“But the acceptable way of worshiping 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 the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.” – Westminster Confession of Faith, Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day, Chapter 21:1, 1647, Original Edition.
One of the concepts which some will be surprised to find in many religious groups is what is referred to as the regulative principle of worship. In churches of Christ, we have heard this preached and saw this practiced in the past. Recently, many have tried to say that the regulative principle is just a part of our heritage or part of our “faith tradition.” That simply is not the case. It is a Biblical principle which has been acknowledged by many throughout the centuries.
The Regulative Principle of Worship holds that we worship God in the manner He has commanded us in His Word. As the Westminster Confession says, “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (21.1). (http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-regulative-principle-worship/).
“The Regulative Principle of Worship is God’s ordained law for worship… You see there is no neutrality in the way in which we approach God in worship. Either we approach the living God according to His revealed Word (i.e. the Regulative Principle of Worship), or we approach Him according to our revealed word. Someone’s word is going to expressly guide us in worship. The only question is, whose word will guide us? God’s or man’s? ” – Greg Price, Foundation For Reformation: The Regulative Principle Of Worship,
But the acceptable way of worshiping 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 the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.
Note the answer given to question 109 of the Larger Catechism (“What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?”):
The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever . . . corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever . . . all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
The Westminster Catechisms certainly aren’t documents from the churches of Christ nor are they documents which would readily be familiar to members of churches of Christ. However, the Biblical principle of regulation is recognized there.
summarized the Regulative Principle of Worship as, “All worshipping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without His own express commandment, is idolatry”(Works, Vol. III, pg. 34).
The Belgic Confession of Faith links the Reformed churches’ belief in the sufficiency of the Word of God to the area of worship when it says, “For since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an Apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the Apostle Paul saith” (Art. 7). “The whole manner of worship which God requires” is found in the Scriptures. This means we come to worship on God’s terms, not ours; that we do in worship what God wants, not what we want.Continuing in a later section, the Belgic Confession says: “… we reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever. Therefore we admit only of that which tends to nourish and preserve concord and unity, and to keep all men in obedience to God” (Art. 32). (http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-regulative-principle-worship/)
Christians should follow the Regulative Principle in worship because of other great theological principles.
- The regulation of all Christian life and activity is a direct implication of the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God demands our submission to God in all matters–in worship as well. Paul warned against “promoting self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23).
- The Regulative Principle flows naturally from our firm belief in Sola Scriptura. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- Furthermore, since we are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart (Proverbs 28:26; Jeremiah 17:9), we should seek direction from God rather than leading on our own understanding.
The fact that some worship was accepted by God and other worship was not is a demonstration of the regulative principle of worship. In Genesis 4 we see that Cain offered unacceptable worship while Able worshiped appropriately. Every aspect of the tabernacle was by God’s design. Nothing was left to man’s imagination (1 Chronicles 28:11-19). God commanded that his worship was according to all that he had shown the people (Exodus 25-40).
The violation of God’s Regulative Principle was at least in three areas: (1) Uzza was apparently not a Levite (he was the son of Abinadab from Kirjath Jearim of the tribe of Judah, cf. 2 Sam. 7:1; 1 Chron. 2:50; 1 Chron 13:6-7) and according to Numbers 4:15 God commanded Levites to move the Ark (cf. 1 Chron. 15:2); (2) The Ark of God was not to be carried on a cart as the heathen Philistines had done in 1 Samuel 6:10-11 (Israel was not to follow the ways in which the heathens served their gods, Deut. 12:30-32). God had specifically commanded the Ark to be carried on the shoulders with poles (Ex. 25:12-15); and (3) The Ark of God was touched by Uzza, whereas God had commanded that no one touch it (Num. 4:15). God did not accept the act of worship that accompanied the moving of the Ark because He does not accept man’s innovation in worship. David had added to God’s command and there were severe consequences to pay for it. Remember that God did not specifically forbid anyone from another tribe to carry the Ark (he simply commanded that the Levites carry it), nor did he specifically forbid the Ark to be carried on a cart He simply commanded that it be carried with poles). Using the principle that most churches follow today (namely, what God does not specifically forbid is permitted in worship), these churches would have approved of Uzza’s action and perhaps even joined him in moving the Ark to their own destruction. David learned the hard way that nothing is to be added to, nor subtracted from God’s prescriptions as they relate to worship. As David organized a second procession of worship to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, he corrected his previous errors with the attending result that much blessing and joy was experienced by God’s people and most importantly God was honored and treated as holy (1 Chron. 15:1-15). (http://www.reformedpresbytery.org/books/foundref/foundref.htm)
The Old Testament was written, “for our learning.” One of the principles we learn from the Old Testament is that worship is regulated by God. So Hebrews 9:1 says, “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.” The clear implication is that the New Testament has regulations for worship as well. We are to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Paul gave some regulations for worship and said, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).