Specific vs. general worship on the Sabbath

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Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
To start, I want to establish the distinction between specific worship and general worship. Roughly, the former is the overt act of praising God, according to the precepts of His Word, with time set apart solely for that purpose. The latter is not as overt, but involves doing everything unto the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Now, the WCF 21.8 says the following:
This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their wordly employments and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.​

My question resulting from this is that a lot of the activities that most Reformed (all I've known) deem acceptable on the Sabbath are not really acts of specific worship, but are, in some sense, between the categories of specific and general worship. Take reading a theological book, for instance, or having children play some sort of Bible-based game. These are not considered commanded elements of Scripture according to the regulative principle of worship, and therefore they cannot be considered acts of specific worship, yet they clearly are not recreational in the same sense as watching football. They are more God-oriented than general worship, but yet they are not quite specific worship. Why then do we allow them on the Sabbath?

If it is the case that such acts are allowed on the Sabbath, then what is the Biblical warrant? It might be the case that Isaiah 58:13-14 forbids recreation and encourages more God-based general activities, yet without demanding specific worship all the day long.
 
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rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
Hi Ben,

Could it be that terms are tangled here? The Confession does not address general and specific worship but rather public and private. Both public and private worship must be consistent with keeping the day separate from the duties of the other six. But beyond that public (corporate) worship is regulated while private (non corporate) worship is unregulated.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
I thought private, family, and corporate worship were all instances of specific worship, and therefore that the RPW still applies to private worship. We shouldn't use incense as we set up a shrine and pray before a statue at home.
 

rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
Authorized preaching of the Scriptures with the “due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments” are no part of private worship but are regulated parts of corporate worship.

Private worship may include personal preferences (e.g. beholding God’s creation) which would not be consistent with the mandate to do all things decently and in order where multiple worshipers are assembled, as in corporate worship.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
I agree that the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments would not take place in private worship, nor would there be a mandate for having corporate order and decency. But I thought this arose from the definition of private worship (since it is non-corporate), rather than from the premise that it's governed by a normative principle.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Westminster Larger Catechism

Question 116: What is required in the fourth commandment?

Answer: The fourth commandment requires of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he has appointed in his Word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord's day.

Question 117: How is the sabbath or the Lord's day to be sanctified?

Answer: The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to betaken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.

Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter XXI
Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day

....

V. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear,[17] the sound preaching[18] and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence,[19] singing of psalms with grace in the heart;[20] as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God:[21] beside religious oaths,[22] vows,[23] solemn fastings,[24] and thanksgivings upon special occasions,[25] which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.[26]

VI. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the Gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed:[27] but God is to be worshipped everywhere,[28] in spirit and truth;[29] as, in private families[30] daily,[31] and in secret, each one by himself;[32] so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calls thereunto.[33]

VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him:[34] which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week,[35] which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day,[36] and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.[37]
....

It might be helpful to put this in context of the passages around paragraph VIII. in the Confession, and in the context of the Standards, E.g. the Larger Catechism.

The fourth commandment is perhaps best understood as ceasing from the ordinary work of the rest of the week, and "setting apart" the day so that the worship of God may be prioritized all the day, allowing for works of mercy and necessity. By implication, this includes ceasing and coming apart from seeking to entertain and recreate ourselves that day.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
Scott, I understand and agree that the Sabbath is to be set apart and recreation is to cease. But my question is this: if the day is reserved for acts of worship, necessity, and mercy, then the RPW should apply to everything we do that is not of necessity or mercy. Why, then, is theological reading -- or some better example of God-oriented activity that is not specific worship -- allowed?

It seems that the Sabbath involves some category that is between specific worship (governed by the RPW) and general worship.
 

jrdnoland

Puritan Board Freshman
I would argue that theological reading could be considered as worship. Isn't part of worship loving God? If I learn more about Him, by reading, then I will admire Him all the more and have a deeper, fuller love and admiration for Him.

Worship is the response of grateful and humble people to the living God where submission, sacrificial service, praise, profession, testimony and gratitude are freely expressed in innumerable ways. This is a much richer concept than mere corporate singing and praise once each week for 20 minutes - an event that could occur without any actual worship going on at all.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Add to the below the Scottish Kirk's Directions for Family Worship as far as what they included as part of observing the Lord's day, which I think followed general Puritan practice at the time:
VIII. On the Lord's day, after every one of the family apart, and the whole family together, have sought the Lord (in whose hands the preparation of men's hearts are) to fit them for the publick worship, and to bless to them the publick ordinances, the master of the family ought to take care that all within his charge repair to the publick worship, that he and they may join with the rest of the congregation: and the publick worship being finished, after prayer, he should take an account what they have heard; and thereafter, to spend the rest of the time which they may spare in catechising, and in spiritual conferences upon the word of God: or else (going apart) they ought to apply themselves to reading, meditation, and secret prayer, that they may confirm and increase their communion with God: that so the profit which they found in the publick ordinances may be cherished and promoved, and they more edified unto eternal life.
Westminster Larger Catechism

Question 116: What is required in the fourth commandment?

Answer: The fourth commandment requires of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he has appointed in his Word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord's day.

Question 117: How is the sabbath or the Lord's day to be sanctified?

Answer: The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to betaken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.
Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter XXI
Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day

....

V. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear,[17] the sound preaching[18] and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence,[19] singing of psalms with grace in the heart;[20] as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God:[21] beside religious oaths,[22] vows,[23] solemn fastings,[24] and thanksgivings upon special occasions,[25] which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.[26]

VI. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the Gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed:[27] but God is to be worshipped everywhere,[28] in spirit and truth;[29] as, in private families[30] daily,[31] and in secret, each one by himself;[32] so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calls thereunto.[33]

VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him:[34] which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week,[35] which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day,[36] and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.[37]
....
It might be helpful to put this in context of the passages around paragraph VIII. in the Confession, and in the context of the Standards, E.g. the Larger Catechism.

The fourth commandment is perhaps best understood as ceasing from the ordinary work of the rest of the week, and "setting apart" the day so that the worship of God may be prioritized all the day, allowing for works of mercy and necessity. By implication, this includes ceasing and coming apart from seeking to entertain and recreate ourselves that day.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Westminster Directory of Worship

CHAPTER IV
THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE LORD’S DAY

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.42
1. As it is the law of nature that, in general, a due proportion of time
be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive,
moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all people in all
ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven to be a day
set apart and kept holy to Him.43 From the beginning of creation
to the resurrection of Christ, this day was the seventh day of the
week,44 but following the resurrection this day became the first
day of the week and is called the Lord’s Day.45

2. The Lord’s Day is to be kept holy by a holy resting all the day,
making it our delight46 to spend the whole time in the public and
private exercises of religion, together with works of necessity and
mercy.47 To that end, we should prepare our hearts and order our
lives and labors beforehand so that the whole day may be kept
for the Lord.48

3. When the day is properly kept, it is experienced as a day of joy
and celebration in holy convocation.49 On this day we are enabled
by the Spirit to leave the toils and worries of this world and taste
afresh of the heavenly rest, returning to the household of God
who inhabits the praises of His people.50 We are to imitate the
example of God, who rested and was refreshed when He finished
the work of creation.51 We are to remember our deliverance and
salvation, and look forward to the eternal rest secured for us in
the resurrection of Christ;52 even as our forefathers under the Old
Testament recalled their deliverance from Egypt and the gift of
rest in the promised land.53

42 Exod. 20:8.
43 COF XXI.VII.
44 Exod. 20:8, 31:12-17.
45 Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23, 26-29; Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10.
46 Isa. 58:13-14.
47 Mark 2:23—3:5, Luke 13:10-16, COF XXI.VIII.
48 Exod. 16:5, 22-30; COF XXI.VIII; LC Q. 117 .
49 Neh. 8:9-12; Ps. 122:1; Is. 56:1-8, 58:13-14.
50 Ps. 22:3.
51 Exod. 20:8, 31:17.
52 Heb. 4:1-10.
53 Deut. 5:12-15.

4. Other days of public worship may be provided besides the Lord’s
Day, but it is both the happy privilege and the solemn duty of all
God’s people to assemble for worship on the Lord’s Day as they
are able.54

54 Heb. 10:25
.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
To get more clarification, I suppose I could rephrase the question: Clearly private worship is to be included in our Sabbaths. Does the RPW apply to private worship?
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Scott, I understand and agree that the Sabbath is to be set apart and recreation is to cease. But my question is this: if the day is reserved for acts of worship, necessity, and mercy, then the RPW should apply to everything we do that is not of necessity or mercy. Why, then, is theological reading -- or some better example of God-oriented activity that is not specific worship -- allowed?

It seems that the Sabbath involves some category that is between specific worship (governed by the RPW) and general worship.

Ben,

I vaguely recall a phrase such as "religious talk" somewhere in the Standards that might address one part of your question, that being that related religious discussion is within the scope of the fourth commandment, but have not found that.

Your question is something like does every single action on the sabbath have to be corporate or family worship, which I don't think so at all, were that even possible.

You rightly point out the "regulative principle" applies broadly to many areas, but we tend to use it in connection with worship, and particularly the Lord's Day because it is a large part of the regulative principle of worship (cf Westminster Chapter XXI). So, we could say the regulative principle applies to all life as well.

I like the way the Directory says it above, paragraph 3.

3. When the day is properly kept, it is experienced as a day of joy
and celebration in holy convocation.49 On this day we are enabled
by the Spirit to leave the toils and worries of this world and taste
afresh of the heavenly rest, returning to the household of God
who inhabits the praises of His people.50 We are to imitate the
example of God, who rested and was refreshed when He finished
the work of creation.51 We are to remember our deliverance and
salvation, and look forward to the eternal rest secured for us in
the resurrection of Christ;52 even as our forefathers under the Old
Testament recalled their deliverance from Egypt and the gift of
rest in the promised land.53

It's a matter of focus and priority, with generous circumstance allowances- look at all the different kinds of mercy and necessity things God brings our way even when we are quite focuses on corporate and family worship!

Also don't forget individual worship is a big part as well. If our minds are focused on God, and by derivation, His ways, I think we are hitting the heart of the command, preparing in advance to minimize distraction, "ceasing," and "setting the day" apart from the ordinary.

It's a delight when one focuses on that, knowing that our circumstances are providentially controlled even as we try, by God's grace, to keep the sabbath.
 
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Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
Well, I'm not asking if the Sabbath must be filled with corporate and public worship; rather, I am asking what the RPW commands for us in the context of private worship, and whether our activities we typically do on Sabbaths (e.g. theological reading) fulfill that.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Well, I'm not asking if the Sabbath must be filled with corporate and public worship; rather, I am asking what the RPW commands for us in the context of private worship, and whether our activities we typically do on Sabbaths (e.g. theological reading) fulfill that.

If I'm understanding, it seems the Westminster Standards (Confession, Catechism, Directory of Worship) above do summarize the doctrine of Scripture regarding worship- corporate, family and individual, the latter two being "private."

And yes, the regulative principle applies to all of worship.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you for correcting my terminology; I did not know I was confusing "private" with "individual." I will call it individual worship from now on.

Now, I don't intend to be annoying in my probing, but given that the RPW applies to individual worship as well, (1) what element of worship is theological reading, and (2) is that element commanded in Scripture?
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Thank you for correcting my terminology; I did not know I was confusing "private" with "individual." I will call it individual worship from now on.

Now, I don't intend to be annoying in my probing, but given that the RPW applies to individual worship as well, (1) what element of worship is theological reading, and (2) is that element commanded in Scripture?

Well, the Reformers, using sixteenth, seventeenth century language sometimes had different connotations to words than we do today, so that is very understandable, (E.g. "publick" worship = corporate worship today, etc.)

Reading the Word certainly is commanded as a centerpiece of private worship. That is well established biblically. (cf. the proof texts for the Westminster Standards, supra.).

I would say theological reading, discussion, etc. is incidental to that, and certainly within the scope of the fourth commandment.

Deuteronomy 11

18Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.

19And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

20And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates:
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Now, I don't intend to be annoying in my probing, but given that the RPW applies to individual worship as well, (1) what element of worship is theological reading, and (2) is that element commanded in Scripture?

I hope this does not add confusion, but "individual" worship traditionally falls under the category of "private worship."

As to the application of the RPW, we should be clear that the proper reformed use of the RPW is in the context of "the limits of church power relative to worship." It does not technically apply to private worship. However, it is understood that when we make our own personal approach to God that we will be conscious to honour the divine name by showing due submission to the divine will. Hence we will only "offer" to God that which we know will be acceptable through Christ Jesus.

As to reading on the Lord's day, this undoubtedly falls under the category of meditation, and there can be no doubt that meditation is an element of private devotion, 1 Timothy 4:15.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
I hope this does not add confusion, but "individual" worship traditionally falls under the category of "private worship."

Just to be clear -- are you in agreement with Scott in placing both individual worship and family worship in the category of private worship?

As to the application of the RPW, we should be clear that the proper reformed use of the RPW is in the context of "the limits of church power relative to worship." It does not technically apply to private worship. However, it is understood that when we make our own personal approach to God that we will be conscious to honour the divine name by showing due submission to the divine will. Hence we will only "offer" to God that which we know will be acceptable through Christ Jesus.

Could you elaborate on the distinction in how the RPW applies differently to corporate and private worship? Are you saying that, in private worship, we do not strictly need to seek elements of worship, express or implied in Scripture? (Perhaps we should operate on less strict principles?) I'm just not familiar with the distinction.

---------- Post added at 06:10 PM ---------- Previous post was at 06:07 PM ----------

Scott,

What exactly do you mean when you say that theological reading is "incidental" to reading Scripture?

It seems pretty reasonable to say that if Scripture-reading is allowed, then reading about Scripture is allowed. But, I don't know if the argument could necessarily withhold the counterargument that such an argument (i.e., if Scripture-reading is allowed, then reading about Scripture is too) would make the actual words of Scripture to be circumstantial rather than elemental.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Just to be clear -- are you in agreement with Scott in placing both individual worship and family worship in the category of private worship?

Due to semantics, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that private worship is simply that which is not public. No, in the sense that family and private worship are often distinguished. E.g., John Brown (Wamphray): "There are (as is known) various kinds of species of Prayer and diverse ways how this duty may and should be performed; as public Prayers in the church, private and solitary Prayers, performed by each alone in their retirements and closets... But as to family Prayer..."

Could you elaborate on the distinction in how the RPW applies differently to corporate and private worship? Are you saying that, in private worship, we do not strictly need to seek elements of worship, express or implied in Scripture? (Perhaps we should operate on less strict principles?) I'm just not familiar with the distinction.

The RPW technically applies to "church power." An individual does not exercise tyranny over the dictates of his own conscience; hence it does not technically apply to private worship. The idea of restricted elements" only applies because more than one person is engaging in worship. It is not right that "forms" and "freedoms" are left to the imagination of church governors; therefore forms and freedoms are regulated and limited by divine prescription. When the individual is alone with God, he may be as formal or as free as his Word and Spirit guided consciousness extemporaneously inclines him. Basically, if he follows the three forms of Bible reading, prayer, and psalm singing, he has engaged in what is traditionally regarded as private worship; but he is also free to incorporate other actions.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
The RPW technically applies to "church power." An individual does not exercise tyranny over the dictates of his own conscience; hence it does not technically apply to private worship. The idea of restricted elements" only applies because more than one person is engaging in worship. It is not right that "forms" and "freedoms" are left to the imagination of church governors; therefore forms and freedoms are regulated and limited by divine prescription. When the individual is alone with God, he may be as formal or as free as his Word and Spirit guided consciousness extemporaneously inclines him. Basically, if he follows the three forms of Bible reading, prayer, and psalm singing, he has engaged in what is traditionally regarded as private worship; but he is also free to incorporate other actions.

Because this is a distinction I haven't yet heard of, I naturally have a few questions to explore it further. If you do not wish to answer them, please do not feel obligated to do so.

(1) How would you respond to the following objection? "If we can have such freedom in private worship, then wouldn't it be permissible to sing hymns (or do any other non-commanded elements) in corporate worship, so long as everyone agreed to it by their Word- and Spirit-guided consciousnesses?"
(2) Do you believe hymn-singing is permissible in private worship if Psalm-singing alone is commanded for corporate worship?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
(1) How would you respond to the following objection? "If we can have such freedom in private worship, then wouldn't it be permissible to sing hymns (or do any other non-commanded elements) in corporate worship, so long as everyone agreed to it by their Word- and Spirit-guided consciousnesses?"

I obviously do not think that a Word and Spirit guided consciousness should come to that conclusion, but if the congregational consciousness believes it has been guided by Word and Spirit to adopt that position then it is to be expected the congregation will act accordingly.

(2) Do you believe hymn-singing is permissible in private worship if Psalm-singing alone is commanded for corporate worship?

So far as private worship is concerned, meditation is not bound to the words of inspiration, and meditation in the Hebrew language indicates a vocal exercise; hence I see nothing improper with an individual singing uninspired words in meditation to God. But a Psalm singer who is convinced of the superiority of the Psalms will naturally have a preference for the words of God over the words of men as a true expression of his devout and godly heart, especially considering that the worshipper feels he is singing in fellowship with the sufferings and glories of his Messiah.
 
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