05 December, 2014

The Regulative Principle of Worship

The Bible is our only infallible rule for faith and practice. There 
is no area of life where this truth is more applicable than in the 
area of worship. Before entering the promised land, God told the Israelites 
how to avoid idolatry and syncretism (i.e., blending or mixing) with 
pagan worship. "Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by 
following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and 
that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations 
serve their gods? even so I will do likewise. Thou shalt not do so 
unto the LORD thy God. . . . What thing soever I command you, 
observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it" 
(Deut. 12:30-32).

Whatever is not commanded by Scripture in the worship of God is forbidden. 
Anything that the church does in worship must have warrant from an 
explicit command of God, be deduced by good and necessary consequence, 
or be derived from approved historical example (e.g., the change of 
day from seventh to first for Lord's day corporate worship). "As 
under the Old Dispensation nothing connected with the worship or discipline 
of the Church of God was left to the wisdom or discretion of man, 
but everything was accurately prescribed by the authority of God, 
so, under the New, no voice is to be heard in the household of faith 
but the voice of the Son of God. The power of the church is purely 
ministerial and declarative. She is only to hold forth the doctrine, 
enforce the laws, and execute the government which Christ has given 
her. She is to add nothing of her own to, and to subtract nothing 
from, what her Lord has established. Discretionary power she does 
not possess."3 

The view commonly held among Protestant churches today is that anything 
is permitted in worship, provided it is not explicitly forbidden in 
the Bible. This was, and is, the accepted view among Episcopalian 
and Lutheran churches. The early Reformed and Presbyterian churches 
rejected this view as unscriptural. The Westminster Confession of 
Faith says, "the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is 
instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that 
He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices 
of men. . . or any other way not prescribed in the holy 
Scripture."4 What is today called the regulative principle 
of worship is not something John Calvin or John Knox invented but 
is simply a divine imperative. It is a crucial aspect of God's law. 
"We say that the command to add nothing is an organic part of 
the whole law, as law, and, therefore, that every human addition to 
the worship of God, even if it be not contrary to any particular command, 
is yet contrary to the general command that nothing be added."5

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