Thursday, May 13, 2010

10 Arguments for the Regulative Principle of Worship by T. David Gordon

WCF XXI.1: "But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture."

I. Argument from the character of God as jealous

A. Brief description of the argument.

God is revealed to be a jealous God in scripture, and his character as a jealous God is introduced into texts which prohibit certain things (creating images) in the worship of God. Thus, the prohibition of creating graven images or any other likeness of anything in heaven or earth is grounded in God’s character as a jealous God. As a jealous God, He does not accommodate himself to the forms of worship to which humans are accustomed, but rather insists that He be worshiped as He wills.

B. Sample of relevant texts—Ex.20:4-5; 34:14

II. Argument from those passages where piety is described as doing exclusively what God wishes.

A. Brief description of the argument.

In many passages, the wicked are described not as doing what is contradictory to God’s will, but what is beside His will. Similarly, the pious are described by their trembling in God’s presence, their doing exclusively what God wishes. This being the case, "creative" worship; worship which is beside what God has revealed, which is anything other than what God has revealed to be a delight to him, is impious.

B. Sample of relevant texts—Isa.66:1-4; Dt.12:29-32; Lev. 10:1-2; 1 Sam.13:8-15; 15:3-22

III. Argument from the severity of the temporal punishments inflicted upon those who offer to God worship other than what He has prescribed (this is the "heart" of the traditional argument).

A. Brief description of the argument.

There are places where people offer worship to God, in an apparently good-faith desire to please Him, yet they do so in some manner not prescribed by God, and His punishment of them is severe. The severity of the punishment reveals that God is intensely displeased by such.

B. Sample of relevant texts—Lev. 10:1-2; 1 Sam.13:8-15

IV. Argument from the sinful tendency towards idolatry (Rom. 1).

Paul’s point in Romans 1:19ff is that the human race, in its revolt against God, has "worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator." Further, this is not due to ignorance, but to moral defilement: "Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give him thanks…"

Cf. Thomas E. Peck, Miscellanies, vol. I, pp. 96-97: "Man, then, is incompetent to devise modes of worship, because he knows not what modes are best adapted to express the truth or the emotions which the truth is suited to produce."

V. Argument from the nature of worship as covenant renewal.

If, as we have attempted to demonstrate, corporate worship is a gathering of God’s people to renew covenant with him, and if the nature of that covenant is sovereign (instituted entirely by God’s free choice), and if the duty of that covenant is our complete obedience in all areas of life, then the service in which we renew our commitment to such a covenant ought especially and explicitly to reflect the utter lordship of God over us.

VI. Argument from the Limits of Church-Power

A. Brief description of the argument.

The Church is an institution; instituted by the positive command of the risen Christ, and authorized by Him to require obedience to His commands and participation in His ordinances. The Church is given no authority to require obedience to its own commands, and is given no authority to require participation in ordinances of its own making. The Regulative Principle of Church-Government lies behind the Regulative Principle of Worship.

B. Sample of relevant texts—Mat. 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 1:24; Rom. 14:7-9

VII. Argument from Liberty of Conscience (or argument from charity, cf. the following outline for a further elaboration)

A. Brief description of the argument.

The Bible teaches that Christ is the sole Lord of an individual’s conscience; that believers owe implicit obedience (obedience that needs no justification in reason or arguments) to Christ alone. God alone may require us to do something simply because He has said so. To induce someone to act contrary to what they believe is right is sinful. Further, God requires us to worship Him only as He has revealed. Therefore, to require a person, in corporate worship, to do something which God has not required, forces the person either to sin against his/her conscience, by making them do what they do not believe God has called them to do, or to not participate in portions of public worship, which offends the principle of corporate worship (John Murray and Edmund Clowney have articulated this view very clearly).

B. Sample of relevant texts—Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8:4-13

VIII. Argument from Faith

A. Brief description of the argument. By its very essence, faith is a trusting, obedient response to what God has revealed. Faith, that is, looks outside of the self to God, depending not on self but on God, relying on Him, believing Him, acquiescing in His judgments and ways. Where God has not revealed himself, no faithful response is possible, by definition. And, without faith it is impossible to please God. Therefore, God cannot be pleased by worship which is unfaithful, that is, worship which is not an obedient response to his revelation (John Owen makes this argument compellingly).

B. Sample of relevant texts—Rom.14:23; Heb. 11:6, and entire chapter.

IX. Argument from the distance between the Creator and the creature.

A. Brief description of the argument.

God’s ways and thoughts are above ours as the heavens are above the earth. He is clothed in mystery, and it is his glory to conceal a thing. The hidden things belong to him, but the revealed things belong to us. What makes us think we can possibly fathom what would please God?

B. Sample of relevant texts—Isa. 40:12-14; Deut. 29:29; Isa. 55:9; Prov.25:2

X. Argument from Church History

A. Brief description of the argument.

Church history amply demonstrates that fallen creatures, left to their own devices, inevitably produce worship which is impious. Especially the Reformation, as an historical movement, bore testimony to the corruption which creeps slowly yet inevitably into worship when worship is not regulated by the revealed will of God.

Source: Regulative Principle Handout


  1. Do you have a link to where this was originally found, or what book it was published in? Thanks for posting it.

  2. Sorry 'bout that, bro.

    I updated the post to reflect the link to the source.


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