Joel emailed me the link to this article about a month ago, and I used it as I was studying to write my post “Religious Movies and Regulative Principle.” To give you an idea of John Frame’s idea of the “Regulative Principle,” he allows for liturgical dance and skits. Darryl Hart is a Presbyterian. You can find the entire debate (a lengthy read) here.
“But it also reflects evangelical anti-formalism. Ever since the advent of revivals, evangelicals have been telling us that it doesn’t matter what form the gospel takes. As long as it brings people to Christ we may do it. Thus Whitefield itinerated sometimes against the desires of local clergy, Finney gave us the new measures, all the way down to Billy Graham who now instead of featuring solos from George Beverly Shea has Christian Hip-Hop bands function as his warm up acts. In a certain way this is pragmatism, which I believe is evident in contemporary worship since so much of it is designed to make the gospel accessible to the unchurched. But in another way it is a kind of Donatism which tests everything on the basis of its conversionistic capacities. If you do it they will convert.
But I would argue that forms matter. One form upon which practically all conservative Presbyterians agree is that of human anatomy. We don’t ordain women, even though the message of female preachers may be just as good as the preaching of a man, because the Bible prescribes a physical form for ordination. In worship I would also argue that the Bible prescribes the forms of prayer, the word read and preached, song, and the sacraments. These are the forms Christians are to use in worship. Frame says the Standards do not prescribe a liturgy. I would submit that he is wrong. These are the elements prescribed by chapter 21 of the [Westminster] Confession. Granted, how we order them is left to the discretion of the session. But these forms do matter. These are the only ones we may use. No juggling EVER, no dance, no drama (except the drama of assembling in God’s presence). And this is what the RPW is designed to protect. Churches may only bind the consciences of individuals by using these elements. The Bible may not forbid elements other than those in the Standards. But unless there is a clear biblical warrant we are illegally binding or wounding the consciences of worshipers by doing things other than prayer, the word, song, and sacrament.”