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Kevin DeYoung offers a great primer on the regulative principle of worship and how it creates freedom.  The regulative principle, while it can be stated in various forms (and the differences have practical consequences!), simply means that the worship we offer to God should be determined by God through His word.  The Bible regulates or rules Christian worship.  Makes sense, right?

However, before Kevin gets to the freedom this simple but important idea has, he gives us a much-needed warning regarding the regulative principle:

The regulative principles says, “Let’s worship God as he wants to be worshiped.” At its worst, this principle leads to constant friction and suspicion between believers. Christians beat each other up trying to discern exactly where the offering should go in the service or precisely which kinds of instruments have scriptural warrant. When we expect the New Testament to give a levitical lay out of theone liturgy that pleases God, we are asking the Bible a question it didn’t mean to answer. It is possible for the regulative principle to become a religion unto itself.

That certainly is possible and some people have the scars to show it.  However, it seems to me that the vast majority of Christians and churches have the opposite problem: They’ve never even heard of ‘the regulative principle’ and as a consequence they lack the freedom it brings.  More often churches tear themselves apart over preferences and ideas not found in the Bible, not over those elements in worship required by the Bible.

So, we need to heed the warning while embracing the freedom the regulative principle brings.   Kevin outlines five ways the regulative principle creates freedom for congregations that use it:

1. Freedom from cultural captivity.

2. Freedom from constant battles over preferences.

3. Freedom of conscience.

4. Freedom to be cross cultural.

5. Freedom to focus on the center.

Consider the entire post here.  For a more in-depth treatment you might read Ryken, Thomas, and Duncan (eds.), Give God Praise: A Vision for Reforming Worship: Celebrating the Legacy of James Montgomery Boice.  The first three chapters present the biblical foundation and case for regulating worship by the Scripture.  This section is worth the price of the book.

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4 thoughts on “Freedom through Rule”

  1. I always tend to be concerned that the extremes may lead people down a wrong path and away from faith and into laws given by men. One the one hand I totally agree that worship (church) should be done according to scripture. On the other hand, I make that statement with some hint of reservation because thoughts go through my mind of seeing groups of people taking it to the extreme and becoming, as you said, “a religion unto itself”.

    I wonder if it wouldn’t be beneficial for local pastors of different churches and denominations to get together once every so often for a type of mastermind group; similar to the recent Elephant Room. Maybe those pastors who are more grounded in their faith and walk with Jesus Christ can, in some way, be an inspiration to those pastors who’s walks are, perhaps, less than solid.

  2. HB says:

    What do you think about Churches that have two different worship services? One traditional and one contemporary. Does that feed the the argument of My preference and My style. Can this cause disunity?

  3. Henry says:

    One thing that I always find odd in Presbyterian churches who regularly esteem the regulative principle is how different their church services actually look from what you find in 1Cor14.

    How in the world does one get such a clerical view of the ministry with one man dominating the service from passages describing a church meeting like this:

    1Co 14:26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

    1Co 14:31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged…

    1Co 14:35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home… [thus there was a freedom for the men to ask questions during the course of the service, unlike today!]

    To me it seems like anabaptists, Plymouth brethren and many charismatic groups have church services that much more closely resemble the kind of participatory services we see in scripture.

    In part it depends on smaller churches which is why I often feel mid-week bible study more more closely resembles ‘church’ as it was in the NT that the Sunday services.

  4. Great article! I appreciate this one.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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