Matthew D. Adams

The Reality & Hope of Sanctification

Written by Matthew D. Adams |
Monday, March 27, 2023
The sanctifying power of the Spirit is much like uprooting and killing all the weeds that threaten to overtake us. Without the sanctifying power of the Spirit, sin would overrun our lives and choke us to death, but since we have a Helper – One who comes alongside of us in our weakness – we can be sure that we will be sanctified. We will be conformed to the image of Christ; we will be enabled to put to death sin our lives.

As many of you know, presbyteries (and local sessions!) of the Presbyterian Church in America are again proposing amendments to our Book of Church Order that will be considered at this summer’s General Assembly. In the mass of those amendments there are three that are gaining the attention. Why you might ask? Well, it’s a pretty simple answer…they are pertaining to our continued sexuality debates that have dominated our Assemblies for the past number of years. That’s right! There is a continued push to add language to our Book of Church Order that would outrightly disqualify a man from serving as an officer if he identifies with a sinful desire (like the term, “Gay Christian”). By being on social media, I have seen the frustration (even to the point for calling for a fundamental “purge”) from the progressive side of the denomination.

They do not understand why we need to do this “song and dance” for another year.

However, I believe that these three overtures are of utmost importance concerning the orthodoxy of our Church. Overtures 9, 16, and 17 seek to make a clear statement, and at the same time, sets up needed guardrails for Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders.
Admittedly, out of the three overtures that will be considered in Memphis by the Assembly, I am a proponent of Overture 17 which comes from the Session of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian Church. Let’s take a look at the wording for that overture,
“7-4. Men who refer to a particular sin struggle as descriptive of their personhood, being, or identity are disqualified from holding office in the PCA”
This is a clear and concise statement, and personally, I believe that this is an overture that we should all be able to get behind. I have written about the Christian’s identity with before. You can find that article here. However, the identity conversation flows naturally into the conversation that needs to be had regarding sanctification. From what I have witnessed throughout the debates in the PCA regarding sexuality and identity, here is the crux of the argument – there is a real denial of the reality and hope of progressive sanctification.
It needs to be noted that sanctification is a vital part of our understanding of the ordo salutis – the order of salvation. In fact, the Westminster Divines include a definition of sanctification in our Shorter Catechism, Question 35,
“Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”
Sanctification is a work of God’s free grace. We know this, and yet, it has been consistently denied in many conversations circulating around our denomination. In fact, we even heard comments stated openly about how a former Teaching Elder’s sinful desires have not been sanctified…at all. That they are just as attracted to their sin now as they were when they were first converted. That flies in the face of what our catechisms, better yet, what the scriptures, teach.
Paul exhorts the believers in Ephesus to continuously “put on the new man” which is created in “righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:23-24) These words are reminiscent of the words that he writes in Colossians, and its a declaration that their identity has been changed through their justification and adoption; therefore, they are to take off the old rags of their sin and find the joy of putting on the clothes of Christ’s righteousness. And this happens, as our catechism states, “…more and more…” as the Spirit works within us. This is good news! Believer, by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, we are going to be enabled more and more to die unto sin and pursue Christlikeness. The Spirit is sent by God as a part of his grand plan of salvation, to conform us to the image and likeness of His Son. Our salvation is much more than just a rescue mission; its a complete and total renovation! It is a transformation.
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Worship and the Body of Christ: A Response to Christopher A. Hutchinson

Written by Matthew D. Adams |
Monday, December 12, 2022
A higher view of Public Worship will make us far less concerned with who can do what in a worship service. Instead, it will drive our congregation to see that their greatest joy is to join their voices in song, hear God speak through the reading and preaching of the Scriptures, and be in their Almighty God’s very presence. That is their responsibility, role, and duty, and it should be an absolute delight. Our Puritan forefathers have said that it should be a “marketplace for their soul.”

Introductory Statements
From the outset, there is much to commend in Rev. Hutchinson’s paper. His lengthy and technical work, which is found here, is well-written and temperate in speech. The summarization article, which can be found here, published by Semper Ref, was a fantastic summary of his argument and led to my intention to write a response. Therefore, I plan to write a concise statement shedding light on some themes that revealed themselves in Rev. Hutchinson’s work rather than an interminably long response.
As Rev. Hutchinson begins his paper, he rightly states that the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) does not have a fully constitutional directory of worship. He also rightly notes that presbyteries have allowed local Sessions to have latitude in how they apply the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) [1] in their worship services. However, one of the points that Rev. Hutchinson does not mention is that the PCA Founding Fathers desired to have a uniform book on worship. In fact, at the First General Assembly of the PCA, the “Directory for Worship” was explicitly named and included as a constitutional document like the rest of our Book of Church Order (BCO). [2] At the Third General Assembly, this language of our “Directory for Worship” being an “approved guide” for the ordering of worship was adopted. Furthermore, in an action that pinned one Assembly against another, the Third General Assembly added the language that our “Directory of Worship” does not have the “force of law.” Yet, the Assembly has never removed the Directory of Public Worship from the Book of Church Order’s preface, which lists it as a constitutional document adopted by the Church.
Nevertheless, this renewed discussion surrounding the question of who may read Scripture in Public Worship is addressed in our BCO and our catechisms, which are undebated in their constitutional authority. I will argue that a plain reading of our Standards and a seriously minded view of our “Directory of Worship” will show that there is a limit to who may read the Word of God in Lord’s Day Public Worship.
Yet, before I even begin plundering the Scriptures and the Standards, I must address a point in the second paragraph of Rev. Hutchinson’s paper. This paragraph states that the PCA has never had a concrete position on the layperson reading the Scriptures in the Public Worship of God. As proof, Rev. Hutchinson then gives the example of a church he joined in 1987. While this clearly shows that laypeople reading the Scriptures in worship services is not a new development; however, does not this mean that our denomination needs to form a clear stance on the issue. Rev. Hutchinson seems to be making the argument that just because local Sessions are allowing unordained persons to read the Scriptures in Lord’s Day worship, then the denomination should accept this as an acceptable practice. However, I would argue that finding local Sessions that allow a layperson to read the Scriptures in Public Worship is still the anomaly, though the number is growing.
Additionally, it is worth mentioning that Rev. Hutchinson brings into the conversation other NAPARC [3] denominations in his introduction. Here he states that the PCA is broader than our sister denominations, like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP), in our understanding of matters such as this. While I do not know if I am ready to state that we are broader in our allowance of laypersons reading Scripture in worship, nor do I think that we are “purposely” broader on matters such as this, we, as a denomination, need to ask a few searching questions. Considering our NAPARC sister denominations being narrower in their understanding and practice of who may read the Scriptures in public worship, do we possess a knowledge of the Scriptures and the Standards that they do not possess? What are they doctrinally and/or scripturally missing by not being uniform with our practices? Are we simply more cultured? Have we received some new revelation?
We must first understand that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Furthermore, we stand on many of the same giant’s shoulders as our sister denominations. Therefore, if we look throughout Presbyterian history [4] and around us presently, and we realize we are the anomaly in our allowance of this practice; who is in error? But, on the contrary, it would be fulsomely prideful to say we are the only ones getting this right.
As a denomination, we must ensure that we are getting this right. We need to do all we can to guarantee that we are a denomination that rightly handles the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). Yes, we are a big-tent denomination, but we are a denomination driven by the Word of God. Our big-tent does not mean that we have liberals within our denomination; we are serious about the Bible being the infallible Word of God. We are, as you know, “faithful to the Scriptures!” Therefore, we must strive to be committed to our doctrine and practice guided by the Bible. Of course, this is the fuel for our adherence to the Regulative Principle of Worship.
As mentioned above, the Regulative Principle of Worship teaches that we are only to do what is prescribed by God’s Word in Public Worship. This means that the Bible is the single rule of practice when it comes to how we are to worship our Lord. Also, remember that He is jealous of our proper worship (Ex. 34:14). In God’s Word, we have prescriptions for our liturgy by direct command or “good and necessary inference.” A few examples of these direct prescriptions are the Ordinary Means of Grace: the reading and preaching of the Word, the prayers for the people, and the proper administration of the sacraments. Examples of worship prescribed by “good and necessary inference” are receiving tithes and offerings and the reception of new members.
Notice the reading and preaching of the Word of God are directly prescribed. Furthermore, there is little debate in the PCA that the Scriptures directly prescribe who can preach the Word. [5] However, those who may read the Scriptures seem less direct. Therefore, we must ask, “Is it prescribed by ‘good and necessary inference’?” Of course, it is, so let us examine some scriptural proofs.
Scriptural Proofs [6]
Rightly, Rev. Hutchinson states that a complete order of service (or liturgy) is not given to us in the New Testament. Therefore, the Scriptures need to be examined to compile how our church’s worship looks. Thankfully, we are not left in the dark to figure these things out on our own, nor do we need to be innovative in our practices; we must be faithful to the Scriptures as it requires proper worship.
1 Timothy 4:13
In Rev. Hutchinson’s paper, he argues that we should “not make the mistake of confusing descriptions for prescriptions.” [7] Of course, he is using that “prescription” language to emphasize our supposed unity around the Regulative Principle of Worship, where we are only to do what is prescribed by the Word of God in our Public Worship gatherings. Yet, 1 Timothy 4:13 goes way beyond the idea of simply describing. Instead, the Apostle Paul is teaching his beloved disciple, Timothy, how to serve as an elder faithfully in the local church.
Dr. Bryan Chapell, our denomination’s Stated Clerk, writes in his commentary on this verse, “This simple sentence is the landmark text in defining the major work of the pastor and the worship of the church.” [8] Dr. Chapell rightly traces this practice from the Old Testament, where the public reading of the Scriptures was regularly practiced in the Jewish Synagogue. For example, in Nehemiah 8: 2-8, we see the people of God standing to listen to Ezra read the Scriptures all morning. Notice it is not laypeople reading under Ezra’s leadership; it is Ezra, the ordained mouthpiece of the Lord, authoritatively reading the text. Therefore, the Apostle Paul, being a former Pharisee and devoutly trained in the Old Testament doctrine and practices, writes to Timothy for him to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. Why is this the case? Simply because Paul knew the authoritative nature of reading God’s Word. Again, Chappel writes, “The overall effect of this regular reading of the Old and New Testaments [in] worship…meant that the authority of the preaching that followed was secondary to and derived from the reading of Scripture.” [9]
This raises two points: 1) that the public reading of the Scriptures is authoritative because our Bibles speak with authority, and 2) that the public reading of the Scriptures needs to be followed by exposition.
Regarding the first point, BB Warfield helpfully writes in his well-known work, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, “In one of these classes of passages, the Scriptures are spoken of as if they were God. In the other God is spoken of as if He were the Scriptures: in the two together, God and the Scriptures are brought into such conjunction as to show that in point of directness of authority no distinction was made between them.” [10] Simply put, Warfield argues that the same authority in which God speaks directly to men like Moses and Elijah is the authority that is carried by the Scriptures when we hear them publicly read in our worship services. This is because the Scriptures are God-breathed words (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and “shall be received by us with the same reverence which we give to God because they have emanated from him alone.” [11] Since the Bible attests to its own authority, the reader is now executing an authoritative task. A task that throughout the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is clearly prescribed to the one who has been set apart for this holy duty.
Considering our second point, so that we will not find ourselves in accord with the apostles’ practice, the public reading of the Scriptures must be followed by an exposition of the text. Again, in his commentary on 1 Timothy 4:13, Chapell states, “Biblical exposition was the apostolic norm. Therefore, any preaching that does not guide the listener through the Scriptures is an aberration from the apostolic practice.” [12] This means that when the Scriptures are read in worship, some exposition must be given. Even if the readings are not the text that will be used for the sermon, to keep in line with the apostolic prescriptions of public worship, there must be an exposition of the text given. In my context, when an ordained elder reads the Old Testament or New Testament reading in our worship services, we provide a short introduction to the text and, afterward, a few minutes of exposition and exhortation. It functions as a mini-sermon. We cannot leave our congregations in anticipation for the Scriptures’ exposition and application, for proper hearing of the Word needs both.
1 Corinthians 14
Here again, I agree with Rev. Hutchinson as he states that it is in 1 Corinthians 14 that we have one of the fuller descriptions of a typical worship service in the New Testament. Also, in agreement with his paper, the presence of now-ceased spiritual gifts within these worship services presents difficulties in interpretation. However, this does not have to scare us off from using this text as a further prescription of who ought to be authoritatively active in Public Worship. Furthermore, the simple fact of a “small mountain of literature” written in this chapter does not mean we cannot take a direct stance upon the Apostle’s teaching. [13]
Admittedly, verses 33-35 are hard verses to interpret. Our cultural context then pressures the pastor to interpret these verses in a “woman-honoring” way. However, should we be more concerned with something other than the God-honoring interpretation? Of course, we should, and I hope I will refrain from receiving any pushback from that statement within our denominational circles. Nonetheless, when correctly interpreting these verses, we need to let the Bible exegete the Bible. Let us let Scripture interpret Scripture. This is a common practice in our reformed understanding of hermeneutics, which again pays dividends in this challenging text.
Throughout this fourteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, his focus is on the proper view of the Law and Public Worship. [14] Here, Paul is attempting to order worship in a way that honors God and is obedient to his precepts. Therefore, as he begins to harmonize the Law with worship practices, he states that the women in the church should honor the gender roles that God established at Creation (Gen. 1-2). We recognize that the proper understanding of God’s created order is that he sovereignly created man and then created woman. He then gave the man the responsibility to provide for the woman and their offspring. God’s created order sets aside man as the head. From God’s initial building block, the family, he begins establishing the Church and society. Throughout this expansion, these gender roles remain the same. The man is still the head of the household according to God’s Law.
Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul states that these recognized creation ordinances should be respected in the Public Worship of God. Therefore, as Simon Kistemaker, one of the most respected New Testament commentators, writes, “Now [Paul] has in mind the account of Genesis 2:18-24 that teaches the creation order in which Adam was created first and then Eve as Adam’s helper. From this account, Paul deduces that the wife is subject to her husband as his helper and accountable to him.” [15]
Simply put, it is not that the woman is told to remain silent out of some chauvinistic bigotry; it is out of respect for her husband. Furthermore, it is out of respect for man’s role in the family and the Church. Let me also add that this respect should stem from the understanding that the man will have to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and answer for how he led his family and his church (if he served in the ordained office). Concerning husbands, we see this in Ephesians 5 as Paul tells husbands that they must labor to not only sacrificially love their wives but to lead them so that they might be presented sanctified before God (Eph. 5: 25-27). Furthermore, concerning elders, we see in Hebrews 13: 17a the exhortation of respect and obedience to the leaders in the church, for they are “keeping watching over you4r souls, as those who will have to give an account.”
When we understand the vital and fearful role of the man in the family and worship, it will be easy to find respect for them. This respect will then lead to submission, prayer, and obedience for them, so that they might lead with “joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17b). Therefore, in the act of submission, Paul repeatedly tells the women in the church to be silent out of respect for the God-ordained leaders in the home and the Church for they are the ones who will have to answer before the Lord for how they lead and instruct.
Rev. Hutchinson argues that this respectful submission only concerns “prophesying,” which would be more akin to today’s preaching. Yet, today the art of prophesying is both the reading and preaching of the Scriptures. Through the Word of God read and preached, we have God speaking. Both are authoritative actions, and yet only one of those actions is infallible. The infallible act is the reading of the Word. Therefore, shouldn’t we be even more careful with who should read the Scriptures in the Public Worship of God? In the art of prophesying, these go hand-in-hand. Through the Word of God being read, the Holy Spirit penetrates the hearts of the hearers so they might be sanctified (Jn. 17:17). That is the effect of ScriptureScripture, which flows from its very nature:  the Word of God’s perfection, purity, and eternality.
Confessional Statements
As we now move away from the technicalities of exegetical work, I want to begin stating my theological and practical responses by starting with the PCA’s confessional standards. In the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, we have our agreed-upon summary of scriptural teachings and theological system of faith. Therefore, our Standards cannot be an afterthought as we debate these worship practices. Within our constitution, as already established, we have our Book of Church Order that gives us guidance on how best to perform the duties of the Church. Concerning the reading of the Scriptures in Public Worship, here is what the BCO says,
50-1. The minister performs the public reading of the Holy Scriptures as God’s servant. Through it, God speaks most directly to the congregation, even more directly than through the sermon. The reading of the Scriptures by the minister is to be distinguished from the responsive reading of certain portions of ScriptureScripture by the minister and the congregation. In the former, God addresses His people; in the latter, God’s people give expression in the words of Scripture to their contrition, adoration, gratitude, and other holy sentiments. The psalms of Scripture are especially appropriate for responsive reading.
50-2. The reading of the Holy Scriptures in the congregation is a part of the public worship of God and should be done by the minister or some other person.
As Rev. Hutchinson states, some see these two paragraphs contradicting one another. And that is the trouble with a human document; it very well can contradict itself. In his commentary on the Book of Church Order, even Dr. Morton Smith says that these two chapters contradict and even nullify what these chapters both say respectively. [16] Yet, we do not have to say that these two things are contradictory. This is especially true when you read these two sections in the context of the entire chapter and this chapter in the context of our BCO.
Chapter 50 states from the very beginning that the public reading of the Holy Scriptures is a duty to be performed by the minister as God’s servant. That is a very plain statement. So, what about 50-2 and the “some other person” language that is mentioned? The wisdom of our BCO is giving the Session, who is tasked with ordering the worship service, the ability to have other authorized persons read ScriptureScripture in worship if they so desire. [17] This is a part of our grassroots nature. The local Session could invite other officers to read the Scriptures in worship; additionally, they can invite other ministers, like visiting ministers from NAPARC churches, to read the Scriptures in Public Worship. Furthermore, men training for ministry, like candidates, or licensed men, can rightly read the Scriptures and exposit them.
All this to say, if they are scripturally authorized, this “some other person” is more than welcome to read the Holy Scriptures in a Public Worship service of the Lord.
The Westminster Catechisms
This is further confirmed in Question 156 in our Larger Catechism:
Q. “Is the Word of God to be read by all?”
A. “Although all are not to be permitted to read the Word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families to which end, the holy Scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages.”
Johannes G. Vos, in his commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism, states that laypeople should not read the Word of God in Public Worship because it is a duty to conduct worship. [18] Again, this is a duty only given to the local Session.
Furthermore, I believe that Larger Catechism, Question 157 is vital to this discussion on who should be able to read the Scriptures in Public Worship, as well:
Q. “How is the Word of God to be read?”
A. “The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.”
Therefore, to ensure the Scriptures are correctly read in the Public Worship of God, only those men who have been trained, called, and ordained are reading. This safeguards the public reading of the Scriptures; the high esteem and reverence required are now given to the right handling of the Word of Truth in the public sphere. I want to mention a lengthy quote from Rev. Hutchinson’s paper. He states,
“Decent arguments can be made for the restriction in terms of good order. First, the pastor is trained to read the Bible well, while many laypersons are not. The pastor will handle it with the holiness and solemnity it requires, while that is less certain of some laypersons. The reading, particularly before the sermon, is connected to the actual preaching, so it might invite confusion to have two different persons leading. Teaching elders are given the privilege to preside over the sacraments, so there may be a certain symmetry to only allowing them the right to read the Word. (To be clear, many of these articles encourage or at least allow for ruling elders and other men training for the ministry to read on occasion.) There is simplicity, tidiness, a certain order, and logic to all these reasons. Finally, it proposes a predictable and more uniform worship culture across the PCA, in which pastors lead all or most parts of the worship service.” [19]
In this quote, Rev. Hutchinson makes a sound argument for the prohibition of laypersons being called upon to read the Scriptures in the worship of God publicly. The Regulative Principle of Worship demands simple and orderly worship of the Lord, and the Larger Catechism states that the Word must be read well and solemnly in public. So, why would we give up order and reverence in our worship services to include a layperson? Furthermore, as I have already mentioned, this layperson would not even have the scriptural or confessional authority to be the public reader of the Scriptures.
It must be mentioned again that the Word of God being read in Public Worship is an authoritative action. Here, it is proper to go back to 1 Timothy 4. We have already seen how the Apostle Paul commands Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of the Scriptures. Still, in verse 14, Paul tells his young disciple what authority he possesses. He states, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” At the plain reading of the text, it is by the authority passed down to him by the council of the elders that he must publicly read the Word of God. Jacob Gerber, in his article written for the Gospel Reformation Network, states,
Ordination is, therefore, a conferring of authority for a man to read the Scriptures publicly, among his other duties…Our authority is only a stewardship of God’s authority in his Word. Therefore, we confess the “authority of the Holy Scripture” (WCF 1.4) and that the Word contains “the authority of God himself speaking therein” (WCF 14.2). Even apart from the sermon, the reading of the Word of God is authoritative in itself. We also see this point constitutionally upheld in BCO 8-5, when the BCO singles out “reading…the Word of God” as a particular function of the teaching elder… [20]
To claim that a plain reading of our confessional documents and our BCO leaves room for various practices, especially in the authoritative right handling of the Word of God, is, quite frankly, misinforming. Understandably, mental gymnastics can make it seem that way, and I argue that we need to amend our Directory of Public Worship to tighten our worship practices. Still, we do not need to create confusion where the Book of Church Order is clear. For example, to say that BCO 50-1, in its explicit declaration that the public reading of Scriptures is to be done by an ordained man, is now annulled because of BCO 50-2 in its vague statement of “some other person” is disingenuous.
Another misguided aspect of Rev. Hutchinson’s paper is his statement that our BCO’s Directory of Worship has no “constitutional relevance.” [21] Our BCO’s preface sets it apart as a portion of our constitution that should be seriously considered and practiced. While only portions have “constitutional authority,” it is discrediting to our agreed-upon BCO when one claims that it lacks relevance for our congregations and sessions today. [22]
Agreeing, Rev. Hutchinson says it is time for amendments to our BCO to clarify its language. I hope some of those overtures will come this year, but until then, we need to be guided by a plain reading of our Directory of Public Worship in light of the Scriptures and our Standards. It is time for the General Assembly to work towards constitutionalizing our Directory of Public Worship. This will ensure harmony, unity, and predictability in our denomination’s congregations as we worship on the Lord’s Day.
Theological Assertions
This idea of uniformity among our congregations would not demand that we all have traditional worship services with pipe organs. Indeed, there is room for different worship styles in our denomination and the Regulative Principle of Worship. Nevertheless, the theology that we possess (and affirm in our ordination vows) should force our congregations to possess like-mindedness in our commitment to the ordinary means of grace and the proper handling of the Word of Truth. This would include, of course, the proper understanding of who ought to be handling the Scriptures in our worship services.
Rev. Hutchinson repeatedly compares the Public Worship of God to Family Worship. While I am a proponent of Family Worship and desire to see its implementation in every home of my congregation, it is not Public Worship. Rev. Hutchinson’s analogy to Lord’s Day Worship is like a huge family gathering around the dinner table for family worship falls flat considering what Public Worship is and is not. Nevertheless, I want to use his illustration to argue that even during Family Worship, there are roles that ought to be performed by the head of the household. To that end, I want to draw the parallel that just as God has called the husband/father to lead in family worship, He also calls elders to lead in the worship of the Church.
Family Worship v. Public Worship
The Puritan, J.W. Alexander, wrote a fantastic piece on the father’s role and duties in leading Family Worship. He opens this short booklet by stating, “There is no member of a household whose individual piety is of such importance to all the rest as the father or head.” [23] Alexander continues to write practical helps for the father and the invaluable influence his piety has on his family. Ultimately, he begins to write about the father’s role in reading the Scriptures before his family. Alexander writes, “The hour of domestic prayer and praise is also the hour of Scriptural instruction. The father has opened God’s word in the presence of his little flock. He thus admits himself to be its teacher and under-shepherd.” [24]
Notice how the Puritan writes. He distinguishes the father to the family’s teacher and undershepherd. With careful precision, Alexander parallels the father’s role here at his home with that of the elders of the local church. That is their duty. Even the invaluable influence of the elder’s piety to his congregation draws comparisons to Alexander’s piece of the father. What is being established is there are roles to be performed. The father must be the spiritual head of his home. Therefore, he is not only to live a life above reproach so that his family might imitate his faith, but he is to lead them in the singing of praises, the prayers, and the reading of the Word.
Foreseeing the glaring issue that will be raised, “Well, what about a home with a single mother? Can she not lead her children in Family Worship?” Of course, she can; however, just because she can in the home does not give her the ability to have a leadership role in the Public Worship of God. I have already mentioned that I believe Rev. Hutchinson mistakenly asserts that Lord’s Day Worship is parallel to Family Worship; nonetheless, I am working with his repeated illustration. Again, this illustration cannot hold. If this illustration could, we would be promoting elements like private communion during Family Worship. Rev. Hutchinson would vehemently stand against that practice.
My whole point is this. In the home, God has established familial roles that carry a duty to execute. Likewise, in the Church, God has established spiritual roles with duties to execute. What is the duty of the elders in the worship of the local church? Yes, it is leading in the Word’s singing, praying, reading, and preaching.
Our God, the Lord of Order, establishes the order of the family, with the father being the spiritual head of his small flock. He orders the Church with elders, deacons, and parishioners. Each member of the family and the Church has a vital role to play and a duty to perform. This orderly worship, both at home and at the local church, is glorifying to God as it is done according to his Word.
Being Equal Under the Word of God
That leads us directly to our next point. Rev. Hutchinson uses BCO 3-1 to address the idea of “sitting together as equals under the Word of God.” Our Book of Church Order states, “The power which Christ has committed to His Church vests in the whole body, the rulers and those ruled, constituting it a spiritual commonwealth.” However, this phrase does not negate the order in which Christ has set up His Church to function and be ruled. Understand me; it is good to remember that each member of a local congregation is a sinner, that they are undeserving apart from the person and work of Christ to be in the presence of the Almighty God in worship, and that they are all brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Yet, our Lord has given each member a role within the body of Christ. Each of those roles is valuable, but they are roles nonetheless (1 Cor. 12: 12-30).
Dr. Morton Smith, the PCA’s first Stated Clerk, writes these comments in his commentary on BCO 3-1:
“Every human society exercises some power. In the simplest form, every society has office bearers and rules or regulations to govern the actions within the society. The Church as an organized society exhibits these same qualities of power…the Church derives its power from a higher source than the members of the Church. It is not just a voluntary society to whom submission is a matter of individual option. The power of the Church comes from Christ. This authority is not vested in the rulers, so that they are not accountable to the people, nor in the ruled, so that the rulers are merely committeemen; but it is vested in the whole Church – both rulers and the ruled. The Church thus vested is a spiritual commonwealth….” [25]
Therefore, we need to understand, that while the body of Christ is made up of a host of members under Christ’s authority, some have been set to rule and to be ruled. What is beautiful about our polity is that the congregation elects those who are to be rulers through the election of elders and deacons. Still, there are roles established and executed under the headship of Christ Jesus.
This means that when the local congregation gathers for Public Worship on the Lord’s Day, the church’s elders are to lead in that worship service. It is their role and their duty to do so. This leadership does not make the elders the “public face of the means of grace on the Lord’s Day” [26] nor does it elevate the importance of the man. By executing their Christ-appointed duty, the elders show that they take the Public Worship of God seriously. Furthermore, in the stream of our primary discussion, the church’s officers being the ones handling the Word of Truth within the worship services shows that they reverently safeguard the reading and preaching of the Word because it is the power of God to save the souls of sinners and sanctify believers (Is. 55:11).
Additionally, we need to understand something further. When it comes to the role of the Teaching Elder specifically, Rev. Hutchinson states, “In my experience, true pastoral authority is gained by care and visitation, by elders becoming servants among the sheep, not by being the public face of the means of grace on the Lord’s Day.” [27] Admittedly, it is tempting to discuss the doctrine of ordination here. The authority of a Minister is never derived from his pastoral actions but only through the act of being set aside by the Lord. Nevertheless, it further reveals a poor view of pastoral ministry. I have always respected how our sister denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, has referred to their Pastors as “Ministers of Word and Sacrament” because it rightly distinguishes the climax of our ministerial service. As Ministers ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America, the pinnacle of our ministry (and the most important aspect) is the right handling of the Word of God. Therefore, it is our duty and joy to be in the pulpit during the Public Worship of God. From that sacred desk, we are to read and preach the Scriptures. Taking our role and duty seriously does not make us glory seekers; this makes us faithful.
Practical Implications
As we move further into the practical implications of this discussion, I want to thank Rev. Hutchinson for including this section in his paper. Too often, we have these theological discussions and quickly forget how this influences our ministries. With that being said, the question is posed, “What can the laypeople do in worship?” What do they get to do if they cannot read the Scriptures, preach, or serve the sacraments? Well, here is my simple answer; they get to worship!
The Responsibilities of the Layperson in Worship
The most incredible privilege in the believer’s life is gathering with God’s people to worship on the Lord’s Day. When we gather to sing the Bible, pray the Bible, read the Bible, preach the Bible, and see the Bible in the sacraments, we get to do what God has designed all people to do, worship. They get to worship. One of our most significant weaknesses in today’s Church is our low view of worship. The Public Worship of God is a foretaste of heaven, an appetizer of the glories we will experience all eternity.
A higher view of Public Worship will make us far less concerned with who can do what in a worship service. Instead, it will drive our congregation to see that their greatest joy is to join their voices in song, hear God speak through the reading and preaching of the Scriptures, and be in their Almighty God’s very presence. That is their responsibility, role, and duty, and it should be an absolute delight. Our Puritan forefathers have said that it should be a “marketplace for their soul.”
Further Applicatory Comments
Admittedly, Rev. Hutchinson asks some good practical questions. One is the scenario with a visiting missionary giving a presentation and reading ScriptureScripture during a worship service. What are we to do? Well, I think it would be better served for the congregation and the missionary to have the presentation during the Sunday school hour or a during a specially appointed time. Let me explain.
It is suitable for the congregation to have the missionary report during another time because we want them to focus on the worship of the Lord. Yes, it is good to hear about what God is doing worldwide. It is even better to pray for that visiting missionary and his ministry (hopefully, this is something you do even when he is not visiting). Still, when we come into the courts of Heaven to worship, our attention needs to be on Christ. That does not mean we should not be praying for the Christian mission worldwide during our robust pastoral prayers or even praying for specific missionaries during our worship services. Still, when that Call to Worship is read, and the people of God enter God’s presence, it is time to worship.
Furthermore, it is good for the missionary to have the missionary report during another time because we want them to be able to worship the Lord. Our visiting missionaries are weary and tired. They are visiting probably because they are in financial need, so they have been traveling and raising support. Their families are exhausted from the labor, and they need rest. What better rest can we give them than to sit together as a family and worship Christ? They have no official duty in the worship service; they get to worship together. The marketplace for the soul is before them, Christ is presented, and they feast upon Him. That is the most tremendous encouragement they could receive from us. It meets their greatest need. So, we must let him present at another time. In my context, it would be the Sunday school hour, and when they step into the sanctuary, just let them worship with the people of God.
This response has gotten much longer than I initially desired or anticipated. However, as we conclude, I do not think this is a secondary issue for the PCA. Our denomination has a high view of the Ordinary Means of Grace. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 88, asks, “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” The Catechism’s answer is,
The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
But, even the most essential element of worship within those ordinary means is the reading and preaching of the Word. The Shorter Catechism seems to agree with this as Question 89 asks, “How is the word made effectual to salvation?” The answer states,
The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation
Therefore, when we understand that the Word of God is the best thing we have to offer a sinful and quickly-fading world, we need to ensure that we are handling it rightly. Because of this, I hold this conversation as a primary debate within our denominational circles. We also need conformity on this matter. Not only so that we might have a sense of predictability of worship practices across our denomination, though that is important to me, but so that as an arm of the Body of Christ, we are holding to a high view of God’s Word.
It is time to take the Scriptures at face value. It is time to hold fast to a plain reading of our theological standards. We do not need to be innovative; we need to be faithful. We will see barriers shattered if we strive to be faithful to the Word. If we strive to be faithful, we will see our scripturally prescribed worship practices breaking through cultural, gender, and socioeconomic blockades. As a result, we will see sinners saved, the believers encouraged and sanctified, and Christ’s Kingdom increasing and bearing much fruit. To the glory of God!
Matthew D. Adams is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church and is the Lead Pastor at First PCA in Dillon, SC.
[1] The Reformed understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship that we are to only do in worship what is prescribed by God in His Word directly or by “good and necessary inference”
[2] Smith, Morton. Commentary on the PCA Book of Church Order, 393
[3] NAPARC stands for the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council
[4] I think it is helpful to remember that the Westminster Assembly was, essentially, an interdenominational meeting. In the Assembly we had Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Erastians, and Independents represented. For our purposes, we need to see how the Presbyterians voted and observe how they practiced, and what they argued for.
[5] In the immediate history of the Presbyterian Church in America there have been controversies regarding how a few Sessions have allowed women to preach.
[6] Because this is a response to Rev. Hutchinson, I will use his scriptural citations to defend my position.
[7] Hutchinson, Christopher. Worship in the Household of God: a defense of the lay reading of Scripture in PCA churches, 6
[8] Chapell, Bryan. I-2 Timothy and Titus, 123 (italics mine)
[9] Chapell, Bryan. I-2 Timothy and Titus, 124
[10] Warfield, BB. The Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures, 299
[11] Warfield, BB. The Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures, 109
[12] Chapell, Bryan. I-2 Timothy and Titus, 124
[13] Hutchinson, Worship in the Household of God, 11
[14] This is especially true when you take this as a massive chunk of text in chapters 11-14
[15] Kistemaker, Simon. 1 Corinthians, 512
[16] Smith, Morton. Commentary on the PCA Book of Church Order, 414
[17] Hutchinson, Worship in the Household of God, 20:  He mentions the old PCUS Directory of Worship
[18] Vos, Johannes. The Westminster Larger Catechism, 439
[19] Hutchinson, Worship in the Household of God, 12
[20] Gerber, Jacob.
[21] Hutchinson, Worship in the Household of God, 22
[22] If anything mentioned in Rev. Hutchinson’s paper lacks relevance, the Women in Ministry Report has absolutely no authority in our denomination today.
[23] Alexander,
[24] Alexander,
[25] Smith, Morton. Commentary on the PCA Book of Church Order, 35
[26]  Hutchinson, Worship in the Household of God, 14
[27] Hutchinson, Worship in the Household of God, 14
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