The Reformed Rejection Of Alleged “Adiaphora” In Worship In 1578

And in the first place, as relates to the administration or performance of the sacraments, these are observed with Christian and fitting reverence in the churches of this land as they were instituted and ordained by Christ and were used by the apostles and the early church in its purity. But the idolatrous additions, and those which give motive and occasion to superstition, are wholly done away with and abolished in this county and dominion, as also to some extent in the neighboring Hessian churches.

For quite early under the Papacy there were ordinances of men at baptism, superfluous and quite puerile, and indeed vexatious and superstitious, such as consecration of the baptismal water, anointing the children with oil on their chest and shoulders, smearing the crown with chrism, placing spittle and clay in their nostrils and ears, blowing under their eyes, laying salt in their mouth, and the placing of burning candles in their hands. The result is that the sublime and comforting sacrament of baptism is much obscured and badly disordered by such embellishment.

Accordingly, these residual things are also being abolished in the Christian reformation presently undertaken: making the sign of the cross on the chest and forehead of children, questions addressed directly to the infant, the casting out of devils (called exorcism), and finally, the emergency baptism by women.

…But such things have in Scripture neither command nor commission, neither any promise nor consent by God. The Lord Christ directs us not to the outward sign of the cross, but rather to the fellowship of His sufferings where He calls His disciples to carry the cross after Him.

…Much rather is it to be done away with for the prevention of superstition and in order that one would be cordially attached to Christ rather than placing his confidence in outward things of his own choosing, or imagining to himself a power, efficacy or significance in spiritual affairs based on devotions which are of man.

…To this very end have the Papists brought in such a variety of mass vestments, surplices, and other special clothing for the priests, in order that thereby they would have so much the more splendor and magnificence, as in the Old Testament the priests and Levites wore their adornment and garb.
But by the light of the gospel, the night and darkness of the Papacy has been driven from the Protestant church and one is able to assemble with peace in the light of day. The Levitical pomp has been abolished by God Himself.

And at the original Supper, the Lord Christ (as well as the apostles afterwards whenever they observed the Supper) used their ordinary clothes and did not for the first time put on new and distinct surplices, albs, chasubles, or the like, which more disguise the administration of the Holy Supper and of themselves more closely resemble theatrical masks than serve as an adornment to the church’s worship.

Therefore, for the administration of the Lord’s Supper and for other occasions, there has been in the churches of this land (as was previously done in the neighboring churches and in many others) an entire abolition of all this vain pomp of illuminations, candles, surplices, and mass vestments as being the colors of Antichrist’s court.

And it has been prescribed that the ministers of the churches are to maintain their ordinary, albeit honorable, garb when they preach and distribute the sacrament.

By this, nothing is taken away from their office. So it is with those who attend the Lord’s Supper, for they also subtract nothing from the proper use of the sacraments when they do not put on distinctive and novel clothes, but maintain their commonplace clothes which they would otherwise ordinarily wear.

The Nassau (Dillenberger Synod) Confession (1578) inJames T. Dennison Jr., ed., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: 1523–1693, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008–14), 478, 491–92.

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  1. Having recently attended Lutheran and Anglican services I have a renewed appreciation for the RPW. Nearly everything they do in liturgy is panned off as adiaphora. Bowing, crossing, processing, recessing, elevating, vesting, you name it is “indifferent adiaphora” they say. Fooey.

  2. What would have constituted “ordinary, albeit honorable, garb” of that time and place? Would the academic gown have been considered ordinary?

  3. When we add anything to worship, that is not commanded in God’s Word, we are worshiping a god according to our own imagination, one that we conceive to be pleased with us as we think and demand that he should be. We have substituted an idol for God as He reveals Himself in His Word, one that we worship to please ourselves.

    • Amen to that! Calvin said we are not to re-adopt “ordinances once commended” from the Old Testiment; how much less should we invent new ceremonies that are supposed to have imagined significance. Instead of enhancing the sacraments, such additions only detract and dishonor our Lord who gave those sacraments.

  4. Hello Dr Clark, regarding the RPW I have a question. You’ve explained it in your curriculum, and how the command in Genesis 17 has never been repealed, but I’ve heard 20th century baptists who see continuity with Abraham say the use of this passage by paedobaptists is invalid, that infant initiation into the GoG was typological of spiritual initiaton in the New Covenant, and striving for a regenerate membership this side of eternity is no more an over realised eschatology than striving to keep the ten commandments. What are your thoughts?

    • Tolowan,
      Although Baptists may claim to see some typological continuity between the Abrahamic covenant, and the new covenant \covenant of grace they want to include it with the Mosaic Covenant because of the command to circumcise. They see it as the republication of the covenant of works, as a command of life, as a covenant of works for earthly rewards and tenure in the land, as do this and live. They see the bible divided into a covenant of works that stretches from the promise of the One who crushes the head of Satan to the death and resurrection of Christ, and the covenant of grace\new covenant only starting after that point. The Reformed see the covenant of grace\new covenant existing as promised in the garden, ratified as a formal covenant with Abraham, and the new covenant materially fulfilled in Christ. Because the Reformed see the covenant of grace as the unifying principle of the bible, they see the inclusion of infants by giving them the covenant sign of the covenant of grace also to continue, except that the bloody sign of circumcision has been replaced by unbloody baptism. As you note, the command to include infants has never been revoked. Baptists justify revoking infant initiation because they see such a fundamental difference in hermeneutics, where the bible is divided between the covenant works before the death and resurrection of Christ, and the new covenant\covenant of grace only beginning after that. They do not see a continuity with the Abrahamic covenant the way the Reformed do.

      Baptists think they can determine who is truly regenerate, and they want to use baptism on a credible confession of faith, as a means of identifying true believers, and ensuring a regenerate membership. The Reformed object that only God can know who is truly regenerate, and the sign is just the sign that marks the recipient with outward membership in the covenant community, but that an inward, saving membership depends on trusting in what the sign represents through regeneration, if and when that person is brought to true faith by the Holy Spirit. For this reason the church will be mixed, as it always has been.

      As has been discussed in recent episodes, the Reformed see the Mosaic covenant in light of the Abrahamic covenant and God’s ratification of the unilateral promises to do all that the covenant of works requires and suffer the consequences of Abraham and his descendants inability to obey the law perfectly. Therefore the Mosaic covenant is a mixed covenant. But even though it is a republication of the covenant of works, it is not as a covenant of do this and live, but as a pedagogical pointer back to the Abrahamic covenant where God, the mediator is promised to fulfill the strict conditions of perfect obedience. In this way, and also in the administration of the types and shadows pointing to Christ, the mediator, it is a covenant of grace. The law in the Mosaic covenant, and throughout redemptive history, had three uses. The first is as a law of nature to inform us what is right and wrong. The second is pedagogical to drive us to Christ as the only One who can fulfill it for us, and the third is a norm or way we strive to please God in gratitude for Christ who has perfectly answered the requirements of perfect obedience. In light of the Abrahamic covenant, the republication of the law in the Mosaic covenant was gracious and pedagogical, to show them their sin and misery and drive them to the promised One who would fulfill the law perfectly on their behalf. Obedience would then become the norm, the third use of the law, just as it is for God’s people today, not as a strict condition of perfect obedience which is provided by the promised One, but as fruit and evidence, an expression of love and gratitude to God for His gracious acceptance of us for the sake of the promised One.

      I think it really comes down to an issue of conscience, you need to be persuaded in your own mind, which hermeneutic is faithful to a true understanding of God’s Word.

    • Toulwaniyi,

      The Abrahamic formula runs throughout Scripture from the beginning to the end. See the article on this in the curriculum on infant baptism/covenant theology. Every Baptist wants to turn Abraham into Moses (see that article too) and this is just another way of doing that.

    • Thank you, both Angela and Dr Clark. My conscience is in line with paedobaptism, but there are still hypothetical objections which Baptists make which I am seeking to find answers to. You have both been extremely helpful to me.

    • My understanding of the topic of covenant theology is definitely far, far better than when I discovered the Heidelblog this January!

  5. quite interesting that it includes “the casting out of devils (called exorcism)” as a forbidden practice, something that is very prevalent in contemporary charismatic churches.

    How was that ‘proved’ in the confession?

    • Marc,

      Confessional documents do not typically offer elaborate defenses or explanations. They are a series of conclusions, usually the result of deliberation by an ecclesiastical body over time, and published to the churches and subscribed by members, ministers, and elders.

  6. How do we justify using the Geneva gown today when the alb was rejected in the 16th c? Both were ordinary garments for their time that are now out of place on the street.

    • Scott,

      The “Geneva Robe” was actually created by Luther in the 1520s. It was a simplified academic robe. It was not a priestly garment. The ministers who helped to draft this confession in Nassau themselves all wore the “Geneva Gown.” They were objecting to the attempt by Anglicans and Lutherans to reimpose priestly garments upon ministers. The alb, surplice, and the chasuble were all (rightly) regarded part of the Romanist sacerdotalism view of the office of the minister. The Reformed wanted the congregation to know that 1) the minister has an office; 2) it is not that of priest but servant of the Word of God.

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