Confessional Refs: WCF 21:1, cf. 1:6; BCF Art 7, 32; HC Q96. For scripture refs, refer to the articles.
The Regulative Principle of Worship (hereafter called RPW) is sometimes stated in this way: “What the Bible does not command is forbidden.” It is usually applied only to public worship. The principle is used to prevent the introduction of man-made worship practices into our services. However, this way of stating the principle has often led people into an error where they think “What the Bible does not explicitly command is forbidden.” This thinking has led some to outlaw things like the use of musical instruments and the singing of hymns in public worship.
I wish to review two recent magazine articles which show that the RPW in this form is both harmful and unbiblical. I would like to stress that the articles do not oppose the principles of worship as expressed in the Scripture or our Confessions (refs. above). However, they do oppose the RPW in its extreme form as written above. These articles do present an alternative principle which is more in line with scripture (and our confessions).
A recent contribution to the current debate regarding the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) comes from the pen of a highly esteemed advocate of Reformed Presbyterianism in this century. Rev. G.I. Williamson, a retired minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, now living in Iowa, has joined others in taking issue with Steve Schlissel, the pastor of Messiah’s Congregation in Brooklyn, New York. Schlissel wrote a series of articles disproving the Regulative Principle (If it isn’t commanded in worship, it is forbidden). These articles have produced a veritable firestorm of controversy in some Reformed circles: the RPW has been and still is a dearly held conviction of a significant portion of the Reformed community.
What is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship has recently come under fire by Reformed Pastor Steven M. Schlissel of Messiah’s Congregation, Brooklyn, New York. Schlissel published his criticisms in a series of articles in his monthly newsletter, Messiah’s Mandate. The articles were hard-hitting— in fact, some of the most challenging material yet seen on the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). The RP-ers are apparently taking note of this fact, as evidenced in the quick rejoinder issued by Reformed Presbyterian Pastor Brian M. Schwertley (RPCNA). Schwertley entitled his response: A Brief Critique of Steven M. Schlissel’s Articles Against the Regulative Principle of Worship.
All I Really Need to Know About Worship …I Don’t Learn from the Regulative Principle (Part 5)
Greetings in our Messiah. When I was recently instructed to take the Nassau Expressway to get my Rebeccah to a certification course, I thought, “Where is the Nassau Expressway? It sounds familiar but I just can’t place it.”
It turns out that it was the first road listed on a sign near Kennedy Airport, a sign which I had passed thousands of times. But because I had never needed to take that particular thoroughfare I had never paid any attention to the first line.
Our ability not to see what is right in front of us for want of really looking is a well known fact of experience. In this series on worship we have been attempting to point out that there are a great many things in Scripture which, it seems, regulativists have overlooked, things which negate the proposition that the Regulative Principle of Worship is an adequate principle to govern worship in the New Order ushered in by Christ’s completed work. We have been pleading with those who tenaciously hold to the RPW—if it is not commanded, expressly or by good and necessary consequence, it is forbidden—to consider if they may have missed lines on the sign, lines which would redirect them in their search for the actual will of God on this matter.
All I Really Need to Know About Worship …I Don’t Learn from the Regulative Principle (Part 4)
Greetings in our Messiah. As Paul McCartney once pleaded, Try to see it my way. These articles against the Regulative Principle of Worship—if it is not commanded, it is forbidden—are written by one who had been taught the RPW, who had tried to believe the RPW and who had sought to defend it. But the testimony of the whole Bible is stubborn and would not yield. Its evidence made it quite clear that the RPW—however salutary, however convenient, however helpful—is simply not Scriptural. It is a tradition of men. I have been seeking to demonstrate why I have been overtaken by that conviction, seeking in such a way as to retain what is best from the tradition. I am no enemy of RPW worship. But where there is a claim to Biblical authority that rests on a series of faults, it’s best to let those who build their homes along that line know that their domiciles are vulnerable to earthquakes.
All I Really Need to Know About Worship …I Don’t Learn from the Regulative Principle (Part 3)
Greetings in our Messiah. We’ve sought to show why the Regulative Principle of Worship— if it is not commanded, it is forbidden— cannot survive when measured against the Scripture. RPW chauvinists…
Discover their principle where it is not. They isolate words and incidents from their qualifying contexts.
Miss it where it is. The Tabernacle/ Temple system was indeed strictly regulated, but why? Because it was the gospel, not because it was worship.
Miss the humongous implications of the synagogue, a man-made worship institution functioning alongside the Temple system.
Fail to fairly account for the approbated celebration of man-instituted special days in Scripture.
Fail to fairly account for approbated man-made traditions, some of which modified even explicit divine instructions.
Fail to be consistent with their own principle, upon which singing in New Testament-era worship services cannot be justified.
Have landed themselves in so many pickles they could open a deli.
Speaking of pickles, not more than one or two sourpusses have responded bitterly to our series so far. Sweet mail received from ministers and elders (TR-variety) in the PCA, the OPC and other Presbyterian denominations was almost uniformly positive (a pleasant surprise), with many expressing sincere gratitude for the salty series.
All I Really Need to Know About Worship …I Don’t Learn from the Regulative Principle (Part 2)
Greetings in our Messiah. We have been arguing that the Regulative Principle of Worship— if it is not commanded, it is forbidden— is not the principle given by God to regulate worship in the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Important as it is for us to worship Scripturally, we ought to recognize that in the advocacy of the RPW we are confronted with something which extends beyond worship alone. As we have seen, we have here a matter inextricably bound up with the way we approach and handle the Bible. In this it is not unlike the issue of baptism.
All I Really Need to Know About Worship …I Don’t Learn from the Regulative Principle (Part 1)
Greetings in our Messiah. In surveying just how one the Old and New Testaments are, we haven’t ignored the fact that there are differences in the administration of the covenant. When we insist that the fundamental difference has to do with the inpouring of the Gentiles on an equal footing with the Jews, we are not suggesting that this new Gentile presence in the covenant is the only difference. We do suggest, however, that the other differences may be traced to, or are related to, that one.