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The Canterbury Tales

An Extended Review
and Commentary
Based upon
the Geneva Papers

Kevin Reed

Copyright © 1984, 1989 by Kevin Reed

Third Edition, 1996

Some of the bibliographical references in this essay have been updated, because several of the works cited have been made more accessible through recent editions which were not available at the time this article was originally written.

The electronic version of this document has been provided as a convenience for our readers. No part of this publication may be transmitted or distributed in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical photocopying, or otherwise) without prior permission of the publisher. Inquiries may be directed to: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, P.O. Box 180922, Dallas, Texas 75218, U.S.A. This publication is available as a printed book, in an edition which includes a subject index and a scripture index. Please write to the publisher for more details about this title, as well as our other publications.

The Canterbury Tales

During the past few years, the Westminster Presbyterian Church (in Tyler) has embarked upon some lively experimentation in the realm of worship. Their practices have been drawn from a variety of sources. Before too long, however, they found it difficult to keep these things to themselves. Therefore, they began exporting their views through articles in The Geneva Papers, the monthly newsletter issued under the auspices of the Geneva Divinity School.

Upon examination of these articles, readers will find many alarming trends within the Tyler mentality of worship. Specifically, the activities of the church contain many corruptions of worship, under the guise of liturgical reconstruction. This corruption is evident by (1.) their repudiation of the Reformed regulative principle of worship; (2.) their reintroduction of superstitious and unwarranted practices into the church; (3.) their rejection of confessional Presbyterianism.

In order to demonstrate these points, we wish to interact with the essays on worship, written by Jim Jordan, as they appear in Geneva Papers, nos. 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, and 29. The articles are included in his studies on "Christianity and the Calendar," "Liturgical Notes," and the recently published "Symbolism: A Manifesto" (Geneva Papers, #28, May 1984).

The Regulative Principle of Worship
and Basic Definitions

The primary indication of the Tyler corruption of worship is seen in their repudiation of the Reformed regulative principle of worship. This repudiation is manifest in four ways: by false portrayals of the regulative principle; by a failure to make proper distinctions within the regulative principle; by a faulty pairing of Reformed and Anabaptist notions; and by a failure to deal exegetically with the scriptural position of the reformers (and the Reformed confessions) on the topic of worship.

Note the following statement by Mr. Jordan, as published in his series on "Liturgical Notes" (Geneva Papers, #25, Feb. 1984):

Most Reformed and Anabaptist Protestants subscribe to the so-called "Regulative Principle of Worship." This principle states that in worship, whatever is not expressly commanded in scripture is forbidden. There are several problems with this, as I pointed out in "Christianity and the Calendar," No. 4. First, no one is able to apply this principle without modifying it, because we find no Biblical grounds for church buildings, pews, etc. Second, this principle is almost always applied dispensationally, as ifonly the New Testament were allowed to teach us about worship. (The proper view is that the New Testament modifies Old Testament teaching and practice.) Another problem, which is obvious when one reads the literature coming out of these camps, is that this principle leads straight to a form of legalism. Instead of finding the large, overarching principles of worship in scripture, and noting particulars in that context, we are enjoined to find explicit particular statements to back up every little thing.

Initially, we must reject the construction placed upon the regulative principle, as Mr. Jordan defines it. The Reformed regulative principle maintains that we must have express scriptural warrant for the means of our worship. But from the outset, Mr. Jordan equates it with a "New Testament only" hermeneutic which excludes Old Testament principles of worship. Throughout his discussions in The Geneva Papers, Mr. Jordan treats the Reformed view of worship as if this distortion of the regulative principle were the principle itself. As we shall see later, the reformers (and Reformed confessions) consistently appealed to Old Testament law as a basis for the regulative principle of worship.

It is extremely important that the reader grasp this aspect concerning basic definitions. Otherwise, the subsequent discussions foster spurious impressions. The reader will wrongly believe that Mr. Jordan is pursuing a moderate course, in opposition to an extreme group of legalists, who adhere to a dispensational hermeneutic.

It is correct to state, as Mr. Jordan does, that "the proper view is that the New Testament modifies Old Testament teaching and practice." Yet, while the reformers held to this outlook, they rejected many of the concepts of worship espoused by Mr. Jordan (see below).

Next, note Mr. Jordan's failure to make basic distinctions in his definition of the regulative principle. He would have us believe that a straightforward application of the regulative principle leaves us in a quandary over our warrant for using church buildings, pews, etc. Such assertions show a ridiculous sophistry in dealing with Reformed theology.

A cursory glance at the Westminster Standards will clarify the matter. The Confession of Faith (1:6) states: "The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture."[1] Yet, the Confession goes on to declare "that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed."

Consider what is said here. Certain incidental matters are given to us by implication in the scriptures. For example, the scriptures require the saints to gather together for public worship (Heb. 10:25); although the Lord's day has been sanctified for this purpose, we have no biblically specified place, hour, or furniture to be used. Yet, we must gather some place, at some time if we are to be faithful in our worship of God. Hence, by "good and necessary" inference, the elders (as God's appointed officers) arrange these minor matters.

In arranging these incidental matters, the elders are governed by "Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word." Hence, they will refrain from renting a room from the local abortion clinic. Further, they will not schedule an outdoor service adjacent to a park that permits nude sunbathing. If the congregation has its own building, with pews, this is strictly an incidental matter.

When the Confession again speaks of worship, it proclaims, "the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy scripture" (21:1; emphasis added). The Larger Catechism (#109) lists among the sins forbidden in the second commandment, "any religious worship not instituted by God," and condemns "corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever."

Do these later statements contradict the former? Not at all. It is simply a recognition of the difference between the incidentals and the institutions of worship. Mr. Jordan understands these distinctions also, for he talks very specifically about rites, liturgies, and ceremonies; he waxes eloquent on the symbolic and didactic nature of such things. At one point he even speaks of them as a pedagogy (Geneva Papers, #24).[2] Surely he does not place these elements on the same level with the use of buildings, pews, and church bulletins. Similarly, rites and ceremonies are not merely incidentals; and only someone concerned with excessive sophistry will fail to concede this point.

The Regulative Principle and the Reformers

We must also object to Mr. Jordan's continual pairing of Reformed and Anabaptist notions of worship. He repeatedly links Reformed worship with a baptistic (New Testament) hermeneutic, or Anabaptist thinking.[3] Also, note his comment, "Being different from Rome is the first law of Presbyterian worship, it seems" (Geneva Papers, #26).

Mr. Jordan's statements are an insult to the integrity of the reformers and the Reformed confessions of the Protestant churches. The Protestant reformers uniformly rejected the Anabaptists, and classified them among the "limbs of Antichrist," along with the Papists. Further, the position of the reformers was not simply a knee-jerk reaction against Roman Catholicism. The reformers established their major distinctives upon a careful exposition of scriptural revelation. In no area was their position more clearly expressed than in the area of worship (see citations below).

Jordan's repetitious caricature of the Reformed position is comprised of broad undocumented generalizations; he often runs roughshod over the historical facts with vague unfounded historical generalizations. This is the case not only in his pairing of the Reformed view with the Anabaptists.

Slippery comments of a similar nature can be found in Mr. Jordan's discussion of "Christianity and the Calendar." For example, he says, "The feast of Christmas came to be very important to the early Church, for so many heresies centered on the incarnation, and the festival of the incarnation provided an annual affirmation of orthodoxy" (Geneva Papers, #24). Actually, no record of Christmas observance is found until the fourth century. Further, it was then brought into the church by the Roman bishop, as a counterpart to pagan celebrations which the church could not eradicate. Without defining "the early church", Mr. Jordan's designation gives erroneous impressions. Or, for another example, we would like to know the basis for Mr. Jordan's claim that "the reformers did not object to the act of crossing oneself, provided it was not done superstitiously" (Geneva Papers, #25). He makes this claim with no documentation.

Mr. Jordan's technique is similar to medieval papal appeals to the "consent of the church fathers" (as if these men represented a unified witness from antiquity), without bothering to produce any facts to support the claim. This is hardly a scholarly methodology.

Next, we must consider Mr. Jordan's failure to deal with the exegetical arguments of the reformers and the Reformed creeds and confessions. We are struck by Mr. Jordan's fervor against those who demand a direct scriptural warrant for our worship, for he has challenged the conclusions of several major Protestant reformers. Before we follow Mr. Jordan, perhaps we should consider some comments from the reformers of old. (Of course, in citing the reformers, we advocate no Protestant form of saint worship; but we believe that the reformers had at least as much wisdom as the present faculty of the Geneva Divinity School.)

The following selections are merely representative; a comprehensive study would fill volumes. As we proceed, we shall try to suggest some sources for further study, for those who are interested.

A central passage cited by numerous reformers and Reformed confessions is Deuteronomy 12:32. This verse is set in the context of a warning to the Israelites not to corrupt worship, either through their own inclinations (12:8), or by imitating the worship of other religions (12:1-4; 29-31). In the middle of the chapter, they are enjoined to worship God according to the pattern he had given to them. In this setting, God decrees, "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." This passage from Old Testament law (and not a baptistic hermeneutic) formed an important basis for the Reformed regulative principle of worship.

Calvin's comments on the whole section (Deut. 12:29-31) are instructive; he closes with these observations:

In this brief clause he teaches that no other service of God is lawful, except that of which he has testified his approval in his word, and that obedience is as it were the mother of piety; as if he had said that all modes of devotion are absurd and infected with superstition, which are not directed by this rule. Hence we gather, that in order to the keeping of the first commandment, a knowledge of the true God is required, derived from his word, and mixed with faith. By forbidding the addition, or diminishing of anything, he plainly condemns as illegitimate whatever men invent of their own imagination; whence it follows that they, who in worshipping God are guided by any rule save that which he himself has prescribed, make to themselves false gods; and, therefore, horrible vengeance is denounced by him against those who are guilty of this temerity, through Isaiah, "Forasmuch as this people draw near me," etc., "by the precept of men; therefore, behold I will proceed to do a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish," etc. (Isaiah 29:13-14). Now, since all the ceremonies of the papal worship are a mass of superstitions, no wonder that all her chief rulers and ministers should be blinded with that stupidity wherewith God has threatened them (Calvin's Commentary, in loco).

Note well: Calvin's objections to papal worship (with its ceremonies) are based on the fact that Popery has disregarded the scriptural prohibition which forbids worshipping God by man-made devices.

Similarly,John Knox underscores the demand of the biblical measure. This is the grand principle, the overarching concept, that must govern all our worship. Does it have "the word of God for assurance?" If not, it must be purged from the church. In Knox's first debate with Papists, he sounded the battle cry of the Scottish Reformation. Said Knox:

It is not enough that man invent a ceremony and then give it a signification, according to his pleasure. But if that anything proceeds from faith, it must have the word of God for assurance. May we cast away what we please, and retain what we please? If it be well remembered, Moses, in the name of God, says to the people of Israel, 'All that the Lord thy God commands thee to do, that do thou to the Lord thy God: Add nothing to it; diminish nothing from it.' By this rule, think I, the kirk of Christ will measure God's religion, and not by that which seems good in their own eyes. (Selected Writings of John Knox: Public Epistles, Treatises, and Expositions to the Year 1559 [Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1995], pp. 12,14.)

Readers should really consult the full account of Knox's debate to get the gist of his argument, as drawn from numerous passages of scripture.

Keep in mind that the reformers objected to Romish worship, not simply on account of its superstition,[4] but on the ground that it lacked explicit warrant from God's word.

And that is principal idolatry when our own inventions we defend to be righteous in the sight of God, because we think them good, laudable, and pleasant. We may not think us so free nor wise, that we may do unto God, and unto his honour, what we think expedient. No! The contrary is commanded by God, saying, "Unto my word shall ye add nothing; nothing shall ye diminish therefrom, that ye might observe the precepts of your Lord God;" which words are not to be understood of the Decalogue and the moral law only, but of statutes, rites, and ceremonies; for equal obedience of all his laws requires God. (Knox, Selected Writings, p. 26).

In his remarks, Knox points to two crucial ramifications of the dispute. First, observe that the church is limited in the exercise of power with reference to worship. The church must respond obediently to God's word, which is the only rule by which worship is established. The church does not possess any legitimate legislative power, to enact new modes of worship.

Second, Knox saw that human innovation in worship is the very seed of idolatry. It is not simply a question of whether something is abused. The question is: does it have scriptural warrant? Did God institute this measure, or man? This is the litmus test.

Certainly, by his appeal to the law, Knox is not infected with an Anabaptist /Dispensational hermeneutic. Yet, according to Mr. Jordan, this approach is unreasonable and borders on legalism, because we are enjoined to produce scriptural warrant for our worship (Geneva Papers, #25, cited above). To John Knox, however, it was simply an ordinary application of the law of God. Calvin shared the view of Knox; note how Calvin maintains that our worship must have express sanction from the word of God:

I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honour of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to his worship, if at variance with his command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, "Obedience is better than sacrifice." "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," (1 Sam. 15:22; Matt. 15:9). Every addition to his word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere "will worship" (ethelothreeskia) is vanity [see Col. 2:23]. This is the decision, and once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate. (Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church [Dallas: Protestant Heritage, 1995], p. 18; also in Tracts and Treatises, 1:128-29).

After establishing the general rule ­ that our worship must have express biblical warrant ­ the reformers sought to apply this principle to specific matters. Concerning vestments, the Polish reformer John à Lasco wrote:

First, by means of the argument by which Christ and the prophets together with the apostles expel from the church human dogmas and inventions as a plague (Matt. 12, Isa. 29, Col. 2), I too am convinced that vestments are a human invention which ought to be removed from the church. (John à Lasco "The Abolition of Vestments," cited from The Reformation of the Church: A Collection of Reformed and Puritan Documents on Church Issues. Ed. by Iain Murray. London: Banner of Truth, 1965.)

At the time, John à Lasco was living in England, where he pastored a church of European exiles. There was a dispute over vestments in the church of England; but the real issue was over the underlying principles which would govern the worship of the church.

Calvin describes the fundamental struggle in his tract on The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543):

In inveighing against ceremonies themselves, and also in abrogating a great part of them, we confess that there is some difference between us and the prophets. They inveighed against their countrymen for confining the worship of God to external ceremonies, but still ceremonies which God himself had instituted; we complain that the same honour is paid to frivolities of man's devising. They, while condemning superstition, left untouched a multitude of ceremonies which God had enjoined, and which were useful and appropriate to an age of tutelage; our business has been to correct numerous rites which had either crept in through oversight, or been turned to abuse ­ and which, moreover, by no means accorded with the time. For, if we would not throw every thing into confusion, we must never lose sight of the distinction between the old and new dispensations, and of the fact that ceremonies, the observance of which was useful under the law, are now not only superfluous, but vicious and absurd.

When Christ was absent and not yet manifested, ceremonies, by shadowing him forth, cherished the hope of his advent in the breasts of believers; but now that his glory is present and conspicuous, they only obscure it. And we see what God himself has done. For those ceremonies which he had commanded for a time he has now abrogated for ever. Paul explains the reason: first, that since the body has been manifested in Christ, the types have, of course, been withdrawn; and, secondly, that God is now pleased to instruct the church after a different manner (Gal. 4:5; Col. 2:4,14,17). Since, then, God has freed his church from the bondage which he had imposed upon it, can anything, I ask, be more perverse than for men to introduce new bondage in place of the old? Since God prescribed a certain economy, how presumptuous to set up one which is contrary to it, and openly repudiated by him.

But the worst of all is, that though God has so often and so strictly interdicted all modes of worship prescribed by man, the only worship paid to him consisted of human inventions. What ground, then, have our enemies to vociferate that in this matter we have given religion to the winds? First, we have not laid even a finger on anything which Christ does not discountenance as of no value, when he declares that it is in vain to worship God with human traditions. The thing might, perhaps, have been more tolerable if the only effect had been that men lost their pains by an unavailing worship; but since as I have observed, God in many passages forbids any new worship unsanctioned by his word; since he declares that he is grievously offended with the presumption which invents such worship, and threatens it with severe punishment, it is clear that the reformation which we have introduced was demanded by strong necessity. (Necessity of Reforming the Church, pp. 47-49. Also in Tracts and Treatises, 1:151-53.)

This citation from Calvin raises a significant issue in relation to the present discussion. Calvin points out the pedagogic nature of ceremonial worship. Now, Mr. Jordan would place the church back under a pedagogue of ceremonialism. This was one of his arguments for the ecclesiastical year; it is, says he, an "excellent pedagogy" (Geneva Papers, #24).

From the apostle Paul's argument in Galatians, however, we learn that such a pedagogue is now inconsistent with the mature state of the church (Gal. 3:23-25). Under the Old Testament economy, the ceremonies foreshadowed the coming Messiah; they were a temporary visible word, "all foresignifying Christ to come" (Westminster Confession, 7:5). But now that Christ has come in substance, the pedagogue has fulfilled its function. It would be a form of bondage to retreat to a system of ceremonialism (see Gal. 4:9-10). Of course, this type of ceremonialism is one of the principal features of popish worship.

Ceremonialism is one area where "the New Testament modifies Old Testament teaching and practice." In saying this, we have not become Dispensationalists or Anabaptists; nor was Calvin guilty of a distorted hermeneutic when he said essentially the same thing.

Further, the New Testament church is not without a visible word which serves as a counterpart to the word preached. We have the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. While these things are "fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it [the gospel] is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy" (Confession, 7:6).

Nevertheless, the issue is more basic than the pedagogic nature of this new ceremonialism. As Calvin notes, it would be bad enough trying to return to a scriptural pedagogue which has already been fulfilled. But these new ceremonialists would place us under a man-made pedagogue. How presumptuous it is for men to foist upon us a system of human invention! Such man-made devices of worship are against the commands of God, who "in many passages forbids any new worship unsanctioned by his word." Thus, we are brought back to the Reformed regulative principle, which forbids any means of worship without the express warrant of the word of God.

As Calvin remarks, there are scores of verses which formed the exegetical basis of the Reformed view of worship. For those truly interested in reading the reformers' defense of the regulative principle, we recommend the following sources.

On Calvin, consult The Necessity of Reforming the Church (Tracts, vol. 1); The True Method of Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church (Tracts, vol. 3); On Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly and Preserving the Purity of the Christian Religion (Tracts, vol. 3). Also note Calvin's letters: to Somerset (22 Oct. 1548; Letters, vol. 2); to King Edward (January 1551; Letters, vol. 2); to the Frankfort church (Letters, 3:117-19); to Richard Cox, as reprinted in Knox's Works, 4:58-60. It is interesting to note that Calvin expressed a rather negative view of the ceremonialism of Anglican worship; this ceremonialism is the very thing the Tyler congregation currently finds so attractive.

Concerning Knox, see the account of his first public debate with the Papists (Selected Writings, pp. 1-18); The Vindication of the Doctrine that the Sacrifice of the Mass is Idolatry (Selected Writings, pp. 19-64); A Narrative of the Proceedings and Troubles of the English Congregation at Frankfort on the Maine, 1554-55 (Works, vol. 4; and his letters to Mrs. Anna Locke (Works, 6:11-15, 83-85). In his letters, Knox is even more vehement in his denunciation of the Anglican order of worship.

Reformed Confessional Views of Worship

The Reformed regulative principle of worship was not merely the opinion of certain prominent leaders. It was also embodied in many of the great creedal formulations of the Reformed churches. Below, we note several examples. We encourage you to look up these references and study the proof texts which are often annexed to these documents. By examining the scriptural support offered for the main propositions, you will have a much deeper appreciation of the exegetical basis for Reformed worship. Again, study the proof texts!

From the Preface of the Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc. Used in the English Congregation at Geneva (1556),[5] we read:

We present unto you which desire the increase of God's glory, and the pure simplicity of his word, a form and order of a Reformed church, limited within the compass of God's word, which our Saviour hath left unto us as only sufficient to govern all our actions by; so that whatsoever is added by man's device, seem it never so good, holy, or beautiful, yet before our God, which is jealous and can not admit any companion or counsellor, it is evil, wicked, and abominable. For he that is the wisdom of the Father, the brightness of his glory, the true light, the word of life, yea truth and life itself, can he give unto his church (for the which he paid the ransom of his blood) that which should not be a sufficient assurance for the same?

(Now, honestly folks, does this viewpoint seem infused with the legalism Mr. Jordan so earnestly feared in his criticisms against the Reformed regulative principle?)

Consider the following words from the French Confession of 1559:

We believe that the word contained in these books [of the Bible] has proceeded from God and receives its authority from him alone, and not from men. And inasmuch as it is the rule of all truth, containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation, it is not lawful for men, nor even for angels, to add to it, to take away from it, or to change it. Whence it follows that no authority, whether of antiquity, or custom, or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils, or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these holy scriptures, but, on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated, and reformed according to them .

We believe as Jesus Christ is our only advocate, and as he commands us to ask of the Father in his name, and as it is not lawful for us to pray except in accordance with the model God hath taught us by his word, that all imaginations of men concerning the intercession of dead saints are an abuse and a device of Satan to lead men from the right way of worship.

Further, we consider purgatory as an illusion proceeding from the same shop, from which have also sprung monastic vows, pilgrimages, the prohibition of marriage, and of eating meat, the ceremonial observance of days, auricular confession, indulgences, and all other such things by which they hope to merit forgiveness and salvation. These things we reject, not only for the false idea of merit which is attached to them, but also because they are human inventions imposing a yoke upon the conscience. (Cited from Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3, emphasis added.)

The progression of thought in the French Confession is quite illuminating. It illustrates that the regulative principle of worship is merely an outgrowth of the sola scriptura rule of Protestant theology. Inevitably, opponents of the regulative principle end up espousing a concurrent authority of the church to establish modes of worship.

The Scottish [First] Book of Discipline (1560) notes that the preaching of the gospel includes "not only the scriptures of the New Testament, but also of the Old: to wit, the law, prophets, and histories." Does this sound like men suffering from the hangups of a baptistic hermeneutic, which Mr. Jordan claims is dispensationally applied "as if only the New Testament were allowed to teach us about worship" (Geneva Papers, #25)?

Perhaps these men perceived something in the Bible that has escaped the attention of Mr. Jordan. For they go on to condemn contrary doctrine wherein,

men, by laws, councils, or constitutions have imposed upon the consciences of men, without the expressed commandment of God's word: such as be vows of chastity, forswearing of marriage, binding of men and women to several and disguised apparels, to the superstitious observation of fasting days, difference of meat for conscience sake, prayer for the dead; and keeping of holy days of certain saints commanded by man, such as be all those that the Papists have invented, as the feasts (as they term them) of apostles, martyrs, virgins, of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Purification, and other fond feasts of our lady. Which things, because in God's scriptures they neither have commandment nor assurance, we judge them utterly abolished from this realm; affirming further, that the obstinate maintainers and teachers of such abominations ought not to escape the punishment of the civil magistrate. ("Explication of the First Head of Doctrine." Cited from The First and Second Books of Discipline [loose-leaf reprint; Dallas, Presbyterian Heritage, 1993], pp. 25-26.)

If Mr. Jordan had been a citizen in Scotland in those days, would he have enlightened the Scots on the value of observing the ecclesiastical calendar and saints' days (see Geneva Papers, #s 24, 26, 29)? Would he have convinced them with his esoteric discourses on "Christianity and the Calendar," by explaining to them their ecclesiastical power as "Lords of the Festivals" (Geneva Papers, #24)? We do not believe his arguments could have persuaded the leaders of the Scottish Reformation. After all, the proponents of the church calendar made their case on many of the same grounds that are used to defend these things today. Yet, the observances were cast out of the church, not simply because they were the baggage of Rome, but because they had neither the "commandment nor assurance" of God's word.

In 1562, another noteworthy confession was drafted by John Calvin for the Reformed churches of France. Articles 17 and 18 point to various passages of scripture which warn of the danger of serving God by means of man's devising. Among the passages cited are 1 Sam. 15:22; Jam. 4:12; Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:9. Article 19 then explains:

Since men have turned aside from pure and holy obedience to God, they have discovered that good intention was sufficient to approve everything. This was to open a door to all superstitions. It has been the origin of the worship of images, the purchase of masses, the filling of churches with pomp and parade, the running about on pilgrimages, the making of vows by each at his own hand. But the abyss here is so profound that it is good enough for us to have touched some examples. So far is it from being permitted to honour God by human inventions, that there would be no firmness nor certainty, neither bottom nor shore in religion: every thing would go to wreck, and Christianity differ in nothing from the idolatries of the heathen. (Cited from Calvin's Tracts and Treatises, vol. 2.)

Does this position reflect a simple-minded reactionism to Rome? Again, we hate to belabor the point, but Mr. Jordan has clouded the issue. Perhaps we are beginning to see that the issue really concerns some fundamental differences of opinion between the Tyler assembly and a vast array of witnesses for the Reformed faith. Mr. Jordan complained as though the advocates of the regulative principle were unconcerned with "finding the large, overarching principles of worship in scripture, and noting particulars in that context" (Geneva Papers, #25). Yet, the overarching presupposition is precisely the point at issue. The regulative principle is the grand presupposition in the consideration of the means of worship. Once this principle is recognized, the evaluation of particulars is placed in that context. "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deut. 12:32).

The issue is really very simple. In its basic form, the matter is summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism. Question 96 reads, "What is God's will for us in the second commandment?" The answer: "That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word" (emphasis added).

As noted earlier, the Westminster Standards teach the same doctrine (see Confession, 20:1; Larger Catechism, numbers 108 and 109). The problem seems to be that Mr. Jordan does not agree with the position of these doctrinal standards, especially in some of the ordinary applications of the confessional principles of worship. But how has he handled this dispute? Sadly, by a false representation of the regulative principle, with an unfounded association of the Reformed position with Anabaptist notions, and by a failure to honestly confront the exegetical position of the reformers and major Reformed confessions. Tragically, this is not honorable Christian dialogue. Besides, it sidesteps the really crucial issues.

The main issues here are not simply academic differences. As the reformers noted, innovations in worship are violations of the law of God; yet, such innovations are being promoted by the Tyler congregation ­ a group that purportedly has a preeminent concern for the law of God. In other words, we are dealing with a serious moral issue: corrupting the worship of God.

The Rediscovery of Superstitions

Moreover, Mr. Jordan does not stop with this repudiation of the Reformed regulative principle. He goes on with a program to reintroduce within the church many superstitious and unwarranted practices.

Consequently, we now find the Tyler community sporting an entire wardrobe bearing the designer labels of Rome and Canterbury. It is fashionable to support ministerial vestments, the litany, the ecclesiastical year (with saints' days), the sign of the cross, and public healing services. Who knows? Next Spring we may hear talk of the re-churching of women after childbirth, the reading of apocryphal books from the pulpit, the burning of incense during worship services, and kneeling at communion. Why, the possibilities are endless for those with a fertile imagination! Shall we follow them on this pilgrimage to Canterbury ­ or Rome?

All of these ceremonies should be rejected outright through a normal application of the regulative principle. But we could also note some particulars. For example, evaluate Mr. Jordan's discussion on the public healing service (Geneva Papers, #22). He provides no scriptural warrant for turning the visitation of the elders (James 5:14) into a public institution with liturgy. A similar mistake concerning James 5:16 led to the papal institution of auricular confession. (Of course, next month, we may read an essay in The Geneva Papers on why auricular confessions weren't really all that bad, and that the reformers were really overreacting to the abuses of a good practice.)

Now, we would admit there are many things which need reforming within the Reformed and Presbyterian churches of the present day. A variety of practices have crept into worship that have no scriptural warrant. But the solution for improvement is to return to the biblical principles of the reformers ­ not by adopting a mass of ceremonial superstitions, which would merely be to exchange one form of corruption for another.

It is also quite telling that Mr. Jordan acknowledges his affinity with Lutheran and Anglican forms of worship, in preference to others ( Geneva Papers, #25). Lutheran/Anglican worship is built on an entirely different presupposition than Reformed worship. The Lutheran/Anglican position holds that we may worship God by various means, as long as what we are doing is not explicitly forbidden in scripture. In other words, they don't have to produce scriptural warrant for their practices (as in Reformed worship); rather, opponents of a practice must prove that it is wrong. The implication is that God has not left us a specific pattern for worship; he has left the church great freedom to establish rites and ceremonies for worship.

Because of this view of worship, the Anglican church was never more than partially Reformed (mainly in the area of soteriology). At many times, there were differing parties within the English church, and eventually the struggle was won by the faction that opposed reforming worship upon the principles advocated by Calvin and Knox. As a result, the Anglican church continues to assert that its ecclesiastical authorities have a form of legislative power in the realm of worship. Article 20 of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles claims, "The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies."

This claim marks a significant difference between the Reformed view and the other school of theology found among Anglicans and Lutherans. For a good discussion of the differences, see William Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, pp. 27-46.

Surprisingly, in this area, it can actually be seen that Mr. Jordan's position is closer to the Anabaptists than the Reformed view. In a Lutheran/Anglican posture, Mr. Jordan is asserting that the church has been granted broad discretionary power to establish means of worship. This is similar to the Anabaptist notions, which allow the "moving of the Spirit" to govern the present activities of the church, without any direct appeal to the law of God. In both cases, the church has the power to worship God according to the devices of men. However, the Anabaptist opts for subjectivism (due to an emphasis on individualism); the other opts for traditionalism (with an emphasis on the corporate consensus). Yet, the law of God rejects both a subjective appeal (Deut. 12:8), and an appeal to the consensus (Deut. 12:30-31). Rather, the biblical admonition directs men to the scriptural pattern of worship (Deut. 12:32).

The Rejection of Confessional Presbyterianism

Finally, we should note Mr. Jordan's rejection of confessional Presbyterianism. For some time now, the Tyler congregation has been pursuing a course directly opposed to the view of worship contained in the Westminster Standards, and the Heidelberg Catechism. The doctrine of worship is foundational to these documents; so to repudiate the part, is to repudiate the system as a whole. Significantly, these documents were formerly adopted as part of the constitution of the Tyler congregation's "denomination," the Association of Reformation churches. Sooner or later something had to give. It now appears the confessional standards are gone.

Furthermore, we must question whether the Tyler congregation is being truly candid with the public when they publish such statements as the following: "We affirm the theology of the Reformation as summarized in the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms" (Christianity & Civilization, No. 2, p. 357.)

In a recent issue of The Geneva Papers (#28), Mr. Jordan openly states his view that the Westminster Confession is a corpse, a dead symbol with a main value for study, in order to help the church write a new confession. Is this also the position of the Tyler assembly, which published this material? If so, we have a rather open denial of confessional Presbyterianism.

In retrospect, we marvel at Mr. Jordan's frequent jabs and swipes at Presbyterianism, the position of the reformers, the Puritans (who, incidentally, wrote the Westminster Confession), and the confessional standards themselves. His writings often show more charity toward Papists, than toward the Reformed faith. He writes as if he hates Presbyterianism.

We believe it is time for the Tylerites to be more forthright in the representation of their church's position. Let them change their name to Canterbury Independent Anglican church. Or, let them petition to join the Episcopal denomination. But honesty requires them to announce to the world that they are not Presbyterians, for they have clearly rejected the Presbyterian doctrine of worship.

And, while they are at it, it might be in order to rename the newsletter tosay, something like "Vatican Viewpoints." Otherwise, with a name like Geneva, people may wrongly assume they share Calvin's view of worship. If Calvin were present with us here today, he certainly wouldn't associate with the Tyler assembly, although he might pity their misguided zeal. Then again, maybe he would conduct a liturgy of malediction against those who corrupt the worship of God.


1. The confessional recognition of "good and necessary consequence" refutes Mr. Jordan's false portrayal of Puritanism. He complains that the puritan will not accept 'something "indirectly," or by way of example' (Geneva Papers, #26). Yet, the Puritans wrote the Confession, and in it they clearly acknowledge certain matters as coming indirectly, if there is good and necessary inference. Still, the Puritans expected these consequential matters to be established by sound exegesis. Hence, their approach will not allow Mr. Jordan's bizarre technique of speculative reasoning, as exemplified by his argument on the cosmic symbol of the cross, drawn from the four rivers of Gen. 2:10-14 (Geneva Papers, #25).

2. As examples, Mr. Jordan speaks of the "rite of healing" and the "rite" of the church year ( Geneva Papers, #22, #26). For an important consideration of the pedagogic nature of ceremonialism, see below, pp. 15-17.

In speaking of incidentals, we do not mean to imply that these things are items of no consequence. If people came to regard church pews as essential to proper worship, then we would have to address a new problem of superstition.

3. Mr. Jordan repeatedly links reformed views with Anabaptist notions (especially in Geneva Papers, #25); he claims that the reformed regulative principle almost inevitably proceeds to a New Testament only hermeneutic. But later, in Geneva Papers, #26, he says, "The idea that we may use only New Testament information in formulating our worship is an Anabaptist notion, not a Reformed one." If he sees this, then why does he implicate Reformed worship in Geneva Papers, #25, as if it were almost identical to Anabaptist notions? These contradictory statements may be just the result of muddled thinking.

The bottom line is that he criticizes those who advocate the Reformed regulative principle, as though they hold to this faulty hermeneutic, if they do not agree with his advocacy of the ecclesiastical year, crosses, and other forms of ceremonialism. If you disagree with him, be prepared to be accused of a rationalist approach, a baptistic hermeneutic, Baalism (Geneva Papers, #24), Anabaptism, dispensationalism, legalism, cultic minimalism, Stoic asceticism, Neo-platonic mysticism (#25), Puritanism, modern rationalism, and Greek rationalistic intellectualism (#26). Therefore, since Mr. Jordan reacts in this manner, he implicates the reformers, since they rejected many of the things he now advocates.

4. This is a repeated theme with Mr. Jordan: it's o.k. to observe these things as long as it is not done superstitiously. On this basis, he speaks favorably of crossing oneself ( Geneva Papers, #25) and saints' days (Geneva Papers, #24).

5. Available in a loose-leaf reprint from Presbyterian Heritage Publications.


The foregoing article was written originally in 1984, at the suggestion of an elder in the author's local church. The paper initially received nominal circulation in typescript form; but, in the years since, the author has received repeated requests for copies of this essay.

At times, the author has considered updating the work, in order to interact with recent publications related to worship and liturgical renewal. Yet, an expansion of the study would only swell the pages of the present review without really advancing the discussion of the main issues. The author is still convinced that, in spite of the ongoing production of literature regarding various aspects of liturgical worship, the central dispute over the regulative principle remains the crux of the matter.

Over the past few years, there have been significant changes among some of the principal figures mentioned in the article. The Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tyler has subsequently changed its name and affiliated with an Episcopal communion. Mr. Jordan is no longer associated with the congregation, but has continued to spread aberrant opinions among Presbyterian churches. Further, at least two families from the Tyler congregation have withdrawn and sought refuge within the pale of the church of Rome.


Ames, William. The Marrow ofTheology. 1629; Edited and translated into English by John D. Eusden; Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1968. A preeminent Puritan, Ames treats the subject of worship in Book 2, chapters 13-15, pp. 278-300.

Bannerman, James. The Church ofChrist (2 vols.). 1869; rpt. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974. Contains remarks on church power in relation to practices of worship.

Boston, Thomas. Works, vol. 2, pp. 127-57, exposition on the second commandment. Edited by Samuel M'Millan; 1853; rpt. Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts.

Calvin, John. The Necessity ofReforming the Church. 1544; rpt. Dallas: Protestant Heritage Press, 1995. Also in Tracts and Letters (1844; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), vol. 1, pp. 121-234. Calvin's clearest statements about worship are contained in this book and the two works listed below.

Calvin, John. On Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly, and Preserving the Purity of the Christian Religion. 1537; in Tracts and Letters (1844; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), vol. 3, pp. 359-411.

Calvin, John. The True Method ofGiving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church. 1548; in Tracts and Letters (1844; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), vol. 3, pp. 240-358.

Church of Scotland. The First and Second Books of Discipline. Preface by David Calderwood; 1621; rpt. Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1993 (a loose-leaf edition).

Cunningham,William. Discussions on Church Principles: Popish, Erastian, and Presbyterian. 1863; rpt. Edmonton: Still Waters, 1991. Note especially chapters 1, 2, and 9.

Cunningham,William."Leaders of the Reformation," in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation. 1862; rpt. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979. See especially pp. 27-46.

The Genevan Book of Order: The Form ofPrayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc., Used in the English Congregation at Geneva. Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1993 (a loose-leaf edition). A model of public worship and church polity framed with a commitment to the regulative principle of worship.

Eire,Carlos M.N. War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin. Cambridge University Press, 1986). A detailed and scholarly history, showing that the struggle against corrupt worship was a central tenet of the Reformation.

Gillespie, George. A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies Obtruded upon the Church of Scotland. 1637; rpt. Dallas: Naphtali Press, 1993. A thorough examination of the controverted points of worship between Anglicans and Presbyterians.

Knox, John. Selected Writings: Public Epistles, Treatises, and Expositions to the Year 1559. Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1995. Of special importance are Knox's pointed statements on worship, contained in the first 100 pages of this volume.

Lorimer, Peter. John Knox and the Church ofEngland. London, 1875. Chronicles Knox's efforts to promote more thorough reform in the English church during the reign of Edward VI.

M'Crie, C.G. Public Worship in Presbyterian Scotland. Edinburgh, 1892. A detailed historical survey.

Reed, Kevin. Biblical Worship. Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1995. A brief examination of the scriptural principles of worship.

Reed, Kevin. John Knox: The Forgotten Reformer. Studies in the Theology ofthe Scottish Reformer. Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, forthcoming.

Schneider, Michael and Kevin Reed. Christmas: A Biblical Critique. Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1993.

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