Dr. Terry Johnson put up a piece over at The Aquila Report (TAR for short) with the innocuous title “Worship in the PCA in 2017.”
He summarizes Reformed worship generally, referencing without interacting with any Biblical exegesis, and then moves into a volley of criticism aimed at this year’s General Assembly worship with the introductory remark that, “I am not now attempting to engage in biblical argumentation. I’m not saying that anything that was done was wrong or invalid per se.” He then goes on to argue about the “best” worship. I wish this were a joke. I wish this were a sleep deprived tweet that Dr. Johnson tried to delete, culturally we are getting used to those.
In this TAR article, Dr Johnson lays out an argument that worship at this year’s General Assembly was generally problematic based on his preferences. He didn’t object to some new element; there wasn’t a lack of Scripture or prayer that bothered him, he just didn’t like it.
Dr. Johnson gives validity to his point by referencing an unnamed “30-something church-planter”, presumably to suggest that disdain for worship is widely held in the PCA. But he isn’t grieved by this immaturity; he uses it to bolster his point. Dr. Johnson didn’t like the worship, he wasn’t a fan of the arrangements, and didn’t like that some of the singers moved as they sang or lifted their hands in worship.
Dr. Johnson is free to have these opinions, he is free to share them, but I am upset at the idea of PCA minister publicly belittling any worship service based on nothing more than cultural preferences, or what C.S. Lewis might have called “Chronological Snobbery”.
Like Dr. Johnson, I wasn’t born into the PCA. I was raised primarily in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, a part of the Church that frequently discusses the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW for short); the idea that God’s Word sets the bounds of God’s worship. A principle to which I hold. I struggled in seminary, as my convictions over Scripture and worship forced me to leave a church that was generous to me, and full of many friends and loved ones. But when I left the RPCNA I thought I moved into a denomination that affirmed Westminster, and while it didn’t wave the RPW flag as much, held to that same principle.
What makes me so frustrated is that the RPW is meant to protect our gathering from the opinions and preferences of individuals, especially those who might suggest that worship is somehow defective because that person didn’t like it. But when Dr. Johnson takes to a public platform and when this platform is named for another elder in the PCA, we are in a situation where a few are attempting to burden the church’s worship with their opinions.
I can confidently say that I wasn’t the “30-something church-planter” whom he alluded to, but I could have been. In the many years that I’ve been attending General Assembly I’ve often grumbled, I’ve often held up my preferences as the standard of worship, but whenever I’ve done that I was wrong. We don’t worship in light of opinions. We worship in light of the word of God. And at this year General Assembly, God was worshipped. We prayed, we sang, we read, we heard the word preached, we collected offerings, and we received the Lord’s Supper.
If I were leading the worship, would I have done things differently? Yes, because there are many parts of the body of Jesus. And a nose can’t be a hand or an ear. So of course when different churches and different presbyteries lead our worship they are going to be different. Yet, the one thing that seems to remain constant is Dr. Johnson critical disposition towards the worship in our denominational gatherings (in his article he lets us know that he has been critical of GA worship for more than a decade.)
This year I served on a committee of commissioners where the convener asked us to share our favorite and least favorite candy. What I learned was that I am in the very small minority who enjoys black licorice. I’d like to think that it’s because I have more refined taste. But maybe I like licorice because, as a child, my father shared a piece of his favorite treat with me, and that memory is still sweet in my mind.
I like black licorice, and Dr. Johnson doesn’t like GA worship. Neither opinion should trouble the conscience of our denomination.