In my last article on worship I went into detail to explain what the ‘regulative principle’ is, I also spent some time breaking worship up into its various parts, namely: Elements, form and circumstances.
Today I would like to look at how these two things meet, in other words what interplay is there between the ‘regulative principle’ and the various parts of worship? If you have no idea what I mean by the parts of worship I have listed, or what I mean by the ‘regulative principle’ I strongly recommend you read the previous post on worship before continuing with this one.
The big question that I think often goes unasked in our everyday churches is, “Does the ‘Regulative Principle’ apply to all the parts of worship, or only to some of them?” It is my opinion that it is an incorrect application of the ‘RP’ that is behind much ‘unhealthy’ worship in churches.
– Circumstances –
Under the Gospel, neither prayer nor any other aspect of religious worship is tied to, or made more acceptable by, any place in which it is preformed, or towards which it is directed(1). God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and truth(2)… (1. John 4:21; 2. Mal 1:11; 1 Tim 2:8; John 4:23-24)
I think it is clear from the confession that the ‘circumstances’ of worship is irrelevant. A church is a church whether it meets under a tree or in a building or even in a Cathedral.
– Elements –
With regards to elements, I think chapter 22:5 makes reference, but instead of calling it ‘elements’ calls it ‘parts’. It then goes on to mention all the elements which Scripture explicitly state must be in worship:
1) Reading of Scripture
2) Preaching and hearing of the Word
3) Teaching and admonishing of one another
4) Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
6) The Lord’s Supper
The first chapter affirms again the main idea of the ‘regulative principle’ when is says, “He (God) may not be worshipped … by any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures (22:1)”
I agree with this, I must since my conscience is captive to God’s Word. I will not have smoke things shaking in my church to show how our prayers rise to heaven, I will not have icons or crucifixes for worshippers to fix their focus on (22:1 uses this as an example of what it means). These are the acceptable methods we use to Glorify God in worship (note that ‘announcements’ are considered as part since natural light tells us we need them).
So far we have seen that the regulative principle does not apply to the ‘circumstances’ of worship, but clearly it does apply to the ‘elements’ of worship. Which leads me to my next question…?
– Form –
Does the regulative principle apply to the ‘form’ of worship? It is my opinion that it does not, but rather that the ‘form’ calls for an application of Biblical wisdom (Col 3:16) and ‘natural light’. If we were to apply the regulative principle in its strictest sense to ‘form’ (meaning not doing anything in a way not explicitly said in the New Testament) we would have no lecterns, pulpits or stages, the shortest sermon in church would have to be 50min minimum (based on book of Hebrews), seating would be an issue since we have no idea of where or in which direction people should sit, furthermore, the use of projectors/overheads would be very questionable. I realize I am being facetious, and an argument from inconsistency of those who hold to the principle is not an argument against it.
I think in ‘form’ we need to apply a variety of Biblical principles as well as the wisdom God has so given men to be able to make the elements most conducive to their purpose, namely worshipping God, or to put it another way, to declare the worthiness of God in ALL His attributes.
I trust that again you have found this helpful and stimulating as we think on this issue together. Next week I will address the issue where I feel the Baptist Confession of Faith falls short, as mentioned in my last post, since it ties in closely with the kind of wisdom I am talking about with regards to form.