The Regulative Principle of Worship

The regulative principle of worship states that every act of worship must have explicit biblical evidence in order for it to be practiced by Christians. We must have a warrant from God’s Word for every form of worship we employ because only God is wise enough to know how he should be worshiped. He determines how we are to worship him. In other words, the regulative principle is the application of the sufficiency of Scripture to the question of how we are to worship God. This is in contrast to the normative principle of worship which states that God may be worshiped in any way unless such an act is forbidden in Scripture. One view says only that which is commanded in Scripture is permissible while the other argues that everything is permissible unless forbidden in Scripture. The Westminster Confession of Faith defines the regulative principle this way:

“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” (21.1).

Debates over the regulative principle go back to Puritan England when the Puritans attempted to reform the Church of England and rid it of what they viewed as “Romish tradition” added to the worship of God and church government. The word “Puritan” comes from the verb “to purify” or to rid all corrupting influences and imperfections from the church. The Puritans viewed the Church of England as having one foot in the Bible and one foot in Rome. They were marked by their commitment to conform every aspect of their life to the Word of God, personal piety, and Calvinistic theology. J. I. Packer’s book A Quest for Godliness and the writings of Joel Beeke are good introductions to Puritan theology. The best way to understand Puritanism is to read the primary sources themselves and for that I commend to you the writings of Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, and Jeremiah Burroughs.

Many reform movements can be seen in church history that fought against the antichristian traditions of Rome. One precursor to Martin Luther was Girolamo Savonarola who attempted to reform the Roman Church but was murdered when he spoke against Pope Alexander VI and the worldliness of the people of Florence. John Hus was another forerunner of the Reformation who was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into the native language of the Czech people. John Wycliffe, known as the morning star of the Reformation, fought against the false teachings of Rome and sought to have the Bible translated into the common language of the English people. All of these individuals called for personal holiness and viewed the Bible as the authority for how the church is to live and worship. The regulative principle of Puritanism is the next step in the process of reformation to rid Christianity of the traditions of man. If the Bible is the Word of God, then it is the ultimate authority when it comes to worship. To go beyond it in matters of worship is presumption and results in man-made religion as if we were wise enough to know how God should be worshiped.

But is the regulative principle based on Scripture? I think the clearest expression of it is John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Those who hold to the normative principle would never say that we should worship God in falsehood, but how do they know they are worshiping God truly when they do that in worship which is not commanded in Scripture? Because God must be worshiped in truth, he must be worshiped in accordance with the Bible which alone is the Word of God written. None of us are wiser than God and therefore we are obligated to follow God’s words on how the church should order itself and conduct worship.

If we adopt the principle that everything is permissible in worship except what God has forbidden, then why can’t someone call God “mother” because nowhere in Scripture are we forbidden to do so? There are an infinite number of unbiblical practices that are not forbidden in the Bible. That Scripture does not give us a warrant to do so is all the reason we need to argue that such a practice is forbidden to us. But a person who believes in the normative principle of worship can’t use this argument against unbiblical practices by appealing to the silence of Scripture.

Another passage that is relevant is Deuteronomy 12:32: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” The regulative principle is derived from the sufficiency of Scripture and acknowledges our dependence on God for wisdom for everything in the Christian life. The normative principle adds to God’s Word human tradition which obscures the true worship of God. Colossians 2:23 warns against “self-made religion” or “self-imposed worship” that is not derived from God’s Word. 1 Timothy 3:15 calls the local church “the household of God” and since God is head over it, he sets the “house rules” for what is and what is not appropriate within it. Christ is the head of the church and whatever he says we must obey as his followers. Because he is the head of the house, he sets the rules for how we are to worship him as a community. Other texts that give evidence in favor of a regulative principle are Genesis 4:3-5; Leviticus 10:1-3; Deuteronomy 4:2; 1 Chronicles 15:13-15; 2 Chronicles 26:16-19; Jeremiah 19:5; Mark 7:7-8; and 1 Corinthians 4:6.

A common objection to the regulative principle is that if it is true that we must have scriptural warrant for everything in worship, then we should not use hymn books or microphones since these things are not mentioned in the Bible. But these objections flow from a misunderstanding of the principle. We are commanded to worship God “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19). That presupposes a means by which to accomplish this command. The means used to accomplish the commands of Scripture are the fulfillment of the command and not an unscriptural addition to it. This is known as the principle of accommodation. We must obey all of Scripture and hymn books and microphones are means by which we fulfill the biblical commands. On the other hand, a drama ministry is not supported by Scripture and is a replacement for the God-ordained means of saving sinners which is the preaching of the Word of God. Good intentions are not a substitute for following after the pattern laid down in Scripture for doing church.


Sunday Meditation – Satan Fears Prayer

“Satan dreads nothing but prayer . . . The Church that lost its Christ was full of good works. Activities are multiplied that meditation may be ousted, and organizations are increased that prayer may have no chance. Souls may be lost in good works, as surely as in evil ways. The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

Samuel Chadwick

The Plurality of Elders in New Testament Churches

I have always been fascinated by how divided the church is when it comes to church government. I only say this to point out that churches are composed of sinners, like us, who can be blinded by tradition to the clear truths of Scripture. The model of church government laid down in the New Testament is Plural-Elder Congregationalism. That’s a mouthful to say, but it means that each local church must have multiple pastors, overseers, or elders (the terms are interchangeable in Scripture: Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-5) and that the entire church gathered corporately together is the ultimate ecclesiastical authority of the local church under Christ’s authority. No ecclesiastical or church authority exists above the local church that can tell the church what to do or what to believe because Christ alone is the head of the church – not a denomination, board of elders, or bishop. Each church is independent in the sense that all the members are the highest authority for the local church (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-13; 2 Cor 2:6). For a defense of the congregational view, see Alexander Carson’s famous work Reasons for Separating from the General Synod of Ulster.

An explicit reference to the plurality of elders in the New Testament is James 5:14: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Notice that “elders” is plural and “church” is singular. James is working with the assumption that each church has multiple elders. To not have multiple elders is to go against the pattern laid down and practiced by every church in the New Testament. The words of Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account,” make no sense if each church only has one leader or pastor. What do churches that do not believe in having a plurality of elders do when they come across a verse that uses the word “elders” in it? I could go through every verse in the New Testament that uses the term or alludes to the practice, but I want to spare you that. I will simply give a list: Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2-6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17, 28; 21:18; Phil 1:1; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:17; Tit 1:5; Heb 13:7, 17; Jam 5:14; 1 Pet 5:1-5. A plurality of elders is also the pattern seen throughout 1 and 2 Clement and the Didache in the decades of the early church after the close of the canon.

The reason why so many Baptist churches do not have a plurality of elders is because the system for hiring pastors is set up in such a way that pastors are encouraged to only stay a few years and then move on to a bigger church that pays better. Big churches only want pastors with multiple years of experience in multiple settings with a proven track-record of growth. As a result, the deacons of the church are the only ones who are there permanently so they have to take on the additional role of an elder because of the leadership vaccum created when the pastor leaves even though the deacons may not be called or qualified to serve in such a position. The deacons then function as elders and rule the church in the absence of a plurality of elders. When the deacons act like elders, the church ceases to have an office of deacon. Pastors often do a poor job of mentoring leaders and teaching others to preach in their absence and to one day take their place (2 Tim 2:2). But with a plurality of pastors, if one pastor leaves, there is at least one person in the church who is trained to continue the work of pastoral ministry.

Multiple elders provide protection against false teaching since the pastors check on one another and keep each other accountable to accurately teach God’s Word. When one pastor steps out of line morally or doctrinally, the others can call him to account. It can be difficult for the congregation to do this because they often do not view themselves as being on the same level as a pastor and are afraid to offer words of rebuke. A single pastor who wields great power can lead a church down a cultic path or fall into great sin because no one can call him to account. Elders also provide personal accountability for one another while a single-pastor system leads to him being out on an island all by himself with no one else he can honestly talk to about his sins or be held accountabe by.

This is why elder parity or equality (though not all elders are equally gifted) is also critical or else a plurality of elders will turn into a three-tiered system of church governance as in Anglicanism where the senior pastor functions as a bishop over lower pastors and cannot be held accountable by them because they fear they may be fired for speaking up. Paul Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling does a great job of explaining the dangers of a lack of accountability in pastoral ministry. For more information on elders in the local church, I recommend Mark Dever’s book By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life.

The Biblical Basis for Congregational Voting

Where in the Bible does it talk about church voting? Many Christians view the practice as an extra-biblical tradition created to reflect the democratic values of America rather than being derived from scriptural exegesis. But there is both explicit and implicit evidence from Scripture to support the practice in the local church. While not every decision in the church has to be decided by congregational voting (I’m not a fan of long business meetings and shepherds have an obligation to lead the sheep), major decisions involving church discipline must involve the decision of the entire congregation in order to be faithful to Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul urges the Corinthian church to excommunicate and remove from its membership a professing Christian who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife. In 2 Corinthians 2:6, we see that the church followed Paul’s instructions and now this person has repented of their sins: “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough.” The phrase “punishment by the majority” is an allusion to the majority decision within the church to remove this sinning member from the membership. A majority decision presupposes a means by which to determine whether or not a majority of the Corinthian church is in agreement with Paul’s instructions. It is true that the church didn’t have much of a choice in the matter because Paul is an apostle, but a decision still had to be made. Even apostolic authority does not override the necessity of a congregational decision on whether or not to exercise church discipline. This is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 18:17: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The truth that the entire church is the last and final stage of church discipline makes necessary a means by which to determine whether or not the entire church is in agreement with the decision to remove the person from membership. Church voting provides the only means by which to assess the decisions of the members of the congregation. Because they are the ones who voted him in, they must be the ones to vote him out.

Church discipline at its terminal stage involves the decision to remove from church membership a professing Christian because of their unrepentant sin. The purpose of church discipline is to see people turn and repent of their sins. Church discipline is for their good, not to intentionally shame them. It is a loving act to confront professing Christians over their sin (Psa 141:5). If a person is unrepentant and gives no outward evidence of being a Christian, they must be removed from the church because the church is composed of only those who are regenerate (1 Cor 1:2). This is one reason why paedobaptistic churches have a hard time exercising church discipline because the membership of the church is composed of both believers and their unbelieving children, many of whom later reject the faith. Of course, the children of Baptist parents can also reject the faith, but no one should be admitted into membership who does not give clear evidence of conversion and testifies to Christ’s lordship over their life. In one case, every child is a member; while in the other, only children who profess faith in Christ can become members.

While Acts 15 is used to justify every structure of church government in existence, what we see here is a gathering of the Jerusalem church together with the apostles. Even though the apostles were present, verse 22 says that “the whole church” was involved in the decision to commission Judas and Silas to go with Paul and Barnabas. A decision by the whole church must have involved a vote of some sort. Another passage related to this question is Acts 6:3-6 which describes the appointment of the first deacons which is done by the entire church who choose for themselves those whom God has already chosen. The involvement of the church in choosing deacons also presupposes a means by which the entire congregation can agree on who should serve in this office. I can think of no other method but church voting that gives the entire congregation a say in who should serve as deacons. 2 Corinthians 8:19 is an interesting text because it describes the decisions of multiple churches to appoint a missionary to travel with Paul. The Greek term that is used is cheirotoneō which etymologically means to choose by a showing of hands. This word is used in Greek literature to describe the act of voting. While I would not base a case for church voting based on this single word, I don’t think Paul would have chosen to use this term if church voting was a foreign concept to him.

A strong historical argument can also be made for congregational voting. The practice is referred to in Didache 15:1, Ignatius to the Philadelphians 10:1, and Cyprian’s 67th epistle. The historical events surrounding 1 Clement, a letter written around 95 A.D., would have been impossible without church voting. In 1 Clement, the elders of the church in Rome write to the church in Corinth because the Corinthian church had deposed their elders and appointed new ones to take their place. Paul warned about this in 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” Such a situation assumes church voting and congregational rule (deacon rule is not the same as congregational rule despite what many Baptist churches think).

Congregationalism serves as a safeguard against false teachers so that the true sheep of Christ can remove false teachers and install those who speak the truth (John 10:27). The conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention would not of happened without congregational church government and voting at the yearly Southern Baptist Convention. That is also why expecting a conservative resurgence in the PC(USA), Episcopal Church, and Methodist Church is next to impossible because the individual churches within the denomination do not choose the leaders of the denomination. Hence, Christ’s sheep have no other choice but to leave.

Sunday Meditation – God Will Be Glorified

“Every one of you will be to the glory of God. You will be made to glorify him in one way or another. You will either do it willingly or unwillingly. You must form a step to his throne. Ah, brethren! I believe each of you will yet be a beacon or a monument – either a beacon of wrath or a monument of mercy, ‘He hath made all things for himself; even the wicked for the day of evil.’ Yes, wicked man, you would rob God of his glory if you could, but you cannot. If you come to Christ, you will show forth his glory in saving you; but if you do not, God will show forth his power in destroying a vessel of his wrath.”

Robert Murray M’Cheyne

What Is Dyotheletism?

Are you a dyotheletist or a monotheletist? How you answer that question would have determined whether or not you were condemned as a heretic at the Sixth Ecumenical Council or the Third Council of Constantinople in 681. Dyotheletism is the belief that Christ possesses two wills: a human will and a divine will. Monotheletism says that Christ only possesses one will. Dyotheletism sees the will as a product of a nature and since Christ has two natures, he has two wills. Monotheletism sees the will as a product of the person and since Christ is one person, he only has one will. This is not some insignificant question relegated to speculative theology, but relates to who we believe Jesus is and the relationship between his human and divine natures. At the council, Pope Honorius was anathematized as a heretic for advocating monotheletism. This incident is rather embarrassing for Catholics since they believe in papal infallibility. But that is another subject for another time.

I believe that the Bible teaches dyotheletism which states that Jesus possesses both a human will and a divine will since he has two natures. I am defining a will as the desires that spring from the attributes of a nature. Human nature requires human desires which Jesus did not previously possess before the incarnation. A will is not a “center of consciousness” or “mind” which are descriptions of a person. Monotheletists confuse “will” with “person.” At the incarnation, Jesus acquired new desires that he previously did not possess since he became human in time and has not been human from all eternity. From all eternity, he has existed as God sharing equally with the Father and the Spirit the attributes of God and became man at a point in time assuming a human nature (John 1:14; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:6-8). Since Jesus is fully and completely human, he possesses all of the desires that an unfallen man has, yet without sin. At the same time, because he is fully God, he possesses all of the desires of the one God which flow from God’s nature.

An illustration of the two wills of Christ can be seen in Matthew 26:39: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'” Luke 22:42 says the same thing: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” The monotheletist objection to these verses as used by dyotheletists is that Jesus is communicating with the Father, not his human nature with his divine nature. Of course that is true, but it misses the point of the argument: Jesus’ will, since he is God, is the same as that of the Father. Jesus always does the will of his Father perfectly because he is God: John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40; 8:29; Heb 10:7. These holy initial desires to let the cup pass are therefore a function of his human nature and desires as a man to not die: the sinless struggles of Jesus with respect to his human nature comprehending what only he could as the sin-bearer. The desire not to die is only with respect to his human nature.

There are not three wills in God, but only one will, or else God would be divided. If the will is a function of the person as the monotheletists claim, then God would have three wills since God exists as three persons. God has one nature (monotheism) and not three natures (polytheism) and therefore he has but one will or set of desires which flow from his attributes shared equally and completely by the three persons of the Trinity.

Through the incarnation, Jesus acquired desires that he previously did not possess with respect to his human nature: eating, drinking, and sleeping that only humans have. To say that he lacked a human will and desires is to say that he is less than fully human (Heb 2:17). The human will of Christ can be seen in many passages of Scripture: being subject to parents (Luke 2:51), being obedient unto death (Phil 2:8), desiring something to drink (John 19:28), rejecting wine to drink (Matt 27:34), not desiring to suffer (Luke 22:42), and desiring to sleep (Luke 8:23). But remember, God neither sleeps nor slumbers (Ps 121:4). The desire to sleep was therefore only with respect to his human nature and not his divine nature. Did Jesus, with respect to his divine nature, desire to sleep? Jesus, as the God-man, therefore desired both to sleep and not to sleep at the same time because he possesses a human will and a divine will. His desire to sleep is only with respect to his human nature and his inability to desire to sleep is with respect to his divine nature which cannot sleep. For these reasons, dyotheletism makes the most sense of the biblical data.

Is Eastern Orthodoxy Orthodox?

Convictional Protestants know that Roman Catholicism is a departure from biblical Christianity with its infallible papacy and indulgences. But far fewer Protestants know what to think of Eastern Orthodoxy. People are looking for something ancient and authentic to believe in and the smells and bells of Eastern Orthodoxy appeal to the sensory experiences of many seekers. The emerging church movement has attempted to embrace the mysticism and contemplative prayer within Catholicism and Orthodoxy to appeal to this desire. Eastern Orthodoxy is seen as a less radical alternative to Roman Catholicism since many within Protestantism don’t understand how wide the divide is between what they believe and what Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.

But how do biblical Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy differ from each other? Eastern Orthodoxy teaches: 1. Scripture alone is not sufficient. The traditions and liturgy of the church which they believe come through apostolic succession are the lens through which the Bible is interpreted. 2. The canon of Scripture is even bigger than Roman Catholicism. 3. Justification is not by faith alone but is through a synergistic combination of faith and works. 4. The penal substitutionary atonement of Christ is rejected. 5. The imputation of the righteousness of Christ in justification is rejected. 6. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is rejected in favor of semi-Pelagianism. 7. Salvation results in divinization or theosis where we become gods by grace. 8. Icons should be venerated and there are many tales of icons performing miraculous deeds. 9. Mary was a perpetual virgin and lived a sinless life. 10. The saints and Mary are to be prayed toEastern Orthodoxy has saints we should pray to on every occasion like Catholicism. 11. We should pray for the dead. 12. Infants are regenerated in baptism. 13. The Eucharist is a sacrifice resulting in the forgiveness of sins. 14. People can be saved apart from belief in the gospel message. Many in Eastern Orthodoxy believe that it is possible that everyone in the end will be saved. 15. Bishops are not allowed to marry. 16. There is a sacramental priesthood distinct from the priesthood of all believers.

For these reasons, Eastern Orthodoxy, like Roman Catholicism, should be seen as a corruption of biblical Christianity and the result of man-made tradition being added to Scripture (Matt 15:6) which obscures the clarity of the gospel (Rom 10:9; 11:6). used to have a decent article critiquing Eastern Orthodoxy until it got taken down but Answers in Genesis has a better one. May God lead his church away from all unbiblical traditions to the true faith found in Scripture.