Questions on the Apocrypha

The following e-mail exchange took place between an RW reader and James Payton, the author of the article on using material from the Apocrypha in worship (RW 89, p. 40)

Reader: I found it astounding that a Reformed Church would allow use of the Apocrypha in a worship service. As a Presbyterian I adhere to the Westminster Confession, which states that the Apocrypha is not to be used during a worship service. I am aware that the Christian Reformed Church adheres to the Belgic Confession but it has always been my understanding that they too did not allow the use of the Apocrypha during a worship service. Is this correct? If not, then when did the CRC allow the use of the Apocrypha during a worship service?

James Payton: The Westminster Confession of Faith says in chapter 3, “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” This does not prohibit the use of the Apocrypha in worship services—it prohibits using it as canonical Scripture. My article suggests using selections from the Apocrypha the way we do “other human writings”—whether those are written prayers, catechism questions and answers, or the writings of John Calvin.

As to the Belgic Confession, it also excludes the Apocrypha from the canon of Scripture. But article 6 (after listing the works in the Apocrypha) states: “All which the Church may read and take instruction from, so far as they agree with the canonical books; but they are far from having such power and efficacy as that we may from their testimony confirm any point of faith or of the Christian religion; much less to detract from the authority of the other sacred books.” The Belgic Confession clearly allows the church to use the Apocrypha in a cautious fashion, which is what I proposed in the article.

Reformed Worship 90 © December 2008, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.