On The Regulative Principle of Worship

Most people are familiar with the adage of Henry Ford when introducing his Model T, saying, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” The whole reason behind this quote was Ford’s dedication to giving the customer the best product available, focusing on improving the passenger’s ride, and providing a vehicle that everyone could afford and maintain. Sure, a small percentage of buyers would have preferred a different color, but to meet his goal of mass production of a quality and affordable (see what I did there?) vehicle, Ford would make them his way.

This has been running through my mind lately as I’ve been reading from Leviticus as God reveals what the Old Testament worshipers must do in order to come before Him in worship and have their praises and offerings acceptable in His sight. The copious amounts of blood shed for forgiveness, purification, ordination, and every other offering is staggering. The strict rules on who may and may not approach the holy place of God is demanding.

Through it all, I am left with a profound sense of gratitude for the Gospel, the assurance that the sacrificial system has been satisfied in the perfect atoning work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and the promise that we are living in a time when God seeks those who worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Still, that does not mean that I can worship God any way I see fit. I still must come to God on His terms, not my own. If I am to know and come to God at all, it can only be as God is revealed in His Word, the Bible.

In our reformed heritage, we call this theological viewpoint of worship the Regulative Principle. The Westminster Confession puts it this way:

But 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. (Deut. 12:32, Matt. 15:9, Acts 17:25, Matt. 4:9–10, Deut. 15:1–20, Exod. 20:4–6, Col. 2:23)

The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.

To help explain what this means, I’ve shared this video from Reformed Theological Seminary’s Dr. Ligon Duncan as he explains the regulative principle and its application for the church today. Below are some quotes from the video that I’ve found helpful. May this help us to keep our focus where it needs to be in worship, that we may “major on the majors,” keeping the glory of God at the heart of our worship as we come to Him through our Lord Jesus Christ according to all He has commanded in His Word.

“The regulative principle is simply the assertion that we must worship God in the way that he has revealed himself and the way he has commanded us to worship Him in His word. We need to worship God according to Scripture. Our worship needs to be directed by Scripture. The form and the content of our worship needs to be in accord with the Bible, informed by the Bible, and warranted by the Bible. It needs to be founded in the Scriptures.”

“You do not set the terms on which you engage with God. God sets those terms.”

“You cannot worship God without coming to God through Jesus Christ. The form and the content of our worship services ought to show that.”

“The regulative principle is simply designed to make sure that our worship is radically word-centered.”

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