The regulative principleCritique of Modern Religious Practices by Rocky Simbajon
By Rocky A. Simbajon
During the Reformation, the historic debate over worship was centered on the New Testament’s interpretation and application of the First Table of the Law, that is, the first four laws concerning the worship of God. The Reformers unanimously agreed that society should be governed by both tables of the law. They also acknowledged that the Church, in the area of worship, should exist in obedience to both tables. In The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543), Calvin stated:
“If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, second, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.”
The Reformers have been very careful in making this issue clear. The difference between them and the Romanists consists, not only in the area of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ without admixture of human merit, but also in our obedience to the commands of God concerning worship. The Reformation Churches put a very clear line of demarcation between them and the corrupt Churches of Rome, and it is chiefly in the area of worship. To quote Calvin, again:
“Moreover, the rule which distinguishes between pure and vitiated worship is of universal application, in order that we may not adopt any device which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have him to approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits, that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke his anger against us.”
This distinction persists until now, but it ceases to be Protestant vs. Roman Catholic; instead, it now is Protestant (Reformed) vs. Roman Catholics et al. We hope the following will help clear the issue.
The Binding of the Conscience
What is it to bind the conscience? “To bind (the conscience) is to urge, cause, and constrain it in every action, either to accuse for sin, or to excuse for well-doing; or to say, this may be done, or it may not be done” (Perkins).
“Whatsoever urges, or forces conscience to assent to a thing as lawful, or a thing that ought to be done; or to dissent from a thing as unlawful, or a thing which ought not to be done, that is a binder of conscience, though it did not bind the spirit of a man with the fear of such punishments as God alone inflicts. For secluding all respect of punishment, and not considering what will follow, the very obliging of the conscience for the time, add assensum, is a binding of it” (Gillespie, George, The English Popish Ceremonies).1
The Authority of the Ministers and the Binding of Conscience
1. Ministerial authority is not autocratic but derived from elders’ status.
2. Ministerial authority rests on the ministers’ duty, that is, discovering the laws of God, but never legislating them (Mal. 2:7).
3. Ministerial authority is declarative; ministers have the duty to lead people to what is necessary and expedient by way of directions, instructions and admonitions, but not laws.
4. This authority is not legal nor political, but ministerial.
Laws That Bind the Conscience
Mere laws do not bind the conscience. What makes laws binders of conscience is the ratio legis, or “reason of the law.” Without the “reason of the law,” mere laws can not bind the conscience. The Church, because it teaches the law through the ministers lawfully ordained, is said to have power to bind the conscience through an ordinance or decree. However, the power to bind depends on (1) the lawfulness of the ordinance, and (2) the legitimate authority of the Church. The one cannot bind without the other, and vice versa. They must be joined together.
Mere Church authority cannot lawfully bind anyone’s conscience with beliefs and practices not warranted by the Scripture. “Should Christians, who ought not to be children, carried about with every wind, Eph. 4:14; who should be able to discern both good and evil, Heb. 5:14; in whom the word of God ought to dwell plentifully, Col. 3:16; who are commanded to beware of men, Matt. 10:17; not to believe every spirit, to prove all things, 1 John 4:1; and to judge of all that is said to them, 1 Thess. 5:21; should they, I say, be used as stocks and stones, not capable of reason, and therefore to be borne down by naked will and authority? 1 Cor. 10:15.” (Gillespie, Ibid.)
To ordain or order religious activities for Christians without the expressed warrant from the Scripture is tyrannical (Ez. 34:4) and a usurpation of the Lord’s power (1 Pet. 5:3). When such religious activities, after being examined carefully(1 Thess. 5:21), are found to lack Scriptural mandate, such should not bind our conscience, and we are absolutely free to reject them. The ratio legis should entirely depend on the existence of a clear warrant from the Scripture.
Regulative Principle of Worship and Binding of Conscience
The Regulative Principle of Worship, although variously defined by Protestant writers in our recent period, is unanimously understood to be that principle of biblical interpretation and practice that limits or regulates religious beliefs and acts to that which is expressly taught and commanded in the Scripture. Obversely, any religious practice not expressly taught and commanded in the Scripture is forbidden. The express commands would also include those principles of practice drawn from Biblical inference by way of reason and examples. Dissenting practices should then be understood to include the modes and manner of worship and religious activities and practices not within the scope of Scriptural precepts.
Shortly, we will discuss modern practices and activities and see if they have biblical warrant. But before that, we must first look for religious activities commanded in the Scripture, such as follows:
II. BIBLICAL RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES
As for religious activities commanded in Scripture, we find only three categories: 1. Appointed days, both regular and special occasions, for worship. 2. Manner of worship and 3. Places appointed for worship.
Concerning appointment of certain days for regular and special holy days, the Bible gives no uncertain direction. God, especially in the Old Testament, has ordained specific days and times, set apart from ordinary days and times, in which His people are commanded to habitually observe worship in certain ways.
1. Appointed Days For Worship
Appointed days for worship, both regular and special occasions, are as follows:
1) Feasts; 2) Regular days set apart for worship; 3) Days of fasting; and 4) Thanksgiving.
1) Feasts were certain days set apart for the community of God’s people to meet together as a “holy convocation” of fellowship and dutifully rendering certain acts of worship to God. These days are the following, to wit:
1. Feast of the Passover or Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Ex. 23:17). This was God’s prescribed ordinance to be observed by the Church under Old Testament times. Each household of the Israelites had to roast a lamb for a sacrifice (which was to be a one-night family meal), and bake unleavened bread. This commemorated their exit from Egypt by the strong arm of the Lord, in the same night when God killed all the Egyptians’ firstborn sons and mercifully passed over the Israelites’ sons. It was celebrated once every year on the 14th day of Nissan (in the month of April). The Feast of the Unleavened Bread commenced one day after the Passover and continued for seven days.
2. Feast of Harvests/Feast of Weeks/ Pentecost, otherwise called Day of the First Fruits (Deut. 16:9-12). Aaronic priests were to make two loaves from the grains of the first fruits of the recent wheat harvest. These loaves were used as a wave offering to the Lord and to the people offering their first harvest. This was observed every 6th day of Sivan (June).
3. Feast of the New Moon or Feast of Trumpets. During the 1st day of Tishri (October), trumpets made from horns were blown by designated priests from early morning to the evening. The feast, like a New Year celebration to the Jews, was called the new moon because it was the first month of the new civic year.
4. Feast of the Day of Atonement. In the holy of holies, the high priest would confess the people’s sins from the whole year and then sprinkle the blood of a sacrifice, as a symbol of covering and atoning the people’s sin with the blood of reconciliation. This feast was celebrated on the 10th day of Tishri. This was a mode of a special holy day appointed by God for His people to ask His forgiveness. This day teaches us that upon the assurance of God’s mercy, repentant sinners now and then should rejoice in His favor. (At other times of the year, people in the Pentateuch fasted for their sins, but sometimes, like during this feast, they were required to feast after being assured of their favor from God.)
5. Feast of Tabernacles, or Feast of Booths. It fell on the 15th day of Tishri and lasted until the 12th day of the same month. This was a celebration commemorating the Israelite community’s dwelling in booths during the exodus of the Israelites, their deliverance from the pursuing Egyptians, and their journey toward the Promised Land (Lev. 23:4; Deut. 16:13).
It is important for me to emphasize here that after the resurrection of Christ, the Church ceased to celebrate these feasts. The writings of the Apostles direct the Church to leave all these behind as Judaistic. (The Jews after their exile had invented some holidays like The Feast of Lights and Purim. But this will not concern us in this little treatise.) So it leads us to the next point.
6. Regular weekly meetings. Let me stress at this point that these were not identical with the Sabbath, the day of rest. In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were gathered in one place because each family could not make a permanent habitation, the people dwelt in tents and were prohibited to come out during the Sabbath (Ex. 16:29, 30). (It is not clear whether they had weekly gatherings until the post-exilic period, when the synagogue played an important role in the life of captive Jewish communities in Gentile areas. Weekly meetings during the Christian era started as a practice during the times of the Apostles. The Church, since then, has gathered once a week every Lord’s Day to hear preaching and exhortation from their pastors, sing psalms, and say prayers and praises to God. Priesthood has ceased. The first day of the week, or the Lord’s Day, was also renamed the Christian Sabbath because on this day believers ceased to work and gathered at a certain meeting place for worship.)
7. Days of fasting. Moses required fasting during the Day of Atonement (see above). Days of fasting were not regular appointed annual, monthly or weekly religious activities, but religious acts required by grieving circumstances. Special and extraordinary occasions called for fasting to avert God’s impending judgment on account of sin (Joel 1:14; 2:15) of individual persons or of societies/nations like Israel or Nineveh. A day or days of fasting (abstaining from food and afflicting the soul) continued to be practiced up to the New Testament times. The Lord, His individual ministers, and the New Testament churches all fasted. After the inspired period, the Church, though never officially pronouncing fasting as an act meritorious in itself apart from God’s grace, has still observed it until now, because this is commanded and exemplified in the Scripture.
8. Days of thanksgiving. (Zech. 8:19; 7:3) Like fasting, there was not an annual or fixed day held for banquets or feasting. The Church of the New Testament times never appointed a day for this. However, when an individual or a community wishes to express their gratitude to God for a special blessing received from Him, it is practically reasonable for them to prepare refreshment as a celebration. The Feast of Pentecost, or Day of Atonement, is no longer required to be celebrated in the Church, although each believer is exhorted to give to the Lord whatever He has prospered him. This may also be properly called an act of thanksgiving.
2. The Manner of Worship
As to the manner of worship, it is distinguished into two parts: 1. Acts in worship, and, 2. Religious signs and symbols used in worship.
1. Acts in worship. That there are certain “acts” in worshipping God, no one will dispute. But what these acts are and how they are to be performed is a question to which only the Word has the sufficient answer.
How to Determine If a Certain Act of Worship is Scriptural
Worship, sahah (to bow down), to define it briefly in the religious sense, is an act in which a creature expresses his obeisance to God his Creator. Although the word sahah is a broad term to include ordinary obeisance to human superiors, this word is primarily used as an expression of homage, honor, respect, humility and submission to the divine will.
Certain acts of worship are acceptable to God and considered Scriptural in three ways:
1st, there are acts in worship actually commanded by God. 2nd, there are acts in worship not expressly commanded but acceptable to God as exemplified in the Scripture. 3rd, there are acts in worship that are neither commanded nor exemplified but are necessarily indispensable in rightly worshipping God.
To particularize, putting things plainly, let me explain the following:
1st, as to the acts in worship actually commanded by God, the believers were commanded to observe the following, to wit:
1. Bowing down in adoration before Him when He reveals his special presence to us in worship.
2. Fearing and reverencing Him in all humility and submission.
3. Keeping silent and listening when God speaks to us through His Word.
4. Speaking to God in prayers and praises.
5. Singing psalms and spiritual songs to God, which is making a noise toward His holy habitation.
6. Offering and sacrificing to God our resources as He has required of us in His Word.
All of these are acts of worshipping God according to the regular order of worship on days and times specifically appointed.
2nd, there are acts in worship not expressly commanded but acceptable to God, as exemplified in the Scripture. This is reflected in the actions of the saints of older times with the approbation of God. Acts like bringing our families together to God (Deut. 31:11, 12; Lk. 2:42.); appointing ecclesiastical officers to lead the people in singing psalms; reading the Scripture in both public and private; edifying and strengthening each other’s faith; and caring for our poor, widows and orphans, are abundantly exemplified in Scripture.
3rd, there are acts in worship that are neither commanded nor exemplified but are necessarily indispensable to rightly worshipping God. This category is comprised of actions such as: walking with the feet toward the meeting place, opening the mouth in speaking, driving vehicles toward the church, etc. This is true especially of acts required in modern times like ours – in installing our air ventilation, air conditioning devices, heating systems; in setting up chairs, tables, sound systems and amplifier; in cleaning our meeting place; and in putting on decent and good attire and the like for regular or special worship. Without these acts, the people of God cannot worship God normally. They cannot be categorized as belonging to matters that are indifferent, as we will show by and by, because they will ultimately result in pleasing God.
Religious Signs and Symbols
There are religious signs and symbols used in worshipping God. Religious signs and symbols in the Scripture are abundant in consonance with the oriental background. However, none of them was used as material for worship, that is, as a means in order to worship God. Each sign or symbol was given to man to be used as a visible image or linguistic representation of an idea or message in terms of certain objects such as numbers, colors and actions. This is God’s way of communicating to His people in the form of a symbol. On the other hand, worship is man’s communication to God in the form of an action, not a symbol, because God forbids man to make any visible image of Him in worship. “Now,” says Gillespie, “the second commandment forbiddeth images made by the lust of man…, therefore it forbiddeth also all religious similitudes, which is homogeneal [similar] unto them.” (The English Popish Ceremonies, p. 113).
We agree with Gillespie (Ibid. 113, 114) in distinguishing signs into three:
1) Natural signs. Smoke, for example, is a sign of fire; black clouds in the skies are a sign of the coming rain, etc.
2) Customary signs. It is a custom for orthodox Jewish women to cover their heads as a sign of submission to authority . Likewise, uncovering the head is a sign of preeminence. In the Philippines, a marital wedding cord is a symbol of oneness and unity.
3) Signa instituta or instituted signs which are voluntary in nature. These are distinguished into two groups:
1. Legal signs (political, civil and judicial) – these include the blowing of horns in the streets, traffic lights, the tolling of the church bell as the sign for assembly, the gavel as a sign of verdict in the courts, etc.
2. Sacred signs and symbols which we discussed above- 1st. God’s communication to man by way of a visible image or linguistic representation. The first can be seen by the eyes of man, such as the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are signs and symbols of Christ’s flesh and blood; and the second can be heard by the ears. The Savior was fond of telling spiritual truths through parables. 2nd. Man’s way of communication to God in terms of image representation is strictly forbidden. “Every sign of this kind which is not ordained of God we refer to the imagery forbidden in the second commandment.” (Gillespie) But symbolic actions such as kneeling, lifting up our eyes to heaven, lifting up holy hands (1 Tim. 2:8), bowing our heads and bending of our bodies to earth during prayers and worship are acceptable to God as long as these transcend into deeper spiritual reality (Isa. 1:15).
3. Place and Materials Appointed for Worship
The Scripture is particularly strict about the use of materials in worship. There is repeated threatening in the Scripture against adding or diminishing any instruction contained in the Old or New Testament (Lev. 12:32; Rev. 22:19). The story of the strange fire (Lev. 10:1, 9, 19), which was put in incense offered on the altar and led to God’s consuming fire that struck Nadab, Abihu and their families, is a sufficient warning to believers that our God is a dreadful God and should not be worshipped according to the whims of man.
Materials used in the worship of God in the Old Testament foreshadowed the coming Messiah and His Church. They were types of Christ and all His offices and works. Beginning at Abel’s sacrifice, bloody offerings accompanied the worship of God and symbolized the sanctification of both the offerer and those for whom the blood sacrifices were offered.
Materials used in the worship of God have been numerous, depending on the condition of the times. Not all of them continued to be used in worship as years passed by. Some of them had to be discontinued; such cessations were prescribed clearly by God, and no one has the liberty to bring or use anything from the old Jewish church at his own will. Apostate descendants of Noah were reproved for devising their own ways in the matter of religion. Only a small group of believers loyal to Jehovah retained the purity of worship.
In the Scripture, the places and materials used for worship are the following: 1) The Tabernacle in the wilderness, 2) The Temple, and 3) The New Testament Church.
1) The Old Testament Tabernacle in the wilderness. It was a portable structure constructed by Bezaleel and Aholiab according to the direct command of God to Moses (Ex. 26-27, 35-38). There was only one law given to them in regards to the making of the tabernacle: they had to construct the Tabernacle exactly as the Lord had commanded; “And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.” (Ex. 25:40). All the measures, furnishings, materials and designs were specifically made following the precise directions of God. “According to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the children of Israel made all the work. And Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them.” (Ex. 39:42, 43). See also Deut. 4:2.
The tabernacle had to be concise and perfect according to the command of God. This includes, but is not limited to:
1. The measure – the length, width, and height. The enclosure should be 150 ft. in length, 75 ft. in width. The curtains were 7 ft. long, the hangings were 30 ft. wide, and the curtains at the sides measured 20 ft. wide. The holy place, which enclosed the holy of holies, was a rectangular structure measuring 45 ft. by 15 ft. The boards measured 15 ft. high by 2 ft. wide. Such measurements were never arbitrary. They were dictated by God Himself, and no one was at liberty to make any changes by whatever measure he had in mind.
2. The materials and colors: red leathers, acacia lumbers, gold, bronze, goats hair coverings 45 ft. in length and 6 ft. width, red dyed ram’s hide, a fire kindled by God Himself. These materials were used for curtains, boards, horns, bases, pins, and the great altar made of acacia and gold (measuring almost 8 ft. square and 5 ft. in height). All of these materials were revealed and commanded by God.
Some furniture like the table of shewbread, dishes, incense bowls, flagons, seven-branched candlesticks, altar of incense, Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat, and tables of stone containing the 10 commandments were all dictated by God Himself to be in the tabernacle.
The offerings were showbread, incense and prescribed animals. The people allowed to minister at this tabernacle were the sons of Aaron (the priests) and the Levites- and no one else.
It is not possible for us to go into a detailed and articulate description of the tabernacle here. Suffice it to say that there was no measure or material introduced into the worship of God in this stage of the Old Testament Church without an express warrant from God Himself.
2) The Temple. Solomon’s Temple was called after that name only by non-inspired writers, obviously because Solomon was its first builder; but most of the time Scripture calls it the Temple. It was first planned, and the materials were prepared, by David himself (1 Chr. 22:1-5); and it was his son, Solomon, who constructed it during his reign. The plan and preparation for the construction of it was guided by the will of God. David had a personal preference for building it himself, but God’s preeminence took precedence over David’s preference when the temple’s construction was deferred to a later period (1 Chr. 22:6-11).
The Temple was not known for its vastness. It was built after the pattern of the Tabernacle, although it was much more ornate and elaborate. The question arises: On what basis did Solomon build the Temple? The answer is easy. It was based on the command of God. Forasmuch as God had prohibited David to build this Temple, He also had commanded Solomon to do so.
After the partial destruction of this Temple at the time of Babylonian captivity, this same Temple was rebuilt during the time of Zerubbabel after the Jewish exile (538 B. C.). It was, in reality, a rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple, although it was not as detailed and elaborate as that one. It stood on the same site. Of course, as intimated already, there were some changes of it in terms of its appearance. In fact, scholars believed that there were materials and furnishings lacking in the holy of holies: the ark, the Holy Spirit, the sacred fire, the Shekinah, the Urim and Thummim. However, this was essentially the same Temple standing on Mount Moriah, “the Mountain of the Lord’s House.”
This Temple remained until the times of Judas Maccabaeus (165 B.C.). But in 63 B. C., General Pompey captured Jerusalem and seven years later Crassus, the Roman consul to Palestine, plundered the Temple.
Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) renovated this Temple, although great care was taken by him that the daily Levitical and priestly services should not be disrupted. Dr. John Lightfoot, in The Temple Especially As It Stood in the Days of Our Saviour (published in 1684), described it in detail.
Things common to this Temple which made all its services acceptable to God:
1. There were no additional Levitical and priestly duties introduced into daily administration of their services, except that which was revealed by God “unto the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1). In other words, every element in the worship of Jehovah was never included arbitrarily. The law and the prophets were all authoritative oracles of God (Mt. 5:17) that needed fulfillment to the letter. “Ye shall not add unto the word which I commanded you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deut. 4:2).
This commandment was repeated by Moses to stress its importance: “Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.” (Deut. 12:8).
The ministers of the Temple, their sacrifices, their liturgical services, offerings, and guild of singers in charge of musical instruments and the materials were prepared under divine supervision (1 Chr. 23:1-26:19). David himself, with divine guidance, “separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals” (1 Chr. 25:1). “All that David had by the Spirit” (1 Chr. 28:12), as far as instructions for the preparation and the services of the Temple was concerned, was enjoined to Solomon his son.
2. There was sanctity and solemnity of all things therein, especially concerning the people of God. Before they could meet Him in worship, they were to sanctify themselves by washing their clothes (Ex. 19:10). During the Temple services, no Gentile was allowed to enter into the courts, and the holy of holies was only accessible to the high priests.
The people were to avoid presumptuous worship or else be rebuked for “spreading forth their hands full of blood” (Isa. 1:15). There was a tablet from Herod’s Temple having an inscription which read as follows:
No stranger is to enter within the balustrade round the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be responsible for his death, which will ensue.
3. The ministers were all Aaronic priests and Levites who ministered daily in the Temple (Ex. 28, 29; 1 Chr. 23, 24). No one could minister to the Old Testament Church without God’s divine appointment. For “no man takes this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5: 4).
Worship in the New Testament Church
3) In the New Testament, the Church had a particular kind and mode of worship that it inherited from the Old Testament. But its religious activities were the full fruition of a long process of development, such as follows: 1. The New Testament worship as the continuation of Old Testament worship. 2. The New Testament worship as the fuller development of synagogue worship. 3. The distinct features characterizing worship in the New Testament Church.
The New Testament Worship as the Continuation Of Old Testament Worship
1. It was always stressed by Christ that His coming was the fulfillment of the Laws and the Prophets (Mat. 5:17). One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat. 5:18). “That all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Lk. 24:44). Thus, this continuity can only be fully appraised and understood when the following principles are observed:
1. That Old Testament worship, materially and formally, consisted of shadows of Christ; 2. That Old Testament materials, mode and places of worship were coterminous with the context of their environment and seasons during the times of the Old Testament Church, expiring when the end for which these ordinances were appointed was attained; 3. That Old Testament materials, manner and places of worship were dependent on New Testament revelation, and vice versa. This we will aver in the following:
1. That Old Testament worship, materially and formally, consisted of shadows of Christ. Old Testament prophets testified abundantly in all their writings that every material used in the worship of God before the Christian era was the type and foreshadowing of the person and work of Christ. New Testament writers were in agreement on this concept. The priesthood of the sons of Aaron was the type of the priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchisedec (Heb. 6:20); the offices of Moses as prophet, priest and king were types of Christ’s offices as Prophet, Priest, and King. The Passover Lamb was a type of Christ (Ex. 12:3ff). Christ is called “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). Old Testament worship through priestly sacrifices contained in the Torah, the five books of Moses, “having a shadow of good things to come… can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect”(Heb. 10:1). But by the one offering of Christ “he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Heb 10:14). The prophetic ministry of the priests through the use of musical instruments (1 Chr. 25:1) was a type of New Testament worship, in which believers are now exhorted to “make melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19) while speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. See Col. 3:16.
2. That Old Testament materials, mode and places of worship were coterminous with the context of their environment and seasons during the times of the Old Testament Church and expired when the end for which these ordinances were appointed was attained. This is abundantly evident in the Old Testament history wherein certain acts and religious ceremonies were appointed for a season and ceased to be practiced when the end for which these ceremonies or ordinances were appointed was attained. For example, the Tabernacle worship ended when Christ “tabernacled among us” (Jn. 1:14); the brazen serpent was a religious object relevant only for a time as a type of Christ (Num. 2:4-9; Jn. 3:14, 15), so was never again used except by the idolatrous Israelites (2 Kings 18:4); the altars built by Abraham and his sons did not continue into all generations. All these things were only useful and operative during the time of their appointment, but other ordinances analogous with them survived to the present time.
3. That Old Testament materials for worship were dependent on New Testament revelation, and vice versa. Old Testament laws alone without the light of New Testament revelation were imperfect and superficial. This is also true concerning the New Testament revelation; it cannot stand firmly without the foundation of the Old Testament. The one needs the other. So, with regard to every aspect of worship, both Testaments should be consulted if right understanding is to be achieved.
Admissibility of Old Testament Worship into the New Testament Church
Certain criteria should be maintained to determine if an aspect of a religious practice in the Old Testament is still binding and admissible to us in the New Testament: (1) If the religious practice is not within the physical framework of the Ceremonial Laws; (2) If the practice is not limited to ethnic, cultural, or customary laws and tradition of the Jews; (3) If such a practice continued to be observed by the Christian churches in the New Testament; and, (4) If such practice was not expressly abrogated by the New Testament. Hence, it is a highly relevant question if modern religious practices are truly and biblically defensible.
The New Testament Worship as the Fuller Development of Synagogue Worship
2. Synagogues were founded during the Diaspora but can be traced back to the patriarchal period when a family or group of families met together on the Sabbath to worship. Before the building of the Temple, the congregation of Jehovah ( or qahal of Yahweh, 1 Kings 8:65) met in one locality, centering their activities on Levitical duties. There the cultus was much simpler compared to the elaborate activities during Solomon’s time. During the times of the judges, when “everyone did according to what is good in his eyes,” that is, when worship was not centralized, ancient Hebrew families sometimes took for themselves a Levite or Levites to serve as their fulltime minister (Jud. 17:7-13; Deut. 31:11, 12).
During the Diaspora, when the Jews had no country or Temple of their own, they practiced self-government of both civil and ecclesiastical matters. They chose elders from among themselves to rule the Jewish community and to judge matters of religion and civil disputes, although such elders could not take away lives or limbs of criminals. When one of their brethren committed a crime deserving of death, it was their custom to excommunicate that man and deliver him to Gentile courts.
James, referring to Diaspora religious worship, said that during old times Moses was read in every city’s synagogue every Sabbath (Acts 15:21). That the gospel was preached to Abraham and to the Jews is a fact (Heb. 4:2; Gal. 3:8). Such preaching was practiced during the time of Nehemiah, in which the Levites caused the people to understand the sense of the Scripture which was read (Neh.8:8). This custom of meeting at the synagogue was retained among the Jews till Apostolic times (Acts 13:14-16).
The Encyclopedia Biblica, on the order of service in the Synagogue, lists the following activities: 1. Recital of the Shema – Dt. 6:4-9;
11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41; 2. Prayer; 3. Reading of the Torah (Law); 4. Reading of the Prophets, and the Benediction; and, 5. The translation and explanation of the Scripture lesson. It is not, however, clear if the people sang selected songs of praise, but authorities like Maimonides, Vitringa, Dr. Lightfoot and others claim that songs of praise were sung.
The Jews who were converted to Christianity met in houses for worship every Lord’s Day. Worshipping at homes was preferred to worshipping at the Temple, where Levitical manner of worship, including sacrifices, was observed. The manner and order of early Christian worship was similar to that of the synagogue. It consisted only of reading the Scripture, preaching or giving the sense of what was read, singing and praising God with the psalms of David, petitioning God with prayers, and blessing the people. Thus the New Testament Church was established as a fuller form of synagogue worship.
The Distinct Features Characterizing Worship in the New Testament Church
3. The New Testament Church developed a distinct mode and manner of worship based on the teaching of Christ, His Apostles and Prophets, to wit:
1. Concerning the Place of worship. The Christian era began when a herald, John the Baptist, preached concerning Christ. John was the only son of Zacharias (a Levite and high priest) and Elizabeth. But he was not raised in the Temple. He grew up in a harsh wilderness, eating, not the tithes of the people, neither the remnants of the meat offering set aside for the priests (Lev. 2:3), but locusts and wild honey (Mk. 1:6). He did not wear a blue, purple and scarlet ephod made of fine twined linen (Lev. 39:1, 2), but he was “clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins” (Mk. 1:6). When he became a man, he preached in the wilderness about the coming of Christ. The center of his religious activities was not upon mount Moriah in the Temple, but “he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Lk. 3:3).
Christ came preaching “after John the Baptist” (Jn. 1:27). He taught in Jewish synagogues (Lk. 1:15) and in the Temple (Jn. 7:28). Christ used to preach and pray on the Mount of Olives (Mt. 5:1; Lk. 22:39). He taught by the seaside as well. (Mk. 4:1)
When asked about the place where men ought to worship, Christ said, “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” (Jn. 4:21). This seems to be in contrast to the commandment that Jehovah was to be worshipped only at the appointed place, “a place which the Lord your God shall choose” (Deut. 12:11). But Christ is not only Lord of the Sabbath (the time of worship); He is the Lord who accompanies his Church “even unto the end of the world” (Mt. 28:20). Here He taught a radical breakthrough of the doctrine of the universal scope of God’s own religion. God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. (Jn. 4:24) When Christ died on the Cross, the veil of the Temple was rent (Lk. 23:45). The middle wall of partition was finally broken down (Eph. 2: 14), and the division of secular and sacred started to cease.
The Apostle Paul followed the same tradition when he taught at Synagogues (Acts 13:14) and preached from house to house (Acts 20:18, 19). In his Pastoral Letter to Timothy he urged men to pray everywhere. (1 Tim 2:8) He emphasized the distinction between “Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children” and “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:25, 26). The place of worship is no more confined to the Temple of Jerusalem where the priests performed arduous ceremonies. It is very clear, therefore, that the New Testament believers have no special and holy place as their own; they can worship God anywhere as long as there is an atmosphere of prevailing spirituality.
2. The Manner and Material of worship. Christians worship God in the same manner as the Jews did, although, in the former, the absence of Judaism and ceremonies prevalent in the Jewish Temple and synagogues is noticeable. Since early Christians were persecuted by, excommunicated from, and scourged in their synagogues(Mat. 10:17), they ceased to have connection with Judaism as far as religion is concerned. The Christian Church, the remnant of Old Testament believers, continued in the belief of the one Jehovah (as a Triune God); however, they radically departed from traditional and outward forms of Jewish worship.
As indicated earlier, Christians retained only the acts of worshipping God through adoration, offering petitions and praises in prayers, singing of the Psalms and sacred Hymns, reading of Scriptures, preaching and exhortation, and blessing the people.
There is not a shred of evidence that early Christians used religious symbols from Judaism and Heathenism, such as phylacteries (Mt. 23:5), images (Rm. 1:21-28; Acts 15:20), and certain acts of repeated prayers (Mt. 6:7). On the contrary, historians have been unanimous in asserting that the first Christian meetings were empty of any religious symbols or visible representation. Only when the Roman church departed from original Christianity did the use of some ceremonies, images, religious symbols, and visible representation of God become rampant within professing Christian meetings.
Concerning materials used accompanying worship, Christians worship God without priests to offer animal sacrifices, without singing priests and musicians, without a Tabernacle or Temple, without an exclusive holy place, without altars and incense, and with much fewer festival days, as commanded during the infant stage of the Jewish Christian Church. Christianity emphasized the importance of the essence and internal reality of worship, not its external form and appearance. During the Reformation, the priesthood of all believers was again taught, wherein every believer can offer their own living body to God (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6).
Although singing was an integral part of worship, there was no record of any composition of songs outside the Psalter during the post-Apostolic period. Dr. Philip Schaff, writing about uninspired Christian songs in history, said: “We have no religious song remaining from the period of persecution (first three centuries) except the song of Clement of Alexandria to the divine Logos – which, however, cannot be called a hymn, and probably never was intended for public use.”2 Some Christian churches in Europe, like the Baptists and Independents in England, seemed to know nothing of any congregational singing until the late 1700’s. A Baptist authority, Thomas Armitage, in his famous A History of the Baptists Vol. 2, p. 517, said:
“It was not absolutely a Baptist question, for some few Independents refused to allow singing; but the Baptist churches were agitated by this controversy to their very center, and numbers of them were divided into fragments in consequence. The Bedford Church never had singing in their worship during Gifford’s or Bunyan’s ministry. It was not till 1690 that it was introduced, and then it was confined to the afternoon service. On October 20th, in that year, at a meeting of the Church, ‘it was debated and agreed that Public Singing of Psalms be practiced by the Church, with a caushion that none others perform it but such as can sing with grace in their Hearts According to the Command of Christ’ (the Baptist doctrine at that time was that none but the saints should sing); eighteen hundred voted for the change, with two dissenting.”
III. MODERN RELIGIOUS PRACTICES AND ACTIVITIES
1. How a religious practice is introduced (the origin).
Man is born religious and dies the same. How he exercises his belief may differ from his fellow man; but at any rate, he believes something, and that faith leads him into actual exercises. The first generation born into Adam’s family knew the authentic God preached later on by the Apostles and Prophets. Cain and Abel worshipped this true God. They only differed on the question on how to worship God. We will cite their case from Gen. 4.
Abel exercised his faith in worshipping God in accordance to God’s own way and method of worship. God first instituted a literal bloody sacrifice in the Garden of Eden right after the fall of man by stripping Adam and Eve of the fig leaves sewn by them and replacing them with the raiment made from the very skins of slain animals (Gen. 3:21). There was death there. The Scripture has symbolized the clothing itself to mean imputed righteousness. “Take away the filthy garments from him. I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment” (Zech. 3:4). In the Christian perspective, righteousness can only be freely received from Christ, described in an imagery of robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:14). In other words, Christian faith is centered on Christ the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29). This is God’s prescribed way, as followed by Abel; there is no other acceptable way.
Cain was the founder of public will worship. There was no question about his knowledge of the Creator; the object of his worship was the same God. But he did not follow God’s prescribed way of worship. He had his own way of worshipping his Creator. He offered something not instituted by God. Instead of a bloody offering, Cain “brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord” (Gen. 4:3). This earthly offering was totally outrageous in the sight of a Heavenly God. The same chapter narrates that God “had not respect” (v. 5) to his offering.
The difference between Abel and Cain’s religious activities and practices hinged on their nature and origin. Cain’s offering was from beneath; but Abel’s was from above. How true was it when Christ preached this same principle during His earthly ministry, “Ye are from beneath; I am from above; ye are of this world; I am not of this world,” (Jn. 8:23). Cain’s offering was the product of human ingenuity which “descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jas. 3:15).
Modern religious practices which are not expressly warranted by the Scripture have their origin in Cain’s faith, whatever form of religion they may have. The question of God long ago is still applicable today, “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my court?” (Isa. 1:12)
With due respect to the friends and patrons of modern church activities, we ask these questions, “Are Christmas activities (church services, choir, cantata, caroling), church anniversaries, church birthday parties, church programs (choir, duet, solo, church musicians and instruments), para-churches, or appointed man-made holy days( like Lent, Easter Sunday, Holy Week and others analogous to such) warranted by the Scriptures?” If not, then why are these continued to be practiced by the modern churches?
2. Principles Characterizing Modern Religious Practices.
Modern religious practices are characterized by the following principles:
1. The Normative Principle of Worship. The Normative Principle of Worship is contrary to the Regulative Principle of Worship. The latter is a rule of church-binding principle which prohibits any religious activities not expressly commanded by God’s Word. In contrast, today’s ministers ask, “Is our practice prohibited by the Scripture?” They answer themselves, “No, it is not prohibited; therefore, it is allowed.”
These two principles have been the distinguishing marks of two opposing parties during the Reformation. The Calvinists (who during the Second Reformation became known as the Reformed or Puritan party), out of loyalty to the Word, always stressed the importance of strictly following the written precepts. The other party included a variety of sects and established religions (among others, Roman Catholicism) which, finding no express prohibition of their practices in Scripture, took liberty to exercise them in their communions and meetings.
Gillespie, in his controversy against unbiblical practices in the Church of England, made a precise answer against nonReformers’ arguments that their church activities and practices were allowed by God although there was no definite command in Scripture for them: “How absurd a tenet is this, which holds that there is some particular worship of God allowed, and not commanded.” (The English Popish Ceremonies, p. 118).
2. The Synthetic Principle. This is the second principle characterizing modern religious practices. This comes from the Greek word synthetikos (“component”) and is related to another Greek word, syntithenai (“to put together”). The Synthetic Principle of Worship therefore rules that the Church should combine both human and divine elements. In some Christian circles today, there are proponents for what is termed “Cultural Redemption,” which endorses that divergent traditional religious practices in every culture be assimilated into the worship of God. These people argue that God was the author of these traditions and cultures, which have later been used for sinful ends. Hence, they should be reclaimed.
But these men fail to see these Biblical facts:
(1) That these divergent traditional religious practices in every culture are condemned by God and considered the effects of sin, not the cause of sin. “The customs of the people are vain” (Jer. 10:3). “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Rom. 1:28).
(2) The ancient Church of Israel was prohibited from following the ways of the nations: “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee, and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? Even so will I do likewise” (Dt. 12:30). “Learn not the way of the heathen” (Jer. 10:2).
(3) That the Scripture expressly and positively condemned the Jews for following after traditional religious practices of the Gentiles (“the nations”). “They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nation whom they carried away from thence” (2 Kings 17:33).
(4) That we are commanded by the Apostle not to conform to this world, but instead to separate, and not to touch unclean things (Rm. 1:2; 2 Cor. 6:17). We also are prohibited from partaking of the sins of a fallen church: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).
(5) God’s way is infinitely different from man’s, so that we are only commanded to follow His way alone. We are not to do whatsoever is right in our own eyes, but whatsoever God has commanded us in His Word (Dt. 12:8, 32; Job 9:32; Jer. 9:13, 14). The Jews were reproved by Christ for worshipping God according to the will of men: “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mt. 15:9).
3. Pragmatism. One of the questions for the admissibility of any practice into a church today is, “Does that work?” If such practice works to augment church membership and its finances, then that is considered admissible. Pragmatism has been one of the guiding principles in modern evangelism, missions and preaching. The important question for many is not ” What does the Bible say?” but “How is the Bible said?”
Ministers today measure one’s calling and success in the ministry by the number of hearers he gathers, and by the institutions and buildings he establishes. While we recognize that the Holy Spirit revives His people from time to time, and brings many genuine conversions of repenting souls to Christ, yet we are not convinced that gathering a large membership in a church meeting is the evidence of success, if we base our standard on the Scripture. Furthermore, many large churches of today, due to the practice of accepting members based on perceived fruits in one’s life, have filled their memberships with false converts. There is no success in accumulating many wolves in the ministry.
If visible results are the measure of success and God’s approval in the Church, how are we to account the ministry of the Prophets and Apostles, most of whom ended up imprisoned or executed? It cannot be denied that the Holy Spirit worked in history to revive His Church, but the means used are mostly despicable and contemptible to the world (1 Cor. 1:27). Only the Harlot Church in the Apocalypse “that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drank with the wine of her fornication”(Rev. 17:1, 2) could have boasted of physical and material accomplishment in the world.
4. Relativism. This principle, which justifies a belief based on the person holding such a viewpoint and the circumstances surrounding it, is prevalent in many churches and denominations today. There is no objective, universal truth for right or wrong. One man’s wrong action, according to this view, may be justifiable in another man’s point of view. Mohandas K. Gandhi was an example of relativism when he said, “I am essentially a man of compromise because I am never sure that I am right.” But, in saying it, how could Gandhi be sure that what he stated was right, and what he failed to state was wrong?
Relativism will eventually lead those who espouse it to skepticism (a belief that holds that truth has no criterion). This will also lead, in some way, to nihilism (a rejection of any objective and established truth). In some Christian circles, this philosophy has pervaded almost every practical and doctrinal tenet.
To press it home upon our subject, if there is no single and universal precept for worshipping God, then Christianity has no exclusive claim to absolute truth, for Hinduism could rightly claim truth as well. Atheism may be evil to us, but could be good to those who advocate it. If relativism is true, then the Holocaust could be justifiable depending on how man understands it. A method of worship condemned in the Scripture, like the burning of children to Baal, may be justified in relation to the heathen’s faith. It would therefore be virtually impossible to condemn anything in the sphere of religion, for no one has the exclusive claim of truth.
5. Pluralism. Like Relativism, this principle teaches that there is no single truth and no exclusive claim to it. It is only different from Relativism because it accepts two or more contrasting beliefs as both legitimate at the same time. The term indicates that Christianity’s claim for truth is not exclusive; all religious claims may be legitimately true. Churches and ministers, according to Pluralism, should be free to hold diversified and opposing views; no one should be rejected. This system is self-destructive because, while it upholds its own truthfulness, it also recognizes the legitimacy of the opposite system. Christian colleges and seminaries today teach two or more opposing doctrinal beliefs at the same time without avowing any one of them publicly. Conviction is viewed to be dogmatism. Students are free to espouse what they want, as long as they do not impose their views on others. “Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: And the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no judgment” (Isa. 60:15).
3. Common Grounds for Modern Religious Practices.
Religious Practices not warranted by the Word of God are introduced into the churches by the following theological grounds:
1. Liberty of Conscience. It is argued that each individual is given an unrestrained freedom, known as liberty of conscience, to exercise his faith. The time-honored principle that God alone is the Lord of conscience is mistaken to mean that on account of liberty of conscience, it is wrong to check anyone’s faith. Toleration of religious faith and practice is invoked.
First, we will address the argument that, because of the precedent of others in history, we too have the unrestrained freedom to introduce every conceivable church activity into the worship of God. Some Baptists and Independents complain that Reformation Churches have infringed individual religious freedom by opposing toleration in matters of faith. Books have been printed which condemn the Puritan and Reformed Party of severity against dissenters. The case of Calvin allowing the death penalty of Michael Servetus is often passionately cited. But if history is cited, the same groups (a mixture of Baptist, Independent and quasi-Pentecostal/Charismatic sects and faiths) who clamored for liberty of religion during Oliver Cromwell’s struggle against the forces of King Charles I of England, had turned out, after Cromwell’s victory, to be intolerant against the Church of Scotland and the National League and Covenant they had sworn into. Moreover, the sixteen articles of religion drawn up by their leaders betrayed their inconsistency because the same contained principles which would not tolerate Deists, Papists, Socinians, Arians and Antinomians.
The citation of the endeared Protestant doctrine of liberty of conscience is only a pretext for uncensored licentiousness. Authentic Protestantism in its purest form always loves to assert and exercise the liberty of conscience. In fact, this concept is found in the 20th chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646.
Second, as to arguments taken from Scripture such as Rom. 7:6 and 2 Cor. 3:6, to wit: “But we are now delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter,” and, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” All these verses are understood by modern sectaries to mean the immateriality of the Holy Scriptures when the Holy Spirit directly moves and impresses (if not reveals) His will in the practical life of believers. But what Paul, as a trained lawyer, has in mind by contrasting the spirit against the letter is simply the advantage of the spirit of the laws over the mere letter; the dispensation of the spirit of the laws was covered under the saving message of the New Testament ministry, not the Old. The end and goal of the law is Christ (Rom. 10:4). By the old letter is meant mere theoretical, outward and shadowy knowledge of the Word comprehended under the external ordinances of the Old Testament, devoid of the Evangelical illumination of the Spirit. Without the message of the Gospel, this law is said to kill and condemn, rather than to revive and justify a sinner. The spirit of the law is the very essence of it, which points to Christ, while the law is our school master to Him (Gal. 3: 24). This is meant to give life, because the moral aspect of the law is compatible and complementary with the Gospel. This has nothing to do with unrestrained license to do whatever the flesh dictates us in serving and worshipping a holy God.
What does Liberty of Conscience mean? In the mind of the Reformed Churches, matters pertaining to conscience, such as the free exercise of one’s faith, should be granted by civil government to all its subjects as long as the peace and tranquility of the commonwealth be not disturbed. But the Church, through the ministers of Christ, is given power to bind and loose and the authority to censure (Mt. 18:18). Within the sphere of religion, no one should be excused of an evil-doing under the pretext of liberty of conscience. The Scripture condemns wrong and justifies what is right. The state, on the other hand, has an obligation to punish the evil doer, for such is the end for which it is ordained by God (Rm. 13:1, ff). Toleration of any wrong is never Biblical.
2. Use of Spiritual Gifts in the Church. This is one of the common arguments we hear from the advocates of unrestrained, unregulated religious activities and practices. If a man can sing well, it is argued that he should use that gift in the church by singing in a choir or singing a solo performance for the congregation; or if he can play a musical instrument well, he should accompany the congregational singing of the church. But we ask our modern pastors and ministers to give us a single Scripture quotation warranting us the employment of separate singers or concert bands in the New Testament Church. Can they cite a single Scripture that calls these “skills” and “talents” spiritual gifts? These things are never mentioned in the much-quoted Scriptures such as Romans 12:6 and 1 Cor. 12-14. Neither does the talent (Gk. talanton, a Roman-Attic currency comprising 6,000 denarii or drachmas) mentioned in Christ’s parable in Mt. 18:23ff mean the “talents” (natural ability) possessed by our folks.
3. Indifference of These Religious Activities and Practices. It is argued that performing a singing solo, creating a choir, or adding drama and gimmicks to worship services are things indifferent, and that to do such is neither meritorious nor sinful. It is argued that such activities are only added to make worship services more colorful and lively.
What is an “indifferent thing” ? Any thing or any act is called indifferent when it is neither good nor evil, yet susceptible to either good or evil. Such activities during worship are indifferent because the performers do not commit sin. I beg leave of the reader for closely following Gillespie, in his The English Popish Ceremonies, in arguing that there is no such thing or act (actu exercito) as indifferent at all. Gillespie notes seven rules to determine if a thing or action is really indifferent:
Rule # 1: “When we measure the goodness or the badness of the human action, we must not only measure it by the object and the end, but by all the circumstances which accompany it…
The principal circumstances which here we speak of, are comprehended in this versicle:
Quis, quid, ubi, quibus, auxiliis, cur quomodo, quando.”
(1) The capacity of the doer of the action. “The first circumstance which makes an action good or bad is quis, which designs the person: If a magistrate put to death a malefactor, the action is good; but if a private person put him to death, it is evil.”
(2) The condition of the object. “The second is quid, which notes the quality or condition of the object. If a man take sua, the action is good; if aliena, it is evil.” In other words, if a man takes what is rightfully his, it is good; but if he takes what belongs to others, it is evil.
(3) The place of an action. “The third is ubi: If men banquet in their own houses, the action is good; if in the Church, it is evil.”
(4) The means used. “The fourth is quibus auxilii: If men seek health by lawful means, the action is good; if by the devil, or his instruments, it is evil.”
(5) The motive of an action. “The fifth is cur: If I rebuke my brother for his fault, out of my love to him, and desire to reclaim him, the action is good; if out of hatred and spleen [anger], the action is evil.”
(6) The mode or manner of doing an action. “The sixth is quomodo: For he who does the work of the Lord carefully does well; but he who does it negligently does evil.”
(7) The element of time. “The seventh is quando: To do servile work upon the six days of labor, is good; but to do it upon the Lord’s Sabbath, is evil.”
Rule # 2: “The goodness or badness of a human action may be considered two ways, viz., either in actu signatu, and quo ad speciem; or in actu exercito, and quo ad individuum; for an action is said to be specificated by its object, and individuated by its circumstances; so that, when an action is good or evil in respect of the object of it, then it is called good or evil quo ad speciem: when it is good or evil in respect of the circumstances of it, then it is said to be good or evil quo ad individuum.”
Rule # 3: “Human actions, whether considered quo ad speciem, or quo ad individuum, are either such as proceed from the deliberation of reason, or from bare imagination only. To this latter kind we refer such actions as are done through incogitancy, when the mind is taken up with other thoughts; for example, to scratch the head, to handle the beard, to move the foot, etc.; which sort of things proceed only from a certain stirring or fleeting of the imagination.”
Rule # 4: “Let it be remembered, that those things we call morally good, which agree to right reason; those morally evil which disagree from right reason; and those indifferent which include nothing belonging to the order of reason, and so are neither consonant unto nor dissonant from the same.”
Rule # 5: When we speak of the indifferency of an individual action, it may be conceived two ways: either absolute et sine respect ad aliud; or comparate et cum respect ad aliud. In the free-will offerings, if so be a man offered according as God had blessed and prospered his estate, it was indifferent to offer either a bullock, or a sheep, or a goat; but if he choose to offer any of them, his action of offering could not be indifferent, but either good or evil.
When we speak of the indifferency of an action comparate, the sense is only this, that it is neither better not worse than another action, and that there is no reason to make us choose to do it more than another thing; but when we speak of the indifferency of an action considered absolutely and by itself, the simple meaning is this, whether it be either good or evil, and whether the doing of the same must needs be either sin or evil-doing.”
Rule # 6: Everything which is indifferent in the nature of it, is not by and by indifferent in the use of it. But the use of a thing indifferent ought evermore to be chosen or refused, followed or forsaken, according to these three rules delivered to us in God’s word: 1. The rule of piety; 2. The rule of charity; 3. The rule of purity.
1. The rule of piety (1 Cor. 10:32; Rm. 14:7, 8; Col. 3:17). The ultimate motive of doing a thing is for God’s glory.
2. The rule of charity (Rm. 14:19, 21; 1 Cor. 10:23; 13:26; 1 Pet. 2:13). Any use of things indifferent that causes a stumblingblock is sin.
3. The rule of purity (Rm. 14: 5, 14, 23). An action should be grounded on knowledge, conviction and faith. Actions not grounded on these are sinful.
Gillespie concluded thus: “And since a thing indifferent in the nature of it can never be lawfully used, except according to these rules, hence it followeth, that the use of a thing indifferent is never lawful to us when we have no other warrant for using the same beside our own will and arbitrariness” (p. 193).
Rule # 7: A thing may be indifferent by nature, yet the use of it cannot be indifferent.
Performances such as solo singing, choirs, or music bands can never be said to be spiritually meritorious nor sinful because they are things indifferent in themselves, as long as they are performed to amuse people in a social gathering according to the ordinary use accorded to them by nature. But when such additions are performed in church services without following any prescription from the Word of God, they cease to be indifferent things, but become sinful and unlawful. This principle should also apply to any other indifferent acts such as: gestures like bowing or kneeling, applying ashes, use of blood, sprinkling with water which we ordinarily do, bowing or kneeling down when we stoop down to reach out for something, putting ashes on plants for fertilizer, donating blood to blood banks, sprinkling waters on flowers and vegetables, etc. When these acts are used for religious signs and symbols, such as bowing before an image or before a host, putting ashes or blood on the forehead, sprinkling with water as a sign of blessing, etc., they cease to be indifferent acts.
By way of concluding remarks, in favor of the Regulative Principle of Worship, the following arguments should be kept in mind. 1st, That the sufficiency of the Scripture warrants us to regulate our religious life and spiritual exercises according to its precepts. By this, we mean that there should be no other authority for any religious exercises to be practiced inside the church but what is commanded in the Holy Scripture of truth. God gave His Word as the final authority, and it is blasphemous to seek any other. The Holy Scripture is our sole and final prophet in the church, and we are not to inquire to any other oracles for what should we be doing. Neither are we to look amongst ourselves for some authority, or to presume to have permission to invent additional religious exercises. To those who are looking for a guide as to what their church should be doing, let them know that there is the more sure word of prophecy amongst us, that here is our prophet in Israel – the Scriptures. In writing to Timothy, our Apostle Paul encouraged him to continue in the things that he had learned and known – the truths in the “holy scriptures” that Timothy had known from his childhood (2 Tim. 3:14,15). Timothy was also reminded that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness; That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” (vv. 16, 17). One of the qualifications for eldership is one’s ability to hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught (Tit. 1:9). Hence, we are admonished with solemn warnings: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I commanded you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deut. 4:2). And, “Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.” (Deut. 12:8).
2nd, The truth about God’s will for us and our religious actions in the Church can be known in the Holy Scripture, so that we don’t have any excuse for not understanding the plain precepts of the Holy Scripture. The Holy Scripture is not written in hieroglyphic language that needs to be decoded; it is written in knowable and verifiable language. The Jews in the Scriptures were a nation whose ordinary actions in their religious services to God were also understandable to other peoples. The New Testament is a clear history of both Jews and Gentiles who turned to Christ by faith and repentance. Every precept taught by Christ in that period therefore is plainly laid out. When God commands us in the Scripture to worship Him by reading and understanding His Word and by praising, singing and praying to God with adoration in our hearts, these commands are not unclear.
Above, we have studied all the religious exercises laid out in the Old and New Testaments for the church. We have shown that God specifically commanded certain religious observances in the Old Testament. Some the church discontinued to practice; what remained continued as church practice to this day, since Christ and the Apostles celebrated them. God willed that some of them were abolished since the coming of Christ, for they became a burden rather than a blessing to the church. God knows our weaknesses and limitations; He doesn’t want us to be encumbered with dying ceremonies. He wants us to worship Him in Christ, simply, in Spirit and in truth; therefore, He forbids us to worship Him with extravagance and fleshly manner. God also prohibits us to abolish permanent binding precepts. He wants us to worship Him exactly as He so commands.
3rd, There are therefore dangers awaiting those who willfully reject and deviate from what is plainly enjoined by the Word of God, or in doing what God did not command. In order that we might understand how abominable this is, God warns believers, by way of example and plain threatening the destruction both of soul and body of transgressors, by the following examples, to wit:
1. Eve, who, thinking lightly of God’s prohibition of eating the forbidden fruit, ate it and gave a portion to her husband. The result was the universal death (Gen. 2:15 – 17; 3:6).
2. Cain’s unwarranted sacrifice. Without a prior approbation of God, Cain offered some fruits of the ground as a sacrifice. God was not pleased, and He rejected the sacrifice as well as Cain himself (Gen. 4:3 – 5).
3. The vain imagination of men in building Babel and its tower (Gen. 11:1-9). Those builders did not consult God for divine approbation. God rejected their works, and punished them with confusions. It is objected that it was wholly a civil and political enterprise, that itis illegitimate to cite this passage to prove ecclesiastical matters. Granting, without admitting, that it was a civil and political enterprise, the answer should be this; that if it were provocative against God since the enterprise was prosecuted without God’s divine approbation, how much more it could have been provocative if it were an ecclesiastical matter.
4. The sinful presumption of Nadab and Abihu of using strange fire not commanded by God for their incense, resulting in their untimely death (Lev. 10; Ex. 30:9).
5. The sinful presumption of the Levites Korah, Dathan and Abiram of assuming priestly works not committed to them, thus resulting in the destruction of them and their households (Num. 16).
6. Uzzah’s presumption of touching the ark of God, causing his immediate death (2 Sam. 6:6-9). The same happened to the men of Bethshemesh: God smote “fifty thousand threescore and ten men” (50,070) for only looking into the ark of the Lord (1 Sam. 6:19).
7. The sins of the Jewish wicked kings, namely, Saul (13:8-14) and Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:1), who presumptuously offered animal sacrifices, duties only assigned to the priests.
8. David’s willful numbering of the children of Israel without God’s permission, causing seventy thousand Israelites to die from pestilence (1 Chron. 21).
9. Jeroboam’s idolatrous worship of Jehovah at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:25-13:10). Note that the golden calves were made by Jeroboam not because he ceased believing in Elohim; Jeroboam only said that these were the Elohim (translated in our English Bibles “gods”) that brought Israel out from Egypt. This is exactly what modern churches have been doing. They retain the names “Lord”, “Christ”, “God,” etc., but the object of their worship is doubtful, for the manner of their worship is not what God has commanded.
10. The presumptuous worship of the Jews which has become unacceptable to God (Isa. 1:10-15).
11. Israel’s wickedness for superstitiously keeping the brazen serpent that Moses had made (2 Kings 18:4).
Saint Paul, after reminding the Corinthian believers of the hypocrite Jews that apostatized from God’s favor due to their sins, wrote, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come,” (1 Cor. 10:11, cf. Rom. 15:4).
12. The miracle-working men rejected by Christ at the Judgment Day. (Mat. 7:21-23). They attributed their supposed salvation to their good works, which were therefore justly termed “iniquity.”
We can multiply many other examples from the Scripture to show that it is a dangerous matter to do anything whatever in the church of Christ, in behalf of God or in His name, without His manifest injunction. But at the moment, let these examples suffice to persuade the readers, for the writer is convinced, as Jesus said, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets [i.e., Scripture], neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead,” (Lk. 16:31). May we seriously take heed to these solemn warnings, so that we may not provoke God to anger as the Jews did in their days.
1. A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on The Church of Scotland ( Edinburgh: Robert Ogle, and Oliver & Boyd. M. Ogle & Son and William Collins, Glasgow. Hamilton, Adams & Co., London 1846)
2. Quoted by Prof. W. G. Moorehead in his article “The Psalms in the New Testament Church” p. 111, The Psalms in Worship, Ed. John McNaughter, 1992 Reprint by SWRB.