Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Worship Old and New

An important distinction that is drawn by most advocates of the Reformed Regulative Principle in one way or another is that between worship under the old covenant and worship under the new.  It is hugely important that this be kept in mind, but equally important that it not be over-emphasised.  For some Reformed theologians, the discontinuity and difference between the two forms of worship is such that musical instruments, which play a large role in the OT, are forbidden in NT worship.  This is, of course, an example of the Biblicism which I have suggested is an illegitimate use of Scripture.  Nevertheless, it reflects an important issue.

Here, as generally when thinking about the continuity and discontinuity between OT and NT, it is important to remember that we are dealing with one covenant under two dispensations, which finds its centre and unity in the person and work of Christ.  When it comes to worship, Hebrews 9 is useful on this.  The validity of the OT ritual was derived from its conformity to the action of Christ in the mode of foretelling.  The tabernacle/temple, all the festivals and fasts, and even the sacrificial system are all based on him, and serve to announce his coming in advance.  The need for foretelling being past, this mode of worship has also passed away.

So NT worship is to form the other half of the diptych, with Christ himself as the hinge.  Where on the left we have Christ foretold, on the right we have Christ remembered.  Both are forms of proclamation and of celebration; they are just in different tenses.  That will alter the form, but not the essential content of Christian worship.

Perhaps the most essential point to be made here is that we judge all these things from the centre; that is to say, we decide what NT worship looks like, and how it relates to the ritual of the OT, with reference to Christ himself, and his gospel.  We don't judge based on our preconceived ideas of what must be enduring (or what must not be enduring) in OT worship itself, or on our preconceived ideas of what the new spiritual, truthful worship ought to look like.  Rather, we seek in everything to look to the hinge which holds old and new together, and in which they both find their goal and meaning.

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