Like Button

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Regulative Principle of Worship

Maybe you've heard of it. It's primarily a Reformed-circles thing. We have the principle of Christian Liberty in which we believe that Scripture teaches that whatever is not specifically commanded or forbidden is not commanded nor forbidden. It's a matter of liberty, a matter of choice. There are principles to keep in mind, like not causing a brother to stumble, but, in general, that's the idea. The Regulative Principle of Worship is kind of the reverse. As far as worship goes, that which is not specifically commanded is not allowed in worship.

I get where it comes from. I've even argued it from time to time. The basic premise is the one offered to Aaron on the event of his two sons being burnt to death by God. "By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy" (Lev 10:3). Their sin? They "offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them" (Lev 10:2). So, that which is not commanded is not allowed for worship of God. That's the principle.

Here's my difficulty. While I see the idea in Scripture, I find myself running incredibly short on commands. What has God commanded? What is it that we are to do (and, by inference, not to do)? If you ask the Reformed community, you get all sorts of answers. Only worship on Sundays. Sunday is the Lord's Day and that's the only day allowed. Use the Psalter. The Psalter provides worship songs taken directly from the Psalms. Those are okay. Oh, and do not, under any circumstances, have images, pictures, artwork, or the like in your worship. (It's a 2nd Commandment thing.) Well, okay, but 1) I don't find those things commanded in Scripture and 2) that leaves precious little for what we call "worship."

I can find the biblical explanation of the principle of Christian Liberty (primarily Rom 14:1-23 and 1 Cor 10:23-33), I don't find a command not to worship God in any way other than what He commands. I can see that we've clearly opted to often move God out of the center of our worship to Him. We often fail to regard Him as holy in our worship. We think that more secular and less religious is better worship. We think that more worldly music and certainly minimizing those sermons would make sense ... except it doesn't serve to treat Him as holy. It serves to treat Him as common. It is a problem. I just don't think that it's a problem that is addressed by the argument that we do nothing to worship Him that He doesn't command since I can find no such commandment. The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 96, asks, "What is God’s will for us in the second commandment?" The answer they give is "That we in no way make any image of God nor worship Him in any other way than has been commanded in God’s Word." Well, that's pretty definitive ... but it's not in there. The 2nd commandment covers worshiping other gods and/or making idols (or images if you prefer), but nothing about "do nothing to worship Him that He doesn't command."

The regulative principle leaves tracks in the pages of the Bible, but it doesn't actually show its face. The Bible has lots of things laid out to do and not to do. Even Christian Liberty is spelled out for us. The regulative principle, while possibly implied in places, isn't that kind of clear. Exactly what is included in commanded worship isn't spelled out for us. What worship God deems as acceptable and only what worship is acceptable isn't listed anywhere. I am thoroughly convinced that we are really, really cavalier about what we call "worship" (and much of it isn't), but I'm not convinced that the Regulative Principle of Worship is thoroughly defensible from the pages of Scripture. I guess you'll just have to figure it out for yourself.

1 comment:

David said...

Unfortunately, God isn't still striking is down for "strange fire", so we don't know that we're doing it wrong or right. While we may have more freedom than the RPoW suggests, I'd still urge caution based on Aaron's sons. If only we knew more about the strange fire and where it came from, maybe we could find some principles in it.