There are any number of things that can be said about Steven Schlissel’s two and a half page pastoral letter “Thanksgiving Reflections” posted Dec. 1, ‘09 at his Just Another Blog in the Wheel site as anybody might have guessed that is familiar with his point of view. Schlissel's latest not only opposes the historic doctrine of reformed worship, otherwise known as the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), but is also in favor of celebrating the annual national Day of Thanksgiving in America as it is now observed.
Worse than his disagreement with the RPW though, is that he still cannot - or will not - define it properly. He continues to restrict the RPW to only what is explicitly commanded in Scripture and denies that there are any commands implied as good and necessary consequences of the approved examples of worship in the Bible.
Schlissel's Misrepresentation Develops into Judaizing
But that is not enough nor is Mr. Schlissel content to rest on his laurels in only repeating himself. His suppression of the truth about the RPW, only leads to his further expression of error in arguing for Thanksgiving on the basis of the Old Testament ceremonial feastdays. But this is to turn the whole idea of an example of approved worship in Scripture inside out and on its head. Unfortunately Mr. Schlissel appears to be entirely clueless that these OT holydays are completely abolished in the NT as categorically fulfilled in Christ. Neither the days themselves or any post NT Christian imitations are permissable.
In other words, it also appears to have completely eluded Mr. Schlissel in his cheery overconfidence, that historically speaking, the reformed churches would consider this nothing more than a blatant example of judaizing. At least he makes no mention of this damning objection, at the very minimum to refute it and establish his view against what he has to know, if he pretends to any kind of theological competence, is the majority opinion of the reformed churches.
Extraordinary vs. Ordinary Anniversary Days
Building on all this well meant and chipper mish-mash of confusion and non sequiturs, Mr. Schlissel fails to further distinguish between the occasional and extraordinary days of thanksgiving as providence might dictate with their complete opposite: annual or by rote anniversary days of thanksgiving that automatically come year in and year out whatever the providential circumstances and signs of the times.
Indeed, Mr. Schlissel should be hard put to ignore the circumstances which he himself has repeatedly and pointedly called to our attention in the past - at least on previous mailing lists - regarding any number of national and civil violations of the moral law. But in turning a blithe and blind eye to them in his superficial comments, he also fails to see that if anything, they call for a day of prayer and fasting instead of a day of thanksgiving. Instead of this though, he continues to advocate a compromised and hybrid version of an anniversary/thanksgiving day in his contribution to a very simple civil religion.
Miscellaneous Other Errors
For some strange reason, he also thinks the so called War on Christmas sufficient to expose the inconsistencies of the RPW and its adherents, whatever the outcome of the national campaign against the Lord’s Day, the last of which we might think even Mr. Schlissel finds expressly, if not explicitly, commanded in Scripture, however he forbears mention of it at all. For that matter, as far as the popish holyday of Christmas goes, its fate in principle hangs in the balance with Thanksgiving. If either can be defended as biblical, the other can be as well. Sundry other errors include ignoring Rom. 14:4,5 to assert that Christian maturity allows one to observe days like Thanksgiving, if not mistaking the nature of the sacred and holy to be primarily and arbitrarily emotional and subjective.
Yet if emotional subjectivity is not the chief characteristic of his argument for Thanksgiving, that Mr. Schlissel may be a lively writer and possess a more than vivid imagination, is not enough in itself to reach the bottom of the question presented to us in his letter. Rather, the goal is to present Scriptural truth and sound doctrine clearly and apply it to Christian living, instead of ignoring or glossing over it in confusion as he has so ably done.
Great Extemporaneous Sameness
We are also inclined to wonder if the habit of refusing to demonstrate due diligence in researching the genuine character of what he’s trying to debunk and replace with his very own genuine substitute, - be it whatever, the historic view of Rom. 3 and total depravity, if not justification as per the Federal Vision, never mind the RPW – doesn’t end up spilling over into his pulpit work. While Mr. Schlissel is more than capable enough to turn up the verbal volume in order to adequately ramble through his little homiletic ode to Thanksgiving as J.W. Alexander says on self-repetition in his Thoughts on Preaching (1864, rpt. BoT, 1988),
It has been observed, that preachers who rely on their extemporaneous powers are very apt to fall into great sameness. They repeat the same thoughts and the same trains of thought, and at length almost the same sermons: and this they do without being conscious of it. The same thing occurs to them which happens to some story-tellers: who remember the anecdote perfectly, but forget that they have told it before (p.11).Alexander goes on to say that while mere writing is not a preventative of this, “it has an excellent tendency to prevent it.” Unfortunately that excellent tendency seems to have escaped our brother. If it is the one thing that impressed us reading Mr. Schlissel’s latest, it would be the great sameness that Alexander deplores.
All I Don't Really Want to Know About the RPW
We repeat ourselves to again say our theologian in Brooklyn pretty much just dishes out more of the same old same old that he has already inflicted upon his reading audience in his notorious “All I Really Need To Know About Worship . . . . I Don’t Learn From the Regulative Principle”, a five part series of essays which ran from 1999 through 2000. The very same series in which Mr. Schlissel so adroitly sidestepped the issues and mischaracterized the debate that the essays should have been called “All I Really Need To Know About the RPW . . . . I Have Yet To Learn” if the Ninth commandment was to be honored in anything other than its breach.
While under duress, he finally did admit in the fifth article of the “All I Don't Really Want to Know” series, the genuine sense of the RPW – “if it is not commanded, explicitly or by good and necessary consequence, it is forbidden in worship” – not a paragraph later he was begging the question by quoting from a Canadian Reformed minister about items in the typical modern reformed worship service that, if they were not questionable to begin with, would certainly fall into the implicitly commanded, if not circumstantial category. But when you don't start out with solid definitions that's to be expected and the “All I Don't Really Want to Know" series did not fail to exceed our expectations of obfuscation, however clever.
A Literal Halftruth
Yet if the RPW is no more or less than the good and necessary consequences of the Second Commandment as set forth in the reformed confessions and catechisms (Westminster Confession of Faith 1:6, 21:1 and Q&A 51, 109 and 96 respectively of the Shorter, Larger and Heidelberg Catechisms.) then the RPW could be summarized by the statement: 'Whatsoever is not explicitly – or implicitly – commanded in the worship of God, is forbidden'. As we shall see below, Mr. Schlissel's default rendering, gloss and mischaracterization of the RPW then and now, essentially amounts to: 'Whatsoever is not explicitly commanded is forbidden in the worship of God'. But a half truth is not a the whole truth and, it pretty much destroys Mr. Schlissel's agenda whether you want to pick up the argument by the head, the tail or the middle
In other words, Mr. Schlissel's principle of interpretation is pretty much the same as his old nemesis, Hal Lindsey and dispensational fundamentalism. As in strictly literal and explicit. If God does not command something literally and explicitly, then God does not command it. Mr. Schlissel's subsequent mischaracterizations then might almost be seen as partaking of Mr. Lindsey's fantastic speculations, endtime or otherwise.
The Old Misrepresentation
To be sure, Mr. Schlissel varies the pogrom a bit at this late date. Originally in the “All I Don't Want to Know” articles, we were told that the RPW only applies to the Old Testament temple worship, but not the synagogue. And since Christ obviously approved of the synagogue worship since he attended on it and the synagogue worship is largely that of the NT, ergo the worship of the NT is unregulated by the RPW. After a fashion, this line of reasoning is a rhetorical stroke of genius in that anyone who then brings up the application of the RPW to NT worship automatically qualifies as a judaizer, i.e. somebody who brings the NT church, which is free in Christ, back into bondage to the OT types and shadows. Or something like that
The New Misrepresentation
In his latest missive by way of contrast, he shifts gears a bit, if not grinds them. Again, he largely thinks that days of thanksgiving are justified due to the Old Testament festivals and holidays. Mr. Schlissel is bold to tell us that:
The neatest trick, though, had to be how the Regulativists dispensed with the entire Old Testament calendar of feasts. It was like, “God forbid that someone might think we have our faith from the Jews.” O, perish the thought! No matter what Romans and Acts and John might teach.The obvious problem with this though, is that according to his previous paradigm, the OT feastdays should come under the purview of the RPW which only applies to the OT temple worship and ceremonial law. Hmmm. Whoever said heterodoxy had to be reasonable or consistent with itself, never mind Scripture or the reformed confessions? Nobody, least of all Mr. Schlissel. Yet the Scripture does say something about a doubleminded man (Jm. 1:8). As in beware. Likewise false prophets
While it is true that at one point Mr. Schlissel actually does say “When it behaves itself, the RPW is indeed helpful, especially if the subject under discussion happens to be: What elements may be justly included in Divine worship?” But that is the first and the last we shall hear of anything close to the real question - What is a Day of Thanksgiving and how is it to be conducted in public worship? - never mind anything good about the RPW. Rather, negative comments and begging the question are the rule.
We are told that the "so-called" RPW is “an invention of men”. The RPW is “like the traditions from which it first sought to save us”. The RPW savors of the “scholastic spirit” which was "obsessed with such earth-shattering issues as supra- vs. infralapsarianism" (i.e. the respective order of God’s decrees of creation, election and reprobation). The RPW is something that is “really suitable only for the transition from Roman excess” at the time of the Reformation, if not that “since the Regulative Principle of Worship functions on a negative basis, it was just the gimmick to do the job” of wiping the whole Romish calendar clean of all its holidays. Yet, whatever it might be in Brooklyn, "invention", "tradition", or "gimmick" is hardly something that can be said of a self respecting principle in any other venue, regardless if Mr. Schlissel 'takes himself and his cutting satire much too seriously', though, no doubt he personally thinks he channels Desiderius Erasmus quite well.
Mr. Schlissel even links the RPW twice to what he calls “The Babel Syndrome” apparently this because "the RPW like any self-respecting federal agency, began claiming jurisdiction wherever it could get away with it". But we think this last is only an example of Mr. Schlissel’s overactive imagination running both immaterial and amuck. Besides the RPW is already guilty of enough according to Mr. Schlissel's opinion without any further burden of ridiculous bombast, if not that trading one his audience's ignorance, he pretty much tells us whatever he thinks he can get a way with.
The Evil Again of Fluent Repetition
Neither in all this, does Mr. Schlissel seem to be able to distinguish between the RPW and misapplications of it, even his own mischaracterizations, but we only repeat ourselves. Again Alexander on the self repetition of a preacher, says:
The evil is so disastrous, that there should be a constant effort to avoid it. Without this struggle, the preacher, on arriving at certain topics, which are familiar, will, by the simple influence of association, hitch into the old rut, and treat them exactly as he has treated them before. We observe this in extemporaneous prayers, which with some good men become as stereotyped as if they had been committed to memory: as indeed, though unconciously they have been. . . . This accounts for the familiar fact, that some very fluent extemporaneous preachers are quite popular abroad, while at home, among their own flocks, thay have lost all power, and seem to the people to be preaching the same discourse over and over (pp.12,13, emph. added)."The only remedy for this" Alexander says, is to continue developing and meditating on "new trains of thought" . Further "This habit is greatly aided by judicious reading on theological topics. A man will be as his books". Mark the last: "A man will be as his books". While Alexander goes on to recommend the Scriptures above all as worthy of "perpetual study", we cannot help notice his exhortation to auxiliary reading.
A Remedial Reading List
Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. The British symbols were written by the Westminster Assembly of 1643-48. While the Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms are chief, the Standards also include the Directory for Public Worship which specifically speaks to the proper observing of days of public thanksgiving in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. (The practice is not something that the Pilgrims alone observed in New England in 1621 or was first proclaimed by Lincoln in 1864, even as a civil holiday).
It also needs to be said in an irrational, if not anti-dogmatic age, that creeds and confessions are inescapable (creed coming from the Latin, credo, or I believe.) Everybody believes something about the Bible whether it is the pope, the guy down at the corner bar, who thinks it is bunk, or even our brother in Brooklyn who only has a very mild prejudice against the RPW. Regardless, the Bible explicitly tells us to preach and teach sound doctrine, if not that a teaching elder is particularly exhorted to master the things that are to be believed (Tit.1:9, 2:1).
The confessions are no more than that, but collections of sound doctrine; in so many words, summaries of what the 66 books of the Bible teach. They are collections of sound doctrine that have been debated, compared and collated and put down in black and white on paper by the church so that everybody is on the same page; that there might be a genuine unity in the faith. (Hence again, the Three Forms of Unity, the doctrinal summaries of the continental reformed churches.) If we refuse to enter into the doctrinal labors of those who have sowed before us (Jn.4:38) out of pride, it is at our own ignorance and peril. For that reason, Mr. Schlissel's studied ignorance, if not omission and suppression of these doctrinal statements is inexcusable as a teacher and preacher in what we assume to be is a reformed church, albeit of the "community" variety or no.
2. Genuine and Critical Scholasticism
After the reformed confessions and catechisms, the nod would perhaps go to the second edition of Richard Muller's Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Baker, 4 Vol. 2003). Therein with copious appeal to the primary sources in actually quoting the same, Muller demonstrates the general and overall continuity in theological substance - granting some development and refinement - between the first generation Reformers and those that came after, as well that scholasticism is a method and not a theology per se. Both the Reformed and the Roman church used it however much the method's fortunes have fallen on hard times these days. To his credit, Mr. Schlissel does not repeat the standard old hoary chestnut of Calvin vs. - fill in the blank with one of the following, please - Beza/Turretin/the Calvinists/the Epigones/the Scholastics/the Puritans/ the Westminster Assembly. The transition rather was from "the Magisterial Reformers to the bureaucratizers". Still, the historical record only shows that Mr. Schlissel is bamboozling us in his misrepresentations of scholasticism.
In its emphasis on definitions and distinctions, scholasticism lent itself to teaching in a systematic way the theological discoveries and attainments of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin et al when the Reformation had managed to consolidate itself as a movement and become the official and accepted theology in the national churches and schools. But it is perhaps precisely because Schlissel’s free and breezy opinions will not stand a logical and systematic analysis and criticism, that we find him so opposed to scholasticism. Perhaps.
3. Previously Disputed
The next title would be Geo. Gillespie's classic of historical theology Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies, (1637, rpt. Naphtali, 1993). This book by the then unknown Gillespie, who went on to further fame as one of the Scotch divines who attended the Westminster Assembly, carried the day in the dispute against the necessity, expediency, lawfulness and indifference of the Anglican church ceremonies which King James VI had unlawfully intruded into the Scottish Church, otherwise known as the Five Articles of the 1618 Perth Assembly. When the Scotch General Assembly finally met twenty years later and signed the National Covenant of 1638, the Articles and the Perth Assembly were put away for good. The Second Article specifically enjoined the Observance of the holy days of Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. In reply, beginning with the seventh through ninth chapters in the Dispute's first section argue against the necessity of the English-Popish holidays and touch on as well, the whole idea of days of public fasting and thanksgiving, occasional and extraordinary as opposed to annual and anniversary event that Mr. Schlissel advocates.
In other words, there is nothing new under the sun and Mr. Gillespie has already clarified and dealt with the same arguments we essentially hear today from Mr. Schlissel for a set/annual/once a year day of Thanksgiving in that rote annual thanksgiving days infringe on Christ's prerogative to institute days of worship, as well as the weekly Lord's Day already established which inevitably these days encroach on and supplant. In other words, it would be expedient, if not necessary and lawful, and far from indifferent that Mr. Schlissel apprise himself and his ignorance of the concepts Gillespie touches upon in his book. And maybe then, he could be so kind to apprise his reading and listening audience as to the real state of the question.
4. Honorable Mention
Last on the list, would be David Calderwood's Perth Assembly (1619, rpt. Puritan, 2006). Although reprinted only recently in paperback, this book originally preceded Gillespie's, which wholeheartedly agreed with Calderwood's book in upholding the consensus of the Scotch presbyterian Church on holidays. After it was first published, Calderwood fled to Holland and only returned to Scotland in 1625 after the death of King James VI, the perpetrator of the Perth Articles. Calderwood went on to be come the historian of the Scotch church writing The True History of the Church of Scotland (1678) as well as numerous other titles, including The Pastor and The Prelate (1628) and the Altar of Damascus (1623). Again, Calderwood, like Gillespie, is more than capable of adequately presenting the standard presbyterian understanding of feastdays, occasional and extraordinary as opposed to anniversary, in distinct contrast to Mr. Schlissel, who will do no such thing, which only further reflects on and is highly derogatory of his necessary credibility and competence to the question.
I. The Reformed Standards and the Second Commandment
Barring Mr. Schlissel's immediate reform, again Mr. Schlissel only fails to do what he has already failed to do in his previous assault on the reformed doctrine of worship: to distinctly and clearly, inform us that the RPW is no more or less than the good and necessary consequences of the Second Commandment as set forth in the reformed confessions and catechisms. Explicitly these would be the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapts. 1:6, 21:1 and Q&A 51, 109 and 96 respectively of the Shorter, Larger and Heidelberg Catechisms. They essentially, if not explicitly teach that: Whatsoever is not explicitly – or implicitly – commanded is forbidden in the worship of God. But of all this, we will hear not a whisper in Mr. Schlissel’s excursus lauding Thanksgiving and dissing the RPW. That might come as no surprise, but neither is it commendable.
The relevant sections of these reformed standards of sound doctrine follow with all emphasis added.
Good and Necessary Consequences
The WCF 1:6 begins by saying:
VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men (2 Tim.3:15-17)
The WCF 21:1 in conclusion reads:
The Second Commandment
Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images (Deut. 4:15-19; Exod. 32:5,8), or any other way not appointed in his word (Deut. 12:31,32).
Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself ( Num.15:39, Deut.13:6-8, Hosea 5:11; Micah 6:16, 1 Kings 11:33; 1 Kings 12:33, Deut.12:30-32); . . . . all superstitious devices, 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 whatsoever (Acts 17:22, Col.2:21-23, Mal.1:7,8,14, Deut.4:2, Ps.106:39, Matt.15:9, 1 Pet.1:18, Jer.44:17, Isa.65:3-5; Gal.1:13,14, 1 Sam.13:11,12, 1 Sam 15:21); . . . . all neglect, contempt hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed (Exod.4:24-26, Matt.22:5, Mal.1:7,13, Matt.23:13, Acts 13:44,45, 1 Thess. 2:15,16).
Answer: That we in no wise represent God by images ( Deut.4:15, Is. 40:18, Rom.1:23, Act 17:29), or worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word (1 Sam15:23, Deut.12:30).
In other words, when the WCF 21:1 or the respective catechisms tell us that God may not be worshiped in any way that is not "prescribed", "appointed", "instituted" or "commanded" by him, in light of the good and necessary consequences of WCF 1:6, that means, any way not explicitly or implicitly prescribed, appointed, instituted or commanded.
Again, something may be prescribed in Scripture either explicitly or implicitly by good and necessary consequence. Whatsoever that is not prescribed, appointed, instituted or commanded, in either of these two ways, is forbidden in the worship of God. That is to say, if we are forbidden to either conceal the truth or prejudice it, but rather to promote the whole truth and nothing but, Mr. Schlissel breaks the Ninth on the Second in his discussion of the RPW. His is a perjured witness. Further, Mr. Schlissel is obligated to come to terms with the reformed exposition of the Second Commandment, much more demonstrate its error, if he wishes at least the respect of posterity rather than refuse to even mention the historic position and rest his case in the general vague assertion of its error, even as a gimmick, invention or tradition.
Neither is it that hard to determine what is commanded in the worship of God. Besides prayer in paragraphs 3 & 4, WCF 21:5 tells us that:
The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear (Acts 15:21; Rev. 1:3), the sound preaching (II Tim. 4:2) and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence (Jam. 1:22; Acts 10:33; Matt. 13:19; Heb. 4:2; Isa. 66:2), singing of psalms with grace in the heart; (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19; James 5:13), as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God (Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 11:23 to 29; Acts 2:42):Besides these elements of ordinary worship are:
religious oaths ( Deut. 6:13 with Neh. 10:29), vows (Isa. 19:21 with Eccles. 5:4, 5), solemn fastings (Joel 2:12; Esther 4:16; Matt. 9:15; I Cor. 7:5), and thanksgivings upon special occasions (Ps. 107 throughout; Esther 9:22), which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner (Heb. 12:28).Note the last: “thanksgivings upon special occasions”. Not a yearly regular, anniversary, but upon special occasions, a point we shall return to later.
Common But Uncommanded Circumstances
For that matter, WCF 1:6 concludes by also saying,
. . . that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.(1 Cor. 11:13,14; 14:26,40)In other words, there are some things that either necessarily accompany the commanded elements of worship or human actions and societies which are ordered not by explicit or implicit command, but by the light of nature (common sense) and Christian prudence (Christian common sense) according to the general rules of Scripture. The circumstances of time and place, buildings and chairs all either necessarily accompany a worship service or are common to the action of public gathering or meeting of a society. It is important to note this, because the indifferent and common aspects and circumstances of worship also lend themselves to distortion and mischaracterization, just as the nature of how something is commanded in worship.
This is not so much a problem with Schlissel's latest, but it has been in the past, at least with his “All I Don't Really Want to Know” series and a number of his other comrades in arms, Jordan, Horne, Meyer, Wilson, Leithart and Gore. For that matter, Schlissel's predecessor and inspiration, Prof. John Frame, in the contemporary in-house assault on the RPW, mischaracterizes both the circumstances and the commanded parts of worship. Further, as we have noted before, this whole ploy of mischaracterization and substitution in undermining and replacing the RPW, is the same modus operandi of the Federal Vision, which again includes Mr. Schlissel and many of his fellow combatants late from the RPW theater in the contemporary War on the Reformed Faith.
II. Explicit Omission of Implicit Commands
Consequently, as mentioned above, Mr. Schlissel is either profoundly confused or simply deceitful when he tells us one, that “the Regulative Principle of Worship functions on a negative basis”. But not only is there nothing wrong with that - unless we care to quarrel with the Ten Commandments which are also cast in the negative - Mr. Schlissel goes on to instruct us:
Understand: The “negative basis” is like the way a Compact Disc Club works. Unless you tell them explicitly that you do not want their CD that month, you will get it. So the RPW said, “Unless God tells us there’s a holiday, there can’t be one (emph. added)”.Did we catch that? What so lightly trips off of Mr. Schlissel's tongue is a strictly literal understanding of the RPW. Unless it explicitly tells us something, it is not commanded according to his take on the question. Schlissel's gloss essentially reads: "Unless God explicitly tells us there's a holiday, there can't be one"'. In other words, so much for good and necessary consequences; so much for the implicit commands of Scripture; so much for WCF 1:6. Again.
But as should be apparent from consulting the primary sources, the reformed confessional statements above, Mr. Schlissel's definition of the RPW is a caricature and typical of a fundamentalist dispensational hermeneutic. If God doesn’t literally and explicitly command something in Scripture, according to Schlissel's revised version of the RPW, God does not command it.
Contrary to Schlissel, Gillespie in his Dispute Against English-Popish Ceremonies, says,
(T)he word of God shows unto us the lawfulness or unlawfulness, goodness or badness of things, not only by precepts and prohibitions, but sometimes also, and more plainly, by examples. So that, not only from the precepts and prohibitions of the word, but likewise from the examples recorded in the same, we may find out that goodness or badness of human actions which takes away the indifferency of them (italics added).Plainly Mr. Gillespie understands the Scripture to teach us by example whether something is lawful or unlawful, however Mr. Schlissel may disagree. In other words, Gillespie tells us explicitly that Scripture tells us something by its examples.
Gillespie asks further, regarding baptism of children, taking water for an element of baptism, public reading of Scripture in worship, synodical assemblies and the publishing of their decrees, "and sundry other things which the word has commended to us by example, should all be things indifferent, because there is not in the Word of God either particular precepts for them, or particular prohibitions against them (Dispute, p.427)?" Gillespie says no. The lack of an explicit command or prohibition does not leave us high and dry as to whether something is lawful.
Baptists in Brooklyn
But Mr. Schlissel for his part, essentially says yes. At least as it applies to the RPW, though inconsistently he will chide Baptists about refusing to baptize infants all the while they serve communion to women and worship on the first day of the week. But when it comes to observing Thanksgiving, he contradicts himself and however erroneously appeals to the example of the ceremonial OT calendar instituted by God as a sufficient post NT argument for a day of thanksgiving instituted by uninspired men. Go figure. In other words, what Mr. Schlissel essentially does in ignoring the good and necessary consequences of approved examples in Scripture is to give us half of the RPW for the whole and then criticize the one for not being the other. Like Nahash, he would poke out the right eyes of all the men of Jabesh, if he could get away with it and then berate them for it (1 Sam. 11:1,2).
Unfortunately the reformed confessions and catechisms - if anyone bothers to examine them, as well as reformed theologians like Gillespie - make it clear that this is less than a 20/20 affair. What Schlissel takes away from the real definition of the RPW, he then misuses in advocating a annual feastday which he incorrectly calls a thanksgiving day. Further, on the basis of this half principle, Schlissel is bold to conclude: “Except for Lord’s Days, of course, the calendar was left pretty bone-picked clean”. Yet we wonder, after his careless negligence of the confessions in all this, can he say that his conscience is likewise as clean?
III. Genuine Thanksgiving Days Are Not Annual Occasions
All of which brings us again to Geo. Gillespie’s classic Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies, which in disputing against the ceremonies, also necessarily disputed in part against yearly and annual holidays or anniversary festival days. In the context that the annual feastdays were supposed to be opportunities for the church to give thanks for Christ's birth, circumcision, life, passion etc., Gillespie clarifies what a genuine thanksgiving day according to the Scripture really is and the necessary accompaniment of a preceding day of fasting and prayer.
He says, "There are two reasons for which the church may and should appoint fasts or festivities upon occasional motives, and neither of them agrees with ordinary festivities.
1. Extraordinary fasts, either for obtaining some great blessing, or averting some great judgement, are necessary to be used in such cases; likewise, extraordinary festivities are necessary testifications of our thankfulness for the benefits which we have impentrate [procured] by our extraordinary fasts;Extraordinary does not mean a regular once a year occasion, but a special occasion. Even more that fast days and feast days are linked with the one following the other, not going before or without it, a distinction which is entirely missing from Mr. Schlissel's exposition of the question.
Gillespie goes on to say,
(B)ut ordinary festivites, for constant and eternal blessings, have no necessary use. The celebration of set anniversary days is no necessary mean for conserving the commemoration of the benefits of redemption, because we have occasion, not only every Sabbath day, but every other day, to call to mind these benefits, either in hearing, reading , or meditating upon God's word. . . ."But lo and behold, Schlissel agrees with Gillespie's last on ordinary thankfulness, without admitting his first distinction between fast days and feast days. Schlissel closes his letter saying,
. . . it is good to thank the Lord. It is good to enjoy Thanksgiving for no other reason than that we get to nationally, and family by family, give thanks to the God Who created us, Who sustains us, and Who is faithful to save. . . . How wonderfully normal this is! What do you think about forming a committee to make every day Thanksgiving Day (emph. added)?This despite that Mr. Schlissel has previously told us, "making every day a saint day or holy day has the same effect as underlining everything - that is, it’s identical in value to underlining nothing". We realize that we are to be all things to all people that God might save some (1 Cor. 9:22), but somehow we don't think that means talking out of both sides of one's mouth. Which is it? Every day or just one day?
While Gillespie, much more Rom. 1, acknowledges that thanksgiving is a fundamental and we might assume daily component of Christian life, that does not imply there is a necessity or commandment to set aside a special day every year to be thankful, which even Mr. Schlissel admits 50% of the time. One, yearly thanksgiving days in so much they give thanks for aspects of Christ's life or the gospel are unnecessary because the Lord's Day is already sufficient to that end and it presumes on Christ's authority to set aside special days to institute some of our own yearly anniversary days. Much more, two, as Gillespie points out, genuine extraordinary thanksgiving days follow upon the fast days that preceded them. They are not to be separated or divorced from each other as our national Thanksgiving Day is.
An Approved Example
This is, for example, what we see in the Book of Esther. The Jews first fasted in light of the danger of Haman's decree (Esth. 3:8-4:3). Then after the right of self defense was granted to the Jews, and even further after the same was successful against their enemies, the Jews celebrated with feasting (Esth. 8:11-9:3, 17-19). Neither is it an argument in favor of Mr. Schlissel that Mordecai decreed that these days were to be observed annually (Esth. 9:2o-32). If they were anything more than civil and entered into the religious celebration of the Jews, as they did, Mordecai received divine direction to that end as a prophet and the human author of the Book of Esther. The days of Purim were not simply established by human authority and whim, whether civil or ecclesiastical. Neither is the question whether the civil magistrate can set aside an annual day such as the American Fourth of July. He can and does, but Mr. Schlissel is not a civil magistrate nor is our Thanksgiving Day merely secular. That is the difference.
The Real Difference Again
Gillespie continues, in distinguishing between providential and circumstantial dangers and their deliverances, from the annual anniversary days.
2. God has given his church a general precept for extraordinary fasts (Joel 1:14, 2:15), as likewise for extraordinary festivities to praise God, and to give him thanks in the public assembly of his people upon the occasional motive of some great benefit which, by means of fasting and praying, we have obtained (Zech. 8:19 with 7:3) [Dispute 1:7, pp.34,5].In so many words, the distinction is between extraordinary and ordinary feastdays. Christ did not give either the power or authority to his church or its overseers to institute or establish annual rote anniversary days of thanksgiving (or prayer with fasting) along side of – never mind a substitute for – the one day in seven, the Christian sabbath or Lord’s Day, in which we are ordinarily to give thanks to God for all his blessings, temporal and spiritual in Christ. but that is exactly what our three or four modern holidays generally amount to.
(This, of course, includes meditation on his birth, life, death and resurrection. For that matter, Christ's resurrection is the reason for observing a Fourth commandment day of rest on the first of the week in the NT, rather than the last week day as in the OT. In other words, P&R churches essentially observe “Easter” - the Resurrection of Christ - once a week - not once a year. As is so often the case, the reformed faith properly understood pre-empts many of the objections to it, along with the innovations foisted upon it.)
But that’s not all. Alongside the weekly sabbaths, extraordinary and occasional days of prayer with fasting and days of public thanksgiving ought to be and are lawfully observed as providence warrants. Providence - not the rote annual and mechanical observance of an anniversary date on a calendar - for instance, that come what may for good or ill, we will have our annual national Day of Thanksgiving to we know not whom, for we know not what, as even Mr. Schlissel himself admits.
A Second Witness
Calderwood says the same. Under the first reason against Festival days in the Perth Assembly, he says the people of God,
had a general warrant from God, Joel 2:15 to proclaim a general fast, according to the occurrence of their calamities and other affaires of the Kirk. The light and law of nature leadeth a man to this observation of an occasional fast: nature teacheth him presently to withdraw his hand and heart from worldly affaires, and to lift them up to God to deprecate his wrath when his judgement is over our heads. The like may be said, by analogy, of thanksgiving, that we ought to praise God in the mean time when we receive the benefit.Calderwood concludes though that "to make of the occasional days of fasting, or feasting, anniversary and set festival and fasting days is without warrant (emph. added, p.94)". But this is exactly what the American Thanksgiving Day advocated by Schlissel has become, an annual set day year in and year out upon which it is observed, and as below, in the face of the judgements of God over our head, at least as a nation.
Gillespie and Calderwood's view not only rules out the Roman holydays of Christmas, Easter etc., but also the Roman observance of days and seasons of fasting or only eating fish, such as Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday or Friday, in or out of the Lenten season. Likewise annual days of thanksgiving, which would include what we call Thanksgiving Day (or Christmas again, which is justified as necessary so that the church may have a day upon which to give thanks for the birth of Christ). But this again is precisely what Schlissel's Thanksgiving Day is: an annual occasion and anniversary feastday, when only Christ has authority to set such a day.
The Westminster Assembly's Directory
As for the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for Public Worship, it is in complete agreement with Gillespie and Calderwood exposition over and against Schlissel's mischaracterization of a calendar picked bone clean by the RPW. The Appendix, Touching Days and Places for Public Worship says specifically that,
THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord's day, which is the Christian Sabbath.Yet after declaring any holy days besides the Lord's Day as unlawful, it goes on to state that:
Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.
Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God's providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people (emph. added).Likewise the respective rubrics on Public Solemn Fasting which shall be observed as 'divine providence shall administer special occasion' and Observation of Days of Public Thanksgiving, on account of 'deliverances obtained or mercies received', both a couple of chapters after Sanctification of the Lord’s Day.
Further, Concerning Public Solemn Fasting starts out by saying:
WHEN some great and notable judgments are either inflicted upon a people, or apparently imminent, or by some extraordinary provocations notoriously deserved; as also when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, public solemn fasting (which is to continue the whole day) is a duty that God expecteth from that nation or people.As should be clear by now, to the naked eye, Mr. Schlissel's characterization of a reformed calendar is not quite accurate. Annual holy days besides the one day in seven Lord's Day are not allowed. Special days of prayer or thanksgiving in light of the providential circumstances of those days and times are allowed, if not required.
Times Have Changed Since Then
To be sure, modern Americans, much more modern P&R churches have long since separated not only church and state, but religion and state and the public square is considered the realm not even of theism, but atheism. Perhaps, that is why what passed for an American National Day of Prayer and Remembrance on Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the terrorist attacks on the NYC World Trade Center and Pentagon in Washington DC was such an ecumenical exercise in polytheism, however much those attacks were an "eminent and extraordinary dispensation[s] of God's providence" or a "great and notable judgement".
After all, the Westminster Standards, including the Directory for Public Worship was written in a day and age in which something like the Solemn League and Covenant, a solemn oath and vow (WCF 22) was signed to uphold the true Protestant reformed religion in church and state in the three kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland. In part, this entailed uniformity in a "Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory for Worship and Catechising" which is why the Westminster Standards were written in the first place. No SL&C, no Westminster Standards, including the Directory of Public Worship and its statement on a national day of prayer and fasting.
Yet if the modern P&R church has rejected the establishment of Christianity politically, Israel's example being typological rather than prescriptive for the modern church, the Book of Jonah gives us an example other than that of Esther. The pagan city of Nineveh humbled itself in light of the judgements of God declared, however unwillingly or begrudgingly, by Jonah (3:10). Neither was Nineveh anything but a heathen people, being no part of Israel or Judah and without the Word of God. Still, they heeded the preaching of the prophet and turned for a time from their wickedness, covenant or no, uniformity in the true protestant religion or not.
IV. National Bankruptcy: Spiritual, Moral and Economic
Political and Economic
For instance, as a consequence of the so called "War on Terror" in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 not only has habeas corpus gone AWOL/appeared on the missing persons list, torture and pre-emptive - as opposed to a just - war are part of the official national policy, both violations of the Sixth Commandment, (while a denial of habeas corpus is arguably a violation of both the Sixth and the Eighth). This, as we approached and passed the Christmas Eve deadline for the US Senate vote on the further socialization/centralization of the bureaucracy of American health care under the politically correct euphemism of “reform”. That this is a notable and imminent judgement, however notoriously deserved as per the Westminster DPW Concerning Public Solemn Fasting, is that socialism, in one way or the other, is a gross denial of the Eighth Commandment by the civil magistrate.
While it is true that one must distinguish between the various kinds of socialism, they still all amount to one thing: Stealing. Government control, if not out right ownership of private property. Again in other words, theft. While most people think robbing banks is wrong, things have come to the enlightened pass in these modern days that when the government steals property - when it robs Peter to pay Paul - most people consider it charitably as 'wealth redistribution' or some other politically correct blanket that covers all term. As for the official apologists for the practice, they think it unthinkable that the Holy Federal Government could ever do such a thing as steal.
Tom Rose, retired professor of economics at Grove City College, further distinguishes between "college level" and "high school" level socialism in his '97 essay for the Christian Statesman entitled "Fascism: America's Fourth Branch of Government". The "college level" or fascist variety consists of indirect govt. control by bureaucratic rules and regulations, of private property, if not govt. collusion with business, usually big corporations in controlling the market. "High school" level socialism is the more commonly known socialism/communism of direct control or ownership of the means of production/private property.
Further, in that Mr. Schlissel himself deplores and reprobates centralized bureaucracies, it must be mentioned that socialism is nothing more than a centralized bureacracy, if not also a totalitarian one. It has to be to micromanage every transaction in the marketplace and crush the more efficient and inevitable black market that springs up in that the market, the buying and selling of goods and services, is fundamental to survival. But not only is the state outside its sphere of competence and authority of criminal justice and national defense, necessarily the economic crimes of the black market are treasonous because they are a threat to, if not that they deny, the state's authority, albeit illegitimate and usurped. In reaction to the black market, only more of the same results which caused the resistance in the first place and totalitarianism results as the state cracks down in attempting the impossible: a centralized micromanagement of the economy. Not to worry though. Dollars to doughnuts Leviathan will celebrate Thanksgiving in order to keep up the facade of civility and benevolence to keep the serfs content and remain in the good graces of the compromised such as Mr. Schlissel and those of his persuasion.
More of the Same Old Socialism
Still the shift under the new Dem. administration - which is really only doubling down on the previous Repub. administration's policies - from the New Deal fascism of government control in the 1930's to the nationalization/ownership of significant sectors of the financial and automotive markets, along with healthcare if they can get away with it, would not normally be considered a temporal blessing to give thanks for in the normal or economically sane world. In Brooklyn, perhaps, but maybe pigs can fly and they do things differently there.
Further, the circumstances of this past year also include, as Mr. Schlissel himself seems to allude to below however incoherently, the ramifications of the nation’s long term Keynsian (socialist) economic policy, which again violates Eighth commandment since it is based upon spending the nation out of debt and bankruptcy and that by printing out of thin air, even more of the fractional reserve fiat currency. We speak of the following blurb of gobbledegook in Mr. Schlissel’s meta-narrative/tall tale:
When you blend Americanity with Keynsian economic policy (which depends entirely on consumer spending, with no debt or deficit high enough to be called “enough”), and throw in the sappy, effeminate yearnings of a population routed and ruled by egalitarianism, you’ve a formidable foe ready for a real showdown with any principle that preached self-denial in any form.Yea Stephen, and thou art the man, if it comes down to denying one's self Thanksgiving with all the trimmings. In other words, what Mr. Schlissel might seem to be bloviating about is his own bland compromised version of Christianity that approves of the American civil religious holiday of Thanksgiving.
This, again while the ongoing meltdown of the nation's Keynsian monetary policy/system could, among other things ala Weimar Germany, Argentina or Zimbawe, provoke hyperinflation. The same situation of hyperinflation, myopic and remedial students of history might be interested to know, which also preceded the three great atheist, if not totalitarian revolutions in the modern West: France in 1789, Russia in 1917 and Germany in 1933. Evidently to the question that if the economic foundations be destroyed and mischief is framed by law, what shall the righteous do? (Ps.11:3, 94:20), Mr. Schlissel's superficial and banally inadequate answer to any silly goose, simple enough to ask, seems to be, "Why that's easy. Celebrate Turkey day." Would that such naive zeal and enthusiasm were enough to answer all such questions. When in doubt, celebrate Thanksgiving (as well as Advent as his pastoral letter advocates both in closing. But if Advent, is the season, then necessarily Christmas is the reason. If Mr. Schlissel hasn't already given us a pastoral letter justifying the day, we may reasonably expect him too and chastise him if he doesn't.)
Granted the spiritual and moral rot and degeneration of the nation, much more its churches preceded and provoked, as well as exacerbates, the financial crisis, but as Mr. Schlissel himself has decried the same profligacy before - as well as become part of it in part by promoting the Federal Vision perversion of the distinction between justification and sanctification - he cannot be oblivious to it. Unless perhaps, the turkey is stuffed with something more than the typical parsley and sage. Whether we are talking about the national violation of the Seventh Commandment in winking at, if not legalizing sexual perversion and pedophilia or the Sixth commandment and the legalization of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, Mr. Schlissel himself has made a strong case for the nation's previous moral, spiritual and religious bankruptcy, even before touching on the first table of the law. Indeed, after wrapping up his assault on reformed worship, in the "All I Don't Really Want to Know" series, he spent a number of newsletters in 2000 warning of the cultural groundswell in favor of promoting and legalizing child molesting and pedophilia. Which is all well and good.
Yet the crying question for Mr. Schlissel to answer is what excuse does he have not to know that Press Secretary of the White House released an announcement by the President of the United States of America on June 1, in the year of our Lord 2009, which proclaimed that June was "LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER PRIDE MONTH"? You know. The very same individual who proclaimed five months later that:
. . . . by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 26, 2009, as a National Day of Thanksgiving.
Without which proclamation by said individual, we do not observe a national day of Thanksgiving. (Never mind the late breaking scandal on the President's appointment of a homosexual activist to the Education Department.) Not only is this gross hypocrisy and compromise on Mr. Schlissel's part, it is inexcusable. All Mr. Schlissel is doing is further qualifying himself as a false prophet who declares the deceit of his own heart (cp. Jer.14:14) in arguing for the church's observation of the national day of thanksgiving under these kinds of circumstances.
Still as K. Reed pointed out years ago, reconstructionism is antinomian when it comes to the first table of the law. Hence perhaps in part, our quarrel in all this with Mr. Schlissel beginning with the Second Commandment and the RPW. In that he officiated at the funeral of Rousas John Rushdoony, the founding father of reconstructionism, perhaps Mr. Schlissel can be taken as a reconstructionist and therefore think about reconstructing his excuse and apology for Thanksgiving Day these days.
Natural vs. Moral Law
And while modern P&R churches, for their part, think the magistrate has no business at all with the first table of the law and of late natural law has been touted as a basis to establish morality, Schlissel himself deplores this in his pastoral letter. Trouble is, Mr. Schlissel hasn't done so well himself with the revealed moral law to start with in the Second or Ninth commandments. Consequently it wouldn't surprise us that some might think there is no use for the revealed law and would be inclined to look to the natural law instead for guidance.
But regardless, the inconsistencies abound. Something more than a superstitious and canned version of a presumptuous, hypocritical and fraudulent day of Public Thanksgiving - to whom, we know not, likewise for what, we know not (which situation obtains, as even Mr. Schlissel himself acknowledges) - is called for, unless we are as intent as Mr. Schlissel seems to be, of fulfilling the conditions ecclesiastical, never mind civil, of Jer. 8:11: "For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace".
A Confessional vs. A Contemporary Thanksgiving
In other words, the national Day of Thanksgiving and Mr. Schlissel's jubilant support of it, is not what Gillespie and Calderwood were talking about, nor the Westminster Directory for Public Worship in either the section Concerning Public Solemn Fasting or that of the Observation of Days of Public Thanksgiving. It is not what the Appendix or even the WCF21:5 speaks of in "thanksgivings upon occasions". The critical distinction between extraordinary and occasional or the "special emergent occasions" vs. yearly, rote and annual anniversary days, entirely and willfully(?) escapes Mr. Schlissel and his 'calendar picked bone clean' of the RPW, while it gives pride of place to national Days of Thanksgiving on drone autopilot. That itself, would seem to be a sign of the kind of complacent and presumptuous religious bankruptcy which would necessarily preclude the observance of a genuine Day of Thanksgiving. Rather a day of prayer and fasting is called for (as for example in 1781 by the Reformed Presbytery of Scotland), though - it's not hard to guess - you will not hear Mr. Schlissel admit it.
V. Judaizing Revisited
But not to bother. Mr. Schlissel is off and running in order to plead for judaizing. Yet the problem is Mr. Schlissel's Revised Principle of Worship in his notorious All I Don't Really Want to Know series, was only and exclusively concerned with what God explicitly and literally commanded and that only in the ceremonial worship of the OT temple, which also included the OT calendar of feasts. My, how things change in ten years.
He now tells us, that:
The neatest trick, though, had to be how the Regulativists dispensed with the entire Old Testament calendar of feasts. It was like, “God forbid that someone might think we have our faith from the Jews.” O, perish the thought! No matter what Romans and Acts and John might teach.The law and the testimony (Is. 8:20) to the contrary. Paul in the New Testament makes it only too clear that the “weak and beggarly elements (Gal.4:9)” of the OT holydays that Mr. Schlissel desires to be in “bondage” to, are done away with in Christ, being nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14) – as distinctly opposed to Mr. Schlissel’s conceited libel that the Regulativists” dispensed with the OT calendar.
Granted, faith in the OT is the same as faith in the NT, faith in Christ, to come or already revealed, but that is not to say that the OT types and ordinances foresignifying Christ are to be repeated or imitated in or after the NT in that they have been fulfilled in Christ and are obsolete. To return to them or something like them is to accept an inferior, if not an idol, in the place of Christ. It is in principle, judaizing which Paul so strenuously objected to and condemned in Galatians. It is to add something to the gospel, which the gospel replaced. It is a contradiction in terms, no matter how sincerely, ignorantly or even enthusiastically proposed.
The relevant NT verses include:
Galatians 4:3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:An Invented Yoke
4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
Colossians 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. . . .
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
Gillespie says Paul finds fault with the Galatians for observing days, and gives them two reasons against them;
the one (v.3), They were a yoke of bondage which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear; another (v.9), They were weak and beggarly rudiments, not beseeming the Christian church, which is liberated from the pedagogical instruction of the ceremonial law. . . The yoke of bondage of Christians in respect of feasts, is heavier than the yoke of the Jews, not only for multitude of them, but because the feast days of the Christians, were established by men only, but those of the Jews by God, says Hospinian. Have not we then reason to exclaim against our holidays, as a yoke of bondage, heavier than that of the Jews, for that our holidays are men's inventions, and so were not theirs? (Dispute, pp.37, 40, emph. added)But to listen to Mr. Schlissel, it is the RPW that is the invention and tradition of men, not the post NT Christian feastdays. Funny, that. The OT calendar touted by Mr. Schlissel was an unbearable yoke and a weak and beggarly instruction in the school of the OT that Christianity has graduated from. Gillespie asks why submit or return to it in distinct contrast to the recommendations of our NYC scholar, who urges it as mark of piety and Christian maturity. Who are we to believe and why?
Shadow or Substance?
Of Colossians 2, Gillespie says,
Two other reasons the Apostle gives in this place against festival days; one (v.17), What should we do with the shadow, when we have the body? Another (v.20), Why should we be subject to human ordinances, since through Christ we are dead to them, and have nothing ado with them? Now, by the same reasons are all holidays to be condemned, as taking away Christian liberty; and so, that which the Apostle says does militate as well against them as against any other holidays (Dispute, p.37).Gillespie says the issue is shadow versus substance and human ordinances versus Christ's. The choice should be clear. If Mr. Schlissel is going to insist on a day of thanksgiving, he will have to find something other than the OT calendar of feastdays to base it upon. Of course, part of his problem is again, that he confuses an occasional extraordinary thanksgiving or fast with a once a year annual/automatic feastday.
All this, not to mention, in the imposition of such feastdays is also an imposition on Christian liberty. In other words, the exact same which Mr. Schlissel has asserted; that the RPW is an imposition on Christian liberty in its capacity as an ecclesiastical Bureau of Weights and Standards. We think rather that the principle of Potiphar's wife (Gen. 39:7-18) applies: "Always accuse your opponent of what you yourself are really guilty of doing". At least it worked for her and it still seems to work for Mr. Schlissel.
Back to Elementary School
Calderwood says in Perth Assembly,
Converted Jews may not lawfully observe the Jewish festivities, even as remembrances of bygone benefits. In every respect all their anniversary days are abolished, and they had none other, but such as were abolished. Therefore in every respect they belonged to the ceremonial Law. The observation therefore of anniversary days even in respect of remembrance was to the Jews pedagogical, rudimentary and elementary, and consequently ceremonial (pp.99, 100, emph. added).He concludes by asking: "If the Jews had no anniversary solemnities to endure after Christ's coming, when they should be converted to Christianism, how can the observation of anniversary days by taken up by Christians (p.100)?" Indeed. If the days were fulfilled in Christ "in whom is all treasure of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3)", they do not need to be replaced, much more what can replace them better than Christ?
The answer, according to Mr. Schlissel, is the observation of weak and beggarly days such as an annual Day of Thanksgiving, which only means the "pedagogical, rudimentary and elementary" lessons of the OT feastdays have gone unlearned. While there are some these days who think the nation's chief executive needs to produce his birth certificate, we might count ourselves satisfied with a glimpse of Mr. Schlissel's GED, never mind a certificate of graduation from any correspondence Bible school he has attended, barring any in Brooklyn which largely major in chutzpah, brass and hot air.
Again, while the same covenant of grace was administered in the Old as in the New, neither are the dispensations identical nor is the ceremonial worship and law fulfilled in Christ, carried over and repeated in the Christian church (WCF 7:5,6). Unless thou art a Judaizer, which is exactly what the problem is. Mr. Schlissel is not content to let bygones be bygones and that which is nailed to the cross, to remain there in his zeal to justify the American national holiday of Thanksgiving. He must indulge in judaizing in order to preserve his argument for more turkey and pumpkin pie, which in some community churches in Brooklyn seems to be considered quite the holy meal.
VI. The Lord's Day or Christmas Day?
If all this were not enough and having by and large left any reasonable or historically recognizable reformed version of a doctrine of worship and occasional and extraordinary days of prayer and thanksgiving long behind, Mr. Schlissel confuses things even more. After setting up annual days apart from the divinely mandated Christian sabbath, the next temptation is that of essentially considering them more important that the Lords Day. He tells us:
All these factors and forces have brought us to the present day, where the most interesting outcome has to be this picture: the offspring of earnest RPW-ites now finding themselves in the embarrassing (but instructive) position of having to argue in favor of the explicit celebration of Christmas.We don’t know what or who he is really talking about, but we suppose there are some of little faith among those who adhere to the RPW of historic reformed theology, who might have been stampeded into a last ditch attempt to justify Christmas in order to save it from being throttled by the secular humanist minions of the ACLU, intent as they are on cleansing the nation and its calendar of any whiff of Christianity.
Note well though what Mr. Schlissel silently assumes and deceitfully forbears to mention. The battle for the Lord’s Day, if it is that, has already been conceded. Or would Mr. Schlissel spend as much time and effort defending the Lord’s Day, in or out of the church as he does Christmas and Thanksgiving? That is the real issue, if not that the Scripture says far more about observing the Lord's Day than about Christmas, which is not so much as even named in Scripture nor do we see any approved example thereof. In other words, we have the NT example of Christ and the apostles in regard to observing the Fourth commandment on the first day of the week or the arguable post NT judaizing appeal to ceremonial law for Thanksgiving. Choose you this day, which day is more biblical or apostolic?
The Really Special Secular Days
Still if nobody else will say so, we live in a day and age that grubs money, leisure and pleasure and not necessarily in that order 48 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only time things might get shut down for a rest is on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and maybe New Years, so that “Our Employees may Spend The Holiday at Home With Their Families” as the sign for the store hours usually and so sanctimoniously tells us. How considerate. That is, after all, one of the reasons for the one day in seven sabbath given in the Old Testament. So that the help, the servants or what we now call employees, could get a day off.
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou (Deut. 5:14).Or does Mr. Schlissel call the trade off between one day a week and three or four days a year an even Stephen deal, sort of like giving the LGBT Brigade an Equal Opportunity to bash the Seventh Commandment just as he bashes the Second? We think not.
Again, basically the way things work in the national American counterfeit religion, albeit civil, if you can show up on one or all of these three holydays of Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving – at any church, temple or synagogue – like a parking ticket, your sanctimonious and civil religious credentials will be validated as good for another year. Sad to say more than a few Christian churches go along with this charade and confirm it in word and practice, even P&R churches.
In other words to paraphrase Mr. Schlissel, the real situation that obtains in America is ‘Except for these three high Holy days, the calendar is left pretty bone-picked clean of Lord’s Days”. Indeed it is, however much Mr. Schlissel heroically ignores it. And that despite the fact that in contrast to much of evangelicalism, P&R churches observe these days along side the Lord’s Day, not as a substitute for them. Yet as per Gillespie, they are neither necessary, expedient, lawful or indifferent; much more they inevitably tend to displace the Lord's Day, if not overwhelm it in attention and focus.
VII. Reformed or Deformed Maturity?
Mr. Schlissel also picks up the theme of maturity:
"All of this was to say, since we found that God is pleased to treat us as mature children of His, allowing us to exercise discretion and measured judgment in selecting which holidays we’ll celebrate and, within abiding parameters, just how we’ll celebrate them. . . .Again, there are those who glory in their shame and those who glory in what they mistake for their glory, their maturity in Christ. Mr. Schlissel is in the latter camp. That Christian maturity, might consist in refusing to add to the one day in seven that Christ has given his church in order to worship, praise and thank him and a mechanically observed Thanksgiving Day at that, in which – as even Mr. Schlissel acknowledges - many are hard pressed to know who they are thanking for what, entirely escapes Mr. Schlissel. Yet if ignorance is the mother of devotion in the Roman church, does Mr. Schlissel intend to argue for joining and receiving with the same? One might wonder.
The locus classicus for Christian liberty is Roman 14. In part it reads:
Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
For whereas it might be thought that the Apostle does not condemn all holidays, because he both permits others to observe days (Rom.14:5), and he himself also did observe one of the Jewish feasts (Act 18:21), it is easily answered, that our holidays have no warrant from these places . . . that which the Apostle either said or did here[about], is to be expounded and understood of bearing with weak Jews, whom he permitted to esteem one day above another, and for whose cause he did, in his own practice, thus far apply himself to their infirmity at that time when they could not possibly be as yet fully and thoroughly instructed concerning Christian liberty, and the abrogation of the ceremonial law, because the gospel was not yet propagated; and when the Mosaical rites were like a dead man not yet buried, as Augustine's simile runs. So that all this can make nothing more for holidays after the full promulgation of the gospel, and after that the Jewish ceremonies are not only dead, but also buried, and so deadly to be used by us. Hence it is that the Apostle will not bear with the observation of days in Christian churches who have known God, as he speaks (pp. 37,8, emph. added).
Further, while we are free of the law for justification, we are not free to disregard the law for sanctification in exercising our maturity to observe the ceremonial law or what we substitute in its place after it has been fulfilled in Christ. Again, Mr. Schlissel mistakes a judaizing and weak believer for the mature. 1 Timothy 1:6,7 tells us that "some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm". Sadly the same could still be said of Mr. Schlissel. He has turned aside from the orthodox reformed understanding of the ceremonial law in the NT and thinks it the height of maturity to engage in judaizing, which is far from an occasion to give thanks as one can get.
VIII. Holy or Hypocritical?
Thanksgiving is also unique because . . . it seems to . . . create a true feeling of specialness, which is, after all, the essential component of the sacred. To have a sense of sacredness penetrate into this pseudo-secular culture of fraud is a positive triumph of God in Christ.True feeling of specialness? Pseudo secular? But no mention of pseudo-spiritual? Because that is essentially what Mr. Schlissel advocates, a pseudo-spiritual "will worship and a voluntary humility (cp. Col.2:18, 23)" according to his own standards, if not an outmoded and judaizing OT calendar. Rather it is God who determines and sets aside something as holy.
Sacred Or Superstitious Inventions?
Gillespie quoting Knox says, "It is not enough that man invent a ceremony, and then give it a signification according to his pleasure; for so might the ceremonies of the Gentiles, and this day the ceremonies of Mahomet be maintained. But if that anything proceed from faith it must have the word of God for the assurance etc. (Dispute, p.250)." If "faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17)", moreover "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23)", what does that say about Schlissel's "true feeling of specialness" other than it is arbitrary, emotional and subjective, as well as contrary to Scripture and as a consequence, sin.
Calderwood says in Perth Assembly, "It remaineth therefore that it is the Lord's sovereignty to make or ordain a thing to be holy" and quotes Musculus to say,
If any man shall attempt to make holy at his pleasure the things God has not Sanctified, is not only Superstitious, but challengeth unto himself, that which belongs only to God. When God blesseth and sanctfieth a day, then may man look for a blessing in sanctifying it . . .to esteem one day holier than another, not so discerned by the Lord's commandment must be also Judaical. . . . Not Christ's action on a day, but his institution maketh a day holy. . . Christ's institution maketh a day holy (pp.94,9, 109,10).A fraudulent, if not hypocritical and Judaical Superstitious observation of a Day of Thanksgiving, like what is observed in America doesn’t quite fit the bill for holiness no matter how much Mr. Schlissel might try to establish or assert it a “positive triumph in Christ”. How can it be when he doesn't even mention, much more demonstrate the error of the historic confessional position of the reformed church in the past on special days of prayer and thanksgiving, if not even more so the national signs of the times all around us that declare the complete opposite: imminent judgements notoriously deserved, as he himself previously has noticed? What does this demonstrate, but Mr. Schlissel's vicious, as in corrupted, incompetence to the question, whether genuinely naive or duplicitiously malicious?
Again it is not that Mr. Schlissel is less than capable writer or lacks a colorful imagination; it is not that he hasn’t demonstrated some competence and intelligence, even a modicum of astute rhetorical cleverness. Rather the problem is that he continues to demonstrate an inexcusable lack of due diligence in researching the true character of something, even before he tries to debunk it and replace with his very own genuine substitute; in the question at hand, as it concerns the historic confessional RPW and the annual American Day of Thanksgiving.
But those who would be teachers, are held to a higher accountability (Jm. 3:1), even more lest they be counted false teachers, if not false prophets. Mr. Schlissel would be very wise to continue to stuff himself with turkey and refrain from pontificating in the pulpit or print, if he cannot sufficiently sacrifice his pride to publicly retract his public errors; to stop talking with his mouth so full of patent mischaracterizations and lapses in Scripture, history and reason if he doesn’t care to do justice to the topic, much more desist from perjuring himself.
The truth of the whole matter, explicit and implicit about the RPW and the further distinction between occasional extraordinary days of Solemn Fasting and Public Thanksgiving and our national rote nominal copy of the same is too important to leave to those who would abuse the truth and their office, much more their readers and listeners, as well as again, Scripture, history and reason in order to justify their compromised and confused opinions on the question.
In other words: "A fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding". Even in Brooklyn. Likewise: "A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself (cf. Prov. 17:28, 18:2)". Even in Brooklyn. Unfortunately Mr. Schlissel's bona fides regarding the latter are in first class condition.
Mr. Schlissel's opinions when weighed in the balance of Scripture are only found wanting. He is nothing more than one of those prophets who prophesy falsely, while the people love to have it so. In the day that the Lord GOD of hosts calls at least his church, to weeping, mourning, and sackcloth, the best Mr. Schlissel can do is plump for joy and gladness, the slaying of oxen, and killing of sheep, along with the eating of turkey and pumpkin pie while sloshing down the rum eggnog (cp. Jer. 8:11, Is. 22:12, 13), with or without "feelings of true specialness".
Mr. Schlissel's comments betray him to be a light and treacherous person, who has seen vain and foolish things that prevent him from discovering the iniquities of church and state. Consequently if the church chooses to follow Mr. Schlissel, as the American church largely does, at least by default, if not willfully, the Lord hath a controversy with Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways (cp. Zeph. 3:4, Lam. 2:14 and Hos. 121:2).
Very possibly such a church deceived by and engaged in this kind of compromise will have to go into captivity; perhaps at the hands of the Holy Federal Government or even Mohammed, the eastern antichrist, if not both, in order to wake up and repent of her backsliding. God willing one way or another, the American church will soon forswear Mr. Schlissel's erroneous opinions and its counterfeit Thanksgiving.