Reading God’s Words or Man’s Words?

A Satirical Response to Mark Jones’s Post on the Reformation 21 Website Entitled:
“Singing God’s Words or Man’s Words?”

by Pastor Dave Reese (Springs Reformed Church, RPCNA)

Years ago I was asked the following question by someone who holds to exclusively using the Bible alone for public readings in worship: “Do you think it is better to read God’s words or man’s words?” My answer: we should never read man’s words. But I say this as someone who would read sections of great Christian literature as public readings in worship (i.e. Calvin’s Institutes).

As much as I love Douglas Bond novels or Eugene Peterson devotionals many Christian novels and inspirational books simply cannot be compared to God-breathed Scriptures! When I am depressed or miserable, I turn to the Bible. It is the marrow of my never-dying soul.

Nonetheless, with some trepidation, I believe that exclusively using the Bible for the public readings in worship has certain limitations. Believe me, you do not want to walk down a dark alley with a book by Francis Chan or the PCA’s BCO in your hand and bump into a couple of guys who hold that you should only be reading from the Bible in public worship! They are as zealous for the Bible in worship as the TRs in the PCA are for blue blazers and Banner of Truth conferences.

So are the inspired words of God in the books of the Bible to be preferred over man-made texts in corporate worship? Should we give up reading Into the Word in worship and replace it by just limiting ourselves to the Word?

Quite apart from the fact that many Christians in the past and present do not hold that you should use only the Bible for public readings in worship, I believe John Owen allows us to answer the first question I raised above in a manner that might enable those opposed to reading just the Bible in worship to understand why we have readings from other sources outside of the Bible.

We do not only believe that the Word of God is binding on us, but the inferences and meaning are also binding. Not only what the Scripture says, but also what it means is infallible.

Here is Owen’s argument:

“For if it is unlawful for me to speak or write what I conceive to be sense of the words of the Scripture, and the nature of the thing signified and expressed by them, it is unlawful for me, also, to think or conceive in my mind what is the sense of the words or nature of the things; which to say, is to make brutes of ourselves, and to frustrate the whole design of God in giving unto us the great privilege of his word.”

Thus, for Owen, as we declare the truth of the Trinity, “we may lawfully, nay, we must necessarily, make use of other words, phrases and expressions, than what are literally and syllabically contained in the Scripture, but teach no other things.”

Words such as “substance”, “essence”, “person”, and “trinity” are all words that are lawful to use. But Owen goes further. If these words convey the sense or meaning of the Scriptures, including the nature of God, may we express the truth of God in the following words, “God is one essence in three persons”? If so, then this sentence is God’s truth.

This is where Owen’s argument becomes hugely important:

“For howsoever the lines be drawn and extended, from truth nothing can follow and ensue but what is true also; and that in the same kind of truth with that which it is derived and deduced from. For if the principal assertion be a truth of divine revelation, so is also whatever is included therein, and which may be rightly from thence collected. Hence it follows, that when the Scripture reveals the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be one God, seeing it necessarily and unavoidably follows thereon that they are one in essence (wherein alone it is possible they can be one), and three in their distinct substances (wherein alone it is possible they can be three), this is no less a divine revelation than the first principle from whence these things follow.

Those words, “this is no less a divine revelation than the first principle from whence these things follow,” are hugely significant for me in my own thinking about the way one does theology. Perhaps “divine truth” would be more appropriate than “divine revelation,” but I agree with his general point.

Are there readings that are divinely true because they convey the accurate meaning of God’s word? If they accurately capture the sense of Scripture then we are dealing with God’s truth, and not merely “man’s words.” The truth of God’s word gives rise to truth:

“I think God is really way bigger than all other powers in the whole wide world. I think He could snuff every bad guy on the planet if He wanted to right now. And Jesus is God also so He could too.”

Or:

“God is the holy Creator. He created donkeys and every rock that is in existence. He picked the color of the sky and therefore it is blue because He wanted it to be blue. Jesus and the Holy Spirit also participated in creation and they wanted to the sky to be blue also.”

What shall we say about these readings?

  1. Saying things like those that are said in the paragraphs above, which contain God’s truth (not merely man’s words) enables me to distance myself from a Jew or a Mormon who would likely read the Bible with me. But, they cannot affirm the last line of those two paragraphs above, which is why the Mormons have their own readings.
  1. Publicly reading things like Calvin’s Institutes provides the church with an excellent tool to convey, state, defend, and enjoy the truth of God’s word in a manner that even preaching and praying cannot. There is far less chance for error in selecting a biblically true section of Knowing God than a sermon and prayer. After all, how many “pastoral prayers” ask God to “just” do this or “just” do that, and then go on to ask a whole bunch of other things he can “just” do. And how many sermons are riddled with some interpretative error?
  1. I think we can refer to public readings of Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcomed Guest? during the worship service as reading the “words of God” on the same grounds that Paul referred to his own preaching as the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).

Of course, there are words in many Christian books that are untrue. “Justified on the basis of the whole life lived” from the book, What Saint Paul Really Said is not read in our church. There are many imperfect older theological works and in modern Christian literature. Quite what “That isn’t to say my wife writes the pastoral prayers, by the way, since I allow myself to be ‘blown by the Spirit’” means, I have no idea. Good Morning, Holy Spirit by Benny Hinn has words that make me want to vomit. And John Owen’s point about the truths of Scripture being able to be stated in words other than biblical words: What does “this is no less a divine revelation than the first principle from whence these things follow,” mean? Theological statements are to give the true meaning of Scripture, not leave us needing another statement to interpret the statement.

Fortunately, I can deal with these errors by not allowing them in the order of worship. (That isn’t to say my wife writes the pastoral prayers, by the way, since I allow myself to be “blown by the Spirit”).

In summary, the first question raised above puts us on the horns of a false dilemma. The real question should be:

Must we confine ourselves to only God’s words in the public readings during worship or can we also read uninspired men’s writings, which articulate the true meaning of God’s words?

I’m off now to a worship service with my congregation in which I will read Morning and Evening, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology as the “infallible”, “words of God” for the public readings (1 Tim. 4:13).

RP Sermons App

reformedvoice sermonaudio

The website ReformedVoice.com probably isn’t as well known as it should be. It’s basically a version of the SermonAudio website but with only sermons from RP broadcasters (ie churches). The site is run by the RPCNA but also has sermons from the other RP denominations. One advantage it has over the full site is that you can just right click a link to add it to huffduffer.

IMG_6562

I recently discovered that it also has its own iPhone app. To find it, you have to search for the main SermonAudio app in the App Store, then on the ‘Details’ tab scroll down to ‘Developer Apps’ (see picture below).

reformedvoice sermonaudio app

It’s very iOS 6-y and more basic than the main SermonAudio app (which itself doesn’t exactly set the world alight) but hey, finally you can use ‘RPCI’ and ‘App’ in the same sentence!

On Your Owen

Following on from the last post, here are some more quotations from John Owen in response to Mark Jones trying to use Owen against exclusive psalmody. All taken from the Goold (incidentally a theological professor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland) edition of Owen’s Works.

God’s Words v Man’s Words

“Unto this end there is a more glorious power and efficacy in one epistle, one psalm, one chapter, than in all the writings of men, though they have their use also. He that hath not experience hereof is a stranger unto the power of God in the Scripture”. iv, 190.

On the introduction of hymns (context is the imposition of set forms of prayer but hymns are still listed as a ‘Trojan horse’).

“Whatever forms of prayer were given out unto the use of the church by divine authority and inspiration, as the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms or Prayers of David, they are to have their everlasting use therein, according unto what they were designed unto.
And be their end and use what it will, they can give no more warranty for human compositions unto the same end, and the injunction of their use, than for other human writings to be added unto the Scripture…So the orthodox and the Arians composed prayers, hymns, and doxologies, the one against the other, inserting in them passages confirming their own profession and condemning that of their adversaries. Now, however this invention might be approved whilst it kept within bounds, yet it proved the Trojan horse that brought in all evils into the city of God in its belly.”

…Had the churches of Christ been left unto their primitive liberty under the enjoined duties of reading and expounding the Scripture, of singing psalms unto the praise of God, of the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and of diligent preaching the word, all of them with prayer, according unto the abilities and spiritual gifts of them who did preside in them, as it is evident that they were for some ages, it is impossible for any man to imagine what evils would have ensued thereon that might be of any consideration, in comparison of those enormous mischiefs which followed on the contrary practice”. iv, 240-6

On the elements of worship

“Offering prayers and praises to God in the name of Jesus Christ, reading the holy Scripture and expounding of it, singing of psalms to God, preaching of the word, with the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, in a religious observation of the Lord’s day unto these ends, all according as God doth enable them by his Spirit, is the sum and substance of the worship of the catholic church, wherein all Christians are agreed. These things the Scripture doth prescribe, and these things the church in all ages hath observed. All differences about this worship, which have filled the world with inhuman contentions, arose from men’s arbitrary addition of forms, rites, modes, ceremonies, languages, cringings, adorations, which they would have observed in it; whereof the Scripture is silent and primitive antiquity utterly ignorant. And it may be it will be one day understood, that the due observance of this catholic worship, according as God enableth any thereunto (leaving others at liberty to use such helps unto their devotion as they shall think meet), is the only communion of worship in the church which the Scripture requires, or which is possible to be attained. About the imposition of other things, there ever were, since they were, and ever will be, endless contentions”. xvi, 218-9.

Elements v Circumstances of Worship

Element: “Q. 17. Which are the principal institutions of the gospel to be observed in the worship of God?
A. The calling, gathering, and settling of churches, with their officers, as the seat and subject of all other solemn instituted worship; prayer, with thanksgiving; singing of psalms; preaching the word; 5administration of the sacraments of baptism and the supper of the Lord; discipline and rule of the church collected and settled” xiv, 477

(From Owen’s Short Catechism – proof texts for the ‘singing of psalms’ are Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 – very similar to WCF, which also has James 5:13).

Circumstance: “And it is merely from a spirit of contention that some call on us or others to produce express testimony or institution for every circumstance in the practice of religious duties in the church, and on a supposed failure herein, do conclude that they have power themselves to institute and ordain such ceremonies as they think meet, under a pretence of their being circumstances of worship; for as the directive light of nature is sufficient to guide us in these things, so the obligation of the church unto it makes all stated additions to be useless, as on other accounts they are noxious. Such things as these are:…translations and tunes of psalms in singing” xiv, 232.

What about music?
“And this proved the great means of the apostasy of the Christian church also: for, to maintain some appearance of spiritual affections, men introduced carnal incitations of them into evangelical worship, such as singing, with music and pompous ceremonies; for they find such things needful to reconcile the worship of God unto their minds and affections, and through them they appear to have great delight therein.
Hence Austin [Augustine] tells us that singing in the church was laid aside by Athanasius at Alexandria; not the people’s singing of psalms, but a kind of singing in the reading of the Scripture and some offices of worship, which began then to be introduced in the church. And the reason he gave why he did it was, that the modulation of the voice and musical tune might not divert the minds of men from that spiritual affection which is required of them in sacred duties”. vii, 424-5

The Psalms ‘immediately inspired’ and appointed for use in church

“The argument will not hold, so far as it is usually extended at least: “God himself hath prescribed some forms of prayer, to be used by some persons on some occasions; therefore, men may invent, yea, and prescribe those that shall be for common and constant use.” He who forbade all images, or all use of them, in sacred things, appointed the making of the cherubims in the tabernacle and temple.
David’s Psalms were given out by immediate inspiration, and were most of them mystical and prophetical, appointed to be used in the church, as all other Scriptures, only some of them in a certain manner, namely, of singing, and that manner also was determined by divine appointment.” iv, 349

—-

Finally, in response to Jones’ implication that hymns have an advantage because a Jew or Mormon would have problems with them that they wouldn’t have a psalm – Owen shows clearly that the Jew or Mormon singing a psalm is still singing about Christ whether they realise it or not!

Owen argues for the pre-eternity of Christ from Psalm 2
“3. It cannot be proved that these words are spoken at all of David so much as typically, nor any thing else in that psalm from verse 7 to the end; yea, the contrary is evident from every verse following, especially the 12th, where kings and rulers are called to worship him of whom he speaks, and threatened with destruction if they do not; and they are pronounced blessed who put their trust in him; which cannot be spoken of David.” xii, 241.

We have communion with each person of the Trinity when we sing psalms
“There is no act, part, or duty of gospel worship, wherein the worshippers have not this distinct communion with each person in the blessed Trinity.” ix, 57.

Owen Goal

Reformation 21 have added quite a few new authors recently, which has resulted in an increase in the number of posts, if not in quality. Bucking the trend however has been Mark Jones. After a slightly embarrassing early post in which he claimed to be a football fan but talked about the ‘FIFA’ World Cup, his contributions have been top notch.

That is, until the other day when he posted what I would lovingly and respectfully call unadulterated twaddle – arguing that the fact that something you’re singing is true means it makes the song ‘God’s Words’. I was just going to leave it as another example of people who should know better embarrassing themselves when trying to argue against Exclusive Psalmody. However a former classmate emailed me the link the other day with the subject ‘Shall We Sing must respond!’ – so how could I resist?!

Rather than attempting to take such a gifted theologian to task on something like the doctrine of Scripture, I’ll just give John Owen himself the chance to respond. After all, we all know it’s a schoolboy error to try and take something someone has said in another context and quote them against themselves.

Starting at the end, Jones finishes with the cheap dig: “I’m off now to sing with my family psalms, psalms, and psalms (Col. 3:16)”. Ironically, by doing this he’s actually having a go not primarily at poor, maligned C21st exclusive psalmists, but some obscure C17th century figures. In fact, some of them signed their names to a document for such a time as this – including a Mr Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson, Matthew Poole, Thomas Vincent, Edmund Calamdy…and a certain John Owen, D. D. They say:

“Now though spiritual songs of mere human composure may have their use, yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter & words are of immediately Divine inspiration; and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which the Apostle useth, Ephes. 5.19. Col.3.16.”

preface to smv - owen watson etc big - rouse 1673
Preface to a 1673 edition of the Scottish Metrical Version

In one sentence Owen et al destroy both Jones’s attempt to put uninspired hymns on the same level as the psalms, and state that the interpretation he mocks is the one they see as ‘plainly intended’ by the Apostle Paul. Oh dear.

Just in case we feel that Owen was giving in to peer pressure there, I’ll post some relevant quotations from his own Works later.

Paul: not just a Systematic Theologian

Ottowa Theologica Hall have put together a few helpful videos, including one from Anthony Selvaggio on areas he feels have been neglected in Reformed studies of Paul. He says: “Sometimes we look at Paul as merely a Systematic Theologian rather than someone who suffered for Christ and teaches us what it is to live for Christ…The experiential, ministerial side of Paul is sometimes neglected because of our focus on the theological.”

Yet Systematic Theology is still important as Matt Kingswood explains:

The course descriptions on the OTH (Ottowa Theological Hall not Old Testament History!) site look interesting, eg:
“Marriage Counselling – This course will look at the problems in marriage, preserving marriage, getting to know your spouse, communication with your spouse, some of the killers of a marriage, and most importantly, how to make your marriage work even when you find yourself in the process of getting a divorce. The course is meant to be practical. We will look at actual situations most marriages face, and see how God would have us both face these situations and handle them in godly and loving ways that bring about godly and biblical change and glory to God.”

And here’s an enthusiastic welcome video!

Finally, here’s a Sermon Jam of Rich someone has put together:

Eight years after he spoke at the last ever Termonfeckin, Rich is still going strong, currently preaching a series on Freedom.

Jesus: True and Better

Update: Great quote from the First Helvetic Confession “The entire biblical Scripture is solely concerned that man understand that God is kind and gracious to him and that he has publicly exhibited and demonstrated this his kindness to the whole human race through Christ his Son.”

I’ve been preaching through Luke 24 during August. The above (from Tim Keller) and below (from Rich Ganz) are some helpful resources in seeing Jesus in all the Scriptures.

The Bible – Jesus Christ from Beginning to End

Genesis: The seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent.
Exodus: The I AM, who comes in the burning bush – “I am that which I am.”
Leviticus: The final burnt offering of Leviticus
Numbers: Pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night
Deuteronomy: The Prophet of Ch. 18
Joshua: The commander of the Lord’s hosts and the captain of our salvation
Judges The Angel of the Lord
Ruth: The kinsman redeemer
Samuel: The King whose line will never end
Kings & Chronicles: The power and fire of God in Kings and Chronicles
Ezra: The final temple of Ezra
Nehemiah: The wall of safety
Esther: The deliverer
Job: The redeemer of Job
Psalms: The good shepherd
Proverbs & Ecclesiastes: Our wisdom
Song of Songs: The Bridegroom
Isaiah: The prince of peace
Jeremiah: The righteous branch
Lamentations: The weeping prophet
Ezekiel: The spirit of obedience
Daniel: The Son of God in the fiery furnace
Hosea: The forsaken husband
Joel: The Lord dwelling in the midst of His people
Amos: The roaring lion
Obadiah: The possessor of the Kingdom
Jonah: The dead and risen one
Micah: The preacher of righteousness
Nahum: The avenger
Habakkuk: The everlasting and holy one
Zephaniah: The terrifying one
Haggai: The Lord of Hosts
Zechariah: The high priest of Zechariah
Malachi: The Son of righteousness

Matthew: The Son of Man
Mark: The Son of God
Luke: The Son of the most high
John: The Word made flesh
Acts: He is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit in Acts
Romans: The sovereign predestining Lord of Romans
Corinthians: The life giving spirit of Corinthians
Galatians: The seed of Abraham in Galatians
Ephesians: The forgiver of our sins
Philippians: The bond servant
Colossians: The Image of the invisible God, the fullness of the Godhead
Thessalonians: The destroyer of the antichrist
Timothy: The mediator between God and man
Titus: He justifies by grace in Titus
Philemon: He is the loving friend in Philemon
Hebrews: The great High Priest
James: He is the one who will not tempt us
Peter: The chief shepherd
John: Our Advocate
Jude: He is the one who keeps us from stumbling and makes us stand glorious in Jude
Revelation: The first and the last, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, King of kings and Lord of lords.