RPW "in worship" vs "as worship"

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ERK

Puritan Board Freshman
Does the RPW forbid doing certain things "in worship" or "as worship"?

For example: Would it be forbidden to have a piece of instrumental music played during a worship service if it were clearly understood that it was not being done as worship?
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I’ve only known it with the preposition “of.”

I think it clears up the question. While you are gathered in worship, the principle is followed.

So, strictly speaking, instrumental music was not commanded for congregational worship. Singing, of course, is. Some take using an instrument to assist singing as circumstantial and allowed. Some don’t. But I don’t know of any RPW congregation that tries to justify incidental music.

Of course, there are probably some that do, I just don’t know of them.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Does the RPW forbid doing certain things "in worship" or "as worship"?

For example: Would it be forbidden to have a piece of instrumental music played during a worship service if it were clearly understood that it was not being done as worship?
It's a lawful circumstance, or prescribed element or neither and thus unlawful to use in public worship. There is not a fourth option. So why do congregations that make the argument it assists the singing, allow offertories? For the historic Presbyterian position against any use, see Girardeau and Dabney on this topic:
https://www.naphtali.com/articles/worship/girardeau-discretionary-power/ (long; the theological underpinnings).
https://www.naphtali.com/articles/worship/dabney-review-of-girardeau-instrumental-music/ (short; a review of the previous).
Dabney also participated in a mid 19th century newspaper write in debate, which I transcribed from microfilm and published in my church's newsletter in the mid 1990s. https://www.thebluebanner.com/pdf/bluebanner3-1-2.pdf
 

ERK

Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you for those resources. I will do my best to check them out this week.

What constitutes a lawful circumstance?

WCF 1.6 “... and 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.”

Would 1.6 have us regulate a circumstance no more than being generally agreeable to the scriptures? Or does 1.6 carry behind it an assumption that circumstances are always tied to an element?

Some context: I had defined circumstance to my professor as “the things necessary for the elements”. He disagreed. I think I understand why... some things aren’t necessary, but they are wise. But where is the line between wise circumstances surrounding the elements and wise ceremonies/rites that are not worship but useful for order and edification?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Would 1.6 have us regulate a circumstance no more than being generally agreeable to the scriptures? Or does 1.6 carry behind it an assumption that circumstances are always tied to an element?
Circumstance basically means "surrounding conditions." They don't necessarily have to be tied to an element of worship.

Heating a building is a circumstance. Having lights on to see your Bibles. Windows for ventilation. Etc.

Also the Order of worship: we are not commanded any specific order, but logic, wise use of time and resources, etc., dictate that some form of order is wise and lawful. So, some public pronouncement that worship is starting is a good idea to focus everyone's attention and gather. Preaching, prayer, singing, all are allocated certain times so that things are in good order. Those are circumstances too.

Judgment and discernment are called for. In the old days candles were used for light. But now they carry devotional baggage and are not used (unless, I suppose, there is no other source of light).

Instruments have been justified as a circumstance to aid people who have difficulty learning or keeping a tune. It is used to keep the congregation unified.

A cantor or pitch pipe could have a similar purpose. Not commanded, but also not central to worship.

(Personally, I prefer no instruments, but my congregation likes the piano. We do half our singing a cappella and half accompanied).

Incidental or what I call "mood music" during offerings or the Lord's Supper are not commanded. Under the RPW they would not be part of the service because they introduce something uncommanded.

And, (I speak as a former unbelieving church organist), incidental music is the musician's opportunity to manipulate the congregation into a particular mood--or--a chance to show off. Neither of those should fall under the rubric of "Worship."
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
While I'm against instrumental pieces during the service, like an offertory, I do see a use for having the piano played for five minutes or so before the service. That, like ringing the bell in the steeple, tells people to stop yakking and get in position so there's no scurrying around when the call to worship is issued.
I only wish it worked on more of the congregation.
 

MChase

Puritan Board Freshman
Does the RPW forbid doing certain things "in worship" or "as worship"?

For example: Would it be forbidden to have a piece of instrumental music played during a worship service if it were clearly understood that it was not being done as worship?

Would it be forbidden to slay a lamb during a worship service if it were clearly understood that it was not being done as worship?
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
While I'm against instrumental pieces during the service, like an offertory, I do see a use for having the piano played for five minutes or so before the service. That, like ringing the bell in the steeple, tells people to stop yakking and get in position so there's no scurrying around when the call to worship is issued.
I only wish it worked on more of the congregation.
Before the call to worship, the worship service has not begun, but since instruments are not commanded in worship and therefore forbidden, it would be confusing to play a piano just to let people know that you are about to begin the worship service. There are other ways to do this, for example, in our congregation our pastor makes a simple announcement to make our way to our seats and to quiet our hearts as we prepare for worship.
 

ERK

Puritan Board Freshman
Would it be forbidden to slay a lamb during a worship service if it were clearly understood that it was not being done as worship?
How would you determine that? I think it would be clearly unwise. But if your reason to forbid is because it is not prescribed (even if it isn't considered an element of worship) then how does that logical apply to other things - traditions such as standing for the reading of Scripture or playing an instrumental piece?

If the deciding factor is christian prudence, then lamb slaying would be obvious. What about the harder stuff?
 

MChase

Puritan Board Freshman
How would you determine that? I think it would be clearly unwise. But if your reason to forbid is because it is not prescribed (even if it isn't considered an element of worship) then how does that logical apply to other things - traditions such as standing for the reading of Scripture or playing an instrumental piece?

If the deciding factor is christian prudence, then lamb slaying would be obvious. What about the harder stuff?

The lamb slaying comment was merely to point out that an assumed understanding that “this is not worship” doesn’t work. I think in theory churches like the OPC wouldn’t argue that pianos are necessary, just expedient (even on that point it’s a suspect argument). However, they functionally become an element of worship such that I remember being at an afternoon service where our elders were frantically trying to find someone to play piano so we could sing. There are quite a number of tunes people sing quite well, and probably even better, without a piano.

Playing an instrumental piece has no place in public worship. We are only to do those things commanded or shown by example. Circumstances are the things without which the elements cannot take place, such as posture. A posture for praying is necessary as we don’t become disembodied the moment we start to pray, therefore a posture is to be adopted. Even there we have biblical examples: kneeling, standing, prostrate, etc. There is room for certain circumstantial latitude on how the elements are carried out. I don’t expect Africans to sing the Psalms to exclusively Scottish tunes.
 

ERK

Puritan Board Freshman
The lamb slaying comment was merely to point out that an assumed understanding that “this is not worship” doesn’t work. I think in theory churches like the OPC wouldn’t argue that pianos are necessary, just expedient (even on that point it’s a suspect argument). However, they functionally become an element of worship such that I remember being at an afternoon service where our elders were frantically trying to find someone to play piano so we could sing. There are quite a number of tunes people sing quite well, and probably even better, without a piano.

Playing an instrumental piece has no place in public worship. We are only to do those things commanded or shown by example. Circumstances are the things without which the elements cannot take place, such as posture. A posture for praying is necessary as we don’t become disembodied the moment we start to pray, therefore a posture is to be adopted. Even there we have biblical examples: kneeling, standing, prostrate, etc. There is room for certain circumstantial latitude on how the elements are carried out. I don’t expect Africans to sing the Psalms to exclusively Scottish tunes.
So what is the deciding factor?

Instrumental music is forbidden because it is not a circumstance of worship at all? It is not a circumstance.

Instrumental music is forbidden because it is not a wise circumstance in any context? It is never wise.

Instrumental music *may be* forbidden because it is not a wise circumstance some contexts? It is up to Christian prudence.
 

MChase

Puritan Board Freshman
So what is the deciding factor?

Instrumental music is forbidden because it is not a circumstance of worship at all? It is not a circumstance.

Instrumental music is forbidden because it is not a wise circumstance in any context? It is never wise.

Instrumental music *may be* forbidden because it is not a wise circumstance some contexts? It is up to Christian prudence.

The deciding factor is that it’s not commanded as an element of NT worship. It was an element of OT worship post-David. The burden of proof is upon instrumentalists to show that an element of worship in the OT is now merely a circumstance that we can take or leave.

It fails to live up to scrutiny on all accounts. It’s not merely a circumstance as you’ll find out if you try to remove the organ from the old Dutch Reformed Church. It’s not wise because it tends to hinder singing. The person playing the piano/organ is hardly ever singing.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
How would you determine that? I think it would be clearly unwise. But if your reason to forbid is because it is not prescribed (even if it isn't considered an element of worship) then how does that logical apply to other things - traditions such as standing for the reading of Scripture or playing an instrumental piece?

If the deciding factor is christian prudence, then lamb slaying would be obvious. What about the harder stuff?

Well take your example of standing for the reading of Scripture. I would argue this would be quite lawful as we have examples in Scripture of the congregation standing while the Word was read. I've heard that in the past in Scotland it was not at all uncommon for congregations to be standing throughout the service (due to the absence of seating). But we can also infer from Scripture that it is not unlawful for the congregation to remain seated during the reading of Scripture. In Nehemiah 8:5 we read that the congregation did stand for the reading of the Word, but there was no command to do so; in Luke 4:16-20 we read that Christ stood to read the Word and sat down after doing so, but there is no mention of the congregation standing and then sitting.

When we read in Scripture of prayer being performed in public worship, it is usually accompanied with a particular posture. In Scripture we find the following postures of prayer in public worship: prostrating, kneeling and standing (Samuel Miller adds "bowing of the head" which he distinguishes from standing, but it seems to involve standing and not sitting). Sitting during prayer in public worship seems to have always been rejected and it only became widespread relatively recently. But that is not to say that prayer can never be performed whilst sitting. We are to pray "without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17), all the time (Luke 18:1, Eph. 6:18); we are to pray everywhere: in private (Matt. 6:6), on our bed (Psalm 63:6), on the seashore (Acts 21:5) &c. And in each circumstance of praying we are to assume a posture which is appropriate for that circumstance. Beyond considerations of propriety and order posture is a matter indifferent. It is more involved in public worship because, as we are dealing with a large group of people, and no matter what we do we assume one posture or another, and uniformity is always to be desired in practice as well as doctrine, certain postures are excluded as cumbersome and disorderly (and we must do all things decently and in order). And as we don't read of prayer being performed in public worship whilst sitting, combined with sitting often being accompanied with a more slovenly attitude, we have rejected that as a permissible posture in that context and standing is therefore the preferred posture (but not to the extent that even those who are genuinely infirm are expected to always stand). However we mustn't make more of posture than is warranted. The NT's view on worship is: "...bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." 1 Timothy 4:8

I think there would be a concern with standing for the reading of Scripture that it could become ritualistic, and indeed it is a practice that today is usually performed in high churches or the church of Rome; and as there is no explicit command to do so, nor clear and consistent example, and it is an act of worship in which the congregation is passive (they are hearing the Word read) then it is not a practice that has been adopted. Whereas I would argue that with prayer there is a consistent Scripture testimony against sitting during public prayer, and as it an act of approaching God, performed by all gathered in the assembly, requiring due reverence, standing is the posture deemed most appropriate.

So posture is indifferent whereas instrumental music, as mentioned above, is an element. It was an element distinct from singing and it wasn't only used as an accompaniment to singing. We see this in the places where instrumental music is mentioned in the Psalms. Take Psalm 150 (which, I think I am correct in saying, is a favourite of those who advocate instrumental music): there is no mention of singing whatsoever in that Psalm. One might say the command to "praise ye the LORD" is a command to sing. Well, that is often true but is that what is meant in this psalm? The command in verse one to praise God seems to be a general command the particulars of which are then listed in the following verses. We are to praise God with trumpets, the psaltery, the harp, the timbrel, the dance, stringed instruments, the organs, the loud and high sounding cymbals (loud cymbals are not a very good accompaniment to singing) but no mention of praising God in song (which is mentioned as an explicit act of praise in other places, e.g. Psalm 69:30: "I will praise the name of God with a song"). Everything that hath breath is commanded to praise God: animals cannot sing the Psalms.

So to argue that instrumental music is only a circumstance of singing is not only to exhibit an ignorance in regards to how music affects singing, but is inconsistent with the Scriptural testimony of how instrumental music was used in old covenant worship. As the context in which it was used (the Temple) is now done away with, and we have no new command as to its use, we have no warrant to use it today.
 
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Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
Just to offer some balance, I'm convinced it is completely okay and commanded Biblically to not only have instruments during worship, but also for worship. It's all a matter of Biblical interpretation. But if you don't have instruments as part of worship, I find it silly to have them at all in the church. That's like wanting something you know you shouldn't have, and the only reason you don't have it is because the rules say no.
 

Susan777

Puritan Board Sophomore
I never considered that the music played during the Supper was anything but necessary and proper until I attended a service where the sacrament was administered in silence. The difference was actually startling to me. I wish this was the rule and custom in our churches.



Incidental or what I call "mood music" during offerings or the Lord's Supper are not commanded. Under the RPW they would not be part of the service because they introduce something uncommanded.

 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
to not only have instruments during worship, but also for worship.
I have difficulty understanding this phrase. I don't get the distinction.

I don't want to be flippant, but the only distinction I can see is if the congregation brought musical instruments to a gathering for worship and set them down. Is that what you mean by "during worship" as opposed to "for worship?"

As for offering balance, how does your opinion relate to the discussion on the regulative principle of worship?

Perhaps it is good just to lay the RPW out simply. Chapter 21 of the WCF (Chapter 22 of the LBCF is almost identical) lays out two basic things:

The General Rule:

"But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture."

And Specifics:

"Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship,...."

"The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear,...;
sound preaching(s) and conscionable hearing of the Word...;
singing of psalms with grace in the heart; [LBCF has "hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs"]
the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ.

In addition, special situations call for special gatherings.

Instruments are indeed mentioned in Scripture, but we note that all mention of them pertain to tabernacle or temple worship. Jesus destroyed the temple and raised it up on the third day. In other words, all that pertained to temple worship has been fulfilled and abolished in Christ. That is the rationale for the RPW. What was commanded by our Lord and his apostles after his resurrection is what we believe we should do.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
I have difficulty understanding this phrase. I don't get the distinction.

I don't want to be flippant, but the only distinction I can see is if the congregation brought musical instruments to a gathering for worship and set them down. Is that what you mean by "during worship" as opposed to "for worship?"

As for offering balance, how does your opinion relate to the discussion on the regulative principle of worship?

Perhaps it is good just to lay the RPW out simply. Chapter 21 of the WCF (Chapter 22 of the LBCF is almost identical) lays out two basic things:

The General Rule:

"But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture."

And Specifics:

"Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship,...."

"The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear,...;
sound preaching(s) and conscionable hearing of the Word...;
singing of psalms with grace in the heart; [LBCF has "hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs"]
the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ.

In addition, special situations call for special gatherings.

Instruments are indeed mentioned in Scripture, but we note that all mention of them pertain to tabernacle or temple worship. Jesus destroyed the temple and raised it up on the third day. In other words, all that pertained to temple worship has been fulfilled and abolished in Christ. That is the rationale for the RPW. What was commanded by our Lord and his apostles after his resurrection is what we believe we should do.
Sorry if my wording was unclear. I was just trying to say that I believe it is Biblical too use instruments during a worship service, and as a means of worship.

Most reformed churches today use instruments and still uphold the regulative principle. I would also add that from my experience all of these churches are desiring to obey God, and are not to be viewed as those who intentionally want to disobey God for the sake of growing megachurches or pleasing the flesh. Just because one side doesn't agree with something doesn't mean the other side doesn't have good rationale for doing so. The difference lies in the hermeneutical approach as you know, so when I see the Psalms telling me to use instruments and play skillfully, that is a command that I obey.

Blessings!
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Most reformed churches today use instruments and still uphold the regulative principle. I would also add that from my experience all of these churches are desiring to obey God, and are not to be viewed as those who intentionally want to disobey God for the sake of growing megachurches or pleasing the flesh. The difference lies in the hermeneutical approach as you know, so when I see the Psalms telling me to use instruments and play skillfully, that is a command that I obey.
If this is according to the regulative principle, and instruments are justified as prescribed in the psalms, then they must be used and are not optional in the worship service, and they must be used by everyone in public worship, not a select few. I've never seen (rarely any way) an argument that matches the actual practice of using musical instruments in public worship that is consistent with the regulative principle as articulated in puritanism and presbyterianism in the Westminster Standards.
 
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NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Here are the definitions of the regulative principle and of circumstances of worship from my intro provided for Frank Smith's and David Lachman's "Reframing Presbyterian Worship: A Critical Survey of the Worship Views of John M. Frame and R. J. Gore," which appeared in The Confessional Presbyterian 1 (2005), and is online here.
One of the key reformational doctrines1 determinate of the health if not the being of a “Presbyterian” Church is the aptly named Regulative Principle of Worship.2 This principle which was clearly championed from the beginning of the Scottish Reformation, and central to English Puritanism,3 was refined and classically presented in the Westminster Standards, from whence it has been an integral doctrine of Presbyterianism ever since.

The Westminster Assembly determined: “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.” (Confession of Faith, 21.1). The Princeton professor, Dr. Samuel Miller, gives a succinct statement of the principle when he writes that since the Scriptures are the “only infallible rule of faith and practice, no rite or ceremony ought to have a place in the public worship of God, which is not warranted in Scripture, either by direct precept or example, or by good and sufficient inference.” 4 A briefer statement still which sums up the Presbyterian principle of worship, is that in the worship of God, “Not to Command is to Forbid,” 5 or “Whatever is not commanded is forbidden.” 6

As this brief definition can lead to misunderstanding, a necessarily corollary to this principle states 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.” (Confession of Faith, 1.6). Defining these “circumstances,” is part and parcel with the discussion of what authority the church has in ordering the worship of God. As for the church’s power in this regard, George Gillespie gives three conditions:7

"I direct my course straight to the dissecting of the true limits, within which the church’s power of enacting laws about things pertaining to the worship of God is bounded and confined, and which it may not overleap nor transgress. Three conditions I find necessarily requisite in such a thing as the church has power to prescribe by her laws: 1st It must be only a circumstance of divine worship; no substantial part of it; no sacred significant and efficacious ceremony. For the order and decency left to the definition of the church, as concerning the particulars of it, comprehends no more but mere circumstances.… 2nd That which the church may lawfully prescribe by her laws and ordinances, as a thing left to her determination, must be one of such things as were not determinable by Scripture because individua are infinita…. 3rd If the church prescribe anything lawfully, so that she prescribe no more than she has power given her to prescribe, her ordinances must be accompanied with some good reason and warrant given for the satisfaction of tender consciences."

Also, in his letter to “All in the Reformed Churches,” Gillespie defined circumstances this way: “...there is nothing which any way pertains to the worship of God left to the determination of human laws, beside the mere circumstances, which neither have any holiness in them, forasmuch as they have no other use and praise in sacred than they have in civil things, nor yet were particularly determinable in Scripture, because they are infinite.” (EPC, xli). James Henley Thornwell gives a more detailed definition:8

"Circumstances are those concomitants of an action without which it either cannot be done at all, or cannot be done with decency and decorum. Public worship, for example, requires public assemblies, and in public assemblies people must appear in some costume and assume some posture…. Public assemblies, moreover, cannot be held without fixing the time and place of meeting: these are circumstances which the church is at liberty to regulate…. We must distinguish between those circumstances which attend actions as actions—that is, without which the actions cannot be—and those circumstances which, though not essential, are added as appendages. These last do not fall within the jurisdiction of the church. She has no right to appoint them. They are circumstances in the sense that they do not belong to the substance of the act. They are not circumstances in the sense that they so surround it that they cannot be separated from it. A liturgy is a circumstance of this kind…. In public worship, indeed in all commanded external actions, there are two elements—a fixed and a variable. The fixed element, involving the essence of the thing, is beyond the discretion of the church. The variable, involving only the circumstances of the action, its separable accidents, may be changed, modified or altered, according to the exigencies of the case."

Gillespie’s third condition raises another principle which relates to the church’s power regarding worship, which is the doctrine of Christian Liberty or Liberty of Conscience. The Westminster divines state at Confession of Faith 20.2: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith or worship.”9

The language of the Confession at these several points is reminiscent of both the writings of Gillespie, and of his Westminster colleague, Samuel Rutherford. In one of Rutherford’s works circulating in the Assembly during the early part of the discussion on Christian Liberty, and cited at the same time during debate on the subject of Excommunication, he writes (Rutherford, 109):10

"In actions or Religious means of Worship, and actions Morall, whatever is beside the Word of God, is against the Word of God; I say in Religious means, for there be means of Worship, or Circumstances Physicall, not Morall, not Religious, as whether the Pulpit be of stone or of timber, the Bell of this or this Mettall, the house of Worship stand thus or thus in Situation.

Our Formalists will have it in the power of rulers to Command in the matter of Worship, that which is beside the Word of God, and so is negatively Lawfull, though it be not Positively conform to Gods Word, nor Commanded or warranted by practice; which I grant is a witty way of Romes devising, to make entry for Religious humane Ceremonies."

Gillespie wrote the following a decade before the Assembly, which not only contains similar thoughts as the Confessional statements, but relates as well to the common usage, popularized later by men such as James Bannerman and William Cunningham, respecting the power of the civil magistrate circa sacra [about religion] as opposed to in sacris [in religion] (EPC, 288, 314, 316, 318):11

"The church is forbidden to add anything to the commandments of God which he has given unto us, concerning his worship and service (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6); therefore she may not lawfully prescribe anything in the works of divine worship, if it be not a mere circumstance belonging to that kind of things which were not determinable by Scripture.… These praecognita [things foreseen] being now made good, come we to speak more particularly of the power of princes to make laws and ordinances about things which concern the worship of God.… But in all the Scripture princes have neither a commendable example, nor any other warrant, for the making of any innovation in religion, or for the prescribing of sacred significant ceremonies of men’s devising.… Now as touching the other sort of things which we consider in the worship of God, namely, things merely circumstantial, and such as have the very same use and respect in civil which they have in sacred actions, we hold that whensoever it happens to be the duty and part of a prince to institute and enjoin any order or policy in these circumstances of God’s worship, then he may only enjoin such an order as may stand with the observing and following of the rules of the word, whereunto we are tied in the use and practice of things which are in their general nature indifferent."

These lengthy citations and definitions are given because the regulative principle of worship is often misunderstood or mischaracterized when they are ignored. For instance when the doctrine regarding circumstances is ignored, one may see questions in reaction to the regulative principle such as, “If you believe in this regulative principle then why do you use pews in public worship, since they are not mentioned in Scripture?” As William Cunningham writes, just before alluding to Confession of Faith 1.6, “Those who dislike this principle, from whatever reason, usually try to run us into difficulties by putting a very stringent construction upon it, and thereby giving it an appearance of absurdity.…” 12 Also, without any reference to historical theology, or to the theological milieu in which the language of the Westminster Standards were drafted, the meaning of the divines may be recast and the traditional/historical meaning divorced from their foundational statements by some postmodern deconstruction of their words. This leads to statements like, ‘I hold to the regulative principle of the Westminster Confession of Faith, but not to the Puritan understanding of that principle.’

Whether they fully understand them or not, it is true that many do reject Presbyterian views of worship. Dr. Cunningham writes of those “latitudinarians” who simply find such a principle repugnant: “Of the views generally held by the Reformers on the subject of the organization of the Church, there are two which have been always very offensive to men of a loose and latitudinarian tendency—viz. the alleged unlawfulness of introducing into the worship and government of the Church anything which is not positively warranted by Scripture, and the permanent binding obligation of a particular form of Church government.…” (Reformers and the Regulative Principle, 38). There is also an understandable rejection of Presbyterian principles by those of an Anglican, Lutheran or similar persuasion, who profess faith in a different rule of worship, “that the Church might warrantably introduce innovations into its government and worship, which might seem fitted to be useful, provided it could not be shown that there was anything in Scripture which expressly prohibited or discountenanced them….” (Reformers and the Regulative Principle, 38).

1. “I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word.” (John Calvin, “On the Necessity of Reforming the Church,” Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet. Edited and translated by Henry Beveridge [Edinburgh: 1844; Rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983] 1.128-129). “All wirschipping, honoring, or service inventit by the braine of man in the religioun of God, without his own express commandment, is Idolatrie.” (John Knox, “A Vindication of the Doctrine that the Sacrifice of the Mass is Idolatry,” The Works of John Knox, ed. David Laing [Edinburgh: Printed for the Bannatyne Club, 1854; Rpt NY: AMS Press, 1966] 3.34).
2. While it may have been used earlier, the term Regulative Principle of Worship apparently was coined from or at least popularized by usage in the 1946 report of the OPC, “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,” specifically section ‘A’ by John Murray (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Minutes of the General Assembly [1946] 101-107). Research by Sherman Isbell supports Murray authorship. See Endnote A.

3. The regulative principle of worship was the established doctrine of Scottish Presbyterianism, and of the English Puritans. See Endnote B.

4. Presbyterianism the Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ, “The Worship of the Presbyterian Church” (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1835) 64-65.

5. Samuel Rutherford, The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication (London, 1646) 96.

6. John B. Adger, “A Denial of Divine Right for Organs in Public Worship,” Southern Presbyterian Review, 20.1 (January 1869) 85.

7. George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies, ed. Christopher Coldwell (Dallas: Naphtali Press, 1993)

281-284. Hereafter EPC. “This large volume is the most elaborate defense of the classic Puritan-Scottish Presbyterian view of the regulative principle, recently reprinted. Gillespie was an influential member of the Westminster Assembly.” John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1996) 157. Hereafter, Spirit and Truth.
8. Cited from John L. Girardeau, D.D. LL.D., “The Discretionary Power of the Church,” Sermons, ed. by Rev. George A. Blackburn (Columbia, SC: The State Company, 1907. Rpt. in Life Work and Sermons of John L. Girardeau, Sprinkle Publications, nd) 400-401. See also, “Church Boards and Presbyterianism,” The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell (Rpt. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974) 246-247. On the nature of circumstances, see also: The Works of John Owen, v. 15, “Discourse Concerning Liturgies,” ed. William H. Goold (Rpt. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1966).

9. Regarding the long incorrect text, “contrary to His Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship,” Dr. S. W. Carruthers notes: This double error is the most important in the whole Confession. It has obscured a distinction of great significance … The divines’ argument is this: men are free in all things directly contrary to God’s word; but, in addition, if the question is one of faith or worship, they are free in matters not stated in the word. The distinction between matters civil and religious, and the great doctrine concerning things indifferent in the ecclesiastical world, are completely obscured by the change of a single letter and an alteration of punctuation.” S. W. Carruthers, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Being an account of the Preparation and Printing of its Seven Leading Editions, to which is appended a critical text of the Confession with notes thereon (Manchester: R. Aikman & Son, [1937]) 127-128.

10. See the Minutes of the Assembly, 196-197. Alexander F. Mitchell and John Struthers, eds. Minutes of the Sessions of the

Westminster Assembly of Divines.
(Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1874).

11. James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (Edinburgh : T&T Clark, 1868. Rpt. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960; and 1974) 154-155. William Cunningham, “Church Power,” Discussions on Church Principles (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1863) 230.

12. William Cunningham, “The Reformers and the Regulative Principle,” in The Reformation of the Church: A collection of Reformed and Puritan documents on Church issues (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965; Rpt. 1987) 38-39. This is an extract from Cunningham’s The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979 Rpt) 31-46.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Most reformed churches today use instruments and still uphold the regulative principle. I would also add that from my experience all of these churches are desiring to obey God, and are not to be viewed as those who intentionally want to disobey God for the sake of growing megachurches or pleasing the flesh. Just because one side doesn't agree with something doesn't mean the other side doesn't have good rationale for doing so. The difference lies in the hermeneutical approach as you know, so when I see the Psalms telling me to use instruments and play skillfully, that is a command that I obey.

Thanks for the blessings and the articulation of what you meant.

Chris has laid it out pretty thoroughly above, but I wanted to make two points for clarity.

1. Many God-honoring and sound churches do not follow what is called the RPW. It is not my place to belittle fellow-citizens of the Kingdom.

2. But, if we are to say that we follow the regulative principle of worship, it ought to mean something and not be redefined to comport with common practice.

In the context of instruments, the RPW has always held that in New Testament worship, instruments are not commanded. One reason for that is the destruction of the temple and all its practices (as I mentioned before). Another reason is simply practicality. If we understand the Psalms to command instruments, we have to accept that they also command incense, processions, and even "bullocks upon thine altar." (Psalm 51:19). Nobody (well, except for a certain ancient sect) wants to go there.

Regarding instruments, then, the debate has always been not whether they are commanded, but whether they are allowed. The only recognized allowance has been circumstance--i.e. they help the congregation sing (which is commanded).

So, either we can say one holds to the RPW or not. Again, not to cast aspersions on the many sound churches that do not follow it. But it does look odd to say one follows the RPW when one does not.
 
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Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
If this is according to the regulative principle, and instruments are justified as prescribed in the psalms, then they must be used and are not optional in the worship service, and they must be used by everyone in public worship, not a select few. I've never seen (rarely any way) an argument that matches the actual practice of using musical instruments in public worship that is consistent with the regulative principle as articulated in puritanism and presbyterianism in the Westminster Standards.
That's a good point! Off the bat, my thought would be that there are a lot of commands in Scripture that are not singled out for individuals, but are for the community of faith. The same principle would apply for spiritual gifts. Not everyone has the same gifting.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
That's a good point! Off the bat, my thought would be that there are a lot of commands in Scripture that are not singled out for individuals, but are for the community of faith. The same principle would apply for spiritual gifts. Not everyone has the same gifting.
One could argue that for singing just as well.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
Before the call to worship, the worship service has not begun, but since instruments are not commanded in worship and therefore forbidden, it would be confusing to play a piano just to let people know that you are about to begin the worship service. There are other ways to do this, for example, in our congregation our pastor makes a simple announcement to make our way to our seats and to quiet our hearts as we prepare for worship.
The piano is also useful to accompany the singing during worship: I regard it a circumstance to help us all sing together. But an instrumental number by itself during the worship has no place; it is neither an element nor is it in aid of one.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
The piano is also useful to accompany the singing during worship: I regard it a circumstance to help us all sing together. But an instrumental number by itself during the worship has no place; it is neither an element nor is it in aid of one.
Where are instruments commanded to be used in worship in Scripture?
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
Where are instruments commanded to be used in worship in Scripture?
We all know where this goes; why begin? I have said they are a circumstance, to aid in singing together, just as a light is an aid to reading the Scripture, or a table an aid to laying out the elements of the Supper. Your question would be relevant only if I was advocating for instruments as elements, which I am not.
 

White Robe

Puritan Board Freshman
Just to offer some balance, I'm convinced it is completely okay and commanded Biblically to not only have instruments during worship, but also for worship. It's all a matter of Biblical interpretation. But if you don't have instruments as part of worship, I find it silly to have them at all in the church. That's like wanting something you know you shouldn't have, and the only reason you don't have it is because the rules say no.
Ryan&Amber2013; I am curious, could you please provide a few Biblical texts that support your view of "I'm convinced it is completely okay and commanded Biblically to not only have instruments during worship but also for worship" (not just one text, because we cannot make theology out of one bible verse!) Thank you!
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
Ryan&Amber2013; I am curious, could you please provide a few Biblical texts that support your view of "I'm convinced it is completely okay and commanded Biblically to not only have instruments during worship but also for worship" (not just one text, because we cannot make theology out of one bible verse!) Thank you!
You ask a valid and fair question. I would just refine it and say that we absolutely can—indeed, we must—“make theology” from one verse. If Scripture teaches something, even if only in one place, then it has the same weight of truth as if it taught it in a thousand.
 

White Robe

Puritan Board Freshman
You ask a valid and fair question. I would just refine it and say that we absolutely can—indeed, we must—“make theology” from one verse. If Scripture teaches something, even if only in one place, then it has the same weight of truth as if it taught it in a thousand.
Taylor: How did you reach that conclusion? could you please provide the one verse that supports your view? Ref. on my view 1 Cor. 2:13, Eph 5:19, Col 3:16 etc.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
Taylor: How did you reach that conclusion? could you please provide the one verse that supports your view? Ref. on my view 1 Cor. 2:13, Eph 5:19, Col 3:16 etc.
I don’t think you’re understanding me. I’m not pushing back against your position on musical instruments. I’m just refining what you said about hermeneutics, saying we can’t make theological statements from only one verse, which is not true, given that Scripture is the infallible and inerrant Word of God.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
Ryan&Amber2013; I am curious, could you please provide a few Biblical texts that support your view of "I'm convinced it is completely okay and commanded Biblically to not only have instruments during worship but also for worship" (not just one text, because we cannot make theology out of one bible verse!) Thank you!
Hello friend. I know it's pointless for me to do this, as no one is going to be changed, but this is from CARM:

"In particular, the Psalms contain instructions that we worship the Lord with musical instruments:

  • The introduction of Psalm 6, which is part of scripture, not an addition by commentators, says, “For the choir director; with stringed instruments, upon an eight-string lyre, A Psalm of David.”
  • Psalm 33:2, “Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.”
  • Psalm 71:22, “I will also praise Thee with a harp, even Thy truth, O my God; to Thee I will sing praises with the lyre, O Thou Holy One of Israel.”
  • Psalm 81:1-3, “Sing for joy to God our strength; shout joyfully to the God of Jacob. 2Raise a song, strike the timbrel, the sweet sounding lyre with the harp. 3Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.”
  • Psalm 92:1-4, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Thy name, O Most High; 2To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night, 3With the ten-stringed lute, and with the harp; with resounding music upon the lyre. 4For Thou, O Lord, hast made me glad by what Thou hast done, I will sing for joy at the works of Thy hands.”
  • Psalm 98:5-6, “Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre; with the lyre and the sound of melody. 6With trumpets and the sound of the horn. Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.”
Furthermore, in Eph 5:19, the phrase “making melody” is the Greek word, psallo which means, “1) to pluck off, pull out, 2) to cause to vibrate by touching, to twang, 2a) to touch or strike the chord, to twang the strings of a musical instrument so that they gently vibrate, 2b) to play on a stringed instrument, to play, the harp, etc. 2c) to sing to the music of the harp 2d) in the NT to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song.”1 We can see that the making melody to the Lord involves the use of musical instruments.

Therefore, we are free to use musical instruments in the church in our worship to the Lord."

Then there's Miriam in Exodus 15: Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. Then Miriam sang to them: "Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea."

The book of Revelation has instrumentalists playing.

And there is Psalm 150.

There are more but this is enough.

Yes, this can be refuted just like any doctrine can, but I see instruments as a good and normal part of the life of God's people from Genesis to Revelation. I see instruments as regulative, and they add to the beauty and joy of worship.

I remember being in a very strict environment of worship where everything was critiqued, and anyone who didn't worship like us was viewed negatively. We were like the grumpy kill-joys who thought we were the only ones who had it right. There was this pride in feeling like we were theologically superior. I'm now in an environment that is regulative, but embraces the freedoms God allows in His Word, without passing judgment on others who have varying practices. When someone raises their hands during worship music I can rejoice. Where wine and juice is offered in Communion I can rejoice. Where people use their talents with instruments and the congregation is sincerely worshipping I can rejoice. Where during the sermon our young children gather in their own setting to worship in a way that is on their developmental level, I can rejoice. This is a healthy and happy environment for me to be in. This church has grown so much and people love it. Some here might say it has compromised, but I would say they are using the freedoms God has given to enrich the life of the body.

Blessings!
 
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