There Is No Worship That Is Accidental

20. That is a most empty distinction which some people make to excuse their additions to worship: “Only corrupting and not conserving additions are forbidden.” For every addition as well as every subtraction is a departure from the observance and keeping of the commandments of God, and a corruption of them, Deut. 12:32.

21. Of the same nature is the evasion which is made when it is said that only the addition of essentials is forbidden, not accidentals. Although there are some “accidents” or adjuncts in worship, there is no worship which may simply be called accidental, because all worship has in it its own essence. Furthermore, as the least commandments of God even to jots and tittles are to be observed religiously, Matt: 18, 19, so additions that seem very small are for the same reason rejected. Last, Moses seals even those laws of place and manner of divine worship, of abstinence from blood, and the like (which are certainly accidentally to worship), with the caution not to add or take away from them, Deut. 12:32.

22. This worship is called obedience for a special reason, because in it we do that which seems right in the eyes of the Lord, although something else might seem more right in our own eyes, Deut. 12:35, 28.

23. Opposed to instituted worship is will-worship which is devised by men and is unlawful, Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:23.

24. The sin committed in will-worship is generally called superstition.

25. Superstition occurs when improper worship is given to God.

26. In superstition God is always the object and in some way the end, but the worship itself is unlawful.

—William Ames, The Marrow of Theology 2.13.20–26,

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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5 comments

  1. Ames was more widely read in the early colonial life than Calvin, if I remember correctly. Shows you how things have changed, in that the above quotes seem foreign to the modern day evangelical.

    • Jack,

      Ames pushes us to think more consistently about our understanding and application of our principle of worship. He did and was rewarded by being chased out of England and by being denied employment in the Netherlands by his Anglican opponents. His convictions were not convenient. I was particularly intrigued by his quotation of his Anglican opponents because this is a sentiment that I heard heard in the mouths of confessional Reformed folk. I had not noticed that before.

  2. And let’s all make sure that we never attend or participate in any worship, at any time and in any place that, according to our convictions, is mixed with anything that is not Biblical. If we’re going to bite off all of Ames, we’d better be prepared to swallow the whole thing. No room for partial reformation there, that can see.

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