The Regulative Principle of Worship: Explained and Applied | Daniel F. N. Ritchie

Daniel F.N. Ritchie. The Regulative Principle of Worship: Explained and Applied. U.S.A.: Xulon Press, 2007. 351 pp. $20.99.

Daniel Ritchie’s book The Regulative Principle of Worship: Explained and Applied is an attempt to introduce readers to what the Regulative Principle is, why it is important, and how it is applied to various key aspects of Christian worship. Ritchie is a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland and, at least at that time of publication, was studying for a degree in History and Politics at the Queen’s University of Belfast. Ritchie seems to have been an undergraduate student at the time of the authorship of this book, and while he has some good things to say and some good arguments made, the book as a whole reflects his lack of training and maturity as a writer.

Summary

The author’s main argument is that the Regulative Principle in worship is a clear doctrine taught by God’s word (p. 63). As a Biblical doctrine, therefore, Ritchie argues that the principle must be obeyed and applied rigorously to all aspects of Christian worship. Ritchie takes the reader step-by-step, beginning in Chapter 2 with the key task of laying out the Biblical foundation for the Regulative Principle. Ritchie uses several Scriptural passages from both the Old and New Testaments to make his case (pp. 27-62).          With a Scriptural foundation for the Principle established, Ritchie then seeks to build upon that foundation. He first attempts to answer several of the main objections to the Regulative Principle, addressing them each in turn in Chapter 3 and reaching the conclusion in each case that the Regulative Principle stands firm. Ritchie follows that discussion with a chapter devoted to an explanation of the “Circumstances of Worship” and why the Regulative Principle does not apply to them, addressing such topics as head coverings for women, among others (pp. 90-104).

Ritchie then, in Chapter 5, begins demonstrating how and where the Regulative Principle is to be applied, and the applications of the Regulative Principle, built upon the principle’s Scriptural foundation, continue until the book ends. Ritchie touches on various hot-button topics in worship, ranging from exclusive Psalmody (he argues in favor of using only the Psalms) and instrumental music (he believes that instruments are not to be used) to infant baptism (he supports it).

He concludes with a brief statement concerning his aims with this book; namely, to encourage further study of the subject and help bring the Church back to what God has ordained it to be (p. 341).

Critical Evaluation

The book is a decent introduction to the Regulative Principle, and Ritchie’s greatest success in the book can be found in his ability to locate Scriptural passages that provide a Biblical basis for the Principle. For readers that may be getting their first introduction to the Regulative Principle, the book does a fair job of providing such an introduction.

The book’s format is also a positive, as it follows a logical progression. Ritchie lays the foundation for the Principle in Scripture, answers objections to the Principle itself, and then moves into applications of the Principle. Readers will have an easy time following the flow of Ritchie’s main argument and sub-arguments.

However, where Ritchie falls short is in the arguments themselves. First, he somewhat misunderstands the real idea behind the Regulative Principle, and this affects his arguments throughout the work. The Regulative Principle came about largely as a defense of Christian liberty in the face of un-Biblical worship practices imposed upon people by the church. Ritchie, on the other hand, takes the Principle far beyond that, applying its strictest prohibitions not only to congregational worship but also to private worship (pp. 76-77).

Second, Ritchie is highly inconsistent in his applications of the Principle. While he is extremely strict regarding issues such as instruments in worship and exclusive Psalmody, he later tries to stretch the Regulative Principle as much as possible to make an argument for the retention of infant baptism and baptism by sprinkling/pouring. Alarmingly, Ritchie at times falls upon the Normative Principle to defend his position on these two issues (pp. 272, 282)!

Finally, and most disappointingly, Ritchie’s criticisms of opposing viewpoints frequently devolve into petty insults and hypocrisy. He refers to things such as altar calls and musical instruments as “gimmicks” and equates Fundamentalists to Pharisees (p. 84). He calls the idea that all of life is a form of worship an absurd notion (p. 69). Yet he frequently asks his readers to have an open mind and gentle spirit toward his own tenuous arguments (p. 181)!

Ritchie seems to approach the book with the unstated goal of stumping for the beliefs of the Westminster Confession, which he quotes regularly and nearly religiously, sometimes placing the Confession in a more prominent position in a chapter than Scripture itself (p. 173).

The book is also full of errors, typos, sentence fragments and various other technical problems, though this is largely the fault of whatever editor Ritchie used. The book’s publisher certainly didn’t seem to care, either.

 

Conclusion

This book serves a useful purpose in introducing readers to the Regulative Principle. The format of the book is a positive, and the book is relatively easy to read and follow. However, its many weaknesses will likely lead many teachers to refer to other texts to accomplish the same purpose.

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One comment on “The Regulative Principle of Worship: Explained and Applied | Daniel F. N. Ritchie
  1. Daniel Ritchie says:

    Dear Sir,

    Although it is not my usual policy to respond to hostile reviews, and since this book was written so long ago now I have no reason to be defensive, the tone of this review deserves censure.

    “the book as a whole reflects his lack of training and maturity as a writer.”

    Frankly, this is a shameful ad hominen. It is especially silly in light of the fact that the reviewer accuses me of worshipping the Westminster Confession. However, there is a conspicuous discrepancy between these two arguments: the Westminster Confession was the fruit of some of the maturest theological reflection that there has ever been. Those who are truly mature want to learn from the wisdom of the ages, rather than assume that *their* interpretation of the Bible is the only one worth listening to. I would also remind the reviewer that this book was endorsed by several experienced ministers (one of whom is a Calvinistic Baptist), including one professor of theology at Reformed Theological College, Belfast. Is he so arrogant as to assume that they also suffer from a lack of training and spiritual maturity?

    “First, he somewhat misunderstands the real idea behind the Regulative Principle, and this affects his arguments throughout the work. The Regulative Principle came about largely as a defense of Christian liberty in the face of un-Biblical worship practices imposed upon people by the church. Ritchie, on the other hand, takes the Principle far beyond that, applying its strictest prohibitions not only to congregational worship but also to private worship (pp. 76-77).”

    The author has not proved that there is any contradiction between these two things. Asserting that the second commandment applies in private worship is hardly taking things to radical extremes. If the reviewer wishes to argue that my opinions represent a further development of the regulative principle, then he may have a fair point. However, as it stands his argument is unsubstantiated.

    “Ritchie seems to approach the book with the unstated goal of stumping for the beliefs of the Westminster Confession, which he quotes regularly and nearly religiously, sometimes placing the Confession in a more prominent position in a chapter than Scripture itself (p. 173).”

    Not so, I clearly state that my purpose is to defend biblical worship as set forth in the Westminster Confession. The point of the book is to argue that the Westminster Confession is biblical. To assert that I have an “unstated goal” is a base slander.

    “Alarmingly, Ritchie at times falls upon the Normative Principle to defend his position on these two issues (pp. 272, 282)!”

    No, the author does not understand what the regulative principle as understood by the Reformed tradition entails. I realise that Baptists have a different understanding of the regulative principle, but the above description of my views is a total inaccuracy. And it is factually incorrect to assert that I argue on the basis of the normative principle – I do no such thing.

    “Finally, and most disappointingly, Ritchie’s criticisms of opposing viewpoints frequently devolve into petty insults and hypocrisy. He refers to things such as altar calls and musical instruments as “gimmicks” and equates Fundamentalists to Pharisees (p. 84). He calls the idea that all of life is a form of worship an absurd notion (p. 69). Yet he frequently asks his readers to have an open mind and gentle spirit toward his own tenuous arguments (p. 181)!”

    My comments against self-invented worship are taken completely out of context. I am referring to those who knowingly impose ceremonies on others. Yes, I accuse them of being legalists, but Jesus did the same thing in Matthew 15. Did the reviewer miss the bits were I tried to be as charitable as possible to other adherents of the regulative principle who differ on some applications? Moreover, the reviewer calls my arguments “tenuous” and hypocritical without providing one shred of evidence that they are. Is this scholarship? Is this Christian reviewing by one who boasts of such great training and maturity?

    “The book is also full of errors, typos, sentence fragments and various other technical problems, though this is largely the fault of whatever editor Ritchie used. The book’s publisher certainly didn’t seem to care, either.”

    I accept this criticism and it does reflect a lack of experience in publishing. However, the assumption that people did not care is an uncharitable violation of the ninth commandment.

    Seriously, if the reviewer is as mature as he thinks himself to be, why did he not send me a copy of this review first? If you are going to write a serious academic review, especially one that is as uncharitable as this, it is a good idea to run it past the author first – if only to save yourself from public embarrassment and to make sure that you have not got the wrong end of the stick.

    While I wish the reviewer and the publisher of the review no personal ill-will, this review is deeply sinful and slanderous. I can assure them, however, that if they seek my forgiveness they will receive it.

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