Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Regulative Principle of Worship

     As one who came to the Anglican tradition about eight years ago, and more recently to the Reformed tradition,  I have found the issue of the Regulative Principle of Worship to be a hotly argued and more often than not, misunderstood teaching.  A couple years ago I read R.S. Clark's book , and highly recommend it.  At the time I had some questions here and there (and a few still remain), but otherwise I learned much.  The discussion is a necessary one in light of today's multi-quilted worship formats in Christianity, seemingly to fit any and every inclination.  And as it is that I am still thinking this through, it would probably benefit me to go back and reread the book even though my understanding of the RPW has matured since then.
Recovering the Reformed Confession
     That being said, one crucial point that's helped in my understanding is that rather than being a principle solely to "restrict" what a church can and can't do legitimately in its worship, the RPW in allowing only those"elements" with Scriptural warrant into the Church's worship is a protection for the individual believer's conscience against the Church imposing or requiring anything that extends beyond what God himself requires of his people.  Some of the confusion that comes into these discussions is a result of the "elements of worship"  often being misdefined.  And as well, the three other aspects of the RPW (circumstance, form and rubric) are often ignored or conflated into that of "elements."
     To help shed some light in order to foster a more profitable debate on this topic, I'm posting (with permission) this short book review by T. David Gordon:

Principles of Conduct

"Covenantal Worship: Reconsidering the Puritan Regulative Principle", by Ralph J. Gore, Jr.

In light of the comparative dearth of historically and theologically informed studies of Reformed worship, one is inclined to welcome any contribution to the field that is characterized by both. R. J. Gore, Jr.'s most recent book is just that, although the book turns out to be more concerned with the subtitle than the title. He expends only 26 pages on covenantal worship per se; the majority of the work is devoted to the unproven thesis that the Puritans embraced a different principle of worship than Calvin did.
The strongest aspect of the book is the clarity with which Gore describes the differences between the worship practices of the English Puritans and those of Calvin, and the historical occasions of these differences due to Puritan fears of the (perceived or real) tyranny of the Anglican Church. The most refreshing aspect of the book is the candor with which Gore repudiates the teaching of the Westminster Assembly on worship: "All that has preceded has been helpful in determining that the regulative principle of worship, as formulated by the Puritans and as adopted by the divines at the Westminster Assembly, is unworkable. More importantly, it is simply not the teaching of Scripture" (137). While I disagree entirely with both aspects of this sentiment, its boldness contrasts refreshingly with the prevarication usually found among less-candid Presbyterians who have no more regard for the regulative principle of worship than Gore does but who profess to agree with it. Bravo to Gore!
Traditionally, students of Reformed worship have recognized that four categories require careful attention in understanding the regulative principle: element, circumstance, form, and rubric. An element (sometimes called a "part" and sometimes "mode") of worship is a distinct and ordinary act of worship. Prayer, singing praise, the ministry of the Word, the ministry of the Sacraments, are all "elements" of worship. A "circumstance" is some consideration regarding a matter that is not religious in itself, what the Westminster Confession (1:6) calls, "common to human actions and societies." Such considerations include the time and place of the meeting, amplification of the human voice, how best to provide seating and lighting, and so forth. A "form" is the lexical (or, possibly, musical) content of a given element. Thus, if one determines that prayer is an element of worship, the decision to employ the "Lord's Prayer" is a decision regarding "form;" not an element or circumstance. Finally, a "rubric" is a specific manner of conducting an element, such as the rubric of kneeling, standing, or sitting for prayer, or the rubric of breaking the bread (fraction) when administering the Lord's Supper. Each of these four realities is governed differently.
Reformed Christianity (Calvin and the Puritans) has distinguished itself from the Lutheran and Anglican traditions by permitting only those elements that are warranted by Scripture; whereas the Lutheran view permits any element not prohibited by Scripture. Thus, if an element is proposed as a particular act of religious worship, and if Scripture says nothing about it, the Lutheran tradition considers it permissible, and the Reformed forbids it. Consequently, Scripture "regulates" the elements of worship by positive warrant; where a biblical justification is absent, such an element is impermissible. Circumstances, by comparison, are not regulated by the Word alone; to the contrary, the Westminster Confession states that circumstances are "governed by the light of nature and Christian prudence." Thus, when determining whether to amplify the minister's voice, or whether to set the chairs or pews in a certain arrangement, one has no recourse to Scripture, but only to those considerations common to other "human actions and societies."
"Forms" of worship, according to the Reformed tradition, are regulated by the teaching of Scripture (in the sense that whatever is said must accord with biblical truth), but are not restricted to the actual words of Scripture. Thus, while Reformed churches may employ the "Lord's Prayer," ministers may also pray specifically for Mr. Smith's cancer surgery, which is not mentioned expressly in Scripture. Similarly, a sermon must accord with the teaching of the Word of God, but ministers are permitted to do more than merely read Scripture's own words; they compose sermons using their own wisdom and judgment.
"Rubrics" are governed by a combination of the considerations regarding forms and circumstances, because there are specific ways of performing certain acts that could either enhance or impinge upon the biblical realities contained therein. So, all the discussions regarding kneeling or standing in prayer appeal to more than that which is "common to human actions and societies" because such considerations need to grapple with how to perform an element in the most appropriate, most edifying, and most respectful manner.
Although Gore eventually uses all four terms in the book, he employs only two in his discussion of the Puritan understanding of worship: element and circumstance. This removal of "form" and "rubric," combined with his later redefinition of "circumstance" (to refer to "adiaphora") is the fundamental flaw in this book. If there are only two considerations in making decisions about worship (element and circumstance), then everything that is not a circumstance must, by definition, be an element. Thus, for Gore, differences between Calvin and the Puritans on forms and rubrics turn into a full-blown disagreement on the elements of worship.
Gore's failure to do justice to all four aspects of corporate worship leads to his conclusion that the regulative principle of worship is "unworkable." Although he never clarifies this point, what he apparently means is that the doctrine is either "difficult, or "not free from some difficulties," because, as he demonstrates, Reformed Christians have never worshiped uniformly. But the trouble is that this judgment is analogous to saying that the doctrine of the authority of Scripture is "unworkable," because some who profess the doctrine (e.g., Lutherans and Calvinists) arrive at different conclusions. Are the doctrines of the Trinity, or the two natures of Christ, "unworkable" because they are difficult or mysterious? Agreeing that worship is regulated by the teaching of Scripture does not guarantee entire unanimity on the relevant scriptural passages or their meaning.
What Gore's verdict shows, however, is a complete misunderstanding of the regulative principle. That is, what is "unworkable" for him is not the regulative principle itself, as articulated by Calvin or the Westminster Assembly. Instead, what is unworkable is a notion about Reformed worship that is divorced from the doctrine of church power; that confuses "worship as all of life" with "worship" as the first-day gatherings of God's visible covenant people; that redefines "circumstance"; and that fails to appreciate the place of "forms" and "rubrics" alongside the elements of worship.
Ironically, I agree with Gore in preferring Calvin's worship to that of the Puritans. On almost every point where Calvin and the Puritans diverged on some formal issue, or some matter of rubric, I agree with Calvin. For nine years, I pastored a church where we used an order of service that differed only in small details from Calvin's Strasbourg liturgy. I believe in weekly communion and in corporate prayers of confession, especially but not exclusively those found in the old Book of Common Prayer, followed by scriptural declarations of pardon. I believe it is wise to confess the faith weekly using either the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed; and I think the nonsacramental worship typical of the Puritans has tended to remove mystery from worship, and to make the Reformed tradition more ascetic than aesthetic. Yet none of these differences requires me to repudiate the fundamental principle of both Calvin and the Puritans: that when the Christian assembly gathers in the presence of God, it should approach him only by means of his own appointment.
T. David Gordon is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and associate professor of religion at Grove City College (Grove City, Pennsylvania). 
This article originally appeared in the 2003 Sept./Oct., Vol. 12; 5 edition of Modern Reformation and is reprinted with permission. For more information about Modern Reformation, visit Modern Reformation or call (800) 890-7556. All rights reserved.


  1. Jack,
    Probably still the best book to read on the watershed between Lutheranism/Anglicanism and Calvin/puritanism is Horton Davies's Worship of the English Puritans rpt. in paper by SDG Publ.
    I'd also question whether Gordon can sustain his distinction between circumstances and forms/rubrics as per the Westminster Confession. We know the WCF mentions elements/parts and circumstances in worship. The other two probably have something to do with John Frame's applications or are in opposition to them.
    RRC by Clark is a good read, but he fails to explicitly define the RPW as the good and necessary consequences of the Second Commandment and thereby essentially approves Frame's definition of the RPW or lack thereof. (Prof. F. is a most influential latitudinarian in P&R circles and irresponsible/uninformed critic of the RPW to boot.) Likewise Clark agrees with Gore's characterization of the synagogue contra the West. Assembly, that it was an approved example of worship, though the command for the synagogue is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture.Hence the door is open for all sorts of uncommanded worship, because Christ attended/approved the uncommanded synagogue worship.

  2. IOW the whole RPW discussion is - or at least has been - a real hot potato and point of disagreement in P&R circles!

    But one more example (no, not one more. . . ) while I really liked Gordon's Why Johnny Can't Preach, the real reason Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns (DG's other book) is that the West. Confession forbids uninspired hymnody, though contemporary Amer. P&R churches seem to be largely unaware of that.

    Bob S.

  3. Bob S.,

    Thanks for your comments. Actually, I think Gordon makes a good case. This little book review is a snapshot of a much larger article he wrote for the Westminster Theological Journal (2003). Certainly some Reformed thinkers will disagree (surprise). I think Gordon has a good and necessary balance in this matter.

    Re: Dr. Clark, who has been most helpful to me via his writings, as I wrote concerning RRC - I still have some questions. And I think that T. David has the answers.

    As far as singing... I grew up a Lutheran, and the one thing that stuck was the singing of so many great old hymns. It wasn't until college that my faith caught up.

    As an Anglican (formerly) the singing in Morning Prayer of the TE DEUM LAUDAMUS will win over the strictest of RPW followers!

    Does the WCF explicitly forbid hymns not directly from words of Scripture? I confess I'm ignorant on this point.


  4. Bob,

    To add regarding my comment:

    Re: Dr. Clark, who has been most helpful to me via his writings, as I wrote concerning RRC - I still have some questions. And I think that T. David has the answers.

    As I wrote in my post, I need to go back and reread Clark's RRC. I don't doubt that I missed some nuances that I may need to take into consideration. I'm a still very much a learner.


  5. Jack,
    How much have you read on the RPW besides Gordon and Clark?

    The Westminster Confession 21:5 refers to singing psalms and besides the numerous other references to singing the psalms in the Standards as a whole, the Minutes of the Assembly confirm that the divines edited Rouses's psalter for use in worship, which after revision by the Scot Church became the Scottish Psalter of 1650.
    Today most presbyterians don't know or agree with that position. Besides the small RPC associated with John Murray, the RPCNA by default still holds the original position. I don't know that I would be too surprised if Clark eventually ends up affiliated with them.

  6. Bob,
    I haven't read that much on the topic, though I have given it some thought as I have read through the WCF and Scripture. I think Gordon does make an effective case from Scripture to reject The Psalms as the only form of singing in Lord's day worship.

    Scroll down to link to Why Not Exclusive Psalmody? on this page to read his take:

    I don't think the reading of WCF 21.5 makes the case that "psalms" means "The" Psalms as opposed to "sacred songs." Although Clark makes the case that that was the understanding. It certainly would have been easy enough for the Divines to have worded it that way. The Scripture references certainly don't seem support that, nor do they indicate that the "singing" is in reference to the Lord's day worship.

    The fact that many or most Reformed don't agree with that 'take' shouldn't be controversial, as the non-exclusivity view has valid Biblical support and I don't think violates the wording of 21.5.

    But like I said, I'm still studying the issue.
    Best regards,

  7. First things first, Jack. What was the position/original intent of the West. Assembly in their Standards?
    They get the benefit of the doubt and the first nod.
    After that we decide if we agree, they were wrong etc.

    I've probably read DG on psalmody, but refresh my memory, please. Is it because we have freedom in prayer/preaching, that we have it in song?

    Clark's bibliography was pretty good, but for the glaring absence of Bushell's Songs of Zion on the RPCNA's Crown & Cov.'80, '90. SoZ is out of print, but if anybody Clark should have access to a copy.
    Bushell talks about the RPW as well as psalmody and pretty much demolished the standard objections - which I am assuming at the moment is what DG is up to. There's been a lot of water under the bridge on the topic.

    Anyway. Hope you keep studying on it.
    Bob S.

  8. Bob,

    I don't think I running ahead of giving the W. Assembly the first nod.

    Although Clark makes the case that that was the understanding.

    That being said, I'm just putting forth some of my thoughts (somewhat informed by TDG) that obviously question that.

    You wrote: I've probably read DG on psalmody, but refresh my memory, please. Is it because we have freedom in prayer/preaching, that we have it in song?

    That would be too simplistic of a breakdown on Gordon's view. That's why I gave you the link rather than me trying to distill his points and potentially miscommunicate his reasoning.


  9. OK, you win, Jack.
    I bit and looked at Gordon.(The least you could have done is give me his chapter headings.)

    If I've seen it before, he's since added a review of Bushell - whom he disagrees with, but recommends.

    One of the questions then becomes, are we all up to speed having read both TDG and MB?

    Neither are TDG's arguments that hard to counter from the confession or Bushell.

  10. Seriatim contra his Summary:

    1. The forest for the trees is that nowhere in scriptures, are we not only called to praise and thank God, but actually do just that – than in the psalms. (The OT song writers didn’t realize their songs were inspired according to TDG? 2 Sam 23:1,2?)

    2. The redemptive pattern of history revealed in Scripture does not contain any uninspired songs in response to the various acts of redemption. TDG’s appeal to RH is inconsistent.

    3. The implicit confessional Westminster paradigm in 21:5 is that the reading of Scripture and the singing of psalms are restricted to the inspired text. Sermons and prayers are not, but develop from the Scripture and are applied to the needs of the day and the listeners. There is both form and liberty/freedom/application.

    4. To argue from the redeemed saints in the eschatological state is an over realized eschatology. Enough said.

    IOW exclusive psalmody is not a violation of “both the pattern of scripture and the express teaching of scripture” in that again, “the pattern of the canonical Psalms and the express teaching of the canonical Psalms” are fulfilled in the Psalms themselves (my emph.), which has been the historic and confessional position of the reformed church.

    W. apologies for length.

  11. Sorry I came late on this post. Have to buy the book. It sounds interesting. I believe a consistent, plain reading of the WCF leads one to conclude a pretty impossible standard for public worship. EP was the historical position of the Puritans and thus WCF. Hymns came later, especially during American revivalism accompanied with Arminian inroads. I recall the early Geneva psalters and believe on the continent the creed and lord's prayer might be sung, plus some canticles, but, of course, the bulk remained the psalms? No real hymns.

    One answer might be to compare psalters over time and place. I'd be surprised if there were many hymns even on the continent. Some of the struggles presbyterians had with Anglicans mirrored those between Reformed and Lutheran on the continent. IN both cases you have some self-definition shaped by reaction to a more established group. This is especially true between 1555 and 1648.

    It sounds like Gore makes some good points, but I would not invest too much on Clark. Clark represents a liberalizing and ecumenical influence in Westminster West. Not exactly paleo. You're not going to get genuine Puritan/Reformation period sensibilities from him, and I would not place too much on what he has to say from a historical perspective. Bottom line: Lutherans probably have more in common with Anglicans than Reformed mainly due to RPW.

  12. Hello Bob,

    Sorry for the delay in getting back. I was out of town the last 4 days.

    I don't necessarily disagree with your conclusion:

    IOW exclusive psalmody is not a violation of “both the pattern of scripture and the express teaching of scripture” in that again, “the pattern of the canonical Psalms and the express teaching of the canonical Psalms” are fulfilled in the Psalms themselves (my emph.), which has been the historic and confessional position of the reformed church.

    Yet I wouldn't say that what TDG's view is a a violation either.

    It seems that at least some of the reason for exclusive psalmody is that it is "safer" (which it is)... than hymns or paraphrase of psalms. I wonder how that factored into the WCF deliberations on this. The climate in England at the time was highly polarized in a number of areas from vestments to the BCP with its collects and various orders. The Puritans were much stricter in their insistence of certain ecclesiastical practices as ordained in Scripture than many of the reformers on the Continent.

    But again, I think Gordon makes a good argument that the Scripture itself doesn't prescribe exclusive psalmody as an element of worship. Rather it would be a "form" of the element - singing praise.

    Frankly, what is a greater concern on my part is the lack of preaching Christ from the Scriptures, i.e. law-gospel. But that's a whole other topic, and not brought up as a diversion.


  13. Hi Charles,

    You wrote: I believe a consistent, plain reading of the WCF leads one to conclude a pretty impossible standard for public worship.

    If you would, tell how you think that is so. And does a Scriptural standard that is "impossible" to meet make it not Scriptural? We believe Scripture is inerrant, yet it is impossible to perfectly apply. We believe it is Scriptural that we should be "as perfect as your Father in heaven" and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves... both impossible.

    I think that whatever the Scriptural standards, they are meant to point us in a godly direction and point us to Christ, not to rigidly give us rules or guidelines of behavior to be met, individually or corporately.

    and: Clark represents a liberalizing and ecumenical influence in Westminster West. Not exactly paleo. You're not going to get genuine Puritan/Reformation period sensibilities from him, and I would not place too much on what he has to say from a historical perspective

    I don't know how you come to that conclusion. I think Clark would strongly disagree with your characterization of his position. I'm wonder what you have read by him to lead you to those conclusions?

    and: Bottom line: Lutherans probably have more in common with Anglicans than Reformed mainly due to RPW.

    Charles, I think your view of the RPW is overly coloring your interpretation of what is reformed and what is reformational Anglicanism. Cranmer considered the reforms in England to be of the same cloth as that on the Continent. He appointed both Peter Martyr and Bucer to teaching positions to train clergy. Bucer was mentor to Calvin. Bullinger was a spiritual father to Martyr.

    Later, things polarized due to many reasons (ecclesiastical as well as political), but it needs to be understood that the English Puritan party in the late 16th century had a rigidity in certain worship and polity areas that was not representative of Calvin or Bullinger. This is historically documented.


  14. Hi Jack,

    I use to belong to a church that wasn't only Reformed in soteriology but also worship. They had a controversy over whether a crucifix should be in the church. In the end they banished it. RPW leads to a whole number of insane disputes, and when measured against actual Reformed practice makes no sense whatsoever:

    The RPW teaches that worship without biblical warrant is an abomination, and it will not be accepted by God. That in itself would mean the worship of the Anglican church, if not the entire catholic one, probably has never been accepted given the long history of images and sacramentals, even if "rightly used' or done in 'faith', for edification, etc.

    Anyway, here's John Calvin in his Institutes on the subject of RPW. It is quite a severe judgement:

    "I say further: although in some contrived worship impiety does not openly appear, it is still severely condemned by the Spirit, since it is a departure from God’s precept...Yet we see how the Spirit loathes this insolence solely because the inventions of men in the worship of God are impure corruptions"

    "Many marvel why the Lord so sharply threatens to astound the people who worshiped him with the commands of men and declares that he is vainly worshiped by the precepts of men. But if they were to weigh what it is to depend upon God’s bidding alone in matters of religion (that is, on account of heavenly wisdom), they would at the same time see that the Lord has strong reasons to abominate such perverse rites, which are performed for him according to the willfulness of human nature. For even though those who obey such laws in the worship of God have some semblance of humility in this obedience of theirs, they are nevertheless not at all humble in God’s sight, since they prescribe for him these same laws which they observe. Now, this is the reason Paul so urgently warns us not to be deceived by the traditions of men [Col. 2:4 ff.], or by what he calls ethelothreskeia, that is, “will worship,” devised by men apart from God’s teaching [Col. 2:23, 22]. It is certainly true that our own and all men’s wisdom must become foolish, that we may allow him alone to be wise. Those who expect his approval for their paltry observances contrived by men’s will, and offer to him, as if involuntarily, a sham obedience which is paid actually to men, do not hold to that path"

    "In short, every chance invention, by which men seek to worship God, is nothing but a pollution of true holiness."


  15. cont'd
    The strictness of RPW is based upon the Second Commandment. This means any worship done without the express command of God is a violation of the 2nd and is therefore inherently idolatrous. Does God accept idols? In the vice of RPW: NO. Here's the WLC on the same:
    "Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

    Answer: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature: Whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; 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 pretense: Whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God has appointed."

    The fact today Presbyterians don't put much value on RPW just demonstrates how inconsistent they are to their own tradition. That said, they should amend their standards rather than be double-minded. RPW is such a dangerous thing, all the old controversies would be renewed in the BCP ever made headway into the conservative presbyterian churches. For now they use select portions, and it's basically a Geneva, not English worship. Anyway, thank God of inconsistencies. Where would we be today if we weren't blessed with them?

    sincerely, Charles

  16. Hi Charles,

    Let me offer a few comments on RPW. But before I do, I want to reiterate that it is in soteriology that both 16th century England and the Reformed churches of the Continent were on the same page. This is historically accurate. Go read the letters exchanged by Jewell with Peter Martyr and Bullinger. This is the heart of the argument I am making. Bishop Jewell, in one of his letters, clearly distances the England from Lutheranism due to the issue of the Eucharist and he identifies their doctrines completely with that of the reformed churches.

    Now the RPW is another issue. But even the reformers such as Bishops Jewell and Grindal (and other clergy) advocated for the removal of crucifixes from the English churches. And to a large degree this was accomplished, though there were glaring exceptions. B. Grindal later became archbishop of York. Was he a radical Puritan? Grindal and Jewell debated AB Parker and Cox in public for the removal of a silver crucifix from Queen E's chapel. This was certainly a contested issue. But at the time both sides were well within the veil of the Church of England. And though that little cross probably stayed in QE's chapel, most were removed from the churches in England.

    I think the RPW has become a lightening rod for those who claim Reformed Christianity as just simply "too strict" ("I'll have to give up something in worship I like").

    You wrote: This means any worship done without the express command of God is a violation of the 2nd and is therefore inherently idolatrous.

    Your conclusion is too imprecise, IMO. Not any worship, but any element of worship. And the 2nd command by no means is the only Scripture that informs RPW. The form (which prayers are prayed) that the particular element (prayer, as warranted in Scripture) takes is informed by scripture and godly wisdom. But we are not just free to add just any element of worship we want, if in fact we are seeking to worship in spirit and in truth and with a view to godly obedience. Is the Church free to institute an element where someone in a Barney Dinosaur suit sings a Barney song of love right before Communion? Why not? How about instituting kneeling before a statue of Mary? What is the rule to guide? We must look to Scripture.

    There is latitude a plenty in the form, circumstances, and rubrics. And I would think that most, if not all, of the 1552 and 1662 BCP liturgy is within the RPW. But by 1928 things do get a bit muddy.

    Again, from my understanding, and that of those more informed on this than me, the RPW is not to tell you what you can't do in Church. It is to say that the Church cannot require of any believer what Scripture does not warrant for the Lord's Day worship.

    There are always those who take some aspect of doctrine and require it in a narrow, legalistic manner. That is true of "inerrancy" of "the necessity of good works", or any number of articles of confession.

    Lastly, I think we see the certain aspects of the English Reformation somewhat differently. Thus different conclusions. I hope to post some more on that soon.

    And though I haven't commented on your last RTBP post... I'm in awe of your scholarship. I always find myself interested in and educated by what you write. Maybe Virtue will post it! I got a couple emails from him once on one of my posts. He was going to use it, then not...



  17. Jack
    The problem with Gordon is that he wants to make singing hymns and singing psalms just two different ways, forms, rubrics or whatever to fulfill the commanded element of singing God's praise.
    The problem is the Standards talk about singing psalms copiously - not just in WCF 21:5 - rather than just singing the generic undefined praises of God.

    DG can argue all he wants about sitting or standing to read Scripture or reading Gen. 1 instead of 2 Kings 2. Yet while they are valid distinctions in their own right, they are subordinate to the question in this instance, much more the element/circumstance distinction.

    Singing hymns is not the same as standing or sitting while singing or even the same as singing Ps . 1 instead of Ps. 2.
    At the very least historically for the reformed, it has been an entirely different category than singing psalms.

    While it's great DG can commend Bushell, he ought to be able to understand the classic position and address it directly, instead of going on to distract things by bringing up the form/rubric distinction, which also weights the argument in his favor.

    The consv. Scots Presbyterians and the RPC and the RPCNA in America do not find WCF 21:5 and the classic view of worship impossible to practice.

    I'd also recommend Davies's Worship of the English Puritans again. It is the classic contemporary discussion of the watershed issue between Calvin/Puritanism and Luther/Anglicanism: the sufficiency of Scripture, not only for doctrine, but also for worship and ch. govt. contra the modern day pretenders.

    The RPW correctly stated is that whatsoever is not commanded - whether explicitly, by good and necessary consequence or approved example in Scripture - is forbidden in the worship of God. G&NC and approved examples often get left out of the equation and then people criticize the Reader's Digest version of the RPW and throw it out altogether.

    Bob S.

  18. Hello Bob,

    You wrote - The problem with Gordon is that he wants to make singing hymns and singing psalms just two different ways, forms, rubrics or whatever to fulfill the commanded element of singing God's praise.
    The problem is the Standards talk about singing psalms copiously - not just in WCF 21:5 - rather than just singing the generic undefined praises of God.

    When the congregation prays the Lord's prayer, can they do it in song or is that to be forbidden and thus only spoken?

    Can a prayer of praise or thanksgiving offered by the minister or a believer by offered in song or is that to be forbidden and thus only spoken?

    When using exclusive psalmody, can they be spoken only, sung only, or either?

    What determines the answers?

    he ought to be able to understand the classic position and address it directly, instead of going on to distract things by bringing up the form/rubric distinction, which also weights the argument in his favor.

    DG doesn't use rubric to make his case... and form is not a novel construction of DG's making. Rather, as he demonstrates, form is referred to in the LC and SC, as well as other sources noted. It seems to me that to make the case for exclusive psalmody only on the basis of "element/circumstance" is to apply a "special" standard not applicable to prayer.

    Also, I rather think it odd that the two scripture proofs concerning psalms cited by the divines for 21.5 iare Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19, which both refer to "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs." How does exclusive psalmody flow from those proof texts? To argue that the tradition of Presbyterian churches, by and large, used only psalm singing immediately following the Assembly doesn't prove Scriptural warrant. Likewise citing other voices of that age in support of the exclusive view isn't dispositive. That can only support the case that is effectively made from Scripture.

    I think Gordon makes such an effective case from Scripture for his position.

    And I want to thank you for weighing in with your comments, as this helps me to more thoroughly think things through.


  19. Hello Jack,

    Actually I think it's the other way around. Reformed worship is less strict than Anglican. A common complaint of Puritans was against fixed prayer. Puritans largely wanted extemporaneous prayer and were definitely against the reading of state-published homilies. My problem with RPW is it is not strict enough, and the BCP tradition, if followed correctly, is a much tougher system that is controlled in detail by royal canon and bishopric oversight. Puritans wanted freedom from all this.

    I understand the general agreement on soteriology, and believe Presbyterians and Anglicans did not go to war for that reason, but, instead, they signed Solemn League on questions of 'papist' worship.

    Regarding Lutherans...Lutherans only were in the picture for a relatively short time, 1535-47. By the mid-1550's the gnesio's begin to disparage and purge Lutheranism of Philipist opinions, accounting partly for Lutheranism's ebb in influence. Furthermore, by 1555 Lutherans made peace with RC's, and the treaty effectively neutralized Lutherans from the larger Reformation. That void was filled by Calvinism.

    However, in the period, 1535-1547, the basis of the English Settlement was laid, and much of it was drawn from texts based on Melanchthon's writings. To a casual observer this might indeed be 'calvinism'. Melancthon's system, even before the return of the Marian exiles, was in fact a Reformed theology but not based on RPW. This should explain much. In fact, in Germany Melanchthon was accused and persecuted of being a calvinist, and he was especially indicted regarding his more receptionist views on sacrament.

    So, even from a Philipist standpoint, the 39 articles would appear non-Lutheran and perhaps even very Calvinist. But not so calvinist as to include RPW. You can thank Melanchthon (and Bucer) for that, but unfortunately CAvlin and Bullinger get all the credit.

    While Calvinism had wide popularity, especially amongst the Elizabethan clergy, it missed the boat in terms of being etched into standards. The attempts to break from Philipism and make the standards fully calvinistic were blocked by the Crown on more than one occasion. What Elizabethan or even Tractarian divines might claim about the Anglican system of theology makes little difference. What counts are the royal standards. That said, William Perkins called the divines of the late 1500's "lutheran", evidently because lutherans were single-predestinarians while orthodox calvinists were double.

    Of course, this was all cleared up at Dort, and infralap and superlap were somehow reconciled. Thus, England could be said to be 'calvinist' but in the weaker sense, what Perkins criticized as "lutheran", and that Lutheranism translated to WCF.

    This is all probably hairsplitting and uninteresting, especially since most calvinists in soteriology today are "lutherans", and most "lutherans" in sacrament today are calvinists. Nonetheless, I look forward to reading Gore's book, and I ordered it two days ago, so expect it in the mail fairly soon.


  20. Hi Charles,

    you wrote: Actually I think it's the other way around. Reformed worship is less strict than Anglican.

    Actually that is the point from which I'm coming. Those uninformed tend to see it the other way around.

    A common complaint of Puritans was against fixed prayer. Puritans largely wanted extemporaneous prayer and were definitely against the reading of state-published homilies... Puritans wanted freedom from all this.

    Actually they wanted freedom the legal imposition of these various forms of prayer. The Puritans weren't against fixed prayer, just the legal requirement that only certain ones had to be used... or else! The reason they opposed the reading of the homilies is connected to the lack of the clergy (many were closet Romanists) truly embracing the gospel. They wanted that it be required that all clergy would be preaching clergy, trained in the doctrines of the Articles and able to teach them from the pulpit. Is that really a radical goal?

    So, even from a Philipist standpoint, the 39 articles would appear non-Lutheran and perhaps even very Calvinist. But not so calvinist as to include RPW. You can thank Melanchthon (and Bucer) for that, but unfortunately Calvin and Bullinger get all the credit.

    A fair description of the 39 Articles. But, I think it is fair that Calvin and Bullinger (especially) get a lot of credit. They had been in regular communication via letters with Henry and Edward and, of course, many clergy. Bullinger himself had been writing to Henry since the 1530's and continued the practice with Elizabeth. Virtually all those that fled Mary in 1552 went to the regions were the reformed churches were. They had already identified themselves with the Reformation ala Calvin and Bullinger more than of Luther.

    Concerning the doctrines of salvation the Episcopal party and the Puritans were in agreement. Whitgift, a staunch defender of the Episcopacy and the Settlement was very much a Calvinist; witness his Lambeth Articles. The split was over the Puritan RPW (their view differing in implementaion from Calvin's) and polity, fueled by QE's oppressive refusal to consider any more reforms, even if according to Scripture and agreed upon by the Church.

    And I agree that the Calvinism of the CoE was, overall, more moderate than the Continent or Scotland; and became weaker still as time went on.

    An interesting read at Monergism on this period of history:


  21. Dear Jack,

    One reason the English fled to Swiss cities rather than German duchies was the Lutherans were under Charles V's Interim. The Habsburg armies convinced Reformers to go elsewhere, so they went to Switzerland which amazingly remained neutral due to its trade in mercenaries.

    The Geneva and Scottish orders were not an alternative system, contraposed to the BCP, for fixed prayer. They were only were forms for prayer, and no dogged recitation of them was required. Unlike England's uniformity, the way Geneva and Scottish orders worked was ultimately left to the individual presbyter. They were free to omit, add, or modify as they pleased. Thus, while there might have been similarities in Reformed liturgy/worship, there wasn't conformity like in the English case. It varied parish to parish, presbyter to presbyter, hence, "form" not "fixed".

    With respect to homilies, I'm sure Puritans agreed such was good for Romanists, but for themselves they rather disliked homilies when greater expositions on salvation or matters of worship might be had. I picked this up when reading the Hampton and the Savoy conferences. It was a common complaint. Also, Puritans had a strong belief in the role of the sermon, the reformed pastor's right to teach, and Homilies seemed to undermine that liberty.

    I am not aware of friendly exchanges in the 1540's between Henry VIII and Calvin (or Bullinger). I thought that was later during Edward's time. That's interesting. I only know of official conferences held with Lutherans on the continent and later in England by which the Ten articles and two catechisms were borne. Even if there were, I would say these dialogues were more circumstantial given they did not translate into any standard for that period. It would have to wait for Edward.

    At least we agree many Edwardian, and especially Elizabethan, divines concurred with continental Reformed on soteriology. We also seem to agree differences were not really over questions of grace but more substantially over worship, namely, RPW. We also seem to agree there's a difference between English and Continental RPW, though I probably would underestimate it, as well as be less inclined to blame entrenched or tyrannical attitudes of royal authority.

    I will have to read Gore's book to fully appreciate the distinction you allege between element and form in RPW. That's something I never heard before while running amongst conservative Presbyterian circles.
    Nonetheless, I am certainly looking forward to Gore's book as I hope it gives some insight into liturgical practices of these Reformed parties. I've always felt the German and Hungarian Reformed churches were closer to the center of Protestantism than the Scottish Presbyterians, Genevan Calvinists, and English Puritans. Definitely Calvin was more cool-headed than many of his more zealous followers. This reminds me of a book called, Calvin in Context. Gore will probably be a great read, and thanks for sharing it!

    sincerely, Charles

  22. Hi Jack, I think your last link was truncated? Or, is it my computer?!?!?

    sincerely, Charles

  23. Again as always, Jack, first things first. What is the Lord’s prayer? It is a form or pattern of prayer. It is not a song.
    This was one of the shortcomings of Clark’s book in his advocacy of inspired song. He neglects to tell us what one of the objections to his position is, much less refute it. That is, whatever wasn’t included in the divine hymn book, the OT Sepher Tehillim or Book of Praises, was not to be sung in public worship.
    Further, in light of the doctrine of the priesthood of believers, the congregation is the choir. There are no solo performances or special Levitical choirs in the NT like there were in the OT.

    When it comes to “forms” DG is playing fast and loose with definitions. It’s called equivocation. There is no question that the Lord’s prayer is an inspired form or pattern of prayer, but one only has to read the preface to the West. Assembly’s Dir. Publ. Worship to understand their objections to rote prayer and prayer books, without depreciating the Lord's prayer.

    Songs, on the other hand, necessarily can not be impromptu ad hoc and improvised affairs. Everybody has to be singing off the same page - unless every song contains some jazz scat singing choruses from Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in which they make it up as they go along. But God is not the author of confusion. Consequently when DG talks about forms in prayers and forms in songs, he is talking about two different things.

    In song, for his purposes, he means genre or type, inspired or uninspired, psalm or hymn - not that any song by definition must follow a “form” as in standard written lyrics, which is a given. IOW the West. Assmbly opposed prayerbooks, but not psalmbooks. (The other alternative is to have the precentor read out the line and then have the congregation sing it, which due to the illiteracy of the day, is specified in the rubric on psalm singing in the DPW.)

    The proof texts for psalm singing in WCF 21:5, Col.3:16 and Eph. 5:19, are understood to be referring to the Greek Septuagint version of the psalter (in that the Septuagint version is quoted a lot in the NT), in which individual psalms are labeled as exactly that: psalms, hymns or spiritual songs. Further, to be full of the Spirit and the word of Christ indicates inspired song.

    IOW to argue that there is no coherent and genuine biblical explanation and reason for the WA and P&R tradition in favor of psalmody is mistaken. It is one thing to know what that position is. Another to disagree with it, much more refute it. DG does neither.

    I agree that preaching, God speaking to his people, is the pre eminent means of grace and the focal point of worship, but singing is the only part of Divine worship, in which all the congregation can actively join in.

    Bob S.

  24. Dr. Gordon was gracious enough to send me this email in response to my request for some clarification on his position on RPW. I am posting, it, in three parts, with his permission. Hope this helps:

    Dear Mr. Miller,

    Thank you for the efforts to be sure my view is understood. It is difficult to read a several-sentence summary of something as lengthy as my objection to exclusive psalmody and render an opinion on whether it represents or misrepresents me. I saw nothing I would regard as a glaring misrepresentation.

    Some years ago, David Coffin wisely suggested that we should not call our (PCA or OPC) standards the Westminster standards, since they are not. That is, the Adopting Act of 1787/88 altered the standards (primarily on the civil magistrate), and other changes were made subsequently. I think David is right; OUR standards are the standards that our particular communion (and its Old School antecedents) has embraced. This is important, because however one reads WCF 21, the fact that American Presbyterian churches were publishing hymnals, under the authority of the denominational publishing houses, proves incontestably that WE do not understand WCF 21 to teach exclusive psalmody. I have a hymnal here published in 1843, whose title is:

    "Psalms and Hymns Adapted to Social, Private, and Public worship in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Approved and Authorized by the General Assembly. To which are added the Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the Directory for Worship, and the Shorter Catechism. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication."

    Note then that a hymnal that has psalms, Watts's psalter paraphrases, and some outright hymns was published by the Presbyterian Church, and was printed along with other formularies (FOG, DfW, Shorter Catechism), under authorization of the GA which had commissioned the project in 1838. So, while I lean towards believing that the Westminster divines were exclusive psalmists, I am quite confident that the American church was/is self-consciously not so.

    I understand that some individuals probably disagree with David Coffin's view, but I believe they do so out of some kind of "original intent" un-ease, rather than on sound grounds. I think David's view must be correct; that our standards are the ones that our forbears embraced, including the changes they made to the Confession of Faith and Larger Catechisms (I don't know if they made any to the SC, but they changed the LC at 109 on the sins prohibited by the second commandment: Originally, one of those sins was "tolerating a false religion," a reference to the civil magistrate ("tolerate" was a term of political power then); but that was expunged in 1787/88, because the American presbyterians no longer believed the magistrate had any duty to religion at all), and any public deliverances or acts (such as publishing a hymnal to be used "in...public worship.") Similarly, the PCA study paper on the length of the creation days is now normative in our communion, regardless of those fair historical debates about whether Westminster intended to affirm solar days or not. It is now irrelevant to the PCA, anyway, since their fuller deliverance on the precise question "trumps" the more-ambiguous language of Westminster, and is determinative for our communion.


  25. T. David Gordon email continued:

    So, if I'm wrong in suggesting that we can observe the RPW without being exclusive psalmist, I at least have the entire American Presbyterian tradition since the early 19th century (except the RPCNA) on my side; so the view is not idiosyncratic.

    My wife and I worship at (and are among the founders of) Grace Anglican Church in Slippery Rock, by the way; so I do not break communion over the question. Further, though an Anglican church is constitutionally permitted to employ elements not prescribed in scripture, it is not required to exercise that option. I hold my nose at Grace Anglican no more frequently than I ordinarily did in NAPARC churches in the area, such as the one that had "special" instrumental music or elders singing solos during worship, none of which takes place at Grace Anglican. I'd almost rather be at a church whose constitution is wrong and practice right than at a church whose constitution is right but they do not follow it (though neither is ideal).
    My occasional publication interest in the matter has been motivated, as far as I can tell, merely to correct what I regard to be one of two things:

    One, the sometimes-sweeping statements about RPW being "unworkable." I've tried to indicate that RPW is nothing but sola scriptura applied to church-government and worship. It is no more nor less unworkable than sola scriptura. Of course the Bible is a very large book, and of course our effort to govern our lives by it leads us, on occasion, to differing conclusions. But the individuals who wish to sweep away RPW as unworkable do not say that sola scriptura is unworkable; and I simply regard this as a small inconsistency on their part. If you read what they mean when they say "unworkable" they inevitably cite the fact that not everyone agrees about what the Scripture teaches. But if this is what they mean then they should, with equal candor, publicly state that they reject sola scriptura, because among the thousands of us who believe sola scriptura there may be no two of us who agree on any and every point. But we regard it as an admirable goal, to follow the voice of God found only now in the Holy Scriptures, even if we do not agree on what that divine voice there says. The RPW is neither more nor less than the same thing: that God has the right to authorize how His people publicly approach Him in solemn assembly; and we, out of piety, ought to restrict the elements of our worship to those He has approved.


  26. Last part of Gordon email:

    Two, I have desired to express my (possibly erroneous) opinion that there is and can be no tertium quid here. The only options are the Lutheran/Anglican view and the RPW; Frame's RPW2, as he calls it, is actually the Lutheran/Anglican view; there is no material difference between it and their view, and I have attempted, in a friendly and respectful way (John was one of my very favorite seminary professors; I loved him then and love him now) to have John point out anything that his view would exclude that the Lutheran/Anglican view would not, and vice versa. To me, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and--above all--worships like a duck, it's a duck. Sometimes I take a mildly different approach to the same matter, because sometimes his view (and that of those like him) is put in the "worship as all of life" language, that the assembly is to be governed the same as "all of life." I have attempted to suggest that 1 Corinthians is inexplicable by this view. The same women who are told to be silent in the churches are expressly told that they may indeed speak at home: "As in all the churches of the saints (πάσαις ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων), the women should keep silent in the churches (ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν). For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home (ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν). For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (λαλεῖν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ). Similarly, if people are hungry, Paul thinks it is perfectly legitimate for them to sate that hunger "at home" but not "at church": "or in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? (μὴ γὰρ οἰκίας οὐκ ἔχετε εἰς τὸ ἐσθίειν καὶ πίνειν) Or do you despise the church of God (τῆς ἐκκλησίας τοῦ θεοῦ καταφρονεῖτε) and humiliate those who have nothing?...So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home (ἐν οἴκῳ ἐσθιέτω)—"

    I have great respect and affection for my Lutheran and Anglican brothers, each of whose liturgy is quite edifying (I attended a Lutheran college and became acquainted with the Service Book there); I therefore have no objection per se to those who embrace their--rather than our--position. But I am a little nervous about those who suggest that there is some third way between them, especially when it appears to me (and appearances can be deceiving) that some people just disagree with RPW but will not admit it. I loved Gore's candor in saying that the Westminster divines were just wrong; and I wish others would say the same. I think they were wrong on the civil magistrate, and on a few other matters, and I would rather disagree than fudge.

    I'm sorry if this is more of an answer than you solicited; one cannot always detect degree of interest from an email. And if it helps, you have my permission to add my reply to your blog if you think it might help others.

    Blessings on you and yours,

    T. David Gordon

  27. Interesting comments from DG, Jack. He is right concerning the American standards or what is called the animus imponentis, the understanding placed on the confession by the body confessing it. Clark says as much in RRC (pp.162, 172).

    As for Frame, tho DG doesn't say so, I wonder if he would admit that no one has done as much to unleash the flood of contemporary "Christian" worship that has washed over the P&R churches than JF himself, no matter how nice or sincere a person he might be, or actually is. Frame's influence in this regard has been absolutely horrible. His approach is largely subjective - he is quite a musician himself and loves hymns - and even Clark fails to nail him on his practical divorce of the RPW from the 2nd Commandment. The RPW then becomes for Frame, a nebulous theological concept floating around in space that JF in biblical enthusiasm can smear with the fallacy of many questions - never mind that it is again, the confessional reformed exposition of the 2nd Commandment, not something that the stricter "Puritans" imposed on the WStands.

    Gore is much better and more historically grounded than Frame, but Clark fails to nail him also when Gore concludes that the worship of the synagogue was uncommanded. For if it was that and Christ approved of it by attending on it, then the necessity of worship being commanded has been demolished by no less than the example of Christ himself (pp.102-6). Bye-bye RPW. It has been deconstructed and laid to rest. Gore couldn't be more pleased, though he is more restrained than Frame.

    Unfortunately, this paradigm is not the West. Assembly's as the Minutes indicate in their discussion of jus divinum or divine right in church govt. (see specifically Sess. 649, June 1, 1646.) It is rather an approved example of obedience to a command that has not been recorded in Scripture similar to the change from the OT sabbath to the NT Lord's Day vis a vis the 4th commandment.
    Contra 7th Day Adventist fundamentalism, the approved example of Christ and the apostles is a sufficent for Christians to observe the first day of the week rather than the last.

    Not to continue to belabor the point, but if Frame and Gore, as well maybe Gordon, are going to criticize the Assembly's position, it might behoove them to consult the Assembly Minutes available at Princeton's among other things on the question.

    Thank you
    Bob S.

  28. Hi Bob,

    I think you're better off questioning Gore's premises than positing an unrecorded divine command to account for Jesus' presence in the synagogue.

    The origins of synagogue gatherings are infamously obscure. One of the clearest and most reliable descriptions comes from Josephus who described the purpose of the synagogue as "to study our customs and laws." As TDG has explained in his review of Gore's work, the synagogue was closer to a Bible study or seminary class than it was to the worship of the covenant community.

    Regarding synagogue gatherings, Gordon says, "There was no pledge of divine presence at the synagogue; there were no sacraments celebrated there; no atonement was made there; and Israelites were not called to meet God there. It was not a place where sinners could meet with a holy God, reconciled by his own provision of atonement for their sin. The synagogue was a place of study and prayer, both of which could lawfully be done wherever Israelites wished. But this has no bearing on the question of those mandated Lord's Day assemblies of New Covenant believers, assemblies where (as in the Tabernacle and later Temple) God's presence is pledged, where sacraments are administered, where God's Word is authoritatively declared by officers of his appointment. All we know from Jesus' attendance at the synagogue is that it is lawful for a believer to attend a voluntary meeting of fellow-believers for prayer and study, which has not likely ever been disputed."

  29. Hi Stephen,

    Rather for the West. Assembly, the synagogue was an approved example of commanded worship. It's not an oddball view. (See Owen, for instance in his Works 13:467). FTM neither were the sacrifices in the OT before Moses explicitly commanded, yet they were approved.

    But again, if the synagogue is uncommanded and Christ approved the synagogue worship by his attendance, then the RPW is no longer binding upon the worship of the NT church.

    And the WCF is wrong on the 2nd commandment and . . . and . . . and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
    That's how revolutionary Frame/Gore's views are.

    But Frame,Gore, Schlissel, Jordan, Meyers, Horne et al are incompetent to the question, even if the West. divines were wrong on the RPW, the synagogue, psalmody etc. because they can't rebut the historic confessional position. And that's because they don't even (want to) know what it is.

    FTM check out Dabney's comments on the synagogue roots of Christian worship in his review of Girardeau on musical instruments over at Naptali Press:

    Again, do Frame, Gore or even Gordon know what Westminster position is, before they disagree with it?

    I think not (though I don't think Gordon is near as cavalier as F & G are in their mischaracterizations of the RPW and overall tone).

    Thank you.

    Bob S.

  30. Bob,

    The issue being contested is whether "synagogue" was worship or not, and therefore whether applicable to RPW. You're simply claiming that synagogue was/is worship and RPW related. Approval of an act in Scripture (Jacob's pillar of stones) doesn't necessarily mean it is commanded for all. Many things done individually and corporately by believers are approved, yet are not Lord's day worship related (bible study).

    RPW being dependent on the validity of synagogue worship is only critical if synagogue was definitively a commanded worship, or even whether it was "worship" in any real sense of the word. That's the question. I don't think it follows that Christ's attendance/approval at synagogue equates God's command regarding Lord's Day worship. It seems the Temple worship as unpacked in Hebrews and Revelations is more the template:

    From the OPC website -
    Some have argued that New Testament worship followed the pattern of the synagogue, but this misconstrues the purpose of the synagogue. Before the temple was destroyed in a.d. 70, the synagogue was not considered a place of worship, since worship required a sacrifice. Synagogues were Sabbath schools, designed to prepare people for temple worship.

    Jesus and the apostles regularly visited both the temple and the synagogue, but never spoke of the synagogue as "worship." In John 4, when the Samaritan woman at the well asks whether she should worship at Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem, Jesus does not reply, "You may worship at any synagogue you like!" He states that, prior to his coming, there was only one place for true worship—at Jerusalem ("Salvation is from the Jews")—but his coming changes all that (John 4:21–23).

    The apostles describe the church as the true temple (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 1 Pet. 2:5) and utilize the language of the Old Testament peace offerings in the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 10:18; Heb. 13:10). The preaching and the prayers of the synagogue seem to have influenced apostolic worship, but the book that speaks most about worship in the New Testament (Revelation) lays it out in the pattern of a temple worship service...

    more at:

    best regards,

  31. The last sentence in the first paragraph of my comments above should read:

    "Many things done individually and corporately by believers are approved, yet are not Lord's day worship commanded (bible study)."

  32. Hi Jack,

    1. We see Christ and the apostles frequenting the synagogue, particularly on the sabbath – and construe that to just entail a bible study? That has not historically been the view of the P&R churches – though it might be now. But at least Gore thinks the synagogue is an example of uncommanded worship that undercuts the “Puritan” version of the RPW which is why he brings it up in his Cov.Worship and why I mention it.

    2. The money quote from Dabney reviewing Girardeau is that:

    God set up in the Hebrew Church two distinct forms of worship; the one moral, didactic, spiritual and universal, and therefore perpetual in all places and ages—that of the synagogues; the other peculiar, local, typical, foreshadowing in outward forms the more spiritual dispensation, and therefore destined to be utterly abrogate by Christ’s coming. Now we find instrumental music, like human priests and their vestments, show-bread, incense, and bloody sacrifice, absolutely limited to this local and temporary worship. But the Christian churches were modelled upon the synagogues and inherited their form of government and worship because it was permanently didactic, moral and spiritual, and included nothing typical. (

    I think it safe to say that has been the default, if not implicit view in the P&R churches, whatever it is now.

    3. As for Wallace's article, while it is interesting and I think I have seen it before, I would ask one, is it the official OPC view?
    Two, he says "all of life is worship" leaving the door open IMO for JFrame's hyperbolic interpretation of that phrase, and veers back and forth between taking Revelation as normative for either worship or life. Which one is it?
    Three, yet how normative can the temple worship be if it is fulfilled in Christ and abolished as per the thrust of Hebrews, even though John does use temple language in Revelation?
    Four, just how normative are highly figurative heavenly examples in a prophetic book compared to the more mundane and earthly examples of Christ and the apostles and the synagogue?
    Five, just what exactly does Wallace mean by saying that "the people of God now come before him through their representatives, the twenty four elders?" Even further, what do we make of the white robes, gold crowns and harps?
    Last, does this kind of appeal to Revelation make sense in explaining the rash of historically unacceptable practices that have crept into P&R worship lately? Like are we on the verge of a P&R paradigm shift – a New Worship Order – or just guilty of plain old backsliding and prevarication?

    Bob S.

  33. Bob,

    You wrote: 1. We see Christ and the apostles frequenting the synagogue, particularly on the sabbath – and construe that to just entail a bible study?

    Your points are strong enough without mischaracterizing my comments. My sentence, "Many things done individually and corporately by believers are approved, yet are not Lord's day worship related (bible study)", is clearly an example of something approved of throughout Scripture (and by Christ) and yet not commanded as an element of Lord's Day worship. In no way is my sentence equating the synagogue to only a bible study. Nor does Gordon make the equation that synagogue "just entail[s] a bible study."

    But the Christian churches were modelled upon the synagogues...

    That is precisely the issue that Gordon and Stephen C. address.

    Also see the OPC GA (1946) "Report of the Committee on Song in Worship Presented to the Thirteenth General Assembly, on the Teaching of Our Standards Respecting the Songs That May Be Sung in the Public Worship of God."

    Thanks again for all you added here. It's helped me to think this through more thoroughly. I'll leave you with the last word.

    best regards in Christ,

  34. Hi Jack,

    1. My intention was not to mischaracterize your comments, but Gordon and Stephen C. leave necessary questions unanswered. For instance, were the OT sacraments of circumcision and passover only administered in the temple on the sabbath? And if the Israelites were only commanded to go up to the temple 3 times in the year, what of the other 49 sabbaths? IOW nobody’s happy on the synagogue in this discussion.

    2. I have seen the OPC Maj. Report before and will not comment other than it again infers that liberty in song follows from liberty in prayer.

    3. I would hope that I am not just interested in the last word, but the reformed word.

    And while I too, found the discussion helpful, it was also disappointing.

    After all, while I really enjoyed TDG’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach and thought he said a lot of things that needed to be said, by the same token he is illiterate when it comes to the historic confessional position on worship. IMO this then leaves him in the position of a conservative in favor of pianos and hymns, who opposes guitars, drum kits and choruses, when it comes to Frame and Gore.

    But when JF gets through combining, confusing and conflating praying, singing, preaching and teaching - along with the fatal admission that images can teach (contra Hab.2:18,9) - there is no principled objection to Gibson’s (obscene) Roman church Passion play being screened - if not performed - during a Lenten matinee worship service at your local neighborhood presbyterian church. RJG for his part, not only begs the question regarding whether the synagogue is commanded, he also revives the Roman church POV that Christ attended the uncommanded Feast of Dedication and Purim.

    IOW after the “exposition” of the RPW from these two “reformed” gentlemen, there is nothing left of the genuine confessional doctrine on worship and any argument about forms and rubrics and sitting or standing for the reading, preaching or praying is a moot point and lost cause. That’s what drives my repeated objections to F & G - and indirectly TDG - though this is only a combox and at your site, not mine.

    Thanks again,


    Bob Suden

  35. Hi Jack,

    Received and read Gore's book on Regulative Principle. I actually enjoyed it, and it gave me some insight regarding continental vs. english reformation. Many of his observations were identical to my experience while in OPC.

    It seems Calvinist 'liturgics' are due more to inconsistencies in Reformed doctrine than anything else. Calvin's own reasoning seems to be more charitable than english calvinism, namely, for the sake of expediency, the greater wrong often being protestant fratricide. Calvin also seems to acknowledge something of adiaphora, giving some leniency according to pastoral necessity not just a broad understanding of 'circumstance'. It's ironic that the Reformed churches relatively quickly established their own traditions in lieu of scriptural warrant or where the scripture seemed 'dark'.

    I still don't understand why, and would urge the Anglo-reformed, to adopt HC rather than WCF. The HC is much closer to the 39 articles than WCF which was composed more in reaction to them and the prayer book. Certainly, the HC is closer to the irenic spirit of Calvin rather than English puritanism. ?

    Thanks Jack, for the lead on Gore. It was a good read. Sincerely, Charles

  36. Jack, I'm still in the process of reading and evaluating R. Scott Clark's book, Recovering the Reformed Confessions. Unfortunately, Clark is ambiguous and often self-contradictory. He wants to allow for exceptions to the Reformed Confessions--at least that is how I read him--but he wants to assert that there should be no exceptions to the RPW.

    Clark is particularly helpful in his historical survey of the RPW. I would contend that singing the Psalter was common in the Church of England as well but I cannot substantiate that assumption as I haven't had the time to do any research into it.

    It is also my contention that Clark is essentially correct when he says that sinfulness of men opens the door to all kinds of subjectivism when we reject the regulation of worship altogether. Unfortunately, his view of liberty opens the door to an ad hoc liturgy that is quite frankly no different from every man doing what is right in his own eyes. That was the purpose of common prayer in the first place!

    The problem with the normative principle of worship is that sinful men have taken that liberty to justify high church Arminianism, pre-Reformation vestments, Tractarianism, and all sorts of other heresies.

    It seems to me that some sort of mediating position between R.S. Clark's strict RPW and the conservative, confessional view of NPW (normative principle of worship) from a Reformed/Calvinist and confessional Anglican perspective is needed. I might even be in favor of singing only the Psalter provided that music is not excluded. Since music is specifically prescribed in the Psalms, R.S. Clark would be hard pressed to prove that this is unscriptural. Clark's critique of Gore would seem to go against your article above, though.

    I have other problems with Clark's RRC but I will save that for my review.


  37. OK, you got me. My other criticism of R. Scott Clark's book is his double standard. He and Horton insist that preaching is God's Word. How SILLY! Preaching is NOT God's Word. Preaching, like all commentaries, is an individual's exegetical commentary on the text and is therefore prone to error. If nothing can be added to Scripture, it would follow that preaching should not be added either.

    What matter is not common prayers, contra RSC, or hymns, etc., et. al. but what is proved from the "certain warrant" of Holy Scripture. In other words, if a hymn can be proved to be biblical, it is no less acceptable than the sermon.

    Common prayer should be soaked and saturated with Scripture. Lex orandi, lex credendi used for Protestant and Reformed purposes teaches God's people the propositional doctrines of Scripture. Justification by faith alone was Cranmer's purpose in revising the common prayer of the Church of England, something the Puritans seem to overlook.


  38. I tend to come down on T.David Gordon's take on RPW, which would take exception to exclusive psalmody and the exclusion of any music. By the way, Gordon help start and worships at a 1662 BCP Anglican church in Grove City (where he is a professor at the college). He states that although the church doesn't profess the RPW, they nonetheless practice it.

    I see great value in the 1662 BCP with its Communion liturgy, and Morning-Evening prayer. I consider Cranmer's work to be the high point reached in reformed worship.

  39. A Roman Catholic Looking for "Unity"----The Protestant Reformers looked upon the world and saw it as a ruin, the cosmos lapsing ever further into decay as if to ensure it would play no role in our redemption by Christ.

    RC--Martin Luther’s proclamation that one should “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger...figure decay and loss. The world has nothing properly good to itself that should cause us wonder. To the contrary, it has sin, but this sin is “covered” over by Christ Jesus.

    RC---The new education the protestant moderns thought they were inaugurating was indeed a “school of disenchantment,” wherein everything was in fact less than it appeared to be in experience. The world contains nothing in itself that demands of us to stand back and give reverence in contemplation. To see the world truly is to see through it

    RC--The Protestants sought to repress old customs as superstitious rather than to embrace them as sacramental, God as present to us in and through his creation. They reject natural religion and reduce piety to a few generic propositions.