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The Regulative Principle of Worship: The Solution to Cultural Divisions in the Church

by | Mar 23, 2023

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In the modern world, various cultures, lifestyles, languages, and other human expressions exist outside of the Church. While some of these differences reflect God’s diverse beauty, they often create division among humanity.

Unfortunately, many within the Evangelical Church movement wish to import these cultural differences into the Church and expect everyone to coexist harmoniously. Rather than promoting unity in Christ, some insist that the Church should incorporate a range of man-made cultural elements into its worship, including music, preaching style, and church atmosphere. While it is good to desire ethnic diversity, insisting on cultural diversity can lead to division.

For instance, churches may become divided over whether or not to play contemporary pop-style music like Hillsong, which is often associated with the “white church,” or incorporate gospel-style “black music.” The reality is that these preferences are influenced by worldly values and not guided by Scripture as the Scriptures provide for only one culture for believers who have been truly born again—the culture of Christ.

And while many of our church leaders are pushing for a form of mutual submission to each other’s preferences, yielding our desires to one another, there is a straightforward biblical solution to this problem that they continue to ignore.

Within the diverse tapestry of what passes as Christian worship these days, a frequently overlooked yet potent theological gem lies hidden—the Regulative Principle of Worship. This compelling doctrine weaves its way through the fabric of our faith, guiding believers in the art of revering the Almighty Creator in both public and intimate spaces. As a cornerstone of Reformed theology, the Regulative Principle resonates with unwavering conviction, emanating from the belief that Scriptures alone hold the key to unlocking the sacred mysteries of faith and practice.

The Regulative Principle posits that worship should be confined to elements explicitly sanctioned within the Scriptures and calls for a righteous adherence, cautioning the church against devising or incorporating practices that lack a foundation in the Word of God. In essence, the Regulative Principle acts as a biblical guide, meticulously outlining the parameters of our worship, limiting it exclusively to the divine wisdom imparted through His inspired Word alone.

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The Westminster Confession of Faith, and similarly, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, defines the Regulative Principle in the following words: “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1, LBC 22.1).

Historically, the Regulative Principle has been a veritable bulwark against the treacherous snares of subjectivity and self-indulgence which valiantly ensures that our worship remains steadfastly anchored in God Himself rather than the whims of culture or personal preference. This principle serves as a vigilant guardian, tirelessly preventing the adulteration or diminution of God’s revelations, thus empowering us to extol His greatness in a manner that harmonizes sublimely with His venerable character and incomparable attributes.

Regrettably, the vast majority of the modern professing Church has abandoned any semblance of the Regulative Principle’s steadfast approach, instead, embracing a more emotionally-driven principle of worship infused with worldly elements like drama, dance, and even secular music in the most extreme cases. By prioritizing emotional euphoria over biblical fidelity, these churches tread a perilous path, one that holds tangible and far-reaching consequences.

The annals of biblical history overflow with compelling illustrations that shed light on the vital role of the Regulative Principle. In the Old Testament, we witness God meticulously outlining rituals and ceremonies for Israel to abide by, with any deviation from His divine blueprint invoking dire repercussions. Transitioning to the New Testament, we observe the apostles’ unwavering devotion to worshiping God in harmony with the life-affirming teachings of Jesus Christ.

The Reformers also recognized the importance of the Regulative Principle. They saw how the Roman Catholic Church had introduced various unbiblical practices into worship, and they sought to reform the church according to the Scriptures. The Regulative Principle was a significant part of their efforts to purify worship, and it continues to be an essential aspect of Reformed theology to this day.

The Regulative Principle is a vital doctrine that guides Christians in their worship of God, ensuring that worship is based on the Scriptures alone while guarding against the dangers of subjectivity and personal preferences. The Regulative Principle must be defended in the face of the modern trend toward man-centered worship, which prioritizes emotional experiences over biblical fidelity.

The incorporation of the Regulative Principle of Worship in the church solves the problem of cultural differences and instead, unites true believers around the culture of Christ Himself, abandoning man-centered desires and cultural preferences, and unanimously venerating the name of the Lord with one voice, prescribed in Scripture, praising the name of the Lord God who died for us all. Let us worship God in a manner that is consistent with His character and attributes, and let us honor Him by obeying His Word in every aspect of our lives.

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