I admitted to Chris yesterday that I was well behind in my reading of my Confessional Presbyterian Journals
. I'm nearing completion of CPJ 4 and finished the extensive review of current works/articles on the RPW.
I'm a bit shocked at the preponderance of information that suggests how widespread ignorance of the Confessional position on the RPW is among some pretty prominent people in the Reformed movement.
It's not so much that they disagree with the Puritan form of the RPW that shocks me as much as they claim to hold to the original principle and then undermine it by misrepresentation and end up with a view that bears no semblance to the original view.
I would prefer they actually just state the accurate view, take exception to it and why, and then move on to their view. It would make things "cleaner".
That said, I started reflecting today on the two aspects of the RPW. On the one hand, when the Puritans posit the RPW, they do so under the heading of the general equity of the 2nd Commandment that forbids worship in any way that the Lord has not strictly commanded.
I usually see those that depart from the RPW assault it along the lines of undermining what the 2nd Commandment forbids.
What I don't normally see in discussions from those that seek to modify the RPW is to assault the Confessional teaching on Liberty of Conscience. In other words, a key consideration to the RPW is the idea that God has left the conscience of men free from being bound to any man-made doctrine.
Studying sphere sovereignty recently, it clicked in my mind what folks back then used to talk about with respect to the "Divine Right" of Church Government. That is to say that, in its sphere, the Church has commissioned authority, from God, to bind and loose, to preach the Word, and administer the Sacraments.
What it does not have "Divine Right" over is to bind the consciences of men to something the Lord has not commanded. In other words, a Church may discipline a man for not obeying the Word on a certain point and admonishing him to obey the Word and whatever they bind or loose, if according to the Word, a man will be accountable to God for disregarding.
But, if the Church introduces a man-made principle, it has no Divine Authority to seek to bind the conscience of a man to it.
On that principle, then, a man may not be disciplined for worshipping God in a way God has not prescribed and it would be an overstepping of the Church's sphere sovereignty to tell him he must or should worship God in this way in the same way it would be inappropriate for the State to tell the Church who it may or may not admit to table communion.
In one sense, then, if a Church introduces a non-prescribed element then, Confessionally speaking, it has sinned not only in worshipping God in a way He never commanded but also in over-stepping its sphere of sovereignty in reference to the individual worshipper.
Consequently, it seems to me, that one must deal with both aspects and it is not enough to take exception to the idea of positive command but also take exception to clauses in the Confession regarding liberty of conscience.