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Volume 8, Issue 5: Ex Libris

Fighting for Liberty and Virtue

Marvin Olasky; Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995
Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

Marvin Olasky has painted a wonderful backdrop for all who want better to understand the American War for Independence. His book is filled with fascinating details, especially for those who think the War for Independence was over tea. The theological heritage of the colonies is discussed in detail, as well as the practical ramifications of American/English cooperation during the French and Indian War. During the period leading up to the War for Independence, the colonists began learning more about the English than they had really wanted to know. For example, how many realized that the royal governor of New York prior to the war was a transvestite? Olasky shows that this one example, far from being an odd quirk of history, was indicative of widespread moral and political corruption throughout all the ranks of the English politicos.

In response to the corruption of the English government, Olasky shows that two key Christians built a coalition between those colonists who were interested in smaller government, and those who were interested in holy government. Olasky calls them the Enlightened and the Awakenedor as one Englishman put it, the smugglers and the Presbyterians. The two Christians who were responsible for this effective coalition against the British were Samuel Adams in New England and Patrick Henry in Virginia.
In many respects, God was kind to them and their efforts. The lifestyle of British leaders such as Sandwich and Sackville (the men responsible for the conduct of the naval and land war respectively) in no small measure contributed to the success of the Americans. "But Sackville's conduct in 1777 was extraordinary: after sending orders to Burgoyne to march south, he forgot to make sure that orders to march north were sent to his general in New York City, Sir William Howe" (p. 159). The result was the disaster at Saratoga, which greatly encouraged the American war effort. Something similar happened in the events leading up to the surrender of Cornwallis (p. 167).
The American attitudes before the war shaped the events following the war. In his discussion of the Constitution, Olasky's sympathy is clearly and admirably with the anti-Federalists. An appendix of the book even includes a series of dire predictions concerning the results of adopting the Federal Constitution. Reading through the list, it is nothing short of astonishing to note how prescient these men were.
Implicit in the warnings of the anti-Federalists, however, is one possible problem for an implied exhortation found throughout this book, between the lines. Should we build a coalition between small government advocates and holy government advocates? Implied is the thought that we should go and do likewise. Both Adams and Henry, the coalition-builders before the war, were anti-Federalists after the war. Perhaps the beginnings of the constitutional "solution" they came to oppose can be traced to their effective work in building this coalition in the first place. The problem with compromising and deal-making is that it is hard to identify where to stop. If a deal can be cut between believers and unbelievers prior to separation from Britain, then why not after separation from Britain? The biblical answer is that compromises on the level of principle will always bear bad fruit.
But that is really a subject for another book. Fighting for Liberty and Virtue as it stands is an outstanding example of clear-headed historical research and narrative. Marvin Olasky needs to write many more such books, and peace be upon his house.


Worship in Spirit and Truth

John Frame; Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996
Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

The regulative principle, and the various liturgical monkeyshines which provoke ongoing discussion of it, is a major source of controversy in the church today.

In the midst of the fray, John Frame carefully presents the regulative principle, as well as his declared adherence to it . . . kind of. "Scripture must positively require a practice, if that practice is to be suitable for the worship of God. . . . This regulative principle reflects a genuine insight into the nature of biblical worship. As we have seen, worship is for God, not ourselves" (pp. 38-39).
But the regulative principle, as it is has been articulated by strict regulativists, states that whatever specific element of worship is not commanded by God is absolutely forbidden. The problem arises, as Frame adroitly points out, when we try to figure out what these constituent "elements" of worship might be. Each basic element requires a separate command from God. Lack of careful definition in this can lead to enormous problems For example, are instruments in worship a separate "element" in worship, requiring a distinct command to include them, or are they simply a constituent part of the singing, which is commanded? Are we fulfilling the biblical admonition to sing psalms if we content ourselves with singing psalmishly? The Psalms in my Bible don't rhyme. Is putting psalms in meter an additional element? If the pastor started singing his sermons, would they still be sermons? How much sand can we add to the sugar before it isn't sugar anymore?
Frame is at his best in this book when he reveals some of these dead ends for strict regulativists. For example, the practice of breaking the service up into constituent elements, each of which must be approved separately by Scripture, is a practice which itself cannot meet its own standard. Where does the Bible require us to require biblical justification for each element of the service? Biblically defined, what is an element? "Scripture nowhere divides worship up into a series of independent `elements,' each requiring independent scriptural justification. Scripture nowhere tells us that the regulative principle demands that particular level of specificity, rather than some other" (p. 53).
At the same time, two important deficiencies in Frame's book are that he misapplies the biblical requirement of intelligibility in worship and appears unaware of the broader meaning of cultural events and movements. With regard to the first, he appeals many times to the fact that the worship of God must be in the language of the people, i.e. it must be culturally relevant to them. "There are different `musical languages,' just as there are different spoken languages . . . . Therefore, if we are to pursue the biblical goal of intelligible worship. . . ." (p. 140). Frame refers to 1 Corinthians 14 throughout his book as requiring intelligible worship, which he takes as requiring contemporary worship. But in that chapter, Paul was discussing the use of different languages in worship. The Reformers dealt with the same issue when they preached to the people in the common tongue instead of in Latin. But the principle of intelligible worship does not require separate services for valley girls or bureaucrats or any other subgroup with its own jargon. Paul was maintaining that services for Americans should not be held in Chinese, not that surfers should get their own church.
No culture is "neutral." This means we must always be concerned not only with the rightness and wrongness of a particular thing, but also with the rightness and wrongness of the cultural trend it exhibits. As it has been well said, you don't need to be a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing. One man may be glad for the little breeze that he feels, while another man looks with concern at the horizon, recognizing a distant hurricane. The issue is not the breeze, but rather what it means. Jesus rebuked some of His listeners for not being able to read the signs of the times, and the sons of Issachar are commended for the opposite (Matt. 16:3; 1 Chron. 12:32). Far too many contemporary Christians are gathered around the foot of our postmodern golden calf, not because they want to worship the thing, but just because they like to dance. Questioned by some grim Moses on their presence there, they say, "Why? What's wrong with dancing?"
Returning to the issue of the regulative principle, all Protestants must be regulativists of some sort. God is to be worshipped according to His Word, and not some other way. But worshipping God according to the Word is not a simple matter of connecting the dots. With this recognition of scriptural complexity and latitude, we leave room, not for our own "will-worship," but rather for the all-encompassing authority of Scripture.
A great problem exists with how strict regulativists apply the regulative principle itself. We are to be governed by the Word of God alone, and not by any "will-worship" (Col. 2:23). But what does will-worship mean? Is the pianist in a "compromised" church nothing more than a priestess of Baal? This finicky approach is itself a violation of the regulative principle. It sets the accuser over the authority of the Word of God in his own worship and in evaluating the worship of others. Is a church nursery "will-worship?" But this absurdity is reached by basing the regulative principle on merely a portion of Scripture. What happens when we look at the entire Bible?
Was David right to eat the showbread? Was Namaan right to bow in the house of Rimmon? What did God think of those Israelites who worshipped in the high places, contrary to His Word, but refused to serve idols, in conformity to His Word? Was Christ right to worship in the synagogue, a pattern of worship generally required by God (Lev. 23:3; Ps. 74:8), but nowhere regulated in the details? To ask such questions is to answer them. Put another way, the requirements of the Word of God are broader than the requirements in the Word of God. Our worship is to be authoritatively regulated tota et sola Scriptura, by the Scriptures alone, and by all of Scripture.
As Steve Schlissel has pointed out, the strict regulative principle in Scripture is applied to the worship of the Temple (and even that principle is applied less rigorously than some of our regulativist brethren would desire). With the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, and Christ's ascension to heaven, the restrictions are taken with it. The synagogue, meanwhile, which was the prototype of the Christian church, was required by God, but not highly regulated. What is still tightly regulated is the Temple service and the work of our High Priest. We are not to add to, or subtract from, the gospel.
This means that controversies over the "regulative principle" often miss the real problem. When we are confronted with worship services conducted by Kubla the Clown, and we marvel at the flag drill team over by the baptistry, we are tempted to attack the weirdness, instead of the doctrinal confusion which preceded it and produced it. That preceding foolishness is always an abandonment, diminution, or alteration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is always the real problem. If a friend decided to abandon his wife in order to run off with another woman, it would hardly be a relevant rebuke for me to point out that his girl friend wears too much lipstick. That is not his problem. In the vast majority of "bizarre worship" cases, the real problem was that the church in question abandoned a sound understanding of the gospel long before they began their mummeries.
The regulative principle, biblically understood, is a Person. The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church; He is our regulative Principal. This is no appeal to mysticismthis Person has revealed His gospel propositionally in His Word. When we are faithful to that, we will be faithful in worship.
Frame is to be commended for offering a careful and irenic book on a controversial subject. The book warrants study and discussion. But in the final analysis, Frame's book will be useful more for the suggested critique of the strict regulativists than as a positive statement of how Christians should worship in this culture. On that subject, the book falls short of its purpose.

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