To Regulate or Not to Regulate

All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name. Selah

Psalm 66:4, ESV

The last time I wrote, the question I asked related to whether worship services needed to be Liturgical or free flowing. At least part of the answer to that question has to do with how you define the terms “worship” and “liturgical.” There is another question that must be answered as well. It has to do with the Regulative Principle.

The regulative principle simply put says that worshipped must be ordered by the Scriptures and only by them. I don’t really know many Evangelical or even Reformed churches that apply the regulative principle to their worship. It they did, worship services would be much more reflective and probably with no rock ‘n roll.

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and I love rock ‘n roll music, at least much of it. However, the use of electric guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards make it more difficult for me to focus on God rather than my own personal likes. The other problem I have with much of the music used in church worship services today are the lyrics. The authors of these songs are generally bad poets and even worse theologians.

I do listen to a lot of Christian rock and pop music and I am sometimes inspired by the music, even to the point of ignoring the poor lyrics. However, the music is designed to “bring people in” rather than to direct hearts upward. Please don’t tell me that music is only a preference and all music can be used rightly or wrongly. My opinion is that anything left in the hands of human desire are bound to lead away from Christ, not to him. Many years ago, my wife and I attended a worship service in a mid-west mega church. When we left the church (by the way, where no one noticed us or recognized we were the strangers their services were geared for), we looked at each other and both said, “When does worship start?”

Feed the flesh and you only get flesh back. Feed the Spirit and you are lifted up while you are bowing down.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:5–8, ESV

The benefit of the regulative principle is significant. First, our worship should remind us that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.” Why should we strive to live biblically driven lives if we don’t even try to worship as God would desire. Second, it keep the focus on worship on God, not on any supposed benefit we would like to get from attending Sunday morning church. Pastors will be grateful for a flock that wants to ask questions of the sermon and not judge whether it kept them awake or not. And church members would not have to look for a new church because there are not enough special programs for every member of the family. Every one in the family should be together throughout the service from infant through teenager. The argument I often hear to challenge that is, “Children can’t follow the message like adults can,” and, “church is not exciting to make Christianity relevant to them, they get bored.”

Third, worship is something learned, not some ecstatic, impromptu response to what God has done for us. Another way of putting it, worship is not about the expression of our feelings. It is an act of obedience to the call of God to “Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:5, ESV) I will not suggest that worship does not result in feelings, but it is much like love. To love is to serve; to be loved is to receive. There is no doubt that our obedience in worship often results in God’s blessings, that which St. Ignatius de Loyola called “consolation.”

In our instant scientifically prove it society, I do not doubt that the next question is, “So where does the Bible say how we are to worship?” Not to be flip in my answer, but where does it not say how we are to worship? Return with me to creation and the first humans. Did not God instruct Adam and Eve what to do with that which he created? And did he also tell them what not to do? To listen to the serpent over and above God’s instruction was really placing themselves above God. The worshipped the creation and not the creator, to cite Paul in Romans 1. We can even go to Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel. They both labored hard at their work. The both brought the fruit of their labor as an offering to the Lord.

And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

Genesis 4:4–5, ESV

No where are we made privy to any instructions God had given people about worshipping with gifts. He had to sometime and somewhere, because Abel’s offering was regarded and Cain’s was not. Without speculating why this was so, we can safely say that Abel worshipped God as God desired and Cain had not. Abraham was given specific direction how he was to worship God, and how his household was to worship, too. Moses and Aaron were instructed how to build the tabernacle and how to worship. Every time his instructions were not observed, disaster came upon the Israelites. You can even see such self determined worship in the book of Judges for repeatedly,

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.

Judges 2:11–13, ESV

The next objection I often hear is, “But we are not under law, but under grace.” This is both right and wrong. According to Matthew, Jesus came to “fulfill” the law. Right! But we cannot define and defend doctrine by a single verse. We can read the whole passage.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17–20, ESV

First, Jesus does not say that he came to end the Law or the Prophets. He speaks of fulfilling them. How are they fulfilled? By Christ’s obedience. However, that he obeyed every law by living a perfect human life, nowhere is it implied that the value of the Law is no more. Instead, he warns against anyone who would “relax” even the least of the Laws, they can expect the same from God. Finally, the lesson is not that the law is no more but that his disciples are called to have a righteousness that exceeds that of those who were the best legalists of his day, the scribes and the Pharisees.

I have not understood the argument that we are not under law but under grace. In the same way as we are today, the Jews of history could claim the same. Why? Because salvation has never been accomplished by obedience to the Law. Salvation has always been according to the grace of God. Some of the Old Testament Laws have been completed once and for all, such as the sacrifice of a lamb for the atonement of sins. To continue the bloody sacrifices is to deny the efficacy of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.

Nevertheless, no one has ever been able to claim they were not required to follow God’s law. Even Jesus is reported to have said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV) We may not want to call Christ’s commands the Law of God, but since Jesus came to do his Father’s will, I think it is fair to say that the will of God is displayed in his Law.

Returning to the topic at hand, Bible believing Christians stake their lives on the Word of God. Except when it comes down to a conflict with their own will. I cannot dodge the indictment either. Yet, our lives are to be drawing closer to Christ every day. And closer to Christ does not mean to feel closer and more loved by him, we already have the whole love of God. Drawing closer must refer to greater obedience to him, to his commands. And God has given us plenty to study in order to apply all of his commands to life and worship.

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