Regulative Principle of Worship Part I

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The Regulative Principle in Worship: A brief article.
by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

http://reformedperspectives.org/newfiles/ric_pratt/TH.Pratt.Reg.Princ.pdf

Sola Scriptura

And the Regulative Principle of Worship

Brian Schwertley

Edited by Stephen Pribble

Introduction

Sola scriptura is one of the fundamental principles of the Protestant reformation. (One could even argue that the other great principal doctrines of the Reformation [such as sola gratia, sola fide] are logically dependent upon sola scriptura.) By making the Bible the sole standard and authority for faith and life, Protestants were able to refute all the Romish doctrines and practices that originated from human tradition. The Calvinistic reformers achieved a greater, more thorough reformation in the church because they applied sola scriptura more consistently, logically and effectively to doctrine, church government and worship than did their Anglican and Lutheran counterparts.

The doctrine of sola scriptura, with its teaching regarding the authority, completeness, perfection and sufficiency of Scripture, needs to be taught today with a renewed zeal and urgency. The reasons for this renewed zeal are not merely because of the current popularity of Romanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, modernism, neo-orthodoxy, the cults, the charismatic movement and the church growth movement. The chief reason is the current declension among the conservative Reformed and Presbyterian denominations today, particularly in the area of worship.

Not only are many Reformed and Presbyterian churches allowing human innovations in worship, but the regulative principle of Scripture, and the correlative doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible in all matters of faith including worship, is openly rejected by many pastors and elders.

The regulative principle of worship (which is sola scriptura applied to the worship conducted by the church) is one of the greatest achievements of the Calvinistic reformation. In order to shore up the foundation of Reformed worship we must go back to the doctrine of sola scriptura. We pray that this study will be used for the reformation of the church.

Reformed believers today need to understand the theological relationship that exists between sola scriptura and the regulative principle of worship. The reasons that such an understanding is necessary are manifold. First, the regulative principle of worship is directly related to sola scriptura doctrines such as the infallibility, absolute authority, sufficiency and perfection of Scripture.

The Calvinistic reformers and the Reformed confessions often referred to sola scriptura passages (e.g., Dt. 4:2, Pr. 30:6) as proof texts for the regulative principle of worship. When sola scriptura is consistently applied to worship, the result is Puritan and Reformed worship. Second, opponents of the regulative principle often argue against it on the basis of the similarity between sola scriptura proof texts and regulative principle proof texts. Such argumentation usually follows one or two lines of thought.

Some argue that the proof texts cited in favor of the regulative principle (e.g., Dt. 12:32) are really only teaching sola scriptura. In other words, it is exegetically illegitimate to use such passages for the strict regulation of worship. Others argue that the similar and even identical nature of the sola scriptura passages and the regulative principle passages does not prove a strict regulation of worship but actually proves the opposite. This argument is based on the following syllogism. Sola scriptura teaches that the Bible regulates all of life. Yet all of life contains many activities that are not strictly regulated (in other words, the Bible gives man a great deal of liberty in things indifferent [adiaphora]). Therefore, it follows that the regulative principle or sola scriptura as it applies to worship also leaves man a great deal of liberty in the sphere of worship.

In this study we will examine the relationship between sola scriptura and the regulative principle in order to prove that sola scriptura, properly understood, leads directly to the regulative principle. Then we will refute many of the popular arguments used today against the regulative principle, including the argument based on the similarity between sola scriptura and regulative principle proof texts.1


1 Many professing Christians today regard theological matters as of little or no importance. Some even regard theological debate and the refutation of false teaching as unloving, arrogant and insulting to brethren of different theological persuasions. Some believers make comments such as: “Should we not be building bridges rather than erecting walls and fortresses?” While there is no question that theological debate and refutation must be conducted in a spirit of Christian love and concern for professing Christians of different theological opinions, the idea that theological precision, debate and refutation are somehow bad or unworthy of our time is blatantly unbiblical for a number of reasons. First, every Christian, and especially every minister, has a moral obligation to defend the truth, to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and to convict those who contradict (Tit. 1:9).

In a world full of heresy, apostasy and wolves in sheep’s clothing, a lack of theological precision and an unwillingness to defend the truth on the part of ministers is unpastoral and inexcusable. Second, one of the great lessons of church history is that God has used heresy and theological controversy to corporately sanctify his church. Enemies of the truth, heretics and theological perverts have arisen and assaulted the church from within. Yet God in his infinite kindness and wisdom has used such occasions to advance his own cause and kingdom. Many crucial doctrines have been clarified and purified in the flames of controversy and persecution. Should we expect our times to be any different?

James Begg writes (1875): “Our own day has furnished abundant illustrations of the general truth, thus so well stated, although the worst is probably yet to come. The point of attack from time to time is varied, but the struggle continues unabated. When Christian men and women have got somewhat accustomed to defend one true position, the assault is directed to another, and perhaps from a new quarter. Although we shall not venture to apportion the relative importance of great principles, it may safely be affirmed that nothing can be more important than questions connected with the acceptable worship of God” (Anarchy in Worship [Edinburgh: Lyon and Gemmell, 1875], 4).

Third, the only method and ground for true biblical ecumenicity is not to ignore truth or theology but to vigorously study it, adhere to it, advocate it and defend it. Any type of “Christian” union or cooperation that ignores, downplays or alters the truth is destructive of the faith. Such a union arises not from the bedrock of Scripture but from the shifting sand of backslidden and apostate bureaucrats.

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