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Regulative Principle

As part of the Religion Saves and Nine Other Misconceptions sermon series, I answered Question #1 on March 2: "Do you believe that the Scripture not only regulates our theology but also our methodology? In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not?"I define worship as glorifying God the Father through the mediatorship of God the Son by the indwelling power of God the Spirit. Worship includes both adoration and action according to Hebrews 13:15-16: "Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Our worship also includes what we do as Christians when we scatter for witness (1 Cor. 10:31) and gather for worship (Heb. 10:24-25). On this point my friend Dr. D. A. Carson has said "we cannot imagine that the church gathers for worship on Sunday morning if by this we mean that we then engage in something that we have not been engaging in the rest of the week. New covenant worship terminology prescribes constant ‘worship'" (Worship by the Book 2002, 24). Regarding worship forms, the Bible is clear that God is to be worshiped in ways that He deems acceptable. This explains why God judges those who seek to worship Him with either sinful forms externally (e.g., Lev. 10:1-2; Ezek. 8-9) and sinful hearts internally (e.g., Gen. 4; Isa. 1:11-17; Jer. 7:9-10; Mic. 6:6-8). There are certain elements that Scripture prescribes for gathered corporate worship services as the church:

  1. Preaching (2 Tim. 4:2)
  2. Lord's Table (1 Cor. 11:17-34)
  3. Prayer (1 Tim. 2:1)
  4. Reading Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13)
  5. Financial giving (2 Cor. 8-9)
  6. Singing and music (Col. 3:16)
The problem is that there is no clear prescription of an entire worship service in Scripture. According to Carson, "we have no detailed first-century evidence of an entire Christian service" (Worship by the Book 2002, 21). Furthermore, "the New Testament documents do not themselves provide a ‘model service'" (21-22). Dr. John Frame has also said that "we know very little of the church's liturgy in the first century." The question that arises is whether or not elements not mentioned in the Bible can be included in corporate worship. Such elements would include creeds, special music, music style, service order, length, time, seating, technology, instruments, announcements, architecture, and clothing. The Normative and Regulative Principles seek to answer this question in the following ways: Normative
  • Corporate church worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commands and may include others so long as they are not prohibited by Scripture.
  • Advocates of the Normative- Martin Luther, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Book of Common Prayer, Anglican Richard Hooker, Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists
  • Corporate church worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commands or are a good and necessary implication of a biblical text and nothing more.
  • Advocates of Regulative - John Calvin, Scottish Presbyterians, Puritans, the Westminster Confession, Presbyterians, Reformed
To study this issue further, listen to the sermonCAG and examine the following resources:
  • Regarding the theology of corporate worship, Worship by the Book, edited by D. A. Carson with contributions by Mark Ashton, R. Kent Hughes, and Timothy J. Keller, is very helpful from the Reformed perspective.
  • Worship in Spirit and Truth by John M. Frame is a great book that deals with the Regulative Principle in a thoughtful and biblical way.

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