Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Regulative Principle and Theological Focus

I first saw the following video before the ordeal with Timmy Brister’s question to Mark Driscoll. I’ve posted my thoughts on this before. The Regulative Principle of Worship that only those elements explicitly permitted for worship in the Bible are permissible for worship. The converse is called the Normative Principle of Worship which is that everything not prohibited in worship by the Bible is permissible. The Regulative Principle is like the old German philosophy of law where everything is prohibited except where explicitly permitted and the Normative Principle is like the old Italian philosophy of law where everything is permitted except where explicitly prohibited. (It seems anymore these days in most places in the world that everything is permitted even where explicitly prohibited as long as you can get away with it.) That said watch this video and tell me if this falls within the Regulative Principle camp.

My purpose here is not to persuade anyone for or against either of these principles, but rather to ask where our focus is. The purpose for limiting worship in the Regulative Principle is to consider that God has the right to specify how He should be worshiped. The benefit of holding to the Regulative Principle is to ensure that he is worshiped in truth. Liturgical churches as well as contemporary churches are full of elements not specified in the Bible. These very elements have proven to divide us and draw us into the forms of worship while lacking the substance of the truth of God.

However, even the elements of worship that god has ordained have been compromised. Without adherence to truth, even these elements can serve the same purpose. The pre-messianic Jews were warned by the prophets that God wasn’t interested in their sacrifices because their hearts were far from God.

And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me… Isaiah 29:13 (ESV)

Jesus taught the Samaritan woman:

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

Paul taught the Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1 (ESV)

So what principle does Paul teach?

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)


For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh- Philippians 3:3 (ESV)

It seems that he gives a good foundation for this principle in the gospel itself as he expounded in Hebrews 9. I encourage your to read the whole chapter, but Ill only include a couple of verses here (quoted from the ESV):

1Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2For a tent was prepared...

11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)... 15Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance,

Christ, therefore, is not in the outward elements of worship, but in our submission by the spirit to His truth. Paul admonishes us in I Timothy 2 to be modest and have self-control in worship. However, if worship is spiritual then we must always consider ourselves in worship. If God is omnipresent, then we must consider that we who are His people are always in his presence. Therefore, we must always consider ourselves in worship, not only when we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ for corporate worship.

I say this to bring up another issue. The satirical Tominthebox News Network, recently ran an article that one commenter labeled “stealth satire”. The title announces another book by N.T. Wright entitled, “What Moses Really Saw: Did Moses Really Meet with God on the Mountain?” I can’t claim much knowledge of N. T. Wright’s beliefs. It would seem on first blush that this merely satirizes liberal theology. I think it goes deeper that that.

Almost daily I see new Christian (some good, some bad) books being announced. We look through these hoping for some new nuggets of understanding that we didn’t previously have available to us in the pages of Holy Writ. I blog some of my own observations and read the blogs of others for the same reason. It’s a good thing to learn and encourage each other by teaching the truth. It’s easy, however, to lose focus.

I think the debate between Regulative and Normative is one of those areas. The reason is that the focus of the debate is the external elements rather than on the person of Christ. The Regulative Principle has much to teach us about moderation and modesty. The Normative Principle has much to teach us about Christian liberty. The purpose of worship is to exercise our submission to Christ. Inasmuch as we do this constantly and consistently on our own, we will do this corporately. This means that we must submit not only in those ways only covered by scripture, but in everything we do. The Regulative principle, in this light becomes permissive as long as we follow the rules and the Normative Principle becomes merely expressive. Both fall short.

Therefore, we must be careful how we handle theology that we don’t get caught in a debate between two schools of thought that are equally inadequate but appear to cover the spectrum of theological thought. We can avid this when we maintain Christ as the focus. And we can do this without compromising the truth. Are you hungry on the Sabbath? Let’s glean a little wheat why don’t we? (Matthew 12:1-8)

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