Unpacking the Regulative Principle


A lot of things happen in a typical church service. It starts (and perhaps ends) at a specific time, in a specific place. There are songs, prayers, announcements, sacraments, a sermon, tithes and offerings.  The songs might be in books or on a screen.  Maybe there are musical instruments, or maybe not.  People stand, sit and, in some churches, kneel.  The minister might wear a collar or Geneva gown, or he might not. The elders might sit at the front, or they might sit among the congregation with their families like everyone else. The preacher might ascend into an elevated pulpit to preach, or he might pace back and forth at the front of the room.

Does the Regulative Principle have anything to do with these choices? How do we decide what to do?

Many of these choices have a typical Apostolic solution, just as they probably have a typical Presbyterian or Anglican solution.  Yet, do we just opt for a given choice because it's the Apostolic way, or are there other reasons.  If Apostolics and confessional Presbyterians both (traditionally) apply the regulative principle, why do our meetings look so different?

Part of the answer to these questions can be found in unpacking the regulative principle a bit more.  Traditionally, a distinction has been made between elements (the biblically mandated things that are essential to worship) and circumstances (the things that enable us to worship which are left up to the discretion of the elders ).  Circumstances include things like where we meet, what time the service begins, where we get the words of the songs, what type of seats we have; these are all necessary decisions, but the answer is not given in Scripture. Rather, we apply biblically informed wisdom.  Thus circumstances can vary from country to country and culture to culture, even from assembly to assembly.  The elements of worship, however, remain constant.

We'll have a look at those elements in the next post.

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The Tenets of the Apostolic Church

The Unity of the Godhead, and Trinity of the Persons therein.

The utter depravity of human nature, the necessity for repentance and regeneration and the eternal doom of the finally impenitent.

The virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, triumphant resurrection, ascension, and abiding intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ; His second coming, and millennial reign upon earth.

Justification and Sanctification of the believer through the finished work of Christ.

The Baptism of the Holy Ghost for believers, with signs following.

The nine gifts of the Holy Ghost for the edification, exhortation and comfort of the Church, which is the body of Christ.

The Sacraments of Baptism by immersion and of the Lord's Supper.

The Divine inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures.

Church government by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, elders and deacons.

The possibility of falling from grace.

The obligatory nature of tithes and offerings.