Monday, February 27, 2017

Regulate, Regulate, Scoff at the Music!

The Regulative Principle, like most forms of “let’s do what the Reformers did!” is almost always an exercise in cherry-picking. 1, 2

Arguments for the Regulative Principle typically present a false dichotomy followed by a slippery slope argument. The false dichotomy is that it is either the Regulative Principle (in a nutshell, only what is explicitly commanded in scripture or that for which a clear scriptural example is provided is allowed in worship) or the Normative Principle (in a nutshell, what is not forbidden in scripture is allowed. ) As if all prescriptions for worship have been discovered by the minds of men, and it turns out there are exactly two.

To the uber-reformed, if you are not with us, then you are against us. And the uber-reformed despise the Normative Principle, and its assumed precarious purchase at the apex of a slippery slope is said to lead, with near inevitability, to obscene dramatizations, vulgar dancing, easy-beliefism, and the designated hitter rule being adopted by the National League. (I really despise slippery slope arguments. There should be a special place in rhetorical hell for slippery slope arguments.)

To get away from the harsh resrtictions imposed by the RP, many churches water it down to include, in addition to “what is commanded in scripture” and “what is demonstrated by example in scripture”, the Brobdingnagian loophole: or that which can be inferred or derived.  As it turns out, just like students in math, churches vary greatly  in their ability to derive. Some can derive theorems of base guitars, drums and praise & worship choruses 3—well for others, not so much. In practice the watered down Regulative Principle is little more than “we think up to this point is OK, but certainly not beyond this point. Nosiree, no more liberty than the amount we allow.”

Now if you go full-up John Calvin on the Regulative Principle, at least you have the virtue of not being a cherry-picker. Here is what Calvin, going full-metal-jacket RP (those damn Catholics and their Satanic organs and Gregorian chants!) wrote:
To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures, but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving.   
With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and will find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were yet tender and like children, by such rudiments until the coming of Christ. But now, when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time.   
We are to remember that the worship of God was never understood to consist in such outward services, which were only necessary to help forward a people as yet weak and rude in knowledge in the spiritual worship of God. A difference is to be observed in this respect between his people under the Old and under the New Testament; for now that Christ has appeared, and the church has reached full age, it were only to bury the light of the gospel should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation. From this it appears that the Papists, as I shall have occasion to show elsewhere, in employing instrumental music cannot be said so much to imitate the practice of God's ancient people as to ape it in a senseless and absurd manner, exhibiting a silly delight in that worship of the Old Testament which was figurative and terminated with the gospel.
Yikes! You don’t want to go that far (or even close) but you want to claim the RP title and a certificate suitable for framing? Then you gots to dance the dance! Yeah, we follow the Regulative Principle, just like the Reformers did! Except for Luther (too many extra-biblical lyrics) 4 and Calvin (no instrumentation at all.) But they are fallible so, well, they got it wrong! What can we say? Luther and Calvin: epic FAIL. Now we, we are in between these extremes. We’ve got it  spot-on, Goldilocks right. The instruments we allow--those are reasonable.

In other words, you cherry-pick.

1 Keep in mind this is coming from someone who considers himself Reformed. (Although the uber-reformed do not consider me Reformed.)

2 To be fair, no more so that  false braggadocio of we will do what the early church did! Don’t tell me you are modeling the early church unless your members are liquidating their assets and giving to each according to his need.

3 In case it is not obvious, I am most definitely not pro RP, and count base guitars and drums among my besties. But I don't accept them within the confines as RPINO (Regulative Principle in Name Only). I just accept them (properly used) because they are nowhere forbidden.

4 Yes, Luther was definitely not in the Calvin camp on this occasion. For he wrote:
Nor am I at all of the opinion that all the arts are to be overthrown and cast aside by the Gospel, as some superspiritual people protest; but I would gladly see all the arts, especially music, in the service of Him who has given and created them.

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