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.” Nadab and Abihu did not use the right kind of fire. They were doing a forbidden act.
Agreed that the Bible regulates our worship. We have the premise:
- We may only perform what Scripture commands.
We must add another premise:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.