Archive for March, 2009

Conserving Ordinate Affection – 3

March 31, 2009

The second means of conserving ordinate affection is to understand what we mean when we use the term affections. We might even question the wisdom of resurrecting the fairly archaic meaning of a word used quite differently today. Today, affection refers to a happy, fun-loving kind of love: an affectionate kitten, a child showing affection with hugs and kisses, or a person’s affection for dark chocolate. However, because the original meaning of affection has been muddied and distorted by the term emotion, there is some merit to the idea of using the original term. It is easier to reawaken understanding of an archaic term, than it is to try and re-define a current word like emotion. In fact, that is where so much of the problem began.

The word emotion is a relatively new word, and its current connotations have emerged from a secular worldview. For a time spanning the ancient Greeks, Romans, and early Christian era into the eighteenth century, men spoke of the affections and the passions, not of the emotions. The Greeks spoke of the passions: the feelings that emerged from the “gut” or koilia. These were described as the impulsive, sensual and even animalistic urges and appetites. Amongst these might be lust, envy, cowardice, rage, hilarity, gluttony, laziness, revelry, and so on. For them, these were to be governed very strictly, and for later Christians – many of them mortified altogether. They also spoke of the affections that emerged from the chest, or steithos, and the affections that emerged from the spleen, or splanchna. For them, these were the noble and gracious feelings which produced nobility, courage, honour, reverence, joy, mercy, kindness, patience. The Greeks taught that the passions always won over the intellect in any contest, unless the intellect was supported by the affections. To put it another way: a man’s affections guide his mind’s decisions, a truth that the Bible teaches (Prov 9:10).

This understanding of differences of feelings prevailed for centuries. Certainly not all used the terms identically, but there was general agreement that the affections were to be differentiated from the passions, and that Christians in particular should seek to mortify ‘passions’ and ‘inordinate affection’ (Colossians  3:5 [note the 17th century terminology coming out in the KJV]), while pursuing affections set on things above (Col 3:2). Jonathan Edwards’ magisterial work Religious Affections brought a kind of cohesiveness to the discussion. For him, the affections were the inclinations of a person towards objects of desire. The type of object determined the type of desire. A man is moved in his will by his affections, which operate through a renewed mind. The passions, for Edwards, were the more impulsive and less governed feelings.

What the Greeks, Romans, and pre-modern Christians had in common was the belief that the affections corresponded to something in reality. There was a proper affection for each object, experience or person. In other words, affections had to do with truth. Something true in the universe, a fixed absolute, called for a corresponding affection in the human being. Truth, goodness and beauty merited approving affections. To pre-modern thinkers, fixed absolutes called for appropriate affections. Affections could be fitting – ordinate – , or unfitting – inordinate. To put it another way, your affections were true or false.

With the coming of the Enlightenment, secular philosophers sought to undermine any scheme which spoke of intrinsic truth, goodness or beauty. Therefore, their attack on the Christian view of the affections began. They sought to redefine the affections as merely biological, and purely subjective. William James (1842-1910) was especially destructive in this regard. If there is nothing true (in the absolute sense) in the universe, there can be no true affections corresponding to that truth. If there is nothing beautiful (in the absolute sense) in the universe, there can be no corresponding affections approving of that beauty. If there is nothing good (in the absolute sense) in the universe, there can be no feelings within a human that correspond to that goodness. In this scheme of thought, the affections are simply the internal psychological stirrings of human animals as they view a meaningless universe through their personalised worldview-lenses. Today, this is what people think of when they think of emotions. Sadly, many Christians are included in that number.

While evangelicals believe in absolute truth, most have not grasped the idea of affective truth: that our affections are truthful or untruthful responses to God’s universe. Questions of the use of music and art in worship will never be settled until Christians reach consensus on this point: that there is such a thing as ordinate affections.

Now this is not a subject that a single blog post can adequately deal with. It is only a starting point. In fact, you would be better served by giving yourself to some further study on this matter. I would suggest at least the following:

Kevin Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, gave a message on the Christian Affections which can be downloaded here.

C.S. Lewis’ book, The Abolition of Man is an excellent, straightforward, and short book that deals with the secularisation of the affections.

For the historical account, Thomas Dixon has traced the history of the affections from a matter of truth to a matter of brain chemistry in his book From Passions to Emotions.

Finally, one can hardly do better than to work one’s way through Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, along with The Freedom of the Will.

These might not be light reading or listening, but upon completion your soul will feel like it is waking up from a stupor.

Conserving Ordinate Affection – 2

March 26, 2009

Before we can effectively conserve ordinate affections, we must be gripped by a sense of their critical importance to the Christian life. We can see their importance in four ways.

First, the affections are primary because the heart of our religion is based on an affection: love. The first and greatest commandment is to “… love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”(Mark 12:30)  Thus, we cannot escape the vital nature of the affections, for our Lord Himself has placed them at the very core of our faith. Our greatest responsibility is not only to know something or to do something; it is to love something. Scripture is filled with commands for certain affections: fear, joy, sorrow, zeal, sobriety, and reverence. It’s no surprise that Jonathan Edwards wrote: “True religion, in great part, consists in the affections.”

Second, the primacy of the affections is seen in the fact that Christianity becomes twisted and perverted without them. We can view Christianity in terms of three ‘orthos’: orthodoxy, orthopraxy and orthopathy. Orthodoxy is right doctrine. Orthopraxy is right actions or practice – the works or fruit that are evidence of orthodoxy in the heart. Orthopathy is right affection – ordinate affection toward God, self and the world around. Each of these exists in a mutually dependent relationship towards the others. Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is the dead faith James described. Orthodoxy without orthopathy is dead formalism or even legalism. Orthopraxy without orthodoxy is undirected pragmatism or innovation. Orthopraxy without orthopathy is dead Pharisaism and hypocrisy. Orthopathy without orthodoxy is sheer enthusiasm or fanaticism. Orthopathy without orthopraxy is sentimentalism and pure emotionalism.

In fact, it is incorrect to continue to use the term ortho in these instances, for the point  is that to lose one is to lose the others. If orthodoxy, orthopraxy or orthopathy goes, you no longer have ortho-anything remaining. This means that ordinate affections are not merely dispensable reactions to propositional truths. They are not peripheral, secondary and altogether unimportant subjective responses to orthodoxy. They deal with truth themselves. They deal with affective truth: proportionate responses to the objects or truths considered. The affections are part of a trinity of orthos which lives only if each one is present and proper.

The third reason for the primacy of the affections lies in their power to shape moral judgement, and even overthrow right doctrine. The affections sway our decisions, because as Jonathan Edwards showed, the will never chooses except in the direction of its desires. Therefore, our affections shape our decisions. We should know this; the Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord (an affection) is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. We know right, when we feel right. Ordinate affections lead to ordinate judgements, tastes and sensibilities. Since so much of life is a matter of taking propositional truth from Scripture, and then using wisdom, taste, judgement and sensibility to apply those principles, it appears that apart from the affections, propositional truth is merely the starting point.

In light of this we see the error of many conservative evangelicals who imagine that expository preaching, a grounding in systematic theology, and an emphasis on propositional truth are enough to produce orthopraxy and orthopathy. They believe the black-and-white nature of propositional truth will surely produce ordinate responses in the will and in the heart.

Wrong.

If the heart is being led down the path of inordinate affection, it will pervert the mind, deceive itself, and re-direct the will. Romans 1:18-32 makes this abundantly clear. Charles Hodge, addressing students at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1829, said, “Whenever a change occurs in the religious opinions of a community, it is always preceded by a change in their religious feelings. The natural expression of the feelings of true piety, is the doctrines of the Bible. As long as these feelings are retained, these doctrines will be retained; but should they be lost, the doctrines are either held for form sake or rejected, according to circumstance; and if the feelings again be called into life, the doctrines return as a matter of course.”

If we do not pay close attention to what shapes our affections, we may find that our best attempts to reform Christianity through correct doctrine will fail (has this not already been proved in the last fifty years?). This is not to denigrate orthodox teaching – for it is essential. It is to say that such orthodoxy cannot stand alone.

Fourth, the truest bond of any community is shared affections. Our deepest bonds are our loves, not our opinions. Our truest commonality is when we feel similarly towards things, and value them in the same ways. Sentiment is the true bond of community. Christians find their deepest communion with one another when they gather to commune with Christ. The Lord’s Table and how we administer it is the truest test of our fellowship. Certainly doctrinal statements are a starting point for unity. Granted, collaboration and ministry partnerships require agreement on ministry philosophy and practice. However, apart from shared ordinate affection, long-term fellowship and collaboration become impossible. Striving for Christian unity is grasping for the wind, if we do not love the same things in the same way.

The affections are at the heart of our religion. They are integral to a healthy Christian life. They provide moral judgement to apply the Word of God. They are the ultimate bond of Christian fellowship. Do these reasons make the case for viewing the affections as critical to Christian living?

I hope so, for unless we grasp the importance of the affections, we will live in the hollow shell of Christianity as it is popularly known and practised.

Conserving Ordinate Affection – 1

March 20, 2009

Conservative Christians seek to conserve a biblical view of the religious affections. Religious affections is a term that washes over most Christians today with little more than a blank expression of incomprehension. So few today are talking about what the affections are, how they relate to Christian living, and how they are developed that the term affection sounds archaic, while the term ordinate affection sounds almost alien.

Most today don’t use the term affections; they have simply adopted the more recent psychological category of emotions. This is unhelpful and unfortunate, for reasons we will examine in a later post. With this vague and unhelpful term, evangelicals and fundamentalists have said vague and unhelpful things about ’emotions in the Christian life’. Some have relegated them to peripheral status; some have almost outlawed them. Some have enlisted the ones they were comfortable with, while still others have introduced emotions alien to historical Christianity and baptised them into our liturgy and church life.

Without a proper understanding of the affections, Christianity becomes a hollow shell. As we have seen, the Rule of Prescription simply gives us the skeletal frame for worship; all the meat and tissue is a matter of the circumstances of worship. These are guided by right affections.

Remove the understanding of the affections from Christian thought, and you have the circus that is modern evangelicalism, with every man doing that which is right in his own eyes. Nothing is too bizarre, too freakish, too worldly, too lewd, or too irreverent for modern church services. Without hearts guarded by the wisdom that comes from ordered loves, ordered sensibilities and ordered tastes, man’s corrupt desires will skew his reason in the direction of his perverted lusts. He will profess to be wise, but become foolish, as his inordinate affection drives him ever further from the worship of the true God towards idolatry.

Recovering an understanding of the affections is rather like discovering a dusty golden compass in an age of faulty GPS systems. The compass is precise, tried and tested and in perfect working order. But few know what it means and how to use it. Permanent truth about the affections is still available to be learned. The problem is that there are very few modern Christians who have taken the time to read Christians from any era except their own.

I would say that the matter of the affections is the hardest battle that conservative Christians will face. Along with the matter of restoring meaning to worship, this view of the affections is the single biggest thing that will probably distinguish them from mainstream evangelicals or fundamentalists. To find believers who are knowledgeable and serious about ordinate affection is rare indeed.

For conservative Christians to ably defend and spread the message of the religious affections, at least four things will need to happen.

First, we will need to understand the primacy of the affections according to Scripture. We will need to see that the affections are not peripheral, but central, and therefore deserve our scrupulous attention. We will need to understand why they are so important, and what happens as a result of misunderstanding them.

Second, we will need to understand the definition of the affections, and be able to distinguish them from the passions. We will need to begin to understand the difference between the affections which belong to worship and the appetites which do not.

Third, we will need to begin a lifelong process of considering what affections belong to what object. The nature of the object in view determines a corresponding affection. We are to learn what affection is fitting or ordinate for the object, person, thing, or experience in question.

Fourth, we will need to understand clearly how the affections are shaped.

When these ideas begin to click into place, we are re-entering the atmosphere of biblical and historical Christianity, and exiting the glandular religion that is modern Christianity.

Conserving Biblical Worship – 6

March 14, 2009

The final aspect of conserving biblical worship is to give careful thought to the circumstances of worship. That is, we need to know not only what the prescribed elements of New Testament worship are. We need to know how best to implement those elements.

We are commanded to gather. But we are not told how often, or for how long. For that matter, we are not told if we should meet in imposing cathedrals, humble chapels, or grey pre-fab buildings. This is a matter of the circumstances of worship, and is not prescribed for us in Scripture.

We are commanded to read the Word publicly. We are not told if this is to be a systematic public reading through the Old and New Testaments, a chosen reading for the day, a call to worship, a benediction, or the passage of Scripture to be preached on.

We are commanded to preach the Word. We are not told how long the sermon should be, if people should take notes, how the preacher should dress or if he should stand behind a pulpit.

We are commanded to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We are not told if this includes or excludes solos, choirs, anthems, oratorios, folk songs, congregational hymns or ‘choruses’. We are not told how instrumental music should be used (though the Greek word ya,llontej translated “making melody” in Ephesians 5:19 actually means strumming, and thus certainly allows for instrumental music). Nor are we told what ‘style’ of music to use for any or all of these.

We are commanded to pray corporately. We are not told if the prayer commanded involves opening or closing prayers, prayers of confession, the Lord’s Prayer, intercessory prayers, or prayers of worship and adoration.

We are commanded to collect offerings. We are not told if this should be done by passing a plate or bag, or by leaving a box or plate at the back or front, or by having individuals come forward and place their offerings in the collection at the designated time in the service. We are not told if we should play music during the time of offering.

We are commanded to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and baptism. We are not told if all should drink from one cup or if we should use small communion glasses. We are not told if we should have the bread and the cup at the same time or divided by an interval. We are not told if we should sing hymns in the service, preach a message, or spend time in silent prayer. We are not told if we should have a baptismal at the front of the church, or use rivers, lakes or pools. We are not told if the baptismal candidates should wear specific robes, or make a public confession immediately before baptism.

All of these things are questions of the circumstances of worship. For that matter, how we ought to dress to worship, how silent we ought to be upon entering, whether we should shake hands during a hymn, when or if announcements should be made, how visitors should be welcomed or acknowledged, whether or not an altar call should be given, if children should sit through the service or have children’s church, or have a mini-sermon preached to them before the main sermon, these all have to do with the circumstances of worship.

On the face of it, the prescribed elements are just the skeleton. All the meat and tissue is a matter of the circumstances, and these have not been prescribed.

We can observe this silence from Scripture and come to two vastly different conclusions:

  1. God hasn’t said anything about these things, because they don’t matter. How we implement the circumstances of worship is a peripheral matter, whereas God is concerned only that we include the prescribed elements of worship and do so with sincere, devoted hearts.

  2. God hasn’t said anything about the circumstances of worship, not because He is nonchalant about them, but because He expects us to know them through other means.

Given that the church is not confined to one ethnic group like Israel was, whose customs and rituals were detailed down to a fine point, a new set of rules must apply fro defining worship circumstances. As the gospel penetrates cultures and people groups all over the world, God does not insist upon the details of Israelite worship in cultures completely different from it (the opposite of Islam – which imports Arabic culture wherever it spreads). Rather, God makes New Testament worship very simple and generic. New Testament worship does not require a physical Temple, an ethnically based and trained priesthood, a sacrificial system workable only in an agricultural nation, or assemblies possible only to people living within the geographically compact nation of Israel.

This, to me, is one of the major reasons for God saying next to nothing about the circumstances of worship in the New Testament, whereas He defined it down to the gnat’s eyebrow in the Old. He limits His instructions on worship circumstances for an international New Testament church, because to do so will be to force square pegs into round holes. The worship circumstances of one group can look or be quite different from another.

It does not mean that such circumstances are devoid of moral meaning and of no consequence. It means that God expects New Testament Christians around the globe to decide such matters using wisdom, taste, prudence, judgement and conscience. In other words, in matters of the circumstances of worship, God expects His children to be guided by the affections.

According to Scripture, right judgement, taste, and sensibility come from right affections. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. We know correctly, when we feel correctly.

Ordinate affection leads to good decisions regarding the circumstances of worship. Inordinate affection leads to evil decisions regarding the circumstances of worship. And lest we think such matters are unimportant, consider again that most of what we do in corporate worship has to do with the circumstances. The six prescribed elements are a bare starting point; the rest is all circumstantial.

Which leads us to this: if conservative Christians seek to conserve biblical worship, then they must seek to conserve the meaning and importance of ordinate affection.

Conserving Biblical Worship – 5

March 9, 2009

Christians committed to biblical worship will rigorously uphold the Rule of Prescription and seek only to worship God in the way He has prescribed. That means that conservative Christians must be Hezekiah-like.

Once Hezekiah assumed the throne, he began a two-fold process of destruction and restoration. He sought to destroy all the worship innovations of his time, and to re-introduce what had been neglected.

An example of his acts of destruction is seen in 2 Kings 18:4

He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.
2 Chronicles 29, 30 and 31 is an extended account of Hezekiah’s zeal to see the Temple cleansed and re-consecrated, musical worship reinstituted, the priesthood once again supported, the festival days begun again, the Sabbaths and New Moons properly observed, and the Temple service operating properly. 
To get Israel back to worshipping God as He had prescribed, Hezekiah needed to do a lot of breaking down, and a lot of building up.
Our situation is analogous to Hezekiah’s. Like him, we need both to break down and build up. We need to remove alien elements of worship, and make sure all the elements of New Testament worship are present in their pure form in our churches.

That is probably where our real battle lies.   It is not that the elements of worship have completely fallen into neglect.  It is that we have so mixed them in with our worship innovations that we cannot tell them apart from the intruders. Too often, our love of theatre and drama has not only made skits, plays and film demonstrations acceptable in church, but has turned our music into theatrical extravaganzas. We cannot tell that music is not supposed to be amusing, because we have lived with drama in our worship for so long. Our love of ‘relevance’ has baptised all and sundry as  ‘teaching methods’ – celebrity testimonies, magic shows, puppet shows, strong-man shows, biography monologues, so that we cannot see that preaching is a different and altogether separate proposition from those things. If the thing somehow teaches us, we regard it as an acceptable stand-in for preaching. Our love of ecstatic experience driven by an orgy of sports, games, thrills and other entertainment has led us to believe that convulsing, babbling uncontrollably, swaying sonambulantly, is identical with encountering God in prayer.

It will take some discipline, and some courage, to rather ruthlessly interrogate each part of our corporate worship services to see if it is truly prescribed by God, or if it is an innovation rationalised into place. It will take some boldness to cut out the skits and monologues and shows and entertainment. It will take some boldness to cut out the older innovations like prayer to the saints, a sacrificial mass, mystical prayer, prayer to icons and veneration of Mary. It will take boldness to cut out the now established pentecostal and charismatic traditions. However, if it is clear that these are innovations, then the spirit of Hezekiah is to cut down, remove, break in pieces and crush.

Positively, we must make sure that the reading of the Word, the preaching of the Word, corporate prayer, the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, the celebration of the Lord’s Table and baptism and the collection of offerings are performed without addition or diminution. We must scrape off any theatrical, man-pleasing, orgiastic, entertainment-driven coatings that have come to characterise our use of these Divinely prescribed elements.

Finally, we must give careful thought as to how we will implement these six elements. That is the subject of the next post.

Conserving Biblical Worship – 4

March 2, 2009

Once we understand that the worship God requires is the worship God has prescribed, we are gaining distance between ourselves and the many errors produced by the idea that we can innovate, improvise and otherwise tinker with biblical worship.

However, at this point we need to insert an important hermeneutical point. The worship God requires of His New Covenant people is found only in the New Testament.

That is not to say that the Old Testament has nothing to teach us about worship. Far from it. After all, the Old Testament contains the Shema itself – the heartbeat of worship. The Old Testament provides us with numerous examples of what pleased and displeased God in worship. The Old Testament contains detailed instructions regarding Israel’s worship.

But that is just the point. Israel is not the church. The church is not Israel. To insist upon the kind of continuity between Israel and the church that Replacement theology advocates have done is a sure-fire way of producing more false worship. After all, how does one read the New Testament and come up with the office of a priest in the church? How does one read the New Testament and emerge with the notion of an ‘altar’? How does one read the New Testament and come away with the idea of a perpetual sacrifice? The truth is, these are not New Testament ideas. They are Old Testament acts of worship – a human priesthood, an altar, a sacrifice- imported into the New Testament chuch by people who thought they had replaced Israel and were the new Israel.

Correct hermeneutics understands the distinctiveness of Israel from the New Testament church.  Therefore, it looks to the New Testament as the worship handbook of the New Testament church. While the Old Testament can teach us volumes about worship, only the New Testament can prescribe the elements of worship for the New Testament church.

What does the New Testament prescribe for the worship of the gathered people of God?

Gathering together (Hebrews 10:25, I Cor 11:18);

the reading of Scripture, (1 Tim 4:13);

exhortation and preaching (I Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 4:2);

corporate prayer (I Tim 2:1-8 )

the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16);

the collection of offerings (2 Cor 8, I Cor 16:1-2);

the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor 11:23-34);

the administration of baptism (Matt 28:19);

and, when necessary, the administration of church discipline (Matthew 18:17-20, I Cor 5:4-5).

These are simple. For many, they are too simple. Thus they feel the need to add, subtract, and otherwise rework God’s design. However, in so doing, they fall into the same trap that so many Old Testament characters fell into.

We do well to familiarise ourselves with these elements until we notice if they are omitted, or recognise the presence of some worship innovation.