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.
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).
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.
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.