EP a Violation of the RPW?

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Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
I am not EP (at least not yet) and I also generally like the work of Richard Pratt. I was searching over at Monergism.com for a simple article that would help explain the RPW to someone not familiar with it. I came across this short summary (which is generally good), until I came to this section and it, quite frankly, surprised me.

What are the attacks on liberty of conscience in worship today? It is difficult to identify such attacks today because we have so much freedom to choose between one church or another. Conscience can be followed in the situations in which most of us find ourselves today. Ironically, perhaps the closest thing in Reformed circles to the Anglican book of prayer is the insistence of some on particular practices such as Psalm singing. The biblical support for insisting that Psalms be sung (and sometimes exclusively) in every worship service is weak to say the least. In effect, it reflects the convictions of some being forced on others. This violates the regulative principle, and must be rejected in the spirit of the reformation.

Obviously, this statement not only indicts the EP position, but also a position such as one which would allow for hymns but insist that psalms take priority and that they be sung in all worship services (essentially my position). How would you answer such a charge as Dr. Pratt's?
 

Dearly Bought

Puritan Board Junior
I find this to be a very odd charge. Considering both man-made hymns and Psalms, only one of these two categories of material for praise is an affront to the conscience of some within a mixed group of both EP and non-EP conviction. In other words, hopefully it is not an affront to anyone's conscience when a Psalm is sung, regardless of whether a person is committed to exclusive psalmody or not. Practically speaking, it then would make sense to refrain from forcing hymns upon anyone's conscience if the Psalms are legitimate matter for praise in everyone's eyes.

I don't know that Dr. Pratt's presentation of the regulative principle is helpful at all: "“We must have positive biblical support for all that we do in worship.” How can one speak of "the hermeneutical complexities of deriving directives for worship from the Bible" while seeming to chuck out the window all the careful work of past Reformed divines in speaking of elements and circumstances of worship? I don't get the impression that Dr. Pratt believes that the Scriptures prescribe all the elements of divine worship.
 

Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
EP notwithstanding the logic in that article is precisely the kind of thing I heard in a liberal seminary advocating for any number of bizarre practices.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
Perhaps I was reading him a bit too charitably.

It does seem like an odd charge to make. Certainly it would not be legalism to insist upon the preaching of the word during a worship service or prayer during worship. I wonder if the same charge would be leveled at churches who practiced weekly communion.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
He's not recognising that the main danger to liberty of conscience in this area is having the pastor or kirk session have wide discretion to impose on the worshipper/church member songs which they feel they cannot/ should not sing, because they do not have the high warrant of the Psalms, or because of who composed them, or because of their content, or because of the quality.

The further you go away from the Psalms, the more likely you will be impinging on someone's liberty of conscience.

Someone may say of course that if they cannot sing "Amazing Grace" in the congregation then the EP position is impinging on their liberty. But it is between them and God if they wish to sing "Amazing Grace" at home or in the bath.

The EP position is that only singing Psalms in the public worship services is the way to avoid the pastor and/or session imposing songs of at best doubtful or inferior warrant on God's people.

The Church has no right to do this, while people as individuals or families may deem certain songs outwith the Psalter to be acceptable in worship. In these cases the Church isn't "stepping on people's consciences". But people have to decide before God e.g. am I going to sing this paraphrase? One Christian may feel at liberty to do so, another not. But at least he isn't being put in a difficult position by his church, where ordinarily he is, before God, not to forsake the assembly at the stated services.


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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Dr. Pratt has taken the liberty to devise his own view of liberty and of the regulative principle. True freedom is the freedom to do as God requires. It is not an human imposition on liberty to limit acts of worship to that which God Himself requires.

The regulative principle often falls under a misapprehension today because it is presented as if it were nothing more than the principle of sola scriptura applied to worship. It is more than this. It is a specific principle which limits worship to that which God Himself has prescribed in His word. It is not enough to be able to say that one's practice is agreeable to the Scripture. This is nothing more than a normative principle. The regulative principle is satisfied with nothing less than God's own appointment for each part of worship that is offered to Him.

The true state of the question is, Where has God appointed songs other than the Psalms to be sung in public worship? To introduce things which God has not appointed is an imposition on liberty of conscience and a breach of the regulative principle of worship.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
EP notwithstanding the logic in that article is precisely the kind of thing I heard in a liberal seminary advocating for any number of bizarre practices.
You are in good company with that observation.
Frank Smith reviewed Dr. Pratt’s views in the 2006 CPJ (you should recognize that issue Tim! :)); “The Regulative Principle of Worship: Sixty Years in Reformed Literature. Part One (1946–1999),” By Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D. D. with Chris Coldwell, in The Confessional Presbyterian vol. 2 (2006) This from 162-163.
Richard L. Pratt, Jr.
A Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr., has offered a redefinition of the regulative principle all the while professing to maintain it. In a brief article on the world wide web,193 Dr. Pratt quotes from Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1 as providing “a very common statement of the regulative principle”; and then writes: “The word ‘prescribed’ has frequently led to the types of narrow assertions listed above, i.e., that we ought not to sing songs other than the Psalms or to use musical instruments in worship. A more helpful formulation of the regulative principle is: ‘We must have positive biblical support for all that we do in worship.’ This formulation keeps us from a Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, or other model. But it also acknowledges the hermeneutical complexities of deriving directives for worship from the Bible” (Pratt, 1).

Professor Pratt states that the regulative principle was designed to protect against two abuses: Roman Catholic idolatry, and Anglican violation of liberty of conscience with respect to worship. However, he then writes: “To apply the regulative principle appropriately today, we cannot simply repeat the way it was applied in earlier centuries. Rather, we must identify the idols and attacks on liberty of conscience that are present among our churches today. This will differ from church to church and from time to time. One of the principles which the Reformation embraced was ecclesia semper reformanda est — the church is always reforming. This means that we cannot represent the Reformed tradition without re-presenting it. Simply to repeat it is not to represent it at all” (Pratt, 2).

This RTS professor sees several contemporary forms of idolatry to be eschewed.​
Evangelicals tend to reduce the throne room experience of worship to: a) a classroom for learning; b) a family reunion for mutual encouragement; c) a welcome wagon for visitors and seekers; d) a therapist ’s couch for psychological healing; and/or e) a variety show for entertainment. None of these models is entirely wrong, but when any of these becomes the central model for worship, it also becomes idolatrous.

In many Reformed churches today, the idol is intellectualism. We turn worship into a classroom for learning. This emphasis on intellect was appropriate in earlier historical periods, and may become necessary again some day. But just as Hezekiah destroyed Moses’ bronze serpent because it became and [sic] idol, we must destroy the tendency toward intellectualism that has become an idol in worship for many of us. There are other worship idols as well, and these must become the focus of our attention as we apply the regulative principle today (Pratt, 2).

With regard to violation of liberty of conscience, he writes: “Ironically, perhaps the closest thing in Reformed circles to the Anglican book of prayer is the insistence of some on particular practices such as Psalm singing. The biblical support for insisting that Psalms be sung (and sometimes exclusively) in every worship service is weak to say the least. In effect, it reflect s the convictions of some being forced on others. This violates the regulative principle, and must be rejected in the spirit of the reformation” (Pratt, 2).

He concludes: “It is time for those devoted to continuing the Reformation to revive commitment to the regulative principle. The regulative principle has characterized our tradition for centuries, and we must stop yielding exclusive claim to it to those who have idealized its past applications. We should move forward by applying it in new ways so that we may worship God in the Spirit and in truth” (Pratt, 3)
But, of course, this seminary professor misses the point: the regulative principle of worship, properly understood, is universally applicable, so that the practice of worship should be uniform regardless of the place or time. Therefore, the elements of worship are determined according to Biblical prescription, not on the basis of whether some worship practice might be twisted in the minds of some into idolatry.

Furthermore, Professor Pratt also misconstrues the notion of freedom of conscience. Those who insist on singing only Psalms in public worship are affirming and upholding the principle of liberty, by pointing out that no one has the right to impose on the congregation that which cannot be shown to be Biblical.

While it is true that the Reformed church is always being reformed, this work of re-formation is properly the work of the Holy Spirit, not human cleverness. Dr. Pratt’s pleas for a new reformation sound dangerously close to the siren song of liberals.
------------------------------------------------
193. The article, simply entitled “The Regulative Principle,” is available on the web at http://www.thirdmill.org/newfi les/ric_pratt/TH.Pratt.Reg.Princ.pdf. The paper is not dated but the file is dated 9/6/1999.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Regarding the article, Pratt does not say he believes EP is a violation of the regulative principle. Nor does he say he believes a church would be violating a non-EPer's conscience by insisting on psalm-singing. He merely says that EP forces the convictions of some upon others in a way that reminds him, ironically, of the prayer book being forced upon pastors back in the day.

Whether one agrees with that assessment or not, it doesn't have the logical problems that would follow if he were actually suggesting what the thread title implies. Tim, I think maybe you were just reading a bit more into his statement than Pratt meant to say.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
Whether one agrees with that assessment or not, it doesn't have the logical problems that would follow if he were actually suggesting what the thread title implies. Tim, I think maybe you were just reading a bit more into his statement than Pratt meant to say.

He says, "... perhaps the closest thing in Reformed circles to the Anglican book of prayer is the insistence of some on particular practices such as Psalm singing. The biblical support for insisting that Psalms be sung (and sometimes exclusively) in every worship service is weak to say the least. In effect, it reflects the convictions of some being forced on others. This violates the regulative principle, and must be rejected in the spirit of the reformation."

The only mistake with the thread title is that he doesn't just indict exclusive psalmody, but also any insistence that psalms be sung in worship.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Whether one agrees with that assessment or not, it doesn't have the logical problems that would follow if he were actually suggesting what the thread title implies. Tim, I think maybe you were just reading a bit more into his statement than Pratt meant to say.

He says, "... perhaps the closest thing in Reformed circles to the Anglican book of prayer is the insistence of some on particular practices such as Psalm singing. The biblical support for insisting that Psalms be sung (and sometimes exclusively) in every worship service is weak to say the least. In effect, it reflects the convictions of some being forced on others. This violates the regulative principle, and must be rejected in the spirit of the reformation."

The only mistake with the thread title is that he doesn't just indict exclusive psalmody, but also any insistence that psalms be sung in worship.

You're right. I read right past that. It is an odd line, all right.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Actually, I could see his point as having some validity if the Bible commanded uninspired hymns to be composed or sung. It would then be a violation of the RPW to throw out a commanded element of worship, or a divinely-sanctioned part of an element of worship. I could see that. So it really comes down to whether the burden of Scriptural warrant for uninspired praise - by direct precept, approved example, or necessary inference - is satisfied. And that, of course, is the very point of disagreement. I don't see any use in trying to argue that EP should be considered acceptable if the Bible did, in fact, warrant uninspired praise. It would not be acceptable under those conditions.
 

R Harris

Puritan Board Sophomore
This sort of reminds me of John Frame's strange statement many years ago that the word "psalms" in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 really doesn't have to refer to the psalms of the old testament - in fact, none of the three terms do.

It is this sort of shoddy exegesis from Frame and Pratt that has typified people in the reformed community who will go to any length to oppose psalm singing. It is both disturbing and somewhat bizarre.

Then there are the disparaging remarks against those who hold to EP or predominant psalmody as "TRs," as if trying to seriously follow the teachings of Scripture were some bad thing. I don't get it, I really don't get it.
 

Pilgrim Standard

Puritan Board Sophomore
Ironically, perhaps the closest thing in Reformed circles to the Anglican book of prayer is the insistence of some on particular practices such as Psalm singing.

This is totally irreconcilable with historical fact.

Charles I attempted to force the Book of Common Prayer on Presbyterians in Scotland in 1637. (Hence the National Covenant based on the Six John’s Scots Confession of 1560.) Resistance to this by Presbyterians in Scotland who desired to keep The Regulative Principle of Worship including the Exclusive use of Psalm Singing in Worship and thereby rejection of Episcopal Liturgy, was one of the pillars that kicked off the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and lead to the Scottish Parliament abolishing Episcopacy.

This came to a direct head with the second statute of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 in which the BOCP was made compulsory, which effectively ejected ministers from their pulpits.

Wars were fought over this, compulsory oaths, murders and much bloodshed.
This statement just does not play out at all.

To his doctorate I say pushaw... :p
 

Pilgrim Standard

Puritan Board Sophomore
The biblical support for insisting that Psalms be sung (and sometimes exclusively) in every worship service is weak to say the least.
Do we need to exegete Ephesians 5: 19 and Colossians 3:16 again? A claim that Psalms does not mean Psalms is Preposterous.

In the light of these two verses alone I can not see how insistance that Psalms must be sung (inclusive psalmody) is even open for argument.
I can, however understand confusion of some in regard to inclusive vs exclusive psalmody, although I firmly hold to the latter.

Ephesians 5: 19 and Colossians 3:16, coupled with "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it," the case for any Psalm Singing in worship as as subset of RPW is final. Otherwise words have no meaning, which seems to be the Path Pratt is on... If we all interpreted ecclesia semper reformanda est as Pratt does, we will all be back full circle to rome before we know it. Is that not the logical conclusion of this path of interpretation?

BTW - isn't this the Pratt that wrote "Every Thougt Captive?"
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
It sounds as though Pratt is equating the RPW with issues of conscience. It seems silly to say that someone's conscience would be offended by singing Psalms. Even though I am not EP myself, my conscience would hardly be offended by attending a Psalms-only church, even for a long time. The issue of the RPW is not directly the conscience, but rather the regulation of worship by Scripture. It is specific, as Matthew says, in limiting worship to what the Bible commands or appoints. If one thinks of various types of hymnody and psalms in terms of concentric rings, the psalms would be the inner ring by almost anyone's standards. This would be followed by hymns the texts of which are straight Scripture outside the psalms. Further out would be hymns that reflect biblical truth but not in exact words. Then outside that are hymns that are not biblical (like "In the Garden"). The question of the RPW has to do with where the biblical boundary is beyond which we cannot go. People on the PB will disagree about that. But why should anyone disagree that if someone has a wider boundary in their conscience, their conscience cannot be violated by a church that has a narrower circle? Those that accept hymns that are not EP should quite cheerfully accept psalms in worship. Pratt has a weird view of how conscience relates to the RPW. It almost seems like the opposite of what it should be.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
It seems silly to say that someone's conscience would be offended by singing Psalms. ... Those that accept hymns that are not EP should quite cheerfully accept psalms in worship.

You would think so. But a couple of anecdotes show how divergent the thinking is on this subject.

When I came to my present pastorate, there were ZERO psalms sung in worship. I began introducing psalms gradually, eventually paying for new psalters a few years ago out of my own pocket (another member helped supplement this by buy several psalters himself). One of the older members responded with a complaint that the church had gotten rid of those in the 1950s and didn't understand why we were bringing them back.

OTOH, we had a young couple who were worshipping with us (they are now members). The husband was from a non-Reformed background and had never attended a church where psalms were sung. When I was meeting with him to discuss membership, I made a passing comment about having a few complaints over the singing of psalms, and his response was one of genuine confusion: "Why would anyone complain about singing psalms?" Exactly.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Pratt may be (over) reacting to a position which he thinks is unbiblical and overly careful or " restrictive".

We need to be aware of the possibility of over reacting unbiblically in matters of theology, ethics and church principles.

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nick

Puritan Board Freshman
The Church has no right to do this, while people as individuals or families may deem certain songs outwith the Psalter to be acceptable in worship.

Does God regulate private and family worship? Can we worship him in those settings in anyway we choose?
 

Pilgrim Standard

Puritan Board Sophomore
Does God regulate private and family worship? Can we worship him in those settings in anyway we choose?
God regulates "Worship." He has also obviously created multiple spheres of Worship. Family worship is not the same as NT Congregational worship, nor is NT Worship administered the same as OT worship. One may not bow down to images in family worship any more than one could bow down to images in public worship. My point is that God regulates all Worship of Himself, because he has the right to do so, and we may not invent our method of worshipping God. The argument that I believe you want to make is "Does God regulate family worship in the same way, or by the same rules, as he regulates Corporate Worship at Church?"

I think you were trying to make a point to Peairtach now that I read this again. oops.
 
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nick

Puritan Board Freshman
I know it is not a 1:1 in all cases, but I don't think I can sing a man-made song as worship to God in private anymore than I can in the corporate worship of God. This doesn't mean I can't use a song to help me learn about God or aide in memorization, etc. I just wouldn't label it as worship.
 

Pilgrim Standard

Puritan Board Sophomore
I know it is not a 1:1 in all cases, but I don't think I can sing a man-made song as worship to God in private anymore than I can in the corporate worship of God. This doesn't mean I can't use a song to help me learn about God or aide in memorization, etc. I just wouldn't label it as worship.
I think many protestants in early Protestant Geneva would agree with you on this one. I have read that some copies of the Original Genevan Psalter contained "memorization songs" that were aids used by parents to teach their children at home, but not sung in corporate worship.

When we have "family worship" we only sing psalms as well. But when I try to learn a passage of scripture, or WLC, WSC, I have put it to tune.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
I know it is not a 1:1 in all cases, but I don't think I can sing a man-made song as worship to God in private anymore than I can in the corporate worship of God. This doesn't mean I can't use a song to help me learn about God or aide in memorization, etc. I just wouldn't label it as worship.

I'm not aware that the seventeenth century divines - who, from Scripture, limited song in public worship to the Psalms of David - condemned all use of other Scripture songs at other times of worship, or paraphrases of other parts of Scripture, or the composing and use of extra-canonical songs in times of non-public worship.

Some of them may have done. But see the Preface to the Scottish Psalter 1673. It is also true that when the Psalter was approved by the General Assembly of the CofS, Zachary Boyd, was commissioned to prepare metrical versions of other Scripture songs, presumably for use in worship outwith the congregation.

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SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
I agree that the original statement is weak as it stands, although Austin makes a good point. However, what of mandating a specific psalter be used or otherwise forbidding the singing of nonmetrical psalms? This seems to me to be pretty close to requiring use of a specific prayer book.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
However, what of mandating a specific psalter be used or otherwise forbidding the singing of nonmetrical psalms? This seems to me to be pretty close to requiring use of a specific prayer book.

I see uniformity in corporate worship as a good thing and would be fine with a specific Psalter (preferably the best one) being standard across a denomination, just as I am fine with a particular translation of the Bible (again, hopefully the best available) being standard in a denomination for unity. I'm not sure that liberty of conscience really applies to a worship service at all* since there really isn't any individual action in a worship service - it's all corporate by necessity, and therefore some level of established uniformity is necessary. Even in a denomination or Presbytery where no particular Psalter or Bible is required, it still will always be the case that a particular Psalter or Bible will have to be used in a particular church, and therefore at the Session level, some authoritative "binding" of what will be used must inevitably take place. If my pastor doesn't bind my conscience when he reads the Word authoritatively from a particular translation, then I don't see how the Session binds my conscience by giving us all a particular Psalter and instructing us to turn to page such-and-such and sing this particular psalm in this particular translation. Uniformity in corporate worship is unavoidable, and it belongs to the officers of the Church to govern even mere circumstances according to the light of nature and Christian prudence.

*Just to be clear, when I question whether liberty of conscience is involved in a worship service, I do not mean that a Session has authority to appoint an element of worship which the Lord has not commanded and thus which the believer cannot be obligated to do against his conscience. I simply mean that the circumstances surrounding worship require some uniformity and therefore are under Sessional governance. Outside the worship service, I have liberty of conscience to sit, stand, or kneel when I pray, but in the worship service I should (if physically able) do whatever the Pastor directs so that we might be in uniformity.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
The difference is that the "binding" done at the congregational level is of necessity. Someone has to decide what time to meet and the order of worship. Otherwise everyone does their own thing and there is no true corporate worship. This necessity does not exist between two congregations or even two services. If a congregation wanted to sing Psalm 51 to one setting one week there is no necessity that the next time it sings it it is to the same setting.

For a national church to insist on uniformity in the use of a certain psalter is really no different than if it were to insist on the use of a certain prayer book. It is an unnecessary binding.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
For a national church to insist on uniformity in the use of a certain psalter is really no different than if it were to insist on the use of a certain prayer book. It is an unnecessary binding.

The parts of worship are different. A congregation which sings together must have a set form to sing, whereas a congregational prayer led by a minister does not require a set form to pray. The "necessity" of a form arises from the part of worship. This will be true whether one sings exclusive psalmody or not.

The restriction to the "Book" of Psalms arises only because of the belief that God has appointed only the singing of Psalms in congregational worship. This therefore becomes the set form in keeping with the regulative principle of worship.

Where a church is Presbyterian and holds it is the responsibility of the Presbytery to oversee purity of worship (which was the conviction of our Presbyterian forebears as evinced by their vows and directions for worship), uniform use of a single book becomes the norm.
 
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