Continuing to think about the role of Synod, I want to look again at how it can contribute to the edification of the Church as the Confession directs. In previous issues, we saw that the Synod can contribute to the edification of the Church by determining controversies of faith and cases of conscience. In my thoughts this month, I would like to ponder Synod’s role in edifying the Church in terms of better ordering of the public worship of God.
Our Synod has provided for the better ordering of public worship through our recently-revised Directory of Public Worship. This instrument is generally recognized throughout our denomination as a worthy tool for the local church in giving direction for God-glorifying services of worship.
Supports Limited Roles
The introduction to the Directory states that it “more accurately reflects our longstanding tradition of giving a directive or guide in worship rather than prescribing set liturgical forms. The 1645 Directory was directive, a distinction stemming from the historical context of the Westminster Assembly.” The Directory, then, deals with principles and not specifics. Or, to say it within the context of my thoughts on a confessional Synod, the Directory supports the concept of a limited Synod where its role in ordering pubic worship is concerned.
The Directory serves the role of edification not only in setting out directives for how to worship God, but in teaching us about worship itself. We are called to the worship of God by God himself, states the Directory. And though “[e]ach moment of every day belongs to God,” he “has set apart one day in seven as holy.” The Directory also tells us that the rule for our worship, as for all of our lives, is the Word of God alone. It also describes the nature of worship as “a work of God’s sanctifying grace by which He draws His people into communion with Himself and calls forth their…. whole-hearted response to all He is and has done for them.”
According to the Confession, a Synod is formed to edify the church in specific and limited areas. Specifically, the Confession includes under such edification, determining controversies of faith and cases of conscience, and setting down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God. That’s all. It would be easy to subsume almost any activity under the rubric of edification of the church and thus to so broaden the work of the Synod that it could take on almost any function – and perhaps we have done this in the ARPC. But the Confession does not suggest that the Synod provides all types of edification to the church. It establishes the limited roles of determining controversies of faith and conscience, and giving direction for the proper worship of God.
A Sabbatarian Position
Finally, the Directory holds a high view of the Lord’s Day: “When the day is properly kept, it is experienced as a day of joy and celebration in holy convocation. On this day we are enabled by the Spirit to leave the toils and worries of this world and taste afresh of the heavenly rest, returning to the household of God who inhabits the praises of His people.” The edification of the Directory is unapologetically sabbatarian and we in the ARP Church have adopted this as our position, though not without dissenters. The bulk of the Directory sets out the actual ordering of public worship, nevertheless, in giving direction for the local churches in their corporate worship, the Directory does not establish an ARPC liturgy, opting to provide more general guidance of the ordinary parts of worship and the occasional and special services.
Meet More Needs at Presbytery Level?
It is not the role of Synod to do the work of the local church. The Synod ought to exist for the local churches and never the local churches for the Synod. Where the local churches (or presbyteries) don’t require a larger assembly to carry out necessary confessional functions, perhaps there is no place for the Synod to act. If I ask what my local church cannot do without help from a larger group of churches, then would I begin to see the necessity of something beyond the local congregation. And perhaps most of these needs could be met at the presbytery level.
The Westminster Divines showed wisdom in setting a limited role for the work of a Synod. We would do well to re-visit their instruction as we assess the work of the General Synod.