The Neo-Presbyterian Challenge to Confessional PresbyterianOrthodoxy:
A Biblical Analysis of John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and in Truth
John Frame (a Presbyterian Church in America ordained minister, “worship leader,” andprofessor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida) has
written a book that both defends and sets forth the worship paradigm of most modern“conservative” Presbyterianism. (By conservative Presbyterianism we refer to those Presbyterian
bodies that strictly adhere to biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, literal miracles, vicarious
atonement, a literal resurrection, the five points of Calvinism and so on.) Before analyzing manyof the fundamental assertions of Frame’s book, this author would like to commend Frame for anumber of things. First, the book, Worship in Spirit and in Truth, is well written and organized.
Second, Frame has tackled a subject that is very important and hardly addressed in this century.
Third, Frame is strongly committed to biblical inerrancy and the absolute authority of the Bible.Although Frame’s book has some commendable aspects, it must be condemned over-all as a
serious departure from the standard, historical understanding of Reformed worship. What isparticularly disturbing regarding Frame’s book is that he abandons the Westminster Standards,yet presents himself as a champion of the regulative principle. Frame is either guilty of serious
self-deception, or he is incredibly dishonest. In this brief analysis of Frame’s book we will
consider: (a) Frame’s book as a justification of the status quo (i.e., neo-Presbyterian worship), (b)Frame’s misrepresentation of the position regarding worship of the early Presbyterians andWestminster Standards, (c) Frame’s redefinition of the regulative principle, (d) Frame’s bizarre,arbitrary and unorthodox exegetical methodology that he uses to justify many human innovationsin worship, and (e) Frame’s case for modern “celebrative” worship.
Defending the Status Quo
One of the purposes of Frame’s book is to justify the type of worship practiced by his andmany other churches. He writes, “Part of my motivation was a concern to preserve for my localcongregation and others like it the freedom to worship God in its accustomed style—one that is
nontraditional, but in my judgment, fully spiritual.”1 Frame throughout the book refers to
traditional vs. non-traditional worship. Although he never defines traditional worship, it is clearthat he is not in favor of it. He says, “Historically oriented books typically try to make us feelguilty if we do not follow traditional patterns. Theological traditionalists also typically want tominimize freedom and flexibility. Even those who offer suggestions for ‘meaningful worship’
are often very restrictive, for they tend to be very negative toward churches that don’t follow
1 John Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship(Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996), p. xii.
their suggestions.”2 This statement which occurs in the preface of the book is a classic case ofwhat debaters call “poisoning the well.” According to Frame, there is traditional worship which
he implies is founded upon human tradition and there is his type of worship which is truly free of
human traditions and is biblical. We will see, however, that Frame proposes all sorts of things inworship that have no warrant from God’s word. If by traditional, Frame was condemning
uninspired hymns, musical instruments (e.g., the piano and organ) and extra biblical holy days
(e.g., Christmas and Easter), then he would be on the right track.3 However, one will note as hereads Frame’s book that his problem with the typical old-fashioned corrupt “Presbyterian”worship is that it does not have enough human innovations. He is really in favor of more, not
less, human autonomy.
As this study progresses we will see that there are two basic schools of thought regardingworship in “conservative” Presbyterian circles. There are strict, consistent regulativists whofollow the original intent of the Westminster Standards. Such people worship exactly as
Presbyterians did for over two hundred years (i.e., a cappella exclusive psalmody without extra-
biblical holy days). There are others (the vast majority) who have found ways to circumvent the
regulative principle and bring in various human innovations. Frame, as part of the latter group, issimply being more consistent. That is primarily the reason that Frame’s Arminian-Charismaticstyle of worship is being adopted throughout “conservative” Presbyterian denominations thathave already abandoned biblical worship. Frame’s main disagreement with old-fashioned corrupt“Presbyterian” worship (e.g., Trinity Hymnal and a piano) is really one primarily of style or taste.
(Although there are also still some major philosophical differences regarding the role of the mindin worship and mysticism.) Frame’s disagreement with the Westminster Standards and strictregulativists is fundamental and foundational. Thus, most of his book is directed against the
Westminster Standards and the worship that it produced (exclusive a cappella psalmody without
extra-biblical holy days, etc.).
In a sense, Frame has done the church of Christ a great service by putting in written form
for all to read and analyze a defense of neo-presbyterian worship. What is neo-presbyterian
worship? It is Arminian-Charismatic style worship conducted by Presbyterians who pretend to
hold to the Westminster Standards (in the sphere of worship). One can understand where Frameis coming from, from the following statement: “In a way, the volume seeks to summarize thethinking underlying the worship of the ‘New Life’ Presbyterian churches: New Life Presbyterian
Church in Escondido, California, where I worship, our ‘mother church’ of the same name in
2 Ibid., p. xvi.
3 In order to keep this review reasonably short this author will not refute Frame’s arguments against the historicReformed positions on exclusive psalmody, musical instruments in worship and the celebration of extra-biblical
holy days (e.g., Christmas and Easter). This author has already refuted Frame’s arguments (which are typical of themodern Presbyterian status quo) in other works: The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas; Musical
Instruments in the Public Worship of God; A Brief Examination of Exclusive Psalmody; and Sola Scriptura and the
Regulative Principle of Worship. All these books are available free at http://www.reformed.com. Other
recommended works are: John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church (Havertown,
PA: New Covenant Publication Society, 1983 ); Kevin Reed, Christmas: An Historical Survey Regarding Its
Origins and Opposition to It (Dallas, TX: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1983); Biblical Worship (Dallas, TX:
Presbyterian Heritage, 1995). Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion: The Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody(Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant Publications, 1977). G. I. Williamson, On the Observance of Sacred Days(Havertown, PA: New Covenant Publication Society, n.d.); Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of God;
Commanded or Not Commanded? D. W. Collins, Musical Instruments in Divine Worship Condemned by the Word
of God (Pittsburgh: Stevenson and Foster, 1881), p. 38.
Glenside, Pennsylvania, and others.”4 The “mother church” to which Frame refers was founded
in the 1970s by Orthodox Presbyterian pastor Jack Miller. The “mother church” in Glensideadopted the worship practices of Arminian-Charismatic churches and discovered that the new
worship practices were fun, attracted young people and led to church growth. It is important tonote that the new “non-traditional” worship adopted by the original New Life Church in Glensidewhich is now practiced in a majority of the Presbyterian Church in American congregations and
in many Orthodox Presbyterian churches did not come into being from a careful exegesis of
Scripture by Reformed pastors and theologians. It was simply borrowed lock, stock and barrel
from Arminian-Charismatics who couldn’t care less if there was such a thing as the regulative
principle. Frame, a “worship leader” in such a church, attempts in his book to harmonize suchworship with the Reformed faith twenty years after such worship was adopted. He has taken
upon himself the task of harmonizing a non-Reformed, Arminian-Charismatic worship paradigm
with the strict regulativist paradigm of the Westminster Standards. In a moment we will see that
this involves redefining the Reformed concept of “divine warrant” so broadly that almostanything is permitted in worship. Frame has the job of fitting a very large square peg (Arminian-
Charismatic worship) into a very small round hole (the Reformed-confessional doctrine of
worship). Therefore, he spends a great deal of time with a hammer and chisel making the small
round hole very large and square. One must give Frame credit for the skill with which he so
smoothly, cunningly and craftily completely redefines the regulative principle, all the while
claiming total allegiance to the Westminster Standards.
Another stated purpose of Frame’s book is to soothe the guilty consciences of Reformedpastors who know enough theology and church history to recognize to a certain extent that they
have departed from Reformed, confessional worship. He writes,
Presbyterian worship—based on the biblical “regulative principle,” which I describe in thesepages—was in its early days very restrictive, austere, and “minimalist.” It excluded organs,choirs, hymn texts other than the Psalms, symbolism in the worship area, and religious holidaysexcept for the Sabbath. Presbyterians in the “Covenanter” tradition, such as those in theReformed Presbyterian Church of North America and a few other denominations, still worship
in this way, but they are in that respect a small minority of conservative Presbyterians today.
Nevertheless, the Puritan theology of worship that produced this minimalism is still taught in
theologically conservative Presbyterian churches and seminaries as the authentic Presbyterian
and Reformed view of worship. This is partly because that theology is reflected in the
Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, to which these churches subscribe. But the
Westminster standards actually contain very little of the Puritan theology of worship. The
Puritan and Scottish divines who wrote the Westminster standards were wise not to include in
them all their ideas of worship. The principles responsible for liturgical minimalism come from
Puritan and other Reformed texts that go above and beyond the confessional documents. Yet
these extraconfessional texts themselves have considerable informal authority in conservative
The result has been that although few conservative Presbyterian churches actually worship in
the Puritan way, the Puritan theology of worship remains the standard orthodoxy among them.
This discrepancy sometimes leads to guilty consciences. I have talked to pastors, for instance,
who are unwilling to go back to exclusive use of the Psalms in congregational singing, yet feel
awkward about singing hymns. They almost seem to think that they ought to worship as the
4 Worship in Spirit and in Truth, p. xvi. This author attended the ‘mother church’ in the late 1970's and met andtalked with Dr. Miller, who was a very sincere, pious and godly man (he passed on to glory in 1995). In the area of
worship, however, his efforts have done much to corrupt the church of Christ.
Puritans did, even though they have no intention of doing so. They worry that this wavering
amounts to an inconsistency in their commitment to the Reformed faith and to Presbyterian
I believe that Presbyterians need to do some rethinking in this area. In my view, the
Westminster Confession is entirely right in its regulative principle—that true worship is limited
to what God commands. But the methods used by the Puritans to discover and apply those
commands need a theological overhaul. Much of what they said cannot be justified by Scripture.
The result of our rethinking, I hope, will be a somewhat revised paradigm for Presbyterian
worship; one thoroughly Reformed in its assumptions, affirming the regulative principle and the
statements of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, but allowing much greater flexibilitythan the Puritans did in applying God’s commands for worship. Such a revised paradigm willrelieve the guilty feelings mentioned earlier, not because it allows us to ignore God’scommandments, but because it helps us to understand more accurately what our Lord expects of
Frame’s book should be seen for what it is. It is first and foremost a defense of the departure anddeclension in most Presbyterian denominations in the area of worship that has occurred over thepast two hundred years. Frame openly admits in the quote above that there is a “discrepancy”between what modern Presbyterians profess and what they actually practice. This discrepancy
causes some Presbyterian ministers to feel guilty. Therefore (according to Frame), what theseministers need is a new “revised paradigm” that allows “much greater flexibility” (which
amounts to “much greater human autonomy”), so that ministries can worship in the corrupt
backslidden fashion they are accustomed to without “guilty feelings.” In order to soothe guiltyconsciences Frame wages guerilla warfare upon Reformed worship. He attacks the regulative
principle by completely redefining it and gutting it. He then attacks the standard, historic,
biblical positions held by Presbyterians until the declension began (e.g., exclusive Psalmody, the
non-use of instruments in public worship, the non-celebration of pagan, papal holy days, etc.).
The secondary purpose of Frame’s book is to justify to his already backslidden (Trinity
Hymnal, piano and organ) audience the superiority of Arminian-Charismatic contemporary
worship. We will see that what most modern Presbyterians need is not an apologetic for
declension but rather a call to sincere repentance. There must be a return to the biblical
attainments of our covenanted Presbyterian forefathers.
Before we turn our attention to Frame’s treatment of the regulative principle we first mustconsider the misrepresentation of church history that is given to make it appear that his position
is not contrary to the Westminster Standards. He writes, “[T]he Westminster Standards actuallycontain very little of the Puritan theology of worship. The Puritan and Scottish divines who
wrote the Westminster Standards were wise not to include in them all of their ideas on worship.
The principles responsible for liturgical minimalism come from Puritan and other Reformed textsthat go above and beyond the confessional documents. Yet these extra-confessional texts
themselves have considerable informal authority in conservative Presbyterian churches.”6
5 Ibid., pp. xii-xii, emphasis added.6 Ibid, emphasis added.
The purpose of this statement is to make a distinction between the teaching of theWestminster Standards and “extra-confessional texts” (i.e., books, tracts, pamphlets, and
sermons) by Puritans and other Reformed persons “that go above and beyond the confessional
documents.” According to Frame it is not the confession that produced “liturgical minimalism”7but rather Puritan extremists who went too far. Why does Frame separate the teachings of the
Westminster Standards from the writings on worship of those Puritans and Presbyterians who
wrote the Westminster Standards? The simple reason that Frame and other advocates of neo-
presbyterian worship repeatedly misrepresent the teaching of the Westminster Standards is that
they do not want to admit that their position is anti-confessional. Advocates of neo-presbyterian
worship (e.g., uninspired hymns, musical instruments in worship and extra-biblical holy days
[e.g., Christmas and Easter]) either ignore or misrepresent church history.
In order to prove that the distinction that Frame makes between the Westminster
Standards and the Puritan and other Reformed texts that supposedly go beyond the Confessionand produce “liturgical minimalism” is false, and that Frame’s attack on this supposedminimalistic worship is anti-confessional, we will briefly consider three positions that Frame
opposes yet were advocated by the Westminster Assembly: exclusive psalmody, the non-use of
musical instruments in worship and the rejection of extra-biblical holy days.
In the Confession of Faith (chapter 21, section 5) we read regarding religious worship:“The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing ofthe word, in obedience unto God, with understanding faith, and reverence; singing of psalms
with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments
instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God.”8 According to the
Confession what are Christians to sing during the ordinary religious worship of God? They are to
7 Frame has borrowed the term “minimalist” from James Jordan’s Liturgical Nestorianism (Niceville, FL:
Transfiguration Press, 1994). In his book Jordan accuses strict regulativists of being like Nestorians who denigratedhuman nature by “saying that God and man were not joined.” Aside from the fact that it was the Monophysites whodenied and thus denigrated the true humanity of Christ by manner of a fusion of the two natures, Jordan’s argumenthas nothing to do with the debate over the regulative principle. It sounds creative and intellectual and that is enoughfor many of Jordan’s followers. That Frame would approvingly reference Jordan’s book is not surprising. Jordan has
misrepresented and mocked the regulative principle for years. He also is well known for “interpretive maximalism.”Through his creative LSD hermeneutics he discovers hidden obscure meanings in a text. Both men, however, attack
the regulative principle for different reasons. Frame wants charismatic style worship while Jordan prefers a more
high church liturgical style worship. Note the following quotes from his Sociology of the Church (Tyler, TX:
Geneva Ministries, 1986): “Biblical teaching as a whole is quite favorable to Christmas as an annual ecclesiasticalfestival.... As I study Scripture, I find that Lutheran and Anglican churches are more biblical in their worship [than
Baptist and Reformed], despite some problems” (p. 210). “What I am saying is that the custom [of crossing oneself]
is not unscriptural, and that the conservative church at large should give it some thought” (p. 212). “This [theScripture reading and sermon] is all designed to lead us to the second act of sacrifice: the Offertory. The Offertory isnot a ‘collection,’ but the act of self-immolation.... Thus, the offering plates are brought down front to the minister,who holds them up before God (‘heave offering’) and gives them to Him” (p. 27). “The whole-personal priesthoodof all believers means not only congregational participation (which requires prayer books), but also holistic ‘doing.’
It means singing, falling down, kneeling, dancing, clapping, processions, and so forth” (p. 32). “By requiring
knowledge before communion, the church cut its children off from the Table....If we are to have reformation, we
must reject this residuum of Gnosticism and return to an understanding that the act of the eucharist precedes theinterpretation of it” (p. 38). Jordan, just as Frame, argues from “large, over-arching principles of worship” (p. 209)
and thus often engages in speculative, creative application. If one disagrees with Jordan’s “high church” views he isarbitrarily labeled (with absolutely no proof whatsoever) as Neo-platonic, Nestorian, Gnostic, Nominalistic, Stoic,
8 The Confession of Faith, The Larger and Shorter Catechisms, etc. (Glasgow, Scotland: Free Presbyterian
Publications, 1985 ), p. 93.
sing Psalms. The question that is often raised concerning this section of the Confession is: Doesthe term “psalm” refer to the book of Psalms, religious songs in general including man-made
hymns, or to all inspired Scripture songs? Advocates of neo-presbyterian worship like to point
out the fact that the word psalm is not capitalized as if this proves the word is used in some
vague generic sense. The problem with this argument is the simple fact that the authors the
Westminster Standards only capitalized the word Psalms when it was used as a title of the whole
book. Note the following quote from The Directory for the Publick Worship of God:
We commend also the more frequent reading of such Scripture as he that readeth shall think
best for edification of his hearers, as the book of Psalms, and such like. When the minister who
readeth shall judge it necessary to expound any part of what is read, let it not be done until the
whole chapter or psalm be ended.... After reading of the word, (and singing of the psalm,) the
minister who is to preach....
It is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing psalms together in the
congregation, and also privately in the family.
In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care mustbe to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.
That the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a psalm book;and all others, not disabled by age or otherwise, are to be exhorted to learn to read. But for thepresent, where many in the congregation cannot read, it is convenient that the minister, or someother fit person appointed by him or the other ruling officers, do read the psalm, line by line,before the singing thereof.
The quote above proves that the word psalm or psalms refers not to worship songs in general
whether inspired or uninspired but to the book of Psalms in particular.
Further examination of the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly proves that the onlysong book approved by the assembly for public worship was Mr. Rouse’s version of the book of
Mr. Reynolds made a report of an answer to the Lords about Mr. Barton’s Psalms. It wasread and debated....This answer to the House of Commons.
Ordered—That whereas the Honble House of Commons hath, by an order bearing the date of
the 20th of November 1643, recommended the Psalms set out by Mr. Rouse to the consideration
of the Assembly of Divines, the Assembly hath caused them to be carefully perused, and as they
are now altered and amended, do approve of them, and humbly conceive that it may be useful
and profitable to the Church that they be permitted to be publicly sung.(1)
Ordered—The Committee that perused the Psalms shall carry this up to the Honble House of
Dr. Temple, Dr. Smith, Dr. Wincop, to carry up the answer to the House of Lords.10
A footnote tells us the response of the House of Lords: “(1)The House in consequence resolved‘that this Book of Psalms set forth by Mr. Rouse, and perused by the Assembly of Divines, beforthwith printed.’—Journals of House of Commons, vol. iv. p. 342.”11
9 Ibid., pp. 376, 393.
10 Edited by Alex F. Mitchell and John Struthers, Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines
While Engaged in Preparing Their Directory for Church Government, Confession of Faith, and Catechisms
(November 1644 to March 1649), From Transcripts of the Originals Procured by a Committee of the General
Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991 ), p. 163.
The only debates that occurred in the Westminster Assembly regarding the singing of
praise were over whether or not other translations of the book of Psalms should be sung in thechurches. The assembly only authorized the Rouse version because “it is so exactly framed
according to the original text” and for the sake of uniformity and edification:
The Committee made report of an answer to the House of Lords about Mr. Barton’s Psalms. Itwas read; and upon debate it was.
Resolved upon the Q., To be transcribed and sent to the Lords as the answer of this Assembly to
their order. Mr. Carter, jun., enters his dissent to this vote of sending up this answer to the
(1) This answer is not inserted in the Minutes, but it has been preserved in the Journals of the
House of Lords, and is as follows:—
TO THE RIGHT THE HOUSE OF LORDS ASSEMBLED IN PARLIAMENT.
The Assembly of Divines received April 9
th from this Honourable House an Order, bearing date
March 20th, 1646, to certify this Honourable House why the translation of Psalms by Mr. Barton
may not be used and sung in the churches, by such as shall desire it, as well as any other
translation; do humbly return this answer: That whereas on the 14th of November 1645, inobedience to an order of this Honourable House concerning the said Mr. Barton’s Psalms, wehave already commended to this Honourable House one translation of the Psalms in verse, made
by Mr. Rouse, and perused and amended by the same learned gentlemen, and the Committee of
the Assembly, as conceiving it would be very useful for the edification of the Church in regard
it is so exactly framed according to the original text: and whereas there are several other
translations of the Psalms already extant: We humbly conceive that if liberty should be given to
people to sing in churches, every one that translation they desire, by that means several
translations might come to be used, yea, in one and the same congregation at the same time,
which would be a great disruption and hindrance to edification.—Journals of House of Lords,
vol. viii. pp. 283, 284.12
The last debate, regarding whether or not Mr. Barton’s translation of the Psalms (or any otherversion other than the Rouse version) would be used, occurred on Wednesday morning, April 22,
1646.13 As noted in the quote above it was resolved that only Mr. Rouse’s version would bepermitted in the churches. Only six months later on Friday morning, October 30, 1646, chapter
21—“of Religious Worship” was voted on and agreed to by the assembly.14 The idea (that israther common today) that the word “psalms” in the chapter regarding religious worship includes
uninspired hymns is clearly false. Did the Puritan and Presbyterians go beyond the Standards (as
Frame asserts) in their insistence upon exclusive Psalmody? No. Absolutely not! If neo-
Presbyterians want to include hymns and campfire ditties in their worship services, their
backslidden General Assemblies certainly allow it. They, however, should be open and honest
and admit that they are anti-confessional on this matter.
Robert Shaw in his Exposition of the Confession of Faith (1845) teaches that the “singingof psalms” in the Confession of Faith means exactly that it says:
3. Singing of psalms. This was enjoined, under the Old Testament, as a part of the ordinary
worship of God, and it is distinguished from ceremonial worship.— Ps. lxix.30, 31. It is not
12 Ibid., pp. 221-222.13 Ibid., p. 221.
14 Ibid., p. 298.
abrogate under the New Testament, but rather confirmed.—Eph. v. 19; Col. iii. 16. It is
sanctioned by the example of Christ and his apostles.—Matt. xxvi. 30; Acts xvi. 25. The Psalms
of David were especially intended by God for the use of the Church in the exercise of public
praise, under the former dispensation; and they are equally adapted to the use of the Church
under the present dispensation. Although the apostles insist much upon the abolition of ritual
institutions, they give no intimations that the Psalms of David are unsuitable for gospel-
worship; and had it been intended that they should be set aside in New Testament times, there is
reason to think that another psalmody would have been provided in their room. In the Book of
Psalms there are various passages which seem to indicate that they were intended by the Spiritfor the use of the Church in all ages. “I will extol thee, my God, O King,” says David, “and I
will bless thy name for ever and ever.”—Ps. cxiv. 1.15
Not only is the teaching of the Confession of Faith and Directory of Public Worship clear on this
issue, it is a fact of history that Presbyterians in Scotland, Ireland and North America were
exclusive Psalm singers until the latter part of the eighteenth century. What is of particular
interest regarding the abandonment of exclusive psalmody by the large Presbyterian bodies in the
eighteenth century is that exclusive psalmody was not abandoned as a result of careful study and
refutation by pastors, scholars and theologians.
The departure of various Presbyterian denominations from exclusive psalmody (i.e.,
biblical worship) occurred primarily for three reasons: (1) Various Presbyterian churches lost the
biblical understanding of the regulative principle of worship and thus only applied it to the publicworship service. “Private” gatherings, family and private worship were considered areas of lifeoutside the strict parameter of divine warrant. Virtually all the innovations of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries came into the churches through practices that were arbitrarily placedoutside of the “Sola Scriptura” (e.g., family worship, Sunday School, revival meetings, etc.). (2)
Many Presbyterians were influenced by the pietistic, sentimental revivalism that swept through
the colonies in the eighteenth century. During this time a number of families and pastors beganusing Isaac Watts’ Psalms of David Imitated (1719) instead of the carefully translated 1650psalter employed by Presbyterians of the day. Watts’ version of the Psalms was a radicaldeparture from exclusive psalmody which went far beyond even a paraphrase of the Psalms.Watts’ version of the Psalms in many instances amounted to uninspired hymns loosely based on
the Psalms. One must never forget that Isaac Watts, in the preface to his Hymns and Spiritual
Songs (1707), openly admitted that he regarded the Psalms of David as defective, “opposite to
the Gospel” and liable to cause believers to “speak a falsehood unto God.” Watts’ version of thePsalms became accepted by many families and various ministers and was a stepping stone to theblatant uninspired hymnody of Watts’ hymnbook. (3) The innovations of the eighteenth century
15 Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, ed.
, pp. 224-225. Orthodox Presbyterian pastor G. I. Williamson concurs: “Another element of true worship is
‘the singing of psalms with grace in the heart.’ It will be observed that the Confession does not acknowledge the
legitimacy of the use of modern hymns in the worship of God, but rather only the psalms of the Old Testament. It is
not generally realized today that Presbyterian and Reformed churches originally used only the inspired psalms,
hymns, and songs of the Biblical Psalter in divine worship, but such is the case. The Westminster Assembly not only
expressed the conviction that only the psalms should be sung in divine worship, but implemented it by preparing a
metrical version of the Psalter for use in the Churches. This is not the place to attempt a consideration of this
question. But we must record our conviction that the Confession is correct at this point. It is correct, we believe,
because it has never been proved that God has commanded his Church to sing the uninspired compositions of menrather than or along with the inspired songs, hymns, and psalms of the Psalter in divine worship.” (The Confession of
Faith For Study Classes [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1964], p. 167).
would not have taken root if the presbyteries in the colonies had done their job and disciplined
ministers who had corrupted the worship of God and departed from Scripture and the
Westminster Standards. There was an unwillingness to make purity of worship an issue of
discipline. There were various battles over the Watts’ version from 1752 through the 1780's. Theoutcome, however, was always the same. The presbytery or synod involved refused to take
decisive action, thereby allowing the Watts imitations to continue. As a result, those unwilling to
pollute themselves separated to smaller, more biblical Presbyterian bodies. The declension was
codified in 1788 when a new directory for worship was adopted which changed the statement of
the 1644 directory—“singing of Psalms” to “by singing Psalms and hymns.”
Michael Bushell warns us to learn from the sins and mistakes of the P.C.U.S.A. He
Under the pietistic and humanistic influences attending and following the Great Awakening, the
American Presbyterian Church eventually came to the conclusion that the peace of the church
was best to be served by allowing considerable diversity in the worship practices of the
churches under its care. The worship practice of the Presbyterian church was, in effect, cut loose
from the bonds of Scripture and allowed to run its own course. It was this situation as much asanything else that led eventually to the Presbyterian church’s defection to Modernism. If achurch will not keep its worship pure and biblical, if it will not jealously guard its own practice
when its people come before God in self-conscious praise and adoration, then it is not to be
expected that it will long maintain its doctrinal purity. It is no small wonder that men have so
little respect intellectually for the Scriptures when daily they ignore their clear commands
concerning how their Author is to be worshiped. The worship of the Presbyterian church in this
country is dictated now largely by the demands of convenience, not the demands of Scripture,
and there is no basic difference between liberal and evangelical churches on this score, not at
least as regards outward form. To our brethren in the various Reformed communions whowould disagree with this, we would ask this simple question: “If the regulative principle werenot taught in the Scriptures, what difference would it make in your worship?” The answer in
most cases would have to be, “very little.” We would also ask our brethren whether they havesought self-consciously to apply the regulative principle to their worship practice. We have a
suspicion that most of the people in our Reformed churches have never even heard of the
regulative principle, much less sought to apply it. Our Reformed churches have inherited a
pattern of thinking which will countenance virtually any practice in worship as long as it does
not offend the wrong people. These are harsh words, but we are fully convinced that they are
Another supposed “minimalistic” practice that Frame implies goes beyond theWestminster Standards was the non-use of musical instruments in worship. Was the non-use of
musical instruments in worship only the opinion of some Puritans who went beyond the
consensus of the Westminster Assembly? No. Absolutely not! A letter from the Scottish
ministers and elders who were delegates to the Westminster Assembly to the General Assemblyof Scotland (1644) proves the opposite. It reads: “[W]e cannot but admire the good hand of GOD
16 Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody (Pittsburgh: Crown and
Covenant Publications, 1993 ), pp. 210-211. For a more thorough discussion of the abandonment of exclusive
psalmody by the P.C.U.S.A., see Bushell, pages 198-212. The abandonment of exclusive psalmody by other
Presbyterian denominations and Dutch Reformed churches is discussed in pages 212 to 220. For further reading on
the P.C.U.S.A. and Watts’ Psalms see Charles Hodge, The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the
United States of America (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1851), part 2, pp. 244-306.
in the great things done here already, particularly; That the Covenant (the Foundation of the
whole Work) is taken; Prelacie and the whole train thereof, extirpated; The Service-Book in
many places forsaken, plain and powerful preaching set up; Many Colleges in Cambridge
provided with such Ministers, as are most zealous of the best Reformation; Altars removed; The
Communion in some places given at the Table setting; The great Organs and Pauls and of Petersin Westminster taken down; Images and many other monuments of Idolatry defaced andabolished.”17 The General Assembly of Scotland responded to the letter from the commissioners
by writing an official letter to the Church of England. It reads: “We were greatly refreshed tohear by Letters from our Commissioners there with you...of the great good things the Lord hath
wrought among you and for you...many corruptions, as Altars, Images, and other Monuments of
Idolatry and Superstition removed...the great Organs at Pauls and Peters taken down.”18 The
non-use of musical instruments in worship was the norm of Puritans and Presbyterians and was
the main position of the Westminster divines. The non-musical instrument position among
Presbyterians began to be abandoned in the 1880's.
A third practice which Frame would consider “minimalistic” and extreme is the non-
celebration of holy days (e.g., Christmas and Easter) other than Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Is
this position something that goes beyond the Westminster Assembly? No. The assembly hasmade itself very clear on this matter. The Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Publick
Worship of God (1645) says, “There is no day commanded in the Scripture to be kept holy under
the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly calledHoly-days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.”19
Frame apparently wants us to believe that there is the Westminster Standards with which
he is in agreement and there are Puritan and other Reformed texts that go beyond the Confession
that need to be corrected. Given the fact that the Assembly endorsed exclusive psalmody, the
abolishment of musical instruments in worship and holy days, we ask Frame to show us what arethe “minimalist” views that go beyond the Confession that he is referring to? There werePuritans who argued that churches should stop saying the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, theConfession, and the doxology. There also was disagreement over issues such as conventicles.
However, division did not occur over these side issues. If these are the issues that Frame is
referring to, one cannot tell by reading his book. The issues that do bother Frame, that he spends
time refuting, were all matters which were endorsed by the Westminster Assembly. Therefore, itis fair to conclude that Frame’s book at many points is an attack on the Westminster Standards in
particular and Reformed worship in general.20
17 John Maitland, Alexander Henderson, Samuel Rutherford, Robert Baillie and George Gillepsie (the Scottishdelegates to the Westminster Assembly), 1644.
18 The General Assemblies [sic] Answer to the Right Reverend the Assembly of the Divines in the Kirk of England
(1644). Samuel Gibson writes, “But it hath been often said, Take away the Common Prayer Book, take away our
Religion. Nay, our Religion is in the Bible, there is our God, and our Christ, and our Faith, and our Creed in allpoints. The whole Bible was Paul’s belief; there are the Psalms of David, and his Prayers, and the Lord’s Prayer, andother prayers, by which we may learn to pray. We have still the Lord’s Songs, the Songs of Zion, sung by many withgrace in their hearts, making melody to the Lord, though without organs. There we have all the commandments.”—Samuel Gibson (minister, Church of England; Westminster divine), The Ruin of the Authors and Fomentors of Civil
19 The Confession of Faith, The Larger and Shorter Catechisms, etc., p. 394.
20 What is particularly bizarre regarding Frame’s book is that in the paragraph immediately prior to the one in whichhe falsely claims that minimalistic worship was not a product of the Westminster Standards, but came from other
Puritan and Reformed works that go beyond the Standards. He wrote: “Presbyterian worship—based on the biblical‘regulative principle,’ which I describe in these pages—was in its early days very restrictive, austere, and
Frame’s Redefinition of the Regulative Principle
In this section we will prove that Frame completely redefines the regulative principle of worship.
It is very important that Reformed believers who adhere to the Reformed symbols understandthat Frame’s concept of divine warrant has virtually nothing to do with the Westminster
Standards. In fact, what Frame offers as an exposition of the regulative principle is totally
unique. This author (who has studied this issue extensively) is unaware of any Reformed
theologians, expositors or authors who have advocated views on the regulative principle ordivine warrant that are even remotely similar to Frame’s view. (The closest view perhaps is
Steve Schissel’s “informed principle of worship” which is founded on an open rejection of theregulative principle.21) Frame should have followed his own advice on how to write a theological
paper. He writes, “At the very least, it will involve exegetical research and intelligent interactionwith biblical texts. Otherwise, the theological work can hardly make any claim to scripturality;and if it is not scriptural, it is simply worthless.”22 We will see that Frame’s use of the biblicaltexts for divine warrant of such things as drama is not intelligent, not scriptural and completelyworthless. Frame continues, “Additionally, there should usually be some interaction with otherorthodox theologians to guard against individualistic aberration.”23 Frame’s understanding of theregulative principle is clearly an individualistic aberration. This reviewer challenges Frame and
the seminary professors who endorsed his anti-confessional book to produce one Reformedauthor who agrees with Frame’s concept of divine warrant.
Frame lays the foundation of his own unique version of the regulative principle inchapters 4 and 5. In chapter 4 (“rules for worship”) Frame discusses the regulative principle. In
chapter 5 (“What to Do in Worship”) he deals with the elements of worship. What Frame does inthese chapters is very deceptive. First he gives a fairly standard orthodox definition of the
regulative principle. (In this section, however, he does ignore how Puritans and Presbyterians
defined methods of divine warrant.) After he identifies himself as a confessional Presbyterian
who adheres to the regulative principle he then proceeds to systematically redefine and destroythe historic confessional understanding of the regulative principle. A careful reading of Frame’sbook reveals that Frame believes the historic confessional understanding of the regulative
principle is unbiblical and unworkable. Because Frame believes that the historic confessional
understanding of the regulative principle is unbiblical and unworkable, he sets it aside and then
proceeds to give us his own unique version of it.
‘minimalist.’ It excluded organs, choirs, hymn texts other than the Psalms, symbolism in the worship area, andreligious holidays except for the Sabbath” (p. xii). The regulative principle, that Frame says in its early days wasvery restrictive, austere, and minimalist that produced the Presbyterian and Reformed worship that Frame describes,
is set forth in the strictest manner in the Standards (cf. WCF 1:6-7; 20:2; 21:1-5; LC 108, 109, 110; SC 50, 51, 52).Frame’s version of history makes no sense whatsoever. The Puritans and Presbyterians taught and practiced a strict
regulativist type of worship, yet supposedly in their Standards they espoused something different. Such a version of
events is totally absurd.
21 See Brian M. Schwertley’s A Brief Critique of Steven Schissel’s Article against the Regulative Principle ofWorship.
22 John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), p.
How does Frame replace the confessional regulative principle with his own uniqueversion of it? There are a number of things that must be examined in our analysis of Frame’sredefinition. First, Frame takes the position that the Bible does not offer specifics regarding
worship but only generalities. This type of argument was common among Anglican theologians
(e.g., Hooker) as they attempted to refute the Puritans. According to Frame, the specifics are leftto man’s discretion. Second, Frame gives a false portrayal of the Puritan-Presbyterian position
regarding informal vs. formal meetings. He also makes no distinction between public, family and
private worship; and, ignores the distinction between extra-ordinary events and set times of
worship. Frame wants to be able to mine the Scriptures for divine warrant in places that clearly
have nothing to do with a public worship service. Third, Frame rejects the confessional viewregarding the circumstances of worship in favor of what he calls “applications.” This departurefrom the Confession allows Frame to move away from specific warrant to warrant that is
dependent on general rules or principles. Frame takes the rules that the Westminster divines
applied only to circumstances or incidentals of worship and uses them as divine warrant for
worship ordinances. Fourth, Frame rejects the Westminster Confession of Faith’s view regardingthe elements of worship. Frame replaces the confessional view of separate elements that are each
dependent on specific divine warrant in favor of a few general categories that men can apply as
they see fit. As we consider Frame’s redefinition of the regulative principle we must not lose
sight of the fact that Frame’s book is a defense of neo-Presbyterian (i.e., Arminian-Charismaticstyle) worship. Frame’s clever redefinitions are directed at one goal. That goal is the removal ofthe strict, “minimalistic,” confessional concept of divine warrant in favor of a very broad,general, loose concept of divine warrant.
Frame’s Lip Service to the Westminster Standards
If one reads Frame’s endorsement of the Westminster Standards and his initial definition
of the regulative principle in isolation from the rest of his book, one would get the impression
that Frame was a confessional, or orthodox, Presbyterian. Frame writes, “My own theologicalcommitment is Presbyterian; I subscribe enthusiastically to the Westminster Confession of Faithand Catechisms, and I trust that that commitment will be quite evident in this book.”24
Note that Frame defends the Reformed understanding of worship against non-Reformed
views. He writes, “Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans have taken the position thatwe may do anything in worship except what Scripture forbids. Here Scripture regulates worship
in a negative way—by exercising veto power. Presbyterian and Reformed churches, however,
have employed a stronger principle: whatever Scripture does not command is forbidden. Here
Scripture has more veto power; its function is essentially positive. On this view, Scripture mustpositively require a practice, if that practice is to be suitable for the worship of God.”25 Frame
then quotes the classic regulativist statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith (21:1)and says, “The operative word is ‘prescribed.’ Eventually this restriction of worship to what Godprescribes became known as the ‘regulative principle.’”26 Frame continues, “Can any of us trustourselves to determine apart from Scripture, what God does and does not like in worship? Our
finitude and sin disqualify us from making such judgments.... Scripture itself condemns worship
24 John Frame, Worship in Spirit and in Truth, p. xiv-xv.25 Ibid., p.38.
26 Ibid., p. 39.
that is based only on human ideas.... Scripture, God’s word, is sufficient for our worship, as for
all life.”27 Frame refers to a number of standard regulative passages such as Leviticus 10:1-2,
Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8-9, Mark 7:6-7 and Colossians 2:23.28
Frame Reveals His True Colors
After reading Frame’s statements regarding his commitment to the Westminster
Standards and the regulative principle one would naturally think that Frame was a champion of
the regulative principle and the Reformed worship of Calvin, Knox, the Puritans and early
Presbyterians. The truth of the matter, however, is that Frame’s concept of the regulativeprinciple and divine warrant as delineated in the rest of his book is an explicit rejection of the
Westminster Standards and Reformed confessional worship.
One can begin to see Frame’s real opinion of the regulative principle when he writes,“Unlike some Presbyterian writers, I believe that I understand, and understand sympathetically,why some sincere Christians prefer not to worship in the Presbyterian way. I recognize that there
are real problems in the traditional Presbyterian view that need to be addressed from theScriptures, and I intend to deal with these problems seriously.”29 Did we not just read aboutFrame’s strong commitment to the Westminster Standards and the regulative principle of
worship? If Frame adheres to the Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as he
claims, then would he not believe that the Presbyterian way is the biblical way? Is he not
admitting here that he believes there are problems with the Westminster Standards that need to
be addressed by the Scriptures? In other words, the Westminster Standards are unscriptural and
need to be altered in order to meet biblical teaching. Is it possible that Frame is not referring to
the Standards themselves but to the corruption of the Presbyterian worship that has occurred
since the second half of the eighteenth century? No. Since Frame spends a good deal of time
28 Frame, p. 39. Although Frame gives us a list of traditional regulative principle proof texts, note that he does not
really believe that these passages actually prove the regulative principle. He tells us that he relies on more general
principles; however, he does not tell us where or how these principles are derived from the Bible. He writes, “Somereaders will note that although I earlier cited a list of passages such as Lev. 10:1-3 to show God’s displeasure withillegitimate worship, I have not used this list to prove the regulative principle, but have instead relied on more
general considerations. It does not seem to me that that list of passages proves the precise point that ‘whatever is not
commanded is forbidden.’ The practices condemned in those passages are not merely not commanded; they are
explicitly forbidden. For example, what Nadab and Abihu did in Lev. 10:1 was not only ‘unauthorized,’ the textinforms us, but also ‘contrary to [God’s] command.’ The fire should have been taken from God’s altar (Num.
16:46), not from a private source (compare Ex. 35:3)” [p. 47, endnote 2]. Frame’s analysis of the Nadab and Abihuincident is erroneous. The reason that the fire of Nadab and Abihu is called “strange” (KJV), “profane” (NKJV) or
“unauthorized” (NIV) is not because it is expressly forbidden, but because as the text explicitly says, it was nevercommanded. The passages that Frame offers to disprove the traditional regulativist understanding of the passage do
not prove his point at all. The Numbers 16:46 passage simply says that fire is to be taken from the altar and put on a
censer. Neither in this or any other passage are people expressly told not to use fire from any other source. The pointof the regulative principle is that when God says take fire from the altar men must follow God’s direction withoutadding their own human rules or traditions. The passage that Frame offers as proof (Ex. 35:3) that fire from another
source is expressly forbidden teaches that the people are not to kindle a fire in their dwellings on the Sabbath. It has
nothing to do with the Leviticus 10:1 passage. That Frame would list a series of passages in a section on the
regulative principle that he really doesn’t believe teaches the regulative principle is strange. However, since he
heartily endorses the Westminster Standards’ teaching on worship and then explicitly rejects it later in the samebook, we should not be surprised by such contradictions.
29 Ibid., xv.
defending the declension that has occurred, one can only come to the conclusion that Framebelieves there are “real problems” with the Westminster Standards.
Frame also admits that his concept of the regulative principle leaves plenty of room for
human autonomy. He writes, “The first key to meaningful worship is to do as God commands.
Beyond that, of course, there is the question of how best to carry out those commands in our owntime and place. This is the question of the ‘language’ in which we should express our worship toGod and in which we should seek to edify one another. But we must know what limits God has
placed upon us before we can determine the areas in which we are free to seek more meaningful
forms. One of my main concerns in this book is to define both the areas in which we are boundby God’s norms and the areas in which we are set free (by those same norms!) to developcreative applications of those norms.”30 The key to understanding Frame’s redefinition of thehistoric understanding of the regulative principle is the phrase “creative applications.” (His
unique view regarding “creative applications” will be dealt with below.)
Frame believes that the regulative principle does not lead God’s people to any particular“style of worship.” He writes, “In the remainder of this book, therefore, I will not urge anyone toconform to the Puritan style of worship or to any other style. In that respect, this book will be
rather unusual, compared to most other worship books! Rather, I shall present the regulative
principle as one that sets us free, within limits, to worship God in the language of our own time,to seek those applications of God’s commandments which most edify worshipers in ourcontemporary cultures. We must be both more conservative and more liberal than most studentsof Christian worship: conservative in holding exclusively to God’s commands in Scripture as ourrule of worship, and liberal in defending the liberty of those who apply those commandments inlegitimate, though nontraditional, ways.”31 According to Frame the Bible does not offer any
blueprints in the sphere of worship. It rather is vague and general and thus leaves the details to
man (i.e., human autonomy).32
30 Ibid., xv.
31 Ibid., p. 46.
32 Frame has also adopted unbiblical views regarding women in public worship. He has imbibed the teachings of
James Hurley on this issue which were set forth to circumvent the clear teaching of Scripture and accommodate the
infiltration of feminism in the church. Frame writes, “In general, I agree with James Hurley, Man and Woman in
Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), and others, who argue that the only biblical limitation onwomen’s role is that women may not be elders. Hurley argues that the prohibition on women speaking in 1 Cor.14:34-35 is not for the duration of the meeting, but for the authoritative ‘weighing of the prophets’ described in vv.29-33, and that the teaching prohibited in 1 Tim. 2:12 is the authoritative teaching of the office of elder. However
we may interpret these difficult passages, it is plain that under some circumstances women did legitimately speak in
worship (1 Cor. 11:5) and that women were not entirely excluded from teaching (Acts 18:26; Titus 2:4) (p. 75,endnote 6).” There are a number of reasons why the teaching of Frame and Hurley must be rejected. First, nowherein the Bible do we find a distinction between authoritative versus non-authoritative teaching in public worship. This
kind of arbitrary, non-textually based distinction would have made the medieval scholastics proud. Second, Hurley
ignores the fact that although women were not permitted to ask questions, speak or teach in the Jewish synagogues
in the Old Covenant and apostolic era, men—the heads of households—were permitted to ask questions and make
comments regarding the Scripture reading and exposition. Women had to ask their husbands at home. Why ignore
the historical context (and cultural milieu) and read our modern feminist culture back into the text? The answer issimple. Hurley’s arguments are more a justification of existing practice (i.e., the current declension) than objective
exegesis. Third, at no point in the passage (1 Cor. 14:34-35) or the context are we told that women keeping silentapplies only to the evaluation of prophets. Hurley’s conclusion is speculation—a speculation not made by virtually
any commentator, theologian or preacher until the rise and popularity of feminism in the 1970's. Fourth, Hurley’sspeculative conclusion contradicts the explicit teaching of 1 Tim. 2:12 where there is no possibility that Paul is only
speaking about the evaluation of the prophets. Fifth, the reasons that are given in Scripture for women not speaking,teaching or asking questions in church (e.g., 1. God’s ordained order of authority [1 Cor. 11:3]; 2. Adam was created
According to the Westminster Standards and Puritan thought, the regulative principle
gives men freedom from human traditions and innovations in worship. Frame defines the
regulative principle in a manner that gives freedom to innovate as long as some generalguidelines are followed and the innovations are called “creative application.” He writes, “In myview, once we understand what Scripture actually commands for worship, we will see that it
actually leaves quite a number of things to our discretion and therefore allows considerable
flexibility. I believe that most books on worship, Presbyterian and otherwise, underestimate the
amount of freedom that Scripture permits in worship.... This book, however, will stress that
Scripture leaves many questions open—questions that different churches in different situationscan legitimately answer differently.”33 If the regulative principle restricts men to only those
practices that are dependent upon divine warrant or scriptural proof, how can one argue that this
principle gives men great freedom? If by freedom Frame means freedom from doctrine,
commandments and innovations of man or a certain freedom in areas that are circumstantial to
worship (e.g., seating arrangement, lighting, type of pulpit, etc.), then we would agree. But,Frame’s definition of freedom goes way beyond the Westminster Standards. He defines freedomas “creative application” of general principles that can lead to completely different types of
worship. Note the phrases such as: “our discretion,” “considerable flexibility,” “creativeapplication,” “many questions open,” “we are free to seek more meaningful forms,” etc. Framewants worship that is based on human autonomy and that is full of innovations, but which in a
very loose, convoluted manner is somehow connected with the general teachings of Scripture.
Frame’s “No Specifics” Regulative Principle
Frame’s unique definition of the regulative principle is in part founded upon hisunderstanding of synagogue and (apostolic) Christian meetings. He writes, “Jesus attended thesynagogue regularly and taught there (Luke 4:15-16), so there can be no question as to God’sapproval of the institution. It is interesting, however, to note that the synagogue and the temple
first [1 Tim. 2:14]; 3. The woman [Eve] originated from the man [Adam] [Gen. 2:21-22; 1 Cor. 11:8]; 4. The
woman-wife was created as a help-meet to the man-Adam [Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:9]; 5. Eve was deceived and fell
into transgression [1 Tim. 2:14]; 6. The covenant headship of the husband [1 Cor. 14:34-35]) obviously apply to all
forms of teaching or speaking in public worship. They cannot arbitrarily be applied to only one type of speaking orteaching. This point is strongly supported by Paul’s statements regarding women being submissive and asking theirown husbands at home. Paul is setting forth and supporting the biblical teaching regarding covenant headship.
Hurley artificially applies these broad overarching principles to a tiny sliver of public worship (the evaluation of
prophets) that no longer even applies to the modern church, for prophecy has ceased. Sixth, the alleged major
difficulty of reconciling 1 Cor. 11:5 (where women are said to pray and prophecy) with 1 Cor. 14:34-35 (where
women are forbidden to speak in church and are commanded to keep silent) has been resolved in ways that do notviolate the analogy of Scripture and are much more exegetically responsible than Hurley’s speculation. Threepossible interpretations are: 1. When Paul refers to women praying and prophesying in 1 Cor. 11:5, the termprophesying refers to women singing the Psalms which are prophetic Scripture. 2. Paul’s discussion of womenpraying and prophesying in public worship is merely hypothetical, for he later forbids the practice altogether in 1
Cor. 14:34-35 (cf. Calvin’s commentary on the passage). 3. Paul under inspiration regards women setting forth
direct revelation from God to be an exception to regular speaking (e.g., making comments or asking questions) or
teaching (i.e., the uninspired exposition of Scripture). In other words, since prophecy is God Himself speaking
without human exposition, a woman prophesying is not herself exercising authority over a man. The passages that
Frame uses (Ac. 18:26; Ti. 2:4) for women teaching have nothing to do with public worship. The first passage refersto Priscilla and her husband’s private instructions of Apollos. The second passage refers to older women who intheir inter-personal relationships with younger women are to teach them how to be good wives and homemakers.
33 Ibid., xvi.
were very different in their scriptural warrant: God regulated the sacrificial worship of the
tabernacle and the temple in detail, charging the people to do everything strictly according to the
revealed pattern. He hardly said anything to Israel, however, about the synagogue (or, for that
matter, about the ministries of teaching and prayer carried out on the temple grounds), leaving
the arranging of its services largely to the discretion of the people. Of course, they knew ingeneral what God wanted: he wanted his word to be taught and prayer to be offered. But God left
the specifics open-ended.”34 Frame argues that divine warrant is applicable only in a “general”
manner. The specifics are “open-ended.” That is, the specifics are determined by man.
Frame asserts that the Christian meeting was like the synagogue in that scriptural warrant
does not descend to the level of specific parts of worship. Therefore, various actions that are partof new covenant religious worship do not require “specific scriptural authorization.” He writes,“Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to prove that anything is divinely required specificallyfor official services.”35 He adds, “The New Testament tells us a little more about the Christian
meeting (which was more like the synagogue than like the sacrificial worship of the temple), but
it gives us no systematic or exhaustive list of the events that were authorized for such services.
Certainly it gives us no list of elements in the technical sense of Puritan theology—actions
requiring specific scriptural authorization as opposed to circumstances or applications that donot.”
After arguing that the regulative principle does not apply to specifics (which Frame
knows is a non-confessional understanding of the regulative principle), he sets forth his own
unique version of divine warrant. He writes, “Where specifics are lacking, we must apply thegeneralities by means of our sanctified wisdom, within general principles of the word.... The
New Testament does not give us an exhaustive list of what was and was not done at early
Christian meetings. However, as in the case of the Old Testament synagogue, we may, by appeal
to broad theological principles, gain assurance as to what God wants us to do when we gather inhis name.”36 In the area of worship Frame believes that the Bible is not specific. It is incomplete,
vague and general. The Bible is like a defective map with some large roads noted yet with thedetails missing. If the map is to be useful (or workable), men must use their “sanctified wisdom”to fill in the specifics, details or missing pieces. Frame has adopted a position that is closer to
Episcopalianism than the strict regulativist position of the Westminster Standards. Although
Frame does not say that men are permitted to make things up as long as their innovations are not
contrary to Scripture, he does allow men a great area of autonomy as long as practice is looselybased on “the general principles of the word.”
There are a number of ideas in Frame’s statements that need further comment. First,Frame has adopted the anti-regulativist interpretation of the Jewish synagogue. He assumes that
since there is not a set of inscripturated divine imperatives regarding the synagogue meetings,therefore what occurred in the synagogues was left “to the discretion of the people.” BeforeFrame even begins his chapter on the regulative principle (i.e., “The Rules for Worship”) he
argues that the regulative principle as historically defined at the most only applied to “the
sacrificial worship of the tabernacle and the temple.”37 Frame believes that the WestminsterStandard’s teaching that specific warrant is required for every worship ordinance or element is
34 Ibid., p. 2,. emphasis added.
35 Ibid., p. 44, emphasis added.
36 Ibid., pp. 54-55, emphasis added.37 Ibid., p. 23.
wrong and unbiblical. If Frame’s understanding is correct, then there is no regulative principle.All of Frame’s talk regarding his strong commitment to the Westminster Standards is a sham.
Frame’s analysis of the Jewish synagogues does raise a few important questions. Does the factthat there is not a set of explicit commands in Scripture which regulate the synagogues prove that
the Puritan-Presbyterian concept of divine warrant (that applies to specific parts or elements of
worship) is unscriptural? Did the Westminster divines and our Puritan and Presbyterian
forefathers make a serious blunder when they adopted the strict regulativist position and
incorporated it into their confessions and catechisms? Is Frame a hero for boldly standing up anddeclaring “the emperor has no clothes”? The answer to all these questions is an emphatic “no”!One can assume (as do Frame and many others) that synagogues were not under the regulative
principle (as historically defined) and that the Jews were making up the specifics of worship as
they went along. The only problem with such an assumption, however, is that it contradicts the
clear teaching of Scripture.
There are many passages in the Bible which unequivocally condemn adding to God’slaw-word (e.g., Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5). Man is not permitted autonomously to determine
his own ethics, theology or worship. There are also passages where both Christ (e.g., Mt. 15:2-9;
Mk. 7:1-13) and Paul (e.g., Col. 2:20-23) condemn human traditions in worship. The Bible does
not merely condemn additions or innovations in a general manner but deals with specific
additions (e.g., offering the fruit of the ground instead of blood [Gen. 4:3-5]; strange fire [Lev.
10:1-2]; ritual hand washings [Mt. 15:2-9]; ascetic eating practices [Col. 2:21]. Note also that the
regulative principle (as biblically defined, i.e., the Puritan version) is not restricted to the
tabernacle or temple but is applied to individuals at home and church. Given the fact that
Scripture cannot contradict Scripture and the clearer portions of Scripture should be used to
interpret the less clear, does it make sense (hermeneutically) to assume that the synagogue
meetings were not regulated by divine revelation of some sort? Taking the Scriptures as a whole,
the Puritans believed that it would be contradictory for Christ and Paul to condemn specific
religious additions in the home and church yet countenance additions in the synagogue. Anaspect of “good and necessary consequence” (WCF 1:6, i.e., logical inference from Scripture) is
what Puritans referred to as approved historical example. When one observes in Scripture that
Abel (Gen. 4:4) and Noah (Gen. 8:20-21) offered acceptable sacrifices to Jehovah without any
prior inscripturated divine imperatives, or that the universal practice of the New Covenant
church was not seventh but first day public worship apart from any inscripturated instructions to
change the day, then one may logically infer that such practices were based on some form of
divine revelation that was not inscripturated.
The Puritan understanding of approved historical example is supported by Hebrews 11:4which says, “by faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” Biblical faithpresupposes divine revelation. Throughout Hebrews 11 true faith is spoken of as a belief inGod’s word that results in obedience to God’s revealed will. Any idea that Abel’s offering was
based on reason alone, or that God’s acceptance of blood sacrifice was arbitrary or based on the
subjective state of Abel’s heart alone, must be rejected as unscriptural. Given the analogy ofScripture, the necessity of faith in acts of religious worship and the acceptance of certain
practices by God in Scripture that appear without detailed instructions, the idea that thesynagogue meetings were not regulated but were determined by “the discretion of the people” is
unwarranted. To assume (as Frame does) that the Jews of the synagogue were making it up asthey went along (“winging it”) is to assume something that contradicts the clear teaching ofScripture.
Second, Frame argues that like the Jewish synagogues, the Christian meetings werebasically unregulated as to specifics (e.g., “The New Testament...gives us no systematic or
exhaustive list of the events that were authorized for such services”38). Although it is true that in
no place in the New Testament do we find a systematic list of what is to occur in public worship,
that does not mean that the New Testament has nothing to say in the matter or that the various
elements of worship cannot be determined from a study of Scripture. Whether or not the New
Testament gives us a systematic list of worship ordinances for New Covenant services is
irrelevant. Many important doctrines and issues are set forth in Scripture in a very non-
systematic manner. Frame is attempting to convince the readers of his book that a regulative
principle that deals with specifics must be rejected. Once he has deconstructed the historic,
traditional understanding of the regulative principle, then he will put in its place the general or“virtually anything goes” version. However, since the Bible clearly teaches that everything mandoes in worship (even to the specifics) must have divine warrant, we must not be deceived byFrame’s subterfuge. What about Frame’s claim that the New Testament does not give us an“exhaustive list of the events that were authorized for such services”? The New Testament doesnot need to give us an exhaustive list because if a practice is not found in the New Testament (or
taught or inferred from the Old Testament) then it is already forbidden. The idea that there is notan “exhaustive list” presupposes a prelatical concept of worship and is an implicit denial of thesufficiency of Scripture in the sphere of worship.
Third, Frame teaches that divine warrant is not specific but general. He argues that since
the Bible does not contain specifics regarding synagogue or New Testament Christian meetings,men are to seek divine warrant in “broad theological generalities.” Men are to use their sanctifiedwisdom to “apply the generalities.” People must follow the “general principles of the word.”
When Frame speaks of divine warrant in terms of “broad theological principles,” “generalities”
and “general principles of the word,” he has rejected the Westminster Standards on this issue and
has completely redefined the regulative principle. There is a great difference between specificwarrant from Scripture for a particular practice and basing a practice on a “generality” or “broad
theological principle.” Using Frame’s definition of the regulative principle one can have aninfinite variety of worship options as long as a particular practice is loosely connected with a“generality” or “broad theological principle.” The strict, narrow version of the regulative
principle advocated by the Reformed confessions produced a general uniformity of worship formany generations. Frame’s view leads to chaos and a multiformity of worship practices precisely
because it leaves man a large area of autonomy. Frame of course does not call it autonomy. Heuses phrases such as “creative application” and “considerable flexibility.”
In order to reveal how Frame’s concept of divine warrant can prove almost anything onewants, let us examine how Frame himself justifies certain practices in public worship. On page
56 he argues that greetings should be a part of the worship service. How does he prove that
greetings are prescribed by God? Frame writes, “They [greetings and benedictions] were clearlypart of church life, since they were a regular part of Paul’s letters (see Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3;Rom. 15:33; 1 Cor. 16:23-24; 2 Cor. 13:14). Since his letters were most likely read in church
meetings (Col. 4:16; 1 Th. 5:27; Phm. 2), these greetings and benedictions were also a part of
public worship.”39 Normally if a Reformed person wanted to argue in favor of a special greetings
time (i.e., handshake and hug time) during public worship he would look for a specific command
or attempt to infer a greeting time from a scriptural historical example. Frame, however simply
38 Ibid., p. 55.39 Ibid., p. 56.
points out that Paul greeted churches in his epistles and his letters were read in the churches. The
fact that all letters contain greetings and that it is doubtful that whole books of the Bible wereread at each service is ignored. Following Frame’s logic one could argue: Boats are frequentlymentioned in Scripture (e.g., 2 Sam. 19:18; Prov. 30:19; Isa. 33:21; Ezek. 27:5; Jon. 1:3-5; Mt.
4:21-22; Mk. 1:19; Lu. 5:3; Jn. 6:22; Ac. 27:16, 30, 32; etc.); since Scripture is read in the
church meetings, boats also should be part of public worship.
A better example of Frame’s concept of “creative application” is the divine warrant heoffers for the use of drama (i.e., skits or plays) in public worship. Frame’s argumentation in favorof drama gives us an explicit understanding of his unique definition of divine warrant. He even
introduces his argumentation as an example of an application of a general principle. He writes,“Many churches are using drama today in an attempt to communicate the word of God moreclearly than could be done through more traditional forms of preaching. Some Presbyterians
oppose this, because there is no specific command in Scripture to use drama in this way. But we
have seen that specific commands are not always needed. When God gives us a general
command (in this case the command to preach the word), and is silent on some aspects of its
specific application, we may properly make those applications ourselves, within the general rules
of Scripture. The questions before us, then, are whether drama is legitimately a form of
preaching or teaching, and whether there are any scriptural teachings that would rule it out as a
means of communicating the word. I would answer yes to the first question, and no thesecond.”40 Note, once again, that for Frame specific warrant is unnecessary. When Scripture issilent on “application” (i.e., when Scripture is insufficient or incomplete), man is to use his
autonomous thought to remove God’s silence. In other words man must take what is insufficientand general and make it sufficient and specific.
What does Frame offer as divine warrant for drama in public worship? He argues that“preaching and teaching contain many dramatic elements”41; Jesus “taught parables, which oftenincluded dialogues between different characters”42; Paul’s letters “are often dramatic”43 and “thebook of Revelation is a dramatic feast”44; “the prophets sometimes performed symbolic
actions”45; and, “the Old Testament sacrifices and feasts, and the New Testament sacraments arere-enactments of God’s great works of redemption.”46
When we read Frame’s application of his own version of the regulative principle we are
astonished that this book was endorsed by four seminary professors from two different“conservative, Reformed” seminaries.47 Why? Because Frame’s concept of divine warrant is so
general, wide and arbitrary one could prove virtually anything. His concept of “proof” wouldmake any cult leader smile. If one thinks this is exaggeration, let’s apply Frame’s concept ofdivine warrant to other practices that some people would find “refreshing” in public worship. Inthe Bible we often encounter prophets that are depressed. There also are many books in the Bible
that contain many sad and depressing elements. Therefore, we are authorized by God to have
40 Ibid., pp. 92-93.41 Ibid., p. 93.
47 Richard L.Pratt, Jr. and Steve Brown from Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando; Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. and
D. Clair Davis from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.
blues bands (with appropriate lyrics of course) as part of public worship. Why not? As Frame
asserts, is not singing simply one manner of teaching or preaching?
In the Bible we often read of military battles. The apostle Paul often portrays the
Christian life as one of warfare. In the book of Revelation do we not have a great war portrayedbetween Christ’s people and the followers of the beast? Therefore, as a creative application ofthese general theological principles we can incorporate sword fights into public worship. No one
would be hurt of course. They would simply be dramatic reenactments of the Christian life. The
children would love it.
The “exegetical” methods that Frame uses to prove or justify certain worship practicesare absurd. Frame goes to the Bible and takes things that have nothing to do with public worship
and then makes an arbitrary application to the human innovation he desires. Does the fact that
God required certain prophets to do some unusual and dramatic things tell us anything about how
we are to conduct a public worship service? No, of course not! There is no connection
whatsoever. Does the fact that preaching in Scripture can be dramatic somehow imply that God
has authorized dramatic presentations in public worship? No, not at all! The connection is totally
arbitrary. In fact not one person throughout all of church history saw such a connection until
Frame made it up. Does the fact that Jesus spoke in parables that had more than one character in
them prove that dramatic presentations are biblical? No. Listen carefully. Don’t miss this. The
characters in Jesus’ parables were not characters in a play or even real people. Christ was tellinga story in His teaching. To argue that our Lord was authorizing dramatic presentations in public
worship is pure fantasy. If Jesus was authorizing drama groups, the Spirit-inspired apostlesdidn’t see it, for dramatic presentations were excluded from apostolic worship. A legitimate
application of Jesus’ preaching methodology would be the use of illustrations and stories in
preaching. Does the fact that Revelation (according to Frame) is a dramatic feast tell us anything
about public worship? No. Although the book does contain some worship scenes couched in
apocalyptic imagery, there are no commands, historical examples or logical inferences pointing
to dramatic presentations in the book at all.
The argumentation that Frame uses to “prove” the worship practices that he desires oftenreminds this author of the argumentation used by Vern Poythress (a professor at Westminster
Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania) in his book The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses.48Given the many striking similarities a quote from Greg L. Bahnsen’s analysis of Poythress’ work
is in order. Bahnsen’s analysis fits Frame’s argumentation like a glove. When reading Bahnsen’s
analysis, just substitute Frame’s name for Poythress’. Bahnsen writes,
Poythress has a penchant for appealing to vague “motifs” in biblical passages and thentelling us (without exegetical basis) that they are suggestive of some theological “connection” or
“relation” (without definition). To deal with broad and ambiguous allusions is not precise
enough to demonstrate any specific conclusion; because there are no control principles or
predictability in how such vague notions will be taken, the door is left open too wide for theinterpreter’s subjective creativity. And simply to assert that X is (somehow) “related” or
“connected” to Y is trivial—not very informative. (Everything is related in some way to
everything else, after all.) These vague connections play a determinative role where Poythress
wants to draw significant theological conclusions.... The key to drawing artful “connections”everywhere in the Bible, of course, is to make your categories broad and vague enough to
include just about anything.... What is the theologian supposed to do with such discussions?
48 Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1991.
They aren’t arguments, really. They are more like mood enhancers (“take a couple of Valium
and enjoy the experience”). Seen in their least harmful light, I suppose such discussions mayhave homiletical or pedagogical value—as adductive or illustrative aids for conclusions
established on more reliable exegetical grounds. They may even subjectively reinforce
preconceived theological commitments, but they hardly function as objective proof in a
theological argument, one subject to common rules of reasoning, predictable results, and public
examination. Poythress is not the only author these days who enjoys this style of writing:stringing together a host of loose “connections” in a stream-of-consciousness style, often with
organizing categories broad enough to include almost anything anyway, until one stipulates thathe has reached a “conclusion”—one which is usually as vague and ambiguous as it is lacking intextual warrant. I would like to say that Poythress does it “better” than others, but there is reallylittle way to judge (since there are so few objective criteria).49
If professing Christians want to use Frame’s concept of divine warrant to “prove” variouspractices in public worship, they are free to do so. However, they should be honest and admit
that their version of the regulative principle has nothing to do with the Westminster Standards orReformed theology on the subject. Frame’s arbitrary, loose manner of “proving” variouspractices from the Scriptures leaves Presbyterian and Reformed churches with no real restraints
on worship except the prelatical (i.e., Episcopal-Lutheran) principle that anything goes as long as
it is not expressly forbidden in the Bible.
Fourth, Frame rejects the Westminster Confession’s doctrine regarding the elements or
parts of worship. He writes,
In response to this kind of question [i.e., the problem of generality and specificity], thePuritans developed the doctrine of “elements” or “parts” of worship. Worship, they believed, ismade up of certain clearly distinguishable elements: prayer, the reading of Scripture, preaching,
and so on. The regulative principle, they held, requires us to find biblical warrant for each of
these elements. For them, that answered the question about the level of specificity. We need not
find a biblical command to pray this or that particular prayer (assuming that the prayers under
consideration are all scriptural in their content and appropriate to the occasion), but we do need
a biblical warrant to include prayer as an element of worship.
But there are serious problems with this approach. The most serious problem is that there is
no scriptural warrant for it! Scripture nowhere divides worship up into a series of independent“elements,” each requiring independent scriptural justification. Scripture nowhere tells us that
the regulative principle demands that particular level of specificity, rather than some other.50
Note, that (once again) Frame argues against the Puritans rather than the Westminster
Confession. He says that the Puritan position does not have biblical warrant, which is to say it is
unbiblical. He ignores the fact that: (a) the authors of the Westminster Standards and the early
Presbyterians were Puritans51 and (b) the Westminster Confession (21:3-5) clearly teaches the
49 Greg L. Bahnsen, No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics,1991), pp. 299-300, 302-303.
50 Worship in Spirit and in Truth, p. 52-53.
51 John Coffey writes, “In describing Scots like Rutherford as Puritan we are following the example of their
contemporaries. When James VI revisited Scotland in 1617 he recalled that many English Puritans had yieldedunder royal pressure, and declared ‘Let us take the same course with the Puritans here.’ Peter Heylyn too, did not
hesitate to speak of ‘the Presbyterian or Puritan Faction in Scotland.’ Rutherford himself noted that ‘we be
nicknamed Puritan’ and complained that ‘a strict and precise walking with God in everything’ was scorned as‘Puritan.’ The nickname was given throughout the English-speaking world to people who were felt to be excessively
Puritan position that Frame rejects. Given the fact that Frame says that he enthusiastically
subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms on page xiv in his book, one
should not be surprised that Frame is unwilling to admit that his enthusiastic subscription was
false, that he subscribed with crossed fingers. Frame of course is free to reject the teaching of the
Westminster Standards. However, since he does so, he should be honest and consistent and join
the Reformed Episcopal Church instead of deceitfully working to undermine an essential aspect
of the Reformed faith.
As we consider Frame’s attack on the confessional concept of elements or parts of
worship, keep in mind that Frame’s strategy throughout his analysis of the rules for worship is tomake divine warrant broad enough to allow human innovations disguised as creative
applications. Therefore, he must eliminate the confessional doctrine of elements of worship, each
of which requires specific divine warrant. There are a number of arguments to consider inFrame’s rejection of the elements of worship. First, Frame argues that Scripture nowhere teaches“that the regulative principle demands that level of specificity.”52 He adds, “The problem is that
Scripture doesn’t give us a list of elements required for Christian worship services.”53 NoteFrame’s disingenuous and inconsistent method of argumentation. When he disagrees with thePuritan confessional view, he demands credible evidence. He wants a command, an explicit
statement or even a detailed list. Yet when he sets out to prove his own ideas regarding divine
warrant he offers no solid exegetical argumentation, only bizarre loose connections and arbitrary
applications. Does the regulative principle descend to the level of the elements of worship? Is it
specific? Although there is no detailed list set forth in the New Testament of worship elements,
the various elements or parts of religious worship are easily proved from divine imperatives and
descriptions of worship services or approved historical examples found in Scripture. As weconsider Frame’s next objection to the idea of specific elements of worship, the scripturalevidence will prove that Frame is wrong. Furthermore, the biblical passages that teach theregulative principle itself demand specificity. If Old Testament believers used Frame’s generalflexible version of the regulative principle, it would have been very easy for the Jews to justify
religious hand washings, ascetic eating practices (e.g., note the Seventh-day Adventist
justifications for various eating practices), strange fire, etc.
Second, Frame wants to mix the various elements of worship into general categories. He
writes, “Another problem with the concept of elements of worship is that the things we do inworship are not always clearly distinguishable from one another. Singing and teaching, for
example, are not distinct from one another (Col. 3:16). And many hymns are also prayers and
creeds. Prayers with biblical content contain teaching. The entire service is prayer, since is it
uttered in the presence of God, to his praise. The entire service is teaching, since it is all based on
Scripture. Perhaps it would be better to speak of ‘aspects’ of worship, rather than ‘elements’ or
‘parts.’”54 Frame adds, “Since we cannot identify elements, we cannot say that song is anelement and therefore requires specific divine commands governing its content. Even if we
accept the division of worship not elements, it is not plausible to argue that song is an element of
worship, independent of all others. As we saw in the preceding chapter, song is not an
zealous and strict in their religion, people whose intense desire to obey Scripture often brought them into conflict
with royal ecclesiastical policy” (Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford[Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997], p. 18).
52 Worship in Spirit and in Truth, p. 53.
54 Ibid., p. 54.
independent element, but rather a way of doing other things. It is a way of praying, confessing,
etc. Therefore, when we apply the regulative principle to matters of song, we should not ask
specifically what words Scripture commands us to sing, but rather, what words Scripturecommands us to use in teaching, prayer, confession, etc.”55 For Frame there are not specific
elements of worship but only broad categories that have different aspects. Why does Frame
attack the confessional doctrine of elements of worship? A major reason is that it enables him to
apply biblical rules for one element to another. This is one of the common arguments against
exclusive psalmody. If a person can make up their own words for prayer or preaching, then(according to Frame’s concept of aspects) one can make up their own words for singing praise.Although it is true that elements of singing praise, preaching or teaching and prayer can have
certain aspects in common (e.g., many psalms contain prayer, prayer can contain praise and
sermons can contain praise and supplication, etc.), the idea that these distinct elements can be
collapsed into one category (e.g., teaching) or that the specific rules given by Scripture for one
element can be applied to the other parts of worship completely breaks down when one examines
the specific rules and context that the Bible gives to each separate ordinance. Note the following
(1) One element is preaching from the Bible (Mt. 26:13; Mk 16:15; Ac. 9:20; 17:10;
20:8; 1 Cor. 14:28; 2 Tim. 4:2). Preaching involves reasoning from the Scriptures (cf. Ac. 17:2-3; 18:4, 19; 24:25) and explaining or expounding God’s word (cf. Mk. 4:34; Lk. 24:27; Ac. 2:14-
40; 17:3; 18:36; 28:23). New Covenant teachers did not speak by divine interpretation, but
interpreted divinely inspired Scripture. In the same manner the Old Testament levitical teachers
explained and interpreted the inscripturated law to the covenant people (cf. Neh. 8:7-8; Lev.
10:8-11; Dt. 17:8-13; 24:8; 31:9-13; 33:8; 2 Chr. 15:3; 17:7-9; 19:8-10; 30:22; 35:3; Ezr. 7:1-11;
Ezek. 44:15, 23-24; Hos. 4:6; Mal. 2:1, 5-8). There are specific biblical rules that apply to
preaching that distinguish it from other elements such as praise and prayer. While both men and
women can pray (Ac. 1:13-14, 1 Cor. 11:5) and sing praise (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 1:5), only
men (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-14) who are called by God and set apart to the gospel
ministry can preach (Mt. 28:18-20; Ac. 9:15; 13:1-5; Rom. 10:14-15; Eph. 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 4:2,
etc.). Therefore, the idea that singing praise is not an element of worship but only one way to
teach or a circumstance of teaching is clearly unscriptural. If singing praise was simply one given
method of teaching then women would be forbidden to sing praise in church, for they are
forbidden to teach in the public assemblies. Furthermore, if singing was a circumstance of
worship, then it would be optional and could be excluded from public worship al- together. Doesthe average “conservative” Presbyterian allow women to preach or teach in the public assembly?
No, he does not. But isn’t that because the Bible explicitly forbids women from teaching or evenspeaking in church? Yes, indeed it is. What this proves is that in practice those who adhere toFrame’s unorthodox theories on worship must follow the distinction between elements of
worship in order to conduct a worship service. Frame’s rejection of distinct elements or parts ofworship is simply a clever tactic to eliminate the specificity of the regulative principle.
(2) Another part of worship is the singing of Psalms (1 Chr. 16:9; Ps. 95:1-2; 105:2; 1
Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Unlike preaching, where the minister uses his own uninspired
words to exposit Scripture, singing praise involves only the use of Spirit-inspired songs. In the
Bible prophetic inspiration was a requirement for writing worship songs for the church (cf. Ex.
15:20-21; Jg. 5; Isa. 5:1; 26:1ff; 2 Sam 23:1, 2; 1 Chr. 25:5; 2 Chr. 29:30; 35:15; Mt. 22:43-44;
55 Ibid., pp. 123-124.
Mk. 12:36; Ac. 1:16-17; 2:29-31; 4:24-25). The writing of worship songs in the Old Testament
was so intimately connected with prophetic inspiration that 2 Kings 23:2 and 2 Chronicles 34:30use the term “Levite” and “prophet” interchangeably.
(3) Reading the Bible is also a part of public worship (Mk. 4:16-20; Ac. 1:13; 13:15;
16:13; 1 Cor. 11:20; 1 Tim. 4:13; Rev. 1:13). Obviously, Scripture reading requires reading from
the Bible alone. Reading from the Apocrypha or Shakespeare or uninspired Christian poetry or
theology books cannot be substituted for this element. Scripture reading, like preaching but
unlike singing praise, is restricted to ministers of the gospel (Ex. 24:7; Josh 8:34-35; Dt. 31:9-13;
Neh. 8:7-8; 13:1; 1 Th. 5:27; Col. 4:16; 1 Tim. 4:3).
(4) Another element of worship is prayer to God (Dt. 22:5; Mt. 6:9; 1 Cor. 11:13-15; 1
Th. 5:17; Phil. 4:6; Heb. 13:18; Jas. 1:5). Unlike the elements of singing praise and reading the
Scriptures, the Bible authorizes the use of our own words in prayer, as long as we follow the
pattern or model given to us by Christ (cf. Mt. 6:9). God promises His people that the Holy Spirit
will assist them when they form their prayers (cf. Zech. 12:10; Rom. 8:26-27).
A brief consideration of the elements of worship (noted above) proves that the rules
which apply to one element (e.g., prayer) cannot be applied to another element (e.g., singing
praise or reading the Bible) without violating Scripture. Our consideration has also proved thatcollapsing various elements into broad categories violates God’s word. The only reason peopleartificially construct such broad categories is to avoid the specific rules that God has instituted
for each particular element of worship. Feminists do so to accommodate women reading the
Scriptures and preaching in church. Others do so to allow a dramatic presentation to substitute
for the sermon. There are also many who do so in order to substitute the uninspired songs of men
for the inspired Psalms of God.
Given the abundant scriptural evidence for the Puritan concept of elements or parts of
worship, one can understand why the authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith did not just
give us broad categories but rather set forth distinct worship elements. The Confession names“prayer with thanksgiving” (21:3), “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the soundpreaching, and conscionable hearing of the word, in obedience unto God, with understanding,
faith, and reverence: singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and
worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious
worship of God: beside religious oaths and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgiving upon several
occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religiousmanner” (21:5). The work of the Westminster Divines on worship was the culmination of overone hundred years of Reformed exegesis, debate and analysis of the matter. Their statements
were simply a refined statement with some added details of the writings of the reformers andReformed symbols that preceded its authorship. Frame’s arrogant and flippant disregard of thereformers and Reformed confessions with no real evidence is disturbing. That he is a minister in
good standing in a denomination which claims adherence to the Westminster Standards and
teaches at a Reformed seminary is even more disturbing.
Third, after rejecting the Westminster Standards on elements or parts of worship Frame
leaves us with aspects of worship. What exactly is an aspect of worship? Although Frame doesnot define what he means by aspects, he apparently means “things to do” that are related to hisgeneral categories. Since the English dictionary gives as one of its main meanings for aspect as“part” we wonder what exactly is the difference between “element,” “part,” “things to do” and
“aspect.” Perhaps a course in perspectivalism will aid our understanding.56 “Perhaps with theacumen of the medieval schoolmen, Mr. Frame can explain to us the subtle difference between‘things, ‘aspects,’ and ‘parts’ in worship.”57
Frame’s Rejection of the Circumstances of Worship
Frame rejects the confessional concept of circumstances of worship in favor of what he
calls applications. Once again we see Frame setting aside the Westminster Standards and over
four hundred years of Reformed thought for his own unique concept of applications. Note that,as before, Frame’s goal is to greatly broaden the concept of divine warrant. After quoting the
Confession of Faith (“There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and
government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by
the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which arealways to be observed” [1, 6]) Frame writes,
Scripture, they believed, was sufficient to tell us the basic things we should do in worship.But it does not give us detailed direction in the area of “circumstances.”
What are these “circumstances”? The confession does not define the term, except to say thatthey are “common to human actions and societies.” Some of the Puritans and ScottishPresbyterians, trying to further explain this idea, taught that circumstances were secular matters,of no actual religious significance. But surely, in God’s world, nothing is purely secular;
nothing is entirely devoid of religious significance. That follows from the fact that in one sense
worship is all of life. The time and place of a meeting, for instance, are not religiously neutral.
Decisions about such matters must be made to the glory of God. The elders of a church would
not be exercising godly rule if they tried to force all the members to worship at 3:00 A.M.!
Decisions about the time and place of worship can greatly affect the quality of edification (1
Cor. 14:26). Although it is “common to human actions and societies” to make decision aboutmeeting times and places, the decision nevertheless has religious significance in the context of
the church. The divines understood this, and so they insisted that all these decisions be made“according to the general rules of the Word.” But then, how are we to distinguish circumstancefrom substantive elements of worship?
56 Frame offers a few other arguments against the confessional concept of elements or parts of worship. One is what
he calls the practical snags argument. He points out that there have been disagreements over the years regarding
what are elements and what are not (p. 53). He fails to point out, however, that the disagreements that he refers to
are all of recent origin and were primarily dredged up to circumvent exclusive psalmody. Then he brings up the factthat the Puritans disagreed over issues like reading written prayers and reciting the Apostle’s Creed. However, heignores the fact that these were individual disagreements and that in the sphere of worship the Puritans and
Presbyterians were in unanimous agreement regarding the Westminster Standards. Does the fact that professing
Christians disagree over the abiding validity of the ten commandments meant that we should jettison the ten
commandments and replace them with something different? Of course not! The fact that people disagree over
certain issues is irrelevant to whether or not a theological position is correct. This issue must be determined by solid
exegetical evidence and not LSD hermeneutics. Frame also raises the issue of a marriage worship service. Sincethere is no such thing as a marriage worship service in Scripture, Frame’s consideration is not germane to thediscussion. If Frame wants us to reject the Westminster Standards and over 400 years of Reformed thought on the
subject of worship, he is going to have to offer something more substantial. A good starting point would be some
good old-fashioned biblical exegesis. We are still waiting.
57 Kevin Reed, “Presbyterian Worship: Old and New” in Brian Schwertley, Musical Instruments in the Public
Worship of God (Southfield, MI: Reformed Witness, 1999), p. 139.
Furthermore, there seem to be some matters in worship that are not “common to humanactions and societies,” concerning which we must use our human judgment. For example,
Scripture tells us to pray, but it doesn’t tell us what precise words to use in our prayers on everyoccasion. We must decide what words to use, within the limits of the biblical teachings about
prayer. That is a decision of great spiritual importance. It does not seem right to describe thismatter as a mere “circumstance.” Prayer is not “common to human actions and societies.” Butin prayer we must use our own judgment within biblical guidelines; if we don’t, we will notpray at all.
I agree with the confession that there is room for human judgment in matters that are“common to human actions and societies.” But I do not believe that that is the only legitimatesphere of human judgment. In my view, the term best suited to describe the sphere of human
judgment is not circumstance, but application. Typically, Scripture tells us what we should do
in general, and then leaves us to determine the specifics by our own sanctified wisdom,
according to the general rules of the Word. Determining the specifics is what I call“application.”
Unlike the term circumstance, the term application naturally covers both types of examples I
have mentioned. Applications include such matters as the time and place of worship: Scripture
tells us to meet, but not when and where—so we must use our own judgment. Similarly,
Scripture tells us to pray, but does not dictate to us all the specific words we should use—so we
need to decide. As you can see, the sphere of application includes some matters that are“common to human actions and societies” and some matters are not.58
There are a number of things to note regarding Frame’s discussion of the circumstances ofworship. First, Frame’s contention that some (unnamed) Puritans and Scottish Presbyteriansregarded circumstances as secular is wrong and misleading. They did not regard the
circumstances of worship as secular or religiously neutral. They did, however, regard them as
things that were not specifically determinable by Scripture that had a certain commonality with
civil or secular affairs. For example, a civil meeting will have a beginning and end, chairs,
lighting, a podium, a building and so forth. However, these circumstances of worship are to bedesigned or conducted “according to the general rules of Scripture.” Frame (once again) asserts afalse bifurcation of thought between certain (unnamed) Puritans/Presbyterians and the
Second, Frame gives us an over-simplification of the concept of circumstances in order to
make the confessional understanding look incompetent and unworkable. Frame tells us that sincethe words we use in prayer are of “great spiritual importance” and prayer is not “common to
human actions and societies”; therefore, we need to use a better more workable concept than the
term circumstances of worship. Frame’s alternative is “applications.”
Frame’s argument raises a number of questions. Is what believers do when they pray
merely a circumstance of worship? Is prayer regulated only by the general rules of Scripture?
Although it is true that believers are free to make up their own words in order to meet the various
circumstances and contingencies of daily life, prayer itself is specifically regulated by Scripture.Jesus told the disciples to pray in a certain manner (Mt. 6:9). He told them not to “use vain
repetitions as the heathen do” (Mt. 6:7). Further, we are told that the Holy Spirit will assist us
when we pray (cf. Zech. 12:10; Rom. 8:26-27). Strictly speaking, prayer is not a circumstance of
worship. The Westminster divines did not regard the content of prayer in the same manner as the
type of seating, lighting, pulpit style, flooring, etc. Therefore, the idea that choosing one’s own
58 Worship in Spirit and Truth, pp. 40-41.
words for prayer in worship renders the concept of circumstances of worship somehow
unworkable is not true.
If one holds to the confessional understanding of the regulative principle, that all the parts
or elements of worship require divine warrant, one must explain those things that are necessary
to conduct a public meeting that are not specifically addressed in Scripture. Does the Bible tell us
what type of building to meet in, or the type of chairs to use, or what the type of pulpit should be
used and so forth? Are there not areas related to a public worship service that do not directly
affect the content or parts of religious worship? The confessional answer that there are some
circumstances relating to worship that are not themselves parts of worship or worship ordinances
is unavoidable and obvious. If Frame observes that, in certain areas or applications, the concept
of circumstances need clarification, then that is one thing. But why does he insist on tossing it
aside for his own concept of applications? The main reason is related to Frame’s rejection of theconfessional doctrine of elements or parts of religious worship each of which requires divine
warrant. Once one rejects the concept of worship elements, one is left only with broad categories.Believers are to determine out of broad categories the various “things to do” in worship.
According to Frame the “things to do” can be determined by specific commands or according to
“broad theological principles.” What this means is that Frame has taken the concept of “the
general rules of the word” that the Westminster divines only applied to the circumstances of
worship and has applied it to worship itself. This incredible broadening of the concept of divine
warrant renders the whole section in the Confession dealing with the circumstances of worshipsuperfluous. Since Frame has already taken the Confession’s “the general rules of the word” andapplied it to worship itself, he must redefine the circumstances into applications. Why? Becausethe term “applications” is broad enough to cover everything relating to worship, whether worshipordinance or the circumstantial areas. In fact everything in life that we do as Christians is an
application of Scripture in some sense. Frame continues on his path of taking well thought-out
clear distinctions found in the Westminster Standards and replacing them with very general
concepts. Remember, the end game is human autonomy in worship.
Frame’s Misrepresentation of the Puritan/Presbyterian Position Regarding Formal versus
Frame accuses “some theologians” and the Puritans of only applying the regulative
principle to “formal” or “official” worship services. He writes,
This position on church power, however, led some theologians to distinguish sharplybetween worship services that are “formal” or “official” (i.e., sanctioned by the ruling body ofthe church), and other meetings at which worship takes place, such as family devotions, hymn
sings at homes, etc., which are not officially sanctioned. Some have said that the regulative
principle properly applied only to the formal or official service, not to other forms of worship.
But that distinction is clearly unscriptural. When Scripture forbids us to worship according to
our own imaginations, it is not forbidding that only during official services. The God of
Scripture would certainly not approve of people who worshiped him in formal services, but
worshiped idols in the privacy of their homes!
On the Puritan view, the regulative principle pertains primarily to worship that is officially
sanctioned by the church. On this view, in order to show that, say, preaching is appropriate for
worship, we must show by biblical commands and examples that God requires preaching in
officially sanctioned worship services. It is not enough to show that God is pleased when the
word is preached in crowds or informal home meetings. Rather, we must show that preaching is
mandated precisely for the formal or official worship service. Unfortunately, it is virtually
impossible to prove that anything is divinely required specifically for official services.59
This is a total misrepresentation of the Puritan position. The truth of the matter is that the idea
that the regulative principle only applied to public worship was not widely accepted until the late
nineteenth century. As worship innovations and declension occurred throughout the nineteenth
century and certain practices such as the use of musical instruments in family worship, the
celebration of Christmas in the home and various Sunday school programs where women were
allowed to speak, ask questions and even teach men became popular, a concerted effort was
made to at least keep these innovations out of the “official service.” In fact, today an “ultra-conservative” Presbyterian is often defined as someone who wants to keep the celebration ofpapal-pagan holy days out of the public worship, yet who thinks celebrating such days in the
home and decorating the home with the trinkets of anti-Christ and pagan paraphernalia is
perfectly acceptable. The Puritans and Presbyterians never allowed church members to violate
the regulative principle in the home. People who celebrated Christmas or Easter were
Although the Puritans, Presbyterians and Westminster divines strictly applied the
regulative principle to all worship whether public, family, or private, that does not mean that
each sphere had the exact same rules. For example, in family worship the father is to lead (Dt.
6:7-9) in teaching and Scripture reading. But he is not permitted to dispense or partake of thepublic ordinances (i.e., baptism and the Lord’s supper) or exercise church discipline. It is veryimportant that when we seek divine warrant for a practice in public worship, we distinguish
between commands or historical examples in Scripture that apply to an individual, or family, or
public meeting, or even an extra-ordinary event. Why? Because Frame misrepresents the Puritan
position not because he wants to abolish innovations in the home but because he wants to be able
to mine the Scriptures for divine warrant in passages that clearly have nothing to do with public
worship. What is a major justification that Frame offers for drama in public worship? The
prophets sometimes did dramatic things. How does Frame justify liturgical dance in public
worship? He points to several passages that refer to extra ordinary national and local victory
celebrations (i.e., outdoor parades).60 Frame’s caricature of the Puritan position sets the stage forhis redefinition of the regulative principle and his sloppy, no- real-connection proof-texting of
various modern innovations.61
60 See Worship in Spirit and Truth, p. 131.
61 As Frame misrepresents the Puritan’s understanding of the scope of the regulative principle he also misrepresentsthe Westminster Confession. He writes, “I am aware that traditional Presbyterian statements of the regulativeprinciple typically draw a much sharper distinction than I have drawn between worship services and the rest of life.The Westminster Confession, for example, states that in all of life we are free from any ‘doctrines and
commandments of men’ that are ‘contrary to’ God’s word, but that in ‘matters of faith, or worship,’ we are also free
from doctrines and commandments that are ‘beside’ the word” (20.2) (p. 43). In this section on liberty of conscience
the phrases “contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship” go together and are connected by theverb “are” to “the doctrine and commandments of men.” The Confession is not making two separate statements—
one regarding all of life and another regarding only matters of faith. Anything contrary to or beside God’s Word inall matters of faith or worship does not have God’s authority. Shaw writes, “In this section the doctrine of liberty ofconscience is laid down in most explicit terms. The conscience, in all matters of faith and duty, is subject to the
authority of God alone, and entirely free from all subjection to the traditions and commandments of men. To believe
any doctrine, or obey any commandment, contrary to, the Word of God, out of submission to human authority, is tobetray true liberty of conscience” (Exposition of the Confession of Faith, p. 205). A. A. Hodge writes, “God has
Frame’s Case for Contemporaneity in Worship
As we consider Frame’s book we must never lose sight of the fact that his book is anapologetic for the Charismatic-Arminian style of worship conducted in the “New Life” churches.
This type of worship is commonly referred to as “contemporary” or “celebrative” worship. Howdoes Frame justify this new type of worship from Scripture? His argument is founded upon the
fact that tongues must be translated into an understandable language. He writes,
On the other hand, Scripture also tells us, and more explicitly and emphatically, that worship
should be intelligible. It should be understandable to the worshipers, and even to non-Christian
visitors (1 Cor. 14, especially vv. 24-25). And intelligibility requires contemporaneity. When
churches use archaic language and follow practices that are little understood today, they
compromise that biblical principle.... Another important consideration is that the style chosen
must promote the intelligibility of the communication. We have seen that this is the chief
emphasis of 1 Corinthians 14, which is the most extended treatment of a Christian worship
meeting in the New Testament. Intelligibility of communication is crucial to the Great
Commission and to the demand of love, for love seeks to promote, not impede, mutual
Intelligibility requires us, first, to speak the language of the people, not Latin, as the
Reformers emphasized. But communication is more than language in the narrow sense. Content
is communicated through body language, style, the choice of popular rather than technical
terms, well-known musical styles, etc.62
Frame’s argument for contemporary worship is another example of what he calls “creative
application.” A more accurate designation would be “arbitrary application.” When the apostlePaul was dealing with a specific problem at Corinth (un-interpreted or non-translated tongues)
was he also making a statement regarding musical styles, body language or contemporary song
styles? No. Neither Paul or the Corinthians or any commentators past or present (with the
exception of Frame) believe or teach that Paul was telling the church to make sure they had
proper body language. Frame is (once again) grasping after straws. One could just as well applyFrame’s concept of intelligibility to church architecture, Christian clothing, the pastor’s car andfurniture, etc., for the application is arbitrary. It is not rooted in standard Protestant biblical
How did “celebrative” or “contemporary” worship begin? Was there a group ofChristians who out of a serious study of Scripture (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:24-25) decided that God
required worship to be modernized to better speak to our childish degenerate culture? No.
Generally speaking, its rise in popularity is a combination of three historical developments. First,
contemporary worship has its roots in Arminian pragmatic revivalism. Arminian revivalists
learned that feminine, emotional, tear-jerking songs helped people make a “decision for Christ.”They also learned that entertainment, performances, organ interludes and so forth brought morepeople into the tent. Second, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s many pot-heads and hippies
authoritatively addressed the human conscience only in his law, the only perfect revelation of which in this world is
the inspired Scriptures. Hence God himself has set the human conscience free from all obligation to believe or obeyany such doctrines or commandments of men as are either contrary to or aside from the teachings of that Word”(The Confession of Faith, p. 265).
62 Worship in Spirit and Truth, pp. 67, 83.
became professing Christians. Many of these converted hippies (“the Jesus people”) incorporatedthe communal, simple, emotional style of singing they were accustomed to into their services.
This new style of worship often consisted of one-verse choruses that were sung over and over
again until people were worked into an emotional frenzy or meditative type of trance. Sadly, this
emotionalism and trance-like state was and still is equated with the special presence of the Holy
Spirit or a mystical communion with God. Believers need to understand that this new emotional,
non-doctrinal type of worship has its roots not in the Bible but in hedonistic, counter-culture,
mystical paganism. Peter Masters writes, “It was a form of worship fashioned and conceived inthe womb of the hippie meditational mysticism, in which hippies in their hundreds and thousands
would sit on California hillsides with eyes closed, swaying themselves into an ecstatic state of
experience. Former hippies carried into their new Christian allegiance the method of seeking the
emotional release or sensations to which they were accustomed, and no one showed them a betterway.”63
Third, there was the rise of the church growth movement which offered a pious sounding
but totally pragmatic justification for man-centered, entertainment-oriented worship. The fact
that modern “celebrative” music was shallow, worldly and immature was not important becauseworship must be user-friendly. It must appeal to shallow, worldly and immature seekers. That is,
it must be attractive to the flesh. In this paradigm, worship is not primarily considered to be
directed to God but to man. Worship is treated as another evangelistic church growth tool. Framewould not put the matter so crassly. But his concept of “intelligibility requires contemporaneity”even to non-Christian visitors says much the same thing. Thus, today churches often have child-
like, repetitive songs coupled with rock bands, drama groups, comedian pastors, liturgical dance,
videos, movies and so on.
In another book on worship (Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense), Frame
argues in favor of super-simplified (i.e., dumbed down) hymns on the basis of Old Testamentsaints such as Job, Moses and Isaiah. Job’s lengthy, detailed speeches are compared to traditionalworship. When Job was finally confronted with God he spoke only a few simple words.Likewise, when Moses and Isaiah were in God’s presence they were in awe and had very little tosay.64 Peter Masters’ analysis of Frame’s book advocating contemporary worship is right on the
mark. He writes, “One of John Frame’s many complaints about traditional worship is that it is fartoo complex. It has too many words, is too intelligent, and too scholarly. It is not for ordinary
people. In supporting this complaint, the author pronounces himself in favor of minimal words.
He wants to bypass rationality, and substitute feelings as the leading component in worship. He
also insists that there is a physical dimension to worship, dancing and other activities being valid.
He wants to get the senses and sensations strumming in order to touch God. The point in raising
63 Peter Masters, “Worship in the Melting Pot: Is New Worship Compatible with Traditional Worship?” in Sword
and Trowel (London, England, 1998), no. 3, p. 13. This author is indebted to Rev. Masters for his many insights intothe “new worship.”
64 When we read passages about a prophet entering into God’s presence and being awe-struck and speaking fewwords, does this mean that God is telling us by way of “creative application” that He would like worship songswritten that consist of one sentence? No, not at all! A legitimate application of such texts would be that we worship
an infinitely holy, awesome God. Therefore, when we approach him in worship we need to be very careful to do so
according to His rules. Our God is a consuming fire. Also, the worship of such a God (Jehovah) ought to be done in
a serious, majestic manner. Churches which practice the new “celebrative” worship with the jokes, skits,
entertainment, vain repetition “Romper-Room” choruses, rock bands and camp-fire antics, are neither serious,respectful or majestic. “But, brother, these people are sincere.” Indeed, many are. However, sincerity which is notbased on truth is worthless.
his book at this stage is to show how ‘traditionalists’ who adopt new worship eventuallycapitulate to the sensational-mystical-aesthetic philosophy of worship.”65
The origins and arguments in favor of the modern “celebratory” worship raise a few veryimportant questions. Why does modern worship have to cater or lower itself to the immaturityand degeneracy of modern culture? Isn’t such thinking a type of relativism? If rap musicbecomes the predominate form of musical expression in society, will the advocates of“contemporaneity” use rap music in public worship? (Some churches already use “Christian” rapgroups in their worship service entertainment segments.) Also, when Frame and others look to
the Scriptures for proof or guidance regarding worship, why point to passages that have nothing
to do with singing of praise when God has already told us exactly what He wants? God has
written His own hymnal—the book of Psalms—and placed it in the middle of our Bibles, andcommanded us to sing it. The only possible reasons that “celebrative” worship advocates ignorethe obvious and rely on “creative application” is either a woeful lack of knowledge regardingScripture or a blatant disregard of Scripture in favor of human autonomy in worship.
The fact that God Himself has written and given the church a hymnbook (the Psalter)tells us a number of things regarding praise, all of which contradict the “celebrative” worshipparadigm. First, note that the Psalms are saturated with deep theology and are doctrinally
balanced, complex, non-repetitive, and often long.66 David and the other inspired prophets who
wrote the Psalms did not regard heavy doctrine and complexity of meaning as impediments to
biblical worship. That is because biblical praise does not attempt to bypass the intellect in favor
of an ecstatic experience. Our faith in Jesus Christ is strengthened by learning and understanding
biblical doctrine, not by experiencing an emotional phenomenon devoid of cognitive input. There
is certainly nothing wrong with experiencing emotions. The Psalms, far better than any
uninspired hymnal, reflect the full range of human emotions from the deepest despair to the
heights of joy and bliss. However, our emotions are to be founded upon biblical truth. The HolySpirit uses God’s word to convict and sanctify, not to stir some mystical emotional experience.
Remember that the “celebrative” worship paradigm is an outgrowth of the Charismaticmovement. Philosophically, it is rooted in an irrational type of Christian existentialism. What
Charismatic churches often do is whip the people into an emotional frenzy by means of exciting
music, visual-sensual programs, cheerleaders called “worship leaders” (whose primary functionis to encourage the people to get more emotional and worked up), highly repetitive worshipchoruses, etc. Then when the people are having a wonderful experience they are told: “Now
don’t you just feel the Spirit’s presence? Do you feel the power? This room is on fire!” Thesepoor deluded souls are taught to equate an “empty-headed”, music-driven emotional experiencewith God’s presence. This non-rational, sensual, emotional technique of experiencing (what theythink) is God’s special presence is mysticism. It is any wonder that many Charismatic churches
regard doctrine and solid exegetical preaching as unimportant; that the Charismatic movement isleading many Protestants back to Rome? “Emotion-driven, mystical worship is a delusion,
65 Masters, p. 15.
66 People who argue in favor of repetitive choruses sometimes will point to the Psalms as a justification of short
repetitive phrases in worship song. The truth of the matter is that the Psalter is nothing like modern choruses at all.
Instead of choruses that are repeated over and over, the Psalms contain what is called a refrain. In Psalm 136 at the
end of each verse we find the refrain “For His mercy endures forever.” Unlike modern choruses, the refrain is givenat the end of a new and different thought. Every verse of Psalm 136 is different. Thus the mind is focused inthanksgiving upon God’s attributes and redemptive acts instead of the vain repetition of modern choruses where theexact same thing is repeated over and over like a Hindu mantra.
producing intensely emotional and subjective worshipers for whom personal enjoyment is the
Second, the fact that God introduced the Psalms to a primitive, agricultural, mostly
illiterate society completely disproves the idea that we need to dumb-down worship by usingrepetitive choruses, drama and musical performances. If one applied Frame’s “intelligibility”argument to the Israelites, would not their worship have to be even more simple and lesscomplex than that of today’s computer programmers, engineers, pilots, computer scientists and
so forth? After all, the vast majority of Israelites were simple peasant farmers and herdsmen. Yet
God gave them the complex, highly theological, lengthy, intellectually challenging book of
Psalms. God did not expect the Israelites to put their minds on hold while they closed their eyes
and repeated the same words over and over and over again like a stoned hippie or Hindu mystic.
Biblical worship requires attentiveness of mind. It requires thinking, understanding and focus.
Certainly a philosophy of worship that (if consistently applied) would require God’s people to setaside the perfect, sufficient, inspired book of Psalms cannot be true.68
Third, the “contemporaneity” argument is also disproved by the regulative principle. Didthe Jews in the Old covenant era go to the Canaanites, Philistines, Egyptians, or Assyrians in
order to make sure that their worship was culturally relevant? Did the New Covenant churchseek out “contemporaneity” with Greek or Roman culture? No. They were to do only as God
commanded precisely, i.e., to avoid syncretism with the pagan culture. “Take heed to yourselfthat you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you
67 Ibid., p. 14.
68 A common charge against Puritan or truly Reformed worship by high church liturgists and Charismatic style
celebratists is that Puritans view worship as a purely mental activity or a purely intellectual exercise. They argue that
Puritans neglect the whole man (body and soul) in worship. That what we need is a “ceremonious view” of worship.Then it is often argued that the holistic view entails gestures, dance, ceremony, and ritual, with the Eucharist, not the
sermon, being the centerpiece of Christian worship. We are told that there must be act as well as thought. Another
charge that is brought in is that Puritan worship is really a result of Greek philosophy and not a careful exegesis of
Scripture. Are these charges accurate? No. They consist of a straw man caricature of Reformed worship and blatant
misrepresentations. Do Puritans view worship as a purely intellectual, mental affair? No. That accusation simply isnot true. For example, the Puritans believe and practice the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper wherespecific acts and elements are signs and seals of spiritual realities. In the Lord’s supper (for example) all the sensesare in operation. There is the hearing of the word, the tasting and touching of the bread and wine. There is the visual-
sensual experience of looking at the elements. The issue between strict regulativists and high church liturgists is not
purely mental vs. whole man worship. The real issues are: (a) the Puritans want to limit worship to only what is
authorized by Scripture while the liturgists want human additions (e.g., pageantry and ritual); and (b) regulativistsunderstand the centrality of the preached word. It is not that Puritans set aside emotion and the “whole man.”Following Paul and others they recognize that proper emotion and visible ordinances must be based on faith and
understanding. Otherwise one is left with empty ritualism and mysticism. Paul says that prayer or singing without
understanding is useless and does not lead to edification (cf. 1 Cor. 14:12-19). The apostle presupposes that for
sanctification to occur there first must be comprehension by the mind.
What about the common accusation that the Puritans have followed Greek philosophy in their conception
of worship? Anyone who is familiar with the writings of John Calvin, John Knox, John Owen, George Gillespie,
Samuel Rutherford and others know that such an accusation is totally false. These men derived their philosophy of
worship directly from a careful exegesis of Scripture. Note also that the accusers always make their assertions with
zero evidence. It is ironic that a strict application of the regulative principle is the only philosophy that disallows the
intrusion of human philosophy into the sphere of worship. We ask our brothers who are dissatisfied with the
simplicity of pure gospel worship (or what they denigrate as minimalistic worship) to show us based on the real
exegesis of Scripture (without creative application and LSD hermeneutics) where Calvin, Knox and the Westminster
divines went wrong. We will not be dissuaded by smoke and mirrors.
do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do
likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the
LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters
in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to itnor take away from it” (Dt. 12:30-32). Although Americans today are not sacrificing their
children to Molech, many do serve at the altar of hedonism. Our culture does not look to the
prophets of Baal but to sports, Hollywood and Las Vegas. This self-centered, entertainment
oriented, hedonistic attitude has thoroughly penetrated many modern Evangelical churches.
Modern celebrative music is not a better more biblical way to worship God. It is a syncretistic
worship. It is a mixture of the elements of worship with the American hedonistic worldview.Frame’s rejection of the Puritan/Presbyterian/confessional understanding of the regulativeprinciple and his alternative of “creative application” has one major objective: the justification ofmodern syncretistic worship.69
One of the most important debates that is presently occurring between “conservative”Presbyterians is over the issue of the regulative principle and its application to worship. This
theological battle is crucial, for its outcome will greatly affect the future course of
Presbyterianism. The main battle that is taking place is not between status quo traditionalists and
charismatic style celebratists but between strict confessionalists (i.e., those who still hold to a
strict, consistently applied, historical understanding of the regulative principle) and all those who
have rejected or reinterpreted the regulative principle in a non-confessional manner. Frame is
without question one of the chief apologists for those who have rejected the confessional position
and have charted a new course consistent with what is popular among non-regulativist, Arminian
Evangelicals. Although in our day we see a renewed interest in biblical worship (e.g., a cappellaPsalm singing) it appears that at present the main trend in worship in “conservative” Presbyterian
denominations is toward the new “celebrative” worship advocated by Dr. Frame. This trend is tobe expected. When denominations depart in practice from the regulative principle with
uninspired hymns, musical instruments and extra-biblical holy days, the trend usually is toward
consistency. In other words a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
The purpose of the review is to warn everyone who considers himself to be Reformed or
Presbyterian that Frame is waging war against biblical worship and the Westminster Standards.
Frame is subversive; he is using deception, ambiguity and deceit to persuade others to embracehuman autonomy in worship. Note, that Frame’s subversion is deliberate and well-planned.
69 People who are in favor of “celebrative” worship sometimes portray strict regulativists as theological snobs,unloving or even as influenced by neo-platonism or nominalism. The truth of the matter is that strict regulativists
simply want to preserve biblical (i.e., Reformed) worship from worship that is idolatrous, Pelagian and Arminian.
When people ignore or set aside what God has commanded in favor of autonomy in worship, they are implicitlysaying that God can be approached in worship on man’s terms. That man through his own creativity, effort, andmystical experience can lift himself up to God. Such thinking is the essence of paganism and Romanism. The Bible,
however, teaches that God alone initiates mediation and sets forth the worship between Himself and His people.
Jehovah sets the rules and controls worship. It is the height of arrogance for sinful men to approach God in worship
on their own terms. Such men may be friendly and sound very pious, humble and loving. But their doctrine and
actions reveal them to be (at least in the area of worship) false teachers and prophets of declension.
Frame is not a novice. He is not a theological amateur who has simply made some mistakes
because of immaturity and a lack of knowledge. He has taught theology and apologetics at the
seminary level for over 27 years. He knows full well that what he has proposed in his book is a
radical departure from the Westminster Standards. Therefore, he is an ordained minister and
seminary professor who holds to the Confession of Faith with crossed fingers. Frame and others
who have taken ordination vows to uphold the Westminster Standards, yet who now reject the
teaching of the Standards have three choices: (1) They can be honest and consistent and resign
from their position as pastor, seminary professor or ruling elder and join themselves to a
denomination that is Calvinistic in soteriology yet which openly and confessionally rejects
Reformed worship (i.e., the regulative principle); (2) they can be dishonest, redefine the
regulative principle in an anti-confessional manner and work to subvert a major Presbyterian
distinctive and corrupt others; or (3) they can repent, obey their ordination vows and return to the
biblical worship of their spiritual forefathers.
Frame’s subversion of the Westminster Standards, the endorsement of Frame’s book byprofessors from four separate “conservative” Reformed seminaries, and the publication of
Frame’s book by a purported “Presbyterian and Reformed” publisher reveal two things about thetime in which we live. First, we live in a time of great declension. Most of what passes as
conservative Presbyterian practice today in the area of worship is really much closer to Arminian
Evangelicalism and prelacy than the original intent of the Confession of Faith. Indeed, it is
doubtful that someone such as John Knox, George Gillespie or Samuel Rutherford could get ateaching job at any of the “conservative” Presbyterian seminaries today; and, it is virtuallycertain that not one major Presbyterian publisher would publish any of their writings on worship.Why? Because the “conservative” Presbyterian seminaries and major Reformed publishers and
most people in Presbyterian denominations do not really believe in confessional worship. “Awonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophecy falsely, and the
priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:30-31).
Second, we live in a time when confessional subscription is very lax; when ministers and
elders can repudiate and break their ordination vows with virtually no disciplinary consequences.
This situation raises some important questions. (1) If a man openly breaks his ordination vows
and publicly teaches an unbiblical doctrine of worship, can the denomination and seminary
which refuses to discipline such a man really claim to be Reformed? Are they not by their refusalto enforce their own standards accomplices in that man’s deception and corrosive false teaching?
Is not their inaction an implicit acceptance of heterodox views? “If Presbyterians took their creedseriously, Mr. Frame would be removed from both the seminary and the pastorate, and notallowed to teach.”70 (2) Further, is not a refusal to bring sanctions against such blatant violations
of our standards also an unpastoral refusal to protect church members from false teachers? Is it
not an implicit rejection of one of the main purposes of adopting a biblical, carefully-craftedcreed? Gary North’s analysis of the Presbyterian conflict in the P.C.U.S.A. (c. 1880-1936)
applies to our own time of loose subscriptionism and non-disciplined covenant breakers. He
The age-old debate between a strict interpretation of a standard and loose interpretation
was a big part of the Presbyterian conflict. To understand what was involved, consider a speedlimit sign. It says “35” (either miles per hour or kilometers per hour). What if a man drives 36?Will he be ticketed by a policeman? Probably not. The policeman has limited amounts of time to
pursue speeders. He has to chase the speeder, ticket him, and perhaps appear in court to defend
70 Kevin Reed, “Presbyterian Worship” in Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God, pp. 143-144.
his actions. In a world of limited resources, a person who speeds by driving 36 in a 35 zone is
probably going to get away with it; the safety of the public is dependent on stopping activities of
those other, life-threatening speeders. Only if the community is willing to hire many, many
policeman and judges can it afford to ticket speeders who drive 36.
Now consider someone who drives 55 in a “25” speed zone for young school-age
children. Will a policeman pursue him? Without question. The speeder is putting children at risk.
That speeder is a serious lawbreaker. To refuse to pursue him, a policeman would be abandoning
the very essence of law enforcement. His own job would probably be at risk for malfeasance. A
city that will not bring employment sanctions against a traffic policeman who steadfastly refusesto pursue such speeders is saying, in effect: “Our posted signs mean nothing. Drive as fast as youwant, day or night.” In other words, “Young children had better look out for themselves; we will
not do it for them.” Strict subscription, like speed limits, is designed to protect the vulnerable
person who is under the protection of the law. As surely as a seven-year-old child walking to
school is protected by a speed limit sign and a court system prepared to enforce it, so is a
resident in a country protected by the strict interpretation of a written civil constitution and a
court system prepared to enforce it and so is a Church member protected by strict subscription to
a confession of faith and a court system prepared to enforce it.
Two conclusions follow: (1) law without sanctions protects no one; (2) law interpreted by
loose construction protects no one predictably. This is true in ecclesiastical matters as it is in
highway safety matters. The child is under the protection of the law, the posted limit, the police,
and the court, even though he did not publicly swear an oath of allegiance to obey the law. The
speed limit sign is for his protection: the person at greatest risk from speeders. When he becomes
a driver, he will be expected to obey the law.
In the Bible, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger are identified as the most vulnerablepeople in the community. The civil law is supposed to protect them. The minor or resident alientoday is protected by the national constitution, even though he did not publicly swear an oath ofallegiance to it, as the person most at risk of government tyranny.
The visitor or the non-voting Church member is protected by the confession of faith, even though
he did not publicly swear allegiance to it. It protects his soul from wolves in sheep’s clothing:false shepherds. He will be expected to take public oath to uphold the confession if he ever
becomes a church officer.71
Furthermore, what is the point of official adherence to a creed and requiring ordination
vows to believe in and uphold the teaching of that creed, when ordained men who have swornallegiance to that creed can openly deny and subvert some of its most important teachings? “The
whole purpose of a creed is to ‘lock-in’ a particular theological viewpoint, to stand against theeroding tides of shifting fashion. Consequently, a creed must be understood in terms of itsoriginal intent or else it fails of its purpose....”72 Men are free to disagree with the original intent
of the Westminster Standards. However, if they have sworn allegiance to the Standards they have
a moral obligation to make their disagreements known, resign from their position as pastor,
elder, teacher or deacon and move on. Likewise, denominations and seminaries who claim
allegiance to the Standards yet which teach contrary to the Standards and refuse to discipline
men for teaching contrary to the Standards have a moral obligation to (at the minimum) make
71 Gary North, Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church (Tyler, TX: Institute forChristian Economics, 1996), pp. 10-11.
72 Ken Gentry, Jr., “In the Space of Six Days: On Breaking the Confession with the Rod of Irons” in Chalcedon
Report (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon, April, 2000), p. 17.
changes in the Standards so that they are in accord with what is actually being taught and
practiced. Ordained men, seminaries and denominations which pretend to adhere to the
Standards when they really do not, are guilty of violating the ninth commandment. They are
guilty of false advertising. What is occurring today is fraud on a massive scale. How can
declension be stopped when the original intent of the Westminster Standards is ignored or set
aside to accommodate heterodox views on worship and creation, women in office, etc.? Gentry
writes, “[W]hen we witness the attempt at re-interpreting the clear language before us, deep and
serious concerns boil up. Where will this methodology lead? What elements within the
Confession are safe from the re-interpretive hermeneutic? And for how long are they safe oncethis interpretive approach is unleashed?”73
Lastly, if crucial sections of the Westminster Standards are ignored or completely
redefined in a manner that contradicts the plain historical meaning of the Standards, will this not
eventually lead to a shift in authority from the original intent of the Standards to an unwritten,
historically relative, arbitrary standard? Yes, it certainly will. Every organization is going to have
some sanctions. So it is never a question (in the long run) of sanctions versus no sanctions. What
happens over a period of time is the anti-confessional non-historical interpretation of the
confession becomes the status-quo. Soon, discreet sanctions are used against strict
confessionalists (e.g., they are refused pulpits, teaching jobs, committee assignments and are
shunned and have evil motives assigned to their theological positions [e.g., so and so only cares
about theology not people; or, he is unloving; or, he is divisive; or, he is unconcerned about
church growth, etc.]). Next, over a period of time strict confessionalists are even openly
admonished and disciplined. Note, when negative sanctions are not imposed upon church
officers who have abandoned the Westminster Standards then a time will come when sanctionsare “imposed in terms of a standard other than the Westminster Confession of Faith and its two
catechisms.”74 Apart from a strict adherence to the Westminster Standards the institutional
question will be: By What Other Standard?75 The time will come when those who adhere to the
biblical worship of the confession will be marginalized and then driven out. For those who
believe this scenario is far-fetched, keep in mind that this pattern has been repeated throughout
It is our hope and prayer that Frame (along with those who take the name Presbyterian
and claim adherence to the Westminster Standards, yet who attack the regulative principle [i.e.,
Reformed worship] and promote innovations in the worship of God) would cease his attacks
upon biblical worship and publicly repent of lying, breaking his vows, taking part in perverted
worship, and causing others to corrupt the worship of God.
Copyright 2000 © Brian Schwertley, Lansing, MI