Last week, I attended the 2009 General Assembly of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. This year’s assembly was held in sunny Orlando, Florida at the Coronado Hotel and Convention Center at Walt Disney World. (It’s worth pointing out that the choice of Disney World was made several years ago, long before anyone thought that we might be in a recession. It’s unfortunate that during trying financial times for many churches the assembly was held at a resort but the choice of venues was coincidental.)

I’ll reflect more on individual worship services over the next few days but, for now, a few general comments:

  • Joe Novenson of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian outside of Chattanooga did a wonderful job serving as our worship leader (note: in this context, worship leader is not the same as music leader). Every word that he said seemed to be drenched in pastoral love for all gathered.
  • Despite one commissioner’s comments insulting Central Florida (in a misguided attempt to be funny), the Central Florida Presbytery did a wonderful job of hosting and of putting the worship services together. Central Florida is a model for the rest of the denomination of what a healthy, church-planting presbytery looks like. I don’t think there’s another presbytery with such a commitment to planting churches in every neighborhood and town of their region. (Would that every presbytery had that commitment!)
  • The setup of the room was such that the pulpit was a lectern, flanked by tables with Roberts’ Rules of Order and timekeeper placards, etc. It was an unfortunate bit of symbolism that we were a court before we were a congregation.
  • The testimonies were wonderful reminders of God’s faithfulness in lots of different situations.
  • In such a large hall, we had phasing problems. Meaning, there was a delay between when the organ played and when the congregation sang. As such, hymns tended to drag (through no fault of the organist).
  • Everyone gathered did a good job of singing.

Finally, a brief word concerning some of the criticism that I’ve read online. I will not link to the source(s) but I’ll address some of their concerns. There was a complaint that General Assembly corporate worship was “schizophrenic”; that it was a hodge-podge of lots of different currents within the denomination and was, therefore, poorly led. I could not disagree more. There was a tremendous breadth of music in the assembly, but that breadth was representative of the different congregations within the assembly and within the presbytery. I’ll remark on the individual worship services in a few days but, overall, I was thankful for the variety of expressions. If commissioners were uncomfortable with the mostly contemporary instrumentation, that’s more of a reflection on the age and tastes of the commissioners than a reflection of the denomination as a whole. We have a wide array of styles and expressions of worship and a wide array of musical genres and instruments utilized within the denomination. That’s a great thing. In fact, it’s one of the areas of diversity within our denomination that we can point to and say, “Yes! We do things in different ways but we worship the same Lord!” A General Assembly that reflects that is a good thing.

Post filed under General Christian Worship.

5 Comments

  1. I’m guessing you are not a big Regulative Principle guy. :)

  2. I’m sure one of those websites you refer to was mine. Since I did quote my friend who stated that.

    You state the following:

    “There was a tremendous breadth of music in the assembly, but that breadth was representative of the different congregations within the assembly and within the presbytery.”

    I would agree with that statement.

    “If commissioners were uncomfortable with the mostly contemporary instrumentation, that’s more of a reflection on the age and tastes of the commissioners than a reflection of the denomination as a whole.”

    Personally, it is not my preference to have ‘contemporary instrumentation’. That is my preference, but ‘contemporary instrumentation’ is not what makes worship at GA ‘schizophrenic’.

    As a reflection of age, I am not old. So that does not apply. What the denomination does as a whole does not mean that what they do is correct or according to the Word of God. (Not implying anything, just stating that this is a bad argument).

    “We have a wide array of styles and expressions of worship and a wide array of musical genres and instruments utilized within the denomination. That’s a great thing. In fact, it’s one of the areas of diversity within our denomination that we can point to and say, “Yes! We do things in different ways but we worship the same Lord!” A General Assembly that reflects that is a good thing.”"

    And those who have preceded us would not agree with this statement. In fact, part of our constitution is the Westminster Standards of which the Divines themselves longed to have uniformity in divine worship. Now that is found in the Preface to the Directory of Publick Worship, which is not part of our constitution. But nonetheless, it should be a goal we have as well. So celebrating diversity is not the way to go. We should long to worship in a uniform way our great God who longs to be worshipped HIS way.

    Apart from this we have Scripture which was clearly broken in the worship of the General Assembly. God commands that our worship be ‘orderly’ and ‘reverent’ of which what took place at GA could not in any manner be considered ‘orderly’ and ‘reverent’. In the PCA we believe in the Regulative Principle of Worship, but not at General Assembly.

    Does that mean worship must be traditional, no. I’d rather just chuck that term in the trash. It should be according to Scripture, ‘Simple’ and ‘Biblical’. Of which our GA has forsaken.

  3. Eric Priest says:

    Kevin,

    I appreciate the Regulative Principle and believe it to be important in the worship of God. However, I refuse to use my interpretation of it as a weapon to determine who is faithful and who is unfaithful to Biblical worship. If we had pledged allegiance to the American flag at GA, I would have been the first one to object.

    Andrew,

    You’re going to have to do better than grouse that those whom you disagree with in the application of the regulative principle have “forsaken” worship that is “according to Scripture, ‘Simple’ and ‘Biblical’.”

    Does ‘order’ and ‘reverence’ look the same in every setting? Does it manifest itself the same way in Nairobi and Phoenix?

    I am familiar with the Directory for Public Worship, as well as the recent commentary on it by Rowland S. Ward. I find much of it to be very helpful, especially the sections on the preached Word of God.

  4. Fair enough. So whose interpretation do you use? If no one’s then what good is the Principle?

  5. Eric Priest says:

    I think the question of whose interpretation might miss the point a bit. Too often, we point to the regulative principle as something that rules out a variety of expressions in worship when, in reality, we’d be much better served by an appeal to wisdom. For example, appealing to the regulative principle to forbid dancing or any other form of corporate physical response is fruitless. The Psalms clearly authorize various modes of physical expression from the gathered worshipers. (One of my seminary professors used to say that there’s more in the Bible about dancing than there is about infant baptism.)

    However, it’s not wise to introduce dancing into a worship service in my setting for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that dancing in American culture is pretty much restricted to either sensual bumping and grinding or dancing exhibitions like ballroom or choreographed pieces. In an African setting, I would be much more open to including elements of corporate physical response, like dance.

    At a practical level, I would appeal to the Regulative Principle as much more useful as an articulation of how we, as ministers, should guard our hearts in worship and especially in preaching. Is it wrong to be humorous? Of course not, but it’s wrong to be humorous in the pulpit for the purpose of having others like you and think that you’re clever. Is it wrong to be a skilled orator? Of course not, but it’s wrong to use oratorical skills to build an audience for yourself at the expense of the clearly preached Word of God.

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