Beza: No Judaistic Ceremony Or Stupid Superstition

We say that it is a superstition to esteem one day more holy than another. or to think that to abstain from labor is something which, in itself, pleases God (Rom 14:5, 6; Col 2:16, 17). But, following what the Lord has commanded, we sanctify one of the seven days (Gen 2:3). We devote it entirely to ecclesiastical assemblies to hear the Word of God; yet, as we have said, there is with us not Judaistic ceremony or stupid superstition. This is why we have not chosen the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, but Sunday, following the custom of the early church (1 Cor 16:2; Acts 20:7; Rev 1:10).

As for other festival days, we have removed them as much as possible from us, especially those which have been introduced through manifest idolatry. We have done this so as to correct the innumerable abuses which flowed from such, and to relieve the poverty of many. Nevertheless, because there are certain festivals devoted, since ancient times, to the celebration of certain mysteries concerning our redemption, we use Christian liberty, and submit all to edification, according to the different circumstances of pleas, times, and persons.

Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith, 5.41


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  1. Hey RSC,

    I ran across a guy with an error I’d never heard of before; he believes that Christ actually resurrected on the Jewish Sabbath, and we are supposed to still maintain Saturday as the Sabbath; however he’s not a 7th Day Adventist. He claims Sunday Lord’s Day was an invention of Constantine (a historical fact almost nobody realizes), and he pins everything apparently on translating not “first day of the week” but instead “First Sabbath”, as in Sabbath #1 of the countdown to Pentecost.

    Have you ever dealt with this before? Do you know who he might be reading?

  2. Scott:

    Will the entire story be told? What are you fellas teachin’ out there? Or, in Philadelphia for that matter? I never heard this stuff in Philadelphia, but then again, that was during the “Shepherdarian” days. And John Frame’s days too. Chapel services were, well, a bit embarrassing.

    Pity poor the fathers and divines of the Westminster Assembly. They were, lo and behold, “old Prayer Book men” including the calendar.

    Tell the whole story.

    Calendar and all, of all things. Holy moly, hot jacamole, the calendar too? Westminster fathers? Nah, say it ain’t so??!!

    I am annoyed at both sides, Presbyterians and Anglicans. I’m an old Prayer Book man with a Westminsterian Confession. I have grad degrees from both sides. I’d be at home with the old Westminster, er, English, divines, although not accepted in Scotland or America. (Never mind the non-confessionalists, enthusiasts and revivalists of America, de nada.)

    I know where the “old masters” settled. Ain’t shiftin’ for ahistoric Murikans.


    Donald Philip Veitch

    • Phil,

      The Directory for Publick Worship was adopted in 1644, even before the rest of the work of the Assembly was done. It cannot be fairly implied that the assembly that acted in 1661 is the same assembly that acted in the 1640s. The world had changed considerably. Charles II was crowned in April of 1661. The Prayer Book you’re celebrating was imposed forcibly in 1662. This is not something that Reformed people celebrate.

      If you’ve read RRC you know that I walk through the history of the DPW. The 1644 DPW represents the consensus of the Westminster divines and the mainstream of the 16th and 17th-century understanding of the RPW. The preface to the DPW says that there were three reasons for the creation of directory:

    • First, as beneficial as the Book of Common Prayer (hereafter BCP) was to the Reformation, nearly a century later, the BCP had become a tool of oppression rather than liberation. The “prevailing Prelatic party in England under Archbishop Laud was bent on strict conformity, and on extending it to Scotland.” The Prelatic party was, in the words of the DPW, “urging the reading of all the prayers” (emphasis added) so that the “the many unprofitable and burdensome ceremonies” in it had become an occasion of “much mischief.” As a result of the imposition of the BCP, Christians were being kept from the table and ministers deprived of their living. The de iure divino Anglicans (e.g., Richard Hooker and Adrian Saravia) “have labored to raise the estimation of it to such a height, as if there were no other worship, or way of worship of God.”

      The second reason is that the BCP tended to give aid and comfort to the Roman critics of the Reformation as validating the mass.

      Third, it had the unintended consequence of fostering “an idle and un-edifying ministry.”107 Rather than giving themselves to prayer, ministers were relying on the forms. The Directory laid claim on being a continuation of the work of the “first reformers,” of whom “we are persuaded, that, were they now alive, they would join with us in this work….”

    • The DPW enjoined prayer, the reading and preaching of the Word and the use of the sacraments. There should little doubt about the original intent of the DPW regarding congregational singing. The divines wrote, “It is the duty of Christians to praise God publicly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family.” Everywhere congregational singing is mentioned in the DPW only the psalms are mentioned. The word “hymn” does not occur in the DPW. A psalm is to be sung after the reading of the Word, before the sermon. If anything is to be sung after the prayer following the sermon, it is to be a psalm. In describing the interim between the first and second services, the DPW prescribes the singing of psalms. So interested were the divines that the Psalms should be sung that the DPW required that “every one that can read is to have a psalm book.” They even instituted a system of “lining out” the Psalm to be sung whereby a minister or precenter (literally, “fore-singer”) would sing one line at a time, to be imitated by the congregation, so that the illiterate could sing along.

      Here is the actual DPW.

      [UPDATE: The text is available here]

      For more historical background see also:

      “Calvin’s Principle of Worship,” in ed. David Hall, Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of his Quincentenary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 247–69.

      There was a remarkable consensus among the Reformed regarding worship from Calvin to the Westminster Assembly. The Anglicans were a mixed lot. Some were Reformed on worship, i.e., the adopted and lived by the principle enunciated in WCF 21 and some did not, hence the vestarian controversy. Those that did not were not Reformed in their view of worship. They tended to abide by the Lutheran principle, that whatever is not forbidden is permitted.

      The Reformed were of mixed opinion re forms of prayer. By and large they were regarded as adiaphora (e.g., Calvin produced forms of prayer for use by ministers and for private use by Christians) but their imposition was resisted. Further, it is one thing for ministers to read prayers in worship, it is another for the congregation to respond to God with anything other than God’s Word.

      Nevertheless, because of it’s economy of words and because of the way it captures the best of western piety I have affection for the 1662 BCP, despite it’s history and the evil associated with its imposition and what was done to the Scots Presbyterians in the name of conformity.

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