Reviews of James B. Jordan's Views on Worship.
Trapped in the Liturgy Trap
By Greg L. Price
Copyright 1996 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett.

[Review: James B. Jordan, The Liturgy Trap: The Bible verses Mere Tradition in Worship (Niceville, FL: Transfiguration Press, 1994).]

The Liturgy Trap is James Jordan's defense against the tug and pull of high church liturgy as found in Romanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglo-Catholicism upon the heart strings of Reformed Christians. Jordan is to be commended in recognizing the serious problem that exists in the trend toward Rome et al. on the part of some in Reformed churches, and also in confronting this serious error with biblical truth.

Jordan also levels some well-deserved criticism against modern Evangelicalism which has severely weakened the worship of God within many Reformed churches. According to Jordan, the devastating effects of modern Evangelicalism upon Reformed worship is evidenced in the tendency to hear so little Scripture read, to sing so rarely from "God's Hymnal" (the Psalter), to celebrate so infrequently the Lord's Supper, and to see so scarcely biblical church discipline used to restore the erring brother. For all the faults of high church liturgy in Romanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglo-Catholicism, Jordan rightly demonstrates the equally devastating errors of Evangelicalism practiced in many Reformed churches. The sword Jordan wields is two-edged cutting in both directions: toward Romanism and toward Evangelicalism. Touché!

The problem this reviewer has with Jordan's evaluation is that he fails to see how his own tradition within worship is cut to the quick by the same sword of the Spirit that he so aptly uses against abuses within Romanism and Evangelicalism. In Jordan's judgment, the high church liturgy proponents have gone "too far" (p. 6), while he implies the low church liturgy advocates have not gone far enough (pp. 6-8). Jordan's criticism of both extremes in worship is simply one of degree (they have gone too far or they have not gone far enough). Apparently he views himself on the same continuum of worship as those he criticizes (he is somewhere in the middle between the two extremes). And what is the principle of worship Jordan uses to judge his worship as acceptable and the extremes as unacceptable? Whatever contradicts biblical truth is dangerous for worship (p. 10). Certainly any worship that contradicts God's Word is dangerous (it is also idolatrous), however, this is not the "Reformational" principle of worship as articulated by Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, or the Westminister Assembly (perhaps he refers to the principle of worship followed by Luther or the Church of England). The regulative principle of worship articulated by Calvin is not on the same continuum with Jordan or those he criticizes, for the Westminster Confession of Faith correctly delineates the principle of worship followed by Calvin and his heirs: "But 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" (WCF XXI:I, emphasis added). Contrary to Jordan's position, this principle of worship seeks positive warrant from Scripture for every religious act in the worship of God, rather than simply allowing a practice within worship because it doesn't expressly contradict Scripture.

For example, burning incense, lighting candles, or signing oneself with the form of the cross as religious acts of worship may not be directly contradictory to Scripture (the first two religious acts were practiced by the Levitical priests of the Old Covenant, the third act is neither commanded nor expressly forbidden in God's Word), and thus according to Jordan's principle should be acceptable in worship. However, since Old Covenant worship associated with the Levitical priesthood has been abolished, and since there is no express warrant for burning incense or lighting candles in the New Covenant, and since signing oneself with the form of the cross has no positive warrant in either the Old Covenant nor in the New Covenant, all three of the above mentioned practices lack positive biblical warrant in the New Covenant and should be prohibited in the worship of God. On Jordan's worship principle of "contradiction," God should not have slain Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1), for their disobedience was not one of contradicting God's command (they did not contradict what God had expressly forbidden, rather they added to what God had not expressly commanded). In a similar vein, if a church were to institute into their worship a brief ceremony that consisted of the congregation pricking their fingers with a pin so as to signify the suffering of the Lord on their behalf, what Scripture would be expressly contradicted? And yet such religious acts could be multiplied (and have been multiplied) in the worship of God by following a principle that permits into worship whatever does not expressly contradict Scripture. The question asked should not be: Where does this practice contradict Scripture? Rather the question asked should be: Where is this practice expressly prescribed in Scripture (by positive commandment, authorized example, or good and necessary inference). The Reformed position on worship is herein expressed by God: "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deut. 12:32, emphasis added).

Though Jordan does a laudable service in demonstrating how the traditions of Romanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglo-Catholicism, and Evangelicalism "contradict" the Word of God, he has not demonstrated by what criteria traditions may be judged as acceptable in worship. Jordan's attempt to do so falls short of any non-arbitrary standard: "Only to the extent that ecclesiastical tradition develops out of Biblical tradition is it valid" (p. 59, emphasis added). Certainly Rome et al. would ably seek to defend their traditions as having been developed "out of" biblical tradition. Those whom Jordan critiques might rightly call Jordan to task, requiring from him biblical warrant for his ecclesiastical traditions that have developed "out of" Scripture ("Physician heal thyself"). The only tradition to be included in the worship of God is that tradition which is prescribed in the Scripture (1 Cor. 11:2, 23; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6) ¾ all other tradition is vain, will- worship (Mk. 7:7; Col. 2:8, 23) which makes the commandment of God of no effect (Mk. 7:13). Ultimately, Mr. Jordan cannot free himself from the liturgy trap out of which he seeks to rescue others.