Reviews of James B. Jordan's Views on Worship.
Liturgical Nestorianism
By Richard Bacon
Copyright 1996 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett. Originally published

In 1984 Kevin Reed of Presbyterian Heritage Publications wrote an essay entitled "The Canterbury Tales." The title was intended as a play on words with the archbishopric of the Anglican church and the title of Chaucer's famous epic. Reed documented the liturgical tendencies within the [then] Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tyler, Texas and the essays on worship by James B. Jordan which were published as Geneva Papers, numbers 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, and 29.

Since Reed's publication of "The Canterbury Tales," the Westminster Presbyterian Church has become the Good Shepherd Episcopal church; its pastor has become an Episcopal priest along with a former member; and at least two families from the church have moved "beyond Canterbury" to Rome.note1

James B. Jordan has since left Good Shepherd and has begun his own parachurch organization called Biblical Horizons in Niceville, FL. From Florida he has published three booklets on worship: The Liturgy Trap: The Bible versus Mere Tradition in Worship (Reviewed within by Rev. Greg Price), a book purporting to oppose the errors of Rome, [Eastern] Orthodoxy and Anglo-Catholicism; Theses on Worship: Notes Toward the Reformation of Worship (Reviewed within by Tim Worrell), which claims to rediscover patterns of worship that eluded even the Reformers; and Liturgical Nestorianism: A Critical Review of Worship in the Presence of God.

Much of the review that follows will be critical of Mr. Jordan's writing. It is only fair that we begin with a number of observations which demonstrate that there are many positive aspects to Jordan's thinking. First, the fact that Jordan or anyone else is giving serious thought to worship issues is encouraging. Very little serious attention has been paid to how we worship. Most Christians, of whatever persuasion, have been content to accept complacently the traditions received from their fathers. The fact that many of the "traditions" are of recent origin seems not to bother most, either. Therefore if Jordan's books serve as a wake-up call to the church on this vital subject they will have accomplished some good.

Another important part of what Mr. Jordan is saying is his emphasis on corporate worship. He rightly points out that American Evangelicalism (and Reformed, too, like a puppy at heel) has so individualized worship as to make corporate worship almost "optional." We have lost sight of that which was clearly seen by the Psalmist, "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God" (Psalm 87:2-3).

Yet another point that Jordan makes is the importance of using a precise and accurate translation of Scripture. I would add that it should be one suitable for public reading, i.e. it should have a considerable literary merit. However, in making his point Mr. Jordan rather distorts the commissioning of the Authorized Version. Though King James I was head of the civil government, it was a group of ministers who first prodded the king into authorizing the translation and who then carried it out. While Jordan rightly rails against modern publishing houses mistreating the Word of God as private (i.e. nonecclesiastical) parties, he also ignores the salient fact that the AV was superintended by bishops of the English church in 1604- 1611: such as Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury; George Abbott, Bishop of London; Lancelot Andrewes, former chaplain to Queen Elizabeth I and a Dean in the Anglican church; Thomas Ravis, Dean of Christ Church; Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester; etc. Though the KJV (AV) was authorized by the King because of England's peculiar Erastian church discipline, the translating work was in fact carried out by the church, as were virtually all the Reformation translations.

Finally, and this list is not exhaustive, Jordan should be commended for the emphasis that he places on the covenant between God and his people. Thus the Presbyterian Church in America's Book of Church Order (chapter 47.2) states, "A service of public worship is not merely a gathering of God's children with each other, but before all else, a meeting of the triune God with his chosen people. God is present in public worship not only by virtue of the Divine omni-presence but, much more intimately, as the faithful Covenant Saviour." Unfortunately the PCA has never adopted chapter 47 of its BoCO so as to give it constitutional status.

One of the chief difficulties with Jordan's view of worship, or perhaps we should even say the difficulty from which all others flow, is his basically faulty understanding of the regulative principle of worship. This has been pointed out over the years by the reviewers of Jordan's work, yet he continues to misrepresent the principle in print. Of course, it is often a useful tool of debaters to erect a "straw man" or caricature of their opponents' position in order to sway an audience more easily. However, that method does not serve us well if our pursuit is for the truth of God's Word. Now Jordan has been corrected repeatedly over the years and yet continues in his latest works to misrepresent the Westminster Confession's view of worship.

In Geneva Papers #25 (February 1984), Mr. Jordan published the following statement:

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 . . . . First, no one is able to apply the principle without modifying it, because we find no Biblical grounds for church buildings, pews, etc. Second, this principle is almost always applied dispensationally, as if only the New Testament were allowed to teach us about worship.note2

Compare this with Jordan's statement in Liturgical Nestorianism: "First, minimalists are dispensational. They have erected an arbitrary wall between Old Creation and New Creation worship, and they do not understand how the Old Creation is transfigured into the New in Christ." note3

Yet this misrepresentation of Westminster Presbyterians does not square at all with the very book Jordan is supposedly reviewing. To characterize the Reformed regulative principle of worship as Anabaptist and Dispensational is either grossly uniformed at best or dishonest at worst.

Dr. Frank J. Smith, in the introductory article of Worship in the Presence of God, the book to which Jordan refers, states:

The public assembly is a covenantal gathering, a time and place for God to meet directly with his people. He lays down the law, and they are to bless him in return. This importance of listening to God may be perceived from the terminology of Scripture: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.' Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 tells of the importance of listening in God's presence in contrast to sacrificing and speaking . . . . The Second Commandment demonstrates the importance of hearing rather than seeing. note4

The importance of such quotations is that they demonstrate that the regulative principle of worship is not and never has been "Dispensational" in the sense in which that term is routinely used in Christian circles today. In fact, the regulative principle of worship is firmly grounded in the Old Testament as well as the New. In a chapter which speaks to the various worship practices of the Canaanites as the people of Israel entered the land, the Lord God specifically prohibited those same practices in biblical religion and at the same time laid down a principle by which his worship was to be regulated. This is neither a specifically Old Testament principle, nor a specifically New Testament principle – it is a biblical principle:

Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. (Deuteronomy 12:31-32)

It is clear from the book of Hebrews and from the practice of virtually all Christians today that there are God- appointed changes between the Old Testament and the New Testament. I am unaware of any Christian sect that teaches we are to continue making pilgrimages to Jerusalem thrice a year, offering lambs or goats on an altar, etc. There may be a difference of opinion as to precisely the form that the changes in worship from Old Testament to New Testament are to take; but it is both incorrect and misleading to characterize the regulative principle of worship as being dispensational. As Scripture says:

For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law (Heb. 7:12). For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (Heb. 7:18). For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second (Heb. 8:7). In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13). For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins (Heb. 10:4). For even that which was made glorious had not glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious (2 Cor. 3:10-11).

Jordan's claim that the regulative principle is a "New Testament only" hermeneutic (relating it to the Anabaptists) or that it is dispensational simply ignores what the Reformers claimed for it.note5 There will be some honest differences of opinion on precisely how the Scriptures should be interpreted on any specific worship practice. But the fact that men differ with respect to their interpretation of Scripture does not nullify the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura; neither should we suppose that the fact that there are disagreements among Reformed authors over specific applications of the regulative principle means that the principle is at fault. The point of this rather lengthy correction of Jordan's misrepresentation of the regulative principle is simply this: Jordan repeatedly accuses the authors of Worship in the Presence of God of "minimalism" and "dispensationalism."

Jordan's biggest disappointment with Thomas Reid's essaynote6 is that he does not include more Eastern Orthodox (Alexander Schmemann), Roman Catholic (Louis Bouyer), Lutheran (Luther Reed) and liberal (Geddes MacGregor) works in his bibliography. Or it may be that Mr. Jordan confesses his real reason for his criticisms when he says, "The first reason this essay disappoints me is that none of my numerous writings in this area are mentioned, nor are the works of my colleagues, past and present, in the liturgical wing of conservative Presbyterianism."note7 Given the repeated hostility and name calling that Mr. Jordan has exhibited toward Reformed worship, it is at least possible that many in the Reformed camp do not consider him "one of their own." Still, whether Mr. Jordan's essays are numerous does not determine whether they are important.

Perhaps one of the reasons Jordan's works were not mentioned in Thomas Reid's bibliography is Jordan's view, expressed in his The Sociology of the Church that the reading of Scripture and the sermon "is all designed to lead us to the second act of sacrifice: the Offertory . . . . Thus the offering plates are brought down front to the minister, who holds them up before God ('heave offering') and gives them to Him." note8 Jordan continues in another place to claim that worship should be characterized by "singing, falling down, kneeling, dancing, clapping, processions, and so forth. The recovery of all these things for worship . . . must be our eventual goal." note9 One is left to wonder whether they are to be recovered from the weak and beggarly elements of bondage (Galatians 4:9-11) or recovered from Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

The greatest problem with Jordan's writings is his frequent resorting to hasty generalizations and non sequitur. Thus, Jordan claims, while reviewing Worship in the Presence of God, "Most of this book is a serious attempt to defend the Puritan or anti-liturgical approach to worship, and as such merits our attention." note10 Of course what Mr. Jordan means by "anti-liturgical" is the regulative principle of worship. By his use of such language he begs the question. After all, the English word "liturgy" is from the Greek "leitourgia" which had a classic meaning, but was also used by Paul in Romans 15:27 and 2 Corinthians 9:12 in reference to offerings for the poor. In other words, liturgy is not limited to the idea of elaborate and illogical ritual designed simply to make us feel good. Acceptable worship is not incense and candles – it is what the Lord God says it is – it is what he has appointed.

Jordan engages in hasty generalization and non sequitur in his chapter on "Girardeau and Musical Instruments in Worship." note11 First Jordan argues against Girardeau's assertion that instruments were not used to accompany singing in the synagogue. He opines, "Against Girardeau, however, it must be said that Jewish worship and life was seriously corrupt by that time, as the New Testament makes plain, and so it is entirely possible that the rejection of musical instruments by Pharisees and Saducees reflected the influence of Greek philosophy rather than historic Hebrew tradition." note12 In a footnote to this sentence, Jordan commits another informal fallacy by assuming that because Plato was opposed to musical instruments the reason for their absence in the synagogue is somehow tied to Plato. Jordan – as is often the case – offers opinion, but zero evidence for his claim. In fact, one of Jordan's chief problems is that in his attempt to strain out Plato he swallows Aristotle. Jordan seems to be under the impression that truth can be conveyed by the senses. note13

On the next page, Jordan claims "as we have seen, he [Girardeau] cannot show that musical instruments were always absent from the synagogue." note14 Well, Jordan may have "seen" that, but we certainly saw no such thing. What we saw was an unproved and unproveable assertion by Jordan that maybe the reason for the absence of musical instruments from the tabernacle had something or other to do with Plato's Republic. We saw nothing by way of historical argument or logical connection. Unfortunately, this is typical of Jordan's approach. On page 79 he claims, "We have already seen that the synagogue from Moses to David would almost certainly have sung at least two non-psalms: the Song of Moses and the Song of the Red Sea."note15 Where did we learn that these songs were sung in the synagogue? Why, on page 75 under such irrefutable evidence as this: concerning Deuteronomy 32, the Song of Moses, "Were they allowed to sing it in synagogue meetings? I would say, obviously yes." This is what counts to Jordan as "we have already seen." It would be far more accurate for him to say, "I have already asserted without a shred of evidence but am now going to assume as something proven." Of course the evidence for the singing of the Song of the Red Sea (Exodus 15) is quite similar. "I personally think they also sang this song in the synagogue." note16 Perhaps those were merely a couple of oversights on Jordan's part. Perhaps he just got in too big a hurry. According to Jordan, the church taught for the first 1000+ years of her history that food was dangerous; sex was dangerous; and even sinful. Thus because fear of food, music and sex runs through pagan asceticism, the real reason the church did not use musical instruments for 1000 years of her history is a similar fear of music. To add arrogance to mischief, Jordan says "appeals to Church history can be valid, but only if they are carefully made." note17 Jordan's carelessness is further exposed in his claim, "Only the Covenanter Psalter (The Book of Psalms for Singing) and the Canadian Reformed Book of Praise (Anglo-Genevan Psalter) contain complete metrical versions of all 150 [Psalms]." note18 Jordan's statement ignores two relatively new psalters, the Trinity Psalter,note19 and The Complete Book of Psalms for Singing,note20 with study notes. He also neglects to mention the Scottish Psalternote21 which dates from 1650.

Liturgical Nestorianism receives its title from page 56. It is typical of the lengths to which Jordan will go in order to misrepresent those who disagree with him. Nestorianism was a Christological issue. Nestorius claimed that Christ is actually two persons – a divine person and a human person. For this reason Berkhof complains, "Instead of blending the two natures [of Christ] into a single self- consciousness, Nestorianism places them alongside of each other with nothing more than a moral and sympathetic union between them. The man Christ was not God, but God-bearer, theophoros, a possessor of the Godhead. Christ is worshipped, not because He is God, but because God is in Him." note22

Jordan claims, "Those who give virtually all power to man to decide how to worship are guilty of identifying man with God in a kind of liturgical Monophysitism, note23 but those who radically separate man and God tend toward liturgical Nestorianism." note24 There is a vague extrinsic similarity in the words "separate man and God" in Jordan's explanation and in historical Nestorianism. Apart from that his statement is simply a misrepresentation of Dr. William Young, whom he accuses of this supposed liturgical error, and the Reformed understanding of worship. note25

Jordan claims, "Nestorian Christology, however, denigrates human nature, saying that God and man in Christ were not joined." note26 Actually that is not accurate. What Nestorianism claims is that the deity of Christ and the humanity of Christ were not joined as one person. Jordan apparently does not understand Nestorianism very well, for he goes on to say that as a result of the two person view, the humanity of Christ becomes a mere slave to his deity. In point of fact, that was the view of the Monophysites (particularly Eutyches and Theodoret) who maintained that there was a complete fusion of the two natures such that Christ's humanity was no longer truly human. Theodoret was condemned by the Council of Constantinople and his appeal became an important occasion of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. note27

Except to bring a totally irrelevant Christological controversy into the discussion, Jordan's use of the term "Nestorianism" has no purpose. There is no logical connection between the regulative principle of worship and Nestorianism except in Jordan's overactive imagination. It is simply an attempt to associate an historical Christological error with a teaching that Jordan opposes.

A mature reader could profit from some of Jordan's insights. However, an uncritical reader would have considerable difficulty separating that which is good in Jordan from that which consists of flights of fancy. A good, solid foundation in Reformed hermeneutics is recommended before reading Liturgical Nestorianism or any other work by James B. Jordan.

Endnotes to Liturgical Nestorianism

1. Kevin Reed, "The Canterbury Tales" (Dallas:PHP), p. 28.

2. Cited in Reed, op.cit., p. 2.

3. James B. Jordan, Liturgical Nestorianism. (Niceville, FL: Transfiguration Press, 1994), p. 21.

4. Frank J. Smith, "What is Worship?" in Worship in the Presence of God (Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1992), pp. 16-17

5. See, e.g. W. Robert Godfrey, "Calvin and the Worship of God," in The Blue Banner, vol. 3, no 11-12, p. 2. "Calvin's approach to worship later came to be called the regulative principle. This principle holds that the Scriptures must so regulate public worship that only what is explicitly commanded in the Bible may be an element of worship."

6. Thomas G. Reid, "The Acceptable Way of Worshipping the True God: Recent Writings on Worship of Particular Interest to Reformed Christians" in Worship in the Presence of God, pp. 335-368.

7. Jordan, Lit. Nest., p. 27.

8. Jordan, Sociology of the Church. (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1986), p. 27, cited in Trinity Review, no. 88, p.1.

9. Jordan, ibid., p.32, cited in Trinity Review, no. 88, p. 2.

10. Jordan, Lit. Nest., p. 5.

11. Not only is Giradeau's lengthy work contra instrumental accompaniment not contained in the book Jordan is reviewing, the entire subject of mechanical instruments in worship was neglected as a separate essay. For those interested in reading the Reformed view on instruments in worship, Blue Banner is planning to publish John M'Donald's excellent tract on the subject. Write for details.

12. Jordan, Lit. Nest., pp. 31-32.

13. Thus his repeated reference to those who think truth is conveyed by propositions as "rationalists."

14. Jordan, Lit. Nest., p. 33.

15. ibid., p. 79.

16. ibid., p. 75.

17. ibid., p. 35.

18. ibid., p. 78.

19. Though the Trinity Psalter leans heavily on the Book of Psalms for Singing it is not simply a reproduction of it, but draws from other sources as well.

20. This Psalter is from Australian Rowland Ward.

21. Also known as the Psalms of David in Metre and available in at least three editions in this country.

22 Louis Berkhof. The History of Christian Doctrines (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1937 and 1975), p. 104.

23 Monophysitism is the "opposite" error of Nestorianism. It teaches that there is but one nature in Christ. The modern Coptic church is about the only remnant of Monophysitism in the world today.

24. Jordan, Lit. Nest., p. 56.

25. Dr. William Young, "Second Commandment: The Principle that God is to be Worshipped Only in Ways Prescribed in Holy Scripture . . ." in Worship in the Presence of God, pp. 75-90.

26. ibid.

27. Berkhof, op.cit., pp. 106-107.