The regulative principle

A Treatise on the Regulative Principle of Worship by Scott Bushey



A Treatise on the Regulative principle of Worship by Scott Bushey

James Durham writes:

“There is but one kind of Divine Worship, to wit, that which is Supream, and becoming this infinite Majesty of God: and, in a word, that which is required in the first Table of the Law, as that which is competent to this glorious excellent God: and this follows on the former: for, if there be but one Object, there can be but one manner of Worship. Therefore, in Scripture, to Worship God, is alway opposed to p 10 the worshipping of any other, and to the admitting of any Worship, which is not competent to God, as Revel. 19:9, 10, and 22:9.”

“John 4:19   The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” John 4:21   Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Large orchestra’s. Plays and puppet shows. Flag waving and dancing. Movie presentations. Psalm singing. Hymns. Instruments. One plinking piano. Organs-“You must have a pipe organ or you are not worshipping properly”. “I used to worship over at Church ABC-the worship there was dead-I like ours better-the organ does it for me”. “I believe worship is all about the music-if the band is not any good, the worship suffers”.

All true worship is God centered. Surely, one could define ‘God centered’ wrongly. One way would be to try and understand ‘God centered’ outside of Christ. The Jew, for instance, does not have Christ. Can they worship in a God centered way? Impossible. How could they? Well, you might respond, ‘Scott, don’t they hold the OT dear to their hearts?” My answer, sure; however, there is no mediation. Jesus Himself said, One mediator between God and Christ and that the man Christ Jesus. This poses a problem of salvific proportions. I can relate to this well, coming from a Jewish family. My grandmother died last year, apart from Christ, from what we are able to discern. All Jews are worshipping in vain; they worship what they ‘do not know’. The other error might come from the idea that since we are in Christ and we have liberty as believers, God has changed His mind, so to speak, in this age. This is nothing more than the error of dispensationalism as scripture says that ‘God does not change’.

Here is what R. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary says:
“The Reformed churches order their worship services according to the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) This principle says that we must do only that which God has commanded in his Word. When planning the elements (see below) of a service, the only question we ask is: what must we do? The Lutherans, Anglicans, and evangelicals ask, “What may we do?” If a thing is not forbidden, they believe it may be done. We call that “will worship.”

Theologically speaking, immutability is one of the attributes of God. He never changes, never is there a shifting.  He is the only constant in this life and to derail this is critical; the train comes off the tracks and God ceases to be God. Our faith is in vain as we worship a fickle god; not one of sovereignty, but one of schizophrenia, much like his fickle creation. As well, this example of Christian liberty is nothing less than antinomianism.

John MacArthur said it best when he said, “The believer has liberty in the things that God allows liberty in; the other things, we do not have liberty in.” To lump everything under the guise of liberty is nothing less than abuse. Hermeneutics are paramount when trying to understand doctrine.  As well, this brings us to the place where we will discuss God’s regulative principle.

I come from a Charismatic background; Worship is much different in the Charismatic realm than the way the Reformed worship God. Is there error? Can men imagine how God is to be approached? Does Gods word convey to men how he is to be worshipped or does he leave it up to the vain imaginations of His created?
Well, most charismatics would say that scripture is silent on the issue and the Holy Spirit guides and directs what and how we are to worship. This is problematic in that it is left up to the imaginations of men in regards to limitations or liberality. Anything goes. The door is wide open. That can’t be right.

James Gibson writes in regards to John 4:

“Our Lord Himself has given the answer, so far as the general principle is concerned, in that deeply interesting interview with the woman of Samaria, as picturesque and illustrative of eastern manners, as it is declarative of a grand and majestic principle regulating the way of man’s approach to “the one living and true God.” “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such, to worship Him. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” It is very plain from this passage that our Lord alike disapproves of and sets aside, not only all Samaritan intermixtures of Judaism and paganism, but all Judaic will worship and traditionary accretions, as well as the whole outward system of authorised Judaic typical worship, reserving only for the church of the future, in all time and every place, that which could be described to be in reality “worship in spirit and in truth.” Accordingly, this was followed up by His inspired apostles, as the Spirit gave them utterance, even as He promised should be the case when He Himself was glorified.”

Here we can see that God prescribes how He is to be worshipped. The Samaritan woman had an idea, but it was wrong, no matter how sincere she may have been. This says much in regards to most people; they may as well be sincere. Remember, God does not grade on a curve. You might say, “Scott, Christ perfects our worship. Where we sin by misunderstanding God’s prescription, Christ corrects that error’.
Well, that sounds nice, that is not the truth. Remember, there is only one truth. Christ did pay for the sins of the elect, however, this does not give us license to not search out what pleases and displeases God. This is not to have license to forsake God’s commands in light of Christ’s work. It is our pursuit of holiness that God calls for. This is called sanctification. We are called to be perfect; granted, we will never be this side of glory-however, the positive command remains.

In one way, Christ does perfect our worship; he mediates, right? There are many examples in scripture where we can see how men of God are chastened by God for disobeying. Did Not Christ perfect their worship as well? The book of Hebrews tells us:
Heb 12:4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.  5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,

Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;

6     For whom the LORD loves He chastens,

And scourges every son whom He receives.”

Here is an example of a son, one whom Christ mediates for a son who is being chastened for his sin. If Christ perfects our flawed worship, and flawed worship is sin, how is it that He doesn’t perfect our other sins without recourse? If your worship is will worship, it is sinful and God will deal with you as sons; in that, we should pursue truth and deal with our worship prudently and never licentiously.

R. C. Sproul Jr. writes:
The Bible does indeed give a detailed explanation on exactly how God demands to be worshipped. The challenge is that this explanation is given in the Old Testament, prior to the coming of Christ. The Bible tells us what sacrifices should be brought, how they should be killed, how they should be cut up, how they should be cooked, and who should eat what. “

I would like to discuss the sacrifices of Cain and Abel to begin with.

Lets look at the book of Genesis for a clue.

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

Random thoughts on this passage:

The first thing to consider is that God commands worship and since He is God, it is He alone who determines how He is to be worshipped. It is not up to the imaginations of men. God does not grade on a curve. It is with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel that we are to cut away that which God has revealed to us to be error. It should be our pursuit of this truth, primarily to any other doctrine. There are not two ways to worship God, only one-remember that! There are a few examples in worship that should make us tremble in regard to this doctrine; yet, we walk into church every Lord’s day confident that God will have mercy on our lackadaisical, flawed approach to worshipping Him, even falling asleep at times.
James Dodson writes:

“God has invited us to come to his house, “Come ye into his courts;” and directed us to be active in the exercises of his worship, “Bring an offering with you; In beauty of his holiness, O do the Lord adore!” We are to sing his praise, lift up our hearts in prayer, and hear his word. Is it not, then, disobedience to remain dull and idle during any part of the service? Can the soul of the sleeper present its offering, ascend in prayer or praise, or receive edification? We have in the divine word these precious promises: “In all places where I have recorded my name, I will come unto you and I will bless you;” and, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Has the King of Heaven invited us to his courts, and promised to meet with us there; to meet with and bless us? What a royal favour! Is God indeed present by his Spirit “among the people gathered” in the tabernacles of his grace? Then, with what reverence should we come; with what gratitude; with what longing desires to see his face! With what hungering and thirsting to receive the heavenly food; having our souls and all that is withinus stirred up to bless and magnify his name! Shall we come carelessly? Shall we close the doors of our souls against the glorious and gracious One, who stands waiting to bless us? But while the reclining body and the slumbering senses make the pew a couch, there is no entrance for the whisperings of the Spirit, or the words of the minister; from the soul no egress for the honour due to God. Can He look down well pleased, and behold many of the worshippers fast asleep, or nodding listlessly? Shall we requite him worse than we would an earthly prince, or even a friend?”
And yet, we are all guilty of this from time to time. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Back to the subject at hand: Surely the main component here is that Abel did not offer his sacrifice in faith. Hebrews confirms this. However, there is much more than meets the eye.

In the book of Hebrews, it says that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. Could Cain have known this?

I am sure Abel and his brother rec’d this information from their parents.  This would make logical sense in light of the fact that after the fall, God sacrificed an animal and clothed Adam and Eve. It would be odd that God did not explain to the couple what He did and why. How can one judge without explaining what one is being judged on; What does Romans say about this?
Rom. 5:13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

R.C. Sproul writes:

“In order to grasp the meaning of sin, we cannot define it apart from its relationship to law. It is God’s law that determines what sin is. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul, particularly in Romans, labors the point that there is an inseparable relationship between sin and death and between sin and law. The simple formula is this: No sin equals no death. No law equals no sin. The apostle argues that where there is no law, there is no sin, and where there is no sin, there is no death. This rests upon the premise that death invades the human experience as an act of divine judgment for sin. It is the soul who sins that dies.

However, without law there can be no sin. Death cannot enter into the human experience until first God’s law is revealed.”

We can conclude that Cain and Abel knew Gods law through their federal head, their father. They understood that God cannot be approached by vain imaginations as we will see.

God tells Adam and his wife, “You may eat from all the tree’s in the garden except the one in the center-if you do, “you surely will die”. Here we have the sovereign’s directive. Obviously, we know that they failed here and as a result, the minds of men were forever tainted. Individualism is tattooed on the minds of men, forever skewing their interpretations and assessments. The concern for their personal gratification usurps God’s desire for them moment to moment. The flesh now rules.

This brings us back to Cain and Abel’s attempt to keep the Regulative Principle:

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

God accepts one and rejects the other. God did not respect Cain’s offering. Without faith it is impossible to please God. This is at the crux of the matter, but it is not all of it. There is so much more.

Cain brings his goods. Abel brings what is commanded. One of the brothers brings blood and the other vegetables. Now we know that Cain wasn’t a vegetarian. Why did he fail to stay within the confines of the Regulative principle? Because of the sin of his father, he relies on the vain imaginations of his tainted mind to determine what he believes is appropriate. God does not grade on a curve. There is only one truth.

It is interesting to note that Abel’s sacrifice included ‘fat portions’. God’s word emphasized this for a reason. The idea of including ‘fat portions’ says much. The fat was choice. Meat that did not have fat was flavorless. It was a personal sacrifice evidenced in Abel’s compliance.  Think about the tithe. We are to give sacrificially. We are to give till it stings. Giving our can of green beans to our local church’s food pantry doesn’t hurt. We’ve been looking at that can of beans in our cupboard for the last 3 years. We wouldn’t even consider eating it. Lets give that. #fail.

“Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.”

Think deeply about this; How could Abel know to offer ‘fat’? Because, he knew the RPW! God had clarified this somewhere along the lines to the federal head, Adam. Adam was the first priest. He knew God; He walked with the Lord. Fat is akin to offering one’s best. It is used in scripture to emphasize prime offerings.

Additionally, ‘fat’ is all over the temple sacrifices; It would seem too random to notate this in Genesis unless God informed them of this requirement.
Matthew Poole writes:

“[And of the fat] Not without cause does this appear to be said. The one had picked out what thing

things he had (Estius). [Nheb@’l;xem’] Of the fat thereof; understand, of the flock, or of those sheep. Certain exemplars have Nheyb’l;xem’, of their fat ones; that is to say, he offered the fattest sheep. Thus they take it for an adjective (Vatablus); as if he took the fatter ones from among the fat ones. He selected the best of the best (Chrysostom). In the heart of Abel, God was great; therefore, he offered to God great things, even the best things (Fagius). The Hebrew call the best of something the fat: thus, the fat of crops, the marrow of wheat, etc. See Genesis 45:18; Numbers 18:12;2 Psalm 147:143 (Piscator).”

1 Sam 15: But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Isaiah 1:11 “The multitude of your sacrifices–what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”

Num. 18:17 But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall dash their blood on the altar, and shall turn their fat into smoke as an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to the LORD

Lev. 4: 8-10 He shall take the fat around and inside the entrails, the kidney with its fat, the liver and kidneys, and burn them upon the altar of burnt offering. 8And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall take from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, 9and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys  10(just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings), and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt offering.

Robert Reymond writes:

“Abel showed that he understood the principle of the necessity of substitutionary blood atonement when “by faith he offered a better sacrifice than Cain did” (Gen. 4:3–5; Heb. 11:4). His offering from the flock, its death typifying the “Seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15) who in crushing the serpent’s head would himself be fatally wounded, doubtless reflected what the Holy Spirit had taught him through his parents’ instructions concerning the significance of the protevangelium, his need for a blood “covering” before God, and the relationship between the two.”

The other important thing to note was that God rebukes Cain. Even though Cain lacked faith and God knew this, he still rebukes him, showing that there were additional problems with his offering that went beyond his lack of faith.

Calvin writes:

“When each offers something of his property, there is a solemn giving of thanks, as if he would testify by his present act that he owes to God whatever he possesses. But the sacrifice of cattle and the effusion of blood contains something further, namely, that the offerer should have death before his eyes; and should, nevertheless, believe in God as propitious to him.”

M. Henry writes:

“2. There was a difference in the offerings they brought. It is expressly said (Hebrews 11:4), Abel’s was a more excellent sacrifice than Cain’s: either, (1.) In the nature of it. Cain’s was only a sacrifice of acknowledgment offered to the Creator; the meat-offerings of the fruit of the ground were no more, and, for aught I know, they might be offered in innocency. But Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, the blood whereof was shed in order to remission, thereby owning himself a sinner, deprecating God’s wrath, and imploring his favour in a Mediator.”

John L. Girardeau: “Gen. 4.: Cain and his offering. The brothers, Cain and Abel, had been in childhood beyond all doubt instructed by their parents in the knowledge of the first promise of redemption to be accomplished by atonement. They had, we have every reason to believe, often seen their father offering animal sacrifices in the worship of God. To this mode of worship they had been accustomed. Cain, the type of rationalists and fabricators of rites and ceremonies in the house of the Lord, consulted his own wisdom and taste, and ventured to offer in God’s worship the fruit of the ground—an un-bloody sacrifice; while Abel, conforming to the appointments and prescribed usages in which he had been trained, expressed his faith and obedience by offering a lamb. Abel’s worship was accepted and Cain’s rejected. “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and his offering he had not respect.” Thus, in the immediate family of Adam, we behold a signal and typical instance of self-assertion and disregard of divine prescriptions in the matter of worship. This was swiftly followed by God’s disapprobation, and then came the development of sin in the atrocious crime of fratricide, and the banishment of the murderer from the communion of his family and the presence of his God.”

Thomas Doolittle writes on Gen. 4.4: “It is not said what outward testimony it was, whereby God did declare this respect and acceptance of Abel’s offering, whereby Cain did perceive that Abel and his offering were pleasing unto God, when himself and his offering were both rejected. It is conceived that fire came down from heaven, and consumed Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s offering; and by this sign God did discover his acceptance of the sacrifices in following ages. (Lev. ix.24; 1 Kings xviii.38; 1 Chron. xxi.26; 2 Chron. vii.1.) But if this had not been by God’s own appointment, it would not have pleased him; for will-worship God is not delighted in. If it had not been commanded by God, it had not been obedience in Abel; and if it had not been obedience, it would have been been pleasing to God: for, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. xv.22)”

It is interesting to note that in the book of Hebrews, God compares Christ’s blood with ‘the blood of Abel’s. This comparison is not towards the death of Abel but the shedding of bulls and goats Abel sacrificed compared to Christ’s death and blood. Both offered a blood sacrifice; one perfect, the other not.
Heb. 10:4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.

Heb 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

G.I. Williamson writes:

“We begin, then, by considering a few examples of what the Old Testament teaches.

[1] And the first is found in Genesis 4, where we read of the worship of Cain and Abel. The passage tells us that Cain’s worship was rejected by God, while that of Abel was accepted. It also tells us that God’s reason for rejecting Cain and accepting Abel was not only a difference within the two brothers. It was not only the fact that something was wrong with the subjective attitude of Cain, as compared with the attitude of Abel. There was also a vital difference in the objective content of their worship. That is why God had respect not only to Abel but also to his offering. (3) Abel offered what God was pleased to accept, whereas Cain did not. The reason for this, in my view, is that Abel gave serious consideration to the revelation that God had given up to that time in history, while Cain treated it lightly. It is possible, of course, that God gave direct revelation to Abel. But I think it more likely that he acted on the basis of the same revelational data that we ourselves have in the first three chapters of Genesis. When God covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve with animal skins, it is self-evident that the animals must have first been killed for this purpose (Gen. 3:21). From this Abel could have deduced(4) that his only hope of acceptance with God was by the sacrifice of a dying substitute. But even if we take the view that Abel just happened to hit on ‘the right way of worship’ by intuition, it still leads to the same conclusion. For as soon as God accepted Abel and his sacrifice — while rejecting Cain and his offering — by that very fact He made it perfectly clear that the acceptable way of worship was the way of Abel. But even though Cain knew this, he wasn’t willing to worship God in that acceptable way. It is no exaggeration at all, then, to say that this was Cain’s downfall: he was not willing to limit himself to worship that had God’s approval.(5) We therefore see a clear principle: worship which is not sanctioned by God is forbidden.”

God has always required blood when approaching Him:

Lev 16:1 Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the Lord, and died; 2 and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.

3 “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. 4 He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering.

Num 3:38 Moreover those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tabernacle of meeting, were Moses, Aaron, and his sons, keeping charge of the sanctuary, to meet the needs of the children of Israel; but the outsider who came near was to be put to death.

So much more can be said on this subject; Christ fulfilled that requirement once and for all. We are now able to approach God boldly; Boldly, but correctly. Got that? Boldly, but correctly. Don’t be like the antinomian who abuses this fact and tosses the baby out with the bathwater.

True worship of God is what is commanded in scripture, false worship or will worship is not.

A close friend of mine once said, “It should be seen as appropriate at that house of God be ordered by God’s rules.”

Think about the rules that went along with the building of the temple.

God gave Israel a set of specific rules to follow in the building of the temple, down to the inch.

1Kings 6:1 And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.  2 Now the house which King Solomon built for the LORD, its length was sixty cubits, its width twenty, and its height thirty cubits.  3 The vestibule in front of the sanctuary of the house was twenty cubits long across the width of the house, and the width of the vestibule extended ten cubits from the front of the house.  4 And he made for the house windows with beveled frames.

1Kings 6:5   Against the wall of the temple he built chambers all around, against the walls of the temple, all around the sanctuary and the inner sanctuary. Thus he made side chambers all around it.  6 The lowest chamber was five cubits wide, the middle was six cubits wide, and the third was seven cubits wide; for he made narrow ledges around the outside of the temple, so that the support beams would not be fastened into the walls of the temple.  7 And the temple, when it was being built, was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that no hammer or chisel or any iron tool was heard in the temple while it was being built.  8 The doorway for the middle story was on the right side of the temple. They went up by stairs to the middle story, and from the middle to the third.
Why would God care to be so accurate in how He wanted the temple constructed? Because His nature demands it. As well, it was a way to show Israel that God is to be worshipped according to His commands and not to the imaginations of men. Surely God knew that Solomon was able to construct a beautiful temple outside of Gods directives, Solomon was the wisest of men. However, Solomon is not God and he was not omniscient.

What is Worship to you? There is personal worship, family worship, corporate worship. For the sake of this paper, we will focus on corporate worship.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks (in Q. 96) “What does God require in the second commandment?” The answer is: “That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded.”

Is there a direct command in scripture that defines clearly to believers how to worship God rightly? No. Is there a direct command in scripture that tells us that we should be baptizing infants? No. Sure, we have the Abrahamic covenant and the positive command to place the sign on our children, i.e. circumcision; however, do we see the positive command telling us to change circumcision to water baptism in the sign? No. One needs to understand the distinction in that many things we do are by prescription or institution. There are many things in scripture that we conclude based on what’s called necessary inference.  This is the taking of a mass of thoughts and come to a conclusion. Example:

1) Paedobaptism

2) The Trinity

3) The Covenant of grace and redemption

4) The change in the sabbath from the last day of the week to the first day

5) Woman taking the supper

6) The local church vs the Universal Church

7) The Regulative Principle

8) Membership

9) Baptism of adult children belonging to Christian parents

10) Mode of baptism

11) Church Polity

Based on this rationale, we will look at proper worship and what our forefathers in the faith held dear in regards to this lofty subject.

Matt McMahon writes:

“The Regulative Principle was given its classical and definitive statement in the reformed Confessions formulated in the 17th century. It is stated in Chapter 21 paragraph 1 in the Westminster Confession:

‘The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is 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 with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped 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’.

One has to start with an attribute of God. The scriptures tell us that God is Holy. In fact, to deepen the meaning, they call God Holy, Holy, Holy. Surely in this age, we have deafened the claim. The fear and the awe of God has been displaced with a god that is weak, schizophrenic and tolerant of all things. He is a puppet of sorts.  To understand this principle, one needs a proper understanding of God.

Scripture tells us that God is sprit; Jesus confirms it when he rebukes Thomas and tells him, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see I have; come feel”.

Scripture also says that no man could see God and live. God exposed his glory to Moses for a split seconds and it caused Moses to go grey!

God is Perfect. His Holiness is perfect; we talked of this perfection in weeks passed. The regulative principle is a reflection of Gods Holiness.

Obviously, this is not an easy task; Churches and individual believers across the globe and time can’t seem to agree. As I mentioned when I opened this study, there are so many things being done in quest of bringing God proper worship. In this age, there are even reformed folk lighting candles and lighting incense according to OT principals of Worship. The key in all of this is the 2nd commandment; Lets look at that and ponder what it says:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6

Again, think about Cain’s offering. The Golden Calf and how God received that. What about Adab and Abihu? Lets look at the instances.

The Calf:

32 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

33 The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”

35 And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

God was angered by this false worship. The result was death. Israel thought that they were offering up a proper worship to God:

“Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”

Did God command a ‘festival’? No. Hence, Israel was in direct conflict with God’s law and regulative principle. Thinking and knowing are two different things. We believers are called to know what God requires of us. It is critical that we get this right, that our hearts are correct in this pursuit. I suggest prudence in all things. It is much safer to be prudent than liberal. Israel was liberal and look what it got them; 3000 men killed by the sword.

What about Nadab and Abihu? They were the sons of Aaron. Aaron was a priest-this makes their sons priests in lineage.

Offering of strange fire:

Lev 10

1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered aunauthorized1 fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ”And Aaron held his peace.

John Frame writes:
“what Nadab and Abihu did in Lev. 10:1 was not only ‘unauthorized,’ the text informs us, but also ‘contrary to [God’s] command.’ The fire should have been taken from God’s altar (Num.16:46), not from a private source (compare Ex. 35:3)”

Calvin writes:

“I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His Worship, if at variance with his command, what do we gain by a contrary course?”

The brothers failed greatly. They approached God through their vanity. Their worship was not prescriptive and they were killed because of it. How many of us, on a personal level, approach God every Lords day in this manner. We yawn at the sermons. We gaze into space not understanding the level of information coming out of the preachers mouth and who is actually talking to us.

Let’s not forget the Ark of the Covenant:

God prescribes the way the ark is to be built, handled and by whom:

Ex. 25:10   “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height.  11 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around.  12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side.  13 And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.  14 You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them.  15 The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.  16 And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.

15 And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.

The Regulative Principle is violated:

2Sam. 6:1 Again David gathered all the choice men of Israel, thirty thousand.  2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the Name, the LORD of Hosts, who dwells between the cherubim.  3 So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.  4 And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark.  5 Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.

2Sam. 6:6   And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.  7 Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.

Did not God warn Israel about what would happen if the principle was violated? Uzzah was toast. He blew it; good intentions, mind you. he thought it was ok to help God so that the ark would not touch the ground. Wrong assumption. How many of us do that every Lord’s day?

The Directory for Publick Worship says:

“THE Lord’s day ought to be so remembered before-hand, as that all worldly business of our ordinary callings may be so ordered, and so timely and seasonably laid aside, as they may not be impediments to the due sanctifying of the day when it comes.

The whole day is to be celebrated as holy to the Lord, both in publick and private, as being the Christian sabbath. To which end, it is requisite, that there be a holy cessation or resting all that day from all unnecessary labours; and an abstaining, not only from all sports and pastimes, but also from all worldly words and thoughts.

That the diet on that day be so ordered, as that neither servants be unnecessarily detained from the publick worship of God, nor any other person hindered from the sanctifying that day. That there be private preparations of every person and family, by prayer for themselves, and for God’s assistance of the minister, and for a blessing upon his ministry; and by such other holy exercises, as may further dispose them to a more comfortable communion with God in his public ordinances.

That all the people meet so timely for publick worship, that the whole congregation may be present at the beginning, and with one heart solemnly join together in all parts of the publick worship, and not depart till after the blessing.

That what time is vacant, between or after the solemn meetings of the congregation in publick, be spent in reading, meditation, repetition of sermons; especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard, and catechising of them, holy conferences, prayer for a blessing upon the publick ordinances, singing of psalms, visiting the sick, relieving the poor, and such like duties of piety, charity, and mercy, accounting the sabbath a delight.”

In this age, who appreciates the Lord’s day for the above? This directory was written in 1645. Our days are filled with television, sporting events, computers etc. men in this day had very little that complicated their worship. Essentially, they had either God’s word, the preacher and other books as entertainment. We have been dumbed down by the information age. In many ways, these things we find a blessing, could be a level of blindness that God has placed on us. We are complacent. We need to repent and pursue, like the deer that panteth after the water.

Is tithing or giving part of the regulative principle of Worship?

Here is an excerpt from the Directory for Public Worship for the ARPC


Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people,

Give unto the LORD glory and strength.

Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name:

Bring an offering, and come into his courts.

a. From ancient times tithes and offerings have been made to and received by God. They are a part of the ordinary worship of God, commanded in the Law.  Our Lord also taught the importance of returning to God a portion of what one has received.  The Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to lay aside their gifts for the saints in Jerusalem on the first day of the week. This coincides with the day when the early church

met for worship.

b. The presentation of tithes and offerings is to be made humbly before God, in singleness of heart.Pride and self-righteousness in giving is to be abhorred. 137Giving must be from a cheerful heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion. Giving to God should be done in response and thanksgiving for all He has given to us.”

Since the PCA has placed this giving inside of our liturgy, it would follow that we agree with the ARPC that the tithe/giving is a component of the Regulative Principle of Worship.

Pastor Daniel Kok says:

“In the context of 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 we are told to abound “in the work of the Lord, knowing that [our] labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) This is why we gather to give offerings on “the first day of every week” (16:2), which are a token of our thankfulness to God in his deliverance of us from death and sin (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). Note that this is similar to the Old Testament practice of bringing animals and birds to be sacrificed on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10). Offerings in the Old Testament were not just a sign of forgiveness but also of thankfulness, just as they are in the New Testament.”

The above is one way to look at it.

Notice that WCF chapter 21 does not mention giving as an element of worship: it lists pretty much everything else, but not tithing or giving. The Directory for Publick Worship does not mention it either!

R. Scott Clark writes in regards to the RPW:

“As a consequence of this principle, the Reformed view of worship distinguishes between the elements and circumstances of worship. A circumstance is the time, place, dress, language, and posture of worship. These things are a matter of wisdom. Whether we hold services at 9AM and 5PM or 11AM and 3PM is morally indifferent. It’s a matter of wisdom. Whether you pray on your knees or standing up is morally indifferent. Whether you use the traditional language of piety (e.g. “thee” and “thou”) or contemporary English (if that’s the language of the people; 1 Cor 14) is a matter of wisdom. Whether you wear a suit or dress more casually is a function of the culture and dictated by wisdom. Whether you meet in a traditional church building or a converted service station building is a matter of wisdom. These things are all circumstances and can change from time to time and place to place.

An element is that thing without which there is no worship. The elements of worship are Word, sacrament, and prayer. No one is authorized by God to add to these elements, i.e. we’re not authorized to add new elements or to substitute a new element for a divinely authorized element. For example, it is not possible in a Reformed service to substitute a dramatic presentation for the preaching of the Word or even to add such to the service. That would be a gross corruption of the worship of God. Calvin and the Reformed churches with one voice regard such additions or substitutions as “will worship.”

Clark goes on to discuss the offering or tithe:

“One of the more significant things that happens in the service is the receiving of offerings. At some point in virtually every service, except perhaps when the minister forgets to announce it, the deacons receive offerings. On what basis do we do that? Is it an element or a circumstance? I’ve heard arguments for both and I’m beginning to wonder whether the offering is not a practice in search of a justification?

If it is a circumstance, then we can change it, right? We can omit it (as we presently do it) without any moral or spiritual harm to God’s people or without sin against God and his law. We can mail it in, we can phone it in, we can put it in an alms box on the way out of the building (as we did before the modern period). If it is a circumstance, we could handle the offering in any number of ways. If it is only a circumstance, then it isn’t properly a part of the service. We ought not to spend time on it during the service. We don’t spend time on other “circumstances” during the service do we?

I can see the deacons are sweating now!

It’s a much harder test to show that the offering is an element of worship. It is neither Word, nor sacrament, nor prayer. Indeed, it seems to me that to call it an “offering” is positively Mosaic (old covenant). We confess that the offerings were fulfilled in Christ. He is the paschal lamb, he is the consummation of all the burnt offerings, wave offerings and sin offerings.”

“Perhaps you regard it as an element. Can you show from God’s Word that we must take up an offering during the service? If you must have your “offering,” then haven’t we weakened one of our arguments against the Roman eucharistic sacrifice? We argue that their continued sacrifice, even if only memorial, is a contradiction of the completed work of Christ. If we can make financial offerings, why can’t the Romanists make memorial sacrificial offerings?”

I use this example as described by Dr. Clark to show that even with what may seem the norm, it still can be an assault on the Regulative principle of Worship. Whatever side of the argument you fall on, it would do you best to pray over the issue and align a proper defense of your position using God’s word; don’t just fall into line like a blind, numb and dumb sheep. We are all called to ‘test all things’.

The point I am trying to make here is that we can see the failed attempt of worshipping the true God correctly. If giving does falls under the RPW, great.  If it doesn’t and we are practicing it, we have added to Gods word and that is a terrible thing!  Just like the brothers, Nadab and Abihu, God punished them greatly for trampling on His command. What did they do, really? Was it that bad? At face value, probably not. Remember, we are not called to guess. All they did was gather a fire from the wrong place, right? Wrong! They used fire that God had not ordained for Himself. They took for granted they knew better than God and look what it got them. Fire from heaven.
Matt 15

8  ‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

9 in vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

In our corporate setting, after our announcements, there is an official call to worship. At this point, we are under the scrutiny of Gods mercy in that we can only hope and pray what we are offering up is not an assault on this principle. I believe this is a perfect time to discuss things that are not of this principle. For instance, anything falling under an announcement should be before the call. If we have guests and a testimony is to be read and the person is a female, it should be done before the call as God’s word tells us that a woman should not speak in church;
1Cor. 14:34   Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.  35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

Notice how God’ s word says ‘it is shameful’ for a woman to speak in church. Now, this does not mean that a female cannot speak in church in the divided sense, she can. She speaks with other congregants before and after the service. She asks her husband questions periodically during the sermon. She is involved in vital aspects to the local church’s life. She is training the younger woman and the children. She is part of ministries that cater to the invalid and the needy.

She is a prayer warrior. This warning is to the aspect of speaking to the congregation from the elevated position.
The pulpit should never be turned over to a female after the call to worship. This is a direct assault to God’s command and a break in the regulative principle of worship. Often times, when things like this occur, the woman is compelled to even quote scripture from the pulpit, and to the congregants stumbling.

John Frame writes:
“In general, I agree with James Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), and others, who argue that the only biblical limitation on women’s role is that women may not be elders. Hurley argues that the prohibition on women speaking in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is not for the duration of the meeting, but for the authoritative ‘weighing of the prophets’ described in vv. 29-33, and that the teaching prohibited in 1 Tim 2:12 is the authoritative teaching of the office of elder. However we may interpret these difficult passages, it is plain that under some circumstances women did legitimately speak in worship (1 Cor. 11:5) and that women were not entirely excluded from teaching (Acts 18:26; Titus 2:4) (p. 75, endnote 6).”

Brian Shwertley goes on to refute this line of reasoning:
“There are a number of reasons why the teaching of Frame and Hurley must be rejected. First, nowhere in the Bible do we find a distinction between authoritative versus non-authoritative teaching in public worship. This kind of arbitrary, non-textually based distinction would have made the medieval scholastics proud. Second, Hurley ignores the fact that although women were not permitted to ask questions, speak or teach in the Jewish synagogues in the old covenant and apostolic era, men—the heads of households—were permitted to ask questions and make comments regarding the Scripture reading and exposition. Women had to ask their husbands at home. Why ignore the historical context (and cultural milieu) and read our modern feminist culture back into the text?”

You might ask, “Scott, what about the singing of the psalms? Woman sing the psalms after the call as they are part of the church choir”?

The specifics in regard to the authority are what is intended in this passage; singing does not fall under that idea. Woman in our choir are not usurping men in this instance; their speaking is not individual, but corporate; there is a big difference.

Calvin writes:
“It appears that the Church of the Corinthians was infected with this fault too, that the talkativeness of women was allowed a place in the sacred assembly, or rather that the fullest liberty was given to it. Hence he forbids them to speak in public, either for the purpose of teaching or of prophesying. This, however, we must understand as referring to ordinary service, or where there is a Church in a regularly constituted state; for a necessity may occur of such a nature as to require that a woman should speak in public; but Paul has merely in view what is becoming in a duly regulated assembly.”

‘A duly regulated assembly would then be after the official call to worship and that the position of error would be if a woman were in the pulpit, elevated above the male congregants and pastors seated alongside her.
Think about that for a minute. The woman is poised, elevated and everyone else is seated, at her feet, if you will. We see this often in the aberrant, non-reformed groups. Example: Joyce Meyers. Her husband sits week after week in the front row, at his wife’s feet as she destroys the Regulative Principle of Worship.

Many examples can be had from scripture of the greatness of women of faith. A confident woman of God, one that understands the hierarchical system, is not assaulted by what I write here. She gladly takes her place under her husband headship knowing full well that it is ultimately glorifying her Lord.

What about things like national holidays? Should they be celebrated after the call?

I would have to say, no. They should be before or a separate occasion. There is nothing wrong with celebrating a national holiday, we just should not do it on the day we worship God. You might say, “Scott, but isn’t God the creator of our nation and isn’t America a God fearing country? Shouldn’t we give thanks to God for our land and leaders?” Yes and no. As I have mentioned, it is not within the confines of God’s prescriptive order of worship and hence, should be avoided else we may find lightning being cast down in our direction and nobody wants that. Less is more; prudence is key.

I will quote my friend Pastor Glenn Ferrell. You decide what is the answer:

“One should never violate their own conscience. I sometimes preach in other churches which do not practice EP. Sometimes they accomodate me and sing only Psalms for that service. Other times, someone else leads the service and I do not sing the hymns. I’m not compromised; but I have an opportunity to bring them God’s word. Here at FOPC, there are so many things they get right concerning the RPW, I’m going to be charitable regarding the couple matters where they might do better. It is a joy to lead worship that mostly conforms to my views of the RPW. Actually, all of us should be learning and reforming according to God’s word. Only Christ worships God perfectly.”

So much more can be said here in regards to the RPW; we never discussed things like music, instruments, the words we sing, i.e. the Psalms or hymns, etc. This short paper has only scratched the surface; hopefully you have at least gotten the gist of what the principle means and how it should be applied corporately as well as personally. I pray this paper causes a reformation of sorts in your spirit and God uses it to His glory.