Ursinus On Circumstances And Worship

Thirdly, there are ecclesiastical or ceremonial ordinances, prescribed by men, which include the determinations of circumstances necessary or useful for the maintenance of the moral precepts of the first table; of which kind are the time, the place, the form and order of sermons, prayers, reading in the church, fasts, the manner of proceeding in the election of ministers, in collecting and distributing alms, and things of a similar nature, concerning which God has given no particular command. That which is general in regard to these laws is moral, as in the case of civil enactments, if they are only correctly and profitably made, and is, therefore, the worship of God. But, as to the ceremonies themselves which are here prescribed, they neither constitute the worship of God, nor bind men’s consciences, nor is the observance of them necessary, except when a neglect of them would be the occasion of offense. So it is not the worship of God, but a thing indifferent, and not binding upon men’s consciences, to use this, or that form of prayer, to pray at this, or at that time, at this, or at that hour, in this, or in that place, standing or kneeling, to read and explain this or that text of Scripture in the church, to eat or not to eat flesh etc. Nor does this power and authority to establish, abolish, or change these ordinances, belong merely to the church, as she may think it best for her edification; but the consciences of particular individuals also retain this liberty, so that they may either omit or do these things differently, without offending God, if no one take offence at it; that is, if they do it, neither from contempt or neglect of the ministry, nor from wantonness, or ambition, nor with a desire of contention or novelty, nor with an intention of offending the weak. And the reason is, that laws are observed properly, when they are observed according to the intention and design of the lawgiver. The church, however, ought to see to it that such ordinances as are established concerning things which are in different, be observed not out of regard to her authority, or command, but only for the sake of observing order, and avoiding offence. As long, therefore, as the order of the church is not violated, and offence is not given, the conscience of every one ought to be left free: for it is sometimes necessary, not on account of the command of the church, or of the ministry, but for just causes to do, or to omit things which are indifferent. We may here quote the language of Paul as in point; “If any of them that believe not, bid you to a feast, and you be disposed to go, whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question, for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, ‘This is offered in sacrifice unto idols,’ eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake; for the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; conscience, I say, not your own, but the other; for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience. For if I by grace, be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?” (1 Cor. 10:28–31. See also Acts 15 and 1 Cor. 11)

—Zacharias Ursinus on Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 96.

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