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The Scriptural Doctrines Violated by Ritualism.


The Scriptural Doctrines Violated by Ritualism.

James Dodson

[This lecture was delivered before the National Protestant Congress, held in Edinburgh, October 15-18, 1894. It is reprinted from the volume issued by that Congress entitled, “Romanism and Ritualism in Great Britain and Ireland. A Report of the National Protestant Congress, Edinburgh, October 15-18,1894.” Edinburgh: R.W. Hunter, 19 George IV. Bridge, 1895.]

Rev. Dr. KERR, Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Glasgow, said:—There are now two ritualisms. There is the ritualism of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the ritualism of the Episcopalian Church of England. The ritualism of the former consists of rites in worship which have no authority from the Word of God. The latter, while including similar rites, is specially characterised by a dogmatic system directly subversive of the whole doctrine of Christ. The two ritualisms are not foes to each other, but friends. In the school of ritualism, the former is the infant department, the latter the adult; and it is often difficult to mark the boundaries betwixt the two. Some of the infants in the Scottish section are fully entitled to promotion. In the estimation of the Papal masters of ritualistic science, they are making satisfactory progress toward appropriate honours, the mitres of bishops and the hats of cardinals.

Ritualism is too mild a term for the movement in England. In his late address at Preston, Cardinal Vaughan has correctly stated that the ritualistic churches are “often distinguishable only with extreme difficulty from those belonging to the Church of Rome;” and he gives a list of those doctrines of Romanism which are now taught by the ritualists—sacerdotalism, the real presence, the sacrifice of the mass, auricular confession, extreme unction, purgatory, prayers for the dead, Mariolatry, and invocation of saints. The movement which embraces these dogmas is more than ritualistic; it is in all these respects thoroughly Romish. The ritualists who thus teach and practise are more justly designated Romanists than were members of the Romish communion at even advanced stages of that Church’s development. Is it necessary to specify the doctrines of Scripture violated by this ritualism? Is there any doctrine of Revelation that could survive the prevalence of those Papal errors? The success of this ritualism would abolish the whole system of Divine truth, and ruin the life of religion in the soul.

The ritualism that has broken out in some of the Protestant Churches of Scotland assumes the form of changes in the modes of worship rather than as yet in any defined opposition to orthodoxy. It consists meanwhile in ceremonial observances rather than theological dogmas but in those ceremonies lie the germs of doctrinal corruptions. The ceremonies generate the atmosphere which in due time produces the anti-Christian beliefs. The candles, crosses, crucifixes, images, incense, vestments, and ornate ritual of the English Church have promoted the pro-Romish movement there. These have powerfully contributed to change the Ritualisers into Romanisers; and, on this side of the Border, a similar educational process is going rapidly forward. The late Bishop Forbes, of Dundee, adverted with satisfaction to the fact that “everywhere around us, even in systems with which we have no theological affinity, we see the aid of architecture invocated in the construction of churches, and the unattractive forms of Presbyterian worship are being modified by the introduction of chanted Psalms, organs, and other accessories of Divine worship which would have horrified the last generation.” In the public services of the house of God on the Lord’s day, and in many Presbyterian Churches, there are anthems, sentences, responses, solos, organ voluntaries, instrumental quartets, hymnals, prayer books, vestments, apses, altars, crosses, and other accompaniments of a ritualistic worship. There is the ritualism against which Spurgeon uttered no uncertain sound when he said that he would “like to see all the pipes of the organs in our Nonconformist places of worship either ripped open or compactly filled with concrete;” and “what a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness of a quartet, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes.” There is the ritualism against which a Young Men’s Association in Dublin protested by declining to countenance a jubilee meeting in St. Paul’s, London, because of the reredos. There is the ritualism against which the congregation in the west rose in righteous revolt, compelling a promise from the Presbyterian incumbent to cease his mystic movements at the table of the Lord. There is the ritualism against which, in St. Giles’ once, Janet Geddes kindled the spark of a noble rebellion—a liturgy in the house of God. There is the ritualism against which George Gillespie delivered a destructive blow by his work on “English-Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the (Reformed) Church of Scotland”—the ritualism of saints’ days and holy days—and in which he described these and other ceremonies as the “twigs and spriggs of Popish superstition.” These and other similar rites and ceremonies have been repudiated by the Presbyterianism of this northern kingdom without a dissentient voice for the last 300 years.

I must decline concurring with those who accuse the ritualists in the Presbyterian Churches of a deliberate conspiracy to overthrow the Protestant faith. But it is probably impossible to devise any better methods for that purpose than those adopted by the ritualists. If a number of ministers in Presbyterian charges where no ritualism exists were to resolve to ritualise and Romanise their congregations, could they adopt better measures than those in operation by ritualists? Their plan of campaign would be marked by the following stages at considerable intervals:—adverse comments on the simplicity of the worship observed; a choir, who would alone sing; a hymnal, with hymns from Romish sources, and frequent use of hymns by Newman and other notable Romanists; a harmonium in the Sabbath school; an organ in the church (a gift if possible); occasional references to Protestants as bigots; frequent use of the terms “the church,” “holy communion,” and “holy orders;” a new church in shape of a cross, with chancel, nave, organ loft, apse, altar, and reredos; introduction of saints’ days and holy days, including Ash Wednesday, Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday; crosses, crosiers; candles; incense; thurifers; and so on. Would not such ministers and their congregations be ready for union with the Church of England Romanisers? Would they not be toying all this time with the trinkets of Babylon? Of the Church yielding to such rites in the period after the first Reformation, Gillespie wrote that “her lovely locks are frizzled with the crisping pins of anti-Christian fashions.” Multitudes of moderate drinkers never, indeed, become drunkards, but the drunkards are recruited from the ranks of the moderates, and those who fall into ritualistic habits, little by little, incur the risk of being fully Romanised.

These two ritualisms, when closely examined, are seen to be exactly alike in their underlying principle. Both arise on the assumption of a right on the part of the worshipper to exercise his own will in forms of service and matters of faith. They both do obeisance to a human authority in the house of God; they exalt the human will to a place of at least equality with the Divine will. In discussing this question the late Principal Cunningham, of the Free Church, quoted the words: “A show of wisdom in will-worship,” and proceeded: “A most exact description of the rites and ceremonies which the Church has introduced in the exercise of her fancied power. They are will-worship, as being invented or devised by men themselves, without any sanction or warrant from God; and they have a show of wisdom, as some of them were originally introduced from an honest though mistaken intention to promote the right and acceptable worship of God; and all of them are professedly directed to that object.” The germinating principle at the root of ritualism and Popery is one and the same. The principle thrusts out the sovereignty of God from the house of God, and welcomes the authority of man; it dethrones Deity and enthrones humanity. A revolution is soon effected by it in the regions of worship and belief. Churches become concert-rooms, and no longer sanctuaries of the Lord of Hosts; and the services no longer worship intended to be acceptable to God, but, performances to attract the people. In the region of belief, the Church teaches for doctrines, the commandments of men, and thus, eventually shutting out God, the minds of men are deprived of liberty, and their souls of everlasting life. John Knox detected the essence of this principle when he wrote: “I would ask if Jesus Christ be not King and Head of His Kirk. Then it becometh the Kirk of Jesus Christ to admit what He speaketh, to receive and embrace His laws, and when He maketh end of speaking or law-giving then to rest. All worship, honouring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God without His express commandment is idolatry.”

The great Scriptural principle, which alone is fitted to protect the Church of Christ from Ritualism and Romanism, is that nothing is to be admitted into the worship of God which is not approved in the Word of God. This principle is explained by the assembly of English, Scottish, and Irish divines who met at Westminster, 300 years ago, when they condemned “all devising, counselling, commanding, using, or anywise approving any religious worship not instituted by God Himself; and corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsomever.” There is no other measuring line for the sanctuary which can protect the Church from the wildest fancies in worship, and the people from the tyranny of ministers and majorities in imposing the fashions they see fit. If the majority in one congregation prefer an organ to all other instruments of music, and impose it on a minority, then majorities in other congregations may have and impose different instruments, and instruments that may be much more acceptable to them, as fiddles, the bagpipes, and banjos. If it is proper to introduce any rites and ceremonies not expressly prohibited in the Scriptures, then there is no barrier against the admission, if a majority wish it, of all the rites and ceremonies of the ritualists and Romanists. The whole ritualistic and Romish wardrobe and apparatus can be justified, with crucifixes, incense, candles, and whole Pontifical ceremonial. The will of the King in Zion is thus despised, and human tastes and fancies run riot in the courts of the Lord. “In all ways,” writes Charnock, “men have been forward to disfigure God’s models and dress up a brat of their own. It is natural for men to worship God in a human way, and not in a Divine. As though God had not understanding enough to prescribe the form of His own worship, and not wisdom enough to support it without the crutches of human prudence. Human prudence is too low to parallel Divine wisdom; it is an incompetent judge of what is fit, for an Infinite Majesty. Though in this they do not seem to climb up above God, yet they set themselves in the throne of God, envy Him an absolute monarchy, would be sharers with Him in His legislative power, and grasp one end of His sceptre in their own hands.”

The Reformers fearlessly applied this principle to the Church at the Reformation, and delivered her from all those rites and ceremonies for which no Scriptural warrant could be produced. Acting upon it, they thrust out altars, crosses, images, liturgies, and the material adjuncts and ceremonies of human invention in use. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in a letter to the Assembly at Westminster, wrote that: “We were greatly refreshed to hear of your praiseworthy proceedings, and of the great good things the Lord hath wrought among you and for you. Shall it seem a small thing in our eyes that many corruptions, as altars, images, and other monuments of idolatry and superstition are removed, defaced, and abolished; the service-book in many places forsaken; the great organs at Paul’s and Peter’s taken down.” It was because this principle was so thoroughly applied that Knox could boldly say: “All others retain some footsteps of anti-Christ and some dregs of Popery, but we (all praise to God alone) have nothing within our churches that ever flowed from that man of sin;” and that Rutherford could joyously say: “It is not brick nor clay, nor Babel’s cursed timber and stones, that is in our sacred temple, but our blessed King Jesus is building His house, all palace work and carved stones: it is the habitation of the Lord.” If the Protestant Churches of the land are to be delivered from the pro-Romish influences at work, this principle, which rejects all forms and ceremonies which have no Scriptural warrant, must be again fearlessly enforced. The trustees who would administer the estate of a testator in ways not prescribed by the deed of their incorporation, would expose themselves to an action of serious issues in the highest Courts of the land; and why should administrators of the will and testament of the great King travel beyond the provisions of that will, and attempt to extend it by measures for which no warrant can be produced from the Trust-deed? If this Scriptural doctrine regulating worship were universally adopted, then defiance could be hurled at all the ritualists and Romanists in the empire. The citadel of Protestantism would be safe thus far from these foes. Otherwise, there will be those within the citadel in sympathy with the enemy and ready to open the gates. For the sake of ecclesiastical unity, in defence of the Scriptural doctrine of worship and of true liberty, and in loyalty to the King of the Church, let all rites and ceremonies in religion, of human device, be driven into everlasting exile from this land of Emmanuel.