Jump to content

Regulative principle of worship

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The regulative principle of worship is a Christian doctrine, held by some Calvinists and Anabaptists, that God commands churches to conduct public services of worship using certain distinct elements affirmatively found in scripture, and conversely, that God prohibits any and all other practices in public worship. The doctrine further determines these affirmed elements to be those set forth in scripture by express commands or examples or, if not expressed, those implied logically by good and necessary consequence. The regulative principle thus provides a governing concept of worship as obedience to God, identifies the set of specific practical elements constituting obedient worship, and identifies and excludes disobedient practices.



The regulative principle of worship is held, practiced, and vigorously maintained by conservative Reformed churches, the Restoration Movement, and other conservative Protestant denominations. Historic confessional standards stating the doctrine include the Westminster Confession of Faith,[1] the Heidelberg Catechism,[2] the Belgic Confession,[3] and the London Baptist Confession of Faith.[4]

The regulative principle contrasts with the normative principle of worship, which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in scripture is permitted in worship as long as it is agreeable to peace and the unity of the Church. In short, there must be agreement with the general practice of the Church and no prohibition in scripture for whatever is done in worship.

A broader sense of the term "regulative principle" is occasionally cited on matters other than worship, such as to constrain designs of church government to scriptural elements.[5][6] The regulative principle is often confused with the doctrine of sola scriptura, which states that scripture is the only infallible spiritual authority, but is compatible with and taught by many churches that follow the normative principle of worship.



The regulative principle is characteristic of Calvin's thought: basing his approach in the Sola Scriptura key Reformation principle, he removes from church service order any element not explicitly mentioned in the Bible in order to avoid any risk of compromise with the sacred tradition - which was promoted as a second source of dogma by the Roman Catholic Church; he for instance associates musical instruments with icons, which he considered violations of the Ten Commandments' prohibition of graven images.[7] On this basis, many early Calvinists also eschewed musical instruments and advocated exclusive psalmody in worship. The Churches of Christ continues to hold to the traditional reformed interpretation of the regulative principle in regard to the prohibition of instrumental music in the worship service. [8]

In 17th-century English church debates, the Puritans argued that there was a divine pattern to be followed at all times, which they called the ius divinum ("divine law", after a Latin term in the ancient Roman religion). This came to be known by the milder term "regulative principle" in English.[9]

Those who oppose instruments in worship, such as Orthodox Presbyterian Church ministers John Murray and G. I. Williamson, argue first that there is no example of the use of musical instruments for worship in the New Testament and second that the Old Testament uses of instruments in worship were specifically tied to the ceremonial laws of the Temple in Jerusalem, which they take to be abrogated for the Church. Since the 1800s, however, most of the Reformed churches have modified their understanding of the regulative principle and make use of musical instruments, believing that Calvin and his early followers went beyond the biblical requirements of the Decalogue[7] and that such things are circumstances of worship requiring biblically rooted wisdom, rather than an explicit command. The vast majority of Reformed churches today accordingly make use of hymns and musical instruments, and many also employ contemporary worship music styles and worship bands.[10] A minority of Reformed churches, however — such as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the churches of the Reformed Presbyterian communion—continue to interpret the regulative principle and scriptural evidence as permitting only unaccompanied psalmody in worship.[11][12]

The regulative principle was historically taken to prohibit the use of dance in worship.[8] In 1996 reformed theologian John Frame broke the consensus and argued that the regulative principle does permit dancing, a view that was criticised by more conservative scholars.[10][13]

While music is the central issue in worship debates, other matters have been contentious as well, including doxologies, benedictions, corporate confession of sin, prayer and the readings of creeds or portions of scripture. The presence of any one of these, their order and priority have ranged over various denominations.[citation needed]

John Calvin's liturgy


The original Lord's Day service designed by John Calvin was a highly-liturgical service with the Creed, Alms, Confession and Absolution, the Lord's Supper, Doxologies, prayers, Psalms, the Lord's Prayer, Benedictions. The following are Orders of Service for the Lord's Day as designed by John Calvin (Collect is a short prayer; Lection is a scripture reading; Fraction and Delivery are the breaking of the bread and distribution thereof, respectively):[14]

Calvin: Strasbourg, 1540 Calvin: Geneva, 1542
Scripture Sentence (Psalm 124,8)
Confession of sins Confession of sins
Scriptural words of pardon Prayer for pardon
Metrical Decalogue sung with Kyrie eleison after each Law
Collect for Illumination Collect for Illumination
Lection Lection
Sermon Sermon
Liturgy of the Upper Room
Collection of alms Collection of alms
Intercessions Intercessions
Lord's Prayer in long paraphrase Lord's Prayer in long paraphrase
Preparation of elements while Apostles' Creed sung Preparation of elements while Apostles' Creed sung
Consecration Prayer
Words of Institution Words of Institution
Exhortation Exhortation
Consecration Prayer
Fraction Fraction
Delivery Delivery
Communion, while psalm sung Communion, while psalm or scriptures read
Post-communion collect Post-communion collect
Nunc dimittis in metre
Aaronic Blessing Aaronic Blessing

See also



  1. ^ Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI. - Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day. "... 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."
  2. ^ "Heidelberg Catechism". 96. Q. What does God require in the second commandment? A. We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship Him in any other manner than He has commanded in His Word.
  3. ^ "Belgic Confession, Article 32: The Order and Discipline of the Church". ... Those who govern the churches ... ought always to guard against deviating from what Christ, our only Master, has ordained for us. Therefore we reject all human innovations and all laws imposed on us, in our worship of God, which bind and force our consciences in any way. So we accept only what is proper to maintain harmony and unity and to keep all in obedience to God.
  4. ^ "1689 Baptist Confession, Chapter 22: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day". ... 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 imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.
  5. ^ John Muether (April 2017). "The Reformation of Church Polity" (PDF). New Horizons. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church. pp. 8–9. Retrieved March 30, 2017. ... the regulative principle of church government: Christ's Word clearly reveals the structure of the church, and so the government of the church must find its basis in apostolic teaching and practice. ... the 'regulative principle of polity'
  6. ^ Thornwell 1842, p. 252: "Regulative principles define only ends to be aimed at, or conditions to be observed."
  7. ^ a b Barber.
  8. ^ a b Schwertley (1998).[verification needed]
  9. ^ Iain Murray (1991). Richard Baxter - The Reluctant Puritan? in Advancing in Adversity, annual conference papers. London: The Westminster Conference. p. 5.
  10. ^ a b Frame (1996).[page needed]
  11. ^ "The Regulative Principle of Worship". Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Retrieved 12 April 2022. Those who adhere to the Regulative Principle by singing exclusively the psalms, refusing to use musical instruments, and rejecting "Christmas", "Easter" and the rest, are often accused of causing disunity among the people of God. The truth is the opposite. The right way to move towards more unity is to move to exclusively Scriptural worship. Each departure from the worship instituted in Scripture creates a new division among the people of God. Returning to Scripture alone to guide worship is the only remedy.
  12. ^ The Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Crown & Covenant Publications. 2021. p. A-63. Singing God's praise is part of public worship in which the whole congregation should join. The Book of Psalms, consisting of inspired psalms, hymns and songs, is the divinely authorized manual of praise. The use of other songs in worship is not authorized in the Scriptures. The Greek words in the New Testament which are translated "psalm," "hymn" and "song" all appear in the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Book of Psalms. Ps. 95:2; Ps. 40:3, (4); Ps. 96:1; Col. 3: 16; Eph. 5:19; Mark 14:26; 1 Cor 14: 26; Jas. 5:13. The Psalms are to be sung without the accompaniment of instruments, which are not part of the New Testament pattern of worship. Musical instruments were commanded for use with the offering of sacrifices in the Old Testament temple worship. The death of Christ being the perfect and final sacrifice brought an end to this way of worship. There is neither command for nor example of the use of musical instruments in the words or practice of Christ and the apostles. The command of the New Testament is to offer the sacrifice of praise—the fruit of our lips. Num. 10:10; 2 Chron. 29:25-30; Heb. 9:12; Heb. 13:15.
  13. ^ Pipa, Joseph. "A book review of Worship in Spirit and Truth".
  14. ^ Maxwell, William D. (1936). An Outline of Christian Worship: Its Development and Forms. London: Oxford University Press.

Further reading