The Regulative Principle of Worship in Exegetical Perspective

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Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
It's an understatement to say that the Regulative Principle of Worship is a controversial topic. Feelings run deep on the subject. Much of the polemical literature concerned with the Regulative Principle is less than charitable, and often riddled with generous amounts of straw men and personal attacks. In the following blog, Pastor Jim Domm provides an even-handed and cool-heading exegetical analysis of the key texts that are used to defend the Regulative Principle of Worship.

The Regulative Principle of Worship in Exegetical Perspective
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
The blog looks good. I'm really not sure about his broad characterizations, still studying this, but it looks helpful as an overview, even if one does not come to exactly the same conclusions.

It strikes me that one reason there can be such angst over the subject is that it is in some ways, similar to the sabbath. There's not much "middle ground." There are some application differences, but essentially it is a command to cease and set apart (thought, word and deed) and we do not want to do it. We find it inconvenient to try to obey- and the consequences are so visible and so regular.

The regulative principle will inconvenience a lot of modern notions about what man might do and call "worship."

This is an area I'm trying to learn from Scripture, but it strikes me that is why this concept can be so difficult.
 

Augusta

Puritan Board Doctor
Here comes the cold water...

He carefully and for the most part correctly shows the impact of the various scriptural supports for the RPW. Then at the end he says:
...the absence of a command isn’t necessarily equivalent to a prohibition. It is one thing to say that God cares about how He is wor*shiped; that we must worship Him according to His Word; as He has commanded; as He has prescribed in His Word. It is very different to say that this always has, does, and will mean that nothing must be done in worship unless it has been explicitly commanded; that the absence of a command equals a prohibition.
So he is really a normative principal of worship guy trying to make himself look like a thoughtful RPW guy. So he must not have agreed with himself about the Nadab and Abihu story when he said:

At the very least, Nadab and Abihu did what was prohibited by virtue of a good and necessary inference from the positive command concerning the fire that was to be used. God said, “Use this fire.” He does not need then to prohibit all other fires by name. All other fires are prohibited by the negative implication of the positive command. In this way, Nadab and Abihu did what was prohibited and thus presumed to bring before God that which lacked divine authorization. This passage issues a sober warning to those who would follow in their footsteps.​

If it doesn't necessarily mean a prohibition as he said in the first quote then God does need to list all prohibitions or it's ok to do it? :smug: I bookmarked the page because he nicely sets forth all the scriptural passages even if he then simply ignores them. His final point seems to be it's all in Christ now and all mediated by Christ now so we don't have to worry about it so much, it's the heart of the person that matters.

He seems to be a little confused about what a "principle" is. It means a "truth" and things that are true are true at all times. If there is any "principle" at all that says that what isn't commanded is not acceptable, then it is true at all times and in all places. It is a truth we understand about God's character and He never changes and in Him there is no shadow or turning. God doesn't just say "it's all good" now that Christ has come. We don't throw out the law but we uphold it.
 
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Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
He carefully and for the most part correctly shows the impact of the various scriptural supports for the RPW. Then at the end he says:
...the absence of a command isn’t necessarily equivalent to a prohibition. It is one thing to say that God cares about how He is wor*shiped; that we must worship Him according to His Word; as He has commanded; as He has prescribed in His Word. It is very different to say that this always has, does, and will mean that nothing must be done in worship unless it has been explicitly commanded; that the absence of a command equals a prohibition.
So he is really a normative principal of worship guy trying to make himself look like a thoughtful RPW guy. So he must not have agreed with himself about the Nadab and Abihu story when he said:
At the very least, Nadab and Abihu did what was prohibited by virtue of a good and necessary inference from the positive command concerning the fire that was to be used. God said, “Use this fire.” He does not need then to prohibit all other fires by name. All other fires are prohibited by the negative implication of the positive command. In this way, Nadab and Abihu did what was prohibited and thus presumed to bring before God that which lacked divine authorization. This passage issues a sober warning to those who would follow in their footsteps.​
If it doesn't necessarily mean a prohibition as he said in the first quote then God does need to list all prohibitions or it's ok to do it? :smug: I bookmarked the page because he nicely sets forth all the scriptural passages even if he then simply ignores them. His final point seems to be it's all in Christ now and all mediated by Christ now so we don't have to worry about it so much, it's the heart of the person that matters.

He seems to be a little confused about what a "principle" is. It means a "truth" and things that are true are true at all times. If there is any "principle" at all that says that what isn't commanded is not acceptable, then it is true at all times and in all places. It is a truth we understand about God's character and He never changes and in Him there is no shadow or turning. God doesn't just say "it's all good" now that Christ has come. We don't throw out the law but we uphold it.

Traci,

I'm not sure you've correctly assessed his position. Of course, it's possible there could be an inconsistency in his exegesis or argument. Perhaps if you had the time you could post your comment on the RBS Tabletalk site to give him an opportunity to explain himself.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
A few thoughts, possible questions below.

Summary and Conclusion

From this survey, at least four things are clear. First, corporate worship that is acceptable to God always is and always must be regu*lated by divine revelation. We are not at liberty to worship God in any way we please, but only in ways that His Word warrants us to.

Yes, this is what we mean by "regulative."

Second, the regulation of corporate worship by the Word of God is not uniform throughout Scripture.
It is regulated by God throughout time, though. It's all divine revelation, even if it was not written down at the time it was delivered.

Reformed theology, by the analogy of faith, would see this a consistent theme throughout all of God's revelation.


70 Prior to Sinai, gatherings for corpo*rate worship were regulated by divine revelation, but not with the same degree of detail or specificity after Sinai. Once Israel entered the land, worship was centralized in the Tabernacle and the Temple. No longer was it acceptable to offer sacrifices anywhere one wished to. Nor could they be offered indiscriminately by anyone who wished, or in the way they wished. Now sacrifices would be offered only in the authorized place, by authorized persons, and in the authorized way. One reason for this can be discerned from Israel’s relationship to the church, the new Israel. This was a relationship of shadow to substance; picture to reality; promise and prophecy to fulfillment. Precision was important. All pointed forward to Christ who is the Place, Priest, and acceptable Sacrifice through whom the worship of His people is mediated; and to Christ’s people who them*selves are places, priests, and sacrifices of worship.
Yes, that's the reformed continuity through the covenant of grace in both the Old and New Testaments.

Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter VII
Of God's Covenant with Man

....

VI. Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance,[13] was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper:[14] which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy,[15] to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles;[16] and is called the New Testament.[17] There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.[18]

Through the bloody sacrifice of Christ, their spiritual sacrifices of adoration, praise, thanks*giving, and benevolence are made acceptable to God. Concurrent with the centralized worship of the Tabernacle and the Temple was a decentralized worship, first in the holy convocations, and later in the Synagogue. This decentralized worship was also regulated by divine revelation, but not in the same way or to the same degree as the centralized worship of the Tabernacle and the Temple. It was non-piacular
(now there's a word we don't use everyday)

and word-centered. The church partakes of both streams of Israel’s worship. It is the antitype of Israel’s centralized worship. It takes up the format of Israel’s decentralized worship. The prophetic and typical relation of Old Israel to New Israel may at least partially account for the concentration of detailed regulation clustering around the Tabernacle/Temple, and the absence of such detailed regulation during other periods of redemptive history, including the New Covenant Era.

I think he has a point here, and it seems consistent with reformed theology- the substance of redemption is the same though administered differently.

Third, the absence of a command isn’t necessarily equivalent to a prohibition.
This is the most difficult part of the conclusion. Regulative does mean it is regulated by the explicit command to worship Him in a certain way.

We might interpret differently exactly what those ways are, but not the notion that those ways are explicitly, positively commanded.

It's not a case of doing anything unless it is specifically commanded not to do it. The sense of the regulative principle is that anything deemed corporate worship must have scripture warrant (not merely not be prohibited by it).


It is one thing to say that God cares about how He is wor*shiped; that we must worship Him according to His Word; as He has commanded; as He has prescribed in His Word. It is very different to say that this always has, does, and will mean that nothing must be done in worship unless it has been explicitly commanded;
Not sure I agree with this.

God was very harsh in dealing with Nadab and Abihu's worship because it was not exactly what He told them to do.


that the absence of a command equals a prohibition. Passages that are brought forward to prove that worship activities that aren’t expressly commanded by God are unacceptable to Him do not prove this at all. In each case, they actu*ally prove that worship activities that are prohibited by God are unac*ceptable to Him.

We might say they illustrate the regulative principle- that God is very specific about how He wants His creatures to worship Him. This appears to be what the writer was saying in the first paragraph but appears to be contradicting himself here.

Fourth, Scripture applies to corporate worship in the same way it applies to other things. The use of a special hermeneutic for corporate worship does not appear to have any demonstrable basis in Scripture.

These conclusions will be explored and further developed in part three, “The Regulative Principle in Theological Perspective.”
 
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