The Puritan Principle of Worship
Reformed people today find themselves increasingly confronted with questions about worship. Some are critical of our current approach to worship, arguing that room must be made for contemporary Praise and Worship music with its guitar-strumming, hand-waving style. Others who trace their heritage to the English Puritans are critical for different reasons. They insist that being Reformed implies that worship be governed by the so-called regulative principle, and thus that in our worship there are to be no hymns, instruments, or commemoration of special days. It is claimed that this principle, commonly expressed in the form "Whatever is not commanded by Scripture is forbidden", originates from Calvin.
For many Reformed believers who have never heard of the "regulative principle", these claims are confusing, and their consequences somewhat alarming. Yet Reformed believers must always be honest enough to question whether or not they have departed from their roots. This paper was originally written in seminary, and explores the "regulative principle" of worship as applied by the Puritans, examining its meaning and origin. It traces this principle back to John Calvin, and seeks to demonstrate that those in the Puritan tradition who regard themselves as Calvin's heirs in fact apply this principle in a way that he himself never intended. At the same time, it is a call for those unfamiliar with the significance of the Reformation for worship to return to their heritage.
IN PURSUIT OF PLAINNESS
The Puritan Principle of Worship
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE CONTEXT OF PURITAN WORSHIP: English Puritanism
THE ORIGIN OF PURITAN WORSHIP: John Calvin
The difference between Luther and Calvin
Luther's approach to worship
Calvin's approach to worship
THE DEVELOPMENT OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Geneva To England
Under King Edward VI
Under Queen Mary
THE PRINCIPLE OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Sola Scriptura
THE PRACTICE OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Iconoclasm
Style in worship: prestigious or plain?
Calendar of worship: holy days or holidays?
Music in worship: splendid or scriptural?
THE UNIQUENESS OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Beyond Calvin?
Drawing from Calvin
Departure from Calvin
THE RELEVANCE OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Contemporary Approaches
General Material On The Regulative Principle
The Regulative Principle & Instruments
The Regulative Principle & Psalmody
The Regulative Principle & Holy Days
In our day there is a growing pile of pamphlets produced by Presbyterians promoting the Puritan pursuit of plainness in worship. Perhaps it would be more correct to speak of a desire to be Scriptural in worship rather than plain, since these attitudes to worship are not dictated by mere preference or personal taste towards the austere, but by Scripture. Such Presbyterians demand a Scriptural warrant for every part of worship. This approach finds its root in the so-called "regulative principle for worship", which is usually articulated in the form "whatever is not commanded is forbidden." Strict proponents of this regulative principle are those who champion the causes of exclusive psalmody, no instruments in worship, and no commemoration of holy days. What is common to all these controversial approaches to worship, however, is a strict application of the regulative principle for worship.
Presbyterian advocates of this strict application of the regulative principle for worship who demand a Scriptural warrant for all the elements of worship trace their spiritual heritage to the English Puritans. Certainly it is indisputable that the Puritans entertained precisely this notion in their approach to worship. It is also indisputable that the Puritans bequeathed this strict application of the regulative principle as a heritage to the Presbyterians. Although many Presbyterian churches today have largely abandoned their heritage in this respect, there is a small group that rigorously maintains this strict application of the regulative principle with respect to the questions of exclusive psalmody, no instruments in worship, and no commemoration of holy days.
It is our intention in this paper to trace the Puritan approach to worship. Of particular interest is the development the Puritan principle of worship from Calvinism, particularly since the English Puritans can legitimately be regarded as true heirs of Calvin. Our concern is thus not with the Puritan approach to worship in all its facets, but particularly with respect to the the sense in which the Puritans regarded that Scriptures as authoritative for Christian worship, and the origin of this view.
As such, by speaking of a "strict" application of the regulative principle we do not wish to be demeaning to the Puritan approach, but merely to distinguish it from a more "loose" application of the regulative principle. There are, in fact, two seemingly contradictory movements that claim to represent faithfully the "regulative principle of worship."1 Many Reformed churches in the Calvinist tradition allow hymns and instruments in worship and commemorate holy days, and yet claim that this is not inconsistent with the regulative principle. In contrast, the Puritans understand that a strict application of the regulative principle for worship necessarily excludes such practices since they had no specific divine warrant in Scripture. We shall attempt to relate the fundamental characteristics of this Puritan approach to worship, and to identify its origin and development in Calvinism.
There are, in fact, few studies on the worship of English Puritans. Contemporary articulations are helpful in expounding the chief tenets of the regulative principle, but the interest of such authors is primarily apologetic rather than historical. Consequently, it is difficult to find material on the development of worship in English Puritanism. One notable exception, however, is the work of Horton Davies, who has done extensive research on the subject of worship in England.2 Making extensive use of his findings, we shall attempt to present the results of his research as it relates to our topic.
THE CONTEXT OF PURITAN WORSHIP: English Puritanism
Puritanism is probably the most important religious movement that helped shape early American culture.3 The term itself is difficult to define, but Davies' definition is quite comprehensive and usable: "the outlook that characterized the radical Protestant party in Queen Elizabeth's day, which regarded the Reformation as incomplete and wished to model English church worship and government according to the Word of God."4 The term was first used towards the end of the sixteenth century as a nickname for the reforming party that wanted to "purify" the Anglican Church of England.
Later the term attained a broadness that encompassed all groups opposed the established Anglican Church of England. Two of the most important strands of Puritanism were the Presbyterians and the Independents. They enjoyed much strength and influence by the seventeenth century, and were chiefly responsible for the production of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was this brand of Puritanism that would later be exported to North America, and exert an influence for the centuries to come. Despite their differences with respect to church government, the Presbyterians and Independents found substantial agreement over the sufficiency of Scripture for both doctrine and worship, and shared a common spiritual heritage in John Calvin.
THE ORIGIN OF PURITAN WORSHIP: John Calvin
In contrast to the "richness" of Anglican worship with all its rites and ornamentation, Puritan worship was bare, plain and unadorned. However, this difference was not merely an aesthetic difference, but was rooted in a fundamental difference in theological convictions. Ultimately, the essential difference between the Anglican approach to worship and the Puritan approach to worship is the difference between Luther and Calvin.
The difference between Luther and Calvin
The difference between Luther and Calvin's conception of worship has often been misunderstood. Some regard the differences in conception as a difference of temperament, corresponding to the contrast between Luther's conservatism and Calvin's consistent application of the principles of reformation in a logical and radical manner. This, however, is simplistic, and does not do justice to the theological principles that underlie the different approaches to worship of the two reformers.
Firstly, it must be observed that Luther and Calvin were largely agreed on removing the abuses of the Roman church, also with respect to worship.5 They both objected to a conception of the mass in which Christ's sacrifice was portrayed as repeated each time again. They both objected to the Roman celebration of the mass in which the priest as vehicle of grace played the primary role in an elaborate ceremony performed in an unintelligible language. They both objected to the authority accorded to saints, and emphasized the primacy of the preaching. They both endeavoured to restore the pure worship of the ancient apostolic church. This commonness in approach to worship corresponded to common theological convictions about Scripture as the Word of God, justification by faith, and Christ as the only Mediator between God and man.
However, just as their similarity in approach to worship can be attributed to shared theological convictions, so the differences between Lutheran and Calvinist liturgical reforms have their root in different theological convictions. This difference in theology can be outlined as follows: For Luther, the criterion for acceptable worship was anything not contrary to Scripture: Whatever is not forbidden is permitted. For Calvin, the criterion for acceptable worship was the direct warrant of Scripture: Whatever is not commanded is forbidden. In short, Luther admitted anything not specifically condemned by Scripture, whereas Calvin admitted only that specifically enjoined by Scripture.
It is essential to understand this fundamental disagreement, since it also lies at the heart of the Anglican-Puritan conflict over liturgical reforms. In public worship, the Anglicans are thus primarily in the Wittenberg tradition of Luther, and the Puritans in the Genevan tradition of Calvin.
Luther's approach to worship
Luther's approach to worship can indeed be characterized as conservatism, but a conservatism that found its justification in his theological conviction that whatever was not condemned by Scripture was acceptable. Luther was averse to any notion of a tightly regulated Christian Leviticus, which he conceived as contrary to the freedom believers have in Christ. This concept of Christian freedom lies behind the variety of rites and ceremonies that came to be typical of Lutheran churches, even today. To Luther, any idea of a binding form of liturgy was theologically repulsive.
Accompanied with his insistence upon Christian freedom was Luther's concern for the weaker brothers. Fearful that iconoclasm would result in bewilderment and confusion, Luther proposed to limit reforms in worship to the removal of that which was contrary to the explicit injunctions of Scripture. In practice, this meant that the tradition of the Roman church was largely retained, and abolished only in instances where such tradition was explicitly condemned by the Word of God.
Consequently, the character of Lutheran worship exhibited obvious differences from that of Calvinistic worship. For one thing, Luther retained many symbolical actions and vestments, convinced that all the five senses that God had bestowed on man could be utilized in worship. An appeal to the sense of smell in the incense, and to the eye in the use of vestments and elaborate rituals was thus perfectly acceptable to Luther. In Luther's estimation, all the senses had been given by God as an aid to devotion, and thus it was perfectly appropriate to employ all the senses in worship, so far as this was not subject to the explicit censure of Scripture.
Davies advocates a sympathetic-critical approach to Luther.6 On the one hand, it is easy to criticize the excesses of Luther alongside the consistency of Calvin. Yet on the other hand, a fair assessment of Luther must give due regard to his historical context. Firstly, Luther was the first of the Reformers, and thus can not be blamed for failing to consistently apply his doctrine of sola scriptura. Secondly, towards the end of his life Luther was more adamant about maintaining a certain uniformity in worship, particularly with regard to ecclesiastical vestments and liturgical forms. Thirdly, Luther's approach was largely determined by events rather than principles, at least with respect to the order in which his reforms were accomplished. Notwithstanding these considerations, it remains an indisputable fact that Luther's approach to worship was principally different than that of Calvin.
Calvin's approach to worship
Luther's approach to worship was unacceptable to Calvin, since it did not do justice either to the sufficiency of Scripture, nor to the doctrine of man's inherent depravity.
Firstly, Calvin's approach to worship was rooted in his confession of the sufficiency of Scripture, applied to the practice of worship. Calvin's conception of the authority of Scripture required that the Bible be accorded complete authority in all of life, also in the matter of worship. In contrast to Luther, Calvin found it necessary to submit all the liturgical elements of worship to the scrutiny of Scripture. Whatever was not specifically warranted by Scripture was unacceptable for divine worship. Human constructions of worship were abhorrent because they did injustice to the fact that God had revealed His will in His divine Word.
Secondly, Calvin's approach to worship was rooted in his confession of man's depravity. A necessary consequence of man's corruption was that he could not worship God correctly without divine guidance. Man's complete sinfulness would mean that his own ideas of worship could never produce anything acceptable to God. In short, man's worship had to be governed entirely by what God had revealed about true worship in His Word. Calvin's approach to worship was thus the natural consequence of the consistent application of his theological convictions about Scripture and man to the question of worship.
The regulative principle for worship finds more or less explicit expression in the Calvinistic creeds of the Reformation. The Belgic Confession Article 7 says that "the whole manner of worship which God requires of us" is written in the Scriptures. The Heidelberg Catechism similarly explains in answer 96 that what God requires in the second commandment is that we make no image of God, "nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in His Word." It is indisputable that in these words we find an expression of the regulative principle for worship championed by Calvin.
On the whole, thus, Calvin's approach to worship was distinctly different from that of Luther. In practice, this resulted in a number of differences between Lutheran and Calvinistic worship.7 Firstly, Calvinistic worship was more objective. Lutheran worship emphasized the experience effected by the Word, whereas Calvinistic worship revolved around the proclamation of Scripture in the sermon, as an exposition of God's will. Secondly, Calvinistic worship was more Biblical. Lutheran worship allowed the inclusion of hymns, whereas Calvinistic worship excluded anything that was not entirely Scriptural, and thus was primarily limited to the Psalms. Calvin thus also insisted on the unembellished reading of Scripture, and also incorporated the Decalogue into the Strasbourg liturgy. Thirdly, Calvinistic worship had a different emphasis. Luther's service gave just as much attention to the human response of thankfulness to the Word, whereas Calvin's service was dominated by the Word, and characterized by the demand for obedience. Fourthly, Calvinistic was more plain. Lutheran worship retained the use of many ceremonial rituals and symbols, whereas Calvinist worship excluded all such elements that did not have an explicit warrant in Scripture. As has already been observed, the austere nature of Calvinistic worship was not due to an aesthetic preference for what was plain, but was the fruit of a theological conviction about acceptable worship.
The differences between Luther and Calvin's approach to worship are mirrored by the liturgical disparity between Anglicans and Puritans. Essentially, the established Church of England was the spiritual heir of Luther, whereas the Puritans inherited the legacy of Calvin. It is indisputable that the Puritans looked to Calvin as their spiritual leader. In 1681, a brochure taunted them, suggesting that their creed was
I believe in John Calvin, the Father of our Religion, disposer of Heaven, and Earth, and in Own, Baxter and Jenkins his deare Sons our Lords who were conceived by the Spirit of Fanaticism, born of Schism and Faction, suffered under the Act of Uniformity.8
The question that remains to be addressed, however, is how the spiritual heritage of Calvin was transmitted to the English Puritans.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Geneva To England
Puritanism was primarily a movement inside the Church of England. However, the impetus for this movement originated in Geneva, and the Calvinistic reformation. The liturgical heritage of Geneva was transmitted as a result of a number of exiles in two stages.
Under King Edward VI
The first stage was during the reign of King Edward VI, when Calvinist exiles who were forced to flee from the continent found a refuge in England under Archbishop Cranmer. Additionally, influential men such as Ridley and Hooper, who had been compelled to seek asylum on the continent on account of the intolerance of Henry VIII, now were able to return to England under Edward and exert an influence in reforming the Church of England along Calvinist lines.
One of the most distinguished exiles who had sought asylum in England was the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer. Already before Bucer's arrival in England, English Reformers had since 1547 been using a translation of the system of doctrine and worship authored by Bucer and Melanchthon. It also seems to have exerted a substantial influence upon their revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1552. During his stay in England, Bucer played an important role in liturgical reforms adopted by the English Reformers. Bucer, of course, was in many respects a disciple of Calvin, and his order of worship was also the pattern on which Calvin based his Strasbourg Liturgy.
Also during the reign of King Edward VI, Calvin's close associate John Knox served as a royal chaplain to the king. When visiting England in 1551, the revision of the Book of Common Prayer was still in progress, and Knox was responsible for several changes made.
Calvin's influence in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer is particularly evident from the Sentences, the Exhortation, the Confession and Absolution, which were all taken over from Calvin's Strasbourg Liturgy.9 Other aspects of Calvin's Strasbourg Liturgy also found their way into the 1552 Book of Common Prayer and into common usage, mediated by men such as John a Lasco and Pullain, Calvin's successor in Strasbourg.
John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, was also responsible for fostering Calvinism in England in this period. He began the Vestments controversy, objecting to the use of vestments on the ground of the sufficiency of Scripture for worship. Particularly with the reforms incorporated in the 1552 Prayer Book, Calvinistic liturgical reforms began to be executed in English worship. Such reforms, however, merely set the stage for the more thorough Calvinistic reformation that was to follow.
Under Queen Mary
The second stage was during the reign of Queen Mary, when important Puritans sought refuge in the Low Countries and in Switzerland, and upon their return to England endeavoured to accomplish similar reforms according to the pattern of Scripture as they had seen it practiced in the liturgy of Geneva.
Two extant documents are the chief sources for this period, the first being A Brief Discourse of the Troubles begun at Frankfort in the year 1554 about the Book of Common Prayer and Ceremonies.10 It relates how the Englishmen Edmund Sutton, William Williams, William Whittingham and Thomas Wood came with their companies to Frankfort in June 1554. They were granted permission by the magistrates to use the French church there for worship on the condition that they would not differ from the French doctrine or ceremonies. The English made up an order of worship along the lines of the Continental Reformed churches, and although not a complete break with the Book of Common Prayer, it largely followed the lines of the Strasbourg family of liturgies.
Fellow exiles from Zurich, Emden and Strasbourg were invited to join those in Frankfort. When the Zurich exiles requested permission to use the 1552 Prayer Book, the English in Frankfort affirmed that they were willing only to use it "as far as God's word did commend it" while rejecting all "unprofitable ceremonies."11 Soon after, they adopted an English translation of the Genevan Order used in Calvin's Church, and consulted Calvin concerning the 1552 Prayer Book.12 Calvin's response that it contained "many silly things that might be tolerated" (multas tolerabiles ineptias) stimulated Knox, Whittingham, Gilby, Fox and Cole to draw up a new order which became known as John Knox's Genevan Service Book. It was similar to Calvin's Genevan Order, but still did not resolve the dispute entirely, and so another liturgy of compromise was drafted, approved, and put into use for over a month.
The arrival of more exiles who favoured the re-introduction of the 1552 Anglican Prayer Book eventually compelled Knox to go to Geneva, where he stayed for several weeks prior to his return to Scotland in August 1555. Now in Scotland, Knox reintroduced the form of service which he and his colleagues had drawn up for use in Frankfort. It was formally adopted in 1556, with the approval of Calvin, and was entitled The Forme of Prayers and Ministrations of the Sacraments, etc., used in the English Congregation at Geneva: and approved by the famous and godly learned man, Iohn Calvuyn. Imprinted at Geneva by Iohn Crespin. MDLVI.
This second piece of evidence became the parent of Puritan worship in both Scotland and England. The essential characteristic of this Forme of Prayers of 1556 was an emphasis on Scripture as the sufficient basis for worship. It is very Scriptural in character, in phraseology, and in its expressed and avowed intention to worship by rejecting human traditions such as vestments and popish ceremonies and by submitting to the will of God in the Scriptures.
The English exiles during the reign of Queen Mary, thus, can be grouped into two distinct groups. The "Coxians" preferred the Anglican Prayer Book, whereas the "Knoxians" could accept the Book of Common Prayer only as far as it accorded with Scripture. The result of the subsequent controversy was the production of a new Calvinistic Prayer Book by the more conservative Puritans. Evidence suggests that this Knoxian Genevan Service Book was indeed in use during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and that it largely corresponded to the Genevan order of worship employed by Calvin.13 Calvin's influence in English worship thus continued to manifest itself in liturgical reforms, and the Puritan pattern of worship has direct links to Calvin's practice in Geneva.
THE PRINCIPLE OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Sola Scriptura
What particularly characterized the Puritans was a desire to reform the established church according to the "pure" Word of God. Worship, too, was to be modeled exclusively on the pattern of Scripture, as the authors of the Waldegrave Prayer Book insisted in their introduction:
We, therefore, not as the greatest Clerks of all, but as the least able of many, do present unto you, which desire the increase of God's glory, and the pure simplicity of his word, a form and order of a Reformed Church limited within the compass of God's word, which our Saviour hath left unto us only sufficient to govern all our actions by; so that whatsoever is added to this word by man's device, seem it never so good, holy, or beautiful, yet before our God, which is jealous, and cannot admit any companion or counsellor, it is evil, wicked, and abominable.14
In this respect the Puritan approach to worship differed from the Anglican approach. Both the Puritans and Anglicans subscribed to the Thirty-Nine Articles, and so confessed that:
Holy Scripture conteyneth all things necessarie to saluation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite as necessary to saluation.15
For the Anglicans, this meant merely that in Scripture God has revealed the general principles of the Christian religion. Certainly Scripture is authoritative in doctrine and in emphasizing the importance of the preaching of the Word and the sacraments, prayer, praise, etc. But Scripture was not intended to provide the precise ordering of worship. The times, circumstances, and ceremonies of worship can freely be determined by man.
The Puritans, however, objected to this conception of worship, insisting that Scripture was not just authoritative for doctrine, but also for all other aspects of life. Scripture was thus sufficient not only for doctrine, but also for worship. Consequently, Scripture also expressed God's prescriptive will for worship. God had revealed how he wanted to be worshiped in Scripture, and so all human ordering of worship was reprehensible to Calvin.
The different conceptions of Anglicans and Puritans concerning the authority of Scripture corresponded to different concepts of anthropology. Anglicans championed an important place for reason, and that whatever was contrary to reason was contrary to God's will. In contrast, the Puritans regarded human reason as a corrupt faculty of man, part of man's perverse and sinful human nature. Of himself, man was incapable of serving God properly. Armed with the Calvinistic doctrine of original sin, the Puritans affirmed man's dependence on the sufficiency of Scripture.
It is thus on these two essential points that the Puritans differed sharply from the Anglicans, namely, on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, and the doctrine of original sin. To the Puritan mind, then, the Anglican ceremonies and customs were contradicted by Scripture, and constituted a denial of the doctrine of original sin.
The Puritan approach to worship was dominated by the Reformational principle of sola scriptura. The Calvinist criterion of the sufficiency of the Word of God was now applied to worship of the Church. For this reason, Horton Davies suggests that Puritanism can correctly be regarded as a liturgical movement.16
In contrast to the Anglicans, the Puritans thus demanded a Scriptural warrant for every practice of worship. The sufficiency of Scripture for worship became the operative criterion for what was acceptable in worship, as William Bradshaw wrote in 1605:
they hould and maintaine that the word of God contained in the writings of the Prophets and Apostles, is of absolute perfection, given by Christ the Head of the Churche, to bee unto the same, the sole Canon and rule of all matters of Religion, and the worship and service of God whatsoever. And that whatsoever done in the same service and worship cannot bee iustified by the said word, is unlawfull.17
John Owen probably best vocalized the regulative principle as it was conceived by the Puritans when he affirmed that "God's worship hath no accidentals ... all that is in it and belong to it, and the manner of it, is false worship, if it have not a divine institution in particular."18 It was also articulated in characteristic fashion by the James Bannerman in 1869:
The doctrine, then, in regard to the exercise of Church power in the worship of God held by our standards is sufficiently distinct. The Church has no authority in regulating the manner, appointing the form, or dictating the observances of worship, beside or beyond what the Scripture declares on these points, the Bible containing the only directory for determining these matters, and the Church having no discretion to add to or alter what is there fixed.19
The regulative principle for worship also found expression in the confessional documents produced by the Westminster Assembly, which met from July 1, 1643 until February 22, 1649. The Westminster Assembly can perhaps be regarded as the flower of English Puritanism, and amongst other things adopted a confession, catechism, and directory for worship. Paragraph 1 of chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of 1647 asserts
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. 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.20
Similarly Question 51 of the Shorter Catechism, regarding what is forbidden in the second commandment states: "The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or by any other way not appointed in his word". Question 109 of the Larger Catechism says "The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself ... all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it."21 The Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645) also exhibits a faithfulness to the Puritan regulative principle for worship, including as acceptable only those matters which can be defended on the basis of divine commands.22 Consequently, responsive litanies, confirmation, godparents, kneeling for communion, and the sign of the cross in baptism were all excluded, though present in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
Stated quite simply, the regulative principle for worship is the principle that only that which God has commanded in Scripture, or that which can be derived as a necessary logical consequence of Scripture, is acceptable for worship. The church has no right to impose anything beyond Scripture. This understanding, though formulated in different ways, was shared by most Puritans prior to the Westminster Assembly, as well as those who inherited the confessional documents that it produced.
Consequently, Puritans adopted the approach of seeking a direct biblical warrant, either in the form of a precept or precedent, to sanction every item in the public worship of God. What was Biblicistic in the eyes of some, was to the Puritans a mere sign of their consistency: nothing was to be accepted besides the direct will of God.
The Scriptural justification for this regulative principle for worship was derived from 2 Peter 1:19-21 and 2 Timothy 3:15-17 (which emphasize the perfection of Scripture), Matthew 15:9,13 and Revelation 22:19 (which forbid any man-made additions to worship), Exodus 20:4-6 (the second commandment), and Joshua 1:7, Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32, and Proverbs 30:6 (which say that God is a jealous God intolerant of additions to His worship).
The Puritans then embarked on a microscopic journey through the Scriptures, gleaning any commands or examples for worship. They concluded that the worship of the church consisted of six ordinances, namely prayer, praise, the proclamation of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, catechizing, and the exercise of discipline. Most of these were present in the locus classicus of Apostolic worship in Acts 2:41-42, but others were derived from additional texts in the New Testament.
1. Prayer. Services had to commence with prayer ("first of all" 1Tim 2:1). Prayer was to consist of petition, thanksgiving, intercession, adoration, and confession (1 Tim 2:1ff; the Lord's Prayer). The appropriate posture for prayer was standing (Gen 18:22; Luke 18:10-11; Mark 11:25; Heb 9:2-5). The congregation had to respond to the prayer with a vocal amen (Neh 8:6; 1Cor 14:14-16). The service was to end with a concluding prayer (Num 6:23-26; 2Cor 13:14).
2. Praise. The congregation had to praise God with "psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph 5:19). The Lord's Supper celebration was also concluded by singing a psalm (Matt 26:30).
3. Preaching. This was the central feature of Puritan worship, since it was the power of God to salvation (Rom 1:16), and its importance was attested by Scripture (2Cor 1:12; 2:2; Rom 10:14-15).
4. Sacraments. The Puritans only accepted the two sacraments instituted by Christ, namely baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism was prefaced by reciting Matt 28:19-20. Children were taken in their arms for baptism, just as Jesus had received the little children. The command "Do this in remembrance of me" was understood to require a repetition of the precise actions and words of Christ in the last supper.
5. Catechizing. The use of a set catechism was justified by an appeal to 2Tim 1:13 "hold fast the form of sound words." Prophesyings were also encouraged as a means of expounding the Scriptures (1Cor 14:1,31).
6. Discipline. Strict discipline was required, and the unworthy were to be excluded from partaking of the Lord's Supper. Offenders were to be admonished and excommunicated, whereas the repentant were to be welcomed (Matt 18:15-18; 1Cor 5:1-7; 3Jn 10; Acts 8:13).
7. Other practices. Various other practices were also defended by appeal to specific Biblical texts, with the connection sometimes tenuous at best. Days of humiliation with fasting, prayer and sermon were defended by Acts 13:1-3; 14:23. The sick were anointed with oil and prayed over (Jas 5:14-15). There were to be two services on the Lord's day, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, according to the pattern of two burnt offerings each Sabbath (Num 28:9). A sermon was to precede the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:27). The Lord's Supper was not to be celebrated kneeling, since this suggested transubstantiation, whereas Scripture enjoined that they avoided "the appearance of evil" (1Th 5:22). The minister was to stand in one place throughout the service, just as "Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples" (Acts 1:15). Performing a marriage ceremony was not the duty of a minister, since it was not mentioned in the catalogue of ministerial duties in 2Tim 4:2ff.
THE PRACTICE OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Iconoclasm
The Puritan emphasis on Scripture as the only criterion for proper worship was first of all applied to the corruptions of Rome. Rome had long abandoned the Word of God as normative for the pattern of worship, and had introduced a variety of innovations and ceremonies not directly sanctioned by Scripture. In an attempt to remove all the abuses of the Roman church and to prevent their reintroduction, the Puritans embarked on a vigorous program of iconoclasm. Insisting that only what was explicitly commanded by Scripture could be accepted, the Puritans sharply condemned the use of the ring in marriage, the practice of crossing in Baptism, the custom of kneeling when receiving the Lord's Supper, and the use of the surplice.23 These were not merely regarded as matters of indifference, but were intolerable, since they had no explicit warrant in Scripture.
The Puritan worship service was characterized by simplicity and plainness. The architecture and furnishings were simple. There were few decorations, and the pulpit had a central place at the front of the building. The sermon was a lengthy exposition of a passage of Scripture. In all, there was much unity between the worship of the Puritans, although there were some minor differences.24 This liturgical agreement was not the result of similar aesthetic taste, but to an underlying Biblical basis. Phraseology was consistently taken from the Scriptures, and the whole pattern of worship was constructed to accord with the worship demanded by God in His Word.
The Puritan practice of worship involved the strict application of the regulative principle to the style, music and calendar of worship. It resulted in practices that are still the subject of debate today, such as exclusive psalmody, no instruments, and no commemoration of holy days.
Style in worship: prestigious or plain?25
One of the acute controversies between the Anglicans and Puritans concerned the use of gestures, vestures, and instruments in worship. Were elaborate ceremonies and rituals permissible? The Anglicans enthusiastically endorsed all such ceremonial elements of worship. Applying the regulative principle in a rigorous manner, the Puritans came to the opposite conclusion. All such elements of worship had no basis in Scripture, and thus were to be rejected. One Puritan minister posed the following rhetorical question to his congregation, asking whether religion consisted in
altar-decking, cope-wearing, organ-playing, piping and singing, crossing of cushions and kissing of clouts, oft starting up and squatting down, nodding of heads, and whirling about till their noses stand eastward, setting basins on the altar, candlesticks and crucifixes, burning wax candles in excessive numbers when and where there is no use of light; and what is worst of all, gilding of angels and garnishing of images, and setting them aloft.26
The Puritan answered his own question, affirming that these were "superstitious vanities, ceremonial fooleries, apish toys, and popish trinkets."
It is no surprise, then, that the Puritans were altogether intolerant of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The Puritans were particularly critical of the fixed liturgical prayers employed by the Anglicans. In fact, the failure of about two thousand ministers to affirm that the Book of Common Prayer was in all things conformable to the Word of God later would result in them being deprived of their livings in universities and parishes.
The Puritans also removed all ceremonial trappings from their worship services, an act that was the fruit of their conviction that worshipping God in any way other than He had commanded was forbidden. This resulted in a wide-scale iconoclasm, which demanded the removal of stained-glass windows from churches, carvings in wood and stone, and organs. Particularly important was the iconoclasm of William Dowsing in 1643-1644.
It should be noted that the Puritans were not opposed to images as such. They were to be excluded from worship, but were permissible when enjoined by God Himself in His word. Moreover, the civil use of images on buildings and coins was perfectly acceptable. As Davies correctly asserts, the Puritans were not opposed to art as such. "It was not that the Puritans disliked art; it was simply that they loved religion more."27 Consequently, all paintings, crossings, crucifixes, bowings, cringings, altars, tapers, wafers, organs, anthems, litany, rails, images, copes, and vestments in worship were regarded as intolerable Roman varnish.
Three ceremonies that the Puritans were especially opposed to were the following. Firstly, the kneeling at the Lord's Supper, since it was suggestive of Roman transubstantiation, and contrary to the Scriptural testimony that Christ celebrated the Supper with his disciples sitting down. Second, the making of the sign of the cross in baptism. Thirdly, the use of the ring in marriage, which had no Biblical warrant as an additional sacramental sign.
The Puritans were also critical of the vestments employed by Anglican clergymen, especially the use of the surplice and cope. Not only did they regard it as an infringement of Christian liberty, but also because of the implicit association with the practices and customs of the Roman church, and their incompatibility with the Scriptural concept of humility.
Calendar of worship: holy days or holidays?28
The conflict between Anglicans and Puritans also concerned the content of the religious calendar. The Anglican calendar was strongly reminiscent of the traditional Roman calendar, and contained holy days which commemorated important events such as the birth, life, passion, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. As can be expected, the Puritan tendency toward iconoclastic reductionism resulted in an all-scale rejection of the traditional Christian year. The weekly Sabbath was championed as the only festival that could be commemorated. Scrupulous Sabbath-keeping soon became one of the visible badges of Puritanism.
The Puritan rejection of the Roman calendar was not without good reason. The Roman calendar exhibited many excesses that paid homage not just to the chief events in the life of Christ, but also Mary, and an elaborate system of saints. Anglican revision of the Roman calendar was done on the basis of pragmatic considerations, trimming some of the holy days as to prevent an excess of feast days which would only encourage indolence and laziness. For the Puritans, however, it was theological considerations that determined that only the Sabbath could be maintained, since it alone was authorized by Scripture. Since Scripture contained no explicit command to keep Christmas Day, Easter, or the like, the Christological cycle was regarded as a pure human construction. A strict application of the regulative principle demanded that the observance of the Christological cycle was necessarily reprehensible in the eyes of God, and so had to be abandoned.
At the same time, the Puritans did allow for special days of "Public Solemn Fasting" and of "Public Thanksgiving". Such days were spent in solemnity and intensity, and completed with exhortations, sermons, prayers, and psalm-singing. In contrast to the Roman feast days, they were no "exercises of faith followed by fun", but were to last the entire day. The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645) stipulated that they were to consist of fasting for the whole day, which constituted
total abstinence, not only from all good ... but also from worldly labour, discourses and thoughts, and from all bodily delights and such like (although at other times lawful), rich apparel, ornaments, and such like, during the fast.29
Days of thanksgiving were more cheerful, and were occasioned by events such as a deliverance from an impending disaster like plague, drought or flood. Nonetheless, they still were characterized by a public exposition of Scripture, prayer, and psalm singing, and the congregation was encouraged to spend the rest of the day in holy duties testifying Christian love and charity. Underlying these special observances was Calvin's theology of special providence, since these days were intended to ponder on specific acts of divine judgment or blessing, corresponding either to humiliation or thanksgiving. Davies makes the significant observation that the Christological cycles of the Anglican and Roman Catholic calendars had a strong retrospective emphasis, whereas the Puritan calendar exhibited a strong contemporary thrust.30
Music in worship: splendid or scriptural?31
Anglican worship drew on a rich tradition of cathedral music inherited from the medieval church. In contrast, the Puritans restricted sacred music to the simplicity of metrical psalmody. Again it must be noted that Puritan minimalism can not be attributed to a dislike for organ music, orchestras, choirs, or music in general. Many Puritans delighted in organ music, but the insistence on a Scriptural warrant for every part of worship necessarily resulted in exclusive psalmody. Metrical Psalms were the Word of God, whereas hymns were uninspired human compositions, and so not only inferior to the divinely revealed Psalms, but also unacceptable for divine worship.
Consequently, the Puritans were critical of the elaborate cathedral and church music that typified the Anglicans. John Northbrooke wrote in 1577
we must take heed that in the church nothing be sung without choice, but only those things which are contained in the holy scriptures, or which are by just reason gathered out of them, and do exactly agree with the Word of God.32
On the ground that the exclusive criterion for worship was Scripture, despite their love of music, the Puritans excluded all antiphonal singing, hymns, chanting, choirs and organs.
Metrical psalmody may have appeared to have been a poor substitute for the rich musical tradition enjoyed by the Anglicans. But for the Puritans it had its own richness, a wealth that resided in the fact that they were singing the words of God, and these words were accented by the simplicity of the meter. It was precisely their lack of ornamentation and their closeness to Scripture that made the metrical Psalms so attractive to the Puritans. In this regard the Puritans were again enjoying the heritage of Calvin, who had played an instrumental role in introducing the use of the metrical Psalms into the worship of the French Reformed churches.
The Puritan preference for Psalm-singing became codified in the Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645), which endorsed Psalm-singing as the proper means of praise in worship:
It is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and privately in the family. In singing of psalms the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered, but the chief care must be to sing with understanding and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.33
Ultimately, what lay behind the Puritan approach to music in worship was a choice between tradition and Scripture. Since exclusive psalmody alone qualified as meeting the conditions for worship acceptable to God, it became the hallmark of Puritan music in worship.
This principled Puritan approach did, however, result in much iconoclasm. Many organs were demolished and pulled down. Such uncompromising and destructive measures were reported by Bishop Hall when his cathedral of Norwich became the subject of Puritan iconoclasm in 1643:
Lord, what work was here, what clattering of glasses, what beating down of walls, what tearing up of monuments, what pulling down of seats, what wresting out of irons and brass from the windows and graves, what defacing of arms, what demolishing of curious stone work that had not any representation in the world but only the coat of the founder and the skill of the mason, what toting and piping upon the destroyed organ pipes, and what hideous triumph on the market day before all the country, when, in a kind of sacrilegious and profane procession, all the organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden Cross which had been newly sawn down from over the green yard pulpit, and the service books and singing books that could be had, were carried to the fire in the marketplace...34
THE UNIQUENESS OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Beyond Calvin?
The Puritans clearly intended to model English worship along the lines of the Continental Reformed pattern, particularly as it was espoused by John Calvin.
Drawing from Calvin
Earlier Puritans frequently appealed to the practice of the Continental Reformed Churches for their own reforms. Calvin, Beza, Bullinger and Melanchthon were among those cited as authorities by the Puritans, who clearly regarded themselves as representatives of the Reformed tradition. This is evident even in the Directory for the Publick Worship of God adopted by the Westminster Assembly in 1645, where the Puritans identified themselves as part of the Reformation heritage in rejecting the corruptions of the Book of Common Prayer:
Long and sad experience hath made it manifest, that the Liturgy used in the Church of England (notwithstanding all the pains and religious intentions of the composers of it) hath proved an offence, not only to many of the godly at home, but also to the Reformed Churches abroad.35
Indeed, the Puritans followed Calvin in many of their practices. Just as Calvin, they abandoned the superstitious custom of crossing in baptism. The ceremony of the ring in marriage was explicitly forbidden by the Puritans, and the silence on the subject in the Calvinist forms suggests that this custom was also not practiced in Geneva. Just as the Puritans who would later claim his authority, Calvin also appears to have favoured the exclusive use of the psalms in worship,36 and also condemned the use of instruments in worship as is evident from his commentaries on the psalms.37
Departure from Calvin
Although the Puritans were essentially in agreement with the Reformed Churches on the Continent, they did not slavishly follow Calvin. The voice of Geneva was accorded much authority, but it too was subject to the Word of God as the ultimate criterion for what was acceptable for worship. Consequently the Puritans did not unswervingly follow Calvin, but rather tried to adhere strictly to that which was demanded by Scripture.
As an example of this deviation from the practice of Geneva, Davies cites an instance where the Puritans had claimed Geneva as their authority in insisting that one could not go beyond the minimum required by Scripture. When it was pointed out that the Genevan church had gone beyond the direct injunction of Scripture, such as in using wafer cakes for the Lord's Supper, the Puritans admitted that the Genevan church was condemned by this.
Bishop: Will you be iudged by the learned in Geneua? they are against you.
Hawkins: We will be iudged by the words of God, whiche shall iudge vs all at the last day, therefore sufficient to iudge now.38
Similarly, John Robinson appealed to Scripture, even when it incriminated the existing Calvinist church, in his address to the departing Pilgrim Fathers, stating
I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of his holy word. For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of those Reformed Churches which are come to a period in religion and will go, at present, no further than the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw. Whatever part of his will our God has revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented.39
It is clear from the above quotation that the Puritans unashamedly recognized that they went beyond Calvin, but did so unhesitatingly, on the grounds that Scripture required this. Consequently, although the Puritans largely followed the practices of Calvin, in some instances they also diverged from the customs of Geneva in several instances.
Firstly, the Puritans opposed the use of set forms in prayer and the restraint of a fixed liturgy. Although Calvin had allowed for the possibility of extempore prayer, he had approved of set forms of prayer and also had prescribed all other aspects of the liturgy in detail. At any rate, Calvin did not possess the scruples which the Puritans had over the notion of a fixed liturgy.
Moreover, the Puritans were entirely intolerant of unscriptural ceremonies, such as the customs of kneeling when receiving the Lord's Supper, the ring in marriage, and the sign of the cross in baptism. Although Calvin did not approve of these practices, he did tolerate them. Hence it should also be noted that although Calvin was unwilling to make concessions with respect to doctrine, he did with respect to worship.40 Although Calvin never relinquished his conviction that worship required a divine warrant and that all human traditions were reprehensible to God, he did distinguish between fundamental and indifferent matters in the ordering of worship. In practice, then, although unwilling to make any compromises whatsoever in doctrine, Calvin was willing to make such concessions in the area of worship in a way that the Puritans were not.
Davies mentions three instances which demonstrate Calvin's willingness to make concessions in worship. Firstly, Calvin abandoned his use of the formula of absolution when it resulted in disapproval from the Genevan people. Secondly, Calvin yielded to the introduction of unleavened bread in the Lord's Supper, despite the fact that it was ushered in by the forcible compulsion of Berne. Thirdly, Calvin conceded to the request of the Genevan magistrates that the Lord's Supper be celebrated only every three months. Davies observes
Calvin cannot be accused of inconsistency or conservatism in the matter of accommodation, for he knew both the logic of his position and that he must yield because he was in the minority and the points at issue were only of minor importance.41
The truth of Davies' position is confirmed by consideration of Calvin's correspondence. English refugees had been tempted not to attend the Lutheran worship service in Wesel because it had retained the use of lighted candles and the communion wafer. In his letter to the English on March 13, 1554, Calvin insisted that there be some tolerance with respect to such liturgical matters.
But in your capacity of private individuals, not only you may lawfully, but what is more, you should support and suffer such abuses as it is not in your power to correct. We do not hold lighted candles in the celebration of the eucharist nor figured bread to be such indifferent things, that we would willingly consent to their introduction, or approve of them, though we object not to accommodate ourselves to the use of them, where they have been already established, when we have no authority to oppose them. ... And then it would be for us matter of deep regret, if the French church which might be erected there should be broken up, because we would not accommodate ourselves to some ceremonies that do not affect the substance of the faith. For as we have said, it is perfectly lawful for the children of God to submit to many things of which they do not approve. Now the main point of consideration is, how far such liberty should extend. Upon this head let us lay it down as a settled point, that we ought to make mutual concessions in all ceremonies, that do not involve any prejudice to the confession of our faith, and for this end that the unity of the church be not destroyed by our excessive rigour or moroseness. ...But we are far from advising you to abandon the advantage of having a christian church in that place, from the mere consideration of difference in ceremonies. The important consideration is, that you do not yield to a faulty pliancy in the confession of your faith, and that you make no compromise as to doctrine.... be on your guard to exclude the errors with which it is possible that some persons may be entangled, who go farther than that confession.42
Although Calvin does not approve of such ceremonies, they "do not affect the substance of the faith" and so they must be tolerated. As long as there is "no compromise as to doctrine", such liturgical concessions can be made so as to preserve the unity of the church. Calvin was thus willing to make allowances for differences in the practice of worship, allowances that he was unwilling to make over differences in doctrine.
Calvin's consistent tolerance of certain liturgical difference is further demonstrated by his advice to the English in Frankfort in a letter of January 13, 1555. He urged the Puritan refugees not to desert the Lutheran services there, despite the fact that they objected to the Prayer Book used there. Calvin admitted that the Anglican liturgy had "many silly things" in it, but added that these "might be tolerated" (multas tolerabiles ineptias). He wrote:
This indeed grievously afflicts me and is highly absurd, that discord is springing up among brethren who are for the same faith exiles and fugitives from their country; and for a cause indeed which in your dispersion should like a sacred bond have held you closely united. For in this sad and wretched calamity, what could you do better, torn as you were from the bosom of your country, than adopt a church which received into its maternal bosom, those who were connected with you in minds and language? Now, on the contrary, that some of you should be stirring up contentions about forms of prayer and ceremonies, as if you were at ease and in a season of tranquillity, and thus throwing an obstacle in the way of your coalescing in one body of worshippers, this is really too unreasonable...Though in indifferent matters, such as are external rites, I shew myself indulgent and pliable, at the same time, I do not deem it expedient always to comply with the foolish captiousness of those who will not give up a single point of their usual routine. In the Anglican liturgy, such as you describe it to me, I see that there were many silly things that might be tolerated. By this phrase I mean that it did not possess that purity which was to be desired. The faults, however, which could not straightway be corrected on the first day, if there lurked under them no manifest impiety, were to be endured for a time.43
It would be too much to conclude from this that Calvin regarded such liturgical matters as unimportant. Calvin clearly wanted to remove abuses, but was willing to make concessions where there was a unity of faith, that is in the pure doctrine.
Consequently, Calvin was willing to allow each church freedom in determining its own ceremonies, in contrast to the Puritans who were not willing to allow such flexibility. Calvin wrote to the Council of Berne
Touching ceremonies, since they are unimportant things, the churches can differ freely in their use of them. One would be well advised, and it would sometimes be useful, not to have too meticulous a uniformity, in order to show that faith and Christianity itself do not consist in that.44
One such ceremony which Calvin approved of was the practice of kneeling for prayer, although this was not specifically enjoined by Scripture. But for Calvin, it was edifying and orderly, and this was a Scriptural requirement for worship, as he explains in Institutes IV. x. 30
Consequently, it behooves me to declare that I approve only those human constitutions which are founded upon God's authority, drawn from Scripture, and therefore, wholly divine. Let us take, for example, kneeling when solemn prayers are being said. The question is whether it is a human tradition, which any man may lawfully repudiate or neglect. I say that it is human, as it is also divine. It is of God in so far as it is a part of that decorum whose care and observance the apostle has commended to us [1 Cor. 14:40]. But it is of men in so far as it specifically designates what had in general been suggested rather than explicitly stated.45
While maintaining the sufficiency of Scripture for worship, Calvin also asserted that not all ceremonies were prescribed by Scripture, and yet were appropriate for worship as long as they were orderly and for the upbuilding of the church.
By this one example we may judge what opinion we should have of this whole class. I mean that the Lord has in his sacred oracles faithfully embraced and clearly expressed both the whole sum of true righteousness, and all aspects of the worship of his majesty, and whatever was necessary to salvation; therefore, in these the Master alone is to be heard. But because he did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages), here we must take refuge in those general rules which he has given, that whatever the necessity of the church will require for order and decorum should be tested against these. Lastly, because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones.46
It seems clear, then, that Calvin acknowledged that certain outward ceremonies were not prescribed in Scripture, and did not require an explicit warrant in Scripture. For Calvin, the criteria for accepting such ceremonies were that they be orderly and for the upbuilding of the church, and that they were not condemned by Scripture. With respect to certain ceremonies about which Scripture did not speak, then, Calvin's approach to worship used the Lutheran principle of "whatever is not forbidden is permissible", as he wrote in 1557 that certain enforced ceremonies should be tolerated:
For in such things it seems to me that it is enough to have secured, so far as it lies with us, what we know to be best. For even though what they wish to have accepted bring scandal or evil consequences, yet so long as it is not of itself repugnant to the Word of God, it can be granted.47
Calvin was evidently open to different liturgical practices in away that his Puritan successors were not. This openness can not be simplistically reduced to a charge that Calvin failed to act consistently according to his principles. Rather, it seems to be the result of his understanding of adiaphora, concerning which he added a large section in his discussion on the power of the Church in his 1559 edition of the Institutes.48 Calvin thus took an approach that differed from those that would later claim his heritage, in giving room for ceremonies which were in accord with the overall teaching of Scripture, and about which Scripture has no command or prohibition. The Puritans, however, allowed for no such tolerance, and rejected all such ceremonies which had no explicit warrant in Scripture. In this respect, they must be considered to have moved beyond Calvin, although they may not have been aware of this.
The Puritans, for example, entirely abandoned all commemoration of holy days, retaining only the Sabbath as the sole festival day, since this was the only feast day explicitly enjoined by Scripture. Certainly the Reformed churches abandoned most of the Roman feast days, but many of them retained a lawful use of some holy days, as the Helvetic Confession says:
Moreover, if the Churches do religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord's Nativity, Circumcision, Passion, Resurrection, and of his Ascension into heaven, and sending the Holy Ghost upon his disciples, according to Christian liberty, we do very well approve of it. But as for Festival days, ordained to men, or saints departed, we cannot allow of them.49
The Reformed churches thus did not regard them as "holy days", but merely as commemoration of chief events in the life of Christ. The Puritans, however, rejected not only the Roman abuses of holy days with all the accompanying superstitious practices, but avoided them altogether.
Calvin also retained the use of a pronouncement of absolution by the minister after the confession of sins, as he wrote
There is none of us but must acknowledge it to be very useful that after the General Confession, some striking promise of Scripture should follow whereby sinners might be raised to the hope of pardon and reconciliation. And I would have introduced this custom from the beginning but some fearing the novelty of it would give offence, I was over easy in yielding to them. And so the matter was allowed to remain.50
The Puritans, however, removed the Absolution from worship, on the grounds that it had no Scriptural warrant.
A further difference between Calvin and the Puritans is regard to the question of giving Communion to the sick. The Puritans regarded this as superstitious. Calvin, however, admitted it, as long as it was administered by a minister in the presence of some church members, as he wrote in 1558:
That the Communion is not distributed to the sick also displeases me; and it is not on my account that this consolation has not been accorded to those who are quitting this life. But because a different custom has prevailed, and because a change could not be brought about without great discussion, I have preferred peace ... I should have wished, however, to witness to those who will come after us, what I should have desired.51
Additionally, the Puritan attitude to ecclesiastical vestments appears to have differed from Calvin. French ministers of Reformed churches apparently wore a long cassock, with a gown over it, complete with a girdle and coat. It is fairly certain that also in Calvin's church in Geneva the ministers wore the typical priestly attire of cassock, bands, black gown, scarf or tippet, and cap.52 In one of his letters, Calvin relates an anecdote recounting an incident in which a woman claimed that the "long habits" worn by the ministers of Geneva contradicted Christ's condemnation of the Pharisees, who walked in long robes (Luke 20:46). The Puritans, however, launched arduous objections against all vestments on principal grounds. When they requested advice from Beza on the subject, he responded
yet since they are not of the nature of those things which are themselves ungodly, we think them not of so great moment, that therefore either the pastors should leave their ministry or that the flock should neglect their public food, rather than hear the pastors so habited.53
Despite this suggestion, the Puritans completely rejected all vestments, and disapproved of any distinctive dress for the clergy.
In short, it is clear that the Puritans were not in complete conformity with the Genevan tradition. Calvin allowed the pronouncement of Scriptural form of Absolution by the minister, the giving of communion to the sick, the use of set prayers, and also tolerated other ceremonies which he himself did not approve of. In contrast, the Puritans radically opposed many of the customs that Calvin allowed. Thus, although the Puritans can correctly be seen as the spiritual heirs of Calvinism, they also appear to have gone beyond Calvin. Davies concludes
In the main, the Anglicans could claim Lutheran sanction for their usages, whilst the Puritans could claim Calvinist precedents for their customs. At the same time it is doubtful if the Puritans were aware of the cleavage between themselves and John Calvin ... Whilst they claimed to be true heirs of the Reformed Churches, in actual fact they had proceeded with a more radical reformation than their continental mentors.54
There is much truth to Davies' thesis. Yet at the same time one wonders if Davies is entirely fair. The Puritans never intended to slavishly follow Calvin. Rather, they adopted the principles of his approach to worship, and tried to apply them consistently in their own concept. In some instances this resulted in different practices than those in Geneva, but the Puritans would insist that they were adhering consistently to Calvin's theological conviction that Scripture be entirely determinative for worship. For the Puritans, the norm for worship was Scripture itself, not the practices of John Calvin. Reformed solidarity was thus not their object as much as obedience to God's Word.
Nonetheless, there are differences between Calvin and the Puritans. In addition to the evidence already mentioned, it can also be affirmed that although Calvin leaned towards the position of exclusive psalmody which the Puritans required as mandatory, he himself included the singing of the Song of Simeon, the 10 commandments, and the Apostles' Creed in the worship services. Certainly it is indisputable that the Puritans were more radical than Calvin in demanding a Scriptural warrant for every aspect of worship. This indeed raises the question of whether Calvin's practice was inconsistent with his principles, or whether the Puritans had perhaps misunderstood the way Calvin intended his principles to be applied. In view of Calvin's tolerance of liturgical differences and insistence that Scripture gave room for various ceremonies and practices in worship, the latter seems to be the case. Although the Puritans had inherited the regulative principle for worship from Calvin, they employed it with a strict application that Calvin himself never intended.55
What can account for this rigid application of the Biblical criterion for worship? Davies suggests that the influence of the English Separatists may have played a role in fostering this radicalism.56 A fear of compromising with Rome may also have unwittingly led the Puritans to root out not only the errors of antiquity, but also its wisdom. The Puritan reverence for the Scriptures was sometimes "carried to the point of Bibliolatry", as Davies observes:
This meant that for every detail of worship Biblical sanction or silence was required. Moreover it also meant that the Pauline Epistles, originally produced as occasional writings, dealing primarily with the exigencies and controversies of the moment, were carefully scanned for liturgical directions. Such occasional hints were erected into principles.57
J.I. Packer's claim that "the idea that direct biblical warrant, in the form of precept or precedent, is required to sanction every substantive item included in the public worship of God was in fact a Puritan innovation" deserves serious consideration.58 Indeed, it seems apparent that in practice, by denying that churches had the liberty to ordain non-biblical ceremonies and worship which were conducive to edification and order, the Puritans had gone beyond the true intention of their spiritual father, Calvin.
THE RELEVANCE OF PURITAN WORSHIP: Contemporary Approaches
The Puritan approach to worship with a strict application of the regulative principle finds defenders today in some Presbyterian churches who are still conscious of their Puritan heritage. Although it has largely been abandoned by mainstream Presbyterian churches, some continue to advocate the strict application of the regulative principle,59 and so insist on exclusive psalmody,60 the removal of instruments in worship,61 and no celebration of holy days.62
These recent treatments of the regulative principle as applied to various issues are largely a contemporary articulation of the Puritan approach to worship and employ the same principles and arguments brought forward by the Puritans. The regulative principle is typically described as "whatever is not commanded is forbidden" or "whatever Scripture does not authorize it forbids." The following Scriptural proofs for the regulative principle for worship are usually brought forward:63
A. Old Testament
1. Cain's unacceptable worship (Gen 4)
2. The second commandment (Ex 20)
3. The construction of the tabernacle and temple according to the divine pattern (Ex 31:2-11; 1Chr 28:11ff).
4. The death of Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1ff)
5. The rebellion of Korah.
6. King Saul's disobedience in offering burnt offerings (1Sam 13:11ff)
7. Uzzah's death for touching the ark (2Sam 6:7; 1Chr 15:13).
8. Jeroboam's institution of a worship of his own choosing (1Ki 12:32,33).
9. The sin of king Uzziah in burning incense (2Chr 26:16)
10. King Ahaz's sacrifices which God did not command (2Chr 28:3)
B. New Testament
1. Christ's condemnation of the Pharisees for observing traditions made by men (Mk 7:6-9)
2. Christ's words to the Samaritan woman (John 4:22-26).
3. The great commission involving teaching what Christ commanded (Matt 28:18-20).
4. Paul's view of Scripture (2Tm 3:16,17).
5. Paul's rebuke of the Galatians for their unauthorized worship (Gal 4:9-11)
6. Paul's warning to the Colossians (Col 2:16,18,23).
7. The book of Hebrews.
C. Other Biblical principles
1. The principle of sola scriptura.
2. The doctrine of Christ's headship.
3. The doctrine of liberty.
4. The doctrine of man's total depravity.
5. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God.64
This principle is applied to several issues:
1. The observance of days other than the Lord's day: no holy days.
2. Special music: no instruments in worship.
3. The use of the Psalter: exclusive psalmody.
4. Pictures and visual symbols: no statues, pictures or symbols.
This approach to worship as advocated today is characteristic of English Puritanism. It is a direct revival of the Puritan principle of worship, and as such, merits the same judgment. It can not be evaluated independently of its roots in English Puritanism. The Presbyterians exported the Puritan principle of worship to North America, and it is precisely this approach to worship that is still being maintained today. Although the movement which endorses the Puritan principle of worship claims Calvin as its father, the development from and beyond Calvin merits careful consideration.
Puritan worship certainly recommends itself to those who would regard themselves as the spiritual heirs of John Calvin. One of the strengths of Puritan worship is its solid foundation in the Word of God. At the root of every ordinance and custom for worship lay the authority of specific injunctions of Scripture. It thus stripped the Roman style of worship of all its formalism and hypocrisy, and focussed on the living Word of God. Its simplicity and plainness was not merely an attempt to whitewash the church of irreverent and unnecessary Roman superstitions and formalistic customs, but was primarily intended to function as a return to the Reformational principle of sola scriptura in worship.
Yet, inexplicably, this was also the weakness of Puritan worship. For their desire to pattern worship solidly on the testimony of God's revelation, sincere as it was, led to a rigid application of the regulative principle in a Biblicistic fashion that departed from the true intention of the Genevan reformer who had championed it. In requiring a specific Scriptural warrant for every aspect of worship, the Puritans could not avoid a rigid Biblicism that is not found in Calvin. Contemporary advocates of a strict application of the regulative principle for worship need to consider this carefully. Either it must be admitted that the Puritans indeed went beyond Calvin in their enthusiasm to remove the excesses of Rome and apply the principle of sola scriptura to worship. Or it must be asserted that Calvin's tolerance of liturgical differences constituted a lack of consistency in the application of his own theological convictions. If the latter is to be the case and we are to return to a Puritan approach to worship by adopting a strict application of the regulative principle, this incongruity in Calvin remains to be accounted for.
Ultimately, however, it is neither John Calvin nor history that determines whether the strict application of the regulative principle must be adopted. Rather, as always, Scripture must be the judge. And it is precisely this that makes a serious treatment of contemporary articulations of a strict application of the regulative principle so necessary. For advocates of exclusive psalmody, no instruments in worship, and no commemoration of holy days can not be dismissed as easily as we tend to reject other non-conformist approaches which parade under the banner of liberalism or the new hermeneutic. Advocates of the Puritan principle of worship claim to stand firmly on the basis of Scripture, more so even than most churches in the Calvinist tradition, including ourselves. What marks the Puritan approach to worship, then, is an appeal to Scripture. And it is for this reason that the least we can do is give serious consideration to this approach, and provide a well-reasoned Biblical response. When we, as heirs of the Reformation, are accused of departing from the Reformational principle of sola scriptura, then surely we are at least compelled to give this accusation a fair hearing.
R. E. Pot
- For an overview of such different approaches in contemporary Presbyterianism to the application of the regulative principle, see R. J. Gore, "Reviewing the Puritan Regulative Principle of Worship" in Presbyterion. Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring, 1994). Gore has written a dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary entitled "The Pursuit of Plainness: Rethinking the Puritan Regulative Principle of Worship" (1988), and his articles make a valuable contribution to the discussion on this subject.
- Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans. (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1948); Horton Davies, Worship and Theology in England. Volume 2: From Andrewes to Baxter and Fox, 1603-1690. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975); Horton Davies, The Worship of the American Puritans, 1629-1730. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1990).
- H. S. Stout "Puritanism" in Daniel G. Reid (ed), Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990) 964.
- Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 1.
- Ibid, 13-15.
- Ibid, 18.
- Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 23-24.
- Cited in ibid, 7.
- Ibid, 26.
- Ibid, 27ff.
- Ibid, 29.
- The problems at this stage largely concerned the refusal of Knox to use the translated Genevan Order until they had consulted with the English brethren elsewhere. At the same time Knox refused to use the 1552 Prayer Book since it contained many things "only by warrant of man's authority."
- Ibid, 33-34.
- Cited in ibid, 2.
- Cited in ibid, 3.
- Ibid, 8-9.
- Cited in ibid, 50.
- Cited in J. I. Packer, "The Puritan Approach to Worship" in A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990) 248.
- Cited in Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody. (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, 1993) 118.
- Cited in ibid, 117.
- Cited in ibid.
- For the view that the Directory for the Publick Worship of God was a document of compromise and allowed for matters of indifference, in contrast to the Westminster Confession of Faith, see R.J. Gore, "Reviewing the Puritan Regulative Principle of Worship: Part II" in Presbyterion. Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring, 1995). Gore observes that in practice the Directory avoids the strict application of the regulative principle for worship, and leaves room for "elements" of worship that have neither biblical command nor logical necessity. In his view, the Directory exhibits a discontinuity from the theory of the later Westminster Confession of Faith, show that there were substantial practical difficulties in formulating and implementing the regulative principle.
- The surplice was a white linen vestment worn over the cassock by clergy in the church.
- For example, differences of detail included the following: not all ministers used the Lord's Prayer; not all congregations received the Lord's Supper sitting; not all ministers insisted that the parents of a child about to be baptized should recite the Apostles' Creed; some ministers gave running expositions of Scripture while others read the lessons without comment. See Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 252.
- Davies, Worship and Theology in England, Vol. 2, 187-214.
- Ibid, 188.
- Ibid, 204.
- Ibid, 215-252.
- Citied in ibid, 247.
- Ibid, 251.
- Ibid, 253-285.
- Cited in ibid, 255.
- Cited in ibid, 277.
- Cited in ibid, 257.
- Cited in Horton, The Worship of the English Puritans, 35.
- Bushell, 167-184.
- "To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery," says Calvin, "unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving." (Calvin on Ps 71:22). "With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and will find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were yet tender and like children, by such rudiments until the coming of Christ. But now, when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time." (Calvin on Ps 81:3) He further observes: "We are to remember that the worship of God was never understood to consist in such outward services, which were only necessary to help forward a people as yet weak and rude in knowledge in the spiritual worship of God. A difference is to be observed in this respect between his people under the Old and under the New Testament; for now that Christ has appeared, and the church has reached full age, it were only to bury the light of the gospel should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation. From this it appears that the Papists, as I shall have occasion to show elsewhere, in employing instrumental music cannot be said so much to imitate the practice of God's ancient people as to ape it in a senseless and absurd manner, exhibiting a silly delight in that worship of the Old Testament which was figurative and terminated with the gospel." (Calvin on Ps 92:1). See further Girardeau, Instrumental Music.
- Cited in Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 37.
- Cited in ibid.
- On this point see the more extensive discussion in "Conditions for Unity" in Richard Pot, Calvin and Ecumenicity: The Genevan Reformer's Attempts at Unification; Church History 3307 Paper (Hamilton: Spring, 1997).
- Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 21.
- Jules Bonnet (ed), Letters of John Calvin. Vol. 3 (New York: Burt Franklin Reprints, 1972) 30-32.
- Ibid, 117-118.
- Cited in Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 39.
- John T. McNeill (ed), Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion. Vol. 2 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960) 1207-1208.
- Ibid, 1208.
- Cited in Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 40.
- For a discussion on Calvin's view of adiaphora as applied to the question of worship, see Gore, "Reviewing the Puritan Regulative Principle of Worship: Part II", 42ff. Gore argues that Calvin allowed room for the voluntary use of rites or ceremonies that fall within certain boundaries. He insists that Calvin still used Scripture to determine what was indifferent, and thus the criterion for things indifferent is still the Word of God.
- Peter Hall (ed), The Harmony of Protestant Confession (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992), 382.
- Cited in Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 42.
- Cited in ibid, 43-44.
- Ibid, 46.
- Cited in ibid, 47.
- Ibid, 48.
- R.J. Gore summarizes Calvin's view of the regulative principle as follows: "Calvin's view of the regulation of worship may be formulated as `freedom to worship in any manner warranted by Scripture.' In other words, whatever is consistent with covenantal life is allowed. Differing from Lutheranism, this principle does not allow everything that is not forbidden. Indeed, the Lutheran principle provides insufficient positive direction. Differing from Westminster's regulative principle for worship, this principle does not require a command or logical necessity to warrant a particular (form/element) of worship. As we have seen, Westminster's formula is too restrictive. Accepting the Lutheran position that there are matters of indifference, Calvin disagrees with the strict theory of the Westminster Confession of Faith but agrees with the (more charitable) practice of the Directory for the Publick Worship of God. In concert with much of the reformed tradition, Calvin finds ample room for adiaphora." See Gore, "Reviewing the Puritan Regulative Principle of Worship: Part II", 46.
- Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 48, 77-97.
- Ibid, 258.
- Packer, 247.
- For contemporary articulations of the regulative principle see Reg Barrow, "The Regulative Principle of Worship in History" in Christian Reconstruction Today No. 16-17 (March-June, 1991); Carl W. Bogue, Scriptural Worship (Texas: Blue Banner Books, 1993); Edmund P. Clowney, "Distinctive Emphases in Presbyterian Church Polity" in Charles G. Dennison & Richard C. Gamble (eds), Pressing Toward the Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986); John M. Frame, "Some Questions about the Regulative Principle" in Westminster Theological Journal. Vol. 54, No. 2 (Fall, 1992); David T. Gordon, "Some Answers about the Regulative Principle" in Westminster Theological Journal. Vol. 55, No. 2 (Fall, 1993); Greg. L. Price, Foundation for Reformation: The Regulative Principle of Worship, Bound Photocopy (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1995); Kevin Reed, "Biblical Worship" (1995); G. I. Williamson, The Regulative Principle (WCF) Audio Tape (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1997); G. I. Williamson, The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship, Bound Photocopy (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1997).
- For recent defences of exclusive psalmody see Reg Barrow, "Psalm Singing in Scripture and History" in Christian Reconstruction Today No. 18-19 (July-October, 1991); Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, 1993); John McNaugher (ed), The Psalms in Worship (1907; Reprinted Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992); Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, The Biblical Doctrine of Worship (n.p., 1974); Rowland S. Ward, The Psalms in Christian Worship (Melbourne: Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, 1992); G.I. Williamson, The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God, 1970, Bound Photocopy (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1997); G. I. Williamson, "Psalms Only: Presentation on Psalmody for Local Ministers' Fellowship", email@example.com (August 14, 1996). For important arguments against exclusive psalmody see V.S. Poythress, "Ezra 3, Union with Christ & Exclusive Psalmody" in Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1-2 (1975);
- For arguments in favour of removing instruments from worship see Larry Birger, "A Brotherly Testimony Against the Use of Instrumental Accompaniment In Public Worship" (1996); Robert L. Dabney, "Against Musical Instruments in Public Worship", Letter to the Editor in Watchman And Observer (Richmond VA: February 22, 1849); Robert L. Dabney, "Dr. John L. Girardeau's Instrumental Music in Public Worship" in The Presbyterian Quarterly, (July 1889); John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Worship in the Public Worship of the Church. (Havertown: New Covenant Publication Society,  1983); G. I. Williamson, Instrumental Music in the Worship of God: Commanded or Not Commanded? Bound Photocopy (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1997)
- For the case against the celebration of holy days see David W. Cason, "Christmas-Keeping and the Reformed Faith" (1995); Kevin Reed, "Christmas: An Historical Survey Regarding Its Origins and Opposition to It." (1995); Michael Schneider, "Is Christmas Christian?" (1995); Brian Schwertly, "The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas" (1996); G. I. Williamson, On the Observance of Sacred Days, Bound Photocopy (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1997).
- For detail and a typical approach, see Williamson, The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship.
- An interesting comparison is frequently made between Arminianism and those who do not maintain a strict application of the regulative principle. "The Regulative Principle of Worship simply applies the principles of Calvinism (i.e. God's sovereign Lordship) to worship, whereas the view that what God doesn't forbid in worship is permitted is applying the principles of Arminianism (i.e. man's sovereign lordship) to worship. Just as fallen man naturally seeks to impose his will in salvation (e.g. `I can cooperate with God in salvation' or `I have a natural freedom to choose Christ'), so fallen man naturally seeks to impose his will in worship (`I can cooperate with God in worship by adding what I desire so long as God doesn't specifically forbid it')." See Price, Foundation for Reformation: The Regulative Principle of Worship, 13.
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