Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, October 29, 2012

What Happened to Reformation Sunday?

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For "who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:12-16 NKJ)
Yesterday I visited Trinity Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Florida.  I was hoping to find a traditional and liturgical church.  Unfortunately, this congregation, which is associated with the Presbyterian Church in America, has completely thrown out the regulative principle of worship.

The whole purpose is liturgy is to set in place a regular and consistent repetition of collects, sentences of Scripture, general congregational confession of sin, Gospel absolution of sins, and a reciting of the universal creeds.  The reason for this is that the prayers teach doctrine and show the believer a pattern for the Christian life.  

The service of the Lord's Table in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, for example, reads the Decalogue or Ten Commandments followed by short prayers after each commandment asking for God's grace and mercy to keep those commandments.  That pattern is meant to display Luther's law and gospel distinction, which distinction was not lost on Calvin and the other Swiss Reformers.

The shortest and easiest way to remember the doctrine of the trinity, for example, is to recite the Gloria Patri.  Even Presbyterian churches have traditionally included this short "creed" in their services:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost:  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

The Gloria Patri is recited after the reading of the Psalter and after the Magnificat  (Luke 1:46-55), the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) and the Nunc Dimmitis (Luke 2:29-32).

What I observed at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Sunday, however, had no liturgy whatsoever.  The service was composed of contemporary praise music and no hymns.  The repetition of praise choruses over and over again was deafeningly loud and maddeningly redundant.  There was no creed and the confession and absolution was so short and without theological content that it could have been recited in any liberal church without controversy.  In fact, the confession of sins in most liberal churches is usually more challenging that what I observed yesterday.

As a child growing up, we recited the Lord's prayer and the pledge of allegiance every morning in public school.  To this day I can say the Episcopal version of the Lord's prayer by heart because it was drilled into my head from grades one through four.

Learning by rote should not be denigrated as it is by many in the public school system these days and by so-called "born again Christians".  The fact is that we learn many things by rote.  I learned the alphabet by singing the "ABCDEFG" song.  I learned the multiplication tables by heart from 1-10 and a little beyond.  I learned many of the rules of grammar by rote so that now I can identify the parts of speech in a sentence, read with comprehension, and write a reasonably grammatical sentence.

But when it comes to "Evangelical" churches not only are the shorter catechisms thrown out but the solidly Reformed doctrines incorporated into the liturgy are thrown out as well.  I learned King James Version memory verses by reciting the verse over and over again with the Scripture reference number preceding and following the quotation repeating the reference again.  We learn much of our theology by rote.  Of course, merely parroting a sound or a sentence without thought is not necessarily having an understanding of what it is that we're reciting.  But couple that repetition of theological truth with a solid liturgy, expository preaching, and Christian education and the result is that Christian people learn essential doctrinal truths simply by repeating them week by week and by hearing them explained in sermons and Sunday school classes.

The problem with most Evangelical churches these days is that there is no memory of why there was a 16th century Protestant Reformation in the first place.  The Roman Catholic Church is just another church to them.  Some Evangelical Christians even concede that the Mormons are "Christians", despite the fact that Mormons have no Christian doctrine whatsoever.

The problem with the church growth mentality is that dumbing down Christianity to the lowest doctrinal denomination has for all practical purposes turned Evangelicalism into a latitudinarian, liberal, and pelagian emphasis on pragmatic moralism.  So what if these churches technically oppose abortion and homosexual marriage if on everything else they are in agreement with the liberals?  Accommodating to the culture for the sake of evangelism ends up converting the church to the world rather than converting the world to Christ.

As we pray, so do we believe.  The law of prayer is the law of belief; lex orandi, lex credendi.  The genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was not only translating the Latin services into English so everyone could understand the liturgy in the English language.  Cranmer also instilled the five solas of the English and Protestant Reformation into the 1552 Book of Common Prayer and the 42 Articles of Religion so that the people would understand true biblical doctrine.  Those doctrines are for the most part preserved in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion.

I could never again survive on a liturgy of experiential and emotional worship.  These days I need to hear an expositional sermon.  Furthermore, I crave a rational and logical liturgy where something substantial is learned by the oral repetition of solid biblical verses, evangelical creeds, and a biblical confession of sin and a gospel absolution.

If anything is certain it is that the Presbyterian Church in America is on a downward spiral.  It is only a matter of time before the PCA ends up in the liberalism and latitudinarianism which inspired its separation from the Prebyterian Church in the United States in the 1970s.  It might already be there.

It is for this reason that I find some sense of connection with some of the faculty members at Westminster Seminary, California.  At least professors like R. Scott Clark and Mike Horton are calling for a new Reformation among Presbyterians and Evangelicals at large.  But inconsistencies like the theology of paradox advocated by the followers of Cornelius Van Til mute those efforts or negate them by self contradictory assertions.  Is pelagianism and Arminianism heretical or not?

In all honesty, there is almost no church or denomination that stands consistently against the inroads of liberalism and the theology of works righteousness.  If it were not for the promises of God in the Holy Scriptures we could all just give up in despair.  But we know that God is sovereign and will not forsake His elect.  (Romans 11:1-5).

Sincerely in Christ,


1 comment:

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Happy Reformation Day, to you all. Emergents have vastly populated the Mainline, since the Countercultures establishment of such. And as a consequence, the dismantling of Protestantism --at least in a Western context-- was intentional.

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