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.

Is the Regulative Principle Biblical?

In last week’s blog (read it here), I compared the normative principle of worship and the regulative principle of worship.  Churches that practice the normative principle say if the Bible does not forbid something then it is ok for the worship service.  This includes things such as candle lighting, bell choir, holiday decorations, non-worship music, skits and plays, and much more.  Churches that practice the regulative principle only practice what the Bible commands for corporate worship.  To summarize, the normative principle says, “whatever is not forbidden is permitted,” but the regulative principle argues that “whatever is not commanded is forbidden.”

As I stated in last week’s blog, the regulative principle, “whatever is not commanded is forbidden” should be practiced in the church.   The reason for this will be argued from the Bible itself in this article.   I agree with Derick Thomas who states, “it is difficult to see why anyone who values the authority of Scripture would find such a principle objectionable. Is not the whole of life itself to be lived according to the rule of Scripture? This is a principle dear to the hearts of all who call themselves biblical Christians. To suggest otherwise is to open the door to antinomianism and license.”[1]  Yet I find most churches are far from the regulative principle, hence the need for this defence.

Biblical Doctrines

I begin my argument first with several overarching biblical doctrines that point to the necessity of the regulative principle, and then transition into specific biblical examples and texts.

Doctrine of Sin

As Christians, we must recognize our fallen nature and our distorted view of life apart from God’s perfect revelation.  Ultimately, when left to ourselves we generally mess things up.   Even when our intentions are good, we utterly fail to please God apart from His revelation to help.  This reality leads us to reach out for the scriptures – our guide for life and worship.  Even Jesus Himself says “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).  Though Jesus has cleansed us of our sins and is now making us holy, there still remains corruption, blindness, and sin that continually influences us and distorts our choices.  If Jesus, our sinless savior and example of human perfection, did nothing on His own but relied upon God the father for everything, should we not do the same?

Sufficiency of Scripture

As Christians, we believe that God’s word is not only true and without error, but it is also sufficient.  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 also see 2 Timothy 3:16).  The sufficiency of Scripture assures us that we do not need to add to the Scriptures as it is already perfect, complete, and sufficient.  God has told us how He is to be worshiped, there is no need to add extra things to the list as if God forgot to include them.

The Power of Scripture

As Christians, we desire for our gathering to edify, equip, correct, and train the church for the work of ministry.   The question that is asked though is what is the best possible way of bringing that about?  Paul tells us the answer by saying, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  So the word of God, the Scriptures, are the most effective tool in transforming and edifying the church.  This would explain why the Scriptures themselves command us to sing the Bible in psalms and hymns, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, and see the Bible in the sacraments.  We should never take time away from these commanded, powerful practices in order to do less effective practices that the Bible has not commanded.

The Doctrine of the Church

As Christians we recognize that we are a community of believers who gather together under the authority and headship of Christ (Colossians 1:18).  This means that what we do as a church must not come from our creativity and imagination or from our desire to gather more people. This would be the case if the church were simply another organization for the community such as the Boy Scouts or 4H.  Instead, everything the church does must first be under the Lordship of Christ and must align with his word.  This is what it means for Christ to be the head of the Church – he writes our order of service, not us.

Specific Old Testament Examples/Texts

The First Two Commandments

Exodus 20:1-6 And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

What we see in these two commandments is that the Lord alone is God and is to be worshiped as He has instructed us.  The people were accustomed to following the pattern of surrounding cultures of making images that represents God or gods but the Lord demands that He be worshiped as He commands.  Worshiping out of creativity or the traditions of man is idolatry as we see in the next example.

The Golden Calf

Exodus 32:1-6 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

Exodus 32:21-24 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

If you pay careful attention, you will notice that in their cultural context, the people were being very religious.  It even says they were going to make a feast to the Lord (v. 5).  In their eyes, this calf was simply an image of the Lord who brought them out of Egypt and was their means of worshiping the Lord.  In other words, their major sin was not a failure to worship, their major sin was a failure to worship the Lord as He commands.

Construction of Tabernacle

Exodus 25:40 And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

Exodus 31:2-11  See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.

God gave the Israelites specific instructions on their plans for worship down to the colors, materials, and measurements.  The Lord makes clear that he is not OK with the builders adding to the instructions.  The Lord is saying that he is only to be worshiped in the manner that he prescribes.  I would be curious to see how God would have responded if the builders decided to add a fog machine at the entrance to the holy place.  Based on the story of Nadab and Abihu, I do not think it would have gone over very well.

Nadab and Abihu

Leviticus 10:1-7, Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.

Once again, Nadab and Abihu’s great sin was not a lack of worship.  The great sin that they committed was rather worshiping the Lord in a way that was not commanded. They offered “strange” or “unauthorized” fire before the Lord. This was a sacrifice that God did not directly forbid, yet was an “unauthorized” sacrifice.  The same goes today within the church.  We must not practice that which God does not command for our gathering, lest we follow in the footsteps of Nadab and Abihu.  The text even says that their death was not to be mourned, even by their father lest more people die!  Anyone that mourns the death of Nadab and Abihu would have died before the Lord in His holiness.  We must see and fear the holiness of God in worship.  Consider and heed what the Lord said after consuming Nadab and Abihu with fire, “I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (v. 3).  Also see Korah’s rebellion which tells a similar story (Numbers 16).

Saul’s Offering

1 Samuel 13:11-14 Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

In this text we see Samuel do something that appears minor.  He offers a sacrifice to the Lord after Samuel the priest does not show up in time.  We must sympathize with Saul considering his situation.  He is there with only 600 Israelites who are trembling in fear (v.6-7, 15), surrounded by “thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude” (v. 5) all ready to kill him.  Samuel told Saul to meet him at Gilgal and after seven days Samuel would arrive to offer the sacrifice (1 Samuel 10:8).  Samuel does not arrive after seven days so Saul offers up the sacrifice himself.  Seems minor right?  Yet because of this offence, his kingdom is taken away from him and he is rejected by the Lord.  Samuel tells him it is “because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (v. 14).  Considering the context however, we must ask the question: To which command is Samuel referring to?  Saul was never told not to offer the sacrifice.  What we see then is that when it comes to the worship of the Lord, what He does not command is forbidden.  We must heed the word of the Lord by not taking anything away from, or adding to, God’s instruction in worship.

Uzzah

2 Samuel 6:1-7 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.

We see demonstrated in this text God’s holiness and demand that worship be done according to His command.  Taking away from or adding to God’s instructions do not honor the Lord.  What Uzzah did in reaching out his hand seems minor and harmless yet we know from God’s response that this was no minor offence.  The Lord never said “Thou shalt not carry the ark on a cart,” but God did not command it therefore the people must not do it. They were only to do what the Lord commanded, nothing more, nothing less. David, when he brings up the Ark of God in a second attempt, explains his error, “Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule” (1 Chronicles 15:13).  God demands that his people worship Him according to what he commands.  Israel most likely got the idea of carrying the Ark on a cart from the Philistine example (1 Samuel 6:11).  It never turns out well when people worship and serve the Lord by following the example of others instead of the Lord himself.

King Jeroboam

1 Kings 12:32-33 And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings.

Notice the careful wording of this text Jeroboam appointed a feast (v. 32). He instituted a feast in the month “that he had devised from his own heart” (v. 33).  Furthermore, the text repeats and emphasizes the place of sacrifice: Bethel instead of Jerusalem.  The Lord had appointed feasts and a place of worship, yet Jeroboam made another feast and another place of worship beyond what the Lord had commanded.  The great sin of Jeroboam was worshiping the Lord in a manner that the Lord had not commanded.  It even makes clear that Jeroboam was still, in a sense, worshiping the Lord, he was simply doing it in a manner that he devised in his own heart.  When we practice the normative principle, “what God has not forbidden is allowed,” we quickly fall into the same sin.  It is by Jeroboam’s action that he “caused Israel to sin” (1 Kings 15:30), ultimately leading to their exile by the Assyrians.

King Uzziah

1 Chronicles 26:16-21 But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD.

Once again we see an example of someone worshiping the Lord in a way that is not commanded by the Lord.  King Uzziah in his pride enters the temple with fire to offer to the Lord.  He was doing a religious practice of worship to the Lord, but in a way that the Lord did not command.  In response, the Lord strikes him with leprosy.

King Ahaz

2 Chronicles 28:3 He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations (II Chron. 28:3).

Jeremiah 7:31 they have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire — something I did not command nor did it enter my mind

We might assume that the main offence of Ahaz is that he and the people were sacrificing children on the altar.  In our eyes that is the most detestable thing in the text, but this is not the only thing  the Lord focuses on.   The greatest sin of Ahaz was not simply that he offered children on an altar, as bad as that was, but that they were worshiping God in a way the Lord did not command.  Notice the careful wording of the Lord in Jeremiah 7:31, “something I did not command nor did it enter my mind.”  The Lord did not say, “How dare you offer children on the altar” but, rather, “How dare you do something in worship which I did not command you to do?”   We must worship the Lord based on what he has commanded without adding things which He has not commanded.

My conclusion from these OT texts is this: “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deut. 4:2).

Specific New Testament Examples/Texts

When reading the NT, what was just examined in the OT regarding worship and the nature of God is, for the most part, assumed and taken for granted.  Even so, Jesus still speaks to the issue of worship and His apostles correct the church in their practices as well.  Through this we will see that God calls his people to gather to worship Him by doing what He commands without adding or taking away.

Pharisees

Mark 7:5-9 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And He said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And He said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

The context of this text is not worship or church gatherings, yet the principle is important.  God desires that his people listen to His voice instead of the voice of tradition or prevailing ideas.  The Pharisees’ problem was that they were adding to what God had commanded while neglecting the actual commands of God.   As a church, we must not add to what God has commanded us to do.  By doing this, we will ultimately neglect what He has actually called us to do.

The Samaritan Woman

John 4:23-24 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. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

Jesus here gives two specific attributes of Christian worship. This worship must be in spirit and in truth.  These two attributes are profound when fused together as they express God’s will for New Covenant worship.  Let us be clear then on this point: truth is nothing less than what God has revealed.  Therefore to worship the Lord in truth is to worship Him in line with His Word.  The same can be said of the Holy Spirit, author of God’s Word.  When we diverge from the Holy Scriptures in worship, the experience can be both “charismatic” and “religious” in many ways, yet it will be devoid of both spirit and truth.  According to Jesus, worship that is not Biblical cannot be called true Christian worship.

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

The second half of the great commission is to teach what Christ has commanded.  This idea of “obeying Jesus” and “doing all that is commanded” is often wrongly labeled “legalistic.”  Legalism is practiced when we obey Jesus thinking that our obedience will earn grace from God and the forgiveness of sins. Obeying Jesus’ commands is simply part of what it means to be a Christians (John 14:15).  So in the great commission we are told to teach all that Jesus commands, yet if we practice things in our time of worship that Jesus does not command, are we not teaching new disciples to obey what Jesus has not commanded?  New disciples can quickly become confused regarding what is commanded and what is simply “extra.”  It is a better and safer path that eliminates much confusion when we simply do and teach what Jesus commanded, no more and no less.

The Church of Rome

Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Here the church is told how they are to worship the Lord in a way that is holy and acceptable to God.  We are to present our bodies to the Lord, not becoming like the world but rather being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  The question that the church needs to ask then is, “When we as a church do things in worship which the Lord has not commanded, where did we get the idea?”  Generally, the answer is either from Old Covenant ritual worship which has been fulfilled and therefore abolished in Christ, or from the world. Concerning the former, I address this below from Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews.  Concerning being conformed to the world, Paul is quite clear: Don’t be conformed to the world!  Let us do what the Bible commands, nothing more, nothing less.

The Church in Galatia

Galatians 4:9-11 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

The book of Galatians is the only letter of Paul that we have beginning with a rebuke instead of a blessing.  Paul says that they are turning to a different gospel which cannot save.  A central theme of this false gospel is commandments and practices that the Lord does not command.  They are rebuked in 4:9-11 quoted above, not for doing something the Lord forbade, but for doing things which the Lord did not command of New Covenant Christians.  They are “observing days and months and seasons and years.”  They are going back to the rituals of the Old Covenant which were fulfilled in the work of Christ.  We must not follow in the footsteps of the Galatians.

The Church in Colossae

Colossians 2:16-23 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

What we see in the Colossian church is that some are insisting on following practices not commanded by God upon New Covenant believers.  These include dietary restrictions, fasting regulations, festivals, Old Testament Sabbath observance, among other things. Notice in verse v. 18 and v. 23 that they are insisting on asceticism which is a religious practice.  Paul says that these things have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  He says these are promoting “self-made religion” (v. 23).  This is so key to the regulative principle of worship.  We as a church must stand far away from self-made religion by practicing what God calls us to practice while avoiding that which God has not commanded.  When we integrate our own ideas into our community of worship, we are creating “self-made religion,” which has “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

Book of Hebrews

The entire book of Hebrews speaks against ceremonial worship to which the church was tempted to return.  G. I Williamson puts it well when he writes, “The whole book of Hebrews is, among other things, an extended application of the regulative principle. It argues that the whole system of worship, commanded by God under the Mosaic administration of God’s covenant, is now obsolete (8:13). And what do we have in its place? The answer is that we have ‘the real thing’ — not the old ‘copies’ of heavenly things, but — ‘the heavenly things themselves’ (9:23). Whereas the people of God, in the time of Moses, came to an earthly mountain (12:18), we ‘come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,’ and so on (12:22). The church today, in other words, is supposed to live in the realm of heavenly realities, and not any longer in the realm of shadowy symbols.”[2]

What we see in this summary is that God is utterly concerned about how He is worshiped.   Not only this, He calls us not to add to, or take away from, what He has commanded us as a church.   I hope and pray this article was helpful for you and I would love to converse with you about it.  Feel free to leave a comment.  The next post will be the application of the regulative principle for the church.

Also See:

Part 1 What is the Regulative Principle of Worship?

Part 3 How do we Apply the Regulative Principle?

 

[1] http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/regulative-principle-worship/

[2] http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-scriptural-regulative-principle-of-worship.php

What is the Regulative Principle of Worship?

If you visit different churches, you will discover two different perspectives on church worship and gatherings.  Neither of these terms below can be found in the Bible, so I will be careful to define things as clear as possible. I will do my best to present them both to you with respect to alternative viewpoints, and share what I see taught in the Bible.

Normative Principle– Most churches in our day have and practice this perspective.  This understanding sees it this way:  if something is not expressly forbidden by Scripture, it can be used in corporate worship since we have freedom in the gospel.  This allows for the practices of tradition on one hand and innovation on the other during worship on the Lord’s day.  Here are a few examples: Candle lighting, incense burning, performances, singing of non-Christian songs, flashy holiday decorations, giveaways, and anything else that is not found in the Bible yet is not forbidden by the Bible.

Regulative Principle– Not as many churches in our day practice the regulative principle, though there was a time where it was more common.  This understanding sees it this way: If something is not commanded by scriptures, it should not be done in the worship service.  This approach is known for its simplicity. This type of church will generally at least four main things every Sunday: singing praises to the Lord, prayer, devoting time to the public reading of scripture, and the preaching of God’s Word.

Which one of these do you think is best? What do you think is most effective in doing God’s work? Though not every Christian agrees on this, as a pastor I feel quite strongly that churches should practice the regulative principle (If defined as I have above and in Par 3).  In other words, God’s word alone regulates our worship to Him.  We should not add to or take away from anything that God has commanded us to do especially when we gather together as a church.  I intend to touch on this just a little bit in my sermon this morning from 1 Samuel 13.  You can listen to this sermon here.

Also see:

Part 2 Is the Regulative Principle Biblical?

Part 3 How do we Apply the Regulative Principle?