Perkins: Rome Is An Old Testament Religion

It is further to be observed that Paul says the fathers of the Old Testament “were in bondage under the law,” after the manner of servants, specially by reason of rites and ceremonies. And hence it follows that the observation of a religion in which are manifold bodily rites and figures is a kind of bondage and pertains to the church for the time of her infancy or minority. Let this be remembered against the Romish religion. For it is like to that of the Jews in the Old Testament, standing for the greatest part in bodily rites, in differences of meats and drinks, in differences of times, places, garments, in exercises and afflictions of the body, in local succession, in the collation of grace by the work done, and such like. This is manifest to them which know the Mass, which indeed is nothing but a mass of ceremonies. Therefore the Roman religion is a childish and babyish religion. And if it were of God, yet is it not fit for the church of the New Testament that is come forth of her minority. Religion that stands in the afflicting of the body is but a shadow and an appearance of humility (Col. 2:23). And “the true worshipers of God” in the New Testament “worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

William Perkins | The Works of William Perkins, ed. Paul M. Smalley, Joel R. Beeke, and Derek W. H. Thomas, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 245.


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  • Tony Phelps
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    Tony grew up in Rhode Island. He was educated at BA (University of Rhode Island) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He worked in the insurance industry for ten years. He planted a PCA church in Wakefield, RI where he served for eleven years. In 2015–18 he pastored Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Colorado Springs. He is currently pastor of Living Hope (OPC). Tony is married to Donna and together they have three children.

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    • But the notion that “we should do x because it will improve worship” has been a very dangerous idea indeed. Please don’t miss Perkins’ point. The principle of divine worship is not, “wouldn’t be great it….” but “what has God commanded?” “Wouldn’t be great?” is what Paul (and the Reformed) called “will worship,” i.e., doing what we want because we think it would be good or that God will approve etc. That is exactly how the church came to have not two sacraments but 7. It’s how we came to reintroduce instruments into Christian worship. It’s what Uzzah thought in 2 Sam 6:6 but God thought differently.

      See Resources On The Rule Of Worship

      • True that. But…..for instance, sipping on a coffee during worship does not improve the experience, but kneeling during prayer perhaps does.

        • But it’s not up to us to devise ways to improve the experience. That is how we lose biblical worship. Neither is worship a free-for-all, where everyone does what seems good to him self.

          • But are we talking about elements or circumstances? We see people kneeling/standing/sitting during prayer in Scripture. So if it was decided for them to sit or kneel that could be a helpful tool for the congregation that is not in itself wrong and can help benefit the congregation.

            Two churches could both “perfectly” fulfill the RPW but still be fairly different on surface level things.

            God bless!

            • Daniel,

              Let’s define our terms:

              1) elements are those things without which there is no worship, namely, Word (incl. sacrament) and prayer
              2) circumstances are those things necessary by nature, most essentially time and place. Is posture a circumstance? I have sometimes said so but classifying it as such is not without difficulties. 10AM v 11AM carries no religious significance but bowing to the elements or to the Bible as it is processed it or kneeling to receive communion does, can, or has. We should proceed carefully here. To be sure circumstances aren’t, as many think, whatever we want them to be.

          • Again, this is true, but there are some aspects of “ceremonial worship“ that perhaps shouldn’t have been thrown out with the bathwater. And kneeling in prayer is a very biblical command. I’ve been talking to our pastor about this, and he acknowledged that the reformation fathers were exceedingly careful when it came to ceremonial liturgy just so that they could completely remove themselves from Rome.

            • Perhaps by “ceremonial” you mean liturgical? Ceremonial is a loaded word. The Reformed did conduct what today is called liturgical worship. The ministers wore robes to signify their office. There was a structure to the service (a liturgy). Most Reformed worship of the period followed a dialogical pattern in which God was said to speak to us through his Word (preached, read, made visible in the sacraments) and the people responded with his Word (usually from the Psalms or from another portion of Scripture).

              Depictions of 16th-century worship show the people standing for the whole service in Geneva.

              Kneeling was frowned upon because it was associated with participation in the mass and veneration of the elements of the Supper.

              So, please don’t hear me arguing against structured, liturgical worship.


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