Worship in Spirit and Truth (Frame)

Frame does a decent job defining the RPW, and he is aware of the element/circumstance distinction, but he asks a number of tough questions:

What are these “circumstances” (WCF 21.1)?  The Confession doesn’t say, except to note “light of nature.”  I’m open to general revelation, and I would agree with the WCF on this point, but general revelation by its very definition resists specificity.

  • Saying “circumstances” are secular elements (also common to ordinary life–time, place) isn’t quite accurate.  Frame notes, “There seem to be some matters in worship which are ‘not common to human actions and societies,” concerning which we must use our judgment (Frame 41; e.g., what precise words to use in our prayers).  Prayer is not “common to society,” yet aside from repeating the psalms as prayers (and one could do far worse), it appears that we will have to use our own judgment.  Frame scores points here.
  • Frame suggests we use “application” instead of “circumstance” (41).  This avoids the Aristotelianism of earlier language.  Can one use the language without adopting the concepts?  Probably, but it’s hard and eventually something must change.
  • Regarding Nadab and Abihu, Frame is correct to point out that this verse does not teach “What is not commanded is forbidden,” but “what is explicitly forbidden is forbidden.”  It is not simply that Nadab and Abihu did not use the right kind of fire.  They were doing a forbidden act.  

Elements

Agreed that the Bible regulates our worship.  We have the premise:

(1) We may only perform what Scripture commands.

We must add another premise:

(2) In the end God only reveals broad generalities (52).

Frame develops (2):  Where does Scripture bifurcate worship into elements and circumstances?   Scripture (a) nowhere divides worship into independent elements and (b) then brings them together.  Which activity is elemental in character and which is simply an application of carrying out certain elements (53).  

(3) For example, per the above view, the Scripture prescribes singing psalms, whose content is identified.  Scripture also prescribes public prayer and preaching, whose content is not really identified.

(4) The things we do in worship are not always easily separated into elements and circumstances.  Singing and teaching are not always distinct.  When we sing a hymn, we teach other people (Col. 3:16).

In pp. 56-60 Frame gives his own list of a worship service, which is basically what you will find in any sane Reformed, non-covenanter service.

Celebrating Holidays

What do we mean by the word “celebrate?”

Exclusive Psalmody

Frame gives a number of powerful arguments against exclusive psalmody.

  • EP works if one can prove that “song” is an element of worship, and not a circumstance.  Frame, however, has shown that this distinction breaks down.  Further, we teach by songs (Colossians 3:16), yet few would deny the so-called elemental nature of singing.
  • Scripture never says the Psalter is the “divine hymnbook.”  In fact, such a view would militate against Scripture.  There were worship songs before the Psalter (Ex. 15; Num. 27; Dt. 32; Judgs 5).  After the Psalter, did God then forbid the use of these songs?
  • God often calls for “a new song,” even in the Psalms themselves! (Pss. 33:3; 40:3; 144:9; 149).  In fact, his people are supposed to respond to his mighty works with new songs and praise.
  • The last criticism is practical:  how seriously can we take the EP claim when the only way it works is to severely “work over” the psalms into metrical and versified form?  

Instruments

The no-instruments Presbyterians say that instruments were tied to the temple worship and were abolished in the death of Christ.   Frame responds:

  • Instruments were not always tied to Temple worship (see Miriam and David in the Tabernacle).  Later, they were, and one could argue for progressive revelation, but the point is that they did not always have a Temple-only function (nor did God say that).
  • Further, we do actions today that were part of Temple worship:  we pray in worship; we take oaths in worship; and we teach God’s word.
  • We don’t really see Music in the OT as being set forth to typify the work of Christ.
  • True, we don’t see music in the synagogues, but we don’t know why so we can’t give a firm reason why not.
  • How can one claim to be no-instruments yet still rely on a pitch pipe?

What about the body?

I can go with frame that dancing, clapping, etc is biblical.  But there are also other biblical premises:  don’t distract others.  Let it be done decently and in good order (the OPC theme verse).  Charismatics routinely fail on these two points.

Criticisms

Frame doesn’t seem give weight to a particular sequential format of worship.  To be fair, Scripture is not explicit on this point, but if there are biblical patterns of God’s redemption, should not our worship incorporate that?  

On another point, I understand his concerns about needing to express God’s truth in contemporary language, but it’s really hard to separate the medium from the message on this point.  Frame acknowledges the point concerning “thrash metal” music in the service (141).  Some forms of entertainment are so thoroughly identified with the most degenerate elements of culture that it is not wise to import them.  

And Frame is very aware that worship is “not to cater to unbelievers” (146).  Being a Christian has a grammar and a way of living.  Yes, it should be intelligible to others–and this is my main criticism of Greek Orthodox in America–but the Christian life is also one of growth and maturity

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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, church and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Worship in Spirit and Truth (Frame)

  1. Cal says:

    I would think this kind of reply by Frame reveals the dysfunctional nature of the RPW. I’m not sure it’s tenable except as an ideological club to beat people you think are stepping out of line. It is a denial of wisdom for a set of dividing lines. Wisdom would tell you a really loud rock-band is an attack upon the ability of worshipers to actually corporately worship.

    The RPW does more to muddy the waters than help.

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    • JB Aitken says:

      There is a sense in which the RPW is helpful. It does safeguard liberty of conscience and protects me from other people’s “Good” ideas. But if you press it too hard it just doesn’t work.

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  2. I have not read this book, but I found your review very insightful. Good work.

    I knew a British Calvinist who was into Exclusive Psalmody, then he went to the USA to study at Covenant Theological Seminary and suddenly started advocating contemporary worship. I suspect he had bumped into the works of John Frame. Still, he hasn’t shifted his theology as often as I have mine!

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  3. Evan Kramer says:

    Jacob, I think Frame is wrong here.

    First, his denial of the distinction of circumstance and element is an outright objection. His changing the word circumstance to application doesn’t help either. At that point Frame is just outright rejecting RPW and should be frank rather than trying to gerrymander around his lack of confessionalism.

    Second, Lev 10:1 says, “which He had not commanded them.” It was wrong because it was not commanded.

    Next, song is an element of worship because God has commanded it (Col 3:16, Eph 5:19). Song isn’t to me an optional part of worship; God speaks to his people and they respond with his word. I don’t care if it’s chanting or metrical. I actually love chanting myself.

    I’d agree with you that the Psalter is not the only hymnbook given to us by God. I disagree with the EPers and think that we have the liberty to sing anything from the word of God. Warfield wrote somewhere that when the adjective spiritual (cf. Col 3:16, Eph 5:19) is used it usually meant Spirit-inspired.

    The “new song” argument I don’t think holds water. The same with the psalms that prescribe instrument use in the psalms. Not every part of every psalm is directly applicable to the NT church. What about the imprecatory psalms? Should we go and kill the heathen? No, so choosing these verses as if they go against the EP or at last against exclusive scriptural canticles is arbitrary.

    I won’t cover some of your material on instruments, as I just don’t have enough time right now.

    Ultimately, I think singing only scriptural canticles is about the liberty of the gospel. My conscience ought not be bound by men’s preference in hymns and instrumentation for that matter. Those who reject the RPW have a difficult time combatting much of the contemporary nonsense that goes on today.

    I hope some of my criticisms will be helpful and help iron sharpen iron, as it were.

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    • JB Aitken says:

      ***First, his denial of the distinction of circumstance and element is an outright objection. His changing the word circumstance to application doesn’t help either. At that point Frame is just outright rejecting RPW and should be frank rather than trying to gerrymander around his lack of confessionalism.***

      You are correct. He should be honest about rejecting the RPW. However, I think his denial of the distinction and his use of “application” has force to it.

      ****Next, song is an element of worship because God has commanded it (Col3:16, Eph 5:19). Song isn’t to me an optional part of worship; God speaks to his people and they respond with his word. I don’t care if it’s chanting or metrical. I actually love chanting myself.****

      Yes, God commanded it. But this passage says nothing about a theory of element/circumstance within worship.

      ***The “new song” argument I don’t think holds water. The same with the psalms that prescribe instrument use in the psalms. Not every part of every psalm is directly applicable to the NT church. ***

      To an extent I agree. Frame’s other arguments show that the claim that “this stuff” refers to the temple period doesn’t follow, and that is what I think underlies the objection. If “this stuff” doesn’t apply today, then we need to see an argument from the text saying that.

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      • Evan Kramer says:

        ***You are correct. He should be honest about rejecting the RPW. However, I think his denial of the distinction and his use of “application” has force to it.***

        Perhaps, but this really isn’t anything new; it’s not really an original argument. I guess you’re not claiming that though.

        ***Yes, God commanded it. But this passage says nothing about a theory of element/circumstance within worship.***

        Yeah, I don’t think that’s the point in the passage. As to the distinction between element and circumstance, I think perhaps another way to look at is a distinction between what is essential to worship and what is accidental to worship; that which is essential concerns the actual worship of God; that which is accidental concerns that which is not the actual worship of God. That which concerns the actual worship of God should only be done if God has commanded it. Anything accidental to worship isn’t worship strictly speaking; consequently, the RPW doesn’t apply to it. Applying the RPW to circumstances would be like applying it to any other facet of life.

        As to your last point, I haven’t done enough study to directly answer you; so I’ll just remain silent.

        Also, if you like chanting, I’d highly recommend the Concordia Psalter. I have one and it’s wonderful.

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  4. Evan Kramer says:

    Also, Jacob, now I’m going to say something that I think that you will appreciate it.

    Woe to those who sing more from Getty and Charles Wesley than from King David!

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