On Things Indifferent (Adiaphora)

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:  Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

1 Cor. 10:31-33

“Unto the pure, all things are pure, but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but even their minds and consciences are defiled.”

Titus 1:15



Order of Contents

Articles  8+
Books  6
Latin  4

Liberty in Indifferent Things  1
No Rational Human Actions are Indifferent  3
Command of Authorities does Not Make Indifferent Things Necessary  8+
.      Whether Commands of Authorities about Indifferent Things Necessarily Bind
.            External Actions, though the Conscience be Left Free?  No  2
Adiaphora in Relation to Worship  8+





Erasmus, Desiderius – ‘A Dialogue of Fish-Eating, both Pleasant & Profitable, wherein are many Excellent Points of Divinity Discussed, but Chiefly that of the Right Use of Things Indifferent, Very Necessary for these Times’  40 pp.  in Seven Dialogues Both Pithy & Profitable…  (d. 1536; London, 1606)

Presse, Symon – A Sermon Preached at Eggington in the County of Darby Concerning the Right Use of Things Indifferent…  (Oxford, 1597)  28 pp.  on 1 Cor. 8:10-13

Presse (b. 1558 or 59) was an English minister in Egglington, in Darby, England.



Ursinus, Zacharias – ch. 21, ‘Of Things Indifferent’  in Rules & Axioms of Certain Chief Points of Christianity  in A Collection of Certain Learned Discourses…  (Oxford, 1600), pp. 270-71

Taylor, Thomas – on Titus ch. 1, verse 15, pp. 281-316  in A Commentary upon the Epistle of St. Paul Written to Titus...  ([Cambridge] 1612)

Calderwood, David – 3rd Part, ‘The Pastor & Prelate Compared in their Judgment & Practise about Things Indifferent’  in The Pastor & the Prelate, or Reformation & Conformity shortly compared by the Word of God…  (Holland, 1628)

Ames, William – bk. 3, ch. 18, ‘Of Things Indifferent’  in Conscience with the Power & Cases Thereof  ([Leiden & London] 1639), pp. 88-91

Gillespie, George – A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies...  ([Leiden] 1637),

pt. 2, ch. 1, pp. 9-10

“…nothing which is evil in the use of it [though it be otherwise indifferent] may be done for any good whatsoever.  2. The difference betwixt that which is simply evil, and that which is evil in use and by accident [though it is otherwise indifferent], is in that the one may never be done, the other is unlawful only pro tempore [for the time]: but in this they agree, that both are unlawful; for that which is evil by accident, whiles it is such, is unlawful to be done, no less than that which is in nature evil. (Paraeus on 1 Cor. 10:23)” – p. 10

pt. 4, ‘Against the Indifferency of the Ceremonies’

ch. 1, ‘Of our Opposites’ Pleading for the Indifferency of the Ceremonies’

ch. 2, ‘Of the Nature of Things Indifferent’

ch. 3, ‘Whether There be Anything Indifferent In Actu Exercito [In the Exercised Act]?’  No.

“If it be said that the best man who lives ties not himself to these rules, in the use of every indifferent thing, but oftimes uses or omits a thing of that nature at his own pleasure.

I answer:  In many things we offend all.  And who can understand his errors?  But in the mean time, the rules of the Word limit us so strictly that we may never use a thing in its own nature indifferent at our arbitrament and pleasure, and that the use of it is never lawful to us except it be done piously for God’s glory, profitably for man’s edification and purely with full assurance that that which we do is approved of God.” – p. 16

ch. 4, ‘Of the Rule by which we are to measure & try what things are indifferent’

chs. 5-9 treat of particular aspects of the Lord’s Supper & the prelate-ceremonies

Wilkinson, Jr., Henry – ‘Wherein are we Endangered by Things Lawful? Luke 17:27,28’  being sermon 22 of volume 1 of Puritan Sermons

Wilkinson, Jr. was a Westminster divine.

Chauncy, Isaac – ch. 10, ‘Some Plain Propositions concerning Things Necessary & Indifferent’  in The Catholick Hierarchy: or, The Divine Right of a Sacred Dominion in Church & Conscience truly stated, asserted & pleaded  (London: Crouch, 1681), pp. 51-53





Racster, John – ‘The Right Use of Things Indifferent’  on 1 Cor. 10:23-24  in The True Art of Living Well, the Right Use of Things Indifferent. The Plain Foot-Path to the Paradise of God. Three Sermons Preached…  (London, 1605), pp. 41-80

Racster (1568-1640) was an English minister.

Mason, Francis – The Authority of the Curch in Making Canons & Constitutions Concerning Things Indifferent & the Obedience thereto Required: with Particular Application to the Present Estate of the Church of England. Delivered in a Sermon Preached…  & Now in Sundry Points by him Enlarged  (London, 1607)

This is not recommended, as it argues the typical establishment Anglican position; it is here for reference and contrast.

Powel, Gabriel – De Adiaphoris, Theological & Scholastical Positions Concerning the Nature & Use of Things Indifferent. Where also is Methodically & Briefely Handled of Civil & Ecclesiastical Magistrates, of Human Laws, of Christian Liberty, of Scandal, & of the Worship of God. A vowed work, destinated (by the grace of God) to appease the Dissentions of the Church of England  (London, 1607)

Powel (1576-1611) was a reformed Welsh, Anglican minister, known for his strident anti-Romanist views.  This work is not wholly recommended as it was “directed against Protestant non-conformists…  noting the shared beliefs that they held and arguing that divisions between Protestants undermined the fight against Catholics.” – Wikipedia  Yet the work contains much good in it and is worthy of perusal.

Henric, James – The Curtain of Church-Power & Authority in Things Called Indifferent Drawn & Laid Open, to show the many Infectious Sores & Maladies they bring in and cover. Together with sundry infallible reasons, proving that the Service of God and the generall good of the Church and commonwealth require that they should be abolished  (Amsterdam, 1632)  107 pp.

Jeanes, Henry – A Treatise Concerning the Indifferency of Human Actions  (Oxford, 1659)  in A second part of The mixture of scholasticall divinity, with practical, in several tractates: wherein some of the most difficult knots in divinity are untyed, many dark places of Scripture cleared…  (Oxford, 1660)

Jeanes (1611-1662) was a conforming, Anglican, puritan clergyman.

Baxter, Richard – Unum Necessarium: or, Christ’s Justification of Mary’s Choice & of his Servants Wrongfully Accused: Containing a Resolution of Many Weighty Cases of Conscience.  Viz. Indifferent Things, Obedience to the Higher Powers, etc.  (London, 1685)





Polanus, Amandus – 42. ‘Of Christian Liberty & Indifferent Things’  in The Divisions of Theology Framed according to a Natural Orderly Method  (Basil, 1590; Geneva, 1623), bk. 1, ‘Of Faith’, pp. 146-7

Aretius, Benedict – 117. ‘Of Adiaphora  in Sacred Problems of Theology: Common Places of the Christian Religion Methodically Explicated  (Geneva, 1589; Bern, 1604), pp. 350-2

Aretius (1505–1574)



Pareus, David – 31. ‘Christian Liberty, Human Traditions, Adiaphora & Scandal’  in Theological Collections of Universal Orthodox Theology, where also All of the Present Theological Controversies are Clearly and Variously Explained, vol. 1  (1611), Collection 2, pp. 272-77

Pareus (1548-1622)

Calderwood, David – ch. 9, ‘Of Indifferent Things & Ceremonies’  in The Altar of Damascus, or the Polity of the Anglican Church Obtruded upon the Scottish Church…  (1623; Leiden, 1708), pp. 366-420  The eight propositions in this section are translated in the English articles above.



On Liberty unto Good in Indifferent Things & on Superstition


John Calvin

Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.10.7

“Section 7. Third part of liberty, viz., the free rise of things indifferent.  The knowledge of this part necessary to remove despair and superstition. Superstition described…

The third part of this liberty is that we are not bound before God to any observance of external things which are in themselves indifferent, (“adiafora”) but that we are now at full liberty either to use or omit them. The knowledge of this liberty is very necessary to us; where it is wanting our consciences will have no rest, there will be no end of superstition. In the present day many think us absurd in raising a question as to the free eating of flesh, the free use of dress and holidays, and similar frivolous trifles, as they think them; but they are of more importance than is commonly supposed. For when once the conscience is entangled in the net, it enters a long and inextricable labyrinth, from which it is afterwards most difficult to escape.

When a man begins to doubt whether it is lawful for him to use linen for sheets, shirts, napkins, and handkerchiefs, he will not long be secure as to hemp, and will at last have doubts as to tow; for he will revolve in his mind whether he cannot sup without napkins, or dispense with handkerchiefs. Should he deem a daintier food unlawful, he will afterwards feel uneasy for using loafbread and common eatables, because he will think that his body might possibly be supported on a still meaner food. If he hesitates as to a more genial wine, he will scarcely drink the worst with a good conscience; at last he will not dare to touch water if more than usually sweet and pure. In fine, he will come to this, that he will deem it criminal to trample on a straw lying in his way.

For it is no trivial dispute that is here commenced, the point in debate being, whether the use of this thing or that is in accordance with the divine will, which ought to take precedence of all our acts and counsels. Here some must by despair be hurried into an abyss, while others, despising God and casting off his fear, will not be able to make a way for themselves without ruin. When men are involved in such doubts whatever be the direction in which they turn, every thing they see must offend their conscience.”



No Rational Human Actions are Indifferent, but must be Good or Evil to Varying Degrees  Only objects considered in themselves and abstractly may be indifferent.


William Ames

pp. 89-91  of bk. 3, ch. 18, ‘Of Things Indifferent’  in Conscience with the Power & Cases Thereof  ([Leiden & London] 1639)

“Question 6.  Whether any singular and individual action be indifferent?

10th Answer.  First, there be some actions which though they be actions of a man, yet they are not human actions; such are those which proceed from imagination only, and not from deliberate reason, as the rubbings of men’s hands, to scratch the head or beard, to take up a straw, etc. while we are thinking of something else: these actions are not morally good or evil, they want that which is required to make them so, namely counsel and deliberation.  For although a man may sin by those actions, as if in time of prayer he suffer his imagination to wander, and do give way to such toyings as those.

Yet these actions considered in themselves are neither good nor evil.  It is true these motions are subject to the command of man’s will, but yet they are so subject that they may be exercised without any precedent act of reason: Neither are we bound any further by reason to prevent them; but only so far that they hinder not the duties we are about.  So for moving of the eyelids, reason and the will have power to moderate them, but it is not worth the while to take notice how often we wink, if so be we take heed that in such things nothing be done which is indecent, or against our duty.

11.  Secondly, every action which proceeds from deliberate reason and is properly called human, considered singularly and in the individual, as it is an exercised action, is either good or evil.  For such a kind of action is either ordered to a good end, or it is not; If it be, then it has the nature of a good action, if other circumstances be correspondent; if it be not ordered to a good end, it is an evil action because it wants the perfection which ought to be in it, and is not according to its rule.

12.  Yet is not required to the goodness of natural action that it be always actually and explicitly referred to the due end, so that this [at least] be done implicity and virtually; because reason in that exercise of such kind of actions, may often with more profit be conversant about those objects.

13.  Thirdly, some one or two circumstances of an human action may be indifferent, as if one scholar be speaking with another, it is sometimes indifferent whether they use the Latin tongue, or any other.  But their talk taken with all the circumstances is necessarily either good or bad: the reason is, because the determination of an action does not depend upon one circumstance apart, but upon all jointly together.

14.  Fourthly, there may be some singular action in which there is no goodness-special to be found, which may not be found in another, and so, that at this time we do this or that, rather than another thing, therein is ofttimes neither good nor evil.  Opportunity, or the suggestion of our minds, without any respect of moral goodness, may be of weight sufficient to make the determination.

15.  Fifthly, although therefore there be no singular actions-human, that is neither good, nor evil; yet there are diverse, which singularly and in comparison of others, are neither necessary nor unlawful.  For as the carver oftentimes has no certain reason why he rather makes this image than that: yet if he make any, it is necessary that he either follow the rules of his art and make a good one, or fail and so make a bad one.  So it is in many singular actions of men, which in respect of the exercise, have no proper reason beside the inclination of the mind, but in the doing they are either good or bad.”


Samuel Rutherford

‘An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal’  in The Divine Right of Church Government...  (1646), p. 653

“It is a contradiction that an action-individual should be indifferent, and so neither good nor evil, and yet done in faith and referred to God’s glory: For the ground of doing, which is faith, and the end, which is God’s glory, are individual properties necessarily concurring to the individuation of the action-moral.

2.  An action-individual that is merely indifferent, and so without sin, may be performed without sin or omitted without sin, cannot be an action of faith referred to God’s glory: For what may be done without sin and may not be done without sin, is a will-action, and wants all necessity of reason, and so is an idle and sinful action; but a sinful action may be done in fancy, but in faith it cannot be done; it may in the vain intention of the doer be referred to God’s glory, in intentione erronea operantis, but ex conditione operis, according to the nature of the work, it serves not for God’s glory.

This way to cast stones in the water [for example], should be of faith, and referred to God’s glory: But shall I believe I am doing in faith and glorifying God when I am casting stones in the water, and I have as good reason not to cast at all?  If one will-action that may be done, and may not be done, may be of faith and referred to God’s glory, then may they all be of faith and referred to God’s glory: This is a laughter, rather than divinity.

3. I cannot believe that an action that has as good reason to be omitted as to be done, can be acceptable to God, because I have no ground for my faith; for my faith here leans neither on Scripture nor on Reason; but there is no reason why the action should rather be, nor not be, because it is indifferent; yea, crossing and kneeling [as worship] of themselves shall be of faith, because I believe them to be of faith: But it is a vain thing to say that faith makes its object.

4. There are no actions in the world but they have all their moral necessity from their intrinsic goodness: For from whence is it necessary to love God, but from the intrinsic goodness that the love of God has from God’s command?  For there is no necessity an action to be at all; yea, it is idle and superfluous if there be no goodness in it at all.  If then crossing and kneeling (laying aside the respect of humane laws commanding them) have no necessity-moral from any commandment of God why they should be at all, their necessity must be all from man’s will: this is tyranny in rulers for their sole pleasure to command under the heaviest pain things that have no necessity at all but their will.

5.  Neither is it any yoke to men’s conscience, to square all their moral-action by God’s Word and so to see (‘according as it is written’) before they venture upon any action-moral.  It is liberty to keep God’s way accurately.”




Aquinas, Thomas – pt. 2, pt. 1, question 18, ‘Of the Good & Evil of Human Acts in General’  in Summa

3. ‘Whether man’s action may be good or evil from a circumstance?’  [Yes]

Gillespie largely follows Auinas on this issue.

“In natural things, it is to be noted that the whole fulness of perfection due to a thing, is not from the mere substantial form that gives it its species since a thing derives much from supervening accidents, as man does from shape, color and the like; and if any one of these accidents be out of due proportion, evil is the result.

So it is with action. For the plenitude of its goodness does not consist wholly in its species, but also in certain additions which accrue to it by reason of certain accidents: and such are its due circumstances.  Wherefore if something be wanting that is requisite as a due circumstance the action will be evil.

Circumstances are outside an action inasmuch as they are not part of its essence; but they are in an action as accidents thereof…

Every accident is not accidentally in its subject, for some are proper accidents; and of these every art takes notice.  And thus it is that the circumstances of actions are considered in the doctrine of morals…

Since good and being are convertible, according as being is predicated of substance and of accident, so is good predicated of a thing both in respect of its essential being, and in respect of its accidental being; and this, both in natural things and in moral actions.”

8. ‘Whether any action may be indifferent in its species?’  [Yes]

“…every action takes its species from its object; while human action, which is called moral, takes its species from the object, in relation to the principle of human actions, which is the reason.  Wherefore if the object of an action includes something in accord with the order of reason, it will be a good action according to its species; for instance, to give alms to a person in want. On the other hand, if it includes something repugnant to the order of reason, it will be an evil act according to its species; for instance, to steal, which is to appropriate what belongs to another.

But it may happen that the object of an action does not include something pertaining to the order of reason; for instance, to pick up a straw from the ground, to walk in the fields, and the like: and such actions are indifferent according to their species.”

9. ‘Whether an individual action can be indifferent?’  [No]

“Gregory says in a homily (vi in Evang.): ‘An idle word is one that lacks either the usefulness of rectitude or the motive of just necessity or pious utility.’  But an idle word is an evil, because ‘men… shall render an account of it in the day of judgment’ (Mt. 12:36): while if it does not lack the motive of just necessity or pious utility, it is good.  Therefore every word is either good or bad.  For the same reason every other action is either good or bad.  Therefore no individual action is indifferent.

…It sometimes happens that an action is indifferent in its species, but considered in the individual it is good or evil.  And the reason of this is because a moral action…  derives its goodness not only from its object, whence it takes its species; but also from the circumstances, which are its accidents, as it were; just as something belongs to a man by reason of his individual accidents, which does not belong to him by reason of his species.  And every individual action must needs have some circumstance that makes it good or bad, at least in respect of the intention of the end.

For since it belongs to the reason to direct; if an action that proceeds from deliberate reason be not directed to the due end, it is, by that fact alone, repugnant to reason, and has the character of evil.  But if it be directed to a due end, it is in accord with reason; wherefore it has the character of good.  Now it must needs be either directed or not directed to a due end.  Consequently every human action that proceeds from deliberate reason, if it be considered in the individual, must be good or bad.”

10. ‘Whether a circumstance may place a moral action in the species of good or evil?’  [Yes]

“Place is a circumstance.  But place makes a moral action to be in a certain species of evil; for theft of a thing from a holy place is a sacrilege.  Therefore a circumstance makes a moral action to be specifically good or bad.

And in this way, whenever a circumstance has a special relation to reason, either for or against, it must needs specify the moral action whether good or bad.

It is not every circumstance that places the moral action in the species of good or evil, since not every circumstance implies accord or disaccord with reason.”

11. ‘Whether every circumstance that makes an action better or worse, may place the moral action in the species of good or evil?’  [No]

“More and less do not change a species.  But more and less is a circumstance of additional goodness or malice.  Therefore not every circumstance that makes a moral action better or worse, places it in a species of good or evil.”



Gillespie, George – ch. 3, ‘Whether there be Any Thing Indifferent in Actu Exercito [in the Exercised Act]?’  in English Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt, 4



Vermigli, Peter Martyr – Commentary on 1 Cor. 6:12

Pareus, David – Commentary on Romans 14, doubt 1



That the Command of Authorities does Not Make Indifferent Things Necessary

See also, ‘How Far Church Orders May Limit Christian Liberty’.


“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.”

1 Cor. 7:23




Prynne, William – A Brief, Pithy Discourse upon 1 Corinthians 14:40, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order,’ Tending to search out the Truth in Question:  Whether it be Lawful for Church-governors to Command & Impose Indifferent Decent Things (not Absolutely Necessary) in the Administration of God’s Worship? [No]…  (London, 1661)  14 pp.

Prynne (1600-1669) an English lawyer, author, polemicist and political figure, was a prominent Puritan opponent of church policy under the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.  His views were presbyterian, but he became known in the 1640’s as an Erastian, arguing for overall state control of religious matters.  He published over 200 books and pamphlets.

This work is excellent and is necessary reading.  The only two problematic issues that he espouses in some isolated statements are his views on civil laws and posture in receiving the Lord’s Supper, which statements need more qualifications.

Rutherford, Samuel – ‘Whether or Not Things Indifferent Can be Commanded Because [They are] Indifferent?’ [No]  in ‘An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal’  in The Divine Right of Church Government  (1646), pp. 647-656

Baxter, Richard

5th Disputation, ‘Of Human Ceremonies: whether they are Necessary or Profitable to the Church and how far they may be Imposed or Observed?’  (London, 1658)  in Five Disputations of Church-Government & Worship…  (London, 1659)

ch. 6, ‘It is not lawful to make any thing the subjects’ duty by a command that is merely indifferent antecedently, both in itself, and as clothed with its accidents’, pp. 433-39

ch. 13, ‘The constant use of things indifferent should not be (ordinarily) commanded, but they should be sometimes used and sometimes disused’, pp. 464-66

‘The Judgment of Non-Conformists of Things Indifferent Commanded by Authority’  in The Judgment of Non-Conformists About the Difference Between Grace & Morality  (London, 1676), pp. 21-41

Alsop, Vincent – ‘An Exercitation on that Historical Relation, Mt. 15:1-9; Mk. 7:1-13; Concerning Eating with Unwashen Hands, by way of Appendix or Supplement to the Discourse concerning Indifferencies, and More Particularly, to Argument or Reason the Fourth; to Prove that Indifferencies Enjoyned by Authority do not thereby become Necessary; or, That the Command of Authority does not Render Indifferent Things, Necessary.’  (London, 1680)  35 pp.

Clark, Samuel – Of Scandal, together with a Consideration of the Nature of Christian Liberty & Things Indifferent. Wherein these Weighty Questions are Fully Discussed: Whether things Indifferent become Necessary, when Commanded by Authority? Neg.  Whether scandalous things, being enjoined, may lawfully be done? Neg.  Whether a restraint laid upon things indifferent, without a reasonable ground, be not an infringement of Christian liberty? Aff.  Who is to be Judge, whether there be a Reasonable Ground or No, in such Cases?  How far forth we are Bound in Conscience to Obey Human Laws?  (London, 1680)

Clark (1626-1701) was a reformed puritan, non-conformist minister who was ejected in 1662.  He was known for his whole Bible commentary.  Both his father and a son of his bore his same name.

Beverley, Thomas – ‘Preface’ & The Woe of Scandal, or Scandal in its General Nature & Effects Discoursed, as One Strongest Argument Against Impositions in Religious Things Acknowledged to be Indifferent  (London, 1682)  95 pp.  in The Principles of Protestant Truth & Peace in Four Treatises...  (London, 1683)

Beverley was an Anglican clergyman.



George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 9

pp. 46-7

“3.  That the ordinance of superiors cannot make the ceremonies [which were claimed to be indifferent, to be] necessary, I have proven in the first part of this Dispute.  This is given for one of the chief marks of the man of sin [in 1 Tim. 4:1-5], ‘That which is indifferent, he by his laws and prohibitions maketh to be sin;’ (Morney, Mister. of Iniq., in the Conclusion) and shall they who profess to take part with Christ against Antichrist [such as the prelates] do no less than this?

It will be replyed that the ceremonies are not thought necessary in themselves, nor non-conformity unlawful in itself, but only in respect of the Church’s ordinance.  Just so the Papists profess that the omission of their rites and observances is not a sin in itself, but only in respect of contemning the Church’s customs and commandments.  How comes it then that they [the prelates] are not ashamed to pretend such a necessity for the stumbling blocks of those offending ceremonies among us, as Papists pretend for the like among them?”


p. 50

“2. I have also proven in the first part of this Dispute, that an Ecclesiastical constitution cannot bind us nor take away our liberty in the using or not using of a thing indifferent in itself, except some other reason be showed us than the bare authority of the Church.”


Matthew Poole

Commentary on Jer. 35, v. 19

“But it is a question of more moment:  How God promises a reward to these sons of Jonadab [who are Rechabites] for obeying the command of their [fore-]father [to dwell in tents and not drink wine], and whether they had sinned if they had not obeyed this command of Jonadab; which brings in another question:

Whether parents have a power to oblige their children in matters which God has left at liberty?  To which I answer:

1. God might reward these Rechabites for their reverence and obedience to Jonadab their father, though these were not strictly, by the Divine law, obliged thus far to have obeyed him; as He rewarded David for his thoughts in his heart to build him a house, though it was not God’s will that He should do it; so as God’s promise of the reward does not prove their obedience in this particular to have been their duty.  Admit that it remained still a matter of liberty, yet the general honour and reverence they testified might be rewarded by God.

2.  Unquestionably parents have not a power to determine children in all things as to which God has left them a liberty, for then they have a power to make their children slaves, and to take away all their natural liberty.  To marry or not, and to this or that person, is [a] matter of liberty.  Parents cannot in this case determine their children; Bethuel, Gen. 24:58, asks Rebekah if she would go with Abraham’s servant before he would send her.

3. In matters of civil concernment they have a far greater power than in matters of religion.  All souls are God’s, and conscience can be under no other dominion than that of God.

4.  In civil things parents have a great power, during the nonage of children, and after also in matters which concern their parents’ good, as to command them to assist them, to help to supply their necessities, etc.

5.  Parents being set over children, and instead of God to them, as it is their duty to advise their children to the best of their ability for their good; so it is the duty of children to receive their advice, and not to depart from it, unless they see circumstances so mistaken by parents, or so altered by the providence of God, as they may reasonably judge their parents, had these known or foreseen it, would not have so advised.  But that parents have an absolute power to determine children in all things as to which God has not forbidden them, and that children by the law of God are obliged to an obedience to all such commands, however they may see their parents mistaken, or God by his providence may have altered circumstances, I see no reason to conclude.  Jonadab had prudently advised his sons as before mentioned; they were things they might do, and which by experience they found not hurtful to them, but of great profit and advantage, and that with reference to all the ends of man’s life: herein they yield obedience, and pay a reverence to their parent; this pleases God, He promises to reward them with the continuance of their family, according to what He had said, Ex. 20:12, in the Fifth Commandment, which the apostle calls the first commandment with promise.”



Whether Commands of Authorities about Indifferent Things Necessarily Bind External Actions, but do Not Impair Christian Liberty as the Conscience is Left Free to Think as it Will?  No


Gillespie, George – Section 4, pp. 6-7  of pt. 1, ch. 3, ‘That the Ceremonies thus imposed & urged as things necessary, do bereave us of our Christian liberty, first, because our practise is adstricted’  in English-Popish Ceremonies…  (1637)



Prynne, William

A Brief, Pithy Discourse upon 1 Corinthians 14:40…  (London, 1661), pp. 8-9

“It is wont to be excepted against this that Christian Liberty stands not in the freedom of outward actions, but only in the freedom of conscience.  As long therefore as there is no doctrinal necessity put upon the conscience to limit the lawfulness of the use of outward things, Christian Liberty is preserved, though the use and practise of outward things be limitted.

Whereto I answer 1. that the apostle in this case leaves the people of God at liberty, not only in point of conscience for lawfulness to marry [1 Cor. 7], but even in outward actions and practise, ‘Let him do’ (says he) ‘what he will; he sins not, let him be married,’ verses 30 & 38, as who should say, the conscience being free from sin in it, I will put no tie on the outward practice to restrain it.

2. That true Christian Liberty consists principally in the free, actual use of things lawful and indifferent in themselves, and the prohibition of their free, actual use to Christians is expressly censured as anti-evangelical, a badge of false apo­stles, of apostates from the faith, hypocrites, men of seared consciences, anti-Christian usurpers, 1 Tim. 4:1,3-4:

‘Now the Spirit speaks expresly that in the later times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their consci­ences seared with a hot Iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God has created to be received with thanksgiving: for every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused if it be received with thanksgiving; For it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.’

Col. 2:20-21:

‘Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world; why as though living in this world are ye subject to ordinances?’ (or canons) ‘touch not, taste not, handle not’ (no not God’s ordinances, sacraments, creatures but in such vestiments, gestures, postures) ‘which all are to perish with the using; which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship and punishing of the body.’

1 Cor. 4:5-6: ‘Have we not pow­er to eat and to drink?  Have we not power to lead a­bout a sister, wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord and Cephas?’ compared with verses 19 to 24.

Rom. 14:2-3:

‘For one believeth that he may eat all things another who is weak eateth herbs; Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not, judge him that eat­eth; For God hath received him.  Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?  To his own master he standeth and fal­leth.  But why dost thou judge thy brother’ (or refrain him in the use of things indifferent) ‘or why dost thou set at nought thy bro­ther?  We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ? etc. Let us not therefore iudge one another any more, but judge this rather that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way, etc.’

to wit, by any restraints, canons, inhibi­tions, censures, in or concerning things or ceremonies that are but indifferent, and not absolutely necessary by God’s prescription, or the nature of the things themselves.  There­fore to prohibit any ministers of the gospel who are able and faithfull to preach the Word, or to excommunicate or cast them, or any other consciencious Christians out of the Church, or debar them from the sacrament, because they cannot wear a surplice, kneel at the Lord’s Table or Supper, or conform to every punctilio in the Li­turgy or Canons, and to deny them their Christian Liber­ty in the free use or forbearing of ceremonies which are only decent and indifferent, indirectly repugnant to Chri­stian Liberty, the Gospel of Christ, and to Acts 4:18-20; ch. 5:27-29, 41-42; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 3 John 9-10; Rev. 13:16-17; 1 Cor. 7:8-9, 25-28, 35-40; Gal. 5:13-14.”



Adiaphora in Relation to Worship

Order of Contents





The Fortress of Fathers Earnestly Defending the Purity of Religion & Ceremonies, by the True Exposition of Certain Places of Scripture: Against such as would bring in an Abuse of Idol Stuff & of Things Indifferent, & do Appoint the Authority of Princes & Prelates Larger than the Truth is  (Emden, 1566)

This is excellent and was evidently written by a puritan.  ‘Ceremonies’ in the title only refers to the positive, Scriptural rites of worship.



Bradshaw, William

A Short Treatise of the Cross in Baptism: Contracted into this Syllogism:  No Religious Use of a Popish Idol in God’s Public Service is Indifferent, but Utterly Unlawful.  But the Use of the Cross in Baptism is a Religious Use of a Popish Idol in God’s Public Service. Ergo [Therefore] the Use of the Cross in Baptism is Not Indifferent but Utterly Unlawful  ([London], 1604)  25 pp.

Bradshaw (1571–1618) was a moderate English Puritan.

A Treatise of the Nature & Use of Things Indifferent, Tending to Prove that the Ceremonies in Present Controuersy Amongst the Ministers of the Gospel in the Realm of England, are Neither in Nature Nor Use Indifferent  (London, 1605)

Calderwood, David – Propositions on Indifferent Things & Ceremonies in Worship  trans. T. Fentiman  (1623; RBO, 2021)

Calderwood (1575–1650) was a Scottish minister and arch-presbyterian.  This section of Calderwood is taken from his large Latin work refuting the polity of the Church of England being sought to be imposed on Scotland.

Specifically, these propositions were set against the Articles of Perth (1618) which had instituted in the Church of Scotland (1) kneeling in receiving Communion, (2) observing religious festival days (such as Christmas, Easter, etc.), (3) episcopal confirmation of youth, and (4 & 5) administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper in private places.

Calderwood’s propositions are solid, timeless and are pardigmatic of classical presbyterianism.

Gillespie – Chapter in English Popish

Bagshawe, Edward – The Great Question concerning Things Indifferent in Religious Worship, briefly Stated, and Tendered to the Consideration of All Sober and Impartial Men, pt. 1, 2, 3  (London, 1660, 1661, 1662)

Bagshawe (1629-1671) was a non-conforming, puritan.   Richard Baxter criticized Bagshaw as “an Anabaptist, Fifth Monarchy man, and a Separatist”.

Bagshawe “was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where John Locke was also, when Bagshaw was a student (i.e. Fellow of the college).  Locke’s Two Tracts on Government, representing more orthodox views of the time, were intended as replies to Bagshaw’s views on religious toleration, published as, The Great Question concerning Things Indifferent in Religious Worship in 1659.” – Wikipedia

Prynne, William – A Brief, Pithy Discourse upon 1 Corinthians 14:40, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order,’ Tending to search out the Truth in Question:  Whether it be Lawful for Church-Governors to Command & Impose Indifferent Decent Things (not Absolutely Necessary) in the Administration of God’s Worship? [No]…  (London, 1661)  14 pp.

Prynne (1600-1669) an English lawyer, author, polemicist and political figure, was a prominent Puritan opponent of church policy under the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.  His views were presbyterian, but he became known in the 1640’s as an Erastian, arguing for overall state control of religious matters.  He published over 200 books and pamphlets.

This work is excellent and is necessary reading.  The only two problematic issues that he espouses in some isolated statements are his views on civil laws and posture in receiving the Lord’s Supper, which statements need more qualifications.

Fullwood, Francis – Some Necessary & Seasonable Cases of Conscience about things Indifferent in Matters of Religion, Briefly, yet Faithfully Stated & Resolved wherein the Just Bounds of Imposing on One Hand & of Obeying on the Other, are Truly Fixed  (London, 1661)  198 pp.  ToC

Chauncy, Isaac – ch. 18, ‘Of a Christian’s Duty in Case of Human Laws in Matters Religiously Indifferent [in Worship]’  in The Catholic Hierarchy: or the Divine Right of a Sacred Dominion in Church & Conscience truly stated, asserted & pleaded  (London: Crouch, 1681), pp. 120-25



George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637)

pt. 2, ch. 1, p. 12

“But as touching these ceremonies in question, we are upon evident grounds persuaded in our consciences that they are both unlawful and inexpedient for our Church: and though they were lawful in themselves, yet we may answer as the oppugners of the Interim [1548] replied to those who urged yielding to the ceremonies of the same (Friedrich Balduin [a Lutheran], On Cases of Conscience, bk. 4, ch. 11, case 3), surplice, holy days, tapers [candles], etc. because of the emperor’s commandment.  That the question is not about things indifferent, but about a main article of faith, namely Christian Liberty, which admits not any yoke to be imposed upon the conscience, no not in things indifferent.”


pt. 3, ch. 2, p. 16

“All things and rites which have been notriously abused to idolatry, if they be not such as either God or nature has made to be of a necessary use, should be utterly abolished and purged away from divine worship, in such sort that they may not be accounted nor used by us as sacred things or rites pertaining to the same.”




Related Pages