A Worship Revolution

Old Light On New Worship by John Price

A book on a cappella singing by John Price. For sale at Crown and Covenant for one penny more than Amazon.com!

The worship of the Triune God is not like hair. Or ice cream.

That’s why my brain circuitry fries (and sometimes my eyes roll) when worship discussions devolve into arguments about ‘preferred style’ or ‘taste.’ The first two Commandments flit through my head as I hear fiery rhetoric pitting ‘contemporary’ worship against the ‘more traditional’ kind. And my stomach knots because – once again – we’re arguing from tradition (what fulfills us) rather than mission (our calling to glorify God in all we do) by embracing what God commands. We were taught to ask the wrong questions about God’s worship.

But I think a worship revolution is underway.

There’s a young, restless, and Reformed generation embracing “Sola Scriptura” – God’s Law and Gospel writ large. This generation of ‘New Calvinists’ is embracing the Biblical wisdom of the Puritans, the Reformers, and the Church Fathers. And some of them are listening as these Biblical expositors of old make the case that love for God translates into loyalty to him – and his specific commands about worship. A remarkable number – compelled by the Text – are wholeheartedly embracing the conviction that Biblical worship is instituted by God himself and therefore limited by His own revealed will, a conviction commonly known as the ‘regulative principle.’ Others aren’t convinced, but listening. Instead of asking questions rooted in personal preference or tradition, we are recovering the white-hot question that caused the Reformation to glow with spiritual power – what worship would glorify our God? In other words, we’re adopting the radical notion that Scripture is sufficient to direct the Bride of Christ in honoring her King as he has prescribed.

That’s why John Price’s book Old Light On New Worship: Musical Instruments And The Worship of God is gaining a wide audience. This 250-page book tackles head on the challenging question of the Bible’s teaching about musical instruments in New Covenant, public worship. A helpful and thought provoking forward by Pastor Edward Donnelly (Reformed Theological College in Belfast, Ireland) observes that “the overwhelming consensus of the church has been that these instruments were an integral part of the ceremonial worship fulfilled and abrogated in Christ.”

Like a patient bricklayer Price (a Reformed Baptist from Rochester, New York) builds a three-tiered case of “a theological, historical, and psychological study” in support of a cappella singing without musical accompaniment. His foundational argument is a Biblical-theological one tracing the development of divine worship through three epochs: the worship of the Tabernacle (with God commanding through his mediator Moses), then some 400 years later in the elaborate ceremonies of the Temple (under the direction of David), and finally, the “in spirit and truth” worship of the New Covenant (established by Christ and his apostles).

I won’t try to rehash Price’s argument in this brief article, but observe that Price thoroughly and persuasively argues that for all believers “the central concern of worship should not be what men find desirable and pleasing, but what God desires. We may know his will only through His word. Only in bringing those elements commanded in the Scriptures can we be certain that our worship is acceptable to Him.”

May the church recover her attentiveness to the words of her Master and the sure footing of worship practices that flow from the Word of God.

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6 Comments

  1. Bruce Keeler August 17, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    It’s a great book. Wish everyone I knew would read it.

  2. Sarmishta Venkatesh August 18, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    thanks pastor brad – was thinking of reading this book sometime.

  3. shawnanderson August 18, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    It’s an okay book. Lots of good texts to consider and good historical content. However, I found his suppositional argument to be lacking. He argues that since the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant, then we need to see the command in the New Testament for instruments (or any other ordinance of God, … like baptism?). This hermeneutic actually hurts the non-instrumental argument, because we assume that the covenant ordinances remain unless they are changed in the New Covenant.

    Also, after showing that it is wrong to use instruments, he concludes with, but it is okay to still use them.

    I’m not saying don’t read the book. I am simply saying, here are some qualifications.

  4. irishanglican ~ Fr. Robert August 18, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Very interesting! However for me, even as a Anglican who is theologically Reformed, and certainly truly Calvinist in the historical sense, yet something both Federal Calvinist and Federal Vision; I am liturgical. I say this, for there is still a great need for Reformed Churches, and even those in the Anglican Communion to be liturgically aesthetic. And I place this in the great place of the Incarnational reality of God In Christ! It is here that we can perhaps learn something more about the use and even the liturgical use (again) of the Book (Books really) of Psalms!

    “The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.

    He heals the brokenhearted
    And binds up their wounds.” – Pslam 147: 2-3 (NKJV)

  5. Brad Johnston August 18, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    @ Shawn: Got a book that better addresses the presuppositional questions?

  6. irishanglican ~ Fr. Robert August 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Btw, friends, I grew-up both in the Irish Roman Catholic Church (Dublin Ireland), and my greatgram was among the Plymouth Brethren (both Ireland and later in England). And I too professed faith in Christ there as a lad! 🙂 So I have seen both sides of this coin! I loved the ‘a cappella’ singing in ‘the Brethren’. I still have the book: Hymns for The Little Flock (their hymn book). This issue cannot really be resolved or understood, save theologically in my opinion. The history of the Reformation would stand closer to obvious non-use of musical instruments. But is this the real “catholic”, and again theological place of Holy Scripture, and the Covenantal?

    I am somewhat on the outside of this, but I am certainly a conservative… both biblically-theologically and politically. But I am a Brit. (now in the USA). 🙂

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