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John Frame and the Regulative Principle of Worship

frame_john_mJohn Frame is among one of the most influential theologians to defend contemporary worship music and practice, particularly through his two popular books, Worship in Spirit and Truth and Contemoprary Worship Music. What many may not realize is that his philosophy expounded in these books emerges from a softening and redefinition of the governing doctrine of his Presbyterian tradition, the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). This softening first appeared in a 1992 journal article in the Westminster Theological Journal, which raised “Some Questions About the Regulative Principle.”1 In that article and subsequent writings, Frame argues that the Regulative Principle should apply not just to worship, but to all of life. In arguing this way, Frame softens the RPW to be simply God’s sovereign rulership over all of life and the believer’s responsibility to do all to the glory of God.

Defining the Regulative Principle of Worship

Before challenging Frame’s conclusions regarding the RPW, however, we must define the RPW. John Calvin was among the first to clearly articulate the principle:

We may not adopt any device [in our worship] which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have him approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. . . . God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word.2

This doctrine influenced the puritans in English through John Knox, who in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Article 21, paragraph 1 state:

The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. 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, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.

In other words, in terms of corporate worship, what is not commanded is forbidden.

In contrast to the RPW is the Normative Principle of Worship (hereafter NPW) which says that what is not forbidden is permitted. Historically, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists have ascribed to the RPW, while Lutherans and Anglicans have followed the NPW.

John Frame’s Redefinition of the Regulative Principle of Worship

In his journal article, John Frame rejects any distinction between all of life for the believer and worship, a necessary differentiation implicit in the RPW. Instead, Frame insists that “all human actions are ruled by divine commandments. There is no neutral area where God permits us to be our own lawgivers. There is no area of human life where God abdicates his rule, or where his word to us is silent.”3 He sites passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Romans 12:1 to demonstrate that all of life is worship for the believer. Pulling all of life under the umbrella of the RP, then, allows Frame to significantly soften the requirements of the RP
since who would insist that “what is not commanded is forbidden” applies in normal life situations?

An Examination of Romans 12 and 14

Two passages in Romans that bear immediate significance upon Frame’s redefinition of the RPW are Romans 12:1 and Romans 14. A closer look at these passages will reveal they they do not, in fact, support Frame’s redefinition of the RPW.

Romans 12:1

After eleven long chapters of theological development, Paul begins chapter 12 with an injunction for believers to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Frame uses this passage, among others, to argue that since all of life is worship, all of life should be placed under his softened RPW.

However, Paul’s description of all of life as worship does not automatically prove that God intends for corporate worship to be subsumed under a loose category of “all of life.” Paul’s use of worship language here and elsewhere is significant in this regard. The word “worship” (latreia) here certainly carries with it “cultic imagery”4 of liturgical Jewish worship. However, this particular word, most often rendered “service” or “ministry” connotes individual services of worship in contrast with other more corporate language used to describe the Church. For example, in Ephesians 2.21–22 and 1 Corinthians 3.16-17 Paul uses temple language (in this
case naos — the term for the Holy Place) with reference to the gathered Church. In other words, by the specific worship language employed by Paul, he seems to see a distinction between
individual all-of-life worship and corporate, Church worship.

Romans 14

Principles set forth in Romans 14 also discredit Frame’s redefinition of the RPW and demonstrate his apparent ignorance of the Principle’s original purpose. In context, Romans 14 addresses issues directly related to the subject of corporate worship such as ceremonially unclean (koinon) food and sacred days. Any proper discussion of so-called “Christian liberty” must be framed in this context.

Paul’s primary admonition in this section is particularly instructive with regard to the RPW. 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.” In other words, one must be careful not to impose upon his own conscience or the conscience of another that of which they are not fully convinced.

The Westminster divines had this principle of “liberty of conscience” in mind when they wrote in article 20, paragraph 2 of their Confession:

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his word; or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.

The authors of the WCF understood the context of Paul’s “liberty of conscience” discussion in Romans 14, and applied it to their current, very similar situation. The Puritans of the WCF were debating with their fellow Anglicans over the ritualistic excesses retained from the Roman Catholic Church. 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.5

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 worshipper 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.6


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.”7 What is not commanded is forbidden.

And thus Frame’s softening of the RPW by subjecting all of life to its control is invalid. T. David Gordon, in his “Answers” to John Frame proclaims,

Frame’s attempt to put “all of life” under one umbrella . . . is doomed to futility, because it does not address the very issue the regulative principle was designed to address, the limits of church power and the liberty of conscience. If there is no distinction between what is lawful for an individual and what is lawful for the church to require of everyone, then Paul’s discussions in 1 Corinthians 7–9 and Romans 14 make no sense.
Such texts presuppose, and in fact positively teach, that there are things an individual may freely do which cannot be required of others.8

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department 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. John M. Frame, “Some Quesions About the Regulative Principle,” Westminster Theological Journal 54, 2 (Fall 1992), 357. []
  2. John. Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church (Dallas: Protestant Heritage Press, 1995), 17-18. []
  3. Frame, 362. []
  4. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans,
    1996), 753. []
  5. 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. []
  6. T. David Gordon, “Some Answers About the Regulative Principle,” Westminster Theological Journal 55, 2 (Fall 1993), 323. []
  7. Delivuk, 242. []
  8. Gordon, 323. []

43 Responses to John Frame and the Regulative Principle of Worship

  1. Perhaps in the sentence following the quotation from the Westminster Confession you meant to say: “In other words, in terms of corporate worship, what is NOT commanded is forbidden.” ?

  2. Since Frame is an advocate of contemporary worship music and practice, no wonder he already recognizes the effective way to back up his position is to blur the demarcation between the individual all-of-life worship and corporate worship as far as regulative principle for worship concern. Because of his strong Presbyterian background, he also needs to softens the requirements of RPW. We often fail to see the distinction between individual daily life worship and corporate worship which requires to be addressed with regulative principle.

  3. Well argued – there is lots of confusion out there about Paul’s ‘being a Jew to the Jews’ and these other passages, so this is extremely helpful.

  4. This is a well written argument, and I see evidence today of why some see the regulatory principle (RP) to be a necessity. There is a rampant problem in worship where many worship for the “warm fuzzies” that they get when gathering and working themselves into a collective euphoria.

    I would also like to argue that as some people take too much freedom in worship, the RP can be taken to an extreme as well. There should definitely be standards, but they should not be so tight as to hinder the worship expression of God’s people.

    The RP can definitely cause us to fall into legalism, and we are NOT to be the Pharisees of the modern day. God created different activities, so should we not use them in our worship? “Anything that is not permitted is forbidden” seems to be a pretty hefty assumption for man to make when little has been expressly forbidden besides immoral activity as defined by God’s Word. Should we place the constraints on worship when we are the worshipers not the Creator of worship? What is the balance between legalism and anarchy in worship?

  5. After reading Dr. Aniol’s explanation of Roman 12:1, I do not agree with Frame’s definition of RRW, which RPW does not lead God’s people to any particular “style of worship”. The word worship that Paul used in Romans 12:1 means individual service of worship. This means that God’s word does tell us the style of worship.

  6. Ben I agree with you. We are the worshipers; we are not the creators of worship. We aren’t supposed to put any constraints to the worship. As Barrett, the author of The beauty of Holiness, says, The Bible is the guideline of worship. We aren’t able to imitate the actions of worship during the time of Old and New Testament, but we definitely can learn the principle worship. I believe the principle of worship from the Bible is applicable to any time period of life style. If we follow the teaching of RP, and apply the teaching of the Bible word by word—action but not principle—in our life, then we have to take the time machine and go back to OT or NT and do what they did. God already knows what will happen to us in our present time and in our future. He has already given the guideline to worship Him since the creation.

  7. As I was reading the article, the phrase “we must give an account to God” kept repeating in my mind and so, I Google searched where it is in the Bible. My search found two accounts of phrase: one in Romans and the other in Hebrews. The former is also from chapter 14, in verses 11-12, it says: “It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” Then in Hebrews 4:12-13, the passage reads: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” From my observation, each passage addresses the attitude of the worshipper to God. However, neither the Regulative Principle of Worship nor the Normative Principle of Worship addresses the heart matter. Our worship should not be legalistic for we all must give an account to God who sees everything—beyond the surface.

  8. I agree that Frame seems to be ignoring the original purpose of the RPW. Calvin was reacting against the excesses and extra-biblical practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Paul clearly uses different language when talking about the daily life of the believer and the gathering of believers for corporate worship. A distinction, therefore, must necessarily be maintained.

  9. I was not formerly familiar with John Frame. I am curious to know more about how his view works its way out in the worship service – or does it work its way out primarily in the life of the believer? Are his corporate worship practices cause for concern? I read an article by John Frame, “A Fresh Look at the Regulative Principle,” – – but it did not really clear things up for me. Dr. Aniol, can you elaborate on why his view is a dangerous one?

  10. The regulative and normal principles scream out one statement to me: We are a people of extremes. I find this issue in SO many areas of our theological debates. And this issue derives from a failure to do one thing: balance. We constantly shoot from one side to the other. We are talking about worship. Let’s think about this for a minute.

    It is true; God gave the Israelites specific instructions on certain things. For example, He didn’t want anyone to touch the Ark of the Covenant. He also didn’t want people to make and worship idols. The list goes on. However, I do not find anywhere that God told the people exactly what songs to sing on every occasion of worship. Look at Exodus 15. The Israelites had just been delivered from the Egyptians, and they broke into song about it. The song is about the trip they all had, seeing the Lord destroy the Pharaoh and his army. Was this a special song from a certain songbook with specific instructions attached? No.

    Secondly, take David’s temple-building desire. This was his desire to glorify God. Was it spoken in the Torah that the king should build God a temple? No. Did David seek God’s guidance on carrying out this act of worship. Yes. He presented the desire before the Lord, and God led him to how He wanted it to be done. David prepared the materials for building the temple and Solomon built it. Moreover, one must keep in mind, that though Solomon was the one who supervised the building of the temple, David’s preparation was an integral part of this worship.

    As much as we would like to think that the Bible lists everything, it just doesn’t. John himself says in John 21:25 (last verse of the book) that there are “also many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were written one by one, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written” (HCSB). The Bible does not tell us every single thing about Jesus. And the Bible does not call out every single sin there ever was or will be or tell us how to respond to every situation that we encounter in life. But, does the Bible cover the important stuff? Absolutely. And does the Bible, when read with a well-rounded perspective and paired with the influence of the Holy Spirit, tell us enough to live righteous lives that are pleasing to the Lord? You better believe it.

    Balance (Given by the HS) + The Word of God + Inclusion of the Holy Spirit = Appropriate Worship.

  11. Ben, I really appreciate your comment, because you focus on the key of balance. You discuss the issues with “warm fuzzies.” legalism, and the like. People continuously go to extremes. In one church, things are dry and crusty, no emotion and no excitement about the Lord. In another church, people are bouncing off the walls, teaching one another to speak in tongues in an unbiblical manner, and other imaginable things. So, what are we do to about this?

    We have got to stop reading the Word with our flesh and picking out sections that we want to adhere to. And we have got to spend more time in prayer about what we do. We must acknowledge the aspect of worship by viewing the Bible in its entirety. The Word talks about singing, dancing, playing instruments, and other ways that bring God glory. These are all great things, but it is sometimes difficult to deal with the “line” of these practices. For example, should we sing just the melody? sing with accompaniment? sing with drums? sing Scream-o? These are real questions that have surfaced in the church for centuries. So, to find our answer, we must look at the Bible as a whole. It talks of order, Spirit-led worship, edification of the body, and more. These are the real things we should be focused on. Are we seeking the Holy Spirit through prayer and the reading of the Word? Are we seeking to bring God glory and edifying the church with our corporate worship practices? When answers to these questions are provided, theological debates dissolve and worship is seen in a whole new light.

  12. As I sit here and read this I just sit and hang my head. Once again Like Laura said we are fighting two extremes. And ones that have been going on for decades. I find it hard to go with the RP just based on the fact that if we went on the bible then we would be sitting in a time period bump. Because the Bible doesn’t prescribe so many things. Like for instance we wouldn’t be able to have the words projected on the screens because the Bible doesn’t call for that. Nor does it call for 70% of the stuff we do in the NT church today. Also according to the RP we would not have the styles of the church we house today because we were given strict instructions on the temple and how it was to look.No one said anything about a building with a steeple on top. And once again I hate to point to Laura like but she nailed this comment with the use of John 21:25. There is a lot that wasn’t included in the Bible. It gives us the outline and the Holy Spirit directs us. Is there a way to worship? Of course! And we will see it when we get to heaven! I believe its neither of these extremes because there are things not listed in the Bible but on the other hand its not a free for all and allow anything.

    The one thing I do know and I see it all the time since coming to seminary and that is we are to busy with the petty arguments about this instead of joining together and impacting the world around us that is lost and dying everyday.

  13. I agree with those arguing against Frame that his re-softening of the RP is invalid. There is a distinction between our “all of life, personal” worship and corporate worship. There is an inherent danger in requiring something from corporate worshipers that is not commanded in Scripture. To those who add to the worship of God or say to another believer “this is how you must worship” with those additions not lining up in Scripture, they will have to give an account to God for their actions. Even though this article was not explicitly about music, I continued thinking about music and worship after I started reading this article. In college, I was very much a proponent of all music (any-type) being used in corporate worship. But over the years my views have changed. As a musician, I like many types of music (rock, some pop, classical, CCM, gospel, etc…). At one point in time I would have no problem using any genre in worship. But some songs (not pointing the finger at any particular genre) are simply not appropriate for corporate worship. They may be great for personal devotion or worship, but not in a corporate setting.

  14. I think the fundamental base of this whole “Regulative Principle should apply not just to worship, but to all of life” as well as “Frame softens the RPW to be simply God’s sovereign rulership over all of life and the believer’s responsibility to do all to the glory of God” seems to put a truly worship heart over right action to worship Him, instead of considering both hearts and action as equally important. Therefore, instead of seeking God’s principles of how He wants us to worship Him, Frame seems to bring up the point that as long as we are giving God glory “all of life” with whatever we do, it is OK to worship God in our own way. I think this unbalanced fundamental thought makes Frame’s argument one-sided. Thinking about what Dr. Aniol said about the event that happened at the foot of Mount Sinai (Israelites may have the true heart to worship ELOHIM, but they use a wrong method—worshiping the Golden Calf, which made God angry), only a true heart to worship God and give Him glory will make God satisfy, God wants to us to have a true heart and worship Him in His terms.

  15. In terms of corporate worship, I’m not agreeing with neither “what is not commanded is forbidden (RPW)” nor “what is not forbidden is permitted (NPW).” I feel both of them are too extreme, they can lead Christians go into wrong directions. RPW sets people too much limitation to worship God, God made us to be creative, and give us own thought to think. On the contrary, NPW seems too liberal. There are lots of things God didn’t obviously forbidden in the Bible, but it does not means He permitted them, it does not means we doing those things can make Him pleased. God sent us His holy spirit to live in us and to help us to worship Him. We should seek help from holy spirit what to do and seek God’s word, let them guide us to make good decisions. I like what Leyi pointed out: we need to worship Him with true hearts and in His terms to make God satisfy. Hearts and act are equally important.

  16. I agree with most here that Frame’s idea of RPW is invalid. Corporate worship today is lacking balance, such as Laura said. I believe that the Bible tells us how to worship and it is up to us to worship in a balanced way to glorify Him. Not overdue it and act crazy and not to the other extreme without any emotion, but just in a way that we are true in our worship to the Lord.

  17. When I read this article, I just thought about the problem of the regulative and normal principles. I agree that it is good to set the RP that protects the divinity of the worship and keep from the wrong way worship. However, we can’t ignore the fact that these principles can make the mistake to lead the wrong direction to worship. The center of our worship is God. God is subject and our Lord of the worship. The worship doesn’t belong to us, it belong to God. The acceptance of the new genre music and new culture style can be fitted for the congregations and the worship leaders to touch our emotions, not for God. Our mind of the worship must focus to only God. As the Romans 12:1, “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy, and pleasing to God…..” Toward God, the worship requires the our new and pure heart rather than the RP and NP.

  18. Wow interesting views. I personally would need to read more by Frame before I could say I agree or disagree with him. From just reading his statement “all human actions are ruled by divine commandments. There is no neutral area where God permits us to be our own lawgivers. There is no area of human life where God abdicates his rule, or where his word to us is silent.” I do not see an immediate flaw. I believe this statement is simply showing that God is totally sovereign over all aspects of life. If that is what he is saying I fully agree. I also believe that we should “do all things to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). It seems that the question is whether Frame was looking at the regulative principle correctly. My question is was he looking at the word of God correctly, to which I would need to read more of his writings to answer.

    I do hold to a regulative principal of worship. I believe that everything we do should be based on the word of God and led by the Holy spirit (indwelling in the inner man) (John 4). As this relates to Worship through music I hold the same regulation. My conviction is that people can be worshiping either to an Isacc watts hymn, Getty hymn, Tomlin praise song, or Lacrae rap (knowing this is the most controversial). If they are proclaiming what the word of God say’s while being led by the spirit, then I believe we need to be careful about placing extra guidelines. I do believe that they all should be sung in reverence to our Holy God. A music pastor should make sure to use music that the congregation can worship to the music they select (this will be different depending on the local body). I truly believe that God desires us to glorify him with all of our gifts, and I am afraid that we let preference surpass the Word too often in our Churches.

  19. It is a very well written argument. I agree with Dr. Aniol that it is impossible to apply the Regulative Principle in normal life situations. Thus, applying Regulative Principle of worship to Christian life is to soften its authority. Romans 12:1 is a very good biblical example showing that corporate worship should be separated from the worship in our daily lives. Therefore, it is logically invalid to apply RPW to Christian living. The Bible clearly shows us that God prescribes corporate worship. It is the worshipers’ responsibility to follow God’s prescription to carry out worship practices.

    Dr. Aniol points out that the purpose for the RPW was “to liberate stricken consciences from practices within corporate worship that were not expressly set forth in the Scriptures.” I believe that the RPW still has strong authority to guide people to worship in a correct way. One should not misuse or soften the RPW to validate certain kinds of worship practices.

  20. A couple sentences from the end I wrote a typo. It should read the following: A music pastor should make sure to use music that the congregation can worship to.

  21. I like John Frame’s idea that RPW hold apply to all of life for glorifying God. However, his idea seems to be invalid to me. Even though John Frame’s argument is strong, I do not know how Frame developed his ideas through the Scripture examples. I like Jessica’s idea that RPW and NPW do not address the heart matter. Worship should focus on our attitude toward God.

  22. Certainly Frame’s idea of RPW is overstatement. Of course, it is true that all of life is worship for the believer, but Romans 12:1 didn’t express for congregation worship. I agree with above article’s conclusion. On the other hand, as a foundational meaning of worship, (not just matter of worship for individual or congregation) I think it needs to meditate Romans 12:1 for all Christian. For today worship, spirit of RPW must be recovered. Because in many cases, modern worship starts from music, preference or song (beginning text ‘I’, NOT ‘Lord, God’ first) than from Scripture, God’s word, His command. For Recovering biblical worship, RPW will be essential tool.

  23. I agree with John Calvin, because we cannot add to worship the human imagination. The prescriptions of the Bible are already clear and established. Everything, apart from the regulations and conditions given by God is a violation of His principles and perfect will. The consequences of this issue (adding new elements to worship), which brought “conscience problems” into faithful believers, is not just only a modern problem of the contemporarily Church liturgy; evidently we can confirm the existence of this tendency through the history of Church. For this reason Dr. Aniol explains the necessity to create Regulative Principles of Worship, which was not with the idea of restrict corporate worship, beyond that, the word regulation looks like a method to distinguish the scriptural appropriate worship as a rule of practice against the human’s intentions to add a different way of worship based in his own ideas. My only concern is the abruption of modern churches about the RPW, because different interpretations and in the worse cases the completely forgotten of many churches and leaders about the significance of this document.

  24. To understand the point of John Frame supporting the idea of worship as a part of the whole life, probably Frame is connecting his theory with the worship concept of ancient Israelites, which means for them everything was constituted an act of worship. But these are just figurations of my mind, in linking his thought with the information learned in Worship class. The idea of Regulative Principles of Worship has a precise objective of regulating worship according to the Scriptures, to avoid excesses in the corporate worship and to avoid incurring in false and empty worship. It is possible to say that Frame´s conception of worship is dangerous, because his biblical references lack of enough arguments, he cites some biblical texts to support his thesis, however; it is out of context, just as the case of (Rom 12: 1-2). if the content of his book Worship in Spirit and Truth is adding a new revelation of what was given by Christ to the Samaritan woman (see John 2), and transforming or acculturating the RPW in the act of Worship, it is urgent to say his theory is completely erratic and can lead to a false and empty worship, regrettably empty worship and false worship is a common problem in some churches today. Concerning my posture about RPW and NPW, as a Baptist Christian I understand RPW is the most accurate and godly document and deserves respect, not Frame´s distortions.

  25. John, I agree with you when you said, ” I am afraid that we let preference surpass the Word too often in our Churches.” This is a huge problem in most churches here in our entitled America, where everyone feels they deserve to sing what makes them feel best, with little or no thought to biblical accuracy. However, you also said, “A music pastor should make sure to use music that the congregation can worship to.” Herein lies the other side of the problem. Who gets to say what music the congregation can worship to? A believer who comes to truly worship the Lord with other believers, who leaves his “self” at the door to corporately and selflessly seek the face of God, should be able to worship God using whatever means the pastors have brought before him. The Scripture says, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness,” not “Worship the Lord in the beauty of your favorite song.” I have heard SO many times, “I just can’t worship with that kind of music.” I challenge such a person to dig a little deeper and see if in fact he is seeking his own fulfillment, his own warm fuzzies, rather than the praise and glory and worship of Almighty God.

  26. Whether we abide by regulative principles or normative principles when it comes to corporate worship, it is all meaningless if our hearts are away from God. God detests worship that is without genuine heart. We are prone to make the same mistake which the people of Israel had made during their post-exilic period.

  27. The regulative principle of Worship (RPW) is, like its antithesis appealing (to its supporters) in principle but somewhat more difficult to realize in practice. As stated in the article here as well as in class and numerous other sources the RPW allows only that which is specifically commanded by God. Immediately though we have a problem. That problem is that God did not actually command all that much in the New Testament in regards to worship.
    No doubt at this point I am running afoul of those who would tell me that much of what is commanded is found in the Old Testament as well. Frankly I find this assertion dubious at best. One of the primary, most common, and most detailed aspects of worship in the Old Testament was that of animal sacrifice. As far back as the first humans we see this as far and away the primary worship practice in the OT. We further know that in the NT this is no longer necessary due to the “Once for All” sacrifice of Christ. With this in mind, just how much of OT worship does in fact carry over? The simple answer is that we really do not know and the NT doesn’t spell it out for us.
    This leads us to our dilemma. If we have significant questions as to what OT worship is carried over in the NT church and the NT is maddeningly sparse on clear, unequivocal worship commands, how do we apply the RPW? Is this principle sustainable? We infer from the examples of Nadab and Abihu and their “unauthorized fire” that the RPW is the correct principle for worship but where does that really leave us? By the strictest application of the RPW absolutely ANYTHING not commanded is prohibited. What then, for example, do we make of our manner of dress at church? Neither suit and tie nor t-shirt and shorts are commanded or prohibited by scripture, but we all believe that one or the other (or something in between) is appropriate for worship. Using the RPW all we really know about this is what they wore at the time. Is this the apparel God commanded; If not for the laity, then at least for the clergy? Has anyone spontaneously combusted in your church lately?
    This is of course an absurd example, but to take the RPW to its core definition leads to just such an absurd conclusion. I do not say this in defense of the Normative Principle that can be equally absurd in its ultimate application. Obviously the potential for abuses under the NPW are vast and well documented in the medieval church (and even today). The zeal to establish pure NT worship is admirable, but is it realistic?

    Ryan Thiessen
    October 13, 2013

  28. This article was very interesting concerning the softening of the Regulative Worship Principle to incorporate private as well as corporate worship (RP). At first glance, the slight change might not seem to have such profound implications, but with a closer evaluation one can see that softening the principle does in fact have a profound impact on carrying out corporate and private worship. Most importantly, perhaps Frame was trying to find a way around the restrictions he saw in the RWP. However, it is dangerous to manipulate Scripture to make the Bible say what we want it to say rather than what it truly intended to say. I also find it interesting that the RWP was originally intended to keep people from participating in worship practices that they do no personally agree with that are not specified in the Bible. While reading this article this thought crossed my mind: perhaps the RWP started out with good intentions to keep people from having someone else’s convictions imposed upon them that were not explicitly stated in the Bible. However, over the course of time those good intentions may at times have been perverted into a tool of legalism.

  29. Several people commented on the extremes of the arguments. I personally have often ignored the conflicting issues all together because often I felt that those issues took away from the more important “Great Commandment” issue. I am learning that it is important to wrestle through the questions and debates to preserve worship that is worthy of Yahweh. However, I still agree that those debates must not overshadow the more important issue of sharing the gospel with people who do not know Jesus.

  30. I love a good debate. If I feel especially passionate about something I can jump right in and contribute to whatever side I’m aligned with. However, arguments such as this simply make me sad that so much focus must go into the “how of worship” and not into the “practice of worship”.
    If we could stop arguing points and just worship, then we’d have a lot more time to focus on the lost world we’re in. I know that for this to happen, Satan would have to stop blowing smoke, we’d all (every one of us) have to stop diverting our attention, and focus solely on God. We’re just living with the consequences of a fallen world, and soles broken by sin.
    As has been stated, every argument hinges on the extremes at opposition. Why not just cut to the chase and find a solid, theologically stable middle ground? Objectivity is key if people are going to get past the assumption that they know absolutely best what God desires. I am addressing myself here as well.
    Oh for the day when articles such as this will be unnecessary, the Body of Christ will be in complete harmony, and we will worship at our Savior’s feet. Until that day, we fight on.

  31. Sarah, I do believe fully that if the text is biblical and it led by the Spirit, then worship will occur no matter the style. I do think that many people think they can not worship to a piece of music because of it’s style, but the real issue is preference. I also do not think My statement that “a music pastor should make sure to use music that the congregation can worship to” was clear. I was trying to say that a music minister should be discerning of the congregation (This does not mean that we should not first be surrendered to the Spirit and the Word). If a congregation does not understand something we need to teach it to them (it may not be wise to use it at all). It is not about the preference of the music minister either. As you said, we should “selflessly seek the face of God.” You are correct, it is not the music minister that should declare what the congregation can worship too (only God can do that). I was trying to say that the music minister should be wise in their selection (this only truly comes through the spirit’s lead), knowing that every local body is different.

    Ben, I think it is a strong warning when you said that the “The RP can definitely cause us to fall into legalism.” I do think that as Bible believing Christians we need to be careful not to fall into being pharisaic. I know that it is easy to often set guidelines that are extra Biblical to protect people. May we truly be led by the Word and the Spirit, and give God all the glory.

  32.         Ben is spot on and I think there may in fact be another way to see this, a middle ground if you will.  I will attempt in brief to describe this, while acknowledging this format is not ideal.
             As we seem to be obsessed with one extreme or the other, I suggest a third option.  I have no catchy name for it, so I will refer to this as the Option C Worship Principle (OCWP).  OCWP tends to look less at what we are doing and more at why we are doing it.  I suggest we pose this question to any of the worship principles or anything we are doing in our churches for that matter.  Of course all are concerned with the purpose of a given principle, but it rarely seems to be the primary consideration that it arguably should be.
            Nothing is a straight forward as it would appear to be and OCWP is not different.  The first thing we have to decide is what is the purpose of our worship.  I submit that this is actually inculcated in the larger discussion of what is the purpose of The Church.  Those in the Regulative camp (Baptists, Presbyterians, etc) might say that the purpose if the church is to “save the lost”.  The Normatives (Catholics, Anglicans, etc) might suggest the purpose is to “glorify God”.  Still others may state that “developing the body of believers” is the Church’s purpose.
            I suggest that they are all right and all wrong.  The Church’s purpose is all three, but none more than another.  If you will pardon the analogy, it has a somewhat trinitarian feel to it.  Everything the Church does must simultaneously be in support of:

            –  Glorifying God
            –  Saving the Lost
            –  Developing the Body

            Church functions that do not support ALL THREE must be considered for modification or elimination.  Let us not be tempted to consider any one of these purposes more important than another. They are of equal importance and mutually supportive.  Without any one, the other two suffer.
            The next aspect of OCWP concerns practices that are either unacceptable or not.  As mentioned in a previous entry, we honestly know little regarding what OT practices are intended to be used in Christian worship and the NT simply does not give a great deal of clear, unambiguous guidance.  OCWP therefore holds that, those practices that are critically important to God, are in fact clearly mandated.  In short, if God really wanted something He would tell us.  
            In this light, worship practices are viewed in one of three categories or tiers.  Tier 1 practices are those clearly commanded in scripture.  This is the regulative aspect of OCWP.  An example of a Tier 1 practice is Baptism.  We are clearly commanded to do this in, among other places, the Great Commission.  At this point, we must understand that despite their best efforts and intentions documents such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the London Baptist Confession ARE NOT the word of God.
            Using Baptism as an example, a Tier 2 practice would be that which is not expressly commanded but can be reasonably discerned from scripture.  For example we know that Baptism is commanded (Tier 1) but the Bible does not expressly, unequivocally state that only believers are to be baptized.  OCWP supports Believer’s Baptism due to the preponderance of evidence supporting this position (Tier 2).
            A Tier 3 issue is that for which the Bible gives little or no guidance.  This is the Normative aspect of OCWP.  Tier 3 practices are to be determined through prayer and when possible scriptural precedent.  These are generally local congregation issues and are to be determined in the best interest of that congregation’s efforts toward the three purposes.  Because these practices have little or no scriptural guidance, they are at NO TIME so important that they become an area of contention or division.  An example of a Tier 3 issue is the administration of the Lord’s Supper.  This can be a matter of all going forward to receive the bread and wine, of the elements passed in individual portions to the congregation in their seats.  The Senior Pastor must prayerfully and scripturally guide his congregation in these endeavors.
            OCWP, while having a normative flavor to it, allows us to concentrate the critical purposes of the  Church and assesses the relative importance of practices based on degree of scriptural mandate.  OCWP is not concerned with one extreme or the other but rather a middle ground that is concerned less about “how we’ve always done it” and more about Glorifying God, Saving the Lost, and Developing the Body.  Less about what and more about why.     

    Ryan Thiessen
    October 14, 2013

  33. No matter a person chooses to follow the Regulative Principle or the Normative Principle, his/her choice involves personal preference. Both RPW and NPW are not directly taken from the Bible, instead they tend to grow out of the requirement of church leaders. It seems that people have some degrees of freedom to make their choices.

    In 1 Corinthians Ch. 8, Paul talks about food sacrificed to idols. He doesn’t provide us with a “model answer” but suggesting that we should avoid to “become a stumbling block to the weak.” Therefore, Paul concluded that “if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

    In my opinion, it is difficult to make a clear-cut judgement on the RPW and NPW. We should do everything according to our faith to God and let God’s name be glorified.

  34. Ryan, thank you for your fresh idea, Option C Worship Principle (OCWP). I think you succeeded for deepening and expending our discuss by suggesting another option. Your opinion is very helpful for me. After reading your comment, I thought again about ‘Worship’ matter of beyond How and What, rather ‘Why’ we worship. And Ben, I love a good debate as well, although debating is not easy for me in English as a International student. So that’s why I am learning a lot at here through reading than writing own my idea. Here is very sound condition for debating. Thankfully, I have been serving many worship so far, such as worship of local churchs, various Christian fellowships, Bible study group, International gathering; from the kids to the elderly, very small group to very large group, and so on. When I remember these all worship, the very great issue was ‘Acceptable Worship before the Lord’. Still I am so struggling about music, preference of people, and even various kinds of practical condition of sanctuary for worship. However, these are not fundamental issues. Always, trying to seek God’s will in the Scripture, and draw near to God by faith through Jesus Christ, with anointing by Holy Spirit for dicerning of the congregation of music minister as John mentioned are important keys for Worship. For worship minister, struggling or good fight for true worship alway exist because here, our worship is just shadow of heavenly Glorious worship. In that reason, to make firm foundation of worship, these ideas, RPW, NPW and OCWP of Ryan are agreeable for me.

  35. I agree with what Jess said, “neither the Regulative Principle of Worship nor the Normative Principle of Worship addresses the heart matter. Our worship should not be legalistic for we all must give an account to God who sees everything—beyond the surface.” God is our only subject to worship, if the worship he doesn’t acceptance then it is worthless, no matter how good it is from people’s sight. If the worship songs can only satisfied one’s feeling or even comfort one’s feeling, but not as an offering toward God, then it makes no sense. A true worship requires our right hearts and actions rather than following RPW or NPW.

  36. Wow Ryan, your elaborate explanation is making me reconsider my stance. I like your reasoning for OCWP to be be grounded in glorifying God, saving the lost, and developing the body. As well, I like how you separated the scriptural mandate into three tiers. However, my reason for hesitating is that the group cannot only be after WHY we worship God the way we do, but should also consider HOW worship can be carried after knowing why. This reminds me of James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” In other words, “do not simply understand why we worship God, and so deceive yourself to be worshipping, DO what you know.” I believe the debate between RWP and NWP is not so much concern with why we worship the way we do but HOW worship should be conducted that is reflective of the Word.

  37. Now days, many churches I have been to in China believe in Frame’s philosophy. Pastors and the worship leaders think it does not really matter how we worship God, as long as our hearts are for God and we worship with our true and faithful spirit, God will be pleased. Following what the Spirit leads us to become an excuse for them to not take time to prepare the music or sermons. In addition, some pastors believe that church should adopt as much pop-culture elements to worship in order to attract young people and make them think church is “cool”. Well their goal and motivation are very good, but is it really what God want us to do?
    I think since both RPW and NPW are principles, they are not God’s direct commandments in Bible, both of them must have some kind of shortcoming and imperfectness. Therefore, when we are applying those principles to our worship life, we need to pray about it specifically on specific situation and see how the Holy Spirit lead us to and what God’s principles said in the Bible about the issue, then make a decision for action.

  38. I have to say that I agree a lot with Ben and how he says there needs to be a middle ground. With the whole why we are doing it approach because like Ryan said there isn’t a lot of commands on worship in the NT.

  39. It’s interesting to re-read this article in light of the explanation given in class. The RP and NP are really the middle ground/conservative views, with legalism and the “anything goes” practices at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I didn’t fully understand what Frame was doing with his re-definition until after class today. All Frame has attempted to do is to affirm and adhere to the NP without explicitly coming out and affirming the NP (because he can’t as Presbyterian). My response last night (before the website decided to have a glitch) was to echo Ben’s comment about the need for a middle ground. But after today’s class, the NP and RP are really the middle ground views in the debate. It was nice to have that explanation in class regarding those two views. It changes my perspective a lot.

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