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Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship 5: Christ’s Authority 3

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series

"Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship"

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

My initial post in this series introduced the idea of worship regulated by Scripture alone (also known as the Regulative Principle of Worship). The second post considered important arguments for the Regulative Principle. The third introduced the argument for the Regulative Principle from Christ’s authority. This argument consists of several subpoints. First, I showed how the New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ’s apostles were given by Christ to speak his authoritative will for church doctrine and practice. The fourth post, posted back in May, added a second and third biblical implication of this teaching. The original teaching of the apostles (and prophets) of Jesus Christ, given orally to Christian churches, is recorded in the New Testament writings. Therefore, the New Testament is the primary authority for Christian faith and practice. In this post, I intend to draw an explicit link from the apostle’s authority as recorded in the NT and the necessity of Scripture-Regulated worship in the churches of Jesus Christ. This really is the fourth sub-point under the broader head arguing for the Regulative Principle from Christ’s authority.

4. New Testament Authority and Scripture-Regulated Worship

What does the New Testament govern in a local church? Pretty much everything. The apostles’ teaching governs local churches’ doctrine and practice. The church’s practice includes our moral conduct and spiritual obedience to Christ in our daily lives. A church’s practice also includes her worship. In other words, if we are going to be churches built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ himself as our chief cornerstone, we must conform our worship to the apostles’ teachings in the New Testament.

Most Christians (especially those in Protestant denominations) already acknowledge this, at least to some degree.[1] They agree that churches must conform to what the Scriptures teach concerning aspects of worship like baptism and the Lord’s Table. Yet, if we are going to be New Testament churches, we must submit to the New Testament in all matters of our worship, not simply in the baptistery and at the Table. We believe this because we believe that the Scriptures are sufficient. The Bible in God’s providence was given to address everything that a church needs for faith and practice and worship.[2]

Paul warns churches not to depart from Christ in their worship. In Col 2:16-23 he insists, Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. The “Colossian Heresy” was clearly influenced by Judaism, probably mixed with some kind of proto-gnosticism.[3] Importantly, Paul regards all human inventions in worship to be contrary to Christ. Those who add asceticism or the worship of angels likewise undermine the authority of Jesus Christ, the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God (v 19). Paul recoils against the heretics who were trying to bind Christians with slogans like, Do not taste, Do not handle, Do not touch. His response is most telling: he calls such human precepts and teachings. Then he adds in v 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. The first thing these things promote is will worship or self-made religion, which Paul clearly rejects. The indictment is stunning. If we introduce our own ideas into the Christian faith, we are making up our own religion, which is tantamount to idolatry.[4] This is known as the Regulative Principle for Worship, and Baptists have historically embraced it.[5]

We are not left to our own ideas about worship. We have a very clear idea from the New Testament what elements of worship are to be present in our worship services, for Christ and his apostles command believers to include several worship practices in their gatherings.[6] We see from both precept and example that the preaching and teaching of God’s Word is to be present in Christian gathers.[7] Paul tells Timothy to preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2). The church is to read the Scriptures publicly in their assembly.[8] Likewise, Christian churches are commanded to pray and sing. Paul tells the Ephesian church that they ought to be praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.[9] Apostolic churches also regularly practiced giving, as is plain in Phil 4:18 and 1 Cor 16:1-4. We’re told to observe the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor 11, and to baptize in Matt 28:19. To these elements, Christian churches have no authority to add ways of worshipping God. To do so would be to depart from the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Worship that is not regulated by Scripture is tantamount to teaching as doctrines the commandments of men, something Christ denounced in Matthew 15:7-9. In that passage Christ calls invented worship vain or pointless. Inventing some new way of worshipping is not so different from requiring Christians to believe some new doctrine that we have invented.

In sum, the Christian religion is subservient to Christ’s authority. Christ gave that authority to his apostles and prophets, and they sealed that authority in their writings, which they regarded to be both authoritative and inspired. This body of teaching is sufficient for the faith and practice of Christians today. If we claim to follow Christ, we must not only conform our beliefs to Scripture, we must not only conform our personal lives to God’s Word, but the practice and worship of our churches must also conform to the New Testament.

[1] The number of Baptists abandoning Scripture-regulated worship is especially lamentable. Baptists believe that the NT alone governs the mode and recipients of baptism. Likewise, New Testament governs how Baptists practice of the Supper. Yet, more recently, many Baptists have denied the conviction that they must conform all their worship to the New Testament.

[2] Commenting on Hebrews 8:5, John Gill puts it this way: “[W]hatever is done in a way of religious worship, should be according to a divine rule; a church of Christ ought to be formed according to the primitive pattern, and should consist, not of all that are born in a nation, province, or parish; nor should all that are born of believing parents be admitted into it; no unholy, unbelieving, and unconverted persons, only such as are true believers in Christ, and who are baptized according as the word of God directs; the officers of a church should be only of two sorts, bishops, elders, pastors or overseers, and deacons; the ordinances are baptism, which should only be administered to believers, and by immersion, and the Lord’s supper, of which none should partake, but those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious; and this should be performed as Christ performed it, and as the Apostle Paul received it from him; the discipline of Christ’s house should be regarded, and all the laws of it carefully and punctually in execution; and a conversation becoming the Gospel should be attended to.” Exposition of the Whole Bible. Compare Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives, 24-28.

[3] See F. F. Bruce, Epistles, 17-26.

[4] John Calvin says of this term, “ἐθελοθρησκίᾳ literally denotes a voluntary worship which men choose of their own will, without a command from God. Human traditions, therefore, please us because they accord with our own mind, for anyone will find in his own brain the first outlines (idea) of them.” Epistles, 343. Also see his remarks on Ephesians 2:20. Epistles, 154. Also Bauder: “This passage contains two enduring lessons. The first is that Christians do not have the freedom to make up moral rules for other Christians. If a requirement is not revealed in or cannot be soundly inferred from the Word of God, then it cannot be a matter of binding authority. The second is that Christians do not have freedom to make up their own doctrines, order, or worship. If a doctrine or practice is not revealed in or cannot be soundly inferred from the Word of God, it must not be introduced as an aspect of the Christian faith.” Baptist Distinctives, 31.

[5] The Second London Baptist Confession affirmed, “The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath Lordship, and Soveraigntye over all; is just, good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the Heart, and all the Soul, and with all the Might. But the acceptable way of Worshipping the the [sic] 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 representations, or any other way, not prescribed in Holy Scriptures.” (22.1) Likewise, the General Baptist Orthodox Creed confessed, “The light of nature sheweth there is a God, who hath sovereignty over all, but the holy scripture hath fully revealed it; as also that all men should worship him according to God’s own institution and appointment. And hath limited us, 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 representations whatsoever, or any other way not prescribed in the holy scriptures…” (40) Baptists have historically held to the Regulative Principle of Worship. In recent years, many have forgotten this doctrine. But it is historically Baptist. In fact, the logic of Baptist churches is really built upon a consistent adherence to the RPW. For more, see: Also see Matthew Ward, Pure Worship: The Early English Baptist Distinctive Monographs in Baptist History 3 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014). Ward argues “that everything we find distinctive about [early English Baptists], including their hermeneutic, their ecclesiology, and their soteriology, was driven by their fundamental desire to worship God purely.” Ibid., xii.

[6] See Kevin Bauder, Scott Aniol, et. al., A Conservative Christian Declaration (Religious Affections Ministries, 2014), 44-49.

[7] The New Testament commands churches to preach and teach in passage such as Matt 28:20; 1 Pet 4:11; Acts 6:2; 14:7, 21-22; 15:35; 18:24; 1 Cor 1:17; etc.

[8] 1 Tim 4:13; Col 4:16.

[9] The New Testament commands churches to pray in passages such as Eph 6:18; cf. Acts 2:42; Col 3:16; also see Acts 1:14, 24; 3:1; 4:31; 6:4; 12:5; 13:3; 16:25; 20:36; etc. 1 Cor 11:4-5; 14:15-16; Phil 4:6; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17; James 5:13; Eph 5:17-20; James 5:13; cf. 1 Cor 14:26.

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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).