Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dr. Peter Masters' False Hermeneutic in Promoting an Allegorical Reading of Psalm 150

...we know the Psalm [Psalm 150] is not talking about literal instruments for worship, because if it were talking about literal instruments, it would be massively contradicting all the rules given in the Old Testament.

No, we know that this Psalm is obviously including not only temple worship, but the civic festivities of the Jews- the thanksgiving days for battle victories and things of that kind- when little girls, shaking their tambourines, would walk in front of open air civic processions. This was not worship, this was the wider scene.

And Psalm 150, as most of the Puritans would insist, was talking not about instruments in worship, but about the spirit of worship. So, it's a very figurative Psalm, and it names instruments of triumph, instruments of solemnity, instruments of- associated with- sincerity and so on, and it uses them as figures for the wide range of emotions that are represented in sincere worship. But if you say, 'Ah! There it is! Psalm 150 justifies everything'- it's painful to hear, you know, a Bible-believing teacher saying a thing like that, when it represents such ignorance of the Scripture, and producing such contradictions and difficulties.

In the above section from his sermon on June 21st, Dr. Peter Masters offers two contradictory arguments against those who would use Psalm 150 to support a multiplicity of instruments in worship. Dr. Masters states, on the one hand, that Psalm 150 does not support a multiplicity of instruments in worship because (he says) Psalm 150 is not about worship- it is about the use of instruments in "civic festivities." On the other hand, Dr. Masters asserts that Psalm 150 does not support a multiplicity of instruments in worship because (he says) Psalm 150 is not about instruments- it is "about the spirit of worship."

Even if Psalm 150 is primarily focused on "civic festivities" (and a distinction between "temple worship" and "civic festivities" does not seem to be in view in this Psalm- the Psalm begins, "Praise ye the LORD; praise God in His sanctuary"), it would seem that the Jewish people would have used literal (rather than "figurative") instruments in their "civic festivities." And so Dr. Masters' second argument against the use of Psalm 150 to support a multiplicity of instruments in worship is undermined by his first argument.

Given Dr. Masters' wider argument- that a multiplicity of instruments is an indicator of "worldliness"- it would seem irrelevant whether the instruments in Psalm 150 were used in "civic festivities" rather than "temple worship." For "worldliness"- the capitulation of the church to the corrupt values and evil practices of fallen human societies- is unacceptable in "civic festivities" as well as in "temple worship." If Psalm 150 advocates a use of a multiplicity of instruments, in whatever setting, then such a practice cannot be indicative of "worldliness."

Perhaps it is a realization that his first argument leads to the conclusion just mentioned that leads Dr. Masters to advance his second argument- that Psalm 150, in mentioning "instruments" is (contrary to appearances) NOT indicating worship with a multitude of instruments, but is indicating certain things about the "spirit of worship" God's people are to have when worshiping Him. (How these instruments, being- according to Dr. Masters- inappropriate for worship, could properly indicate the appropriate attitude for worship is somewhat unclear.)

Based on the authority of an unnamed group of Puritans- a kind of Protestant magisterium, as it were- Dr. Masters teaches that "praise Him with harp and lyre" does not mean "praise Him with harp and lyre," it means, 'praise Him in solemnity and sincerity without using a harp or a lyre.' But where in the Bible does Dr. Masters find a key that lets him know that instruments symbolize attitudes; where does Dr. Masters find a passage that tells him 'harp equals solemnity, lyre equals sincerity,' etc? Without backing such an interpretation from Scripture, it seems that Dr. Masters is practicing eisegesis- reading his own meaning into the Bible- rather than exegesis- bringing out from the Bible the meaning that the author intends.

Furthermore, an interpretation like the one mentioned above is a step away from the Reformation principle of literal Bible interpretation back to the Roman Catholic practice of allegorical interpretation. The theologians of the Protestant Reformation were able to recover simple, soul-freeing gospel proclamation from the Bible because they were convinced that the Bible is clear, able to be understood by common people, and free from an arcane system of symbols that can only be understood by highly trained professionals. When the Reformers pointed out the many places that the Bible contradicts the Roman Catholic church, Catholic theologians would protest that the Bible is to be read figuratively rather than literally. The Reformer Martin Luther responded to one such Roman Catholic apologist (Erasmus) as follows:

...let this be our conviction: that no 'implication' or 'figure' may be allowed to exist in any passage of Scripture unless such be required by some obvious feature of the words and the absurdity of their plain sense, as offending against an article of faith. Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rules of grammar and the habits of speech that God has created among men;
...
I say, then, that for me it is not enough for you to say: there may be a figure [of speech]; my question is, whether there need be, and must be a figure; and if you do not prove that there must necessarily be a figure there, you achieve nothing. [Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), 192-193.]

Dr. Masters says that this text must be figurative on the basis of his assertion that, taken literally, the text would contradict other passages: for reasons explained in my last post in this series, I believe that Dr. Masters' charge of contradiction falls flat.

Without proving that a literal reading of Psalm 150 entails a contradiction, Dr. Masters is guilty of unnecessary allegorizing. And without proving his specific interpretation of Psalm 150 from the Bible, Dr. Masters is guilty of eisegesis, even as he charges those who do not reach his conclusions with "ignorance."

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