05 August 2007

Out With the Old and In With the New

So, what should we make of the following?:

From this one example, we may judge what is to be thought of the whole class—viz. that the whole sum of righteousness, and all the parts of divine worship, and everything necessary to salvation, the Lord has faithfully comprehended, and clearly unfolded, in his sacred oracles, so that in them he alone is the only Master to be heard. But as in external discipline and ceremonies, he has not been pleased to prescribe every particular that we ought to observe (he foresaw that this depended on the nature of the times, and that one form would not suit all ages), in them we must have recourse to the general rules which he has given, employing them to test whatever the necessity of the Church may require to be enjoined for order and decency. Lastly, as he has not delivered any express command, because things of this nature are not necessary to salvation, and, for the edification of the Church, should be accommodated to the varying circumstances of each age and nation, it will be proper, as the interest of the Church may require, to change and abrogate the old, as well as to introduce new forms. I confess, indeed, that we are not to innovate rashly or incessantly, or for trivial causes. Charity is the best judge of what tends to hurt or to edify: if we allow her to be guide, all things will be safe. - Institutes, Book IV, Ch. 30, paragraph 3, emphasis mine.

Calvin, here, is approving of change, advancement, improvement in the church. We cannot continue to worship as we once did in the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries or we shall fail in our mission to evangelize the world. We must adapt, we must "as the interest of the Church may require, to change and abrogate the old, as well as to introduce new forms." To cling to forms or traditions for the sake of them is defeating God's purposes and therefore our own. We must forge ahead and modernize our forms of worship, albeit carefully, but modernize we must. We should not, as Calvin states above, "innovate rashly or incessantly, or for trivial causes." Innovation should come cautiously and through much prayer.

Modern theologian John Frame concurs. Some time ago I posted from his Worship in Spirit and Truth where he wrote on page 8, ...And we should make sure that our worship is edifying to believers (1 Cor. 14:26). First Corinthians 14 emphasizes the importance of conducting worship, not in unintelligible "tongues," but in language understandable to all. Even an unbeliever, when he enters the assembly, should be able to understand what is taking place, so that he will fall down and worship, exclaiming, "God is really among you" (vs. 25). So, worship has a horizontal dimension as well as vertical focus. It is to be God-centered, but also to be both edifying and evangelistic. Worship that is unedifying or unevangelistic may not properly claim to be God-centered. Further he points out on page 67, ...Scripture also tells us, and more explicitly and emphatically, that worship should be intelligible, It should be understandable to the worshipers, and even to non-Christian visitors (1 Cor 14, especially vv. 24-25). And intelligibility requires contemporaneity. When churches use archaic language and follow practices that are little understood today, they compromise that biblical principle.

Church leaders should give careful thought to and make much prayer over this issue. Change is necessary, it is part of life. As we change, society changes and the world changes the church cannot allow herself to be left behind.

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