The Simplicity of Reformed Worship

Historic Reformed churches worship the Lord in simplicity.  That is, Reformed churches do not include ceremonies, festivals, crucifixes, processions, incense, relics, images, vestments, altars, and so forth in their worship services.  Reformed worship simply consists of the Word (read, preached, sung, confessed, prayed) and the sacraments (the Lord’s supper and baptism).

The main reason for the simplicity of Reformed worship is the teaching of Scripture.  The Bible doesn’t command God’s New Covenant people to worship him with all the images and vestments and ceremonies.  The Reformers believed that the external ceremonies and images didn’t elevate the mind to God, but domesticated God and therefore were idolatrous.  Furthermore, they said that all these non-biblical extras in worship throw a fog over the gospel.  Simple worship, therefore, means the gospel will not be obscured.  In 1560 the Reformer Guillaume Farel explained it like this:

The Church should be decorated and adorned with Jesus Christ and the Word of his gospel and his holy sacraments.  This great Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, and the light of his gospel, have nothing to do with our burning torches and our candles and candelabras.  God has instead ordained that by true preaching and by the holy sacraments practiced in their simplicity this light might be manifested and illumine us with all glory.

Similarly, Theodore Beza preached the following in 1585:

[God’s house is not a place] that we enter to see the beautiful shapes of vaults and pillars, or to admire the splendor of gold and silver and precious stones.  Nor is it a place that we visit in order to fill our ears with the signing of choirs and the music of organs.  Rather it is a place where the pure Word of God is clearly preached in the presence of each person, with words of exhortation, consolation, warning, and censure necessary for salvation.

In other words, the Reformers wanted worship to be ordered according to the Word and centered on the gospel.  They wanted to keep it simple so God’s word and his gospel would clearly be front and center.  In that way, he alone would receive all the glory, honor, and praise.  ‘Soli Dei Gloria’ goes hand in hand with Reformed worship!

The above discussion and quotes are found on pages 31-37 of Scott Manetsch’s book, Calvin’s Company of Pastors.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Justification and Double Imputation

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 are two places in Scripture that teach the twin truths of justification and double imputation: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” “…He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASB).  After discussing these passages in some detail, John Fesko writes this in summary:

“In these two passages we see the inextricable link between justification and double imputation.  God does not simply write off sin when he forgives the believer. Rather, God imputes the sin and guilt of the believer to Christ, who has borne the penalty for that sin and guilt upon the cross.  At the same time God imputes the righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ to the believer.  Sever either the remission of sins or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the sinner stands inextricably in a quandary, as the sinner requires not only the forgiveness of sins but also the righteousness and obedience of Christ. If the believer receives only the remission of sins, then justification would not be possible, as God would have to postpone his judgment to await the outcome, to wait and see whether the void of sin would be filled by obedience.”

This, however is not the nature of our justification because when God eliminates our sin he fills the void with the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, and right then and there the believer, like Abraham, is counted righteous, and indefectibly so because God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to the believer.  This means that the historic Reformed expressions of justification by faith alone are correct.”

John Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (Phillipsburg; P&R, 2008), p 204-205.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Witsius on Law, Gospel, and Antinomianism

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain  In 1696 at Utrecht, Herman Witsius’ book against antinomianism and neonomianism was first published.  The long title is Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain.  I’m still working through it, and will comment more later.  For now, I want to mention a section I thought helpful – a section on the law and the gospel.

Finally, it is required, in what manner and order the preaching of the law should accompany that of the gospel. To the determination of which question, we must first know, 1) what is understood by the law, and 2) what by the gospel.

1) The law here signifies that part of the Divine word which consists in precepts and prohibitions, with the promise of conferring a reward upon them who obey, and a threatening of punishment to the disobedient.  …Every prescription of duty belongs to the law, as the venerable Voetius, after others, hath inculcated to excellent purpose.

2) The gospel signifies the doctrine of grace, and of the fullest salvation in Christ Jesus, to be received of elect sinners by faith. …If we take the word gospel in a strict sense, as it is the form of the testament of grace, which consists of mere promises, or the absolute exhibition of salvation in Christ, then it properly prescribes nothing as duty, it requires nothing, it commands nothing, no not so much as to believe, trust, hope in the Lord, and the like. But it relates, declares, and signifies to us, what God in Christ promises, what he willeth, and is about to do.

Therefore every prescription of virtues and duties, all exhortations and dissuasions, all reproofs and threatenings also all the promises of a reward in recompense of perfect obedience, belong to the law. But to the gospel appertains whatever can give a sinner the hope of salvation, namely, the doctrine concerning the person, offices, states, and benefits of Jesus Christ, and all the promises wherein is included the pardon of sins, and the annexed possession of grace and glory, to be obtained by faith in him. This is the strictest notion of both words, to which we must attend, in the whole of this disputation.

Witsius later talks about the general or broad definitions of law and gospel and what it means to properly preach the law and the gospel.  Here’s a great note on preaching the gospel:

“I do not conceal, however, that in my judgment, the beginning of the new life is not from the preaching of the law, but of the gospel.”

There’s more to Witsius’ argument – and it is a helpful one!  You can find this book on Logos (click here for a Reformed Reader discount) or via xerox-type copy on Amazon (here).  I’m sure it’s also on the internet somewhere but haven’t checked.  If you’re interested in the topics of law, gospel, justification, sanctification, good works, and so forth from a historic Reformed perspective, Witsius’ book is a good resource:

Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), chapter XVII.

shane lems

Mary, Rome, and the Gospel

In the mid-19th century Charles Chiniquy was a priest in the French Canadian Roman Catholic Church.  To make a very long story short, Chiniquy constantly wrestled with the teachings of Rome since they didn’t mesh with the teachings of Scripture.  After a long and intense spiritual struggle, Chiniquy left Rome for the Reformation.  The unabridged edition of this book is quite long and detailed, but it is worth the effort.  (FYI, you can find it on Kindle for less than $2.00.)  I’m reading through the unabridged edition, and though I don’t agree with it all, it has been a fascinating read; it’s not one I’ll set down and forget about.

One section that stands out for me is where Chiniquy recounted a sermon about Mary that he preached when he was a Catholic priest.  (Speaking of Mary and Rome, here’s a summary of Rome’s teaching on prayer to Mary.)  Chiniquy’s sermon went like this (edited/abridged):

“I was sincerely devoted to the Virgin Mary.  Nothing seemed to me more natural than to pray to her, and rely on her protection.  The object of my sermon was to show that Jesus Christ cannot refuse any of the petitions presented to him by his mother; that she has always obtained favors she asked he Son, Jesus, to grant to her devotees. Of course, my address was more sentimental than Scripture, as it is the style among the priests of Rome.  But I was honest; and I sincerely believed what I said.”

“The Gospel says, in reference to his parents, …’he was subject unto them (Lk. 2:51).  What a grand and shining revelation we have in these few short words: Jesus was subject unto Mary!  Is it not written, that Jesus is the same today, as he was yesterday, and will be forever (Heb. 13:8)?  He has not changed.  He is still the Son of Mary… in his divine humanity, he is still subject unto Mary.  This is why our holy Church, which is the pillar and fountain of Truth, invites you and me, today, to put an unbounded confidence in her intercession.  Remembering that Jesus has always granted the petitions presented to him by his divine mother, let us put our petitions in her hands, if we want to receive the favours we are in need of.”

Chiniquy says quite a bit more about devotion and prayers to Mary in this sermon.  At one point, he says that because Jesus is so holy and we are so sinful, we cannot go directly to Christ.  Therefore, he preached, we should go to Mary – because she is the mediator and intercessor between sinners and Christ.  Chiniquy even quoted Pope Gregory XVI: “Mary is the only hope of sinners.”

Soon after he preached this sermon, Chiniquy was reading through the Gospels where he found accounts of Jesus rebuking Mary and the stories where Jesus says his mother and brothers are those who do the will of God (e.g. John 2:4, Mark 3:34-35, etc.).  These texts pierced his conscience like a sword, and he felt incredibly guilty (to the point of tears) for preaching lies:

“A voice, the voice of my conscience, whose thunders were like the voice of a thousand Niagaras was telling me: “Do you not see that you have preached a sacrilegious lie this morning, when, from the pulpit, you said to your ignorant and deluded people, that Jesus always granted the petitions of His mother, Mary? Are you not ashamed to deceive yourself, and deceive your poor countrymen with such silly falsehoods?  …Do you not see you have presented a blasphemous lie, every time you said that Jesus always granted the petitions of His mother?”

Chiniquy took his concerns to a bishop who could not answer his questions, but simply directed him to the early Church fathers.  Chiniquy then looked deep into the fathers, but did not find them advocating the worship of or prayers to Mary.  He continued to wrestle, thinking that he was able to put up with Rome’s several errors more than Protestantism’s many errors.  Later he came to the conclusion that there were more errors in Rome than in Protestantism.  Therefore he left Rome and her unbiblical superstitions, unchristian traditions, and distortions of the gospel.  By the way, Rome hasn’t changed her position on Mary.  The Reformation happened for a reason!

The above quotes can be found in chapter 46 of Charles Chiniquy, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome.

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Three Uses of God’s Law

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (NOTE: this is a repost from March, 2009)

When the Reformed and Lutheran scholastics talked about God’s moral law (lex moralis), they taught that there are three basic uses of the law (usus legis).  According to Richard Muller’s helpful research, they are:

1) The civil use (usus politicus sive civilis).  That is, the law serves the commonwealth or body politic as a force to restrain sin.  This falls under the general revelation (revelatio generalis) discussion in most of the scholastics as well as natural law (cf. Rom 1-2).

2) The pedagogical use (usus elenchticus sive paedagogicus).  That is, the law also shows people their sin and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves (e.g. Rom. 3:20).  In Richard Muller’s summary, this is “the use of the law for the confrontation and refutation of sin and for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ” (p. 320 of Muller).  This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 2-4.

3) The normative use (usus didacticus sive normativus).  That is, this use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been saved through faith apart from works (e.g. Ps. 119).  It “acts as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom  the grace of God works the good” (p. 321).  This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 32-52 – the law is a moral guide for those who have been saved by grace.

Note: “In this model, Christ appears as the finis legis, or end of the law, both in the sense that the usus paedagogicus leads to Christ as to a goal and in the sense that the usus normativus has become a possibility for man only because Christ has fulfilled the law in himself” (Ibid.).  In other words, in both the pedagogical use and the normative use Christ is central as the one who has saved his people from the law’s demands and the one who has earned for them the gift of Spirit-wrought obedience.

You can read a bit more in Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Protesting Papal Snares

https://i0.wp.com/covers3.booksamillion.com/covers/bam/0/14/043/477/0140434771.jpgSometimes we Protestants forget our protest.  The Reformation came about because certain Christian men boldly protested the heinous abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.  These weren’t minor abuses; it wasn’t like the Reformers were simply upset about a few songs, candle arrangements, and the writings of one or two priests.  The Reformers protested against Rome because her official teaching contradicted the heart of Scriptural truth: salvation from sin by grace alone (not grace + merit) through faith alone (not faith + works) in Christ alone (not Mary’s or anyone else’s merits), which we are taught from Scripture alone (not ecclesiastical tradition) for God’s glory alone (not for the glory of the Pope or any man).

It’s important to keep this in mind when reading Reformed works that criticize the theology and practice of Rome.  Protestants have often used harsh language when writing against Rome.  Although these Protestant writers were not without sin, by in large Rome’s corruption and abuses deserve harsh language because Rome distorts the gospel, binds consciences, and takes the spotlight off of Christ, his promises, and his love.  Here’s an example from William Tyndale, one of the early English Reformers.

“Woe be to you lawyers! For ye lade [load] men with burdens which they are not able to bear, and ye yourselves touch not the packs with one of your fingers,” saith Christ, Luke 11, Our [spiritual] lawyers, verily, have laden us a thousand times more. What spiritual kindred have they made in baptism to let [hinder] matrimony!  Besides that they have added certain degrees unto the law natural for the same purpose. What an unbearable burden of chastity do they violently thrust on other men’s backs, and how easily bear they it themselves! How sore a burden, how cruel a hangman, how grievous a torment, yea, and how painful an hell, is this ear-confession unto men’s consciences! For the people are brought in belief, that without that they cannot be saved; insomuch that some fast certain days in the year, and pray certain superstitious prayers all their lives long, that they may not die without confession. In peril of death, if the priest be not [near]by, the shipmen shrive themselves [make confession] unto the mast [of the ship]. If any [person] be present, they run then every man into his ear [to confess]: but to God’s promises fly they not, for they know them not. If any man have a death’s wound, he crieth immediately for a priest. If a man die without shrift [confession], many take it for a sign of damnation. Many, by reason of that false belief, die in desperation. Many, for shame, keep back of their confession twenty, thirty years, and think all the while that they be damned.

I knew a poor woman with child, which longed, and, being overcome of her passion [hunger], ate flesh [meat] on a Friday; which thing she durst [dared] not confess in the space of eighteen years, and thought all that while that she had been damned, and yet sinned she not at all. Is not this a sore burden, that so weigheth down the soul unto the bottom of hell? What should I say? A great book were not sufficient to rehearse the snares which they have laid to rob men both of their goods, and also of the trust which they should have in God’s word.

This is why men like Tyndale protested against the heavy burdens of the papacy.  Rome was binding consciences far beyond the Word, propagating religious superstitions, messing with God’s law, removing free grace from the gospel, not pointing to God’s unfailing promises for solace, and driving people to spiritual despair.  These things were – and are! – certainly worth protesting with vigor!

The above quote is found on pages 101-102 of Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, first published in 1528.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Dr. Martin on Monastic Futility

Product Details  Some Christians today unfortunately have a positive view of monasticism or monastic retreats; many of them view such things as very “spiritual” and pleasing to God.  Martin Luther, however, rightly rebuked such a view.  Having spent time in a monastery, Luther spoke first hand.  This excerpt that follows has a lot to do with the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel (justification by faith alone):

“The real change which Christ came to effect is an inward change of the human heart, just as I now have a different mind, courage, and perception than I did when we were still controlled by the papacy and before the Gospel was revealed anew. At that time I was convinced that God would reject me, and I did not believe that I would be serving God if I continued in my vocation, discharging the duties of my office. As a matter of fact, I did not know God as He really is. Nor did I know how I could ever overcome sin and death, go to heaven, and live in eternal bliss.  I had the idea that I had to reach those goals by my own good works; and I became a monk for that reason, and nearly tortured myself to death.”

“But salvation does not depend on caps, robes, not eating meats, fasting, and similar works.  Death cannot be destroyed in that way; nor can sins be washed away in that manner.  Instead, both sin and death continue to exist under either gray or black hoods, and under red or blue robes.  As I said earlier, salvation depends on the heart being enlightened and receiving a new seal, so that it can say, ‘I know that God accepts me just as I am, and that this truly applies to me because he has sent his Son, let him become a human being, so that through him I would be able to overcome sin and death and be assured of having eternal life.”

“…Prior to this time many people thought, ‘If I am to be saved, I will have to don a monk’s camp or a nun’s hood.’  If anyone tried to force you to wear one now, you would run to the end of the earth to avoid doing so.  Likewise if you previously would have eaten a bit of meat on Friday, you would have thought that the earth would upon up and swallow you for sure.  But now you tell the pope, the bishops, yes, the devil himself, ‘Go, kiss my hand! Why shouldn’t I eat meat?  Why should I be afraid to do so?’  That’s what it means to undergo an inner change and a change of heart, a change in which the heart acquires from God’s Word a different mind and will, and continues in its vocation and secular life as before, as we learn from the shepherds [in Luke 2:15-20).”

Martin Luther, a “Holy Christmas Day” sermon, Luther’s House Postils, in volume 5 of Luther’s sermons.

shane lems