Regulative Principle

The Regulative Principle Isn't Worth It

How should we worship on Sundays? The Church has often framed this as an argument between the “regulative” and “normative” principles. This is a simplistic grid―these approaches are more complementary than we realize. This article discusses the regulative principle.

Precis of the Regulative Principle Position

The Regulative Principle (“RP”) states “… everything we do in a corporate worship gathering must be clearly warranted by Scripture.”1 Christians often distinguish worship by (1) elements (what we do), and (2) circumstances (how we do it).2 RP advocates may apply it in two ways:

  • Track One: The RP applies to the elements only. The circumstances “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”3
  • Track Two: The RP applies to both the elements and God’s will for worship “is either expressly set down or necessarily contained” in Scripture.4

RP proponents advance several overarching justifications:

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Preaching to the Straw Man Choir?

Jonathan Cruse’s book What Happens When We Worship has a simple point. Something important happens between us and God when we worship (p. 1). He presents a theology of worship (ch. 2-7), the pieces of a proper worship service (ch. 8-13), and some brief remarks about how to prepare for worship (ch. 14-15).

This is a book written with more zeal than tact.

The author is Very ReformedTM, which is something better experienced than described. He repeatedly impugns the motives and intent of millions of Christians across the world with broad brush accusations of mercenary pragmatism, and straw men caricatures. This is Cruse’s default rhetorical device. It doesn’t work well if you desire to reach and persuade an audience that doesn’t already agree with you. For example:

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Some Useful Technologies for Church Ministry (Part 4)

Read the series.

Technologies for Worship

Introducing new technologies into worship can be a challenge—especially into churches within the Reformed tradition.35 Some Christians within this tradition believe the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) applies only to the corporate gatherings of the church and interpret it as precluding the introduction of anything into the worship service that’s not explicitly commanded in the New Testament.36

Personally, I question whether the RPW should be limited to corporate worship. I don’t think we live by one regulative principle when we pass through the “sanctuary doors” and a different principle when we’re outside corporate worship.37 Rather, as I see it, we live by one principle, which is sola Scriptura. This principle applies to all of life in a more general way and to church worship, community, and mission with greater specificity. Thus, there’s one principle, but different applications based on varying contextual situations, i.e., worship in a broader sense and worship in a narrow sense.38

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Worship for Dummies

God created man for worship. Jesus declared that the Father is seeking worshippers who will worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Not surprisingly, the Shorter Catechism begins by affirming, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” But this raises the question, “How should God be worshiped?” To be more precise, “What kind of worship pleases God?” The answer is vital. Thankfully, it’s not that complicated. Even a child may understand.

Red Light: “Stop!”

It may seem a bit stifling to start with a negative. But that’s where God begins:

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them (Exod 20:3–5 ESV).

We can’t just approach God on our terms. It ultimately doesn’t matter whether it seems good, feels good, or looks good to us. God doesn’t accept “manmade” religion (Matt 15:1-9; Col 2:20-23; 1 Tim 4:1-5). As the Supreme Object of human worship, God reserves the right to define the terms by which men may offer to him acceptable love, service, and devotion. And when God says, “You shall not!” we must not. Period! In the words of the Baptist Confession, “The acceptable way to worship God is instituted by Him, and it is delimited by His own revealed will” (22.1).1 Which brings me to the next point.

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