- What is the Regulative Principle of Worship?
- The Regulative Principle is a precious heritage.
- Is the Regulative Principle really taught in Scripture?
- Is the Regulative Principle still important for today?
- Implementation of the Regulative Principle.
What is the Regulative Principle of Worship?
The Bible tells us to worship the one true and living God, to the exclusion of all the idols of false religion. The Bible also tells us what to do in His worship – that is the Regulative Principle. God has not left His church free to invent her own worship. Rather, He has laid down in His Word exactly what is to be done. The Reformed and Biblical principle is that what is not commanded is not allowed in divine worship (Deut. 12:32 and Matt. 28:20).
The Second Commandment begins: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:4). The Shorter Catechism rightly explains that this forbids “the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His Word” (Q. 51). Everything in worship must have divine warrant drawn from Scripture. Nothing else must be added.
The Regulative Principle is a Precious Heritage
It was a hallmark of the Calvinistic branch (as opposed to the Lutheran/Anglican branch) of the Reformation, that not only doctrine, but also worship, had to be reformed thoroughly according to Scripture. Biblical worship means worship according to the Regulative Principle. This was applied more fully in Calvin’s Geneva and Knox’s Scotland than elsewhere. It has been the particular privilege of the purest parts of the Scottish Church to maintain this testimony through the centuries, at the Second Reformation and during the period of the Covenanters. Even in the Free Church of Scotland in the latter half of the 19th century, witness had to be made against defections from Regulative Principle.
The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, since her inception in 1893, has adhered uncompromisingly to the Regulative Principle of Worship. This witness is just as much needed now as ever it has been, with for example the Free Church officially abandoning the principle recently; and with the vast majority of professedly Reformed Churches denying it.
For more on the endeavours of the Scottish reformers and others to define and contend for the Regulative Principle, see The Regulative Principle as defined by the Scottish Reformers and others.
Is the Regulative Principle really taught in Scripture?
Some argue that the Regulative Principle itself is going beyond Scripture. They say that the limitations it puts on worship are laws imposed by men, under the colour of applying a principle which itself is not drawn from the Bible. How wrong they are! This link addresses this issue: Does the Bible tell us How we are to Worship?.
Is the Regulative Principle still important for today?
Is it still relevant? Think of the problems that the true Church of Christ faces today: church attendances are dwindling; important Biblical doctrines are denied; the people of God are fractured into countless denominations; and so many professing Christians living and looking so much like the world. Some might think that there are more important things to contend for than for what they might call an over-preciseness about exactly what should and should not be done in worship. They could not be more wrong. This link, The Importance of the Regulative Principle for Today, gives five reasons why the Regulative Principle is essential for today:
- To promote reformation and return the Church to its apostolic origins. Every departure from the Regulative Principle is a departure from Scripture. Those who like to make the claim that they are “always reforming” would do well to begin here: by applying the Regulative Principle to their worship, and cast away their hymns, organs, festival days and the rest.
- To promote unity. Those who adhere to the Regulative Principle by singing exclusively the psalms, refusing to use musical instruments, and rejecting “Christmas”, “Easter” and the rest, are often accused of causing disunity among the people of God. The truth is the opposite. The right way to move towards more unity is to move to exclusively Scriptural worship. Each departure from the worship instituted in Scripture creates a new division among the people of God. Returning to Scripture alone to guide worship is the only remedy.
- To secure Christian liberty. How often have the deniers of the Regulative Principle complained that it takes away the liberties of the people of God! But the contrary is the truth. Yes, the Regulative Principle takes away people’s freedom to worship as they please – but that is not true Christian liberty. The liberty of the people of God consists in being free from the traditions and commandments of men, to be free to keep the will of God alone. It is hymn-singing, and organ-playing, and Christmas-keeping, that takes away true Christian liberty. The Regulative Principle means that only Biblical worship is required of God’s people – that secures their liberty.
- To preserve the Church from unhealthy subjectivism. As soon as the Church departs from Scripture in any area, the door is opened to anything being brought in. By keeping absolutely to Scripture alone, the Regulative Principle provides the only objective bulwark against the inventions of men. Without it, drawing the line between a hymn thought to be “acceptable” and an unacceptable song, or between an instrument like an organ considered “suitable” and unsuitable ones like guitars and drums, is subjective and as man-made as the worship it seeks to defend.
- To honour God with submission to His authority. God has spoken in His Word, and as enshrined in the Second Commandment He has reserved to Himself the sovereign right to devise His own worship. Consistent implementation of the Regulative Principle is an essential element in acknowledging His authority. To worship Him in any way not expressly appointed by Himself in His Word is intolerable disobedience to His revealed will, and greatly dishonours Him.
Implementation of The Regulative Principle
It is important to spell this out, because now it is becoming common for professedly Reformed Churches to maintain that they hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship at the same time as singing hymns, using organs, keeping “Christmas” and so on. Such practices invalidate their claim, revealing it to be a hollow shell.
1. Exclusive Psalmody
The Regulative Principle excludes from worship the singing of all materials of praise other than the inspired Psalms of the Bible. For more information, follow this link: Exclusive Psalmody.
2. No Musical Instruments
The Regulative Principle excludes from Christian worship the use of any kind of musical instrument. Only the human voice is to be used. There is more information at this link: No Musical Instruments.
3. No Christian “Festivals”
The Regulative Principle excludes from worship all the man-made festivals of the Church calendar such as “Christmas” and “Easter”. More information can be found at this link: No Christian “Festivals”.