At Least It Makes You a Curmudgeon

Presbyterianism, that is.

Bill Smith a good on-line friend is kicking up a little dust of late against Reformed Protestantism or Presbyterianism and maybe a tad triumphal about his own communion (Reformed Episcopal Church) which, the last I checked, was where you still needed to kneel in order to receive grape juice – ba dop bop.

It’s time for pushback.

First, he starts with a legitimate complaint about Presbyterian worship and blames the regulative principle:

Across the PCA you can find strict regulative principle worship (few), traditional worship, contemporary worship, black worship, near charismatic worship, blues worship, revivalistic worship complete with the invitation system, gospel-driven worship, and all sorts of blended worship. You can find ministers leading worship in black Geneva gowns, suits with white shirts and ties, blazers and open collar shirts, polo shirts and sandals, khakis or jeans and sports shirts tucked in or out standing behind pulpits, sitting on stools, walking across and an empty stage. You can find pulpits, baptismal fonts, and communion tables prominently displayed, or entirely hidden. You can sing Psalms and historic hymns, gospel hymns, praise and worship songs, accompanied by nothing, organs, pianos, orchestras, acoustic guitars, and rock bands. Depending on your worship principles, preferences, and personality, you can find the worship in a PCA church comfortable, compatible, challenging, relevant, irrelevant, or offensive.

All of this is true. But you can’t fault the regulative principle which only identifies the elements (as opposed to circumstances and forms) of worship. Those are word, sacrament, prayer (song), and offering (never forget to collect the offering). The RPW does not guarantee uniformity in congregations. It should exclude silliness and frivolity. But if you have officers who are willing to tart worship up to make it relevant, convincing them of the RPW won’t solve anything.

Conversely, rule by one (episcopacy) is fairly effective in generating liturgical conformity. But then there’s Rome. Doh!

Second, he moves to the tragic death of Iain and the allegations swirling around it to argue that Presbyterian government doesn’t work very well. I actually wish Bill had not gone here. It’s still fresh and details are uncertain. But there he went. And his point is that harsh forms of discipline is what Presbyterians are good at:

it also set me thinking again, as I often have, about the way discipline of ministers was handled in my former connection. And it impresses me that it was handled in the way a particular kind of father might deal with his son. The son took the family car out on a Friday night without permission. The father becomes aware of what the son did because (1) the son confessed it, (2) someone who witnessed the son with the family car told the father, or (3) the father himself discovered it.

What does this particular type of father do? (1) He takes away the son’s keys and intends to return them (a) never or (b) after observing his son’s repentance for a long time. (2) He beats the hell out of the son. (3) He requires the son to confess his disobedience and avow his repentance at a council of the whole family.

Now the father may cry. He may even cry with the leaders of his church. He may pour out his heart to God about how he has gone wrong in the bringing up of his son. He may ask others to pray for him and his son. He may tell his son he loves him and that his heart is broken. Still, he takes the keys away forever or an indeterminate time. Still he beats the hell out of the kid. Still he requires the son to humiliate himself before his family.

Does Bill think that the threat of draconian measures were what drove pastor Campbell? Perhaps, but the analogy of a son taking out dad’s car without permission is not necessarily on the same order of a man who has taken vows to a wife and — wait for it — a church (can we get a little high church Reformed Episcopalianism here?). And what is Father Bill going to say to the wife of a man who has cheated on her or abused her? Has Bill Smith had to face down Valerie Hobbs?

Finally, Bill goes all in and defends Lent against its Reformed Protestant critics (“war”? On-line?). He notes that Banner of Truth once had to rearrange a conference because the Dutch Calvinist participants needed to hold Ascension services. He concludes:

Those who object to Ash Wednesday and Lent on principial grounds should recognize that that what they object to on principial grounds is the Christian year. For those who do not reject the Christian year, but allow for the observance of some parts of it, the issue of Lent is one of preference and discretion.

No problem. I’ve been arguing against the church calendar for years. The inter-advental liturgical calendar is 52 Sundays a year.

But at least, Bill still has a Presbyterian attitude.


4 thoughts on “At Least It Makes You a Curmudgeon

  1. Thanks for spelling my name right and for linking to my little ewe lamb of a Blog. I need all the shameless or shameful promotion by others I can get.

    In the REC we kneel to receive wine from a common cup. We do not drink Welch’s from little plastic cups, each having our own private communion as he tips the cup as he receives it or tipping his cup with all the rest in what looks like some kind of a toast (I owe this “toast” observation to Donald Macleod of Princeton.)

    I would like to suggest that you experience RPW worship in the PCA by visiting a Presbytery where each entering minister is asked about his agreement with the RPW. Spend three Sundays in the Jackson, MS, area. Go to FPC, Redemmer PC, and Madison Heights PC. Let me know what you think (If I could put you in an OPC time machine and send you back, I would ask you to attend a few New Life services.)

    Re my piece on church discipline, here are the opening sentences: “The news I read this morning at The Aquila Report regarding the death of Iain Campbell and the scandalous accusations made by his wife following his death, raised a question for me. What if the accusations are true, had been made known to his Presbytery and denomination, and he had been dealt with by Presbyterian disciplinary process – what would have happened to him? I don’t know, because I do not know the Free Church of Scotland that well. But it also set me thinking again, as I often have, about the way discipline of ministers was handled in my former connection.” Reading what was published at TAR, led me to think about discipline in my former denomination. Re the death of Iain, it is a tragedy all around – for his wife and children, his congregation, the Free Church, and for Iain. I grieve that he experienced, for whatever reasons, such mental darkness that he felt shut up to no other possibility save to die.

    But my reflections on discipline were all from cases I observed and in some manner participated in while in my former connection for 40 years. I stand by my observations and evaluations, and by the parable I used to describe what I witnessed.

    Now what would I do in the case of a wife whose minister husband had been unfaithful to her or abused her? If I knew her personally, I would contact her, affirm my friendship, love, and sympathy, and offer to do anything I could then or in the future to help, support, and encourage her and her children. I would intend, but possibly fail, to follow through for the long term. (If I did not know her personally I would not use the occasion to insert myself into her personal life.)

    But I would do more. If her husband’s case were before the Presbytery, I would plead for two things: (1) That he be suspended from ministerial functions not divested of office. In other words, I would try to slow things down and avoid a rush to judgment. (2) That, if he express any sorrow for his conduct, he not be suspended from the Holy Supper. (It is a means of grace and the sinning and erring need grace received through its means. I oppose suspension from the sacrament as a response to serious sin.) I would have been defeated, and actually was on more than one occasion, when I made such pleas.

    I would also, assuming he had been suspended or divested from office and or suspended or excommunicated from the Supper, contact him by letter or phone or at the meeting if he were in attendance. I would not assume he were not a believer, and, even if I had substantial evidence he were not, I would not conclude from his excommunication that I could have no relation with him. I would try to remember that as the OT priest should be merciful to sinners, he himself being a sinner in need of sacrifice, so I, guilty of great sin, should be merciful to my fellow sinners. I would express my friendship and my desire to be helpful in any ways I could, then or in the long run. I would take him to lunch. I would intend, but perhaps fail, to be his friend into the future.

    What would you do?

    Re Dr. Hobbs, I have engaged her. With regard to the particular case to which your link refers us, she and I were in substantial agreement. This brought me not a little grief from a few OPCer and from my boyhood and still friend, the President of GPTS. I was pleased with the way that case turned out at the OPC GA. Here is what I wrote after reading Dr. Hobbes on the matter:

    But, while I agreed with Dr. Hobbs about the case, I expressed some serious concerns about her framework. I quote myself at length:

    (Beginning of quotes)
    There is something about Dr. Hobbs’ paper that I noted in my first reading and have in every reading since that gives me concern. (Please remember that your Curmudgeon has the honor of being banned by the Bayly Boys from commenting on their Blog for his scoffing at their view of patriarchy, a hurt which has caused me the loss of no little sleep.) My concern is the academic framework that seems (to me clearly) to influence both her thoughts and her vocabulary. (She is a linguist at the University of Sheffield in Scotland *Correction: England.) It appears that she is influenced to some (significant) degree by feminist scholarship in the fields of language and sociology.

    (A quote) taken from (a section) of the article will show why I have this concern. She writes:
    I am a linguist at the University of Sheffield, and so my interest was academic to some extent. For several years, I have been researching the kinds of language used by Reformed Christians to characterize women and their roles in the home, church, and society. As this trial involves not just the defendant but also his wife, I attended to observe the kinds of language used to speak about the defendant’s wife…”

    My concern (admittedly as a male – if the Bayly Boys have not reclassified me) is that I detect as an over sensitivity on her part about issues of gender and sex…

    …I attended the trial to witness and to record these matters as a Reformed Christian woman, as part of my conviction that matters affecting women should be witnessed by women…

    She found these the following questions (which she coded) objectionable:
    Where have you come from? (place of residence)
    Do you know anyone in this area? (personal connections)
    So are you here mainly to visit those friends? (reason for attendance; I replied that I had come solely for the trial, to witness it as a woman and as an academic)
    Are you married? (personal life)
    How many children do you have? (personal life)

    I think she “over-interprets” an unthinking mistake that was made by the host church, and this reveals the way she is influenced, or so I think, by a feminist interpretative grid…
    (End of quotes)

    What think you about Dr. Hobbs?

    Now, perhaps it is worth noting that in my piece on Lent, I acknowledged the consistency of you and Scott. And I respect it.

    Again, since you link to three of my Blog pieces, I am glad you went there.


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