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Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship 2: Arguments for RPW

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series

"Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

In the first post, I introduced Scripture Regulated Worship and the topic of this series. In this post, I consider some of the most important arguments for Scripture-Regulated Worship.

Wise Christians have advanced many reasons to regulate Christian worship according to Scripture. The intent here is not to list all such arguments or even interact with them, but to provide a brief sketch of how men have reached this conclusion.

In a Festschrift honoring James Montgomery Boice, J. Ligon Duncan III helpfully suggests a couple handfuls of arguments for the regulative principle.[1] He argues from God’s own nature; as God, the Lord controls worship. Further, the Creator-creature distinction is too great a gap for men to approach him other than how God himself commands.[2] Duncan argues that God’s revelation guides worship because biblical worship is a response to God’s revelation. He also cites the Second Commandment, which is, properly understood, not a prohibition of false gods (see the First Commandment), but against any kind image of the invisible covenant God who revealed himself to Israel with his covenant name Yahweh.[3]

Duncan continues. He argues that faith, which is necessary for true worship, can only respond to revelation, and “[w]here God has not revealed himself, there can be no faithful response to is revelation.”[4] Moreover, given God’s utter holiness, we should be careful and conservative rather than taking liberties in our worship.

Furthermore, Scripture-regulated worship alone can protect a believers’ freedom to worship Christ according to his conscience and not by the whims of church leaders who impose on them their own ways of worshipping God.[5] We should also use God’s Word to regulate worship because God often states his delight with those who keep his word. Scripture-regulated worship can best protect us from our perpetual race toward idolatry. Duncan raises the problem of church history; church history teaches us that Christianity has been at its best when she worshipped simply according to the Bible. Church history also teaches that worship invented by men not only violates this very command, but is in fact often patently blasphemous. Positively, Duncan adds that Scripture-regulated worship is “simple, biblical, transferable, flexible, and reverent.”[6]

Duncan’s article is helpful for it illustrates many of the best arguments for limiting the elements of church worship services to those prescribed in the New Testament. For our purposes, I want to limit and develop another important argument, the argument from Christ’s authority. We will begin considering this argument in the next post.

[1] See “Foundations,” in Give Praise to God, 51–73.

[2] Horton Davies says, “Thus the all-sufficiency of Scripture and the radical inadequacy of man through original sin clarified the necessity of man through original sin clarified the necessary for dependence upon the creative, providing, and directing omnipotent adequacy of God the Father and Creator, Christ the Savior and Exemplar, and the Holy Spirit the Inspirer and Enabler, all revealed in the Holy Writ.” Worship of American Puritans, 19. Hart and Muether are characteristically blunt on this point: “Calvinists believe that depravity extends beyond the reprobate, and includes even the regenerate who still bear the corruption of sin. For this reason, those who are in Christ are incompetent to devise by their imaginations, even devout ones, any sort of worship that is appropriate or pleasing to God.” With Reverence, 83.

[3] Hart and Muether observe, “[T]he authority of Scripture in worship is a logical consequence of the Ten Commandments. This is, in fact, the place where the Reformed confessions and catechisms derive the doctrine of the regulative principle of worship.” With Reverence, 78. I agree that the Second Word was at very least the “Regulative Principle” for the nation of Israel under the Sinai Covenant. I also agree that the moral principle of the Second Commandment should inform our understanding of the Regulative Principle in the church. Yet in part I am arguing below that there is a better foundation for arguing for the Scriptural regulation of church worship than the Second Commandment.

[4] Duncan, “Foundations,” in Give Praise to God, 56.

[5] Restating an argument by T. David Gordon, Hart and Muether make this point as well: “When the elders of the church call the people of God to worship, they are necessarily and unavoidably binding the conscience of worshipers (because Christians are forbidden to forsake the worship of God). This is not a problem if the church is worshiping biblically because the elders of the church are binding consciences according to the Word of God, as they are called to do.” With Reverence, 84.

[6] Ibid., 69. Hart and Muether also highlight the simplicity of biblical worship: “Because of the regulative principle, simplicity has characterized Reformed worship.” With Reverence, 79.

Note: This is the second in a series of posts on the Regulative Principle. This offers documentation for and expands upon my presentation to the 2018 Knowing, Loving, Ministering Conservative Christianity Conference.

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About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).