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Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship 3: Christ’s Authority 1

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series

"Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship"

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

The first post in this series introduced Scripture Regulated Worship. The second post considered some of the most important arguments for Scripture-Regulated Worship.

The Argument from Christ’s Authority

The Regulative Principle cannot be understood as a mere novel approach to worship, or even as the preferred method of worship among of Reformed theologians. Scripture regulated worship is best understood as the right and consistent application to worship of a biblical understanding of the relationship of the Church to Christ and the Apostles.

1. Christ’s Authority through the Apostles

To make the case for NT authority, I want to begin with the authority of Christ. I cannot imagine any Christian denying this, but Christ alone has authority over the Church. A classic passage teaching this is the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:18–20. Jesus begins that passage: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Jesus is speaking to his followers, the soon to be church, before his ascension. God the Father has given to Christ all authority over all creation. If that authority is recognized anywhere, it ought to be recognized by Christ’s body, the church.[1] As Paul says in Ephesians 3:20, Jesus Christ is the Church’s cornerstone. In Luke 9:35, the Father says of his son, “This is my Son, my Chosen one; listen to him.” Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church. He is Lord of my Church. He is Lord of your church. We are to obey Christ when he tells us how to live, what to believe, what a church is, and what a church is to do.

This raises a problem. None of us have ever seen Jesus. We’ve never heard him speak. So how does Christ exercise his authority in his church? At this point, the Great Commission gives us an immediate answer to this question. Christ gave his authority to the apostles, represented by the eleven disciples (Mt 28:16). So after claiming authority for himself, Christ said to his disciples, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Jesus tells his disciples that they are to bring his authority to all nations. They do this by proclamation of the gospel and bringing men to confess Christ is Lord—they make disciples and baptize. Then they teach Christ’s commands to his followers. Christ’s commands certainly apply to our daily conduct, but they also inform the practice of Christ’s gatherings (cf. Mt 16 & 18). It’s worth noting that Christ wants all his commands to be obeyed by his disciples. While I certainly believe that the Great Commission must be obeyed by every believer, the original context is significant. Christ gives to the eleven this sober responsibility of handing down his commands.

From this, we can draw an important conclusion: Jesus Christ sent delegates (apostles) to teach his churches his will for them as churches. This is not only taught in the Great Commission, but in Ephesians 3:18–22 as well:

18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

There are several features of this text that we simply must bypass. God has brought both Jews and Gentiles (both in v 18) into one new body, the household of God. We who believe in Christ are adopted in Christ as sons, and have been given full standing in God’s family as his children. The church is God’s household.


Our focus is on v 20–21: built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. Paul says the church is built upon two things: a foundation and a chief cornerstone. A foundation is the base or ground of a building. Foundations give buildings form and stability. The foundation for the church is the apostles and prophets. The prophets are clearly New Testament prophets (see Eph 3:5; 4:11; 1 Cor 14:5, 6, 24–25, 29–31). Paul means apostle in the technical sense here.[2] Apostles are of a higher rank and more significant than prophets, something we can deduce simply in the order they’re named (cf. Eph 4:11ff).

In what sense is the church built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets? First, consider the nature of the ministry of these offices. In both cases, apostles and prophets were given a revelatory ministry. They speak God’s Word.[3] In Galatians 1:11, Paul says, the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.[4] Both apostles and prophets both had the extraordinary spiritual gift of receiving and proclaiming the God’s revelation. This stewardship of receiving special revelation was essential to these two offices. So the way in which apostles and prophets serve as a foundation for churches in Eph 2:20 is through their God-given role to speak Christ’s revealed word to his churches. We see a testimony to this important role in the apostles’ own statements, in passages like 1 Cor 11:23 and 15:3. Consider just the first of these: for I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you. There is a transmission of authoritative teaching happening there. Before the canon was complete, those whom Christ called to fill these two offices authoritatively spoke God’s revealed Word to churches. Christ later preserved that foundation through the inspiration of Spirit in the New Testament canon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Then how is this revelatory ministry foundational? The apostles and prophets spoke authoritatively on Christ’s behalf what Christ wanted churches to believe (doctrine) and to do (practice). Our Lord wanted to leave his churches a specific testimony as to faith and conduct. He didn’t want his followers to dream up their own understanding of God and Christ and salvation church life. So he taught the apostles during his earthly ministry and, after his ascension, revealed to them and the prophets his revealed Word. This foundation is the divine form and gracious stability for all Christ’s churches.

With this, we also see how Christ is the chief cornerstone. The cornerstone was the greatest stone set for buildings, providing support and a reference point for all other stones. Cornerstones came to symbolize stability and prominence. So any stability given to churches through the foundation of the apostles and prophets itself rests upon the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. To call Christ the cornerstone was not a mere analogy, but one that testified to the prophetic significance of our Lord as the Christ in Isa 28:16 and Psa 118:22. For Paul, the point that Christ is the cornerstone means that his doctrines are the message proclaimed by the apostles and prophets, that through that message Christ gives his church stability, and that Christ gets the glory in his church.

To summarize, Paul teaches that the foundation of the church in what it believes and practices comes from the authoritative revelatory ministry of the apostles and prophets, Christ himself being the substance and stability of that foundation.[5] It’s worth noting, by the way, that a foundation is laid once and only once. It does not keep growing or building. Thus the foundational ministry of these men does not continue through some kind of apostolic succession or revelatory magisterium of the Church.[6]

[1] J. Ligon Duncan similarly argues for Scripture-regulated worship from the “Church’s Derivative Authority”: “The Bible’s teaching on the derivative nature of the church’s authority limits its discretionary powers in worship and enjoins its observance of the regulative principle.” “Foundations,” in Give Praise, 57. Likewise, Hart and Muether argue, “There is no other authority for the church—including her worship—beside the teaching of Christ, who in his office as prophet reveals God’s will for our salvation by his Word and his Spirit.” With Reverence, 82. Also see Bauder, Baptist Distinctives, 28–32.

[2] Apostles are those who (1) who were witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus (Acts 1:21-26; 9:40-41; 1 Cor 9:1); (2) who were called by God and Christ (1 Cor 1:1); (3) proclaimed God’s revealed Word (1 Cor 2:7; Gal 1:11; 1 Cor 11:23; 15:3); and (4) performed great signs and wonders (Acts 4:29-30; 2 Cor 12:12). They included the twelve less Judas, Matthias his replacement, Paul, and it seems from Acts 14:4 & 14, Barnabas.

[3] Calvin: “Foundation unquestionably here refers to doctrine; for he does not mention patriarchs or godly kings, but only those who held the teaching office, and whom God had appointed to build his church.” The Epistles of Paul The Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, tr. T. H. L. Parker, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 154.

[4] Compare 1 Thess 2:13-14 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

[5] Gregg Allison says, “Positively, evangelical theology understands apostolicity to refer to the church’s focus on preaching, hearing, believing, and obeying the teaching of the apostles, written down in the canonical New Testament writings. Promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit for this very task, the apostles’ memory were aided by the Spirit as they wrote, rendering them and their writings bona fide witnesses of Jesus Christ (John 14:26). Importantly, the apostle Peter himself underscores the manner in which he sought to ensure that the teachings that he had received from Christ would be transmitted to the church after his death (‘departure’). … (2 Peter 1:12-15). … If he, the chief apostle, considered Scripture to be the sure, divine instruction for the church in the post-apostolic era, it is hard to see how apostolic succession could add to this already-certain foundation. Accordingly, evangelical theology embraces apostolicity as the logocentricity, or Word-centeredness, of the church that is focused on the writings of the apostles.” Roman Catholic Theology & Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2014), 183-84.

[6] It also means that, since the extraordinary gifts (like tongues and healings; 1 Cor 12:27-31) of the early church are explicitly associated with the revelatory ministry of the apostles and prophets (2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:1-4), those extraordinary gifts themselves ceased when the apostles passed off the scene. B. B. Warfield observed that the only non-apostolic miracles recorded in Acts were performed by those upon whom the apostles had laid hands. Counterfeit Miracles (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 21-25. He adds, “It is of equal importance to us, to teach us the source of the gifts of power, in the Apostles, apart from whom they were not conferred: as also their function, to authenticate the Apostles as the authoritative founders of the church.” He cites a Bishop Kaye who held that only those who had hands laid on them by apostles ever enjoyed miraculous gifts. Another cessationist Richard Gaffin, Jr. does not believe that only those who had received the apostolic lying on of hands performed miracles in the early church, but he does note that “On balance, the overall picture seems to be that the apostolate is the immediate nucleus or source in the church of the gifts given by the exalted Christ in this period.” Perspectives on Pentecost: New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1979), 101. Gaffin’s insights were crucial to the forming of my own position on extraordinary gifts, and I owe him much thanks. Also see O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word: A Biblical Response to the Case for Tongues & Prophecy Today (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993) and Thomas Schreiner, “Why I am a Cessationist,”


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About Ryan Martin

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