Worship

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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Why We Should Wait!

Are there any among the idols of the nations that can cause rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Are You not He, O LORD our God?
Therefore we will wait for You,
Since You have made all these. (Jeremiah 14:22)

We’ve all heard versions of the prayer that goes, “Lord, help me to be patient, and please hurry up about it.”  In my life the lesson on being patient has been probably the hardest one to learn.  In fact, I must confess that I have not learned the lesson very well, and have constantly to relearn it.  If I were to put my finger on the problem it would have to land on the truths brought out in the verse above.

Jeremiah knew a lot about having to wait.  During his ministry he had to preach for God to a people who had set themselves against the truth.  His words often seemed to bounce off the surface of the ears of his listeners.  Moreover, he had to contend with false prophets who would tell the eager hearers what they wanted to hear; the bad times were coming to an end; the Babylonians would be beaten back; God would come to the rescue of Israel.  These were not the messages that Jeremiah was given to proclaim.

Given that Jeremiah had an unpopular message to preach, he had to be a man of patience to continue, day in, day out, to be a herald of, this verse gets to the heart of why we can wait on the Lord, giving over to Him our propensity to rush things or to see matters change overnight. 

The prophet poses two questions about the way the world works. 

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