Circumstances vs. Elements of Worship as per RPW

Discussion in 'Worship' started by Theoretical, May 17, 2007.

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  1. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor

    A couple of non-RPW friends have inquired about the Biblical support for the Regulative Principle within the Church, and especially on where the idea of Circumstances vs. Elements is supported via Scripture.

    This is one of those questions I've really struggled to chew on and figure out, since I believe the RPW to be Biblically sound and supported, from reading confessional statements of doctrine about it vs. NPW confessional statements, but my own coherent Scriptural knowledge on worship isn't up to snuff at this point to address these issues well.

    And also, I've heard Gospel Worship by Burroughs is a good resource. What else should I look into for a very basic intro to this sphere of theology. The only other book on worship I've read of any substance is D.G. Hart's Recovering Mother Kirk, which I really like for its history and liturgical Reformed arguments, but that doesn't seem to hit the issue on its head.
  2. tcalbrecht

    tcalbrecht Puritan Board Junior

    The Westminster Confession Chapter 21 enumerates the elements and cites particular verses in support. Everything else is circumstance (not directly regulated by Scripture).

    "... 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." (WCF 1:6)

    The circumstances common to all human assemblies would be things like appointing a set time of day and location. The Bible does not specify these things, but leaves it to the individual congregations to decide according to the "light of nature".
  3. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor

    I guess what I'd say is that I've read the proof texts Chapter 21 and I'm not sure I see the connection to the RPW is in several of the NT quotes. The OT ones are pretty straightforward, and I definitely agree that there is an RPW in the OT, I'm just still tied up on how this one and

    Is the Matthew reference (to XXI.1) essentially staying in continuity with the RPW established in the OT - that Christ is implicitly saying that you already know how I want you to worship me, now go and do it?

    It seems fundamentally to be a hermeneutic issue that I may still not be grasping. Nonetheless, I am concerned with what seem to be stretchings of the passages in some of the proof texts.
  4. Rev. Todd Ruddell

    Rev. Todd Ruddell Puritan Board Junior

    You might read George Gillespie's "English Popish ceremonies" for one of the most definitive works on the subject.

    As was said earlier, our confession details the "Elements of Worship" as specified from Scripture. The circumstances are those things which are "common to human actions and societies". In other words, if *any* group is going to meet, there must be a place, time, posture, order, lighting, etc. These, while not dictated by the Word, are to be governed by the "light of Christian prudence, and the general principles of the Word". So, a worship service scheduled at, say, 2:00A would not fit with the light of Christian prudence, since most are generally sleeping at that time, and their attention would be strained. Many other examples might be cited, but the rule is that which is common to any society that must meet must also be ordered for Public Worship as well, seeing that it also is a sociiety which is to meet. These are circumstances.

    The substance or elements of the worship itself, however, is not negotiable. These are also detailed by our Confession. The Reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word, Singing of Psalms, Public Prayer, Administration of Sacraments, as ordinary, and then Lawful Oaths and Vows, Ordination, Fasting, Thankisgiving, etc. as not ordinary but still to be used in their appropriate seasons, as directed by the session or other court.
  5. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor

    Interesting. Sorry if I'm being dense or not very understanding with this stuff at first - I have no background in any of it, so I'm trying not to swim around fruitlessly.

    I appreciate the response, Rev. Ruddell. That does make sense as a straight logical development between circumstances and elements.
  6. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    John L. Girardeau, The Discretionary Power of The Church:

  7. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Moderator

    I think the point of using those references was to illustrate that true religion (and therefore true worship) was declared and revealed by God, and hence it is not negotiable. We don't figure out worship with our own imagination (hence not made by men's hands) or syncretize what God reveals with our own ideas. God speaks and we respond in obedience.
  8. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    There are many good online sources, such as Girardeau's Discretionary Power of the Church which has been online at the NP site for many years. Also, the 2005, 2006, and forthcoming 2007 issues of The Confessional Presbyterian have a lot of useful comments in surveying the last sixty years of literature on the regulative principle of worship. At the link below is my intro to the Smith and Lachman review of the works of Gore and Frame, which covers definitions briefly.
    From: Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D.D. and David C. Lachman, Ph.D. “Reframing Presbyterian Worship: A Critical Survey of the Worship Views of John M. Frame and R. J. Gore,”The Confessional Presbyterian (2005) 116[FONT=&quot]–[/FONT]119. Link.
    Last edited: May 17, 2007
  9. Rev. Todd Ruddell

    Rev. Todd Ruddell Puritan Board Junior

    Dear Theoretical, no need for an apology, sir! A straightforward question deserves a straighforward answer! I only pray I'm up to the task...:handshake:
  10. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I know this is a little off topic, but relevant to the way some of the responses have been framed. It is common to speak about circumstances of worship in terms of "human actions and societies," and I may have inadvertently done so myself in the past. As I have been researching "circumstances" within the context of the Puritan debate with ceremonial imposition, it seems that "actions" refer to worship, whilst "societies" pertains to government. So when speaking about circumstances of worship (at least in Puritan thought), it is more appropriate to say, What is required to perform every action attaches circumstantially to the action of worship also; just as, What is required to govern any society attaches circumstantially to the government of the church also. I believe this will help to avoid misunderstanding with regard to the nature of a circumstance.
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