What is appropriate for corporate worship? How is this determined? The only sufficient guide for us on these matters is God’s Word, the Bible. Scripture alone should guide what we are doing in our worship services. I think most Christians would agree on this point, but how many churches actually use the Bible as their final authority on worship practice?
This was one of the driving principles for change in the Reformation – doing only what Scripture prescribes in our worship practice. This standard of only Scripture guiding worship practice became known as the Regulative Principle. In the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) we read:
We may not adopt any device [in our worship] which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have him approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed…God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned in his word.
In the book, The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Moody Publishers, 1996) John MacArthur has written an excellent chapter on Worship and the Regulative Principle, “How Shall We Then Worship.” A discussion on the regulative principle often leads to disagreements on whether to use musical instruments in worship, MacArthur says he is more concerned about other issues:
“I have no interest in igniting a debate about musical instruments, pastoral robes, sanctuary decorations, or other such matters. If there are those who want to use the regulative principle as a springboard for such debates, please leave me out. The issues that spark my concern about contemporary worship are far larger than these matters. They seem to me to go to the very heart of what it means to worship in spirit and truth. My concern is this: The contemporary church’s abandonment of sola Scriptura as the regulative principle has opened the church to some of the grossest imaginable abuses – including honkytonk church services, the carnival sideshow atmosphere and wrestling exhibitions. Even the broadest, most liberal application of the regulative principle would have a corrective effect on such abuses.”
MacArthur proceeds in this chapter on worship to outline four biblical guidelines for worship:
1. The preaching of the Word should take first place.
2. Edifying the church – building up the flock not just stirring the emotions.
3. Honor the Lord – Heb. 12:28 – showing reverence and awe.
4. Put no confidence in the flesh – Phil 3:3 – Trusting God’s Word not the creativity of man.
MacArthur unpacks each of these principles and brings a strong case for letting Scripture be our only guide to worship.
Is your worship service guided by Biblical principles?
Read the MacArthur chapter: How Shall We Then Worship