By Parnell McCarter



 I sometimes receive questions about various topics addressed on the Puritans’ Network website, and I seek to answer those queries, as best I can.  Here were my answers to some questions that were recently posed concerning worship.  Perhaps they will be of some use to others with similar questions.  (The questions begin with a “>”.)



>1. Here is my summary of the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW): In the worship of God, whatever element of worship is not commanded by God in Scripture is forbidden; elements of worship are acts of special worship commanded in Scripture explicitly, implicitly, or authorized by approved example; circumstances are conditions for worship to be conducted in accordance with general principles in Scripture (e.g., edification, decency and order, beauty, and more).  Is that correct?




Yes, that is true.




>2. Can you address the public/formal vs. private/informal worship distinction? Some people say that the RPW only applies to formal public worship.



I recommend that you read Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith with prooftexts (see http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html ) concerning religious worship.  It notes:"... Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable to, any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself, so more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto..."  (Please note that the Westminster divines composed a Westminster Directory for Public Worship to outline the appropriate principles for worship for the public assemblies, and they composed a Westminster Directory for Family Worship to outline the appropriate principles for worship for the families.)


Worship occurs privately, in families, and in the public assemblies.  And worship everywhere must be done "in truth", hence according to God's prescription.  Public assemblies are the assemblies of a local church, as distinguished from family worship.  They are governed by different rules, even though RPW covers both.  For example, women may not speak in public assemblies, but they may speak in family worship times (see I Corinthians 14).  The church is distinct from the family; they are different institutions.



> special vs. general worship. General worship pertains to ethics in general; obedience to God in every area of life (alla Frame and Rom. 12:1).  This is regulated by Deut. 4:2 etc., and we are not to autonomously add to God’s law (legalism) or take away from it (antinomianism). Special worship is that obedience to God in the form of worship that is governed by the RPW, and consists of what we are calling “elements” of worship (presented amid varying circumstances). It is a deeper communing with God, communicating with him, a more particular way of praising him through singing, reading, praying, and performing divine ceremonies (i.e., sacraments). It is a more specialized worship. This is regulated by Scripture in a way different than general worship (Lev. 10:1-3; Jer. 7:31; implicit in Deut. 12:32). You can do this worship in your closet or in the public assembly, but it is still governed by God. What do you think about this distinction?



I think you have the right idea.


Keep in mind though that others employ different semantics than you, even though they have the same basic idea.  What you term "special worship" they call "worship", and what you term "general worship" they call "our spiritual/reasonable service to God" (for example, for the latter see Romans 12:1).  So worship would then be a sub-category of spiritual service.  And spiritual service is regulated by God in the Ten Commandments, which we can neither add to nor take away from.  This same principle of regulation (i.e., no addition nor subtraction) applies to the sub-category of worship (which is especially addressed in the Second Commandment).




> What can you tell me about the Puritans' teaching regarding holidays (e.g., Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost)? Did they all reject every ecclesiastical holiday (e.g., Easter, Christmas)? Did they allow for such celebrations in the home?


They rejected all of those that you list, at home and at church.  See the Westminster Directory for Public Worship, for instance, for their position on this matter.