Is the RPW a different hermeneutical/theological principle than sola Scriptura?

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Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Is what has been called the "Regulative Principle of Worship" (RPW) and been identified with the teaching of the 17th-century Puritan Confessions a different hermeneutical/theological principle or method than sola Scriptura? According to T. David Gordon, the answer is "yes." Gordon writes,
“In point of fact, however, the regulative principle does provide a different hermeneutic. In other areas [of life], exegesis (with all its attendant difficulties) proscribes what may be done, leaving other practices open. In faith and worship, exegesis (with all its attendant difficulties) prescribes what is permissible, leaving other practices closed" (emphasis his; "Some Answers About the Regulative Principle," Westminster Theological Journal 55:2 (Fall 1993): 326-27.
Gordon doesn't provide in this article any exegetical support for this distinction between the RPW and sola Scriptura. I am interested to learn what Scriptural data those who agree with Gordon might employ to support his conclusion.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
The prescribing nature of the RPW is from the scripture itself, in keeping with Sola Scriptura.
WCF 21.1 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.
DEU 12:32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. MAT 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. ACT 17:25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. MAT 4:9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (see also DEU 15:-19) EXO 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.​
 

Skyler

Puritan Board Graduate
"In other areas [of life], exegesis (with all its attendant difficulties) proscribes what may be done, leaving other practices open."

I would say exegesis prescribes what ought and ought not to be done, personally. I could be wrong though.
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Chris,

Thanks for the input. Are you affirming, with Gordon, that the RPW is a principle distinct from the principle of sola Scriptura? Or are you affirming that the RPW is simply an application of the broader principle of sola Scriptura to worship? My guess is the latter since some of the texts you cite apply to situations outside corporate worship, viz., to worship as a way of life. Is that correct?

Thanks,

---------- Post added at 10:49 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:36 AM ----------

"In other areas [of life], exegesis (with all its attendant difficulties) proscribes what may be done, leaving other practices open."

I would say exegesis prescribes what ought and ought not to be done, personally. I could be wrong though.

I agree, Jonathan, that exegesis in other areas of life doesn't merely proscribe (i.e., prohibit) but also prescribes (i.e., requires). I'm also inclined to think that exegesis determines the limits or boundaries of what is permissible whether in the context of worship narrowly defined (corporate gatherings of the church) or in the context of worship broadly defined (worship in all of life). Thus, I question Gordon's thesis. Nevertheless, I'm interested to know if there is exegetical evidence for two distinct regulating or norming principles: one that regulates worship in the narrow sense and a different principle that regulates worship in the broad sense. It seems to me that the divines saw the RPW as a corollary of sola Scriptura. But does the RPW entail a different hermeneutic, as Gordon seems to allege? And if so, what is the biblical basis for asserting that people should apply Scripture to corporate worship in a different way than they apply Scripture to all of life?
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
I'm not sure I agree with how sola scriptura is being used in Gordon's piece (although I haven't read it, so I could be missing his definition). SS is not a hermeneutic or a method for prescribing or proscribing anything. It is a position that affirms Scripture as the only infallible authority and the first of several legitimate authorities.

The RPW as well is not a hermeneutic or a method of reading Scripture. It is a theological position that states that, in public worship, whatever is not commanded is forbidden. I think your real question is whether this amounts to a different rule of conduct than that which generally holds in life. The answer to that is obviously yes, or the RPW would not have needed to have been formulated in the first place. The formulators of the principle were intentionally placing greater strictures around worship than those which entail in other points at life. That is not using two different hermeneutics; it is merely a recognition that duties and obligations vary depending on people and activity.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
If we are going to discuss Gordon's views I think we need fuller context of the quotation.

N.B. Everyone keep in mind PB's rules here. Mind the pool.:judge:
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
I'm not sure I agree with how sola scriptura is being used in Gordon's piece (although I haven't read it, so I could be missing his definition). SS is not a hermeneutic or a method for prescribing or proscribing anything. It is a position that affirms Scripture as the only infallible authority and the first of several legitimate authorities.

The RPW as well is not a hermeneutic or a method of reading Scripture. It is a theological position that states that, in public worship, whatever is not commanded is forbidden. I think your real question is whether this amounts to a different rule of conduct than that which generally holds in life. The answer to that is obviously yes, or the RPW would not have needed to have been formulated in the first place. The formulators of the principle were intentionally placing greater strictures around worship than those which entail in other points at life. That is not using two different hermeneutics; it is merely a recognition that duties and obligations vary depending on people and activity.

Charlie,

Thanks for your input. It seems to me that you're saying something like this: sola Scriptura is the position that Scripture alone is the infallible and ultimately authoritative rule to direct us how to glorify and enjoy God. However, the way Scripture rules or norms conduct and behavior is different in public worship than in all of life. Am I reading you correctly?

Perhaps Gordon didn't state it well, but I think this is what he was trying to articulate. But as I noted above, Gordon didn't provide any proof-texts or exegesis in his article defending this proposition. Chris cited some texts above, but some if not all of them could apply to worship in all of life. If the "don't add or subtract" principle or rule of conduct applies to all of life in addition to public worship, on what Scriptural basis can we posit two different standards or rules of conduct? It would seem to me that it's not the standard or rule of conduct that changes but rather the context or situation that changes, which in turn calls for different applications of the overarching principle of sola Scriptura.

Is that how you would view it? If not, what texts or passages of Scripture do you believe support the idea of two distinct rules of conduct, one for public worship and one for all of life?
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
If we are going to discuss Gordon's views I think we need fuller context of the quotation.

N.B. Everyone keep in mind PB's rules here. Mind the pool.:judge:

Dear Chris,

In the context, Gordon is taking issue with the idea that the RPW is simply an application of sola Scriptura to corporate worship. He sees the "hermeneutic" of sola Scriptura as allowing more liberty and the "hermeneutic" of the RPW as comparatively more restrictive of liberty. A similar argument is advanced by Ernest Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen when they assert,
The regulative principle is cabined to worship only. Advocates of its use recognize that, in every other area of life, Christians are under the liberty of the normative principle. In this sense, the regulative principle is an exception to the doctrine of Christian liberty (Worship: The Regulative Principle and the Biblical Practice of Accommodation [Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2001], p. 30).
My concern is not so much to critique Gordon or the authors I've just cited. Nor is my intent to deny the RPW (i.e., "pee in the pool":)). Rather, I'm trying to ascertain whether we should understand the RPW simply as an application of sola Scriptura to the context and situation of church life and corporate worship or whether we should interpret RPW as requiring the affirmation of two distinct "rules of conduct" (to use Charlie's terminology).

That the Westminster divines intended the former is suggested by their application of the "don't add" principle to all of life including worship in chapter 1, paragraph 6. That they may have intended the latter is suggested by their inclusion of the phrase "or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship" in chapter 20, paragraph 2.

If the latter, then are there particular texts of Scripture that support the idea of two distinct "rules of conduct"? (The proof-texts given for the statement excerpted from 20.2 don't seem to support the idea of a distinct "rule of conduct.") Or are the texts used to support the RPW simply supporting the principle of sola Scriptura and applying that principle to worship?
 

Jimmy the Greek

Puritan Board Senior
Ahhh. I think I see your point, Bob. If the RPW is not "cabined" to the area of worship, is it then, in effect, the Regulative Principle of Life (RPL) where nothing is allowed if not prescribed?
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
The difference is not in Sola Scriptura, the difference is in how it applies to different things. The WCF ably summarizes it this way:

WCF 20:2 God alone is Lord of the conscience,(1) and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.
 

Glenn Ferrell

Puritan Board Junior
The Regulative Principle is applied to doctrine and church government also. Would anyone maintain that if certain doctrines are not mentioned in scripture, and thus not proscribed, they may be taught by the church? This is a matter of authority. The church may only teach, govern and command worship as warranted by God's word.

WCF I:6-- "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: 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 XX:2-- "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Ahhh. I think I see your point, Bob. If the RPW is not "cabined" to the area of worship, is it then, in effect, the Regulative Principle of Life (RPL) where nothing is allowed if not prescribed?

Hey, Jim. I'm primary interested in any passages or texts that would support the notion that there are two distinct "standards of conduct" for governing our service to God. Some Reformed writers appear to be arguing that there are indeed two distinct "regulating principles"--one for public worship and another for worship as a way of life. Sometimes, the two principles are defined as follows:

  • The RPW for public worship: We may only do what God prescribes
  • Sola Scriptura for all of life: We must do what God prescribes; we must not do what God forbids; and we have liberty to do what God's word neither prescribes nor forbids.
If, however, the "don't add; don't subtract" principle (Deut 12:32) applies to all of life, it would seem we need some biblical warrant for everything we do whether in corporate worship or in family worship, whether at church or at home or at work or at play. Of course, different contexts (i.e., public worship vs. fishing at the lake) may affect precisely what sola Scriptura and/or the RPW prescribe, proscribe, and/or permit. But the principle or standard of conduct would remain the same.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Maybe this is an oversimplification, but it seems the regulative principle is one which applies broadly. While it is often spoken of in the context of worship, the principle is one by which Christian faith and practice is regulated by what Scripture explicitly or implicitly addresses.

So, while not every possible topic is addressed in Scripture, the Scripture does regulate what it speaks to.

It's not really that Scripture prohibits anything it does not address, but does regulate what it does address. In the area of worship, that is pretty specific.:think:
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
The difference is not in Sola Scriptura, the difference is in how it applies to different things. The WCF ably summarizes it this way:

WCF 20:2 God alone is Lord of the conscience,(1) and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.

Riley,

Thanks for your input. I'm inclined to interpret the Confession as you do. That is, the human conscience is bound ultimately to God's word and not to human doctrines or commandments that are either opposed to God's word or that are treated as norms on the same level as God's word. This principle applies to all of life and not just to corporate worship though the applications may vary according to the persons and/or activities being addressed.

However, some, like Gordon, seem to allege (unless I'm reading him incorrectly) that 20.2 introduces two different hermeneutics:

(1) In all of life, we're free from any human commandments or doctrines that are contrary to God's word
(2) In matters of faith and worship, we're not only free from that which contradicts God's word but also from any norm not found in God's word

It would seem, though, that freedom from human doctrines and commandments "beside" the Word would apply to matters of faith in worship outside as well as inside the providence of the church.
 

Glenn Ferrell

Puritan Board Junior
It is not a matter of "Sola Scriptura for all of life;" but, the "Normative Principle" is our guide for most of life.

Those exercising authority in the church (in regard to doctrine, government, discipline and worship) must have biblical warrant for what they teach or command. Otherwise, legitimate elders become tyrants over God's people.

---------- Post added at 01:24 PM ---------- Previous post was at 01:13 PM ----------

Concerning Christian Liberty in matters not forbidden or commanded by God, (beside matters of faith or worship):
2CO 1:24 Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.

MAT 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

COL 2:20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

22 Which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

GAL 1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

2:4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.​
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
The Regulative Principle is applied to doctrine and church government also. Would anyone maintain that if certain doctrines are not mentioned in scripture, and thus not proscribed, they may be taught by the church? This is a matter of authority. The church may only teach, govern and command worship as warranted by God's word

Glenn,

I agree with you that the RPW applies to more than public worship. It also applies to church doctrine and polity. Moreover, I agree with you that it's aim is to limit human authority and keep it subordinate to the supreme authority of God's word.

Would this not also apply, though, to other spheres of human authority? For instance. may parents teach their children any doctrine or command any practice as an act of worship that is contrary to or beside the Word of God? Similarly, isn't the magistrate's authority in terms of what he may demand vis-a-vis belief and/or conduct under the authority of God's word?

Of course, as Scott points out above, there's greater specificity in the Bible regarding church life and worship than, say, how to run a restaurant. Nevertheless, the restaurant owner is still under God's lordship and must have biblical warrant for how he runs his business and what he expects from his employees. So it seems to me.

---------- Post added at 03:49 PM ---------- Previous post was at 03:40 PM ----------

Concerning Christian Liberty in matters not forbidden or commanded by God, (beside matters of faith or worship):
2CO 1:24 Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.

MAT 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

COL 2:20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

22 Which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

GAL 1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

2:4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.​

Glenn,

Though these passages may have immediate application to ecclesiastic authority, would you agree that they also apply and, therefore, limit other spheres of human authority? For instance, Jesus' censure of the Pharisees for invalidating the authority of God's word by their human tradition (Matt 15:9) would seem, in my mind, to apply to me as a parent also. As a parent, I'm not free to require from my children any belief or practice that invalidates the teaching and authority of Scripture. Indeed, the example Jesus uses (i.e., refusing to give financial support to parents) is not purely ecclesiastical. What are your thoughts?
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Bob, I'm late to get back into this, but yes, you read me correctly. I do think there is a difference of norms. For example, a restaurant can make a rule that all employees must wear a uniform. It is within their rights to do so. A church, though, cannot mandate that all attendees wear a uniform. To do so would violate the liberties of the attenders. The church's authority is only that which derives from God through Scripture, either explicitly or by consequence.

How, then, could one justify such a difference of norms? I think the doctrine is "liberty of conscience." Because the individual members of the congregation are commanded to participate in worship, the worship must be structured to avoid binding the conscience of the worshipers. Anything extra-scriptural may not be evil, but it could create a situation in which the conscience of a worshiper is conflicted. If an element is extra-Scriptural, the worshiper cannot be certain that the worship is acceptable. The church's responsibility is to avoid such conflicts of conscience by being entirely Scriptural. Thus, the RPW is a consequence of the doctrine of liberty of conscience. The corporate nature of the event renders it unique.
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Bob, I'm late to get back into this, but yes, you read me correctly. I do think there is a difference of norms. For example, a restaurant can make a rule that all employees must wear a uniform. It is within their rights to do so. A church, though, cannot mandate that all attendees wear a uniform. To do so would violate the liberties of the attenders. The church's authority is only that which derives from God through Scripture, either explicitly or by consequence.

How, then, could one justify such a difference of norms? I think the doctrine is "liberty of conscience." Because the individual members of the congregation are commanded to participate in worship, the worship must be structured to avoid binding the conscience of the worshipers. Anything extra-scriptural may not be evil, but it could create a situation in which the conscience of a worshiper is conflicted. If an element is extra-Scriptural, the worshiper cannot be certain that the worship is acceptable. The church's responsibility is to avoid such conflicts of conscience by being entirely Scriptural. Thus, the RPW is a consequence of the doctrine of liberty of conscience. The corporate nature of the event renders it unique.

Charlie,

Thanks for clarifying and elaborating on your earlier remarks. It would seem to me, then, that you view the Scriptural justification for positing a distinct norm to govern corporate worship on an inference based on the doctrine of Christian liberty. The church is only at liberty to bind the consciences of men with respect to belief or with respect to practice when there is biblical warrant for such a belief and practice. The corporate nature of public worship makes this a good and necessary inference.

But as I suggested above (in responding to Glenn), wouldn't the same be true of parents vis-a-vis their children? May a father or mother introduce an "article of faith" and impose it on their children without biblical warrant? And wouldn't the example you gave of the employer requiring his employees to wear uniforms be analogous to the pastors requiring their congregants to meet three times on the Lord's Day (twice in the morning and once in the evening)? In both cases, there's no explicit command. But in both cases, the uniform and the meeting times would seem to be circumstantial in relation to my worship of God as an employee of the restaurant and my worship of God as a member of a local church. In other words, doesn't the doctrine of Christian liberty insure that my conscience is free from any command to worship God in a way that doesn't have Scriptural warrant whether that worship is in the public assembly, at home, or at work? What Scriptural principle (or inference) ties or confines the RPW to public worship?
 

White Knight

Puritan Board Freshman
This is one good read. I have an odd question though. Since the RPW is being spoken of, wouldn't that imply that the Sabbath is being spoken of as well? Wouldn't that confine the RPW to public worship? I'm not terrible bright so if that is an bad question, ignore it. I just would like some answer please. :)
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
It has to do with the nature of faith, the church, and worship. We do all kinds of things every day for different ends: to make money, sell a product, promote harmony with our neighbors, recreation and entertainment. All these things are lawful, if regulated according to the general rules of the word. However the church is the place where God's word is preached and the sacraments administered with discipline. The church is God's charter kingdom on earth. The church is God's peculiar possession, charged to serve him. For this reason all of her activities, worship, government, etc. must be strictly regulated according to his word.
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
This is one good read. I have an odd question though. Since the RPW is being spoken of, wouldn't that imply that the Sabbath is being spoken of as well? Wouldn't that confine the RPW to public worship? I'm not terrible bright so if that is an bad question, ignore it. I just would like some answer please. :)

Zach,

Since the NT warrants public worship on times other than the Sabbath (e.g., Acts 2:46) and since, I presume, these non-Sabbath public meetings of the church would be regulated in accordance with the principles articulated in the Confession, I'm not certain that the Sabbath itself is a determining factor of when the RPW might or might not apply. These are my initial thoughts.

---------- Post added at 06:02 PM ---------- Previous post was at 05:54 PM ----------

It has to do with the nature of faith, the church, and worship. We do all kinds of things every day for different ends: to make money, sell a product, promote harmony with our neighbors, recreation and entertainment. All these things are lawful, if regulated according to the general rules of the word. However the church is the place where God's word is preached and the sacraments administered with discipline. The church is God's charter kingdom on earth. The church is God's peculiar possession, charged to serve him. For this reason all of her activities, worship, government, etc. must be strictly regulated according to his word.

Riley,

Thanks again for your further input. It seems that you're saying a more restrictive norm is required in corporate worship than in all of life because the former has to do with matters necessary for salvation and life. In other words, the church is the special agent and corporate worship the special setting in which the gospel is preached and people engage in formal acts of worship. Am I understanding you correctly?

In so far as the gospel is preached by agents other than pastor-teachers and in contexts other than the gathered church, wouldn't the RPW also apply? In family worship? At a youth praise and worship meeting? At a neighborhood Bible study? If the RPW doesn't apply in these situations, why not?
 
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py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Dr. Gonzales, perhaps I'm missing your point, or T. David Gordon's, but I would take it that XXI.1 already answers the question. The 2nd Commandment is not the 5th or the 8th. 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 worshiped in any way not prescribed in the holy Scripture. While that obviously fits with Sola Scriptura in its overall emphasis on the unique authority of the word of God, it's not a deduction from that doctrine to worship: it's a reflection that when God gave the 2nd Commandment His intention was to "be sanctified in them that come nigh me".
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I think we should keep in mind the inclination of writers to try to find catchy distinctions. This might be a case where one of the words isn't really descriptive of what the author intended to say. I'm sure Gordon would acknowledge that sola scriptura is normative for human action. Regrettably, he has written from a minimalist perspective and sought to confine the authority of Scripture to narrower bounds than the reformed tradition has historically understood.

If the Confession of Faith, 20:2, were presented in its historical light we would see that there was a common distinction between moral and positive commandments -- moral commandments are normative for all of life while positive commandments are regulative for specific circumstances; and moral commandments are right in themselves while positive commandments depend entirely on the will of the Lawgiver for their morality.
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Dr. Gonzales, perhaps I'm missing your point, or T. David Gordon's, but I would take it that XXI.1 already answers the question. The 2nd Commandment is not the 5th or the 8th. 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 worshiped in any way not prescribed in the holy Scripture. While that obviously fits with Sola Scriptura in its overall emphasis on the unique authority of the word of God, it's not a deduction from that doctrine to worship: it's a reflection that when God gave the 2nd Commandment His intention was to "be sanctified in them that come nigh me".

Ruben,

Thanks for taking the time to given input. Am I correct to interpret your remarks above as supporting the idea that the 2nd commandment provides explicit warrant for affirming the RPW as a standard or norm that regulates faith and conduct vis-a-vis corporate worship in a way that's distinct from the way Scripture regulates faith and conduct vis-a-vis other contexts of life? In other words, would the following syllogism accurately represent your understanding of the 2nd commandment's relationship to the RPW:
Major Premise: The 2nd commandment applies exclusively to faith and conduct in the context of the gathered church (which would have been the Tabernacle or Temple in the OT).
Minor Premise: The RPW is, in effect, the 2nd commandment articulated and applied.
Conclusion: The RPW applies exclusively to public worship and Scripture governs human belief and conduct in other contexts by a different method?
Forgive me if I'm failing to capture correctly your point above. Once again, I'm committed to the principle that God must be worshiped only in the way(s) prescribed (I prefer the term "warranted") by his Word. Just trying to understand why this same principle doesn't also apply to all areas and spheres of life.

---------- Post added at 09:04 PM ---------- Previous post was at 08:56 PM ----------

I think we should keep in mind the inclination of writers to try to find catchy distinctions. This might be a case where one of the words isn't really descriptive of what the author intended to say. I'm sure Gordon would acknowledge that sola scriptura is normative for human action. Regrettably, he has written from a minimalist perspective and sought to confine the authority of Scripture to narrower bounds than the reformed tradition has historically understood.

If the Confession of Faith, 20:2, were presented in its historical light we would see that there was a common distinction between moral and positive commandments -- moral commandments are normative for all of life while positive commandments are regulative for specific circumstances; and moral commandments are right in themselves while positive commandments depend entirely on the will of the Lawgiver for their morality.

Matthew,

I'm intrigued by your comments. I'm familiar with the distinction between moral law and positive law. I had not given serious consideration, though, to the role this distinction might play in understanding the RPW and its relationship to sola Scriptura. Can you elaborate? For example, how might the moral/positive law distinction relate to the 2nd commandment? Is the 2nd commandment a moral law that says, in effect, all religious acts of devotion must be grounded in positive laws?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Have you been reading John Frame? What you are asking sounds a little like his proposed revision to the WCF from a few years ago.
I'm having some trouble answering your question, though, because it's unclear to me whether you are speaking of a distinction between public and private worship (which would appear from the syllogism you gave in your reply to me) or between worship and the rest of life (which seemed like the intention in the first post and the quote). So I would definitely revise the major premise, at least, and therefore of course the conclusion would also change. Since the 2nd Commandment regulates the manner of worshipping God, whereas the 8th Commandment regulates commerce, it's no surprise that somewhat different norms apply to those different areas.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Getting back to the original statement in the OP, I find Gordon's reduction of how the Word is applied to life to ring untrue given how the commandments are presented in the WLC. The WLC confesses duties required and sins forbidden for every command. These are all prescriptive and do not merely proscribe what I might do.

For example:
Q. 135. What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves721 and others722 by resisting all thoughts and purposes,723 subduing all passions,724 and avoiding all occasions,725 temptations,726 and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any;727 by just defence thereof against violence,728 patient bearing of the hand of God,729 quietness of mind,730 cheerfulness of spirit;731 a sober use of meat,732 drink,733 physic,734 sleep,735 labour,736 and recreations;737 by charitable thoughts,738 love,739 compassion,740 meekness, gentleness, kindness;741 peaceable,742 mild and courteous speeches and behaviour;743 forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil;744 comforting and succouring the distressed and protecting and defending the innocent.745

Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves,746 or of others,747 except in case of public justice,748 lawful war,749 or necessary defence;750 the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life;751 sinful anger,752 hatred,753 envy,754 desire of revenge;755 all excessive passions,756 distracting cares;757 immoderate use of meat, drink,758 labor,759 and recreations;760 provoking words,761 oppression,762 quarreling,763 striking, wounding,764 and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.765
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Have you been reading John Frame? What you are asking sounds a little like his proposed revision to the WCF from a few years ago.

Actually, I've been reading a paper by Pastor Jim Domm of Englewood Baptist Church (a 1689 church) entitled, "The Regulative Principle of Worship in Theological Perspective." He cites T. David Gordon who in turn is interacting with John Frame. You can access Domm's paper here.

I'm having some trouble answering your question, though, because it's unclear to me whether you are speaking of a distinction between public and private worship (which would appear from the syllogism you gave in your reply to me) or between worship and the rest of life (which seemed like the intention in the first post and the quote). So I would definitely revise the major premise, at least, and therefore of course the conclusion would also change. Since the 2nd Commandment regulates the manner of worshipping God, whereas the 8th Commandment regulates commerce, it's no surprise that somewhat different norms apply to those different areas.

Sorry for the ambiguity in my statements. I guess I was asking both.

On the one hand, people engage in various kinds of what might be termed "acts of worship" that are more or less formal outside the context of worship. For instance, family devotions, Bible studies, sharing the gospel with the lost downtown on the street or at a Rescue Mission. Does the 2nd commandment and, therefore, the RPW apply to these activities? If so, to what degree? It is well-known that the use of idols in the ancient Near East was not confined to public gatherings or to temples. People had idols in their homes and wore them as amulets wherever they went. (I used to wear a "St. Christopher" around my neck and accorded it religious power.) It would seem to me, then, that the 2nd commandment would regulate these activities outside the context of official religious gatherings. Is this your understanding too?

On the other hand, people are commanded to worship God in every dimension of their lives (Rom. 12:1-2). When the devil asked Jesus to bow down and show obesiance to him, he was not thinking solely in a formal cultic sense. He was asking the Son of God to devote the totality of his life in allegiance to the Prince of this present evil world. Jesus' response, which was lifted from Deut. 8:3, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only" (Matt 4:10), likewise embraces religious devotion in both the broad and narrow senses. My question is whether it's appropriate to "add or subtract" to/from this norm for all of life? In my understanding, the "don't add/don't subtract" clauses, which are used as proof-texts or epitomizing statements of the RPW (actually, Deut 12:32 is a key proof-text in the WCF for the RPW), are common ancient Near East treaty formulae designed to regulate the totality of life under the covenant in which they appear. Not surprisingly, this formula appears both in a context where God is addressing the centrality of the sanctuary (Deut 12:32) and also a context where God is referring to the totality of covenant life (Deut 4:2; cf Rev 22:18-19). In other words, the "don't add/don't subtract" clause applies to all the covenant stipulations, including the Decalogue, the civil laws, and the ceremonial laws. If this is so, wouldn't it follow that all worship and service to God--both broad and narrow--must have biblical warrant and cannot be based on "the imaginations and devices of men"?

---------- Post added at 10:12 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:08 AM ----------

Getting back to the original statement in the OP, I find Gordon's reduction of how the Word is applied to life to ring untrue given how the commandments are presented in the WLC. The WLC confesses duties required and sins forbidden for every command. These are all prescriptive and do not merely proscribe what I might do.

Rich,

I agree with you. Gordon's manner of making a distinction between the way Scripture applies to all of life as opposed to worship is misleading. I suspect that he would affirm the teaching of the Larger Catechism and, in light of that, would probably qualify or modify what his proposition.
 

White Knight

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks guys. Although I knew that the RPW was carried out on other than the Sabbath, I never really looked at those times as public worship. I've never seen, in practice, those days as public because the people that go to those, I'm usually intimate with. Like stated; family, small bible studies, prayer meetings, what mind you, etc, it's never the congregation. It's just the people who are digging for more, which leads to intimacy. Those people I consider, in all honesty, family.

Which makes me think I'm not doing enough on Sabbath........Thanks for the thought guys.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Sorry for the ambiguity in my statements. I guess I was asking both.

On the one hand, people engage in various kinds of what might be termed "acts of worship" that are more or less formal outside the context of worship. For instance, family devotions, Bible studies, sharing the gospel with the lost downtown on the street or at a Rescue Mission. Does the 2nd commandment and, therefore, the RPW apply to these activities? If so, to what degree? It is well-known that the use of idols in the ancient Near East was not confined to public gatherings or to temples. People had idols in their homes and wore them as amulets wherever they went. (I used to wear a "St. Christopher" around my neck and accorded it religious power.) It would seem to me, then, that the 2nd commandment would regulate these activities outside the context of official religious gatherings. Is this your understanding too?

When you consider the RPW as being the restriction of ecclesiastical power to impose unwarranted forms and so forth, obviously it doesn't apply in that sense to private worship, because there is nothing external to bind your conscience to something unwarranted. And hopefully everything you might do in private worship is a result of faith: no calling your muay thai classes worship. I suppose the difficulty arises because people combine elements of worship, like hearing the Word read, with other activities, like driving. It's difficult to say that you're worshipping as you speed down the interstate, but it's also hard to claim that an element of worship isn't being engaged in.

On the other hand, people are commanded to worship God in every dimension of their lives (Rom. 12:1-2). When the devil asked Jesus to bow down and show obesiance to him, he was not thinking solely in a formal cultic sense. He was asking the Son of God to devote the totality of his life in allegiance to the Prince of this present evil world. Jesus' response, which was lifted from Deut. 8:3, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only" (Matt 4:10), likewise embraces religious devotion in both the broad and narrow senses. My question is whether it's appropriate to "add or subtract" to/from this norm for all of life? In my understanding, the "don't add/don't subtract" clauses, which are used as proof-texts or epitomizing statements of the RPW (actually, Deut 12:32 is a key proof-text in the WCF for the RPW), are common ancient Near East treaty formulae designed to regulate the totality of life under the covenant in which they appear. Not surprisingly, this formula appears both in a context where God is addressing the centrality of the sanctuary (Deut 12:32) and also a context where God is referring to the totality of covenant life (Deut 4:2; cf Rev 22:18-19). In other words, the "don't add/don't subtract" clause applies to all the covenant stipulations, including the Decalogue, the civil laws, and the ceremonial laws. If this is so, wouldn't it follow that all worship and service to God--both broad and narrow--must have biblical warrant and cannot be based on "the imaginations and devices of men"?

I think it is necessary to distinguish between piety and worship in a narrow sense. Although I am to serve God in my calling, I am also to lay the things of my calling aside on His holy day, when I have graciously been commanded to devote the whole day to His more immediate service and worship. Now God does give general rules that govern my calling, to which I must adhere if I desire to serve Him in it; but since the calling is not itself worship it is not regulated in quite the same way. I don't need a warrant for exacting invoices from vendors, for instance; I do need to pay them on time.
 

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Ruben,

I agree with you that we can and should distinguish between formal acts of worship and what might be called worship "as a way of life" (Rom 12:1-2). I also agree that the rules God provides for "all of life" are sometimes more general (e.g., moral principles) compared to some of the specific positive commands he gives related to church life and worship. Thanks, brother, for taking the time to respond to my questions.

Your servant,
 
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