alastair Roberts)

In an online context, where conversations move at a breakneck speed, we so often fail to carve out time for proper deliberation and reflection. After the firestorm of one debate has passed, we can swiftly move on to the next dispute, failing to reflect upon the lessons that can be gleaned from the conversation that we have just had. Disciplined and patient retrospection is, however, a rewarding activity and our neglect of it robs us of much of the potential profit of experience.

In this article, I want to offer an unapologetically ‘cold take’, a reflection at some distance in time upon some of the principal points that we can take forward from the conversations surrounding the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS).

Authority

The prominence of the ESS position owes a great deal to a theological preoccupation with the notion of authority and the relations appropriate to it. Authority has long been a prominent category in evangelical thought, not least in debates about the place of Scripture in the Church. However, as a category it has often been attended by many unconsidered assumptions and has also often been at risk of occluding much else. Both the unconsidered assumptions and the narrow preoccupation have implications for conceptions of divine relations, relations between the sexes, and understandings of Scripture’s place in the Church. They represent a constriction of the imagination that often produces damaging and stifling understandings and practices.

For instance, authority is overwhelmingly conceived of both as an authority over and as an authority that exists over against others. Yet there are other ways of conceiving of authority. Authority can be an authority for or involve an authorizing of others. Authority is not a zero sum game in which we are weakened by the authority of another in relation to us. For instance, when speaking about the ‘authority of Scripture’, we may be inclined to think of that authority purely as something exercised over us to…

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