28 June, 2008

Worship - A Pastoral Resource Letter

Rev. Robert McCurley of the Greenville congregation recently composed a letter to his congregation in which he provides an overview of several important and helpful resources regarding the topic of worship. For those interested in learning more about purity of worship, psalmody, etc. this letter provides an excellent launching point for such study. The benefit lies not only in its sound direction to tried and true resources, but in that it also makes it easy to locate the resources electronically. Please find it posted below. Also, you will find a link to Rev. McCurley's sermons in the column to the right of this page.

Dear Congregation,

A few people have recently asked for material that they could use for themselves or that they could give to their friends and family that would explain the biblical basis for the singing of Psalms in worship without musical instruments. While at risk of inundating you with information, I thought that I would compile a number of resources in one easily accessible place. This will enable various people to pick and choose from the online resources that best suit their needs. This extensive list is an attempt to help you and not overwhelm you.

The best brief introduction to Psalm-singing is a booklet by G. I. Williamson, a retired OPC minister, entitled, "The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God". If someone is only going to read one thing, then I would recommend this piece by Williamson. It can be found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-singing-of-psalms-in-the-worship-of-god.php. In addition, there is the 1947 minority report of the OPC, written by Professor John Murray and William Young, which has come to be viewed as something of a classic 20th century statement. This is also a small piece. It is found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/song-in-the-public-worship-of-god.php. One of our FCC ministers, John Keddie, has also written a small book entitled, Sing the Lord's Song. It is found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/sing-the-lords-song-biblical-psalms-in-worship.php. The most comprehensive, contemporary book on singing Psalms exclusively in worship is, The Songs of Zion, by Michael Bushell. This is a more substantial book and can be borrowed from the GPC church library. You may also be interested in a series of articles by Pastor Sherman Isbell on exclusive psalmody in which he powerfully refutes the objections to exclusive psalmody that have been appeared in the last couple of decades. This series of articles begins at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-singing-of-psalms.php. Pastor Isbell has also written a helpful introduction to the split-leaf Scottish Psalter that we use in our congregation, which was produced in conjunction with the Westminster Assembly. The article can be found at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/how-to-use-a-split-leaf-psalter-a-book-review.php. I would also commend a nice overview about Christ in the Psalms by E. S. McKitrick, which is found online at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/christ-in-the-psalms.php. All of these above links are to Pastor Isbell's website, The Westminster Presbyterian. The homepage for his site is: [the website's contents have now been transferred to the Presbytery's site: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/ -JM, 15 June 2009]. Pastor Isbell is one of my closest friends and our FCC pastor in Washington D.C. His website has a gold mine of articles on a wide variety of topics from the classical Reformed and Puritan perspective.

A brief introduction to the question of musical instruments in worship is, "Instrumental Music in Worship: Commanded or Not Commanded?" by G.I. Williamson. This can be found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/instrumental-music-in-worship-commanded-or-not-commanded.php. If you want something to listen to on this topic, I preached a sermon on the biblical basis for not having instruments in New Testament worship entitled, Musical Instruments in Worship, which can be found online at: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1140719162. We have a few books in the church library that address this topic. The best full-length book is by John L. Girardeau entitled, Instrumental Music in Worship, which is available in the GPC library. Girardeau was a 19th century South Carolinian Presbyterian pastor and theologian.

Underlying both the question of instruments and Psalm-singing is a more fundamental Reformed doctrine called the regulative principle of worship, which is spelled out in the Westminster Standards and other Reformed confessional statements. Much of the above material on Psalm-singing and musical instruments in worship will contain information on the regulative principle of worship. For additional introductory material on the regulative principle of worship itself, you can read the following: "Regulated Worship" by Pastor Isbell at: http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/worship.html; "The Heavenly Sanctuary" by Pastor Isbell at: http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/temple.html; "The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship" by G.I. Williamson beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-scriptural-regulative-principle-of-worship.php; "The Second Commandment" by William Young beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-second-commandment.php; "The Puritan Principle of Worship" by William Young beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-puritan-principle-of-worship.php.

I have previously circulated to the congregation electronic audio filies of most of the tunes in our Psalter, which is a helpful aid in learning new tunes at home. This can be made available to others upon request. There are also several CD recordings of singing from the Scottish Psalter -- from various folks in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia and the US. You can order some of these from www.psalms4u.com. My personal favorite is entitled, Performed in Heaven, seen at:http://www.christianfocus.com/search/do/-/-/n_t?term=performed+in+heaven&type=all This and several others have to be ordered from Britain ( e.g., the FP Bookshop: http://www.fpbookroom.org/.

I hope that this e-mail adequately supplies the kind of material that some of your were requesting. If you still want more after you have read all of the material in this e-mail, please let me know. There is much more material once we turn to the historic Reformed writings.

If there is anything else that I can do to be of help in this regard, please do not hesitate to ask. May the Lord pour out the abundant riches of grace upon you and your families.

Warm Regards,

Pastor Rob McCurley

25 June, 2008

Orthodox - To What End?

William Ames, the renowned and influential Puritan theologian of the 16th and 17th centuries, opened his Marrow of Theology with the words, “Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.” To our contemporary ears, this definition sounds out of place to a degree. Isn’t theology the study of God? The systematization of divine truth? I do not think Ames would disagree with such sentiments rightly understood. The whole of the Marrow testifies to his appreciation of gathering the truths of Scripture into a coherent system, thus providing an overview of the whole teaching of Scripture on a given doctrine.

However, it is clear in his definition above, as well as in his handling of the various doctrines, that Ames is not content to leave theology as a mere knowledge about certain truths. Rather his aim is to procure a right understanding of divine truth in order to a right response and enjoyment of our Triune God. In other words, he lays out the comprehensive teaching of a given doctrine for the sake of gaining understanding that will affect the way we live our lives.

For instance, after spending a fair amount of space laying down the teaching of Scripture with relation to God’s attributes and subsistence he notes, “Hence God as the object of our faith is in every way sufficient to impart salvation to us. For all love, grace, and those things which pertain to living well come from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Thus we find that though Ames labors the right knowledge of truth, it is in order for our right practice and response.

It is a fearful thing to survey many debates that go on today. There is undoubtedly a place for precise and laborious debate in the midst of the church. If indeed the truth is necessary in order for right living and glorifying of God, then it is mandatory that we labor to understand the truth. However, there are many times when it seems that debates, whether formal or informal, are merely for the sake of winning and standing victorious over a conquered foe.

Whereas we must not neglect our responsibilities to stand for any portion of God’s word, however great or small, we nonetheless must be sure it is done for the right reason and in the right manner. As J. I. Packer notes in his Knowing God, “To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.” Packer further notes that the Psalmist in Psalm 119, “was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand.”

Is this the description of the church today? Is our concern for orthodox teaching a means to fellowship with God, godliness and bringing glory to our divine Savior? If so, does it show not only in our zeal for the truth, but in our great concern for those who might differ from the truth? It is interesting that the apostle Paul exhorted us to have our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Is it so with us? Though we wage war against principalities and everything which raises itself against the truth, is it done ultimately to bring glory to God and enjoyment of him – both in our lives and the lives of others?

Every believer ought to make great efforts to understand Scripture. This takes place by regular Bible readings, systematic study, regular attendance upon the means of grace, fellowship, and the reading of helpful uninspired books. All of these things ought to be done by every believer, in so far as he or she can. But let us approach it with a clear purpose in mind. It is not merely that we might grow in knowledge about certain things. Rather, it is in order to grow in our knowledge so that we can better enjoy and glorify God.

Thus, during at after our times of study, reading, attendance upon the preaching of God's word, etc., let us not only think upon the intellectual growth that we hopefully gained. Let us add to this the analysis of our own lives in light of these truths. Was there instruction upon the attributes of God? Then ask whether we have been remembering this in our praise, if we have been acknowledging such attributes in our day to day lives. Was there instruction in the way of salvation? Take time and see if this is the way you have embraced. Ask yourself if you have evidence in your life that you are indeed on this way. Never let a new truth pass without taking hold of it in such a way that it affects your "living to God." Is this difficult? Certainly. However, the benefits are worth the effort.

Perhaps the best uninspired summary of this was framed by an assembly of men who met at Westminster Abbey in the 1600’s, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."