Regulative principle of worship

Regulative principle of worship

The regulative principle of worship is a 20th century term used for a teaching shared by Calvinists and Anabaptists on how the second commandment and the Bible orders public worship. The substance of the doctrine regarding worship is that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command or example in the Bible are permissible in worship, or in other words, that God institutes in the Scriptures everything he requires for worship in the Church and that everything else is prohibited. The term "regulative principle" is less frequently broadened to apply to other areas such as church government (Thornwell, 1841-2), but in this sense it becomes synonymous with the principle of "sola scriptura".

The regulative principle is often contrasted with the normative principle of worship which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship, as long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church. In short, there must be agreement with the general practice of the Church and no prohibition in Scripture for whatever is done in worship.

The normative principle of worship is the generally accepted approach to worship practiced by Lutherans, Anglicans, Evangelicals, and Methodists. The regulative principle of worship is generally practiced by the conservative Reformed churches, Restoration Movement, and in other conservative Protestant denominations, and it finds expression in confessional documents such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the London Baptist Confession of Faith.


The regulative principle regarding worship, which distinguishes the Calvinist approach to the public worship of God from other views, is that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command or example in the New Testament are permissible in worship. Its strictest interpreters understand this to mean that God institutes in the scriptures precisely what he requires for worship in the church and that everything else is prohibited. As the regulative principle is reflected in Calvin's own thought, it is driven by his evident antipathy toward the Roman Catholic Church and her worship, and it associates musical instruments with icons, which he considered violations of the Ten Commandments' prohibition of graven images.Barber.] On this basis, many early Calvinists also eschewed musical instruments and advocated exclusive psalmody in worship, [Schwertley (1998).] though Calvin himself allowed other scriptural songs as well as psalms, and this practice typified presbyterian worship and the worship of other Reformed churches for some time.

Those who oppose instruments in worship, such as John Murray and G. I. Williamson, argue first that there is no example of the use of musical instruments for worship in the New Testament and second that the Old Testament uses of instruments in worship were specifically tied to the ceremonial laws of the Temple in Jerusalem, which they take to be abrogated for the church. A similar view is taken with respect to dancing in worship. [Schwertley (1998).] Since the 1800s, however, most of the Reformed churches have modified their understanding of the regulative principle and make use of musical instruments, believing that Calvin and his early followers went beyond the biblical requirements of the Decalogue and that such things are circumstances of worship requiring biblically rooted wisdom, rather than an explicit command. Despite the protestations of those few who hold to a strict view of the regulative principle, the vast majority of modern Calvinist churches make use of hymns and musical instruments, and many also employ contemporary worship music styles and worship bands. [Frame (1996). ]

While music is the central issue in worship debates, other matters have been contentious as well, including doxologies, benedictions, corporate confession of sin, prayer and the readings of creeds or portions of scripture. The presence of any one of these, their order and priority have ranged over various denominations.



*cite journal |url= |journal=Reformed Perspectives Magazine |volume=8 |issue=26 |date=June 25, 2006 |title=Luther and Calvin on Music and Worship |first=John |last=Barber |accessdate=2008-05-06
*cite web |authorlink=John Frame |last=Frame |first=John |url= |title=A Fresh Look at the Regulative Principle |publisher=Third Millennium Ministries |accessdate=2008-05-07
*cite journal |author=— |url= |title=The Doctrine of the Christian Life: Regulating worship |journal=Reformed Perspectives Magazine |volume=8 |issue=32 |date=August 2006 |accessdate=2008-05-07
*cite journal |author=— |url= |title=Some Questions About The Regulative Principle |journal=Westminster Theological Journal |date=1992 |volume=54 |pages=p. 358 |accessdate=2008-05-29
*cite journal |author=— |title=Reply to T. David Gordon |journal=Westminster Theological Journal |date=1994 |volume=56 |pages=pp. 181-83
*cite book |author=— |title=Worship in Spirit and Truth |date=1996 |isbn=0-87552-242-4
*cite book |author=— |title=Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense |date=1997 |isbn=0-87552-212-2
*cite web |author=Frame, John and Darryl Hart |url= |title=The Regulative Principle: Scripture, Tradition, and Culture (a written debate) |date=1998 |accessdate=2008-05-29
*cite journal |last=Gordon |first=T. David |title=Some Answers about the Regulative Principle |journal=Westminster Theological Journal |date=1993 |volume=55 |pages=pp. 321-29
*cite web |author=— |url= |title=Nine Lines of Argument in Favor of the Regulative Principle of Worship |accessdate=2008-05-29
*cite book |last=Johnson |first=Terry L. |title=Reformed Worship: Worship that Is According to Scripture |date=2000 |isbn=1-884416-33-0
*cite web |last=McMahon |first=C. Matthew |url= |publisher=A Puritan's Mind |title=The Regulative Principle in Worship: A brief article |accessdate=2008-05-29
*cite web |authorlink=Richard L. Pratt, Jr.|last=Pratt |first=Richard |url= |title=The Regulative Principle |publisher=Third Millennium Ministries |accessdate=2008-05-29
*cite web |last=Schwertley |first=Brian |date=2000 |url= |title=Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principle of Worship |accessdate=2008-05-29
*cite web |author=— |date=1998 |url= |title=Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God |accessdate=2008-05-29
* Thornwell, James Henley, [ The Regulative Principle Applied to Church Government] , excerpted from "Argument Against Church-Boards" (1841) and "The Argument For Church Boards Answered" (1842), in "Collected Writings", volume 4. Retrieved on May 29, 2008.

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