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The Liberating Regulative Principle of Worship

Uncertainty reigns today in churches over whether or not certain service elements are really helpful for congregational worship. What is acceptable? Sacred dance? Liturgical painting? Puppet shows? Drama?

Some godly Christians, attempting to enhance their worship, believe they have freedom to anything to their worship that they think good. Other godly Christians are then constrained to participate with something against their conscience. How can they be certain that the elements they are including are indeed pleasing to God?

This question has been debated for centuries, and answers to this question generally fall into one of two categories.

The first group follows what has come to be known as the Normative Principle of Worship. Typically Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans follow some form of this principle, which says that as long as the Bible doesn’t forbid a particular practice, it may be introduced as an element in a public worship service.

The second group follows what has come to be known as the Regulative Principle of Worship. Groups that split from the Roman Catholics (such as Presbyterians) or Anglicans (such as Puritans or Baptists) developed this principle, which says that whatever has not been prescribed by God in His Word as an acceptable element of public worship is forbidden. This was meant to be a liberating principle since all Christians could say with assurance, “We know that God wants this element as part of public worship.” They meant to free the individual consciences of Christians to worship with elements clearly prescribed in the New Testament.

Three general principles govern the Regulative Principle of Worship:

1. The Sufficiency of Scripture

2 Timothy 3.16-17 teach that the Bible is sufficient as the rule of our faith and practice.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Would God leave us without instruction in the most important issue on earth – His worship? Certainly God, and God alone, has the prerogative to determine the means through which He is worshiped. The London Baptist Confession says it this way:

LBC: “The rule of this knowledge, faith, and obedience, concerning the worship and service of God, and all other Christian duties, is not man’s inventions, opinions, devices, laws, constitutions, or traditions unwritten whatsoever, but only the Word of God contained in the Canonical Scriptures.”

2. God Rejects Worship That He Has Not Prescribed

Throughout Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament, examples abound of God rejecting (often violently) worship that includes elements that He has not prescribed. Rarely are these elements introduced with malicious intent – usually the motive is to enhance the worship of Yahweh. But God nevertheless rejects worship that includes such extra-biblical elements.

Golden Calf – Exodus 32.1-10

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”

People often assume that the children of Israel were attempting to worship a pagan god in this instance. However, closer examination will show that they were simply trying to worship Yahweh using means He had not prescribed.

In verse 1 the people say, “Come, make us [Elohim]…” The same term is used in verse 4 when they say, “These are [this is] Elohim, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Translators render this word, elohim, as “gods,” because it is a plural reference to deity, and because they assume the people of Israel are seeking to worship other gods. However notice what Aaron says in verse 5: “Tomorrow shall be a feast to [Yahweh].” There is no doubt here that they people attempting worship Yahweh, who they say brought them up out of Egypt. The name Elohim is often used to refer to Yahweh. The plural form signifies majesty and honor. This point is made even more clear when Moses relates this incident in Deuteronomy 9.16:

And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the LORD your God. You had made yourselves a golden calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded you.

Moses says that they sinned against Yahweh Elohim. And He severely punished them. Why? Because they were attempting to worship another god? No. Because, as Moses says, they had “turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded [them].” They had introduced elements into the worship of Yahweh that He had not prescribed.

Nadab and Abihu – Leviticus 10.1-3

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'”And Aaron held his peace.

In this passage Nadab and Abihu offer an unauthorized fire – literally a “strange” fire – to the Lord, and they were killed for it. Why were they killed? There was nothing inherently evil or profane about what they were doing. But the fact that, as verse 1 says, the Lord had not commanded this element of worship, they were killed. God is very serious about this. The only acceptable worship is that which He Himself has commanded.

Pharisees – Matthew 15:8-9

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Jesus is scolding the Pharisees who have added their own ingenuity to worship, and they are requiring others to take part in these same worship elements that God has not prescribed. Were these added elements evil in and of themselves? No. But the fact that they are not commanded by God renders the worship vain.

Calvin: I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them – being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow – is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of Go. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct; ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice.’ And ‘in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.'” (1 Sam. 15.2 Matt. 15.9).

In summary, God is the only one who has the right to determine how we worship. The London Baptist Confession says it well:

LBC 22.1-7: But the acceptable way of worshipping 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, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. . .

3. Extent of the Church’s Authority/Liberty of Conscience

The third principle is clearly laid out in the New Testament since this very debate was significant since some Christians insisted upon introducing Jewish worship elements into Christian worship – elements that had not be prescribed for Church worship. Paul deals with this issue specifically in Romans 14ff.

Romans 14:5-6 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

In Romans 14ff, Paul is dealing specifically with those Christian Jews who desire to maintain religious restrictions and observances from the Mosaic Law.1 The important thing to remember here is that these are religious restrictions of ceremonially unclean (koinon) food and observances of sacred days. Any proper discussion of so-called “Christian liberty” must be framed in this context. In other words, while 1 Corinthians 8-10 applies to general things with negative associations from the pagan world like meat offered to idols, Romans 14 deals with the more narrowed topic of adding requirements to religious life. So this passage has direct application to the issue of public worship, and the formulators of the RPW applied it that way.

Within a context of “[making] every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (v. 19), Paul insists in verse 5 that “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” concerning sacred days, and in verse 23 he warns that “the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” The question is, should we observe sacred days that have not been prescribed for church worship? Paul says that in order to institute something like that, each person must be convinced in his own mind. One must be careful not to impose upon his own conscience or the conscience of another that of which they are not fully convinced. And what is the only way that we can be convinced that God wants us to observe a particular sacred day? Only if He has prescribed it for the Church. If you as an individual are convinced for some reason that you should observe it, then you have every right to do so in your home. But we cannot extend such observance to gatherings of the church where we have dozens or hundreds of individual consciences that must be convinced from the Word of God that such observance is necessary.

Formulators of the RPW applied this to their situation of all the extra observances the Church (whether the Roman Catholic or Anglican) were adding to public worship. These Church authorities had no right to do so because since the NT did not prescribe them, every man could not be convinced that they were necessary.

Delivuk summarizes their problem well:

From the time of the vestments controversy of the latter sixteenth century, the Anglican additions to worship had given many sincere believers serious conscience problems. They believed that these innovations were not worship. Therefore, they had problems of conscience every time they participated in worship. A major goal of the Westminster Assembly was to protect believers with sensitive consciences.2

Therefore, the original purpose for the RPW was not to unnecessarily restrict corporate worship, but to liberate stricken consciences from practices within corporate worship that were not expressly set forth in the Scriptures. They insisted that no man, including ecclesiastical authorities, had the right to constrain a worshiper to participate in an activity of worship that had no Scriptural directive. Gordon summarizes this well:

The issue that gave birth to the regulative principle was the nature and limits of church power. The issue was not, for them, “worship” versus “the rest of life,” but “those aspects of life governed by the church officers” versus those aspects of life not governed by the church officers.3

The contexts of both Romans 14 and the original formulation of the RPW demonstrate clearly a biblically-warranted distinction between corporate worship and the rest of life, along with the RPW’s particularly instructive application for the Church – “In worship, the church is forbidden to add rites and ceremonies to those found in the Bible, because the conscience is to be free of human requirements.”4 What is not commanded is forbidden.

LBC 21.2: God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.

This issue is also addressed in Colossians 2.20-23:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)- according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Here Paul is chiding Christians who are adding to their religious life elements that are merely requirements of men. Again these “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” requirements are in the context of the Body (vv18-19), and have reference to specific religious restrictions carried over from the Mosaic Law. Paul is saying that for the sake of the unity of the Body, we must limit ourselves to religious requirements that are clearly prescribed in the NT. He even says that these kinds of things do indeed have an appearance of wisdom and spirituality. But because they have not been commanded by God, they render the worship unacceptable to Him.

This passage was quoted often by the Reformers against the corrupt and burdensome ordinances of Roman Catholicism. It was again used by Puritans against the Anglicans.

The Regulative Principle of Worship

Now what, exactly, does the RPW address? Does it address the debate concerning whether we may use pop music? Does it address whether we should sing from hymnals or overhead projectors?

The formulators of the RPW divided the discussion of its application into four general categories that will help us apply it to contemporary situations.


The substance of worship must be explicitely prescribed in the Word of God.

Duncan: “Reformed theologians argue that the whole substance of worship must be biblical. Not that only words from the Bible can be used, but that all that is done and said in worship is in accordance with sound biblical theology. The content of each component must convey God’s truth as revealed in his word” (23)

Worship must be through the merits of Christ, in spirit and truth. We cannot worship false gods, but must worship the true God of the Bible. All Christians, whether or not they follow the RPW, would agree to this point.


So what are the elements that God has determined should be a part of acceptable worship? For the answer to this question we must look at the entirety of the New Testament. For dispensational reasons, we must find approved elements within the NT – specifically the Epistles – only.

Those who hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship – the idea that we may worship God only as He has prescribed in Scripture – usually recognize six basic elements that God has determined to be part of acceptable New Testament worship. We’ll just quickly survey these.

  1. Reading the Word

The first is the public reading of Scripture. 1 Timothy 4.13 says:

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture,

And then he goes on to include “exhortation and teaching,” which leads to the second element of acceptable worship:

  1. Preaching the Word

God commands that we preach the Word. In numerous New Testament passages, including 2 Timothy 4.2, pastors are commanded to preach the Word.

  1. Singing

Singing is the third element of acceptable worship prescribed by God. Ephesians 5.19 and Colossians 3.16 are key passages that command us to sing as an expression of our worship.

  1. Prayer

The fourth prescribed element is prayer. Paul urges Timothy in 1 Timothy 2.1 to pray publicly for all sorts of different people. Paul told the Colossians to continue earnestly in prayer. The first church in Acts 2.42 was devoted to prayer.

  1. Ordinances

The fifth prescribed elements is actually a category of elements: the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Again, in Acts 2 we see the first church devoted to these things, and in passages like 1 Corinthians 11 Paul passes on instructions about the Lord’s Supper to the Church.

  1. Giving

And the final element determined by God to be part of acceptable worship is giving. For instance, Paul commands the Church in 2 Corinthians 16 to collect money when they meet on the first day of the week.

Six simple, straightforward, clear elements of acceptable worship: reading the Word, preaching the Word, singing, prayer, ordinances, and giving. We must have these six elements in our worship, and if we believe that God rejects worship based on our own creativity, then we cannot have any other elements in our worship besides these six. So what about elaborate rituals and ceremonies? No, God did not prescribe those as acceptable elements for worship. What about skits and drama? No, God did not prescribe drama as an acceptable element for worship. What about visual aids in worship? No, God did not prescribe visual aids, and in fact He forbids them.

This is why churches who believe that God has the prerogative to determine what is acceptable worship tend to have very simple, unadorned services. Churches that believe that we can add any elements to our services that we think are good have much more extravagant services, whether in the liturgical tradition with rituals and ceremonies or in the “free” tradition with drama and visual elements.

But if we rightly conclude that it is God alone who has the prerogative to determine what elements may be part of acceptable worship, then we must limit what we include in worship to these six simple categories.


Although God has prescribed the specific elements he desires for public worship in the Church, He has not prescribed their exact forms. Duncan explains:

Duncan: “As for the form of the elements, there will be some variations: different prayers will be prayed, different songs sung, different Scriptures read and preached, the components of worship rearranged from time to time, the occasional elements (like the sacraments, oaths, and vows) performed at various chosen times, and the like. There will be, of necessity, some human discretion exercised in these matters. So here, Christian common sense under the direction of general scriptural principles, patterns, and proportions must make a determination” (23).

The forms we use must be governed by principle and examples in Scripture, but they do not necessarily need to be explicitly prescribed. And while we limited the elements of Church worship to the NT, if we find similar elements in OT worship, we may use them as examples for what kinds of forms may be acceptable.


The circumstances of our public worship have even more freedom. The Bible does not prescribe for us the practical circumstances that make public worship possible.

Duncan: “Finally, as to circumstances – whether we sit or stand, have pews or chairs, meet in a church building or storefront, sing from a hymnal or from memory, what time on the Lord’s Day services are to be held, and more – these things must be decided upon in the absence of specific biblical direction, and hence they must be done (as with the case of the forms above) in accordance with ‘the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word’ (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6; Baptist Confession of Faith 1.6)” (23-24).


The Regulative Principle of Worship was historically an important distinctive of Presbyterians and Baptists especially. Unfortunately, however, churches (especially those in America) have lost an understanding of this biblical doctrine, and have introduced elements into public worship that are merely commandments of men.

Some may insist that this doctrine is restrictive – it is legalistic. On the contrary, however, we have seen that both the Bible and the original intent of the formulators of the RPW was that it be a liberating doctrine – it frees the consciences of believers to worship publicly using elements that they can be certain God approves.

This is not to imply that when someone introduces an extra-biblical element that he is doing so maliciously. We are not calling motives into question here. Neither does it imply that such extra-biblical elements never have any real spiritual meaning or significance. Sometimes such elements really do impact people spiritually.

But there’s the rub. No Church leader can insist to the people that such-and-such an extra-biblical element must be spiritually significant to all believers in the Church. He cannot do so because he does not have biblical authority to do so. But if someone says, for instance, that they see no real purpose behind singing or observing the Lord’s Supper, a Church leader can say with authority, “This must be spiritually significant to you, because God has prescribed it for public worship in the Church.”

Much – not all – but much of the debate over public worship today would be solved if churches would recover this liberating dotrine of the Regulative Principle of Worship. Church members are liberated from fear about whether the next inovation their Church leaders introduce really pleases God. Church leaders are liberated from having to make decisions about what should or should not be introduced into public worship.

This is the strength of the liberating doctrine of the Regulative Principle of Worship.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. See Mark Snoeberger, “Weakness or Wisdom? Fundamentalism and Romans 14:1-15:1” (,%20Weak%20or%20Wise,%20Rom%2014%2015.pdf). []
  2. John Allen Delivuk, “Biblical Authority and the Proof of the Regulative Principle of Worship in The Westminster Confession,” Westminster Theological Journal 58, 2 (Fall 1996), 242. []
  3. T. David Gordon, “Some Answers About the Regulative Principle,” Westminster Theological Journal 55, 2 (Fall 1993), 323. []
  4. Delivuk, 242. []

45 Responses to The Liberating Regulative Principle of Worship

  1. Scott,

    At the risk of starting another dead-end discussion, let me first say that I appreciate your thoughtful consideration of this subject. I deal with it on a constant basis.

    However, you still seem to impose your conscience upon areas in which the scriptures are silent. In your look at Romans 14, it seems that you skipped over the most important verse of the chapter: verse 1 which says "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions."

    You really need to pay attention to that verse, brother.

    With that being said, I strongly agree with including worship forms that the scriptures express.

    I believe that the Regulative Principle attempts to do just what Romans 14:1 forbids.

  2. Hi, Tom.

    The point of Romans 14, and the point you are trying to emphasize, is exactly what the RPW serves.

    The "weak" in Romans 14 are those who wanted to add extra elements to their corporate worship – dietary restrictions and holy days in their case.

    Paul encourages the "strong" not to judge them for it, but then says that "each one must be convinced in his own mind" about these things.

    So, if these "weak" bretheren want to observe dietary restrictions or holy days in their homes, they have every right to do so.

    However, when it comes to corporate gatherings, the only way for "each one" to be "convinced in his own mind" that what is happening is God-pleasing is if God Himself has prescribed it.

    This was what the early formulators of the RPW (Puritans, Presbyterians, and Baptists) wanted: freedom from the extra-biblical elements in the corporate gatherings of the Anglican Church.

  3. Scott,

    I understand the Regulative argument completely. In fact, un-regulated congregational worship is abhorrent to biblical teaching. Everything done in a worship service should be very carefully scrutinized and held up to God-honoring and Christ-exalting standards.

    The problem I have with the Regulative principle is this: it seems to be called on when needed to support a fundamentalist mindset. All of the "restrictions", as you call them in Romans 14 were Old Covenant additions to the New Covenant. Paul exhorts them not to include such in corporate gatherings.

    If that's the case, then you need to drop tithing, too (I say with tongue firmly planted in cheek!). :-)

    What about pews? What about air conditioning? What about sound systems? What about instruments? Nothing is mentioned about these things in scripture (or New Testament, in some cases), either. Are they excluded, too?

    Dance IS mentioned in scripture, though. Why would it be excluded? (I don't support dance in churches, by the way.)
    So is clapping. Some forbid clapping in services.

    Forgive my carrying on thusly but I think Regulative folks have blind spots involved in these issues.

  4. Thanks, Tom.

    1. I don't believe tithing should be a part of NT worship. Giving is commanded, but not tithing.

    2. Neither are dance or clapping prescribed in the NT.

    3. When it comes to pews, buildings, etc, those fall into the Circumstance category, which as I explained above are more flexible. As long as they fit with Christian prudence, patterns, and principles, there is liberty there.

  5. Scott,

    Neither are instruments, so you must stop using them or you are in violation of the Regulative Principle.

    That would make you a Presbyterian-Church of Christ amalgamation! :-) Maybe call it "Presbyterian of Christ"?

    How is such strict following of the RP, not treating it as extra-biblical? Surely you don't hold a concept that is not canon in such high view? I understand that it is written as an analysis of scripture but it is an interpretive analysis, not infallible writ.

    BTW, congrats on your moving into full-time ministry with RA.

    Your moving down into Dr. Jay Adams territory.

  6. No, instruments would fall into the forms category. Music is an element prescribed in the NT, instruments are a form that fit with Christian principles and patterns.

  7. Scott,

    How convenient. You still haven't answered my questions about leaning so heavily on a non-canonical writing….

    Don't get me wrong. Our church looks to the New Hampshire Confession as the basis for our church statement of faith. I believe there is value in learning from men who analyzed scriptural principles. However, we need to try to keep it in perspective in relationship to scripture.

    I do hold to a limited view of a Regulative Principle. I agree with and have taught the very things that you have in the Exodus 32 and Leviticus 10 passages as well as others. However, I believe that the RP as it is taught can get too restrictive in ways that scripture never intends.

    I believe that your interpretation (and that typical of those who decry the RP) misses the entire point of Romans 14.

    On another point, however, when I raised the issue of a corporate conscience in our discussion on "Music Is Never Neutral", I was (wrongly) accused of being man-centered, and Palagian at the suggestion. Your following quote, ironically, backs my point.

    "If you as an individual are convinced for some reason that you should observe it, then you have every right to do so in your home. But we cannot extend such observance to gatherings of the church where we have dozens or hundreds of individual consciences that must be convinced from the Word of God that such observance is necessary."

    There is a difference between private worship (and private conscience) and corporate worship (and corporate conscience) and most of the time, the corporate has to be more conservative and restrictive than the individual. If I did not convey that in our previous discussion, my bad. If it is still believed that I am man-centered for my teaching on the subject, then so is your quote.

  8. Thomas,

    You have either misunderstood or misremembered our earlier conversation. I did not accuse you of being a Pelagian because of your suggestion of a corporate conscience as you state above. I said you made a Pelagian error when you denied that music was subject to the effects of the Fall. You were in essence using I Corinthians to defend the innate goodness of music, failing to recognize that music as we know and use it is man–made and therefore subject to sin. Here are the relevant passages from our earlier dialogue:

    You said:
    The telos of 1 Cor. 8 is an appeal to someone like me who believes that I can listen to all instrumental music because “all things are from Him” (v. 6) but I choose to abstain from certain styles corporately (under the direction of my pastor) because it might cause others to stumble.

    My rebuttal was:
    I wholeheartedly agree with Scott’s assessment that you are using I Cor. incorrectly, and will only add that you have misunderstood the phrase “all things are from Him” as you quote and use it. “All things are from Him” cannot mean all things created by man. If it did, pornography would be only an issue of conscience rather than a sin. Your use of this passage demonstrates your Pelagian error in that you have excused two man-made things – music and musical style – from the effects of the Fall, claiming them not to have been tainted with man’s sin. Music and musical style are not meat, and thus are subject to commands for discernment.

    Thomas, before you play "gotcha" with Scott about his responses, I would encourage you to respond to this particular argument, which you declined to do. This argument appears to be central to your misunderstanding regarding discernment, and you have ignored it.


  9. Tim,

    The only problem with your argument is this:

    God specifically deals with sexual immorality and clearly lays out guidelines in that area. Therefore, pornography, we can clearly say is sin.

    God does not lay out musical style boundaries and we cannot therefore say clearly and emphatically that certain music styles are sinful.

    Gotcha! :-)

  10. Thomas,

    My assertion is that music is capable of objectively expressing and effectively communicating aural pornography and sensuality in as clear a manner aurally as photographs and images can visually. This is what you continue to ignore. We're talking about objective musical meaning. Composers can use music to communicate in prurient manners. Scripture speaks implicitly to music's ability to communicate objectively. If you lock your theology into exclusively explicit passages, you wouldn't be a Trinitarian.


  11. Tom, you are falling into a common category error on this issue. Let me explain.

    When considering the morality of a given issue, we have the categories of "object" and "use." "Objects" are neutral, but "uses" are always either moral or immoral because they are actions performed by moral beings.

    So for instance, a knife is an "object." It is neutral. Once it is "used," it becomes either moral or immoral. I can cut steak or cut someones throat. We apply general biblical principles to the "use" to determine whether it is good or evil.

    With music, the "object" category is forms of communication, in this case music as a form of communication. That is neutral. But the minute we have a song, we have already entered the "use" category because a song is a product of a moral being.

    Your problem (and many people's problem) seems to be that you categorize songs or styles of music as mere "objects" when they are more correctly categorized as "uses" because they have been created by moral beings.

    With your illustration above — pornography — the "object" is pictures or art. The "use" is pictures of naked people doing obscene sorts of things. So we apply biblical principles to this "use" and come to a conclusion that it is immoral.

    The same is true of music. Once we have entered the "use" category in terms of the form of communication called music, we must apply biblical principles about communication to a particular song or style ("use") to determine whether it is good or evil.

    In summary, songs are "uses" created by moral beings, not "objects" that are neutral. They must therefore be judged just like any other "use" by a moral being.

  12. Scott,

    Your error is that you are speaking where God has not.

    I'll make a deal with you: I'll get the book you wanted me to if you get "Music Through The Eyes Of Faith" by Harold Best. He explains the truth much better than I.


    You just explained your problem. It is "your assertion" not God's. God clearly deals with issues related to pornography. He does not with music. Because you are trying to speak where God does not, you are committing the sin of the Pharisees. Sorry.

  13. Scott,

    Another thought on your knife analogy. If I use your argument, then I would try to establish which knives the Lord approves. Does he like steak knives better or pocket knives? Switchblades or fillet knives?

    Now, if you want to say that the use of music is never neutral, I might see some of your point. However, to say that music styles, in themselves, are selectively chosen or rejected by the scriptures, you are not only incorrect, but racist.

  14. Scott,

    You said:

    "So for instance, a knife is an “object.” It is neutral. Once it is “used,” it becomes either moral or immoral."

    Are you for gun control, too?

    The object is still amoral. It is the user who is immoral. If I kill someone with a knife, the knife is still neutral, brother.

  15. Tom,

    Once again, let me try to explain why your comparisons are blatant category errors.

    Any time a moral human being uses an object, he has entered the category of morality. So unless you know of a particular song or style of music that a human did not create, songs or styles cannot be neutral.

    Music, as an idea — as an object — is neutral, like a gun. Of course I'm not for gun control. That the point. Guns are neutral objects. Once they are used, morality enters the picture. Music as an abstract idea is neutral. Once it is used — to create a song or style of music — morality enters the picture.

    So making decision regarding what kinds of songs are appropriate for life or worship is just like making a decision whether or not certain pictures are appropriate. I apply principles from Scripture to both pictures of children and pictures of nude ladies. Likewise, I apply principles of Scripture to both songs that express wholesome content and those that express unwholesome content. All of these are uses of neutral objects because humans were involved.

    To say that a particular song is neutral is like saying a particular use of a knife is neutral. But it cannot be, for the minute a human uses something, he commits an action that is either good or evil.

    To deny that human uses are subject to moral judgment is to commit the Pelagian error.

  16. Thomas,

    You continue to set up straw man arguments by putting words in peoples' mouths. No one has said that "music styles, in themselves, are selectively chosen or rejected by the scriptures." I think you owe your brother Scott an apology, since you bear false witness against him and subsequently called him a racist based on those false words you assign to him. Please be careful with your reading and rephrasing of others' words.

    It was not Scott, but I, who wanted you to read Makjuina's "Measuring the Music." I have read and re-read Harold Best's book. His problem is the same as yours. Best writes: "As horrible as the Fall is, DO WE MAKE TOO MUCH OF IT (emphasis mine) by trying to guess what it is all by itself, instead of talking about how God works within it and helps us overcome it, even while we continue in sin?"

    In his book "Measuring the Music," John Makujina says about this theology of Best:

    "Such groundwork leads him elsewhere to draw careless analogies between the created world and music: [then, quoting Best]

    'God makes things; God makes them well; God calls them good; and God has no trouble saying that one thing may be better than another. If this does not trouble god whose handiwork far outstrips ours, why should it trouble us? Consequently, there should be nothing wrong with the discovery and disclosure of the coexistence of goodness and better-than-ness in musical and artistic practice.'

    [continuing in Makujina's words:]

    Here we encounter not only a perilous disregard for the doctrine of depravity, but an inexcusable neglect of the creator-creature distinction. The result is an incongruent simile that wrongly attributes intrinsic goodness to musical styles despite their origin in the cradle of sinful humanity."

    So, Thomas, it is not surprising to find you citing Harold Best, whose doctrine of depravity and the Fall is seriously flawed. Again, I would strongly urge you to consider studying both sides of this debate before clutching one side too desperately. Makujina's book is for sale on a variety of Christian websites. It is a serious book by a respected Old Testament theologian on this issue and would be well worth your time. Makujina argues fervently from Scripture to make the points that are being made on this website, but none of us have time to re-type the book for you here. Please make the effort to pick it up and read it. You will find ample, indeed, overwhelmingly convincing Scriptural evidence regarding music's ability to communicate objectively. No one is making Pharisaical arguments here.

    Please re-read Scott's posts for an accurate understanding of his words and retract your accusations.


  17. If you can't get the book at least get a flavor of Makujina from the audio section of this website.

  18. Scott,

    You said:

    "To say that a particular song is neutral is like saying a particular use of a knife is neutral. "

    You are mixing apples and oranges. You say that "a song" and then "use of a knife". If you want to say "use of a song" and "use of a knife" or "a song" and "a knife" then we may agree more than you think. You need to understand your confused terminology.

    You also said:

    "Music, as an idea — as an object — is neutral, like a gun. Of course I’m not for gun control. That the point. Guns are neutral objects. Once they are used, morality enters the picture. Music as an abstract idea is neutral. Once it is used — to create a song or style of music — morality enters the picture."

    I don't know that you really believe that because you say that music forms or styles are inherently evil when, if you could show me that scripture says so, I would relent to your ideas. Use of an object may reveal moral character of the user but does not change the morality of the object whatsoever. I believe the RP attempts to do the same things.

    What you need to say is that the effects of music are subjectively moral in nature. I cannot listen to any music without my moral character involved. That's why music is so controversial. However, to say that music styles are objectively universal is absurd. All I have to do to disprove your theory is to look into church history. Every style that has ever come down the pike was offensive to the older, established generations before they were finally accepted as the newer generations did not see them as such.

    If I listen to a style of music that contributes to sinful thought, then I must abstain from such styles. However, if I force that conviction on someone who is not sinfully influenced by that same style, I am in error.

    Here's where your racism comes to play. You will arrogantly condemn as "sinful" rap, rock, raggae, hip-hop, and other styles of music that you don't culturally or racially identify with. Well, for you, it may be. But for someone immersed in that culture, it may be a wonderful avenue of edification. Personally, I don't enjoy many of those forms either and choose to not participate in them. But, that's as far as I go because that's as far as scripture goes.

    I pray that God will send you to an inner city church plant where you will come face-to-face with your ideas on music.


    As far as owing Scott an apology, of course, I ask for his and your forgiveness for any offenses created. However, I do not apologize for defending God's silence on this issue.

    If you disagree with Harold Best on this issue we have nothing more to discuss on the issue. I'll take his side any day. In fact, I am still reading the book. I became aware of it after I started the blog interplay with you and have been saying hearty "Amens" to each chapter. He is using the whole counsel of God and scripture unlike you.

  19. Thomas,

    What is disappointing about your response is not your conviction, not your embracing of a relativistic postmodern theology of music that is barely 40 years old, not your blind following of a man who holds so little regard for the doctrine of depravity, and not even your apparent lack of realization of the false witness you bore against a Christian brother. But what is disappointing is your apparent steadfast lack of interest in Scripture. Scripture speaks regarding music more than 600 times (the vast majority of these tied to its communication with human emotions); yet you seem to be absolutely sure you know precisely what the Bible says and what it doesn't say regarding music. For when presented with a claim that Scripture supports the idea that music can express affection objectively, you show zero interest in examining Scripture to discover what you may have overlooked – no curiosity as to what passages might be invoked to prove the point.

    You offer a barter: if I read the book you want me to read, you'll read the book I wanted you to read. When I tell you I've read the book you wanted me to read, you renege on your offer and tell me that we have nothing further to discuss because I disagree with the book you like. While I welcome a serious discourse of ideas, this level of unwillingness is a significant impediment to meaningful dialogue. Let me know if you decide you'd like to make good on your word and read Makujina's work and scriptural proofs.


  20. Tim,

    When did I renege on saying that I would read the book you suggested? You are now putting words in my mouth.

    It is your fundamentalist attitude that has contributed more to worship wars than anything else.

    I have presented scripture over and over again. You have presented only one obscure, theologically-stretched reference. I'll stand on what I've said over your weak argument any day.

    I'm out. I've enjoyed the discussion. You have helped me to see what happens when someone tries to connect dots that God in scripture has not connected. I pity you both in this area.

  21. Gentlemen:

    I have been reading this discussion with interest.

    Thomas: You indicated that you had nothing further to discuss with Tim if he disagreed with Harold Best in a book that you were only in the process of reading. Hence Tim's impression, and mine, that you did not intend to continue in investigative activities or discussion. If you intend to continue thinking and reading, including the Makujina, I think that's great.

    You presented 1 Cor. 8-10 as evidence that all music is good for worship (the passage is talking about various meats being suitable for eating). Tim and Scott presented compelling arguments that you have mis-interpreted this passage. You did not counter, but have simply folded, claiming that you have presented scripture. I cannot think of anything more harmful to the discussion of worship than taking a scripture out of context, insisting that you have the bible behind you but being unwilling to engage in onging debate.

  22. Thomas,

    You bring the discussion to an end with the statement "If you disagree with Harold Best on this issue then we have nothing more to discuss on the issue." This is a statement of certainty that you have found your guru and are unwilling to continue in investigation and dialogue. I do apologize if your intent was to read the Makujina despite your unwillingness to continue discussion. It certainly didn't appear that way.

    The topic is big and Makujina presents it well with many, many scriptural proofs. I have deliberately avoided rewriting his book and presenting the argument in its entirety during this series of posts because I think it deserves your full attention. I read the Best both before and after I read the Makujina. Makujina makes short work of Best's arguments and points out fatal flaws in his thinking on the issue – showing how he misuses scripture to support this relativistic position that you and he espouse.

    If, by fundamentalism you mean examining both sides of an issue and making a decision based on which position Scripture more clearly supports, then I will accept your charge of fundamentalism.


  23. Ray and Tim,

    I have not folded in any way. Read very carefully: I still maintain that music is amoral, regardless of style. That is not the stance that anyone else commenting takes. I have not said that musical effects are neutral, but that music, in itself, is neutral, just as money, TV, knives, cameras, etc. are neutral.

    I take that stance because there is not one shred of evidence (and no one at this blog has given one shred of scriptural evidence) to the contrary.

    The telos of 1 Cor 8 and Romans 14 deals with avoiding making your mistake. When God (and Best) bring out the point that Paul makes that "all things are good", it means exactly that. THINGS are good, men take good things and do bad things with them.

    Why can't you (or won't you) see the difference in the two statements?

    For anyone to say that a style of music is objectively or inherently bad is absolutely and categorically false and is not only guilty of speaking where God has not, but invariably is (I won't use the word "racist" because that gets Tim all riled up) a cultural elitist.

    BTW, what happened to Scott? Why are you not accusing him of folding? Do you guys have to finish a debate for him?

    This will be my last post here because, frankly, I don't have the time to butt heads with you guys anymore. You need to take a deep breath and step away from your computers.

  24. Tom,

    First, let me say that I have been very disappointed by your very un-Christlike spirit as of late. We have been very open to kind disagreement on this site, and have allowed you to state your positions with charity. However, when arguments have been raised against yours, or when you can't seem to understand the categorical errors you are falling into with your arguments, you resort to ad hominum attacks and snide remarks.

    This site will always welcome civil disagreement and debate. That is its purpose. But I insist that the debate continue in a gracious manner.

    As to your arguments. I will say this one more time:

    Any creation by a human being – especially a form of communication – is subject to judgment because since humans are fallible and depraved, their creations are subject to fallibility and depravity.

    Since a song (and groups of songs that form a style) are creations of human beings, they CANNOT be neutral and are subject to judgment.

    That's biblical. "Test everything," Paul says, "and hold on to that which is good."

  25. Scott,

    It grieves me that you perceive my comments as "very un-Christianlike". Please forgive me for any sin in this area. Also, know that if my comments are taken that way, then comments directed to me could be taken that way, too.

    I just think we've all taken this thing way too personally.

    I also have to say that you are contradicting yourself when you say that:

    "Any creation by a human being – especially a form of communication – is subject to judgment because since humans are fallible and depraved, their creations are subject to fallibility and depravity."

    It is not the creation that is to be judged but the creator (note the little C). Your knife analogy reveals your error. It is that same mindset that is at the heart of the erroneous agenda of gun control activists. It is this mindset that says "just remove all bad things from my life and I will be good". No, you will bring your (not you, but generic "you") badness with you. This leads to a legalistic, moralistic mindset.

    The scriptures over and over again remind us that it is our depravity that corrupts, not objects. I don't abstain from marital relations because evil men take good things and make porn with it. Just because an evil man may use a musical style in a wrong manner doesn't make that musical style evil, in itself. To take your stances to their logical conclusions, I would have to.

    Since I finally heard back from you, Scott, this will be my last post. Again, please forgive me for any offense to any of you.

  26. Thanks, Tom. I agree. Blogs often foster misunderstandings!

    "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good to the use of edifying."

    Do you not agree that music is a form of communication? If it is, then it is subject to the judgment above.

    SONGS ARE NOT NEUTRAL OBJECTS like guns, knifes, etc. The point I have been trying to make over and over is that songs are uses of neutral objects (sounds). Since they are actions of humans, they are subject to judgment.

    Let me try to make this as plain as possible:

    GUN = SOUNDS (neutral)

    SHOOTING = COMPOSING A SONG (human action)



    Or here's an even better comparison:

    LETTERS = NOTES (neutral)

    A BOOK = A SONG (human product)



  27. Thomas,

    You have cajoled me into folding and doing what I said I wouldn't, which is to give you a sneak peak into Makujina's argument on musical communication and just a hint of his scriptural proof. Makujina points to two basic models of musical communication, associative and bio-acoustic. Associative (Makujina prefers the term "iconic" for reasons you will learn when you read his book) is the type you've latched on to, wherein the music means different things to different people because of their own learned associations that they bring to the music. Bio-acoustic describes the properties that are inherent in the sound referents of the music itself and the manner by which these sound referents have a natural or analogical connection to the emotions of human beings. Makujina describes in detail the universal condition of humans by which they experience emotions in similar ways and the manner by which music evokes/expresses these motions using sound referents. When human beings experience emotion, the feelings are accompanied by certain physical manifestations that are objective and discernable by onlookers. Paraphrasing, he says, "Chinese sad-lookingness is the same as African sad-lookingness is the same as German sad-lookingness." The sound constructs of music tap into these motions, which in turn evoke the emotions connected with them.

    Makujina then goes on to argue that while both systems (associative and bioacoustic) are valid systems of communication in that they both occur, but that for a variety of reasons the bioacoustic should be considered the prime system for purposes of evaluation of musical works. The biblical reasons he gives that support these statements are several, but he holds that the various authors of scripture hold to a bioacoustic semiotic of music. Job 30:31, Isaiah 16:11, 30:29, Jeremiah 48:36, are all cited as supporting the primacy of the bioacoustic model in that the musical referents are directly linked to universally understood emotional states of being. In a couple of instances, the LORD HIMSELF compares his own immutable feelings to that of the instrumental music produced. This, says Makujina, is strong evidence that the music communicates in an objective enough manner that all readers of scripture who heard this music would understand the Lord's feelings as they listened to and understood the emotional content of the music.

    No doubt you have many objections, Thomas. Let me assure you that Makujina wrestles with any objection you could think of. That is why I encourage you to read the book. It is an exceedingly well-reasoned book FROM SCRIPTURE, but also exceedingly dense and deserves a full and complete reading. My simple reduction above is not adequate to convey the complexity of the issue nor address the concerns you will have. But Makujina's book is. So while you sign off from writing on this blog site, I hope you will make good on your word to read "Measuring the Music." I also hope you will purchase and read Scott's upcoming book, which fleshes these issues in even greater biblical and musical detail with great clarity. Let me warn you, Makujina does not agree with Harold Best. I hope this won't stop you from reading the book.

    Since you characterized my one previous biblical reference to Exodus 32 as "theologically stretched," I'd be curious to know your thoughts on Joshua's and Moses's hearing of the idolatrous singing that was happening in the Israelite camp. For instance, how do you think Joshua knew that something was wrong in the camp if the singing of the people didn't communicate something ungodly? Moses knew the sound of victorious singing. He also knew the sound of singing when his people were defeated. He knew that this singing was neither. How did music communicate these states if it is neutral? These questions are for when you have time or wish to write again.


  28. Tom:

    I'm glad you came out of retirement. Please stay with us. Believe it or not, we have room on our team.

    The bare elements of music are indeed neutral (isolated pitches and beats), but styles and songs are the result of the human constructs, which can be tainted by sin. Therefore, styles and songs cannot be covered when Paul says that "all things are good". The "all" to which Paul is referring must be things that are created by God, before humans start working with them. Certainly a Christian cannot deny the effects of the fall when it pertains to anything constructed by a human, without being in serious error. Once humans are involved, all things are NOT good, although some things can be good if humans develop various works with an avoidance of sin and a love for the rule of God.

  29. Scott,

    Thank you for this thought provoking post. Could you expand on this statement:

    "What about visiual aids in worship? No, God did not prescribe visual aids, and in fact He forbids them."

    I understand that visual aids may not be found in the Epistles as a prescribed element of worship, but what of Christ's use of visual aids in His preaching/teaching ministry?

  30. Yes they were different. I guess (probaly because it is what I have been taught) that I stuggle saying that we can't follow Christ's example in communicating truth. Thanks for making me think beyond what I have learned in the past.

    I still have two questions:

    1) Where are visual aids forbidden?

    2) Why would visual aids not fit into the Circumstances catergory? Are not visual aids "practical circumstances that make public worship possible"?

  31. Again, thanks for the discussion.

    Christ did a lot of things that we wouldn't do in corporate worship.

    Visual aids are expressly forbidden with the 2nd commandment, I would say.

    The minute we leave verbal communicate and enter the realm of visual communication, we are encountering a very different animal. By nature, words communicate primarily to the intellect. Visual material is inherently visceral. That doesn't necessarily make it bad, it just addresses the individual very differently.

  32. Something that might be helpful to me in understanding where you are coming from is for you to share what you mean by "visual aids". When speaking of visual aids I realize some could become as an idol, but are visual aids automatically in the catergory of what the 2nd commandment is speaking of?

    And to take the 2nd commandment discussion further, isn't the command not to make and worship something that has been created instead of worshipping the Creator?

  33. Essentially I mean things like drama, liturgical painting (I've seen it!), videos, pictures, etc. in the worship service (either during the music or the preaching).

    No, I would say that the 1st commandment deals with worshiping something other than God (i.e. a false god), and the 2nd commandment forbids worshiping God in wrongs ways, specifically through visual aids.

    The golden calf incident is a perfect example. Those people were attempting to worship Yahweh, but through a visual means. God rejected that.

  34. Ok. I think I understand now more what you are saying. I'm still mulling it all over in my head, but I do see how those things very possibly would violate the 2nd commandment. Thanks for your thoughts.

    I must not have lived yet, because I have never seen, much less heard of liturgical painting. Just googled it. Interesting.

    I've read a little of your blog in the past, but not much so maybe you have already dealt with this thoroughly, but where do the projection of song texts (wether by themselves or with hymnals available as well), sermon outlines/notes and scriptures text fit in to all of this as you understand it?

  35. Most would see those things as circumstances. We could debate whether one or the other is better than the others, but there would be flexibility on those, in my view.

  36. Scott,

    I realize this is an older post, but I'm just now coming across it and it certainly is interesting. I have a few questions as I seek to understand more fully the RPW and how you see it being applied today:

    1) You refer to it as a "doctrine," which, to me, implies a direct teaching of Scripture. Do you, and other RPW proponents, see this principle as directly taught in the NT, or is it viewed more as a helpful guideline to systematically uphold and apply Scripture's teaching regarding worship?

    2) The paradigm of "Substance, Elements, Form, and Circumstances" seems to allow for quite a bit of “wiggleroom” in how the RPW filter is applied to various worship-related questions.

    For example: when the question of instruments in worship was brought up, you replied (above) "Instruments would fall into the forms category. Music is an element prescribed in the NT, instruments are a form that fit with Christian principles and patterns." But in fact, "music" does NOT appear in the above list of "elements." Only "singing" is listed (and rightly so, if the list is to be worship activities specifically prescribed in the NT). So someone could accuse you of violating the RPW by using instrumental music, since it is nowhere prescribed in the NT. By your own admission, only “singing” made the list. So are you saying instrumental music is a “form” of singing? Really?

    Furthermore, by your interpretation and application of Romans 14, we must not allow a piano prelude or offertory in a service, because we cannot be sure that everyone is convinced in their own mind regarding the use of instruments in worship. In your own words: “No Church leader can insist to the people that such-and-such an extra-biblical element must be spiritually significant to all believers in the Church. He cannot do so because he does not have biblical authority to do so.”

    My basic point is that this man-made, four-tiered system seems flawed if a legitimate question is so easily dismissed by arbitrarily (and here, illogically) assigning a question to a particular category. I am NOT questioning the godly, biblical intent of the RPW, only its validity, based on the consistency of its application.

    3) Related to the previous point: By your application of the RPW, drama is categorically ruled out, because it is not included in the "elements" list. But does drama necessarily have to be considered an "element" of worship? What if someone uses it as a "form" of preaching or teaching? Biblical, expository preachers frequently employ story-telling as part of a sermon (commonly labeled "illustration.") Is that an element or a form? If people “act out” a story for the purpose of illustration or teaching, how is that somehow unacceptable? Story-telling is not prescribed for the church in Acts or the Epistles, so do you also oppose the use of illustration as a form within preaching or teaching?

    My spirit in these questions is not to be antagonistic, but to ask for clarification of, what appear to me at this point to be, inconsistencies. I look forward to your thoughts. Thank you for your ministry!

    Grace and Peace

  37. Hi, Eric. No such thing as an older post! You're welcome to comment anywhere, anytime!

    Before I try to answer your questions, let me point out that this teaching is not new with me, or it is not new at all. The RPW has been around for a long time, probably first codified by Zwingli (although thought in a non-systematic form much earlier), then developed by Calvin and the Westminster divines, and finally was at the heart of the early Baptist movement. The earliest Baptists asked, "Where is infant baptism prescribed in the Bible?" The RPW is essential (or at least was) to Baptist theology.

    So my answers here are not just my own. Particularly as distinctions between elements, forms and circumstances arise, I am trying to articulate what others have said for centuries (more on that below).

    So in answer to your questions…

    (1) I use "doctrine" simply to mean "teaching." The RPW is certainly an attempt to systematize truths scattered throughout the Scriptures, just like the "doctrine" of the Trinity is a systematization – there is no one passage that teaches it. So, no, the RPW isn't taught explicitely in one passage or one text, but for me that is not a problem; plenty of our essential doctrines are taught that way.

    (2) Yes, I agree that there is some "wiggle room" in terms of exact application of this principles, especially with regard to forms and circumstances. That is the beauty of the principle, in my opinion; it is trans-cultural.

    The elements are clear, I think, though. You make good observations, and the issue of instruments has certainly been discussed through the ages. Some have argued that instruments may not be used because God did not prescribe it in the NT (Zwingli and Calvin would have been here). Others have argued that instruments are prescribed in the OT, and therefore clearly allowed (this is the position that most Presbyterians have come to). Yet others (this is where I would probably fall) argue that music is prescribed in the NT (or, as you note, specifically "singing"), and instrumental accompaniment is merely a form in which we do have more wiggle room and time and culture change. I think there is further strength to the argument by the fact that God did prescribe instruments in the OT, so we do have precedent, although I do still see instruments as mere "forms."

    All that to say that I do not deny the room for debate in some of these areas as long as we agree on the principles.

    (3) This is another area where I have heard good arguments to the effect that drama is merely a "form" of preaching (John Frame makes this argument, for instance, although he completely butchers the RWP in his books and articles).

    However, two thoughts: first, drama was prevalent in Greek culture during the writing of the NT. If God (through Paul, for instance) had wanted drama in worship, I think he would have made reference to it and prescribed it.

    Now, by drama, I mean acting out a part. I realize that there are always "dramatic" elements to oratory. That's not what I'm talking about, although certainly that can get out of hand as well. "Dramatic" elements within the preaching act (raising one's voice, hand gestures, etc) are certainly forms, but not all or which are necessarily appropriate or prudent. Even "story telling" is different than "drama" since it is still just words. The listener has to use his imagination.

    Drama itself, though; acting out parts; what we think of as plays or skits; is a completely different activity that oratory. Drama is intrinsically Dionysian – it targets the gut; it pulls at the "heart strings" in ways mere oratory does not. The listener no longer is required to use his imagination; images and actions are placed before him, which have powerful influence upon his passions.

    Which leads to my second thought: Most Christians throughout the ages (until modern times) have argued that drama must not be included in worship, and many have argued that drama is never appropriate for Christian participation at all! I wouldn't go quite that far (although I have good friends who do), but I agree that drama is an element distinct from oratory, and is therefore not allowed in worship at all.

    At the end of the day I do not disagree at all that there are tough questions to wrestle through in some of these issues. I have had lengthy, helpful discussions with people who have made thorough arguments similar to the ones you bring up, and many of them have very good merit, in my opinion. I continue to study and think through these issues, especially how we apply these principles.

    But if I'm going to err, I want to err on the side of care, and when in doubt, I side with what centuries of RPW defenders have taught. I don't do so blindly, but if I'm not sure about something, I err on the side of church history, particularly Baptist church history.

    The bottom line is that I want worship to be right responses of the affections to truth about God. Never do I want anything within the worship service to manipulate base passions. It is the Holy Spirit's job to motivate worship, not me or any element within the service. I think the RPW helps to protect that to some degree.

  38. Hi Scott,
    I'm taking you at your word that there is no such thing as a post too old to comment on. (For some reason I can't make paragraphs here so this will, unfortunately, be all one block.)

    As far as visual aids and images, do you include maps of the Holy Land in that? Would that mean none on a projection screen, or should the speaker also not ask people to look at the ones they may have in the backs of their Bible? Also, what about crosses (not crucifixes) hanging in the sanctuary? Very interesting article. Gonna take some time and chew over it.

  39. Feel free!

    I admit that there is healthy disagreement about how exactly visual aids may or may not be utilized in worship. There really are two questions here: (1) Does the visual aid constitute a new, extra-biblical worship element? If so, I believe that it cannot be allowed.

    But I suppose it might be possible that a visual aid would be a form of an approved element. So, for example, posting Scripture on a screen. The question then becomes (2) is this a good way of doing it? And that's a challenging question, but I do think we need to recognize that visual elements do something different than the spoken or written word.

    I think John 4 and Hebrews 12 both direct us to steer away from the externals and focus on the spirit. Visual elements tend to manipulate the physical responses, while spoken words more readily target the mind and heart. These are just things to keep in mind.

  40. Hi Scott, just another guy taking you up on the invitation to comment on "old" posts. Let me just say that as a Methodist (and therefore my local church adopts the Normative Principle), reading your presentation of the Regulative Principle is very, very thought-provoking. Thanks for that.

    I just wanted to chime in on the issue of visual aids. Insofar as Scripture is displayed on the screen regularly, such as during preaching, it has–in my opinion–both positive and negative effects. Positively, it gives a visual reinforcement that this is a church and a pulpit where the Word of God is important, and that we're focusing on it. Negatively, it does tend to make us as the congregation lazy to turn to our own Bibles, or even bring our own Bibles to church altogether. That's sad, because it can be so useful for the individual to jot down notes in his/her Bible that will aid in private or corporate Bible study time later on, and it's a missed opportunity when people are offered a disincentive to flip to their own Bibles.

    Oh one minor question: in your last comment, you said that visual elements tend to manipulate the physical responses, while spoken words more readily target the mind and heart. Could you elaborate on that? Would especially like to know how you reached those conclusions.

  41. Thanks for stopping by, Eric. My statements about what I think visual elements tend to do is only indirectly related to the Regulative Principle. In other words, I am simply speculating on why perhaps God has not prescribed many visual elements for NT worship.

    My opinions, though, are based on a wealth of philosophical discussion about the effects of visual stimuli. For centuries philosophers, and especially Christian philosophers, have categorized drama, for example, as an art that directs itself more to the visceral responses in man.

    I would suggest consulting Niel Postman on this subject, who has done a wonderful job articulating the effects of visual media. T. David Gordon has also tackled this in his two engaging books, _Why Johnny Can't Preach_, and _Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns_.

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