Samuel Waldron gives us the following in his Exposition of the 1689:
“Mr Anglican must use the materials of the Word of God, but has no blueprint and may use other materials. Mr. Puritan must use only materials of the Word of God and has a blueprint. It takes no special genius to discern which will be more pleasing to God.”
Mr. Anglican represents the Normative Principle of Worship (NPW) and Mr. Puritan represents the Regulative Principle (RPW), but is it accurate? Is there really a set blueprint or pattern that we must follow? Are believers allowed to worship God in ways that are not commanded in scripture? I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last year and have come to the conclusion both positions are honestly trying to “do things biblically,” but the big difference is how each view allows culture and tradition to influence them.
What’s the Difference
Some RPW proponents are against instruments being used and are Psalms only, others contend instruments are fine and songs used on Sunday do not have to be from the Psalter. Those who allow instruments tend to prefer pianos and other “traditional” instruments. Some NPW proponents believe smoke machines, TV screens and drum solos are God glorifying, others, are strongly against all of it. Some believe it’s important to have drama and lights, turning morning worship into a show and creating an emotional response in the people to bring glory to God.
Both the RPW and the NPW folks believe they are within the biblical bounds of God honouring worship.
No matter what position taken on this issue both are really based on preference and that preference is influenced by culture. Some NPW folks would allow the use electric guitars on Sunday morning. Some might not. Within the groups holding to RPW some would never be caught dead singing anything but the Psalter. What’s the difference between these two groups? I’m guessing it’s personal taste and culture.
The traditional position held before RPW and NPW were expressed during the Reformation accepts the traditions of the past, within the bounds of scriptural commands and prohibitions. Overtime local congregations allowed for some elements of culture to be used within their own worship services and liturgies, some gaining approval and others being discarded. The pre-Reformation view allowed for things such as a church calendar, prayer beads, kneeling when receiving communion, a Lord’s Table set apart, crossing oneself, raised pulpit, etc. to enter into the church and liturgy. Over time these traditions gain approval of God’s Ministers and His people and carrying on for future generations.
Learning from Christ’s Example:
Many RPW folks believe we should not use a church calendar to regulate our seasons of worship because it is not commended in holy scripture so I ask that you consider the example set by Jesus Christ Himself.
We read in John 10:
“And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.”
As many of my readers know the “Feast of the Dedication” is today called Hanukkah or the “Feast of Lights” and was not given by commend to the Jews but rather grew out of the intertestamental period – the Maccabean Revolt.
1 Maccabees 4:
“52 Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, 53 they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. 54 At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. 55 All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. 56 So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise. 57 They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and furnished them with doors. 58 There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed. 59 Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.”
According to The Pulpit Commentary, Hanukkah “occupied eight days, was distinguished by illumination of the city and temple and of other places throughout the land, and hence was called the ‘Feast of Lights.'” The prominent Dr. John Gill also recognizes the lack of a positive command when he commented on the verse from John, “there were no annual feasts appointed in commemoration…”
It would seem rather odd that Jesus would attend the Temple during Hanukkah if He had a problem with it. It would also seem odd that if Jesus had a problem with Hanukkah it went unmentioned, but instead we see Jesus in a different passage instructing us:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” Mat 23:2-3
I guess we have to use some common sense on this one, as a “good” Jew of His time Christ would have kept the Feast of Lights or been accused of not following the traditions of the Elders…after all, the very Son of God commanded that, “whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do…”
Confessions of Faith
As I pointed out above I don’t really see a big difference between the two Protestant positions if both are seeking to glorify God.
From the 39 Articles of Religion found in every Book of Common Prayer:
“The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority- in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”
The 1689 London Baptist Confession reads:
“God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added”
and the Westminster:
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
Anglicans and Lutherans believe the church should decide how worship is to be conducted using scripture as well as traditions from church history. The Reformed wing of the Reformation uses a sliding scale of degrees when they introduce, “good and necessary consequences…” I’ve never really paid attention to, “good and necessary consequences” in relation to worship before but it seems one could use “good and necessary consequence” to conclude that (1) since Jesus kept a church calendar and (2) God has always regulated the year using feasts and fast, the practice should continue.
Some say, “Psalms only” others claim, “any song on a scriptural theme will do.” Both can be said in a confessionally Reformed church. Whatever one can feel justified in allowing during the Lord’s Day worship service seems to be acceptable. The biggest issue I now have is why have most Protestants ignored 2,000 years of continuous church tradition for a modern culture?
Again, it seems to me, that people reject tradition for the sake of rejecting tradition replacing it with modern cultural trappings in accordance with their own personal tastes. So why not use a Reformed liturgy? Another question to consider is, how do you remain RPW if Jesus kept Hanukkah and Hanukkah isn’t commanded by scripture? As I continue to learn and reform, I’m beginning to see nothing wrong with traditional forms of worship such as liturgy.
Just a few wild theological thoughts and ramblings from an insomniac.
Yours in the Lord,