Category Archives: RPW

The 1928 Preface

wiliam white The 1928 Book of Common Prayer’s Preface  is  identical to the 1789 edition. The  Preface really  establishes the relationship  between the Church  of England and the  American Protestant  Episcopal Church. It also declares certain  secondary standards for orthodoxy. Where  differences arise are often in ceremonial custom  and circumstance, “usages and forms”. The Preface  therefore begins as an exposition on Christian liberty as it pertains to Ceremony, saying:

“that blessed ‘liberty wherewith Chist hath made us free’, that in his worship different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that, in every Church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore, by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged, amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for edification”

We should keep in mind 18th century Protestants did not grant the liberty to either the gospel or morals! Article VII is a rather staple Reformation belief, “Although the Law given from God to Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet not withstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral”.

Since rites and ceremonies may differ according to custom, “It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly alike…and may be acknowledged by the diversity of countires, times, and men’s manners” (Art. XXXIV), crucially, the 1789 Prayer Book suggests the extent they differ. However, Americans (as a sign of their episcopal succession) were good to differ from England only where necesssary in custom and civil power. This is where an American cultus begins to shape pecularities. In the Prayer Book these pecularities are extremely minor. What is amazing was the fidelity Americans gave the English Church given the events of colonial revolution. Consequently, the 1789 Book acknowledges a canonical tie by the same “over-arching” principles governing lawful worship, suggesting a conservative ideal, hardly a liscence to newfangeldness:

“she further declares in her said Preface, to do that which, according to her best understanding, might most tend to the preservation of peace and unity in the Church; the procuring of reverence, and the exciting of piety and devotion in the worship of God; and, finally, the cutting off occasion…of cavil or quarrel”

What is missing is an appeal to antiquity. However, this is likely implicit in the deference given to England as America’s “first foundation”:

“the Church of England, to which the Protestant Episocopal Church in these States is indebted, under God, for her first foundation”.

Rather than starting anew, the American church acknowledged traditional reception of custom and discipline not abridged or altered whimsically, nor differing in main or cheif materials. A founding authority is identified not only through the English Prayer Book (forms and usages) but also the Articles and Homilies contained and mentioned therein. This actually says a lot, defining a common life which is actually more ‘confessional’ and precise (in many ways) than fewer formularies Presbyterianism provides.

  • “The same Church [England] hath not only in her Preface, but likewise in her Articles and Homilies, declared the necessity and expediency of occasional alterations and amendments in her Forms of Public Worship; and we find accordingly, that, seeking to keep the happy mean between too much stiffness in refusing, and too much easiness in admitting variations…yet so as that main body and essential parts of the same (as well as chiefest materials, as in the frame and order thereof) have still been continued firm and unshaken.”
  • “…alterations and amendments. They will appear, and it is to be hoped, the reasons of them also, upon a comparison of this with the Book of common Prayer of the Church of England. In which it will also appear that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local customs require”

The Preface therefore establishes a number of formularies (secondary standards). For instance, there is an appeal to tradition. Keep in mind due apostolic succession (the consecration of Bishops White, Provost, and Smith in England) legitimized the Philadelphia Convention. The Church of England even in post-revolutionary America was a ‘corner-stone’. Second, changes in liturgy were limited to ‘local customs’, namely a republican form of civil government and perhaps some leeway in American preference for low church.  The 1785 proposed edition had a distinctly ‘enlightened’, abbreviated tone. But even here it required approval from England before adopted in the States. In the end, it was rejected and what prevailed was a liturgy more catholic than Canterbury thanks to the influence of Samuel Seabury. Ironically, Seabury argued the adoption of the epiclesis in order to further distinguish American liturgy from Rome.

However, local custom did not excuse any essential departure from doctrine, worship, or discipline from England– meaning a commonality in standards. Essentially the American Prayer Book was the 1662 English Use with a few significant 1637 Scottish additions.  The 39 Articles, Homilies, Catechism along with a certain informal continuance of English practice and sense of antiquity carried over, strengthening “instruments of unity” and therefore a canonical principle.

What most stands out regarding the distinctions of American cultus with respect to Worship was the Preface’s allusion to English aim for “comprehension”, namely King William’s 1689 Commission where an alternate rite for Presbyterian inclusion into CofE was considered:

“it cannot be supposed that further alterations would in time be found expedient. Accordingly, a Commission for a review was issued in 1689: but this great and good work miscarried at that time; and the Civil Authority has not since thought proper to revive it.”

Perhaps American Episcopacy has a special, providential role to play with Presbyterian and Methodist daughters? The reference to ‘comprehension’ perhaps mean no more than a liberty to alter rites according to necessity. Yet given this there is remains a dual appeal to ancient forms (inherited standards from CofE) and future economy toward Protestant neighbors (1689 comprehension).  The Preface perhaps offers a vision of Anglicanism as media via in American context, episcopal salt in wilderness of unchecked enthusiasm?

Of Ceremonies, 1559

bcip The 1559 Prayer Book was the most distinctly  Protestant (pro-Calvinist) of prayer books. That being  said, it never fell into the innovation of  Anabaptism/  RPW.  Following Queen Elizabeth  I’s reinstitution of  Common  Prayer,  future book revisions (e.g., 1662)  varied  little. The section “Of  Ceremonies” gives the  rationale for reintroducing Edward’s discipline.  These  same reasons are not unlike the “four precepts”  elaborated by Hooker. “Of  ceremonies” articulates how polity and NPW work together to produce a uniform standard or Canon– hardly worship anarchy (the charge of Regulativists). Though the 1559 Prayer book admits many ‘indifferent rites’ and a ‘freedom of spirit’ in church ceremony, there are indeed “over-arching principles” that qualify and restrain private freedoms, aka., “newfangledness” or “misguided zeal” of rectors, congregants, and even bishops. Below is a summary, “Of Ceremonies”. Notice the echo with Hooker who likely rephrased what Parker elucidates here in the 1559 book:

  1. Good Order: “And forbecause they were winked at in the beginning, they grew daily to more and more abuses, which not only for their unprofitableness but also because athey have much blinded the people and obscured the glory of God are worthy to be cut away and clean rejected. Other there be which although they have been devised by man, yet it is thought good to reserve them still, as well for a decent order in the Church, for the which they were first devised, as because the pertain to edification, whereunto all things done in the Church, as the Apostle teacheth, ought to be referred. And although the keeping or omitting of a ceremony in itself considered is but a small thing, yet the willful and contemptuous transgression and breaking of common order and discipline is no small offense before God”
  2. Canonical “The appointment of the which order pertaineth not to private men, therefore no man ought to take in hand nor presume to appoint or alter any public or common order in Christ’s Church, except he be lawfully called and authorized thereunto”
  3. Edification “…use such ceremonies as they shall think best to the setting forth of God’s honor and glory and to the reducing of the people to a most perfect and goldy living”
  4. Antiquity “..surely where the old may be well used there they cannot reasonably reprove the old only for their age without betraying their own folly. For in such a case they ought rather to have reverence unto them for their antiquity, if they will declare themselves to be moe studious of unity and concord than of innovations and newfangleness, which, as much as may be with the true setting forth of Christ’s religion, is always to be eschewed.”
  5. Economy: “For as those be taken away which were most abused and did burden men’s consciences without any cause, so the other that remain are retained for a discipline and order…are not to be esteemed equal with God’s law…And that they put away other things which from time to time they perceive to be most abused, as in men’s oridnances it often chanceth diversly in diverse countries”.

As said before, RPW seems to create more problems than answers. Especially when the Regulativist party is properly expanded to include Reformed Baptist, we see RPW indeed has a wide range of private opinion, even denying the power of the sacraments themselves. Furthermore, RPW wrongly applies the ‘precisionism’ of the instruments of the temple to all public worship. This is equivalent to reasserting the ceremonial law of Moses over external form where we can have no confidence that our burnt offerings “of a contrite heart’ will be accepted. Though the Church may have “over-arching principles” (which evenly applied provide for good order and true piety), unlike the OT we have no explicit command for various elements of congregational prayer. Much is deduced but deductions are varied resulting in wide opinion.  Nor can we default to ‘circumstance’ where silence may otherwise require cessation since many “circumstances”  indeed have liturgical significance.

Or do we have liberty?

Normativists would say “though the sacraments give no liberty (we cannot change the elements of bread and wine no more than we can change the marks of the church– such has been instituted by Christ), we do have liberty in rites which where no explicit command exists. The 1559 BCP says the same regarding this liberty and its purpose:

“And besides this, Christ’s gospel is not a ceremonial law, as much as Moses’ law was, but it is a religion to serve God, not in bondage of the figure or shadow, but in freedom and of spirit, being content only with those ceremonies which do serve to a decent order and godly discipline, and such as be apt to stir up the dull mind of man to the rememberance of his duty to God by some notable and special signification whereby he might be edified”

Worship is not private. Not even for various parties in the church. Good order is the love of brother and father. The Preface to the 1559 BCP gives procedural guidelines for grievances or disagreements. We see fexibility but within the framework of a “lawful call” and “due authority”:

“for the resolution of all doubts concerning the manner how to understand, do, and execute things contained in this book, the parties that so doubt, or diversely take anything shall always resort to the bishop of the diocese, who by his discretion shall take order for the quieting and appeasing of the same so that the same order be not contrary to anything contianed in this book. And if the bishop of the diocese be in any doubt, then may he send for the resolution thereof unto the archbishop.”

The accompanying Act of Uniformity 1559 says regarding appellations,

“…until other order shall be therein taken by the authority of the Queen’s Majesty, with the advice of her comissioners appointed and authorized under the great seal of England for causes ecclesiastical or of the metropolitan of this realm… the Queen’s Majesty may, by the like advice of the said commissioners or metropolitan, ordain and publish a such farther ceremonies or rites as may be most for the advancement of God’s glory, the edifying of His church, and the due reverence of Christ’s holy mysteries and sacraments”

As with Hooker, where/when discord occurs there is a forum and process to be mindful of.

Hooker’s Four Precepts

hooker More on the Prayer Book wars!

Regulativists (RPW) view Normativism (NPW) as  invitation to worship anarchy.  Drudged up are  nightmare scenarios of ‘french-fries’ served during  communion or ‘motorcycles’ run up on stage during  praise team jams. Perhaps such scandals have  occured, and if they have surely it’s deeper the RPW  but a compound matter where Protestants cast aside Confessional standards.

How NPW is played out also depends on ecclesial polity.  A church which whose government is conducted on a synodal basis would have .  Lutherans and Anglicans both subscribe to such polities, and historically NPW produced documents like the Book of Concord and Common Prayer. Compare this to the Directory of Worship produced by the Westminster Assembly which resembles more a guideline for worship than book of fixed prayer, homilies, and rubrics. Hardly worship anarchy! Regulativists very rarely bother to examine what they criticise, rejecting common prayer without recognizing it as belonging to the Reformation family of scriptural worship. More than eighty percent of the BCP is directly quoted from scripture. The BCP’s song book after all is the Psalter.

Besides this, Regulativists  are challenged to answer why their worship is more historically diverse than Prayer Book churches? Despite the plain authority of scripture, Regulativist have a broad range of practice with respect to stringed instruments, hymnody, use of sacramentals (e.g.,  crucifixes), order of worship, and devotions/rubrics during communion. Furthermore, the Regulativist camp includes Reformed Baptists as well as Presbyterians who essentially have taken RPW so far as to basically reject the Sacraments of the church. Perhaps much of this is due to a hastily conceived Directory that lent moe freedom than even the Geneva version? Perhaps it’s legacy of Westminster itself where Independents and Presbyterians remained silent on inherent harm of Congregationalism?

Anway, the charge of worship Anarchy does not hold against the foremost Magisterial churches (Lutheran and Anglican) which complimented NPW with a catholic church polity that required subscription to canon hammered out by either council or King (turning NPW into CPW). CPW owes itself to those “over-arching” biblical principles shaping worship that Regulativists conveniently miss.  Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5 defends Common Prayer. In it are four precepts (over-arching rules) that Hooker distills for the governance of worship. Hooker demonstrates  how catholicity and biblical principles work together to preclude such ridiculuous innovations as  “monster trucks in the chancel”. It behooves all regulativists to read and consider  Hooker’s defense of Fixed Prayer against the “misguided zeal” and havoc of extreme biblicism. Indeed, Hooker calls the consequences of these four precepts “more precise” than RPW :

  • Worship is Dignified: The first postulate is, “That in the externals of religion, such things as are or seem most effectual to set forward godliness, — either from considerations of God’s greatness, or the dignity of religion, or heavenly impressions on men’s minds, — ought to be reverently esteemed.”
  • Worship is Traditional: Hence we lay down as a second postulate, “That in things whose fitness is not of itself apparent, nor may be easily proved, the concurrent judgment of antiquity ought to prevail with those who cannot allege any weighty impropriety against them”.
  • Worship is Canonical: Hence the third posulate is, “that where no law divine, nor invincible reasoning argument, nor notorious public injury, maketh against what the Church hath instituted, even though it be but recently, her authority ought to weigh more than any mere opinion to the contrary; and to claim deference, especially from her own children.”
  • Worship has Expediency: Hence the fourth postulate is, “That in cases of necessity, or for common utility’s sake, certain ordinances profitable in themselves, may occassionally be relaxed”.
  • –Hooker, EP, book V, sections V-IX

Hooker poses this question, “How is uniformity justified where rites indifferent?” This is where church polity is deterministic. The ecclesiology of  Baptist and contemporary fundamentalist churches only allow a ‘voluntarist’ uniformity.  However,  these are not ‘catholic churches’. Catholic churches are premised upon mutuality between bishops (the presbytery) who compose the Church, “the universal church exists within the local (and vice-versa)”. The Church of England, though a national church governed by Monarch, viewed herself conciliar, ruled by synod when not by commission or crown. It is by synods diverse opinion on fundamentals may be addressed, so this may likewise be viewed as a footnote to ‘economy’, i.e., protocol for reform. Hooker says,

“..since scripture does no prescribe all particular ceremonies; and so many modes in things indifferent might occur to the natural mind. The only practicable method of proving uniformity seems to be from deliberate consultation and decision of the Church in general council hereupon; and not from the utterly impractable suggestion of churches mutually adopting from each other, till all comees to similarity”

Treaty of Breda 

 Background to the Civil Wars: 
When Solemn League and Covenant sought to replace the Church of England for a Presbyterian polity, Independents and Radicals blocked its advent by gaining control the Army. In 1649 the Army would march on Parliament, expelling the majority-Presbyterian Party. Independents feared not only a ban against Congregationalism but also felt Presbyterians would likely usher a restoration of King Charles, i.e. royalism. In the hands of the Army who feared a secret alliance with Scots, King Charles was soon executed. This would be the first regicide in European Christendom, and, almost as a foretaste of the French Revolution, Radicals and Congregationalists would then declare England a “Free State” ruled under Republican government.

Solemn League was an alliance between England’s Parliament and Scotland. The origin of Solemn League began when Archbishop William Laud ‘imposed’ 1549 Prayer Book rubrics onto the Church of Scotland. The growing conservativism of Canterbury caused Presbyterians to resist, leading to the signing of a National Covenant. The National Scottish Covenant justified armed resistance against the King’s Church and Uniformity on the grounds of Regulative Principle (RPW). Fearing eminent occupation by a Catholic-Irish army which Charles I was in the process mustering, in 1940 the Scottish Kirk launched a pre-emptive invasion into north England, defeating royalist troops at the border, forcing the King to ratify the National Covenant for Scotland. When Charles I summoned the Long Parliament to settle reparations with Scotland, Puritans made common cause with Covenanters, expelling Royalists, launching the English Civil War.

The English Civil War, 1643-49, had two tragic ramifications: 1. Introduced religious pluralism, effectively rendering meaningless all previous acts of Subscription and Uniformity, institutionalizing and rendering permanent the great disorder within the church which began (in England) with the Presbyterian (RPW) Vestment Controversy (and in Scotland over the Prayer Book). 2. Ended divine right, introducing the Presbyterian notion of constitutional monarchy if not the Independent demand for modern Republicanism. Regardless, Parliament (and the rights of the People) would emerge supreme over the Crown and Orders. The combination of constitutionalism and religious pluralism would ultimately unleash an wild democratic impulse and individualism upon Anglo society and culture, reaching an appex in late 17th century.

In 1654 Cromwell exchanged permanent Reformation for social stability imposing a Bonpartist rule over England, gradually reintroducing the moderates into the Parliament. Otherwise known as the ‘Protectorate’, Cromwell’s England would reign until 1659, until the Presbyterian Party was invited back. For the most part Independency and Radicalism had burned itself out. The public wanted their King and English Presbyterians had hopes for a Kirk. Charles II (Son of the beheaded Charles I) could return on the condition Parliament consented to Breda.

The Breda Declaration: What was the Treaty of Breda? Breda was the Solemn League and Covenant but especially committed the King and his household to it. Independents in the English Parliament had rejected Solemn League, favoring instead an open Christian pluralism under the Articles of Religion 1648. The 1643 Westminster Confession was never adopted as a standard. Instead, it was modified to say little about church polity, giving room to Radicals, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians alike. Banned, however, was episcopacy. Breda was the Scottish Kirk’s final bid for Presbyterian supremacy throughout the three realms. Charles II signed it in 1650, and in 1660 the English Parliament followed suit under the restoration of the Long MP’s. 

When King Charles II returned to England in 1660, Parliament had an election. Royalists were swept into power by the public, and Puritanism—both in its Presbyterian and Independent forms— was gradually ejected. Charles II proposed a phased settlement and was somewhat committed to mediating two hardened factions, initiating talks between Presbyterians and Anglicans over polity, liturgy, ceremonies. Presbyterians lost moral ground when Fifth Monarchy Men and other Radicals (the Derwentdale Plot) sporadically attempted insurrection between 1661-1664. and though Charles II offered exemptions and indulgences to Presbyterian ministers, the Parliament nullified the King’s clemencies fearing a restoration of divine right. In the end Parliament’s Acts of Uniformity, Test Acts, etc. aka. Clarendon Codes, slowly purged the Presbyterian Party from Church and State. The sentiment was summed on St. George’s Day, 1661, when Parliament ordered a public burning of the SLC.  Charles and James II had Catholic leanings (James was a roman catholic convert), so Puritans were surely not missed. Presbyterianism had been marginalized, and in the public’s eye it was synomynous with Revolution. Thus, Engagers ultimately followed Congregationalists into the ‘free church’. Puritans would not substantially return to government until 1689 when the Toleration Acts of Cromwell, as expressed in the 1648 Articles of Religion (SLC), were restored.  

Oath Breaker? Did Charles II have a right to break the Solemn Covenant he signed in 1650?  I want to avoid arguing divine right vs. constitutionalism. The complaint of Radicals and Puritan alike was the King was bound by His own law? If this be true, then isn’t Parliament also bound? The Scottish Convention which negotiated Solemn League by tradition could not pass a permanent law. Moreover, when Westminster Assembly drafted the Articles/Confession of Faith, this was done without the consent of the King causing the Anglican divines present during the first 15 weeks of negotiations exit the Assembly, concluding the revisions were not only a breach of the 39 Articles but legally ‘null and void’. Even if King Charles II assented to Solemn League, he only did so because his Kingdom was held hostage by wild men, SLC being a document forged by an unlawful, armed rebellion. If Charles II signed a unlawful declaration with no legal authority whatsoever, then can a false or foolish oath bind a magistrate?   

Legitimacy of Public vows: Anabaptists refused all oaths on the grounds of Christ saying, “let your Yes be a Yes and your No be a No. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matt. 5:33-37). Yet the Puritans understood as world as fallen, and oath-taking was a practice carried forward from the OT as a concession for restraining sin, especially permissable upon sundry times where serious or lawful interests were involved and an appeal to the witness of God necessary to secure confidence and end strife.  It was under these circumstances the National Covenant and Solemn League were drawn. Scriptural examples and principles of national covenanting justify such extraordinary occasions: Neh. 9.38; Deut. 29. 10-13; Jonah 1. 16; Rom. 6. 13; Deut. 26. 15-19; and 2 Kings 11. 17. Moreover, public vows are binding. Those who break them are surely cursed, a sin not only due to disobedience but perjury and blasphemy (since the vow is sealed in the Name of God). Jer. 2.4,  11. For more on public oaths and covenants, see:

Breaking Rash Vows: But what if someone swears to perform a duty that is contrary to the Word of God?  According to G.I Williamson,

“an oath is binding only if the thing promised is good and just, that is, agreeable to the Word of God. The reason for this is evident: that which is contrary to the word of God is sin, and it is man’s duty not to sin; therefore, sweraing to sin cannot justify or obligate sin. Thus when one discovers that he has promised a solemn oath to sin, his only recourse is to ask forgiveness for having made such a promise in the first place adn then to renounce the oath (Matt. 14:1-12). It was wrong to take the oath in the first place. It would be doubly wrong to keep it after discovering it was sinful.” p. 229 WCF study. 

Calvin in his Institutes says men are not to vow beyond the measure of grace or vocation given (i.e, beyond their lawful duties or inner capability). Furthermore, vows offend God, especially if for superstitious ends or ficticious worship, and such are “empty and nugatory”. (Institutes, IV.13.7)

Conclusion: We cannot know the heart of Charles II. His moral life was not a paragon of purity. However, at the time of Breda, 1650, did he know the Solemn League and Covenant was unscriptural, contrary to the Word of God, and therefore sinful? We cannot absolutely say. If Charles II signed Breda knowing his oath was to a false, then he committed a detestable act, i.e., perjury (in contrast to his father, Charles I, who died before denying his own convictions, i.e., surrendering the Episocpacy). The SLC was a rash given the extra-biblical and fanatical nature of RPW.  English and Scottish reformers had no right to resist the Laudian Prayer Book (the reason d’etre for civil war). Moreover, the English and Scottish delegations represented ‘bandit parliaments’, sic. a people’s conventions, which had no authority to pass permanent law. If Charles committed perjury then perhaps he stood condemned. Otherwise he had every right to restore the Prayer book, epsicopacy, and even later deprive Presbyterian and Independent ministers, given the Kings vow contradicted his lawful duty. 

Next PostingGoing a little deeper with SLC and its RPW underpinnings, I’d like to discuss ‘the black rubric’ or kneeling at the altar. However, this will require a leave of absence as I not only edit earlier posts (where there is much poor grammer) but give time to understanding the complicated trinitarian and christological arguments behind the mode of Supper.

Future posts might deal with Knoxian ‘active resistance’ vs. Anglican ‘passive obedience’. When the particulars of RPW (anti-vestments and anti-adoration) were combined with Knox’s peculiar “active resistance”, Presbyterianism betrayed its Magesterial orgins embracing the Anabaptist spirit alongside Levellers, Ranters, Lollards, Quakers. The Black Rubric and Active Resistance must be next.  Other subjects related to SLC are: reduced episcopacy, baptismal grace, apocryphra and canon, and aborted synods. 

Vestment Controversy

A less prolix discussion on Vestments can be read here. This piece is polemically boring (purtian bashing) until the second-half (smaller font) where vestments and erastianism is touched upon. I am in the midst of a revision, but the important part is the black gown spirit of Protestantism, below…

The Vestment Controversy was truly unfortunate. Initially, it was raised John Hooper, a Henrician exile, who spent time in Zurich where Zwingli earlier entertained the Anabaptists’ iconclastic reign of terror. Hooper found offense to wearing a surplice and cope during ordination. The controversy was temporarily settled by the Lutheran argument of ‘adiaphora’ or ‘things indifferent’. The King’s Privy council generously allowed ministers their individual conscience on the matter. During the same reign of Edward IV, Cramner also reformed the Mass, allowing Bucer (another Swiss reformer) to rewrite it, purging the canon of its so-called sacredotal elements. Yet as soon as some closure was reached on the question of the sacrament, men like Hooper pressed the abolition of vestments, renewing quarrels.

Middle Way Disaster:This method of giving some liberty in controversial matters of ceremony by calling such ‘indifferent’ was perhaps responsible or at least reflected what would be known as the ‘middle way’ of Anglicanism. Dodging proper canonical order perhaps was not wise. What was edifying to one man was superstition to another. Adiaphora and leaving controversy for individual judgment certainly was the origin of numerous, even contradictory rites, within the church of England that men like Hooper took opportunity of, resulting in a disastrous policy?

Liberty granted to English Protestants returning from Marian exile would not satisfy the second generation of Reformers coming from Geneva/Frankfurt. This generation would be led by men like John Knox (as well as Thomas Cartwright in England), who not only introduced Presbyterianism to Scotland but also the full-force of the RPW into the Queen’s Realm, intellectually picking up where Hooper left off but causing greater disorder with calls for active resistance. Open disregard of uniformity acts issued by the crown would mark the difference for second generation reformers who believed they were “obeying God not man”.

Interestingly, the abolition of vestments began as a call for greater simplicity in worship– not a 2nd commandment injunction per sey. The bible was put at odds with the church, and even men like Ridley likened Hooper’s earlier agruments to Anabaptist enthusiasm. A matter apparently as narrow as vestments exploded into a deeper conflict over the power of the crown in the Church, i.e., the Erastian order, and where the crown would not alter worship to suit alleged biblical authority the church was quickly denounced as blasphemous, papist, and tyrannical, deserving violent rebellion. Calvin wrote Hooper telling him such matters were not worth the peace of the Church.  Bucer, along Calvin’s line of advice, called the controversy, “a ground of contention more damaging than anyone has been able to explain.”

Unfortunately, by 1566, the debate took on an impossible tone of vestments being either abject idolatry or a necessary dignity with no middle ground for diplomacy. The English Presbyterian and Seperatist parties drew stark lines. Separatist took their practice of worship underground, holding illegal conventicles and calling themselves the ‘true church’ apart from due authority. These usurptations flowed from a logic borne by John Knox’s theories of active resistance found in his First Blast and Appellation, written in 1558. These doctrines would become foundational to the rise of Presbyterianism in Scotland, culminating in Scotland’s National Covenant and Prayer Book War in 1640.

the Theonomic State: It is not surprising that vestments would provide ‘staging grounds’ for revolutionizing Constantine’s state-church.  Vestments had their origins with Constantine’s establishment of the Church as an Imperial office:

“With the public recognition of the Church in the fourth century all the bishops found themselves enjoying the status of senior imperial officials. They soon came to be preceded, liek their elder colleagues, by lights and incense when they made their official way to church. Like them, too, they wore the dress of the Roman upper classes, made obligatory for imperial officials by Theodosius I. Over the linea, the undergarment, they wore the tunica, and on top of that the casula. These garments developed into the alb, the deacon’s tunicle, and the chasuble. But in the fourth century the clergy were indistinguishable in their dress from any decently attired Roman official. (p. 32, the Orthodox Liturgy)

As the magisterial reformation gave way to ‘free church protestantism’, vestments became contentious symbols of church establishment– therefore drawing ire from anti-monarchists and parlimentarians. It was targeted as much by zeal as by democratic upsurge. However, for Erastians (in my book– a brand of theonomists) the vestment represented the ancient harmony of church and state and was worthy of defense. The arguments in preserving vesting boiled down to the peace of the Christian kingdom. When James I said “no bishop, no crown”, he understood the what was at stake– vestments symbolized England’s church-state alliance, thus the entire Erastian system.

Erastianism before Elizabeth? I believe Erastianism deserve a second look. Erastianism was not invented in England. The first Erastian church goes back as far as Constantine, and theological contributions to Erastianism are more attributed to Theodore Balsamon and Justinian than Hugo Grotius. Erastianism has a very Byzantine development. Moreover, Christianity owes a great debt to Erastian type systems given the great ecumenical councils of the church were all summoned by the Roman Emperor, and at times settled by his intercession. In fact, the Nicene Creed was sealed by Constantine who threw in lot to the Trinitarian party in order to end the controversy. Byzantine Emperors main concern was typically the peace of the realm which the Church ensured via the cura of souls. But sometimes Byzantine emporers fancied themselves theologians, Kings in the line of David, sharing in the sacredotal office as a quasi-priest, offering wisdom, gifts, and blessings to the church. The Eastern Emporers held the following traditional perogratives summed by the Nine Articles of the Council of Stoudios 1380  (p. 307, Emperor and Priest). English Erastianism surely borrowed from the prior example of state-church:

  • The emperor had the right to veto the election of an arch-bishop who did not please him.
  • He could modify as he saw fit the heirarchy of episcopal sees, make transfers of bishops and, sign of the times, grant bishoprics as benefices.
  • He ratified appointments to the chief ecclesiastical offices, that is to the upper ranks of the patriarchal administration.
  • He ensured that the boundaries of the dioceses, as established by him, were respected.
  • He would free from all patriarchal censure, and if an archon and member of the senate infringed on canon, the patriarch would impose a punishment only through his intermediary, who would represent his role as defender of the Church and the canons.
  • He could retain in Constantinople or send back to their diocese bishops who had come or been summoned to Constantinople on important business without the patriarch having a right to object.
  • He might demand from every new bishop a promise of loyalty to his person and the empire.
  • He could require all the bishops to approve and sign the synodal acts.
  • The bishops were obliged to take note of these articles and should not propose for election to an episcopal see anyone who was not a friend of the emperor.


Involved here was an elaborate mesh of checks and balances. The Patriarch was elected by the Emperor but from a pool of nominees determined by a metropolitan synod.  Metropolitan sees were really independent of the Emperor and often would be well-springs of criticism. The Emperor’s immunity from patriarchal censure was based upon divine right– soveriegnty was the result of God’s election not man-made constitutions. Yet in order for power to gain legitimacy or ratification, it required submission to law. Yet power was not always so bound, could abrogate law in, say, emergencies or for the higher good, e.g., it possesed an economy.  The relation between church and state were much more fluid than in the West, and the Emperor’s office contained a hint of Priesthood.

Elizabethian Erastianism was not novelty but harkened back to these earlier Byzantine models. If the Pope, or primacy of Peter, no longer possessed unilateral the right or legitimacy to call a Western Council, then, as Luther himself admitted, this same function fell upon the Prince to bring peace. Thus, a move toward the Eastern pattern resulted.

However, the Erastian approach to church/state was not entirely unusual for the West despite the fragmented Germanic Principalities which constituted so-called Empire. Gelasianism was more of a compromise between church and state (i.e., a balance of powers) than clear victory of ecclesial over civil. Even under Gelasianism the King was far from divorced from influence in the Church. The Concordant of Worms, 1122 AD, outlined practical application of Gelsianism (see below). It did not forbid the monarch from presenting nominees from the church or distributing ‘benefices’. Although not specifically listed under the terms of Worms (below), the the Emporer also had a traditional power to declare synods at times of great doctrinal contorversy or clerical disorder (such as the Great Schism of the Anti-Popes, 1415 AD), and this right is assumed in the Concord:

  • The elections of the bishops (in Catholic nations) would be done in the ‘presence’ of the monarch.
  • In the case of disputed elections the King may decide between the parties after consulting the provincial episcopate.
  • The King shall recieve a pledge of loyalty from the Bishop, giving the bishop his (civil) regalia and sceptre.
  • The bishop or abbot elect shall perform all the duties that go with the holding of the regalia (his civil functions).


The concept of church-state was not necessarily one sphere ruling the other (though the Gelsian model ideally sought an absolute rule of eternal over temporal). Both the West and Eastern Patriarchs crowned and consecrated the Emperors. Both handed the sovereign the sword. Rather what was typical of civil and ecclesial  powers (even in the West) was their homeostasis. Eastern theologians argued the King ruled not just the temporal order but the body too, and, in so far as the church was composed of the physical and earthly, the Emporer had an stake in church affairs. He could not be seperated from the divine anymore than the church could be removed from temporal. This easily went the other way with bishops in both East and West weilding civil powers, usually in relation to land benefices or civil activities related to alms– hospitals, orphanages, hostels, asylums, etc.. (at least this was the point of departure toward princely duties)

In contrast, the modern Free church was marked by an extreme pessimism regarding the Crown’s capacity, wisdom, or right  rule the ‘elect’ or ‘baptized” bodies. The disorder that led to disestablishment was infected with a radical, even Gnostic seperation of flesh and spirit when treating the two realms. The Byzantine, Erastian, and even Gelsian models of church-state (in practice) had very blurred boundaries and functions. Prior to the Free Church’s separatism, differences between church and state spheres were perhaps more theoretical than practical. As noted above, the theocratic systems which emerged were more the result of compromise, tradition, and long contest than clear biblical mandate. Rather than anticipating ‘seperation of church state’, the West more or less followed the Byzantine example. When the English became a national church (erastian), they were returning to an older and well-established pattern. I believe when discussing theonomic or theocratic systems, Erastianism deserves its place. The institution which vestments thus symbolized pointed to 1,200 years of Christian practice and was, albeit occassional messy, more representative of Christianity than the newfangled ‘free church’ model as demanded by Independency.

The Black Regiment: Against the colorful and majestic vestments of the old Erastian church, nonconforming clergy adopted black robes. The Reformation origins of black gowns belong to the Lutherans, first introduced them under Andreas Karlstadt in 1521. Disgruntled by the  hierarchy between laity and clergy, Karlstadt wore an ordinary academic cassock. Not only did this underline the teaching role (shepherdic) of the minister but at the time it was treated as everyday garb, demonstrating an equality between lay and minister that emphasizing the general priesthood. Luther disagreed with Karlstadt’s rejection of vestments as breach of clerical collegiality and church authority. However, the black cossack “stuck” and in 1930 the Augsberg Confession gave it a normative status, making robe along with surplice a standard for the German church. Later this would be known as the “Genevan Garb“, representing the ordained and teaching/academic authority (shepherdic function) of the minister. However, Karlstadt was not satisified and was compelled to further push ‘dialectic’, next doning farmer clothes to press the need for radical egalitarianism in the Church.

The term “Black Regiment” comes from Royalists who disliked the American Revolution, calling those Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Baptists ministers the “the Black Regiment” due to their robes. Indeed, the black cossack became synomynous with anti-prelacy and even secular republicanism. But even before whiggism, black cassocks became synomynous with non-conformity.

What was interesting about black robes was their liturgical significance. According to the old calendar black robes were worn during pentitential occasions, such as Good Friday, Ember Days, and “requiems”.  Black was the color of death and burial/graves. The last three days of Holy (Painful) Week (Obedience Thursday, Good Friday, and Tomb Saturday) are called the “Tenebræ” meaning ‘darkness’.  In light of the Reformation’s emphasis on repentance and atonement, typifying Reformed liturgies and discipline, the sobriety of ‘black’ was indeed an appropriate color for the Protestant cause.

Despite the ahisticorical rejection of ‘church-state’ by modern-day Protestants, I retain a fond appreciation of the simplicity and sobriety of the black cassock, especially the penitential and preparatory spirit of the Reformation. The black regiment represents the good I take from the dross of Puritanism. Ironically, black robes, though originally intended to make the minister ‘ordinary’ or even ‘folksy’, are today considered very liturgical. Those who don the cassocks in worship now are treated as very “high church”.  But these are only hold-outs. Karlstadt would surely be very happy with the egalitarianism of non-denominational bodies today. Karlstadt anticipated an ecclesial spirit which was more akin to Anabaptism than Lutheranism. Yet another sign that the Anabaptist spirit has eclipsed the older Magesterial intent of Protestantism.

With regard to the BCP, protestant penitentialism introduced our long exhortation, prayer of humble access, words of comfort, the offeratory of congregational sacrfice, decalogue, confession, and litany of supplication. Much of the BCP was therefore cast in this pentitential spirit– a legacy we should not abandon but a healthy distinction, for our good.

The Anabaptist Spirit

I posted a few things about the modern-day gravitation of Presbyterians toward the Baptist/Fundamentalist camp indicating it a surrender of the Reformation. This is not the first writing on the subject. More scholarly authors have written on the same subject. For instance, see The Anabaptist Captivity of the Church. However, this post will mostly deal with Dr. Matthew McMahon’s commentary: The Rise of the Radical Anabaptists from which a few notions cued w/ respect to Reformed Catholic order and worship.

Nonetheless, the the goals of the early reformation, or what might be properly called the Magisterial Reformation, started to give way to a radical-wing in the late 1580’s. I compare this faction within Puritanism to the “Anabaptist Spirit”. I’d like to better define the Anabaptist Spirit which has eventually displaced early Protestantism through various waves of iconoclam and anti-clericalism sometime after the 16th century.

It would be best to define some goals and characteristics of the Magisterial Reformation. First, the goal of early Reformation was not an exclusive return to the sub-apostolic church. Instead, Anglican and Lutheran protestants tended to desire continuity with medieval practices albeit conformed to specific primitive and scriptural rules. Nor were all medieval and Roman customs cast away merely due to periodicity or source. Early protestants viewed themselves as ‘humanist’ Roman Catholics, often explaining their difference with Papacy by late innovations introduced in Italian catholicism.

The saliency of certain medieval practices is of special note. When northern catholic princes dissolved monasteries, it was not the rule of holy life which offended but the specialized and cloistered nature of monks. Instead, reformers were optimistic about sacralizing daily life and society, and thus intended to turn the monastic ideal ‘inside-out’, bringing the breviary into family and occupational livings. This is amplification of the medieval was typical amongst first generation reformers like Luther and Cranmer, having more in common with the precepts of the middle ages than with today’s rationalism.

Monastic-pietism has a long history, dating back to Cluniac reform in the middle ages. It did not wait until Luther to start life. The reforming instincts of Luther and Cranmer were born from the pietism of the medieval church whether the Franciscan friars or Wycliffe’s followers.However, this is only one analogy that builds context for the impulses behind Magisterial Reformation. Nor should the 15th-century concilarism of Constance and Basel be forgotten, advocated by John Major and Jacques Almain just before Luther’s 1519 Appeal to the Nobility. In many ways the Reformation intended to settle questions opened three centuries before the 95 theses was nailed to Wittenberg’s cathedral doors. Below is a brief summary of certain prominent Reformation convictions:

1. The Reformation wanted to restore a more rigorous and accountable discipline for the sake of personal holiness.
Ecclesiastical law and devotional works were intensified to impress piety upon clergy and lay people. The reformation excited a new sense of collective holiness and morals.
2. Early Protestants wanted power shifted away from Rome toward national bishops and princes who were more prominent during the investiture conflicts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This was connected to a renewed hope in concilar governance within the Western Church where lay people represented through their Christian monarchs might have greater say. The organization of the church according to a national principle therefore brought means for integrating ecclesiastical to laity.
3. Nor were original Protestants separatist in their outlook but expected to reconcile differences with the Pope by the advocacy of the Emperor and his convocation of a free general council. English and German divines certainly did not see themselves establishing new churches but expected to continue the old ones by a persuasive appeal to authentic catholic and patristic faith, beginning with Augustine, Jerome, and Ambrose.

Unfortunately, the pressures for Reform sometimes was not well-contained, and zeal occasionally gained the upper-hand. Nonetheless, Protestants and Roman Catholics both persecuted radicals. In fact, the Diets of Speyer and Augsburg (if not Peace of Passau) formally committed Lutherans to the suppression of Anabaptism. It is good to keep in mind how the concilar and aristocratic basis of classical Protestantism basically alienated Radicalism’s penchant for democracy.

Unlike Anabaptists, the engine of church authority for ‘Magisterialists’ was not the people’s congregation but was given to the civil power who mediated the ecclesiastical synod. Calvin himself disparaged democracy in the church. Although strong anti-clerical currents existed within Puritanism, these were usually directed at bishops not rectors. Calvinists typically wanted to strengthen the rectory (aka. presbyters), giving curates great scrutiny over lay people while dominating the worship by moving the sermon to the center of liturgy.

Before views hardened between Anglicans and puritans, early Protestants shared common views on episcopacy, justifying it according to the efficiency in governing national churches vs. single free cities. Moreover, most puritans proved allies with high churchmen on questions of establishment or licencing (traveling) preachers.

Far from abolishing church authority and order, the Reformation wished to restore it in concrete terms under the supervision of the Prince. Often troublesome with assessing ecclesiology is the Protestant treatment of the visible church. Although early Protestants acknowledged predestination as a true and sound doctrine, they somewhat sidestepped its application to the Church, often defining the Church instead as the congregation of the faithful. This might carry a couple meanings. 1. Those not under ecclesiastical discipline, i.e, presumed to be elect until otherwise shown, and, 2. those truly saved, numbered only by the Lord. Suffice to say, the pastoral sense of the phrase was often wisely favored against the less hesitant flattening of election to ecclesiology by Radicals.

First and foremost, visible church was the baptized christian community, and on the instance a particular province, headed by a Prince. This was typical for Protestant polity, and the Augsburg edict said, “the faith of the prince is the faith of the realm”. Original Protestantism consequently offered a remarkably high ecclesiology. And, though Papacy was rejected as a universal/ursurping power, prelacy often continued in Magisterial Protestant countries where the Prince was strong. In Scotland, between 1560-1592 (due to the Leith Concordant), episcopacy co-existed with Presbyterianism, the latter practiced locally.

Some Lutheran principalities also continued the old diocesan bishoprics, and in Sweden episcopacy continued under the King. Thus, many early Protestant countries did not abandon the older catholic polities. The strength of King and State was a defining feature of the later Prussian church, and when German unity began, superintendents were placed over united synods. But in each instance, Protestant bishops understood their office by virtue convention rather than divine right, and usually the influence of secular lords, backed by parliament and royal decree, determined the presence of spiritual ones in the Church, coalitions Anabaptists vehemently rejected.

The problem with church historians is failing to differentiate between early and late Protestant churchmanship. Furthermore, modern evangelicals tend to treat Radicalism as authentic protestantism, but this is no surprise when pundits mistakenly reinforce the idea that early Reformers rejected the entire medieval church. Rather, the Reformation strove to preserve ‘princely order’ in various ways.  Also, in the period 1520-1590, Lutherans desired reconciliation with Rome. This inherent ‘conservatism’ in Reforming movements was the culmination of humanist medieval thought dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries. Thus, early Reformers probably had more in common with Roman Catholics than today’s Evangelical-Free Churchers.

Anabaptist Beliefs:
Radicals were theologically mixed, but they particularly rejected the civil authority in church affairs. Some were anti-trinitarian, some militant, some pacifist. Not only does the diversity of their opinion evade definition, but Anabaptist congregations rarely had enough stability to draft common confessions. Perhaps the best known statement of their beliefs was authored by Michael Sattler– an ex-Benedictine monk and follower of the earlier anabaptist preacher, Conrad Grebel. Sattler wrote a Confession for Schleitheim in 1526 . Its seven articles were:

  • Believer-only baptism (credo-baptism) following a credible profession of faith
  • Rigorous banning of sinners from church communion. Moral perfectionism.
  • Eucharistic bread and wine as symbols only.
  • Monastic separation from the world for the congregation, and the boycotting of all established churches and secular life
  • Election of pastors by laypeople/congregation with no ecclesiastical officers
  • Radical pacifism
  • Forbidding oaths, especially civil ones

Getting back to some of the essays written about the invasion of anabaptism into mainline protestantism, McMahon’s Rise of Radical Anabaptists admits Anabaptism originated in Zurich with close ties to Zwingli. However, the remainder of McMahon’s article puts distance between Anabaptists and Reformers, stressing differences on sacrament, creed, and other areas of thought. Nonetheless, McMahon zeroes in on two differences pertinent this essay:

“…the Anabaptist ultimately did not want a reformation of the church-state; rather, they wanted a re-institution of the true church they thought they possessed…”

McMahon says the two most prominent Anabaptist ideas were 1) a ‘reinstitution’ of a church such that it contain converted believers only (the elect), and 2) believer-only baptism. Radicals were dogmatic about opposing Erastianism, and with the rejection of civil magistrates so too the church authority advocated by Reformers. This expectation that the church have no unsaved men departed from earlier catholicism and even what might be called ‘the Reformation consensus’. McMahon rightly calls Anabaptist ecclesiology not church “reform” but “reinstitution” or ‘reinvention’. According to McMahon this was not only the result of poor theology, but it was also revisionist and ahistorical.

Where McMahon’s thesis really gets interesting is the strong affinity 16th-century Anabaptists have to modern-day Fundamentalism and denominations like Baptists. The Schleitheim Articles could practically be an accurate and descriptive confession for any non-denominational congregation today– i.e,  believer-only baptism, free church, sacrament as symbol-only, congregationally driven ministry, and no clerical order. We ought to wonder how different is 16th-century Radicalism from today’s fundies and baptist conventions? Or to put the same question differently, how much did early Protestants have in common with Rome rather than fundamentalist churches today?

Zurich — Mother of Disorder?
The pressure for Reform broke space for Radical sentiment. Generally speaking Reform was led by low clergy and sometimes nobles against bishops and emperor. The zeal for reform could cause heretical elements to spin out. For instance, tracing the genealogy of radical iconoclasm (RPW) to Marian exiles and the 1560 Scottish Covenant, we find a connection to the Swiss cities, mentioned in reference to the example of the “best of continental churches”, mainly Geneva and Zurich. There were also the collegial relationships of the period. For example Swiss cities typically exchanged ministers, and ideas cross pollinated. For example, Calvin presided in Strasbourg before ministering in Geneva. Knox ministered in Frankfurt, then the Anglo exiles in Geneva, and finally Scotland. Ministers tended to follow ethnic-refugee flows– Huguenots fleeing France to Geneva, and English escaping Mary for Frankfurt. A backdraft of exiles from Switzerland to England occurred upon continental Protestant defeat in 1548. Nonetheless, whether reformers stayed or fled, each city was reputed by the gifts of their theologian(s).

Zurich is of particular interest as it was the crucible for later debates on Sacramental realism and, for English concerns, iconoclasm. Ulrich Zwingli was Zurich’s resident theologian. In 1523 Zwingli was Zurich’s moderate, holding a middle ground against radical demands. At this earlier date Zwingli was surprisingly ‘catholic’. His liturgy had not yet touched the canon of the Mass, nor did he abolish catholic imagery. However, the caution of his reform also left him a target for more popular and immediatist leaders. By the next year Zwingli changed his sided with popular zeal, deposing the Mass but also calling for stripping church ornament/images, “Zwingli and his radical colleagues disposed of the relics, raised their ladders against the walls and whitewashed the paintings and decoraions, carted away the statues and ornaments, the gold and silver equipment, the costly vestments and splendidly bound service-books, and closed the organs.” (Liturgies of the Western Church, p. 142. ) Zwingli’s licence given to radicals would prove insufficient to keeping the popular coalition together, and by the end of the year it disintegrated over what became the next contested issue, infant baptism.

“Listed amongst Zwingli’s early collaborators were Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel. Manz and Grebel only broke from Zwingli after Ulrich refused to baptize adults who were sprinkled as infants. Anabaptists wanted ‘believer only’ baptisms, and thus treated infant baptisms as null and void. The danger here for Zwingli, and why he drew a final line with Manz and the other riff-raff, was this would have limited the authority of the church to only a small ring of fanatics. The question of infant baptism would finally force the two parties apart. Manz’s sect would become the notorious ‘Anabaptists’, but until then Anabaptism and Reformed iconoclasm were indistinguishable in the little city of Zurich.

Zwingli would not reinvent the sacrament. Nonetheless, Zurich proved the earliest, if not the epicenter, to radical iconoclasm.

Some Remarks:
The boundaries of communion should be properly based upon actual like-mindedness and common worship. Who is included in the sacrament s to speaks volumes about what denominations we believe are truly part of the visible church. Inter-communion pacts can also indicate how far reformed origins and goals have wandered. I’ve personally experienced a kind of double standard in Presbyterian churches where clergy work overtime to eliminate theocratic sentiment in favor of complete withdrawal from the civil sphere. This process probably started upon the American Revolution where the Magistrate ceased enforcing the first tablet of the decalogue. The WCF changed accordingly, the american version admitting disestablishment,”it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the Church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest” (WCF 23.3)

Today Presbyterian communion appears to be open to anyone who is “bible believing”. This works out to be anyone who is fundamentalist. Thus, baptists can partake. But too frequently the table is closed to churchmen who have high views of Sacrament, meaning Luther could not even eat at a Presbyterian supper. This ought to be astonishing because Lutherans, Anglicans, and, at least, early Presbyterians are tightly wound together by common history and theology! The problem is modern-day Presbyterianism has moved decisively toward Anabaptism, especially in areas of authority and church discipline. Even Presbyterian historiography seems at a lost to identify with Constantine or Scottish Kings like James I.

My worry for Reformed churches is not merely the impact rapid growth models have upon worship, but how ties with Fundamentalists and other ‘free church’ traditions undermine original Protestantism. Iconoclasm/RPW invited such turmoil in England that establishment was flatly rejected as a means for organizing the church in 19th-century America. We may consider RPW a major culprit, or at least midwife, for Anabaptism’s kidnapping of Reformation. The search for a pure church composed only of the elect gave impetus to centrifugal forces in revivalism. The anti-clericalism behind the sacrament controversies encouraged congregationalism and lay societies. And, these, in turn, left the interpretation of scripture to private judgement, something original protestants abhorred. We might ask, “Given the democratic and revivalistic culture that prevails in America, can neo-Presbyterianism return to its Magisterial roots?”

Canonical Principal of Worship?

If RPW is extrascriptural, or a type of ‘liturgical teetolin’, what are the implications? Certainly worship requires rules, but RPW is not necessarily the only way to obtain common order. To say otherwise places a false dilemma.


Worship Anarchy?


When examining the commands of God regarding worship, we find plenty of rules as well as scriptural examples. We have plain orders for baptism, supper, preaching, and prayer. Moreover, in less explicit matters, there are general guidelines, norms determined necessary consequence, and principals which bracket and regulate worship. If the church simply obeyed the rules given by Christ, there’d be no reason to fear a quick descent into anarchy or so-called ‘will worship’. Far from it. The bible is indeed sufficient, “Do as I have command” 


Implicit Rules


The bible provides implicit rules regarding the conduct of worship which are quite comprehensive and far-reaching if consistently applied. Some of which are: 


1. Do not cause a brother to stumble, 1 Cor. 10:32, Acts 15:19-21

2. Let all things edify, 1 Cor. 14:26, Eph. 4:12

3. Let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner, 1Co 14:40


Though general rules, we see flexibility for the sake of brotherly love and peace. Clearly, Acts 15 is an example of establishing rules, though unscriptural, for the sake of weak consciences. In this case, it was asking Gentiles to refrain from food practices which harmed fellowship with Jewish Christians. Furthermore, Acts 15 is an example of canonical rule or discipline for the intent of preserving unity.


Though we may find many church rules painful or even unscriptural, the peace and order of the church asks us to refrain from schism, utilizing constitutional channels/redress instead. God is a God of order not confusion, and we have been baptized into a single faith (Eph 4:5) and confession (R. 15:5). Sometimes matters take time to resolve or take serveral ecclessial court appeals. Yet Christ gave the church a resolution process (Deut 19:15; Matt 5:23; 18:15-16; Lk 17:3; Gal. 6:1; 1 Tim 5:19-20), and until the matter is flushed out, a Christian ought to wait in patience and even sacrificial love.


Dealing with Problems of “Necessary Consequence”


During the reformation sacramentalism tore the swiss Reformers apart from German Lutherans, rendering the Wittenburg Concord impossible. The first half of the Reformation was greatly preoccupied over the mode of eating the sacrament. Was Christ locally present with the bread or not? Debates with Romans centered over the substance of the bread becoming Christ’s flesh or not. While today we present the respective theological camps positions in an extremely simplistic matter, conducive more to denominational polemics than fair witness, the discussions over the eucharistic bread was very nuanced and sophisticated. Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic conclusions often dealt with Scholastics, but more particularly with Chalcedon and latter trinitarian formulas. How these creeds and canons were intellectually grasped in turn determined fine details worship practice– are the elements adored, the “moment” of real presence, how are the elements are consumed or dispensed, are they consecrated or nature of consecration, and what are their benefits?


Like the trinitarian formulas which sacramental theology was built upon, these questions are very complicated matters, the answers of which are not readily plain or evident from scripture, requiring many iterations of ‘necessary consequence’. We do injustice to legit questions by answering them with strawman arguments. The insistent philosophical inquiry and resultant precisionism of dogma and confessions has been the penchant of the West (perhaps an unfortunate legacy) while the East wisely left these matter a mystery, resigning the church to silence where God has been the same. Is it enough to believe the Word is effectual, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…For my flesh is real food adn my blood is real drink” (John 6:51, 56) and, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matt 26:26)?


Canonical Rule


Important matters of worship ought to be ruled by scripture and the commands of Christ. Yet not all matters are plain and evident, requiring iteration and great deliberation. In these many, many instances can each church reach the same ‘unity of faith’ without any judicial or ecclesial structure? In England Calvinists could not agree over polity (amongst other things) and denominationalism arose along the same lines of disagreement—namely, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Anglican. Whether polity or sacrament, necessary consequence was at times indeterminate and compromise ensued. Even in Westminster, divines “agreed to disagree” in adopting 1648 articles of religion, omitting entire sections of WCF, particularly articles 30 &31 on ecclessial censures and synods for the sake of Independents. Confessions may not be precise, leaving matters deemed important at the time “open”, but nonetheless the articles were devout attempts to be true (after puritan divines drove the bishops from the assembly). The same can be said canon in general. Canon goes one step further than mere ‘normativism’ as they deal with discipline in general and matters where there may be no consensus. They are devices of unity, common order, safeguarding worship and doctrine. The preface to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer explains the adoption of public prayer,

And although the keeping or omitting of a ceremonies (in itself considered) is but a small thing: yet the wilful and contempteous transgression, and breaking of a common order and discipline, is no small offence before God. Let all things be done among you (saith S. Paul) in a semely and due order. The appointment of the which order, pertaineth not to private men: therefore no man ought to take in hand, nor presume to appoint or alter any public or common order in Christ’s church, except he be lawfully called and authorized there unto.” 

Thus, by ‘necessary consequence’ regarding common peace and order in the church, this being nothing less than the same love for the Bride (the church) as Christ shows for her, we might say the church is best ruled not either by scriptural injunction alone or mere normativism (both too often leave divergent views unresolved), but by canonical principal. As an alternative to RPW, let’s propose the ‘canonical principal of worship’ or CPW? And where we genuinely disagree, we ought to seek constitutional redress; else we might prove little better than ‘rebels without a cause’ in hastiness and zeal? 


Solemn League and Covenant?


The biggest historical implication of RPW is the legitimacy of Solemn League and Covenant (SLC). If one reviews SLC (section I. below), it is apparent its overriding concern was correcting the doctrine, worship, and polity of the church according to “the word of God” and “the example of the best reformed Churches” (Geneva).  


“I. That we shall sincerely, really, and constantly, through the grace of God, endeavor, in our several places and calligns, the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, against our common enemies; the reformation of religion in the three kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the Word of God, and the example of the best reformed Churches… and shall endeavour to bring the Churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and unifromity in religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory of Worship and Catechising.”


The root of the problem was worship and oversight. SLC was born in the Scottish national covenant, a reaction to Archbishop Laud’s aggressive restoration of the Prayer Book and government of Bishops in Eidenburgh (“the danger immanent to true Protestant religion.. by the multitued of Papists adn their adherents in arms in England and Ireland”– SLC preamble). Of course, polity and discipline are directly related to RPW since they are rejoinders to the proper ministration and oversight of the gospel and sacraments. Despite repeated peitions for defense of the “office” of monarchy, the RPW justified not only war with prelates of the Church (“that we shall, in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the extripation of Popery, prelacy”– SLC article II) but actual rule of Charles I (whose father, James I said, ‘no bishop, no crown’) against the embellished ‘rights’ of Parliament.


The ultimate result of SLC was not only a permanent, irreversible destruction of peace in the Church of England (the Acts of Tolerance first introduced by Cromwell and later William & Mary), but the triumph of Parliament over the Crown. Thus, at the foot of SLC is the rubble of Christendom and birth of Republicanism, the State eventually removing itself from questions of religion and free conscience, as well as the eclipse of peerage in favor of ‘suffarage’ and ‘rights’ via a republican body. Thus, SLC not only possesses a ‘modernist’ biblicism, i.e., ‘the Word of God’ (contra tradition) but a modern polity or rise of ‘nation’ (“all ranks”, sic., “We, noblemen, barons, knights, gentlemen, citizens, burgesses, ministers of the Gospel, and commons of all sorts”– preamble). Thus, the church fell under the rule of the mob or national assembly, underming erastianism. Thus, Geneva, not London or Wittenburg, indeed won the day. 


Not all disputes on worship between 17th century Anglican and Puritans were ungrounded. Allegorical and symbolic elements cluttered and obfuscated the holiness of worship. Silence and modesty could be as majestic as ornamented externals. Yet the manner and urgency in which these disputations were protested is questionable. Many disputations were unnecessary, hastily, or polemically conceived. For example, as noted above, complaints over black rubrics or adoration is not as simple as ‘bread worship’ (though for Zwinglians and Anabaptists it might be). Likewise, marriage rings and vestments are things indifferent, better relegated to considerations in edification or church order. Many reforms were pushed too fast, producing little more than harmful backlashes. Indeed, the support of catholics like Mary I or Anglicans like Charles I received was mostly rural compared to the backbone of Puritanism, in the cities and amongst the middle classes. The peasantry loved their festive processions, saints, and King, yet the realm suffered irreparable war.


The protests of Puritans and Reformers often have a veneer of great piety and fidelity to the Word, typically appealing to ‘plain and evident’ scripture. But some of the most contested questions of the reformation–be it between protestant camps, national churches, or against Rome– were not simple matters. If RPW is an unscriptural imposition or rule, essentially an argument born from the silence of scripture (with no positive example of god’s wrath against ‘adiaphora’), then we admit a tragic excess to the reformation, “‘Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda”, that cooperated in breaking down church order, perhaps even opening the door to later  Finnian revivalism and Briggian higher criticism. And with the church so followed the state in likewise disorders. SLC’s intransigence not only prepared the way for religious pluralism, breaking the back of church/state mutualism, but it effectively transfered the iconic sovereignty of a federal head (sic., the king, monarchism) to the abstract mass of commons (i.e., the people, or ‘nation’). Hence we enter into the disorder of  modern democracy altogether, whether it be in worship or civil law, where jurisdictions are highly fragmented and culture is by default ‘pragmatic’ and ‘secular’.  




The pivotal events of reformation, where Godly patience lost out to Biblicist zeal, is beyond the scope of this entry. RPW, together with SLC, were pious but foolish declarations of war against divinely appointed authority and constitutional hierarchy in the church as well as the larger society. Born out of these contestations was not only Protestantism but also arrived the ‘rights of man’, and republicanism, deconsecrating society as well as civil government. Not only this, but the RPW proves nothing more than Lutheranism was right, “We must do as God commands”. God also commands we obey instituted authorities, both civil and ecclesial, and while members of the church certainly have a right to appeal abuses (this too being God-ordained), it ought to be done with love of Christ and his church in mind, “thinking oneself better than their brother” 


Gen. 4:9, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 

1 J 3:15, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” 

Col. 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for he sake of his body, that is, the church”

What may suffer error requires patience and love until Canon may be rightly addressed, appealing to prior ‘necessary consequence’ and scripture as rules of faith. In Rome and the East ‘necessary consequence’, in the canonical sense, is simply called ‘holy tradition’. While Rome and East do not agree entirely over how holy tradition is dogmatically established, both acknowledge universal councils and synods as a means redress, and in many a treatise both Calvin and Luther enlisted tradition, though rather selectively. Nonetheless, it is far from foreign even for protestants to at least refer to it.  But is said with many qualifications, and the subject deserves another post entirely. 

Is RPW Scriptural?

Disclaimer: My travails with Regulative Principal began while studying Anglican worship. Later I found Steve Schlissel’s essays on RPW, & discovered RPW to be rather unscriptural. More at this link. However, I do not subscribe to Schlissel’s congregationalist approach to ceremony, believing there are general restrictions like common order and edification which restrain pastoral innovation.

the stripping of York Minster 1550

The Westminster Confession (WCF/ACR) defines the Regulative Principal (RPW):

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.

In otherwords, “In the worship of God whatever is not commanded by Scripture is forbidden”. The RPW allowed Presbyterian-Puritan party within the Church of England to draw stark lines between what was called “true” and “false” worship, especially after 1571 dividing Anglican and Presbyterian . True worship must have a sola scriptura warrant, either:

  • an explicit command of God, deduced by good and necessary consequence from scriptural passages
  • or derivation from approved historical example as witnessed in scripture (e.g, Acts)

Within Regulativism a surprising amount of worship that comes from biblical interpretation is tenuous at best.  For instance, how is the sequence or even necessary elements of worship determined without referencing a precedent?  Even Sunday worship is not absolutely clear in scripture without prior assumptions. Too often regulativists impose a double standard, insisting worship be proved according by “plain and clear” command while their own is not.  Regulativists forget Calvin’s treatment of the Lord’s Supper was heavily mediated by secondary, patristic sources such as the Fourth Ecumenical Council and later Nicaean formulas. Are Anglicans or Lutherans allowed similar appropriations?

Let’s keep in mind there are actually two parts of the RPW:

  • In worship we must do what God commands– not breaking or neglecting any of His commands.  (#1)
  • We are forbidden to worship in a manner that God has not prescribed or is silent.  (#2)

“We must do what God commands.” (#1)
This is a non-sequitur argument. Lutherans, Anglican, and even Rome agree that God’s express commands must be obeyed! There is no doubt that worship ought to be ruled by God’s Word– i.e., commands, scriptural example, and necessary consequence (#1). These categories surely provide sufficient standards for worship. However, necessary consequence and the iterations of proof texts required to show forth God’s intent can be very problematic. For example, “Do ordained or lay declare the sacrament with the Words of Institution?”, “do we use leaven or unleavened bread in the rite?”, “Should grape juice or wine be given to the young?”, or “In what posture should the body of Christ be received?” There are many other ‘distinctions’ contested even amongst Presbyterian old siders confess RPW– e.g, are instruments permitted, dancing, or even singing allowed? Obviously not all truth is plain and evident, so the church must grant deliberation, calling synods and the like.

Not all things Commanded are Plain or Clear
Answers to these questions are not easily conluded. In fact they took several centuries to formulate amidst back-and-forth exegesis within the Church. When the deductive reasons of church doctors are instantly leveled (e.g., by calls for ‘plain and clear’ scripture), arguments that took hundres of years (even upon blood of martyers) to establish but then must be rebuilt with no guarantee of less error than before. Even minoritarian opinion deserves its day in court, its deductions and proofs granted a chance to air not smugly dismissed in knee-jerk reactions as unbiblical or even ‘anti-christ’. The 9th commandment is the basis for this judicial deliberation. We must obey God, not man; but God’s special revelation has been given to the church, of which we are members. Those areas requiring deduction can be found and defended, but must be determined with communion in mind.

“Worship is forbidden where scripture is silent” (#2)
… Now this is the stickler! If scripture condemns what is not commanded, then there should be specific examples of this error. In other words, can RPW produce its own biblical defense without confusing “God’s silence” for His “expressed prohibition?” For example, WLC and WCF’s “proof texts” do not argue RPW at all. Instead, these ‘proofs’ ironically vindicate the Anglican and Lutheran position (#1)– God punishes men for worshipping in a manner expressly forbidden, aka, “Normativism” or NPW. We have yet to find a clear example of men chastised for worship where God is silent. To demonstrate the weakness of the RPW’s position, let’s look at the three classic examples that are levied as defenses for #2.

Offering Strange Fire
In Leviticus 10:1 Nadab and Abihu give strange fire to the Lord, “not by his command”. In verse three Moses reminds Aaron why Nadab and Abihu were destroyed, “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.” Moses is making reference to Ex. 19:10-12 where God instructs Moses that Israel cannot draw near to God upon pain of death unless first consecrated and prepared. Even priests must approach God in a prescribed, consecrated manner (v. 22). Nor could Moses withstand the direct glory of God (Ex. 33:20). Lev. 16:1-2 deals with the problem of Aaron’s sons, indicating it was Nadab and Abihu’s approach that spurred death by fire, “The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons…Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain”.

This implies Nadab and Abihu’s sin was an unauthorized entering the Most Holy Place. Nadab and Abihu’s were not High Priests yet in Lev. 10 they appear to officiate as such, thus possibly usurping Aaron’s exclusive responsibilities before the Ark (Ex. 30:7; 28:9, 29:30; Nu 18:3-4; Lev. 16:17).  The only place censers are commanded before God’s presence without the assembly watching was during the priestly approach toward the Holy of Holies.

“He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die” (Lev. 16:12-13)

Regulativist will counter Nadab and Abihu were punished simply for ‘strange’ or ‘unlawful’ (Nu. 3:4) fire. However, regulativists cannot explain what made this fire ‘unlawful’. Was it the fire itself or the incense burning upon it? Was it the manner it was applied? Incense had to be a precise type (Ex. 30:7-9, 34). Only Aaron was allowed to swing censers around the mercy seat. Moreover, Aaron sons had priestly duties to maintain an ever-burning fire in the courtyard altar (Lev. 6:12-13). In Lev. 9:24 this altar had been given a ‘new’ fire, and it appears censers could take their coals from it (Nu. 16:46).

So, if the issue was as simple as ‘unlawful fire’, then this fire would have been unlawful for any combination or single reason above. But we have other reasons to think more transgressions were involved, namely Nadab and Abihu usurping the job of High Priest. In this respect the connection between censers and Korah’s rebellion is telling. Moreover, we have enough evidence to infer Aaron’s sons violated God’s holiness not by RPW but by breaking rules of approach.

Grabbing the Ark
According to RPW Uzzah “reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled” (2 Sa 6:6). God struck him down. Uzzah’s grabbing is allegedly an example of breaking the RPW.

But did Uzzah instead violate God’s expressed command? Exodus 25: 12-15 explains the Ark was designed to be carried by acacia poles. Like the bread which could not be removed from the table of presence (Nu 4:7), these poles were to stay inside the rings of the ark, not one pole could be withdrawn (v. 15). Numbers 4:15 says, “they shall not touch any holy thing lest they die”.

<When David finally brought the Ark into Jerusalem, David confessed that Moses command the Ark to be carried with poles upon their shoulders, ”We did not enquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way. So the priests and Levites consecrated themselves in order to bring up the ark of the Lord. And the Levites carried the ark of God with poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the Lord” (1 Chr. 15:11-15). Thus, transport of the Ark was allowed if carried upon the shoulders of the Kohathites (Duet 10:8, Nu 1:51, Nu. 7:9). It cfould not be touched and acacia poles were given for its move.

God is not like an idol, nailed to a cart so He should not topple (Is. 41:7). Yet Uzzah treated the Lord’s Ark like an idol, and he suffered the consequences of violating the expressed word of God—not its silence.

Cain’s Sacrifice:
The Lord rejected Cain’s “plant” offering, yet God accepted Abel’s. Abel’s kept flocks and gave the fat portions of these flocks from the firstborn to God.  RPW would say the Lord rejected Cain’s offering because the Word had stipulated only animal life for sacrifice (Gen. 3:21). But wouldn’t this alone render Cain’s offering a violation of an expressed command?

Sacrifice was implied in Gen. 3:21, but as soon as the next chapter (4) God builds upon the details of this sacrifice, “fat portions from the firstborn of the flock were given” (v. 4). Throughout the book of Leviticus sacrifice of cloven animals are called “‘food for God” (e.g, 3:11; 21:6, 8, 21; 22:25). Interestingly, the fat portions are called God’s own (Lev. 3:16). From Moses we know Abel gave an adequate sacrifice for sin (Lev. 17:11) while the grain offering could not atone for sin by itself without a great kind (Nu. 28:3-6; Nu 6:14-15; Nu. 9:4).  There is no need to assume RPW with Cain. Instead, we have plenty of expressed commands.

I believe regulativists go beyond their own rules in their insistence for an explicit command in forms and orders of worship

Proofs for Normativism

Disclaimer: My travails with Regulative Principal began while studying Anglican worship, seeing much of it scriptural. Later I found Steve Schlissel’s essays on RPW, & discovered RPW to be rather unscriptural. More at this link. However, I do not subscribe to Schlissel’s congregationalist approach to worship, believing there are far more general restrictions and accountability to the larger church and fathers.

Scriptural texts offered in defense of RPW (e.g, either WLC or WCF) prove no more than “men must do what God commands”– hardly debunking Anglicanism or Lutheranism. In demanding “silence in worship where God is silent”, does RPW violate its own rule by going beyond what the Word reveals?

Surely OT worship was complex and detailed. Yet it is this exactness which left no doubt how God would receive sacrifice. But the existence of many rules hardly proves Regulativism.  Can we find examples of so-called ‘normativism’ or NPW? As we provide examples of NPW, we tackle two types of arguments deserving discussion:

1. Scripture which apparently condemns ‘traditions of men’.

2. Verses admonishing the “adding or subtraction” of the Word.

Moreover, it’s worth reminding brothers that passages which allude to man-made additions or subtractions (e.g., Jer. 7:31, Deut 12:32), if read in their scriptural context, are actually admonitions for violating expressed laws against crimes like usury or child sacrifice. Israel was condemned for doing what God forbade.

Traditions Accepted by God?

The classic regulativist example of man-made tradition being unprofitable was King Jeroboam’s construction of Shechem as a rival cult of sacrifice against YHWY’s (1 Ki 12:25-7) But Shechem was rejected not because Jeroboam created an unprescribed festival, but because he built a rival temple against God’s exclusive center of sacrifice in Jerusalem (Deut 12:5-6; 2 Sa 7:10, 13; 1 Ki 5:5). Again, these passages are not proofs of Regulativism but ironically defend normativism. We can further establish our point by showing positive examples of man-made traditions that God either tolerated or accepted.

Defining Feasts:

Let’s first make it clear– the Westminster Confession of Faith., article 21.5, defines feastdays or thanksgivings as specifically forms of worship:

XXI.V …besides religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.

Thanksgivings include memorials of God’s intercessions and blessings in history. Of course, the greatest intercessionary, historic event was the birth and death of our Savior in Bethleham and at Calvary. From the death of Christ, we calculate   the date of Easter.– a ”thanksgiving” Regulativists consider “Papish” (as well as the rest of the liturgical calendar which is revolves and derived from the single Easter date). Yet Regulativists claim the RPW gives freedom to the celebration of memorials.  Why then is Easter– a recollection for the greatest extraordinary act of God in history– thus condemned?  Does not scripture allow the worship and recollection of  God on dates commemorating His special deliverance(s) in history? What is more special than the Cross?

What were God’s commands for special Sabbaths and feast days? God commanded Israel to keep three major feasts–Passover (in memory of deliverance from Egypt); Pentecost; and Tabernacles–three minor feasts (Atonement, Trumpets, and Firstfruits), and two Jubilee Sabbaths. These were required by  the Law, and God’s people could neither turn to the Left or Right of them. But these were not the only festivals which Israel celebrated. Others feast days were added according to the latter deliverances of Israel from Babylon and Rome.


According to RPW, Israel could add no further ’special sabbaths’ than what God had provisioned. Yet Esther 9:27 records the Jews establishing a “day of rest” and “assembly” (v. 18) by their deliverance against Haman, “the Jews took it upon themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed” (v. 27). Otherwise known as Purim, the feast of Esther has religious significance since prayer or ’thanks’ is a sacrifice accepted by God, prepared for by ‘fasting’. If the book of Esther and Israel’s deliverance from Haman is eschatologically significance, certainly Purim is too.


Another example of a human tradition with religious significance is the Fesitval of Dedication, or Hanukkah, commemorating the purification of the temple during the Maccabean period. Although Jesus’s normal ministry was in Galilee and away from Judea (J 7:1-9), Christ was in Jerusalem during the Dedication (J 10:22). After his disputation with the Jews, he returned “back across the Jordan” (v. 40), indicating a special trip was made. Hanukkah had religious significance with torch and candlelighting, celebrating the future renewal of the Jewish altar and temple via a Messiah. Hence John 10 the jews ask Christ if he is the ‘Savior”.  Christ appropriated the occasion of the this festival (i.e, the celebration of Messiah) as he did the wedding at Cana (the new wine) to illustrate a point about himself. Did Christ’s apparent participation in or around Hanukkah violate the second commandment ? Why did he not extinguish the torches of Dedication as he did the money changers when used inside the temple? Instead, he evidently syncronized man-made tradition with an element of worship (preaching) in or around the rituals of the temple?

Cessationism in Providence?

The RPW’s demand for God’s memorial acts in history ought not be celebrated (e.g., saint days or other memorials) is curiously akin to a strict cessationism. Can spiritual realities penetrate history?  While some medieval miracles’ or relics may have been embarrassingly fraudulent, hagiography suggests the divine is ever near, ready to intervene in history for his people, even in incredible ways (e.g., Is 37:36; Matt 21:21-22; 26:53). While God’s normal intervention is the salvation of man are regulativists prepared to deny all miraculous deliverances?  Moreover, do we have a gnostic view of history– that God cannot pierce and sanctify the material course of time?

Some Thoughts

The problem with RPW is not really a Warfieldian, crypto-cessationism. It’s not God’s wonderful sanctification of history (Constantine’s sign of the cross) by occasionally breaking into it. Nor is it scandalous that men choose to offer praise, joy, and even worship from time-to-time in response to events in Providence. The problem is churches failing to do what the Lord commands,

“Whatsoever I command you, observe and do it” (Deut. 12:32).

“And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them” (Num. 15:39)

“If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (J 14:15).

Why can’t the church simply ‘do’ what God says? Isn’t that enough? Mark 7 condemns the ‘traditions of elders’ but only because these ‘traditions handed down’ were used to nullify God’s law (i.e., the 5th commandment, Mark 7:13). Hypocrisy is what God hates. We have no reason to believe God opposes man-made tradition given customs do not contravene or nullify his Law. Purim and Dedication are examples of observances that men declared ‘everlasting’. They were not commanded by God but neither did they violate his express command. These solemn assemblies employed religious significance and celebration yet were born outside the precise stipulation of the Law and not rejected. Furthermore, they were responses to God’s historical providence and intercessions, acknowledging “God is good or faithful” — an occasion deserving praise. In these respects they are “indifferent”, and how can something ‘indifferent’ either add or subtract?