Reviews of James B. Jordan's Views on Worship.
Theses on Worship
By Timothy J. Worrell
Copyright 1996 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett.

[At the time this article was written, Timothy Worrell was a licentiate for the Reformation Presbyterian Church and was completing his theological studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He here reviews: James B. Jordan, Theses on Worship: Notes Toward the Reformation of Worship (Niceville, FL: Transfiguration Press, 1994).]

During the past decade, James Jordan has embarked on an attempt to reconstruct and reform the corporate worship of the church, particularly the Presbyterian church. He has done this by making a frontal attack upon the historical understanding of the Reformed "Regulative Principle" and then seeking to justify the introduction of superstitious and unwarranted practices into the corporate worship services. His recent effort, entitled Theses on Worship, originally appeared in "Rite Reasons", a bi-monthly periodical issued during 1989-1991. Jordan states that these theses were written "in a spirit of dialogue". It is in that same spirit, that I must commend Mr. Jordan for his discernment in recognizing the bankruptcy of much of what is called "corporate worship" in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches in America. Yet in that same spirit, I must take him to task for caricaturing the regulative principle and failing to establish principles by which one can select which traditions of historic Christianity to hold and which to eschew.

In the introduction of the book, Jordan reveals that his intent in this series of papers is "to develop principles and patterns of Christian worship." Here is the Achilles heal of all that he has to say. He wants to "develop" principles and patterns of worship. I believe a much loftier, and also more profitable, goal would be to ascertain the principles and patterns of worship found in the Word of God, to compare and contrast these principles and patterns found in the Scripture with the practice of the Church throughout the ages, and to propound a path forward in the restoration and reformation of worship a la Josiah in 2 Kings 23.

Mr. Jordan should certainly be commended for the following assertions:

1. The recognition of the unique place of prayer in corporate worship. This is in accord with the understanding of our Puritan and Presbyterian forefathers at Westminster. The Westminster Confession Chapter 21, Paragraph 2, states "Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship . . .". Very often in Reformed Churches today, the minister apparently spends little time in preparation for public prayer. This practice needs to be rectified! See Samuel Miller on Public Prayer.

2. Mr. Jordan has also come to the conclusion that the Lord's Supper should be performed on a weekly basis. This conclusion seems to accord with the patent implications of Acts 20:7. This was clearly the perspective that John Calvin adopted concerning the frequency at which the Lord's Supper should be practiced. Calvin stated, concerning his desire for a weekly communion service, "I have taken care to record publicly that our custom is defective, so that those who come after me may be able to correct it more freely and easily." It is also interesting to note, that though Scottish Presbyterians in general have practiced a quarterly or semi-annual frequency, the Westminster Confession includes the Sacraments (including the Lord's Supper) as an ordinary part of worship along with prayer, the singing of the psalms, and the reading, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, instead of grouping them with Oaths & Vows, Thanksgivings, and Humiliations, as extraordinary elements of worship. The Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God states that "The communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated . . .". The Directory goes on to state that a Preparation service should be performed prior to the administration of the sacrament if the "sacrament cannot with convenience be frequently administered," implying that the normative pattern is for frequent communion, not requiring the use of a preparation service.

3. Mr. Jordan is also correct to align his am-munition against the New International Version of the Bible. I wish he would have brought out the fact that the New Trinity Hymnal of the OPC/PCA has been greatly affected by the inclusion of the NIV translation in it's Psalter Selections. The PCA Book of Church Order clearly and unequivocally asserts that "Paraphrase Bibles are not to be used in the public worship of God". That is just what the NIV is! The NIV itself tells us this much, when the Translators inform us that the Bible was translated using the "dynamic equivalence" method in lieu of the "formal equivalence" method. For further study, read Accuracy of Translation and the New International Version, by Robert Martin.

4. Throughout the book Jordan sees a primary solution to many of the problems with modern worship to be the centrality of the psalms. He does not propose "canonical psalmody", yet his clarion call to predominate psalmody in worship is certainly a breath of fresh air. Jordan admonishes the reader, "How dare we sing man composed hymns if we have not yet mastered all 150 of God's psalms . . ." He goes on to state that "God likes the psalms. He wrote them, and He likes to hear them sung. If we love Him, we will make the effort to learn them, all of them, and sing them to Him before His throne on His day."

Mr. Jordan must be faulted for the following assertions:

1. His distinction between three types of worship; "close communion", "informal body-life," and "evangelistic". These may be three valid spheres of Church activity, but they are not three types of worship. The three types of worship delineated in the Scriptures are secret, family, and corporate. I believe he is heading in the right direction in viewing the corporate worship service as private, and predominately for the members of the covenant community, yet I believe he is in error when he asserts, "Unbelievers have no business being there at all" and "Christians should never invite unbelievers to worship." We affirm what is explicitly stated in Shorter Catechism Answer 89 which states that, "The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation."

2. His failure to recognize the biblical command to keep one's infant children from the table of the Lord until such time that they possess and have presented a credible profession to the session of their congregation, those entrusted by Christ with the keys of the Kingdom. For a more elaborate discussion and argument in favor of the standard historic Reformed position concerning paedocommunion in the light of the Passover, see Richard Bacon's excellent work on the subject entitled, "What Mean Ye By This Service?" available from the Blue Banner.

3. His position concerning the "regulative principle of worship" is at variance with the historic Reformed understanding as defined in the Westminster Confession Chapter 21, Paragraph 1, which states, ". . . 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" and the answers to questions 50 and 51 of the Shorter Catechism which state, "The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word" and "The second commandment forbidddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any way not appointed in his word" respectively. Jordan is obviously not satisfied with the mind of God on the subject of worship, but believes he must add to the word of God. Yet God has commanded, 'thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." This is none other than a denial of the Reformed principle of Sola Scriptura. It would conclude that scripture itself is insufficient to make the man of God thoroughly equipped unto every good work.

4. His position concerning the ceremonial law is also at variance with the historic Reformed position as delineated in the Westminster Confession Chapter 19, paragraph 3, which states that, "God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits . . ." The value of the ceremonial laws relating to worship for the Christian today is in the contemplation of Christ's work, not in the establishment of an order of worship for the New Covenant Church. Mr. Jordan attempts to apply the general equity of the ceremonial law to the order of worship in both the Old and New Testaments. Mr. Jordan recommends the study of the covenant renewal services in the Old Testament to seek to ascertain the biblical pattern (or order) of corporate worship. However, he fails to apply his own counsel and seeks to allegorize an order of worship out of the creation account and the order of sacrifices found in chapter nine of the book of Leviticus.

We must admit there are many things which need reforming within the Reformed and Presbyterian churches of the present day. A variety of practices have crept into worship that have no scriptural warrant. The solution, however, is to return to the biblical principles of the Reformers, not to adopt a multitude of ceremonial superstitions, which would merely be exchanging one form of corruption for another. As those seeking to walk in the old paths concerning the corporate worship of the triune God as set forth in the Westminster Standards, we must welcome dialogue on the issue of worship. God has often used error to call the church to a more well defined position. American Presbyterianism has well nigh forgotten its legacy in this area. Oh, that God would use this onslaught to provoke the truly reformed church to proclaim Sola Scriptura and the regulative principle in all of life, and for American Presbyterians to return to the purity of worship that her brothers in Scotland have generally known for over 400 years.