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.