What is the Regulative Principle?

Jonathan Leeman, editorial director for 9Marks ministries, gives one of the best arguments you will ever hear for the Regulative Principle of worship. The Regulative Principle is the idea that Christians should only do (in the worship service) what is commanded, implied or modeled in Scripture regarding worship (as opposed to the Normative Principle, which says Christians are free to do in worship whatever they please as long as it is not forbidden by Scripture in regards to worship). The Regulative Principle only sounds restrictive on the surface, and does not match normal human intuition, but neither of those things should be the final test (or even an important test) in what is right when it comes to worship. He writes in a recent article:

“Now here’s where the regulative principle becomes a big deal: if the believer needs a church to be formally recognized as a Christian, then the church had better darn well make sure it does not force anything onto a Christian that the Bible and the gospel do not require.

Christians are surely free to worship God in any number of ways, including with incense and finger paint. But as soon as a church places something in its order of service, it is effectively requiring all of its members to worship God in that way. It’s like the difference between choosing to abstain from alcohol yourself and requiring every member of your church to abstain from alcohol…

…everything we write into a church’s order of service effectively mandates how a Christian worships God in the assembly.

The normative principle sounds like it leaves churches freer, and the non-conformist in me likes that. But, ironically, the regulative principle leaves the Christian freer, which the Bible-conformist in me definitely likes.

Admittedly, it’s a bit harder to see the problem when we have so many churches to choose from. If I don’t like what one church does, I just go to another. But put yourself in the shoes of someone living in a town with only one church, as is the situation among our Christian brothers and sisters in various Muslim nations, or as it was among the many of the churches of the New Testament. You would be required to approach God in public worship through some method you find unbiblical and noxious.

Whether you live in a town with one church or hundreds, the regulative principle claims that churches do not have the warrant or authority to place unbiblical elements into the church’s order of service. It seeks to free Christians from such constraints.”

Brilliant! Though I do not think it is high-handed sin to have hula during the worship service, I could now never in good conscience promote it. You should read the whole thing here.


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