Not Commanded – Not Allowed?
The second problem with some ways of explaining the regulative principle of worship concerns a too narrowly defined principle. The regulative principle is not well formulated when we say that only that which is commanded ought to be allowed in worship. Whatever is not commanded therefore is forbidden. But why should we need only explicit “commands”? This is completely unworkable, and in practice has never been followed. It makes for great rhetoric, but lousy biblical and liturgical theology.
Where does the Bible command that a “call to worship” be issued at the beginning of a service? It must be forbidden.
Where are we commanded to give a benediction at the close of the worship service? Therefore it is forbidden!
Where are we commanded to have choirs? Therefore they are forbidden.
Where are we commanded to celebrate Baptism as part of the worship service? It must be forbidden.
Where are we commanded to take vows as part of the baptismal ceremony? That, too, must be forbidden.
Where are we commanded to take an offering during the service? Can't do it.
For that matter, where are we commanded to have a sermon each Sunday? Where are we commanded to meet on the first day rather than the seventh? Must all of these practices be forbidden if we cannot find a verse that commands us to do them? Some insist that we must actually come up with a proof text that explicitly commands a practice before we are authorized to do it in the worship of the church.
Much better than this is the Strasbourg Reformer Martin Bucer’s explanation of the regulative principle of worship: “nothing should be introduced or performed in the churches of Christ for which no probable reason can be given from the Word of God.” Filling this out a little, we can state the principle like this: the church must have biblical warrant for the way she worships God; such warrant can be derived from biblical commands, principles, or examples.