Sunday, October 26, 2008

The WCF Into the 21st Century:

But Not Without Confusion on the Regulative Principle of Worship, Psalmody and Musical Accompaniment.
(From a Dec. 2005 review revised, corrected and updated through 2/1/09)

A Long Overdue Review in Part 
of:
The Westminster Confession of Faith in the 21st Century, Essays in Remembrance of the 350th Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly,
Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, (Vol. 1, 2003, 443 pages), Vol. 2, 2004, 540 pages.

This symposium on the Westminster Confession of Faith flows from the 350th anniversary of the 1643 Assembly at Westminster Abbey. While the actual lectures given at that commemoration in 1994 are perhaps better known (See To Enjoy and Glorify God, BoT, 1994), the introduction to the WCF in the 21st Century (WCF21) tells us that the purpose of the essays enclosed is to inform, challenge, evaluate and commend the Assembly and its theology to today’s church (p.x), a most (note) worthy goal. While not outstanding, on the whole the two volumes are worthwhile. Particularly in the second volume, the focus of this review, Ryken on the pastoral ministry of Oliver Bowles, the oldest member of the Assembly and J.L. Duncan, the series editor, on the consensus between Calvin and the Westminster Assembly regarding the Lord’s Supper are good efforts. (Unfortunately the proposed translation of Bowles’ Puritan classic on the pastoral ministry, A Treatise on the Evangelical Pastor is on hold.)

Drs. Kelly and Needham
That said, the essays by Drs. Kelly and Needham on the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) - the good and necessary consequences of the Second Commandment as confessed in the reformed catechisms and creeds - and its application to the singing of psalms and musical instruments in worship, fall short of the mark and leave much to be desired, if not that their shortcomings should corrected in the planned third volume. Of the two, Needham’s is by far the longest, if not the centerpiece of all the essays in WCF21 at 116 pages with the next closest in length being Fesko’s 50 pages on Calvin, the Confession and supra/infralapsarianism, while Kelly's at 36 pages is seventh of fourteen articles and about average in length.

General Error and Negligence
Whatever their respective lengths though, the general error of Kelly and Needham is a twofold negligence of the primary sources and the secondary literature.