“No heart can conceive that treasury of mercies which lies in this one privilege, in having liberty and ability to approach unto God at all times, according to His mind and will.” John Owen (1616 – 1683)
As we look at how to apply the Regulative Principle to worship (and life), we need to examine the role we have in the implementation of our duty to worship in spirit and truth. While it is true that we are to “do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) as a rule in a wide, or broad sense; also true is the command to “do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24) in a specific, or narrow sense; the Scripture does not give us specifics as to when or where to gather together on Sunday, which or how many hymns to sing, what or how many prayers to have, what the sermon text should be, and so forth. The Westminster divines recognized this and wrote in the Confession of Faith, “that there are some circumstances (emphasis mine) concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (1.6).
The word “circumstances” is the key to our understanding here. Remembering that “what is not commanded is forbidden”, a worship service is a meeting that is held for a specific purpose and the details concerning that purpose are to be “ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed”. Scripture does not specifically prohibit that we employ a knife throwing exhibition during a worship service, and entertainment that is ordered by biblical standards under certain conditions is acceptable, even to the point of being seen as worship in a broad sense. However, Scripture does instruct us as to the purpose of a worship service, and entertainment seen as acceptable under different circumstances, does not meet with the specific circumstance of a worship service. This is where the exercise of “Christian prudence” ordered (that is, directed) by Scripture, instructs and guides us in the application of the Regulative Principle.
The truth of the matter is that God, in His Word, commands and instructs us in every aspect of our lives. The Regulative Principle then should be seen as not only for the ordering of our worship (public and private) but also a command for every part of our lives. “Common to human actions and societies” takes into account the timelessness and universal application of the Scripture. The misuse of the Regulative Principle to enforce traditionalism or a set form of standard, of the very sort that is to be avoided, has been an oft repeated error in Christian history. The Scripture says of Jesus ” For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). There are many different people and cultures called to worship in spirit and truth, within the boundaries prescribed in Scripture. Think of it this way, a fish in a lake has great freedom of movement in the water but once removed from the water, that freedom is lost. The Regulative Principle sets us free to worship within the set principles of the Word and also allows for applications of those commands that will most edify worshipers of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation at whatever point of history they have been Providentially placed. Stay tuned, as we learn more about “staying in the water” as we continue studying through our outline.
Grace and Peace,
The Shepherd’s Crook