Thursday, April 3, 2008

Regulative Principle of Worship - Part 2

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.


pdug said...

Good point.

BUT, I was reflecting on the reasoning in the section on the Lord's Day. The confession says that NATURAL LAW tells us that we ought to worship God with some portion of our time.

But then it goes on to say that God's natural law implied that he needed to give us a positivistic law, that tells us specifically what day.

So the suspicion of or unworkableness of man discerning what seems like a good day to worship (the law God gives is positive AND moral) leads to an expectation that everything must be via "institution".

This is interesting to me

1) it mentions natural law.

2) it shows the confession is *suspicious* of natural law

3) it shows how bahnsenian theonomy is a kind of regulative principle of statecraft.

God MUST have given us enough commands in here: he can't expect us to muddle through, or trust us enough to come up with anything useful, or be allowing us wide latitude for special circumstances (Calvin thinking we could worship any old day of the week, if we had to!)

Jeff Meyers said...

Interesting! I'll have to think a bit about that.

Dave Sarafolean said...


If I understand you correctly you are basically saying that we need to do more than look for explicit instructions in Scripture concerning worship. We also ought to be relying on inference (WCF 1:4). But isn't that how we arrived at holding worship on Sunday, using a call to worship & a benediction, taking up an offering, etc.? Are you saying that we are inconsistent as we apply the RPW?

Dave Sarafolean

Jeff Meyers said...


Yes, that's what I'm saying. We often trot out our slogans to condemn practices we don't like. But those same slogans could be used against practices like you mention above.

Wayne Larson said...

I remember attending a conference on the RPW. It was put on by a local church that was pretty "hard-core" when it came to the RPW (only Psalms, no instruments, and a few other distinctives). Anyway, I was rather telling that in the end it became evident that none of the speakers who were invited could agree with one another on just how to implement the RPW.

RGL Avant said...

One aspect of the regulative principal that many forget is that b/e Scripture is to guide worship that no one can impose any external authority on the church. Part of this came from the Puritan situation where the Anglican church was imposing the Book of Common Prayer on all Christians. (I think the BCP can be quite helpful) But in their resistance in having the BCP imposed on them they used the idea of the regulative principal that on external authority other than the Bible can guide worship. The ironic thing is that many who want to impose a 19th century form of traditionsal Presbyterian worship as the only worship that fits the regulative principal are breaking at least the spirit of the regulative principal.