How do we Apply the Regulative Principle?

Since I have at length given the biblical support for the Regulative Principle in two other blogs: Part 1 What is the Regulative Principle of Worship? & Part 2 Is the Regulative Principle Biblical?, I now conclude with how we should apply this principle to church worship gatherings. I will first address what Jesus calls us to do and then specify those things the Lord does not command and therefore we should not do.

What a Faithful Church Does

When we gather together as a church, God has ordained, through direct commands as well as the positive example of the apostles and the NT church, that we set aside time for these main things:

  1. Prayer-

(Ac 1:14) – 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

(Ac 2:42) – 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

(Ac 6:6) – 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

(Col 4:2) – 2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

(Ro 12:12) – 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

(Eph 6:18) – 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

(1 Ti 2:1) – 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,

(1 Pe 4:7) – 7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

  1. Worshiping the Lord with songs of praise to Him-

(Jn 4:23–24) – 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 (Eph 5:19) – 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

(Col 3:16) – 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

(Jas 5:13) – 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

(Mk 14:25–26) – 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

(Heb 13:15) – 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

  1. Teaching & Preaching

(2 Ti 4:1–4) – 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

(1 Ti 4:13) – 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

 (1 Co 2:13) – 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

(1 Co 1:21) – 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

  1. Reading of Scripture

(1 Ti 4:13) – 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

(Ro 15:4) – 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(2 Th 2:14–15) – 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

(1 Ti 3:14–15) – 14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

  1. Fellowship

(1 Th 5:11) – 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

(Heb 10:24–25) – 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

(Ga 6:2) – 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

 (1 Jn 1:7) – 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

(Ro 1:11–13) – 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.

(Ac 2:42) – 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

(Col 2:2) – 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

(Ac 2:44) – 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

(Php 2:1–5) – 1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

(Ac 2:45–47) – 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

  1. Communion & Baptism

(1 Co 11:24–26) – 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

(Lk 22:19) – 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

(Ac 20:7) – 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

(Ac 2:42) – 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

  1. Setting apart/ordaining Elders, Deacons, and Missionaries

(Tt 1:5) – 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—

 (Ac 6:3–6) – 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

(Ac 13:1–3) – 1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

What a Faithful Church Leaves Out

I could easily end this article by saying, “anything that is not directly related to what God has commanded the church to do should not be done simply because God did not tell us to do it.”  This would be true, but I would like to conclude with several things that churches often do that God has not commanded.  These things get in the way and can distract us from actually doing what God has commanded.   This does not mean that a church that practices these things is necessarily in sin or that they cease to be a faithful church.  There are many faithful churches that do not follow the Regulative Principle, though I would argue that they would be more faithful to the word of God if they would replace what is below with the things I have stated above.  Before you continue reading, make sure you have read my previous article here, which will make my arguments below clearer.

  1. Patriotic or secular music- I wish this one was obvious to Christians, but sadly many churches, especially in the United States, use the worship services around Memorial Day and the 4th of July to sing songs about America. Some churches also have the kids who participate in Awana say the pledge of allegiance in front of a flag every time they gather. There is nothing wrong with a certain level of patriotism, but God has called us to gather and worship Him.  When we gather to worship God and then sing songs praising our “great nation,” we have drifted away from the Christian worship that God has commanded and have traveled into the realm of idolatry.  Singing songs about America is great before a ball game, political event, or in a school classroom, but never at a church worship gathering.  The point is, if God has not commanded the church to do something, we should not be doing it.
  2. Plays and skits– Plays and skits are lots of fun, very entertaining, and can even be edifying when they bring forth a biblical message. As a matter of fact, there is nothing wrong with Christians going to or being part of a play and there are many great Christian plays.   The problem comes when a play or skit, which God has not called us to do when we gather together as a church, takes time away from the things which God has commanded us to do.  Christian plays and skits should take place as a separate event so that it does not take away from worship to the Lord.
  3. Christmas trees and other decorations– Christians generally have a good heart when decorating a church for Christians, and feel that it is a way of honoring the Lord. The issue though is once again, God has not commanded this and God does not see this as a way of honoring Him.  If anything, Christmas decorations are often distractions when they are in a worship hall or church room.  It is one thing to lift up Christ’s incarnation in praise and adoration, it is another thing to fill the church with symbols and flashy decorations that God has not commanded.
  4. The display of flags– Once again, the issue is not with flags. Christians can proudly fly their American flag in their front yard in honor of our nation, the freedoms we have, and the brave men and women who have fought and died for us.  The issue is that God has not commanded us to honor our government or nation in the context of worship.  Placing a flag in the front of a sanctuary like most churches do creates a dangerous confusion similar to that of singing patriotic songs in church for an American holiday.  God alone is to be lifted up, honored, and worshiped, a flag in the service calls that commitment into question.  When it comes to praise and recognition during worship, we must “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:15-17 cf. Matthew 22:19-22).  God alone deserves our attention and praise in the context of a worship gathering.
  5. Ritualistic candle and incenses lighting- These two practices are interesting because they have OT sacrificial origins (Exodus 25:31, 27:20). The issue is that the OT sacrificial regulations regarding the lampstand were fulfilled in Christ along with the sacrifice of animals and therefore practicing them in the NT church would be failing to allow the sacrifice of Jesus transform our worship.  In other words, New Covenant worship centers on the person and work of Christ rather than the tabernacle/temple and an animal sacrifice.  To return to the Old Covenant sacrificial worship system is to reject Christ and His work for us.  There is nothing wrong with lighting candles, even in a church (considering that is how churches were lit before electricity).  The problem arises when we integrate candle lighting into the worship of God, something He has not commanded us to do.
  6. Displaying images of Jesus- It is a desire rooted in our human nature to worship what we can see.  We desire something tangible and visual when we worship.  But God made clear early on that worship to Him is different than worship to the false gods.   The Lord said in Exodus 20:4-5, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.”  The Lord declared a prohibition: His people are not to worship anything made with human hands- even if they are meant to picture Him.  The people at one point tried to make an image of Yahweh and worship it, to which the Lord responded with great anger (Exodus 32).  If we truly believe that Jesus is God in the flesh and the second person of the trinity, would it no be wrong to create images of Him and place them in our home, around our necks, and in places of worship?  This is not even taking into consideration the inaccuracy of Jesus paintings and their often mystical origins.  I am not arguing that a church with a painting of Jesus should be considered a temple to Baal and that we need to burn every image of Jesus we find.  My point is that we should at the very least look at human innovation in worship with great caution and speculation.

The list above is by no means exhaustive, many things could be added, but I pray this article was helpful for you.  I would love to hear from you so feel free to drop a comment or question below.

The Church Part 8: Baptism

Baptism is the first of two ordnances (also called “sacraments”) that were ordained by Christ the second of which is the Lord’s Supper (also called Communion).  Between denominations there is much disagreement on the meaning and the mode of baptism due to many different factors.

Mode and Meaning of Baptism

Baptism is the practice of immersing an individual under a body of water as a public profession of faith that pictures their regeneration and ushers them in as members of the local church community.

  1. Βαπτιζω means “to cause someone to have an extraordinary experience akin to an initiatory water-rite, to plunge, baptize[1] both inside and outside the Bible though it can also refer to a “wash ceremonially for purpose of purification, wash, purify, of a broad range of repeated ritual washing rooted in Israelite tradition.”[2]
  2. There are several places in the NT where “immerse” seems to be the meaning of baptize.
    1. (Mk 1:5) -And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
    2. (Mk 1:10) -And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
    3. (Jn 3:23) -John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized
    4. (Ac 8:36–39) -And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
  3. Baptism is symbolic of our union with Christ. The Bible tells us that baptism pictures Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, all of which require immersion.
    1. (Ro 6:3–4) -Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
    2. (Col 2:11–12) -In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
  4. Baptism as immersion also is symbolic of the judgment on Christ.
    1. (1 Pe 3:20–21) -because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    2. Water coming over someone is a picture of judgment (Gen. 7:6-24, Ex. 14:26-29, and Jonah 1:7-16) and in Baptism, (according to 1 Pe 3:21) we picture Christ taking the judgment that we deserve.
  5. The washing away of sins is only part of what baptism pictures and is better pictured in believers by immersion underwater.
    1. (Ac 22:16) -And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Who Can be Baptized?

Baptism should be given to those who understand the gospel and have made a believable outward profession of faith with genuine repentance of sin. It is unavoidable that some will make false professions of faith but this is where church discipline comes in at a later date.

  1. (Ac 2:41) -So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
  2. (Ac 8:12) -But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
  3. (Ac 10:44–46) -While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,
  4. (Ac 10:47–48) -“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
  5. (Ac 16:14–15) -One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
  6. (Ac 16:32–33) -And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

When we look at the NT, it seems clear that baptism is a symbol of beginning the Christian life and an outward commitment to Christ.

  1. (Ga 3:27) -For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
  2. (Ro 6:3–4) -Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
  3. (Col 2:12) -having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

None of these verses seem to makes sense if children in the congregation were baptized.“Those who argue for infant baptism at this point resort to what seems to the present author to be vague language about infants being adopted ‘into the covenant’ or ‘into the covenant community,’ but the New Testament does not speak that way about baptism. Rather, it says that all of those who have been baptized have been buried with Christ, have been raised with him, and have put on Christ.”[4]

Salvation in Baptism?

The Romans Catholic Church says that baptism should be given to infants and is necessary for salvation because it causes regeneration (new birth). To the Catholic Church, baptism, along with its other sacraments, are means of saving grace.

  1. “Baptism is the Sacrament in which man being washed with water in the name of the Three Divine Persons is spiritually reborn.[5]
  2. Furthermore, “Every validly baptized person, even one baptized outside the Catholic Church, becomes a member of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.[6]
  3. “If anyone says that the sacraments of the new law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer that grace on those who place no obstacles in its way, as though they are only outward signs of grace or justice received through faith and certain marks of Christian profession, whereby among men believers are distinguished from unbelievers, let him be anathema.[7]

The big distinctions between Protestants and Catholics have to do with the basic issue of salvation and the gospel itself. The reformation was largely focused on this vital issue.  The reformers proclaimed a salvation that depends on faith alone, not on faith plus works. If baptism is necessary for salvation as the Catholic Church teaches, that means salvation is based on faith plus works.  Therefore, the protestant disagreement on baptism comes largely down to the issue of soteriology (salvation) more so than the practical outworking of biblical texts relating to baptism.

  1. (Ga 3:10) -For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
  2. (Ga 5:4) -You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
  • (Ga 1:6) -I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

What about John 3:5?

John 3:5 -Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Some argue that this text refers to baptism, but this argument does not hold water.  Jesus is talking to Nicodemus before he departed from the earth meaning that Christian baptism was not yet established as it is today. If this text were referring to baptism, this would contradicts witness of the rest of the scriptures that make clear that salvation is by grace through faith (Rom. 3:20,22, 25, 28, Eph. 2:5, 8-9).  Furthermore- If salvation was necessary for salvation and causes regeneration, then the early church in Acts would have emphasized the need for baptism just as much as the need to repent and believe, but they rather see it as a call for the Christian after they repent and beleave.

  • (Ac 8:36) -And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Baptism seems important here, but not necessary for salvation.

Here is a better explanation of John 3 that takes the context into account. Jesus here is referring here to Ezek. 36:25-27

  • (Eze 36:25–27) -I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness’s, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The water in the text is referring to the washing of regeneration, not the washing of christening. Jesus is referring to Ezekiel 36 which is referring to regeneration, not baptism. This explains why Jesus then responds to Nicodemus who does not understand, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (Jn 3:10). Furthermore, immediately after this text we read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Notice it does not say that whoever is baptized shall have everlasting life, but whoever believes. Here are some more important texts.

  1. (Tt 3:5) -he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
    • Once again the water here is not talking about baptism but “by the washing of regeneration”.
  2. (1 Pe 3:21) -Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    • In this text it says “Baptism…now saves you”, but it specifies, that baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body” (in other words it does not remove sin), but rather it is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

Thank you for reading this article.  Feel free to post comments and question, just make sure they are respectful and sincere.

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 165). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 164). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology 971.

[5] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma Trans. By Patrick Lynch, ed. By James Bastible, 4th ed. (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books, 1960).

[6] Ibid 355

[7] Counsel of Trent, Canons on the Sacraments in General (1547) Canon 6