Presbyterian Congregation Spends $1.8M on Organ

The AR has the story and a link to a news story.

I understand that people love music. I understand that Christians are moved by instrumental music in worship. The question remains, however, does the Lord love instrumental music in new covenant worship? The question is: on what basis do we do what we do in worship? When WCF 21 was written and received by the churches, there were no organs in Presbyterian churches. They had all been removed as a matter of principle. They were regarded as incompatible with the 2nd commandment. About 150 years later they began to re-appear. When that happened where we being more faithful to the Word as we confess it or less? Since we reintroduced musical instruments to Reformed worship have we become more faithful to the Word as we confess it or less?

Then there is the question of stewardship. As one who has spent his ministerial life in small, sometimes struggling Reformed congregations, in places where the Reformed faith is a minority (or virtually nonexistent), where it is still pioneering, it’s hard to imagine a congregation having $1.8M (the two denominations I’ve served probably don’t, as denominations have that much money). That a congregation has those sorts of resources to advance the kingdom is a wonderful thing but did this expenditure advance the mission of Christ’s church to reach the world and to make disciples? Was it strategic? Perhaps someone will argue that this is the wrong test that such a test excludes other necessary expenditures. Well, the upkeep for buildings is necessary and I understand the argument that musical instruments are “circumstances” (like a building) and therefore adiaphora but how indifferent is something that costs $1.8m? Is that really indifferent?

There some who dislike “contemporary worship music” and wish to get back to what they regard as “traditional” church music. This episode is an opportunity to note that the RPW (the regulative principle of worship) isn’t “conservative.” It’s radical. The RPW does not ask us to “tone down” what we do in worship or to get “back to the 1950s” or even “back to the 1850s” or even “back to the 1750s.” The RPW is a good and necessary inference from the 2nd commandment (see WCF 21 and HC 96) and the law of God is always radical.

I keep asking, what have we learned about the 2nd commandment since 1648 that allows us to worship in ways that are quite divorced from the way worship was understood in when the WCF was adopted, from the approach to worship taught in the Directory for Public Worship (1644) from the way worship was conducted in 1540, 1640, and even, in most places, in 1740? Does it not trouble us that virtually none of the Reformed Reformers from the 16th and 17th centuries would remain in one of our services? Seriously. They would be puzzled by the presence of instruments but they would be shocked to see people using them in public worship. They would be puzzled by the presence of hymnals but they would be appalled to see that when the service began that the congregation was responding to God’s Word with something other than God’s Word. It’s hard to imagine many of them actually remaining in the service much beyond the call to worship. They would not recognize much of what transpires in our services (the language differences notwithstanding). They would understand our theology—it’s the same faith they confessed—but they would not understand our practice of worship at all.

Finally, I once more, I understand that music has a powerful influence and affect and that many Christians really, deeply, love instrumental music. Is this (i.e., “it moves me” or “I love it”) the first test, however, of what we do in worship? Is that even a valid test at all? If so, why? I understand that Christians are reluctant to think about this issue but are there no examples in Scripture which illustrate the dangers of approaching God according on such a basis?

Related Posts:

Could instruments be idols?

Calvin on Instruments

On Elements and Circumstances

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  1. It’s nice to see we agree on something, Dr. Clark… and this is speaking as someone who grew up in a very large historic Congregational church which did have two full-time music staff members, one of them a professional organist and the other a choir director, and in today’s dollars the organ probably would have been at least $1.8 million.

    At the very least, that’s bad stewardship. I realize the people who donated the money to build the meetinghouse were very wealthy and had plenty of money and this was a small expense for them — most of their houses were far more expensive than the organ. But it’s still a bad use of God’s money to spend it on something that expensive without very clear biblical warrant.

  2. Dr. Clark, naturally I would share your outrage at this spending on such things. And I can even share to some extent you frustration with the self-centered attitude guiding many worship decisions even in Reformed churches.

    However, are you saying that the WCF does not allow for instruments? Clearly you don’t think Scripture does, but are you also saying that those who use instruments in services are being unconfessional?

    • Joel,

      To be clear, I didn’t use the word “outrage.” You did. It is an opportunity to think about priorities and theology and piety and practice.

      The history, as I understand it is that the intent of the assembly, judging by the DPW (see RRC on this) was to worship God without instrumental music.

      Yes, think that the use of instrumental music is a contradiction of the WCF understood historically. It may be that American Presbyterians have constitutional documents which account for their practice and the discrepancy with the WCF, I don’t know.

      There’s an entire chapter on this in RRC. Check it out.

      • Sorry to attribute something to you that you didn’t intend, Dr. Clark. I do find it to be so, but I didn’t mean to mischaracterize your post.

        Thanks for your answer. I hope to check out RRC sometime soon.

  3. Dr. Clark (& anyone else who wants to jump in),

    First off, just so you have a hint of background, I’m a music major just finishing off my undergraduate studies this quarter. With that in mind, I write in great humility as I simply don’t have the life, ministry, education, and worship experience that you have had. I write with the sincere desire to understand more about the issue of the RPW, because while I have embraced it, I am rather new to Reformed theology.

    I am in full agreement with you that $1.8 million was a pathetic breach of stewardship on the part of the church. While I’m sure that organ is absolutely amazing and I would love to hear it, there are so many better ways that money could have been spent.

    That said, I don’t really understand the philosophy of worship that you’re promoting. I’m not sure if you’re a psalmody-only guy but from your “Could Instruments Be Idols?” post I got that impression. Before I go into this, I want to say that my point in asking these questions isn’t to refute anything you (haven’t) said, but I’m just hoping that someone will share a link or an answer to where I can find these answered by psalmody-only or strict RPW folks.

    If our worship is to be through the Psalms, then why not obey what they command and sing a new song to the Lord? (Psalm 96:1; Ps 98:1; Ps 149:1; Isa 42:10)

    If we’re supposed to worship using the Psalms, then what do we do with all the talk of instruments in the Psalms?
    (Psalm 33:2; Ps 57:8; Ps 71:22; Ps 81:2; Ps 92:3; Ps 108:2; Ps 144:9)

    Again, forgive me, because I feel like these are really naive questions, but I’ve listened to a debate between two RPW guys and I just didn’t really get where the strict RPW proponent got his philosophy of worship from. Thanks so much for your help!

    • Davenporter,

      1. Check out the comments policy (main page left)

      2. See the chapter in RRC on this. I’m not an exclusive psalmodist but I do advocate the historic Reformed view that God’s people should respond to God’s Word with God’s Word. See the related posts linked at the bottom of this for me and, of course. RRC.

      • 1 – Thanks. I didn’t even know that I could change my display name on WordPress.

        2 – Okay, I just ordered a copy of RRC. I’ve been meaning to pick up something serious on the confessions, anyway, so I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for your patience.

      • Not quite sure what ”I do advocate the historic Reformed view that God’s people should respond to God’s Word with God’s Word” means. Does that mean that after the sermon we ought to use a Psalm or another song from the Bible (the magnificat for example) or perhaps a human written song that is solid biblically speaking and in accordance with our Confessions (In Christ Alone or Amazing Christ for example). I own RCC but I do not see where this dwelt with in these amount of specifics.

  4. “Since we reintroduced musical instruments to Reformed worship have we become more faithful to the Word as we confess it or less?”

    That is actually a difficult question to answer (I’m assuming that you mean this more broadly than whether or not having instruments in worship is itself faithful or unfaithful to Scripture). It is easy for us to romanticize the past. Certainly we can always find pockets of particular faithfulness that put us to shame – but that is rarely even close to the whole story.

    It is possible to go on a QIRC by finding that certainty in strong time (for those of us who are Confessionally Reformed – the 17th century). But our goal should be to follow our Reformed fathers as they pursued conforming all things according to God’s word rather than trying to conform all things to the conclusions that our Puritan and Reformed fathers reached. By no means does this suggest bypassing our Reformed heritage. But it does mean seeing our Reformed heritage as a guide and help rather than as a destination.

    Obviously, the RPW with respect to musical instruments in worship is the same whether it is a solitary guitar or a $1.8 million organ. One of the benefits of being a pastor in the OPC is that it is extremely unlikely that I will ever face a question like buying a $1.8 million organ. Nevertheless, in principle, I have no problems with a fabulously wealthy person donating $50 million toward an opera or symphony hall. If musical instruments are acceptable for public worship – there may be prudential reasons why so much money shouldn’t be spent on an organ (e.g. It could easily distract from the centrality of God’s word in worship) but I’m not sure that it would intrinsically reflect bad stewardship (unless you believe that rich people funding museums and symphony halls also evidences bad stewardship).

    • David,

      I’m not trying to go back to the 17th century. I’m trying to back to God’s Word. I’m trying to follow the example of the 17th-century (and 16th, and 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd-century church on this issue.

      The 17th century is relevant insofar as it gives a concrete example of what the church understood by Scripture and what it intended its practice to be.

  5. Thanks for your post addressing this issue, Dr Clark,
    I understand totally the issues you raise regarding spending huge sums of money on an organ, as I was raised and am a member of denominations which are continually searching for funds for mission and other projects.
    I do not understand however your last comment “are there no examples in Scripture which illustrate the dangers of approaching God according on such a basis?”
    There are in fact many examples in the Old Testament (exodus 15:20&21; Ps 150) where God’s people are actually commanded to worship him with instruments. Why would God have his people commanded to praise him in one way in the Old Testament, only for it to be forbidden by his church in the New Testament. If we are able to sing psalm 150 in public worship surely we are able to actually DO what we are singing and praise him in his sanctuary with instruments?
    Luther, Calvin et. al. raised many good points in reaction to the RC practices: worship was to be carried out by the whole congregation, and the music itself should not detract attention from the words which are praising God, but this should not rule out music entirely in the church!

    • “If we are able to sing psalm 150 in public worship surely we are able to actually DO what we are singing and praise him in his sanctuary with instruments?”

      That’s like saying, “If we are able to sing psalm 118 in public worship surely we are able to actually DO what we are singing and ‘bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!'”

  6. Can the constant question of “how can I claim to be more Reformed than this other guy” be an idol? If we sang in mono tone would we be more Reformed? If we merely said the words rather than sang, would we be more Reformed? If we never did anything that might match emotion for the mental assent to worship, would we be more reformed? When does the fight against QIRE err in the other direction? When are we closer to Chauncy and the rationalists than Edwards…and are proud of it?

      • I have read RRC. I really enjoyed it too, have recommended it and agreed with most of it. The 5% where I don’t quite agree is the particular way you construe the RPW and the lingering questions on the implications of the concept of QIRE.

        Here is my lingering concern with QIRE: I think some of your conclusions, especially as realized on the blog, have a rationalistic mindset and ironically agree with the charismatics in theory. There is a divide of head and heart and a distrust of one or the other (the difference between charismatics and rationalists is which one to distrust). Music by nature is emotive. It ought to be made to serve the message appropriately, be it lament or praise. The instrument of voice or organ or guitar can be abused when it is the focus rather than the words of the psalm or even the hymn. But to make music or instruments an idol or argue against instruments as of another time (as Calvin did, yes I know) smells too much of Dispensational hermenutics rather than covenantalism – I went to DTS, so I do not like that smell of Dispensationalism 🙂

        I agree that too much of evangelicalism is unbound by the Word and sinfully seeks a sort of QIRE. Yet, it seems that obsession might be replaced if combated wrongly by a Quest for Illegitimate Worship Purity that has us fret about the appropriateness of everything in worship until it is a yoke and burden too heavy to bear because the gnats get smaller and smaller. Is a piano ok? Is a pitch pipe? Is more than one note per syllable (many Puritans say no)? Is music too emotional and should be thrown out? Should a sermon merely be in monotone as to make sure only the mind is addressed? Should the type of a Bible be unadorned so no distraction is made by the font?

        I’m willing to say your view does not have to lead there, but I think you fought against the demon (and yes, a nasty demon indeed) of evangelical charismaticism that is too suspicious of the mind and trusts experience over God’s Word, yet there seemed to be no breaks for going over the cliff of Chancy-like rationalism. You said your position should not be confused for that on RRC pg 96, but offered no argument against him and no prescriptions for combating it.

        Sorry, I don’t mean to be a pest on your blog. I only argue because I agree with so much of what you have to say but want not to take something too far or guard against other extremes so I don’t want to fall off the horse on the other side.

        Perhaps you can point me to other of your writings or others that address how not to take a Reformed position into rationalism. Before I trusted Edwards for that, but RRC made me doubt it. Now, what breaks do we have against rationalism?

        • So you have any truck with rationalistic tendencies in worship? Is there anybody I could read that differentiates the perspective of RRC and QIRE against rationalism?

        • When singing from the dark blue Psalm/Hymnbook and you reach the psalms wherein the Psalmist declares “worship Him with the [instrument name here” doesn’t the extreme RPW viewpoint fall apart?

          Also, does Oceanside URC use the Light Blue Songbook? (Just a question.)

          • M,

            1. The “problem” of the instrumental psalms is the same as the problem of the imprecatory psalms or the psalms that urge holy war. When God’s people sing the Psalms, as has been done by Christians for 2,000 (this being the only age of the church where the psalms have fallen into near eclipse!) they have always understood that the imprecations, holy war, and the instruments were fulfilled by Christ’s death. All the typologies were fulfilled by our Savior. He is the temple, the lamb, and the priest. See the comments above, the posts linked above, and RRC where this is addressed.

            OURC uses the “Blue Psalter Hymnal,” i.e., the 1959 PH (with the ’76 edn of the confessions). We have in the past used portions of the Trinity Psalter and other psalters. The PH is not my favorite because many of the “psalms” are actually very loose paraphrases wherein one verse is a psalm and the rest is not a psalm at all but a hymn. Once again, I am not in charge of what gets sung at OURC. I’m not on consistory and I didn’t persuade the brothers when I was on consistory.

  7. On the issue of the cost of the organ at Covenant PCA, Green Hills: we have no context in which to evaluate the numbers. The organ had to have been part & parcel with the plans & costs for the building project. It’s possible the organ is a realistic percentage of the whole budget and project. Of course, that shifts the question of costs to the larger question of buildings and properties

    The question of instrumental music within New Testament or New Covenant worship is a separate matter. With due respect to those who argue against use of instruments*, what I see in Revelation (The Apocalypse), at minimum there are harps employed to worship God. The cast-down and judged Babylon is characterized as no longer featuring harps, flutes and trumpets (Rev 18.22).

    Since Babylon is contrasted to New Jerusalem, it would seem we can look forward to (or already have realized) instruments such as harps, etc. I’m hoping the lyre is realized in heaven as the mandolin, and that the fiddle and Irish bagpipes make it as well.

    *One of my best friends (and classmate) from WTS is a Covenanter minister (RPCNA).

    • Cris,

      Is the intent of the imagery in the Apocalypse that we should realize it literally in the here and now? If so, how consistent with this hermeneutic are you willing to be?

      • Dr. Clark:

        >> Is the intent of the imagery in the Apocalypse that we should realize it literally in the here and now? If so, how consistent with this hermeneutic are you willing to be? <<
        Ah, very good question. I guess I'm not thinking we have to be so literal as to restrict ourselves to harps, flutes and trumpets (and no more mandolin jokes). I take it that we see in the worship/throne scenes of Apocalypse the use of musical instruments. I take these scenes to be some form of showing to us actual worship & adoration of Father and Son. Old Covenant worship utilized instruments – Heavenly worship (The Apocalypse) shows us musical instruments; I don't find anything showing us a discontinuity with respect to musical instruments now.

        If the Old Covenant "already" had instruments, and we see glimpses of the "Not Yet" employing instruments, then surely our current "Already", which is out of the Old Covenant shadows, can employ instruments in worship. I don't see parallels for incense – since that's specifically explained as prayers of the saints.

        Since we aren't the angels, we aren't being called to pour out bowls of judgment. But maybe someday Machen's Warrior Children will mount up and report to Faithful & True and ride behind Him (Rev 19). Not being flippant. I would have to read Revelation a couple times with this question in mind to be anymore specific.

  8. Not sure if my position is reformed but I see music as a legitimate addition to worship but not required. I see it as important as pews v. chairs; buildings v. houses; and minister’s wearing robes v. suits v. t-shirts&jeans. People arguing that they ought to use music just for the sake of experience is where I have problem, but given balance I don’t see a huge problem with limited instrumental use in Worship biblically speaking.

  9. The historical fact that the same governing body who wrote the Westminster Confession also banned organs from churches must not be well known. (I’d never heard of it until I read Clark’s RRC.) It’s just history and yet discussing it among today’s confessional community is bizarrely confrontational. It’s almost ridiculous that it takes courage to bring it to the community’s attention, but it does.

    By the way, for well established churches budgets in the half million to one million range is normal at least in the American mainline, right? If so, perhaps the PCA in the American South has retained enough of a cultural popularity to still command these mainline-level church budgets. 1.8 million is no big deal for quite a few American churches, i suspect.

    • Eric, are you saying then that we are bound not just by the Confession, but by other things that those who formulated the Confession said/did? Surely it’s important to know what they said did, but are you saying then that we’re bound even past the language of the Confession?

  10. Joseph,

    Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart is commanded in Scripture. (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16) Therefore, I believe it is a required means in worshiping God. Maybe you meant instrumental music, but as a vocalist I have to be very insistent that acapella singing is also music.

    Another question for those who adhere to the strict form of the RPW,

    I’m guessing that since the Scriptures say “making melody”, with the strict view of the Regulative Principle, harmony should be excluded just as instruments are. So those of you who refrain from using instrumentation also refrain from harmony, right?

    • Joseph,

      There’s no evidence that the apostolic church used instruments. We know that the synagogues did not. The early Reformed knew and argued this case. I have a 17th-cent text to that effect on my desktop, which I hope to explore here more fully some day.

      Read the post re elements and circumstances.

      The Reformed did not oppose “music” but they did oppose instruments (as you can see from the quotation that I provided from Calvin) on the ground that they belonged to the typological period of redemptive history. The ceremonies have been fulfilled. The Mosaic law has been fulfilled.

      • Thats my point. In my mind instruments are circumstances that are acceptable though not necessary for worship. It just helps to make sure the congregational singing is done well. The reason why the Puritans, according to JI Packer, banned musical instruments (besides voice) in worship was because of the Roman Catholic association and they harmed the congregational singing. But if we as a culture are in a different place then it may be acceptable to use it as a tool. The Bible commands we use the word of God but it never commands that we use Bibles in codex forms. If a pastor uses an IPAD to preach, it makes no difference because the content is there. If the congregational singing has music guiding it than whether or not it there is instrumental accompaniment it makes no difference as long as there is the essential element of congregational singing.

  11. I would be curious to hear reflections on davenporter’s initial questions. I hope the answer isn’t just “buy the book.” 🙂

    • No, the answer is: “Read the book.” You don’t have to buy it to read it. You can borrow it too.

      Why do I have to answer the questions here if I already answered them there?

  12. I would be curious to hear reflections on davenporter’s initial questions. I hope the answer isn’t just “buy the book.” 🙂

  13. I would be curious to hear reflections on davenporter’s initial questions. I hope the answer isn’t just “buy the book.” 🙂

  14. RE: Eric Black on “historical fact”

    The Westminster Confession, and the Catechisms do not speak to musical instruments, neither for or against. The Directory for Public Worship, also produced by the Westminster Assembly, is NOT a constitutional document for the OPC. In the OPC, at least, ministers do not subscribe to the Dir. for Public Worship, the Dir. for Family Worship, Sum of Saving Knowledge, or any other documents the Assembly may have crafted. You don’t find those in the OPC edition of the Confession.

    Further, the Dir. for Public Worship does NOT prohibit musical instruments, and I would argue does NOT require exclusive psalm-singing.
    “Since the metrical versions of the Psalms are based upon the Word of God, they ought to be used frequently in public worship.” Frequently is not exclusively
    “No person shall take a special part in the musical service unless he is a professing Christian and adorns his profession with a godly walk. ” This seems to refer to instrumental accompanists, it can hardly mean only professing Christians ought to sing. It is meant to keep non-professing (but professional) musicians from being employed as church organist (or bag-piper). Citations from Dir. for Public Worship, chapter III, The Usual Parts of Worship (para 6).

    The current and proposed revisions to the OPC Dir, for Worship make use of language drawn from the Westminster Assembly’s directory, but are not really any more or less restrictive with respect to music and singing.

    • Chris D.

      Two partial points of clarification:

      1. Ministers in the OPC are required to affirm that we approve of the Worship of the OPC in our ordination vows; and

      2. The OPC has a Directory for Public Worship (not a Guide for Public Worship). The nature of Directories is that they direct rather than merely offer suggestions.


      • David:

        It’s obvious to me that the OPC Directory for Public Worship “directs” precisely by means of suggestion only. Maybe it ought to do more, or be more actively used and more actively direct, but it is not a subscribed standard. We sincerely receive & adopt the Westminster Stds (ordination vow 2). We approve the govt, discipline & worship of the OPC (vow 3). I think there are some significant differences between those two vows.

        Deacons and (ruling) elders take identical vows as ministers re Scripture, Stds, then govt/discipline/worship. Ordination vows 1 thru 3 are identical – and note the progression in the 3 with respect to verbs employed and objects of those verbs.

        But, as an OPC ruling elder, I don’t want to seem to be having a dustup with an OPC minister. You can e-mail me at if you want to discuss it further.

        With respect to you & our hosts…

    • Eric – In the OPC you do swear to “approve” of the OPC’s Book of Church Order, that it is, at least, not contrary to the Word of God. That Book contains the Form of Government and the Directory for the Public Worship of God. Both have their roots in the Westminster documents. In fact, the new Directory, assuming it passes the presbyteries, is even more explicitly Reformed, in principle, than the current book, though looser in how it is applied. It would seem that the authors were at least trying to force us to think about how we worship in a Reformed pattern.

      The Confession does teach that psalms should be sung. It does not mention any other kind of singing. Of course, the OPC, when she adopted the WCF did so with certain “understandings”, like not enforcing Postmillenialism, or a six 24 hour day creation, or exclusive psalmody.

      Frankly, when I was at the first GA to deal with the new Directory for Public Worship, I was appalled by the ignorance of the Regulative Principle, and even more the ignorance of our current book by many OP ministers, let alone elders. We have drifted brother.

  15. Reformed Church Orders – The “Dordt Church Order” – does not restrict corporate worship to Psalms:

    ARTICLE 55. Psalms and Hymns
    The metrical Psalms adopted by general synod as well as the Hymns approved by general synod shall be sung in the worship services. (This is from the Canadian Reformed Churches).

    I don’t know of anything touching on musical instruments, one way or the other.

  16. Hi Cris,

    Actually the original Dort order specifies that the 150 psalms shall be sung in worship and it names a-now-lost song that seems to have been uninspired. I explain this in RRC. The language you quote is not identical to the 1619 CO.

    As to the historical sense and intention of the DPW, you’re quite incorrect. Those churches and their pastors rejected musical instruments thoroughly. There were no instruments used in Reformed worship for hundreds of years and certainly not in the 1640s. The historical evidence for this is overwhelming.

    Take a look at the original DPW of 1644.

  17. Last Friday I went to a Good Friday service at Balboa Park, in the organ pavilion. I was so looking forward to hearing that organ. As I got there, it was obvious the organ wasn’t going to be played. I then thought about what you mention here, was I going there to, even in an indirect way, worship the organ? Much contemplation occurred there.

  18. Just a couple of random queries. It is stated that:

    “The Reformed did not oppose “music” but they did oppose instruments (as you can see from the quotation that I provided from Calvin) on the ground that they belonged to the typological period of redemptive history. The ceremonies have been fulfilled. The Mosaic law has been fulfilled.”

    1. Of what were musical instruments in the OT (e.g. Ps 150) typical, such that these types are now fulfilled in the NT?
    2. Does the presence of musical instruments in the apocalypse then suggest some form of redemptive regression?

    • Good questions! I’ve read RRC and it doesn’t address these. It also doesn’t really address the fundamental inconsistency of 1) defining “Reformed” by the Reformed confessions, public, accessible documents available to all – with which I agree; and 2) advocating that to be truly “Reformed” we must also conform to associated practices of those who framed those confessions. In particular, Clark doesn’t follow his own logic when it comes to the relationship between church and state. How do we choose which extra-confessional items to retain? Your guess is as good as mine, or Clark’s.

      • David,

        You’re cheating a little.

        You ignore the argument I make to address this. The churches have explicitly revised the WCF and BC on theocracy and the state. We haven’t done so on on worship. We simply ignore HC 96 and WCF 21. That’s problematic. If we want to revise them, as we did the other articles that’s one thing but ignoring is something else.

        I also argue in RRC that there is a hierarchy of values inherent to the Reformed faith. Theocracy is not of the essence of the faith whereas the RPW is. I might be wrong about that but it’s not as incoherent as you make it seem.

        As to circularity, again, you short-circuit the argument. The case is that it is the Word of God as confessed by the Reformed churches that defines Reformed. Someone has to read Scripture and make decisions about what it teaches on the most essential articles. The churches have done that and confessed that understanding.

        If the confession doesn’t define “Reformed” then what does? A million (or, as it happens) 500,000 definitions? How is that an improvement? How is that not basically Anabaptist?

        The Reformed churches confess both the perspicuity of Scripture AND the authority of the church. We don’t set them against each other and we don’t make the Scriptures the product of the church. We’re neither papists nor Anabaptists.

        • >If the confession doesn’t define “Reformed” then what does?

          Hey, I’m in full agreement with you here. I’m just not aware of any confessions mandating that singing be unaccompanied. It may be your conviction that RPW implies no instruments, but that’s a deduction that goes beyond what the confessions explicitly say. So to argue that this is about being “confessional” is a bit misleading.

          As for the perspicuity of Scripture – well, I’m with you on that one, but once again I think strict-RPW types demonstrate that liturgy is more about the wise application of biblical principles than explicit commands. From Christmas day services to instruments to non-canonical songs, RPW advocates are all over the map and completely inconsistent with one another, proving that while Scripture may be perspicuous, their interpretations certainly aren’t.

          • David, I think yours is the train of thought that makes the most sense to me. As long as we are primarily singing, I think that we’re honestly fulfilling the Lord’s command. As long as the purpose of the instruments is to accompany singing, I think that we’re following God’s command. We may have a problem when the guitar starts soloing and drawing attention to itself.

            I don’t know exactly what the consequential argument is, and maybe I’m going in that direction, but there are certain things about a worship service that we don’t know based on the biblical text. For example, is it okay to sway while we’re singing? Is it okay to stand still while we’re singing? The Scripture says, “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”. I could be wrong on this, so feel free to correct me if that’s the case, but when I read “with your heart”, it gives me the idea that we are commanded that our affections are stirred with thanksgiving to the Lord. Which is more in tune with the Scripture? Should we stand still as trees while we’re singing or should we be free to move a little bit? Mind you, I’m not talking about any charismania – I just mean moving a little bit as is natural with song. I’ve seen in choirs that a choir standing still with bored expressions can sing as pretty as they like, but seeing them looking miserable is distracting and detracting from the message of the song that they’re trying to sing.

            That was a little rambly, yes. My point is that movement could be distracting either way – if you’re standing still, looking bored you may distract from the song. If you’re dancing around like a crazed maniac, you’re going to distract from the song. If you’re excessively worried about what you’re doing, you’re probably going to be distracted from worshipping God.

            I think the same applies to instruments. If the congregation can’t hold a tune, maybe they need a little accompaniment to help keep them on track, or their miserable singing will probably be distracting to certain members of the congregation. Mind you, I’m not arguing for soaring electric guitar solos, I’m just talking about some practical help. But maybe congregations who always use instruments ought to learn that it’s possible to sing acappella, and glorifying to God.

            P.S. I’m still wondering about the harmony question. From your position, melody only, right?

            P.P.S. I will read your book. So if it explains all of this explicitly, then feel free to again point me to it and I’ll get my answers when it comes. Thanks, Dr. Clark!

          • David,

            I agree that the confessions do not say, “Look people, you may only sing inspired songs.” They didn’t have to say. When they said that we may only do what Scripture commands, their understanding of that language was that only inspired songs could be sung. There is very little historical doubt about that. It’s not a mere inference. We know what it meant by what they did before the assembly (from c. 1540 to 1644), what they did during the assembly (see the explanation of the DPW in RRC), and what they did after the assembly.

            The Reformed consensus on this was very strong.

            As you know from reading RRC I use the word “confession” in two senses. There’s no question it’s a deviation from the broad sense and it’s quite clear what the intent was of the framers of the WCF.

            The RPW is not something that is isolated to a minority. Everyone who affirms the WCF affirms the RPW. Not everyone practices the RPW as it was originally understood but we all confess it.

            The fact that there is dissent among those who advocate a return to the historic understanding of the RPW is more a testimony to the state of things in our age than it is a testimony against the RPW. The truth is Reformation is messy. There was dissent about some issues in the 16th cent. It’s no surprise that it’s messy now but nevertheless, I think you overstate the disagreement. My RPCNA friends are generally quite happy with my views. We disagree about whether to sing canonical songs beyond the psalter, but I admit that is a minority view. I don’t know about being “all over the map.”

  19. For $1.8mn, it should preach and make the after-church coffee, too!

    Actually, being serious about the preaching thing, if I’ve got the figures right, the interest on $1.8mn must be in the ball-park of a minister’s salary. Even as someone happy for instruments in church, I don’t think an organ is worth the same as a minister.

  20. I think it is very courageous for a seminary professor to even raise the question and I pray that the Lord will bless it as He leads His people to consistent biblical thought and practice.

    Of interest on psalmody – Brakel in his Reasonable Service does not claim exclusive psalmody, but nevertheless praises the decision of Dordt to focus on the 150 psalms.

    Dr Clark, I sometimes wonder where the desire of modern Reformed Churches to “Reform” the worship principles of the Reformation comes from while they maintain the doctrinal accuracy of the Reformation. Do you have any thoughts on that?

  21. If one is holds an almost unique position within the congregation concerning their view of instruments and choirs how should one deal with the issue? I said almost because one of the ministers where we worship, used to be RPCNA, I believe. It seems that a lot of longsuffering would be involved here.

    This issue has been a bit of contention between my wife and I. I don’t think that choirs in worship have a place anymore nor instruments. My wife says that she in respecting my beliefs on the matter will not be in choir, but she asserts that if I were to die (not that she’s considering bumping me off!), one of the first things after mourning etc. would be to join the choir.

    On the side, this past Resurrection day I was seated in church in a place where I got my hair parted by the instruments, then combed by the choir. Man alive were those horns brutal to my eardrums!


    • I haven’t read RRC, but I have read Matthew 7. I’m just curious if it gives anyone here pause to publicly criticize how much a congregation chooses to spend on an organ. Anyone? Has the internet done this to us … that we would boldly and confidently judge this church, without knowing the context, without knowing how much this church gives to missions, without knowing how many churches this church has planted, etc.? I think that’s the real issue here. (Though if anybody wants to explain the famous “psalms, psalms, and more psalms” translation of Eph. 5 and Col. 3, that’s always good for a laugh, guffaw, and smile. See, because I often use three different words in rapid succession to describe the exact same thing.)

      • Joel,

        1. I don’t think that many folks are familiar with the argument that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are parts of the psalter. Even so, you shouldn’t be so dismissive young man. This interpretation has been held by a number of good interpreters for a long time. I don’t argue for it in RRC but please don’t be so cavalier. What you always do is not a very good test for determining the meaning of passage. I’m pretty sure you know that. You don’t speak in Hebrew parallelism but somehow that didn’t stop God from inspiring human writers to do that quite frequently. There are lots of forms of ancient speech, which we no longer use, which God was pleased to use in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.

        2. As to publicly criticizing the church, well, this seems like a public action. It seems as they discussed it in public, in a newspaper interview and that they’re proud of it. Okay, let’s discuss it. My point is to get people to think a bit out these issues. I don’t think we can take the view that the visible, institutional church is beyond public review or criticism for her/its public acts.

        3. You should read RRC. You might find it more encouraging and helpful than you imagine.

        4. There’s no question whether we’re to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The question, as Mr Murray put it long ago, is whether we are authorized by God’s Word to imagine or assume that these songs were uninspired. The view I argue in RRC turned out to be the same view argued by Mr Murray, that we ought to sing God’s Word in response to God’s Word. That’s the nature of the elements of worship: God speaks to us in his Word and we respond with it. This sort of scripted speech, as it were, may not be common today but it does occur in social situations that are analogous to public worship (e.g., when ambassors and presidents make public remarks).

        • If you’re comfortable judging this church, whether publicly or in your heart, and Matthew 7 gives you no pause whatsoever, then that answers the question. It’s a passage that certainly gives me pause, but ultimately that’s between you and God.

          As to the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” exegesis, it doesn’t matter that “a number of good interpreters” have argued that this should rightly be rendered, “psalms, psalms, and psalms.” This is a bit of an extreme analogy, but a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses have interpreted John 1 in strange ways, but that doesn’t mean they are correct. My point is not to equate the positions, but simply to point out that “a number of good interpreters” are sometimes wrong. A number of good interpreters disagree with you on a number of issues, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Consensus, while a helpful aid in discovering truth, is not the ultimate arbiter of truth.

          I think what bothers me in all of this is a nagging suspicion that this isn’t about biblical exegesis at all. Believe it or not, I’ve actually read a lot of these “good interpreters” (living and dead … Interestingly, I’ve found that my youth has not diminished my reading ability…) and one of the common lines of argument one encounters goes something like this: “The church used to be really great! We were rock-solid theologically. We were the most influential voice in Christianity. We were confessional. Look at the churches today! We clap around like a bunch of sappy doofuses, we ignore the confessions … Something clearly went wrong. Let’s go back to the 16th-17th centuries when everything was Cool and the Gang, recreate it as closely as possible, and then everything will be good again.”

          It’s an appealing argument. It’s law, and we’re wired for law. If we can just DO these three/four/five things, sin won’t be a problem anymore, and we can have the kingdom here and now … sure, a kingdom that looks suspiciously like 16th-17th century Europe, but that’s purely a coincidence.

          • Joel, In all seriousness, where is your pause in judging (per Matt 7) Dr. Clark et al, in this? The confessions and the historical practice of the reformed churches is clear, with respect to the content of the congregational singing. Why are you so angry, or so you come across? Why has this touched such a nerve with you? If you are going to judge Dr Clark et all on this subject, then perhaps you might consider doing so in keeping with Matt 7, by applying the measure they used in judging the purchase of $1.8M organ, so far as I can tell, I’ve not seen you try that.

            Finally with respect to your comparison of a number of “good interpreters” with JW and John 1, well you do realize that JW are NOT good interpreters of scripture. Your argument in that case boils down to “good interpreters” are wrong because “bad interpreters” are wrong, and that is not at all compelling.

            • I stand by my concern with this criticism, based on Matthew 7. If I came
              across as angry, that was not my intent. Dr. Clark, I love you as a brother
              and a friend. Andrew, I don’t know you, but I’m sure you’re a great guy
              and a brother in Christ. I think we’re talking past each other here, so I’ll
              leave it be.

    • I should correct myself here. I am leaning towards no instruments and no choirs however I am not sure how I can argue without taking up a type of Baptistic-sounding arguement. I have questions concerning the matter before I would think it right to be advocating the position.”If it’s not repeated in the NT therefore it’s gone.”

      I still maintain that one should read RRC!

      • Durell,

        There’s more to the argument than just, “If it’s not repeated in the NT therefore it is gone.” The reason that would be a valid argument against musical instruments in new covenant worship (and not infant initiation into the new covenant) is due to the distinction between the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants.

        The Mosaic covenant (which is where one finds the explicit instructions for musical instruments in temple worship) is explicitly stated to be obsolete (Heb. 8:13). This is why in relation to musical instruments it is acceptable to say, “If it’s not repeated in the NT therefore it is gone.” The NT explicitly states that the Old (Mosaic) covenant, along with its worship, is obsolete. This requires us to order our worship on the explicit instructions found in the NT, and since there aren’t any for musical instruments we have to leave them out according to the RPW.

        Infant initiation into the covenant of grace on the other hand is part of the Abrahamic covenant which nowhere has been spoken of in this manner. Instead it is called the gospel and contrasted with the Mosaic (e.g. Gal 3). Therefore we don’t need it to be repeated in the NT. It was never made obsolete.

    • As a member of the RPCNA, do want to say that we do have a church choir, but they only sing before the worship service and at music events outside of the worship service. In addition, the presenter uses a pitch pipe before the congregation sings to set the tune, but then we do a cappella singing of the Psalm. In the past we have also used a piano for the same purpose.

      The congregation I attend also has church talent nights in the church sanctuary where members can play whatever instrument God has given them the talent to play. One year we had the then new associate pastor play some heavy metal on his guitar!

      In addition, the RPCNA did adopt a new Psalter last July with new tunes, so we did have musical accompaniment occasionally during Sunday school. All this is an attempt to say that as one of the more strict modern day adherents to the RPW we recognize what the RPW means in practice. Many of the questions raised on this forum have nothing to do with the RPW in my opinion.

  22. I think I see the main problem the sides are having. The is that of hermeuntics of the text of the questions and the nature of confessions in general. Dr. Clark (please correct me if I am wrong) seems to advocate an approach to looking at the confessions on the basis of : precise meanings of each word and defined by the general approach of the men who wrote it, in their methodology and writings. And if there is disagreement, change the confession. I suppose this could be analogous to the United States Constitution and the view held by Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. He nor Clark doesn’t like the argument from ”the spirit of the law” as understood in each generation. My understanding of reading the confessions would not be a Ruth Bader Ginsburg approach but more of an Anthony Kennedy approach that is overall conservative but believes that the laws or doctrines contained have broader meanings and implications that we must look at our own issues in our own age. In other words I subscribe to the confessions of my church: The Westminster Confession and the Heidleberg Catechism NOT AS LONG AS THERE ARE BIBLICAL BUT BECAUSE THEY ARE BIBLICAL. That being said, I still look to the scriptures when I read the confession and if a practice is deemed Biblical in MY (or the synod’s or the counsel’s or the Presbytery’s or the Chassis’s) judgement and doesn’t outright contradict the spirit of the text (even if the practice was condemned by Reformed Churches in the past) it still falls in the realm of within the Confessional Boundaries.

    Now both methods in my judgment are good in the sense that both have a logic to it and can both be used in life. I freely admit that Clark’s method (and the very strict) is far more logically consistent and simple (though I would not say the Kennedy or my view is illogical but it can lead to it far easier). I guess the bottom line is do you think that meaning in any sort of text is 100% objective in meaning apart from the person who reads it or there is indeed a conversation that takes place that when one reads a text and that a person can find true meaning in a text that the author had no intention of putting there. I believe the second one. I believe that is one of the greatest (there are disadvantages to the extremes of Post-modernism of course) gifts post-modern literary theory has given humanity. It provides and rational basis for finding truth in texts where authorial intent is not the only basis that is used. We look to both.

    • The question of confessional subscription is a difficult one but important. The documents may be re-interpreted but if that is to happen we must do it publicly and regularly, openly, corporately. It will not do for there to be one version of the WCF in one presbytery and other version in another presbytery. We cannot operate with one version of the US constitution in Alabama and another in California.

      This is the great difficult with late modern subjectivist hermeneutics. There are as many constitutions as there are interpreters.

      The answer is to confess the faith in a way that we can all subscribe.

      Once more, despite the apparently anguish of some readers when I say this, see the lengthy historical discussion of this in RRC. See also the volume ed. by David Hall on Confessional Subscription — from which I borrowed heavily.

  23. Rob V

    “1. Of what were musical instruments in the OT (e.g. Ps 150) typical, such that these types are now fulfilled in the NT?
    2. Does the presence of musical instruments in the apocalypse then suggest some form of redemptive regression?”

    Google Girardeau or Dabney’s review of G’s instrumental Music in the Public Worship of God or GI Williamson’s tract on the topic.

    1.M Instruments are typical of the joy of the Holy Spirit. With Calvary AND Pentecost, the ceremonial types are fulfilled in the NT. To return to them is to judaize.
    2.If the Apocalypse is to be literally understood as a Directory for Worship (Rome and Anglicanism) then we will also have white robes, crowns, incense, thrones etc. The argument proves too much.

    • Bob,

      Obviously the Apocalypse is not to be completely understood literally. Nevertheless, there is no indication whatsoever in Scripture, OT or NT, that God is not pleased with the worship brought to him by accompanied voices. It is only a strict-RPW advocate (note: I distinguish the RPW, worship according to Scripture, from strict-RPW, which borders on legalism), who needs to hunt for an explicit command for every practice, that could possibly forbid instruments.

      I’m aware that this was a general Reformational practise, however, I also think that in their (correct) zeal in opposing Rome the Reformation tended to swing the pendulum too far the other way. Their position on holy days is a perfect example. I don’t know whether Calvin celebrated Good Friday (maybe Clark can clarify?) but I have learned that he ignored Christmas. Understandable, in his time, but probably an overreaction. But this is what tends to happen in Reformation movements, and with the perspective of a few centuries we should be able to make wise decisions about what was essential and what was accidental to the Reformation. I would say the confessions are central.

  24. RSC

    “Why do I have to answer the questions here if I already answered them there?”

    Not only is repetition is the mother of learning, if somebody brings the topic up, they had best be prepared to at least give a ’25 words or less’ summary of the position.
    Yeah, maybe it ain’t fair, but the public will demand it anyway and on something like this, the reader’s laziness aside, they really won’t be able to make an intelligent guess. It is really is a “minority” viewpoint.

  25. It appears that you are assuming that spending 1.8 mil on an organ without very little knowledge about the church itself, its culture, size, budget, etc. What is the church’s budget? How large is the church? Where are the funds coming from to pay for the organ? Without this knowledge you are being fairly judgemental of a church you know very little about.

    • Bobby, Who do u imagine is being fairly judgmental here? Dr. Scott Clark’s initial post? If so and I were making such an error, I’d check myself into a adult reading program or something, his post is clearly intended to make no judgments, merely raise them.

  26. I have to agree with a former comment that the prohibition of musical instruments based on the 2nd commandement is almost dispensational “like.”
    When looking at the whole of Scripture it seems we are taking a step back when we prohibit instruments. In the Old Covenant the worship of God includes all sorts of instruments to praise God but with Christ and the promises of the Old Covenant fullfilled we’re suppossed to come to the conclusion that New Covenant worship is bare?

  27. Is the purchase of an iPhone or expensive media device by an individual as bad a use of stewardship as an organ for a church?
    proprtionlly the iPhone may be more costly for the individual than the organ for the church.

    • Bobby, you raise a good question on the scale of stewardship. But your specific example doesn’t work so well. The iPhone is not terribly expensive for all the features it combines. One could certainly get the electronics that can simulate the organ for all practical purposes for a mere fraction of the cost (and which does far more than an organ).

      Though the question Scott raises on this post points to the 2nd commandment, which doesn’t quite seem to bear on the iPhone as much as it does a church organ.

      And I write this as someone who refuses to get an iPhone (my phone is a phone, period), and who likes organs, and prefers authentic instruments to the electronic counterpart.

  28. 1. As to re-producing the chapter from RRC on the RPW: See the following previous discussions:

    I’ve interacted with commenters at great length on this.

    2. As to dispensationalism, well, on that analogy then those who ignore the historic RPW are Roman Catholics! Think about it. For the first 9 centuries the church, in public worship, used no musical instruments. For the first 9 centuries the church knew ONLY two sacraments. In the centuries following the the 9th the church began not only to include musical instruments into public worship for two reasons, 1) it will excite the young people (see RRC) and 2) because there are references to instruments in the OT. These are some of the main arguments today. At the same time this was happening the W. church particularly was busily reconstructing the OT cultus/worship. It is no accident that we came to have priests, memorial eucharistic sacrifices, offerings, etc. This was intentional.

    The Reformation re-asserted the biblical and early Patristic doctrine of the superiority of the new covenant over the typological period. It seemed to them and to me that that this was the teaching of the book of Hebrews. Was the writer to the Hebrews a dispensationalist? Do you folks really want to make that argument?

    Do you understand where your logic leads? I used the word “reconstruction” intentionally. The same hermeneutic that gave us the reconstruction of the temple cultus also is giving us the reconstruction of the Mosaic civil law. Once we have set aside the Reformed doctrine that the typological epoch has been fulfilled and that the typologies have expired (see WCF 19) then we are subject NOT ONLY to the reconstructed Mosaic worship but also the reconstructed Mosaic civil polity. Be careful that new harps and lyres do not also bring with them new stones and cities of refuge. How you will avoid them I cannot see.

    The Reformation was not dispensationalist. Calvin was not a dispensationalist. The Reformed churches were not dispensationalist for 300 years.

    3. Then there is the question of sola scriptura. When the elders call the congregation together for worship on the Christian Sabbath/Lord’s Day it is not an optional exercise. Attendance to worship is mandatory. In such a case the elders have a great responsibility before the Lord not to tax unduly Christian liberty. The RPW says that God must be worshiped only in the way he has commanded. The only question we may ask is “what must we do?” We we must administer the elements of worship. Those elements, most basically, are Word and prayer. The Word comes to us both verbally and sacramentally. God’s people respond with prayer. The elders may impose only those elements ordained by God. That’s sola scriptura. Has God ordained (not permitted), required his congregation to respond to him with anything other than his own Word? Do the elders have a right to require of congregants that they participate in worship where they are asked to do things to which we have not all covenanted in the confession? It is not a matter of what one likes or prefers. The question is: what has God required?

  29. Here is what Calvin would say to these “Calvinists”:
    On Psalm 81:2 page 312:
    “With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and will find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were as yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ. But now when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law, and taught us that God is to be served in a simplier form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time. From this, it is apparent that the Papists have shown themselves to be very apes in transferring this to themselves.”

    It appears that many Protestant, Presbyterians have also shown themselves to be apes along with the Papists.

    So much for being “Protestant” and abiding with Sola Scriptura.

    • Edgar,

      I’d be a bit more cautious in extending apish language toward your Reformed brothers. For many of us Dr. Clark’s assertions here and in RRC regarding RPW are new, even if his convictions are anything but new. Discussing the proper application of RPW is incredibly beneficial, being called a papist ape is not.

      • I think calling anyone either Papist, Muslim , Hindu, or Reformed apish should be avoided. Even the person who worships the worst idol (which in itself is dehumanizing) should not be described in animalistic terms since even they are made in the image of God.

  30. Calvin says: “God is to be served in a simpler form.” This sounds more Platonist than it does Scriptural, and I say that as a Calvinist. Just because we follow these theologians doesn’t mean they were right on everything. How you get to a defense of sola scriptura out of this sort of exegesis is beyond me.

    • You say it sounds Platonist, but do not demonstrate how. Sola Scriptura has everything to do with it. You just need read the subject more carefully as I had to when first introduced to the idea a decade or more ago. Musical Instruments were part and parcel of the Ceremonial Law. Hebrews declares that Law abrogated. Ergo, musical instruments went the way of animal sacrifice. To reinstate musical instruments, you have to bring in the whole law that it is associated with to be Biblically faithful, if you hold to the RPW that is. So bring in the choirs (all male), candles, and the animal to be sacrificed while the instruments are played.
      Done away with, right? By what Standard? The Bible. Sola Scriptura. Cast out the instruments from worship, leave the path to Rome and rejoin the old Protestant banner. Sola Scriptura. If God is sovereign, He is so over every aspect, not only in the “5 points of Calvinism” but also in worship.

      • Well, where in Scripture do you read that the worship of God is to be “simple”? I might be wrong – it may be scriptural – but as I said, it sounds more Platonist than Scriptural to me.

        I’ve read the Pentateuch, and musical instruments are hardly an essential part of Old Covenant worship. They are accidental (or adiaphora) both in the OT and today. Of course I agree that the OT is fulfilled, as per Hebrews. But Hebrews doesn’t say: and therefore put away your harps. And Revelation strongly implies that your position is simply an over-zealous eschatology. If instruments were abolished in the New Covenant, what the blazes are they doing in heaven? (Yes, yes, the language is symbolic. There are no literal harps in heaven. Fine: but then the language at least shows that John may have expected God’s people on earth to recognize harps as a part of worship to God. The fact that it is symbolic only affirms the use of musical instruments in this dispensation, while we await the new heavens and the new earth. After all, in some ways this time we live in now is a “type” of what will be. The fact that Revelation is not literal is actually fatal to “redemptive-historical” argument, since the future age also is depicted with musical instruments.)

        To say that if we use instruments we might as well be sacrificing animals is as bald an overstatement as I’ve read in a long time – and I’ve been spending too much time at this blog. I mean, it’s inconceivable that you could argue this. We recognize types by what the NT expressly declares to be fulfilled. That’s the whole basis for the continuation of the moral law. Yet you, on the basis of no NT text whatsoever, declare that musical instruments are essential to the Old Covenant (on the basis of what Pentateuchal legislation?) and therefore must be fulfilled.

      • If Sola Scriptura is the rule, then shouldn’t one be able to demonstrate a Scripture that declares instruments to not be used in worship? Sure, instruments were used at the temple, but so were prayers, and that’s obviously not something that should be left behind. It seems to me that one should have fairly explicit New Testament teaching to ignore the call of Psalm 150.

        • Hi Don,

          The RPW is taught explicitly in Scripture by precept and by example. The second commandment lays down the precept. Negatively, we may not worship God in any way that he has not authorized. Positively, we must worship God only in the way he has authorized. There are many examples in Scripture where God reveals his holy displeasure and his insistence that he be worshiped just so.

          1. Sinai. I dare anyone, go touch the mountain. Call me a legalist, but I think it’s pretty clear that God didn’t the mountain to be touched.

          2. The golden calf. I think we all agree that good intention is not sufficient warrant for the calf. Worshiping the right God (Yahweh) in the wrong way is not permitted.

          3. The calves at Bethel and Dan. See #2.

          4. Uzzah. Poor chap tried to do what he thought was the right thing and it cost him his life.

          Need I go on? Has God changed? Is he less holy now than he was then? I doubt that. Ask Annias and Sapphira. I think they’re still dead. Ask the folk who became ill and died in Corinth for abusing the table. That’s in the new covenant.

          So the principle is clearly revealed in Scripture.

          If you’ll take a look at RRC I do work through this in more detail.

          Nevertheless, your question assumes some things that I doubt.

          1. I doubt that the burden of proof is upon those who are upholding the original, unrevised (by the churches) of the Reformed understanding and confession of the RPW. The burden of proof is upon those who want to change or ignore or set aside the confession (including our practice).

          2. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we do not draw, as the confession says, “good and necessary inferences.” Historically this has been one of them.

          3. There is a distinction between those things that belong distinctly to the typological period and those that do not. Prayer evidently does not. Sacrifices evidently do. They are singled out as having been fulfilled. Read Hebrews. The civil polity is fulfilled. Again, read Hebrews. We are enjoined positively in the NT to sing and to pray. We are not enjoined positively to offer sacrifices nor are we enjoined positively to play instruments in worship. Hence the burden of proof is on those who re-introduced typological practices into NT worship.

          4. To the best of my knowledge there is no evidence that the apostolic church used instruments. It is certain that the synagogues did not. The best evidence is that the apostolic church followed the synagogue on this. The early post-apostolic church (as I show in RRC) did not use instruments. They regarded as belonging to the typology and to pagan worship. They sang. They prayed. They preached. They administered the sacraments. When the Reformed in the 16th century were purifying the church of the Romish corruptions they read the Fathers and were impressed with the simplicity of early Christian and NT worship.

          5. The fact is that those who are defending instruments are making the very same arguments made by Roman apologists during the 16th and 17th centuries. Tell me, how are you going to use a Roman premise, hermeneutic, and conclusion and not end up with Romish practice? We can hope for blessed inconsistency (which happens all the time) but we cannot be shocked when some folks follow the path to its logical conclusion.

          6. I’m not saying that those who disagree with me are “Roman” or “Romish” but I do want them to be aware of what they are doing and where their logic leads.

          7. I knew nothing about the RPW until I was forced by one of my students to consider it seriously. I went back to the sources and I realized that I had just been assuming that modern practice was Reformed practice. Then, when I learned of the discrepancy, I thought that we had changed our practice for good reason. When I went looking for the justification for the change of practice I found only two things: a) pragmatism and the QIRE. That’s it.

          8. The stark reality is that few of our people and a shocking percentage of Reformed ministers have no grasp of the teaching of the WCF or the HC on worship. Ask most anyone and he will tell you that we are allowed to do in worship anything that is not forbidden. That is the Lutheran/Anglican principle. It is not what we confess. This is a hard truth but it’s one that we have to face before it’s too late.

          • Thanks for your thorough reply. Perhaps we can agree that the issue is (or, should be) that, now that sacrifices are no longer needed, whether musical instruments are somehow included with them. I, personally, do not see the explicit call for their use in the Psalms to be overridden in the NT, but that seems to be where we disagree.

            >Need I go on? Has God changed? Is he less holy now than he was then? I doubt that.

            I agree with your examples here. On the other hand, I’m troubled by how we should handle the apparent exemption given to Naaman.

            >Ask Annias and Sapphira. I think they’re still dead. Ask the folk who became ill and died in Corinth for abusing the table. That’s in the new covenant.

            Ha ha, you’re trying to trip me up on Deut. 18:11, aren’t you? 🙂

          • “We are not enjoined positively to offer sacrifices nor are we enjoined positively to play instruments in worship. Hence the burden of proof is on those who re-introduced typological practices into NT worship.”

            No, the burden of proof is on those who say: whatever we are not enjoined positively to do is forbidden. Out of curiousity, Dr. Clark, would you insist on head coverings for women? Do you insist that prayer take place with uplifted hands? Do you insist on the “holy kiss”?

            • You are the one that said, “if Scripture explicitly commands something, that’s commanded.” So, do you insist on head coverings for women in worship? (With almost 300 words used in just one passage of the English Bible, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 seems pretty explicite!)

            • David & et al,

              Since I was rightly criticized for not providing any Scripture to back my claims, let me do so now. But I ask that before you respond that you at least read the passages carefully.

              Numbers 10:10 teaches that Musical Instruments are part of the Ceremonial Law and go hand in hand at the time of animal sacrifice. Someone thought that connection was weird. That person should read the OT again.

              2 Chronicles 29:25-30 teach by example in the midst of Reformation & renewal that the use of the instruments was during the animal sacrifice itself. You could not have the one without the other.

              Historical Testimony of the Church also teach us that the Synagogue worship was without musical accompaniment, but that they did sing from the Psalter. The NT Church is patterned after the synagogue and not the Temple worship. The Historical Testimony of the Church also demonstrates conclusively that the use of musical instruments were never a part of the public worship of God until centuries later. Even Thomas Aquinas wrote against their use.

              Since the OT clearly teaches that God, NOT man, commanded the use of musical instruments to be used concurrently with the sacrifice and ordained part and parcel within the ceremonial law — and note in Numbers no indication of songs of praise are given by God, that would be later under King David OUTSIDE the ceremonial law — and since the NT teaches that the ceremonial law is indeed abrogated, it in fact stands to reason that the use of musical instruments in the Public Worship of God is abrogated and NOT to be used in the NT worship.

              Go to the source and origin of a practice to see the context. God stated HIMSELF,
              in Deut. 12:32:
              What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

              Only what He has commanded by precept or positive example is allowed in the Church. To add to His commands or to do things He never forbade (like introducing drama, soloists, & etc) –as Dr. Clark pointed out the Lutheran/Anglican position — is to violate the will of God.

              I ask the reader, if they want to fairly treat the position to look up other solid mature, old school Calvinists that wrote on the topic to get a more full treatment. Also notice when most of these books were written, in the 19th cent. and ask yourself why? Think about what else was occurring in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches in the 19th cent. and you will get where I am going with these last statements.

              Here is a more modern treatment if you like:

  31. It must be quite an organ! While I can’t imagine spending that kind of money on an organ, I would hope that it is as soul inspiring as they claim it o be in the article.

  32. I’ve heard all the arguments regarding exclusive psalmody & prohibition of musical instruments and find tem very unconvincing. I would pray that the PCA would never go down this narrow path.
    It was not my intention for Dr. Clark to have to go back over ploughed ground.

    But I am troubled by this assertion(or assumption) on this blog that a PCA church in TN is exhibiting bad stewardship by purchasing an organ when no one seems to know anything about the church, its membership, or how the organ is being paid for.

    You can argue that because of your understanding of the RPW that it should not even be in the church but that would also be true for a $200 piano or $100 guitar.

    • Bobby,

      I agree with you that, if the RPW is true (and we confess that it is) organs and guitars are both out, regardless of cost.

      If you’ll go back and read the post you’ll see that I raised questions about the stewardship. In my experience 1.8m is a lot of money. I don’t care where you are or how big the congregation is, 1.8m is a lot of money for any church or for any non-profit organization!

      It is a fair question to ask whether God’s people should spent $1.8m on an organ?

      As to being “narrow” well, justification sola gratia, sola fide, solo Christo is “narrow” too. The first commandment is narrow and, come to think of it, so are the rest of them. Why is that a helpful way to analyze this problem?

      Was the Reformation narrow? On what grounds do you say that? You say that you’ve heard all the arguments but I doubt that you’ve grappled with them adequately. For one thing, I’ve not argued for exclusive psalmody. I’ve argued for exclusive canonicity, with Mr Murray and with some 17th-century writers.

      There are arguments in RRC that I guess you may not have seen.

      I hope you won’t simply react but that you’ll take this opportunity to re-assess your own views, what the Scriptures actually teach, what the chuches actually confess, and why. This is a difficult question. It took me 10 years to get to where I am. I understand. That’s why I keep raising.

      Don’t close your mind. That would be truly narrow. Maybe the older writers had a point?

  33. Yes $1.8 is a lot of money & honestly if I had that much i wouldn’t spend it on an organ. But we know nothing about the church and the source of the money. Making assumptions and the questioning of someone else’s stewardship publically without full knowledge is not something believer’s should do.

    Again some could question an individual believer’s purchase of a non-necessity such as an i-phone or i-pod which could be a larger purchase proportionally for the individual than the large 1000-2000 member church.

      • its just one part of the info you don’t know. Perhaps the money came from a foundation, grant, or special gift from a member. The source may or may not be relevant to the issue of good stewardship but it does help understand the whole picture.

        Yes $1.8mil is a large amount but my guess is that the church in the article is probably a large wealthy church. One difference between the PCA & the OPC and many other Northern denominations(like yours) is that churches in the south usually have more resources. The PCA has large numbers of historic old churches and I know the money spent on upkeep and renovation can run into the millions. Even newer Reformed, evangelical churches in the South that end up with large memberships raise millions to build. I know one FPC in southern town that raised $3 mil to renovate its historic downtown church. Was that good stewardship? perhaps they should have sold their historic building and move into a multifunctional warehouse & given the rest to missions? But part of good stewardship is taking care of what you have been given.

        I would guess that the church in question (in Nashville) is a large & wealthy church and that the 1.8mil is not that much in that particular church. I don’t think they are wrestling over musical instruments in the church. For them its a settled question. My guess is that they would say that $1.8mil is not that much if given and used for God’s Glory and the fact that a purchase like this will probably last for 100 years. (unless the Lord tarries)

        But I don’t know that much about this particular church why they bought an organ & why they spent that much money and it would be wrong for me to assume that I can proclaim bad stewardship based on such scanty information

  34. I am slightly bemused by the comments regarding stewardship, and do not think anyone has truly grasped the concept of a $1.8M organ for a church. Since when was stewardship about proportion? To me, it is about your heart, and I think that is where it is Biblically (ref: Matt 6:21, pp Luke 12:34). With a quick skim I do not see the topic of stewardship in WCF, and alas, I have not read RRC. Hopefully an educated commentator can point me in the right direction where the stewardship principle is elaborated on in the creeds/confessions.

    Thus the stewardship principle doesn’t keep me from buying a cell phone or new car (my current stewardship struggle!); it is not a matter of what proportion of my income can I spend to not break the barrier between “good steward” and “bad steward.” The “10% rule” of proportioning our money/fruits to God is not really a rule or law anymore, is it? I think, like much of the OT law, it was designed to point us in the right direction: acknowledging that we do have physical needs that need to be met, but that in fruits/money/stewardship issues (like everywhere else), God comes first. Hence in the NT the giving/stewardship principle is expanded to stating more generally, give God everything! Give your money to the poor and follow Christ – let everything in your life point and focus on Him.

    Thus, rather than asking what percentage of the church budget is $1.8m dollars… I think the question that should be asked is, is the use (stewardship) of that money being focused on God? is it furthering the Kingdom? is it giving more glory to God? Personally, I believe these questions rhetorical, and the answer is “no.” Personally, I can’t see how a $1.8m organ isn’t focusing on the church that bought it or its music/worship program- distracting from God’s glory. Or how that $1.8m couldn’t be bringing more glory by missions, mercy ministries, church plants, etc. However, I admit my questions are general, so of course one could make an argument to the contrary. But more generally speaking, my argument is that stewardship is not about percentages of money- rather, stewardship is about the focus of our money/time/efforts/glories. $1.8m on an organ is “off-focus.”

    • Its funny you start off by saying that stewardship is not a matter of proportion but of the heart but then conclude that $1.8mil can’t be good stewardship essentially b/e of the amount.
      Again you too are judging a PCA church in TN b/e you judge that thats too much money.

  35. Scott, forgive me if I didn’t read it in the article. You may have addressed this already, but doesn’t your church have a pipe organ? Or was I looking at the wrong picture?

    • Right picture. Wrong (implied?) conclusion.

      OURC rents a facility. We don’t use an organ. The consistory, over my objections, continues to authorize the use of instruments in public worship. I continue to hope for further Reformation.

  36. David DeJong,

    “Obviously the Apocalypse is not to be completely understood literally. ”

    Thank you. You just made the case/gave away the farm.
    The instruments are not to be understood literally.
    Or the 24 elders must play them while wearing white robes and golden crowns/the devil is literally bound with an actual chain.

    “Nevertheless, there is no indication whatsoever in Scripture, OT or NT, that God is not pleased with the worship brought to him by accompanied voices.”

    MI were only brought into the ceremonial worship by direct command to David by God. They only accompanied the sacrifices and were only played by certain families of the priests. (1 Chron.) Calvary AND Pentecost erased/fulfilled ALL the ceremonial worship (and with the priesthood of the believer, the congregation is the now the choir.)

    “It is only a strict-RPW advocate (note: I distinguish the RPW, worship according to Scripture, from strict-RPW, which borders on legalism), who needs to hunt for an explicit command for every practice, that could possibly forbid instruments.”

    You are confused/mistaken re. the RPW.
    While legalism adds to God’s law, the RPW only says that whatsoever that God has not commanded – whether explicitly, by good and necessary consequence or by approved example – is forbidden in his worship. (For instance see/google the Minutes to the West. Assembly Sess. 633-655)

    “I’m aware that this was a general Reformational practise, however, I also think . . .”

    You may think what ever you please. Whether you are correct or not is a different matter. Yeah, I know. I thought/said the same thing until I actually read the material.
    Google Girardeau, Dabney or Williamson on MI and get up to speed.
    They’re free if you don’t want to buy/borrow RRC. Then you can check out feastdays and psalmody ( in that the reformers generally stuck to what God had placed in the inspired hymnbook, tho RRC takes a broader position.)

    Happy reading.

    • “While legalism adds to God’s law, the RPW only says that whatsoever that God has not commanded – whether explicitly, by good and necessary consequence or by approved example – is forbidden in his worship.”

      I think your formulation of RPW here is legalism. Paul teaches that believers in the NC are not to seek explicit legislation for all their actions.

      Rom 12:1-2:
      1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual[a] act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

      Believers are able to “test” and “approve” God’s will by the indwelling Spirit (“the renewing of your mind”). This is fundamentally eschatological, a literal translation is “Do not conform to the pattern of this age.” This verse has major ramifications for Christian ethics; it stands at the head of the imperatives in Rom 12-15.

      Think about Gal 3, where the dispensation of the law is a tutor until the coming of faith. In the OC, believers were like children that needed to told: “Do this,” “Do that” (cf. also Col 2). In the NC, God’s law has been put in the hearts of believers, so that by the Spirit we discern what it is to be pleasing to him (2 Cor 3).

      Now, I agree: if Scripture explicitly commands something, that’s commanded. I’m not trying to drive a wedge between the Spirit and the Word. But you are saying that if something is not commanded, it is forbidden. You turn God’s silence into prohibitions. This to me is a sign of legalism: it is looking for specific commands and basically, not growing up in Christian maturity, to use the image of Gal 3 again.

      Finally, exegetically, some could claim that by “good and necessary consequence” instruments are commanded. After all, they are present in the Old dispensation, they are present in the future dispensation, therefore, they must be present now as well. Instruments could be taken as a point of covenantal continuity rather than discontinuity. There are therefore so many levels at which the argument against instruments is unclear that it becomes clear why Dr. Clark’s own consistory doesn’t agree.

  37. Bob Suden refers to Dabney who notes that “the musical instruments of David in the temple-service only typified the joy of the Holy Ghost in his pentecostal effusions.” I may be missing something, but what is the Scriptural justification for this connection?

    I had understood that the typical was that which pointed to the redemptive work of Christ, notably all that was associated with bloody sacrifice. To extend this to all aspects of worship begs the question as to the boundary between adiaphora and type. By way of analogy and at the risk of sounding trite, given that the temple curtain typified the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, should we then no longer have curtains in our churches?

  38. Oh, I meant no disrespect. I should have been more careful in my implication. I did not know that you folks rented the facility. My apologies, Scott. Sincerely. The Lord bless, brother! ~Eric

  39. Kindly disregard the second part of my last post, which is confused (post in haste, repent at leisure!) I am interested in the first part: the justification for linking musical instruments with the joy of the HS.

  40. Up above, Mr. Suden states that:

    MI were only brought into the ceremonial worship by direct command to David by God.

    Where is that command? I’ve been looking for it for years.

  41. David

    “I think your formulation of RPW here is legalism . . . . ”

    Uh, ever read the confessions, as in the Heidelberg or the Westminster on the Second Commandment and the ensuing exposition/tradition?

    Or to put it another way, it’s not what we think, but what we know that is important. Neither is it my formulation of the RPW, it is the historic P&R view that has been lost nowadays.

    I can understand that someone, who is not a member of the choir as it were, might not want to buy or borrow RRC, but the internet is a free library. There is no excuse if one refuses to avail themselves of it.
    Now if I may be excused from the conversation until you do so.
    Thank you.


    It is Girardeau, to the best of my knowledge that says the ceremonial worship typified either Christ, the Holy Spirit or both. Likewise MI and the joy of the Holy Spirit, but I could be wrong.


    For starters:
    2 Chronicles 29:25  And he set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets.


  42. It is a bit amusing to see the good Dr. Clark diss the Presbyterians for spending money while hawking his own book in reply to those who disagree. Surely it must only be a matter convenience to refer to one’s own published writing to avoid typing things over and over and not at all about additional promotion.

    For me, the question is not really a matter of musical instruments in worship. Yawn. Is 1.8 million dollars excessive? Was a year’s wage anything to sneeze about for our Lord (John 12:5)?

    Furthermore, since Dr. Clark has introduced the question of why, it is only fair in response to wonder if there is not some amount of envy involved on the part of those questioning those who have been so blessed by our Lord with such resources. Should we not take the time to consider that our own hearts may very well be at risk in looking askance at our brothers and sisters and their actions in this way?

    • I get hit with bouts of property envy all the time, comparing our little OPC hovels with the huge beautiful historic edifices owned by the mainline. It’s a heart idolatry, desiring the visible glories of the world, that I need to put to death regularly. It is the cross of Christ which is our glory; the edifice made of living stones which is of true worth; the true temple without walls in the New Jerusalem which is our inheritance.

      An idol is certainly horrid as it makes us green with envy. But is an idol any less an idol when we feed it to make us happy?

      And a year’s wages was certainly not wasted in God’s economy to anoint our Lord for his burial. But it seems to me that the closer analogy would be to tear apart that 1.8 million dollar organ and use the pieces for his whipping post, his cross, and his tomb.

    • Kevin,

      I confess to hawking the book pretty relentlessly. My book, however, is not $1.8m. I get a few pennies (literally) from every copy sold. I don’t hawk it for money. I’ve actually lost money on it or perhaps broke even. I don’t really know. I’ve given away so many copies (but I can’t do it any more–my wife won’t let me).

      I push the book because I believe what it argues is true. I do it because I think its helpful. I do it because it’s an alternative to the kind of stuff you peddle on your website.

      If folks recovered the Reformed confession they wouldn’t be attracted to the ideas you hawk.

  43. As long as we’re on the subject of worship, isn’t this what God really intended ?

    And all this could be ours, I’m pretty sure, for less than $10,000…

  44. Dr. Clark,

    Save your sweeping condemnations for someone who actually deserves it.

    I salute you as the Glabrous and Shining Chair of the Lilliputian Round Table of Radical Two Kingdom Pseudo-Lutheran Half-Reformed Blogorati. Truly, few others are so qualified and still less are able to sink quite so low into the very depths of the muckracking required to flippantly cast aside the actual historical facts of the matter in favor of a decidedly partisan condemnation of anyone at least .000056894 degrees off your own extremist point of view.

    Almost the whole world of American evangelicalism is on its hands-raised-praise-chorus-singing-faster-than-light-descending bobsled down to the netherworld while you are busy blogecuting people for things that even 95% of the Reformed community doesn’t understand. It’s an inquisitional job for just the right Truly Reformed person and it’s only too bad that you don’t believe in a Christian magistrate to help get the job done the way you’d really prefer.

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