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Quick Answers: What is the regulative principle?

What is the regulative principle? The regulative principle is a concept, a biblical concept, that historically flows out of the Reformation. The regulative principle holds to the idea that God is the one who gets to regulate and define worship. God is the one who gets to say this is how you should worship me.

Where do we find out how God wants to be worshipped? It's in his Word, in the Bible. When we look at the Scriptures, we see that there are certain things that God commands the church to do when it gathers together.

When we look at 1 Timothy 4 or 2 Timothy 3, we see that the church is to give itself to the public reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of the Scriptures. So that should be happening. That's a way we worship God when we gather. God commands us to do that.

When we look at 1 Timothy 2, we see that the church is to pray when it gathers together. That's another aspect of our worship.

When we look at Colossians 3 or Ephesians 5, we see that the church is commanded to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. That's another vital commanded aspect of our worship.

Finally, the ordinances or the sacraments: communion and baptism. Those are things that are an integral part of our worship. That's when these things should occur, is when the church is gathered to worship.

Now there is another principle of worship that many people today, especially in America, apply to called the normative principle. The normative principle says that if God doesn't forbid it, we can do it. That's why in a lot of churches today, you'll find things like skits, plays, or dance routines being done in the worship service. The regulative principle, of course, would say that those things aren't commanded and we shouldn't do them.

Why is the regulative principle so important? When we look at the Bible, we see that God is deeply concerned with how he's worshipped.

We can look somewhere like Leviticus 10, where God has given Israel all these commandments, all of these instructions in how sacrifices are to be offered and how he is to be worshiped. Yet Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu, who are priests, decide to offer unauthorized fire, unauthorized incense, to God. In other words, Nadab and Abihu decide to worship God the way they want to. Or we could look at King Saul, who is not authorized to make a sacrifice but decides, well, this would be a good thing for me to do, and he's chastised for that. Obedience is better than sacrifice, he's told.

God cares deeply how he is worshipped. He doesn't give us permission to invent new ways of worshipping him, but rather he gives us the way that he, in his divine wisdom and goodness and glory, desires to be worshipped.

So the regulative principle really just says let's worship God how he's commanded us and be content with his wisdom in that.


Daniel Ruben (MDiv, Midwestern Baptist) is a pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Carson City, NV. He is husband to Shaelby and father of two.


Note: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors on this site.


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