Pinning Down the Regulative Principle

You are right about the temple. At least as far as the church is not the absolute fulfillment of the temple. However, the church is part of that heavenly temple also. Peter also calls us lively stones, that build a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ who is the chief cornerstone (not just 1 Cor. 3:9 but also 1 Cor. 3:17). We are not separated from the heavenly temple because we are presently on earth. When we worship, Christ our High Priest brings us together with all the saints, past and present. I agree that the parallel with the Old Testament people of God is the visible church. And when the church comes together on the Lord's Day, what is the Old Testament parallel?

You are right that we have a different view of the Regulative Principle of worship. Your view that incense is not forbidden reflects that. However, I don't see the lack of a prohibition as good enough reason for something to be introduced into worship. Either it was commanded and we are obliged to do it, or it is a circumstance of worship that merely helps us in doing what we need to do. For example, the reading of the Scriptures is commanded by God. Using electric lights or candles for aiding in reading are the circumstance. But when we start adding symbolic elements that seem useful in our opinion, we are moving beyond mere circumstances of worship.

Can you tell me why I shouldn't slaughter a lamb during worship? I know it sounds ludicrous, but what if I assured you that I did not use it as an efficacious act of obtaining God's favor? What if I honestly used it in a way that just looked back to Christ's perfect sacrifice on the cross? I would only use it as a symbol to remind us that Christ is the Lamb of God? Yes, this is an extreme scenario, but my point is that it would still be offensive to God simply because it was not commanded by him. It is an unauthorized addition to God's worship even if our intentions are good. It would be an attempt to please God and edify my neighbor by using my own imagination to promote devotion. We can't be wiser than God. Can you tell me what is wrong with having seven sacraments? I can find no verse in Scripture prohibiting seven sacraments. How do we know the two sacraments mentioned in Scripture aren't just examples of how to use sacraments? The medieval church was very creative when it came to worship. Maybe when Christ said "do this in remembrance of Me" he meant to do a lot of different things "in remembrance of" Him and the bread and wine are but one example?

When speaking of worship, I do not take the idea of "all of life is worship" therefore whatever is permitted in "all of life," is permitted in the public worship of God on the Lord's Day. Although it is true that "all of life is worship" generally speaking, the Lord's Day is a distinct time of worship for the people of God, sanctified from the rest of the days.

Regarding different rules of worship on the Lord's Day, what did Paul have in mind when he said that women should not teach but keep silent? Did this apply to the women when they were at home during family worship with the kids? What if Daddy wasn't home? It most likely applied to the corporate worship service. Do you believe any head of a household can go up to the pulpit and preach a sermon? If not, then you must be working with the assumption that corporate worship on the Lord's day ought to be governed by different rules than corporate worship at other times. I always preach the gospel to my family during family worship. However, I am not ordained to preach. Nor am I qualified to preach to the congregation.

Regarding 2 Samuel 6:5 // 1 Chronicles 13:8, the fact that no one else was killed does not prove that no one else was guilty. Did David have the men transport the Ark as he was supposed to? David was guilty in that respect. He was partially responsible for Uzzah's death. We shouldn't use this episode as an example of how to worship God, even if no one else was killed. Was God happy with the way they were transporting the Ark only until Uzzah touched it? I believe Uzzah was simply the "straw that broke the camel's back" (1 Chr. 15:13).

Regarding 1 Chronicles 28:11-19 and 2 Chronicles 29:25-30, I'm glad that you agree that David's commands were from the Lord. Please re-read 2 Chronicles 29:27-30. When the burnt offering BEGAN, the song of the Lord began with the trumpets and other instruments that were COMMANDED BY DAVID (they couldn't use just any instruments). This continued UNTIL THE BURNT OFFERING WAS FINISHED (the instruments accompanied the burnt offering). Then they sang the Psalms WITHOUT musical accompaniment.

It is very difficult to see how the example of God's ordained "instruments of David" are an authorization to use ANY instrument we wish in worship. I still don't see the connection from prescription to permission.

I doubt our correspondence will change either of our minds but at least it has given me food for thought. If you read nothing else on this subject, please read John Girardeau's Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church.
Yes, I agree that there are ways in which the church participates in the heavenly temple, and that the earthly temples were patterned after that temple. I would say that the examples you quote about the church as the temple are metaphoric -- my mention of 1 Corinthians 3:9 was meant only as an example of the kinds of Scriptures we find of that type. In any event, the fact that there are real ways in which we participate in the heavenly temple is not, in my mind, sufficient evidence that our worship ought to be dictated by Old Testament temple worship (either positively or negatively). That is something that your position needs to demonstrate rather than to assume.

As far as the weekly Sabbath meetings of the Lord's people are concerned, I'm not certain that there is a direct Old Testament parallel. The Old Testament does not seem to record any weekly Sabbath gatherings in Israel, although it does prophetically offer this as a blessing to be hoped for in the Restoration (Ezek. 46:3). This blessing was not fulfilled in the Old Testament, but it would seem to be fulfilled at least in part in our New Testament Sabbath gatherings. The language of that prophecy does not directly correspond to our situation but there are similarities, and in any event prophecy is highly metaphoric as well as fundamentally conditional. So, our weekly meetings may be a modification of the originally offered blessing, while not a precise fulfillment of it.

Regarding our different views of the Regulative Principle, I agree that the lack of a prohibition is not sufficient reason to introduce new things into worship. However, on the question of instruments and incense, we are not talking about introducing something new. Rather, we are talking about continuing an ancient practice. Moreover, I'm not convinced that the only biblically acceptable categories of elements are obligations and circumstances. I don't believe these limited categories can be supported from Scripture, despite the fact that many whom I respect in our tradition have assumed the validity of this kind of thinking. Besides, if one construes "circumstance" broadly, it can really permit just about anything that people enjoy in worship as long as that thing is not prohibited in Scripture. The difference between a broad construal of the Regulative Principle is practically not all that different from the Lutheran view that anything is permitted in worship which Scripture does not forbid. I'm certain that we both would reject that position, though admittedly I am closer to it than you are.

The reason I would not permit the slaughtering of a non-atoning lamb sacrifice which pointed to Christ in modern worship is that the Bible presents no basis for offering such a sacrifice. I affirm the Regulative Principle. Yes, we understand the details differently, but this is not a question of details. This is a question of the fundamentals of the Regulative Principle. The Old Testament sacrifices that pointed to Christ were never efficacious for atonement (Heb. 10:11). A New Testament sacrifice reminding us of Christ's sacrifice would be exactly the same as these Old Testament sacrifices. Since those sacrifices have been eliminated (again, per the argument of Hebrews), no like sacrifice ought to be instituted.

There were, however, other sacrifices offered in the Temple that were permitted for Christians even in the New Testament era (again, see Paul's example in Acts 21:26). I'm not certain how to interpret these sacrifices in our modern setting -- the church is no longer visibly part of Israel's corporate worship. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we have to allow some room for the fact that early Christians did still offer some sacrifices, though certainly not those that pointed to atonement.

The question of the number of sacraments is similar. We use only those which Christ instituted. Christ did not institute penance, marriage, only orders, confirmation or extreme unction.

I agree that the "all of life is worship" idea ought not to be taken as license to include anything we want in worship. But as you have seen, my arguments for instrumental music are not based on this idea. Rather, they are based on biblical examples of instrumental music used in worship.

Regarding you examples which seem intended to show that I myself maintain a distinction between corporate worship on Sunday and corporate worship at other times, I'm afraid none are sufficient to the task. Your examples are drawn from family worship, which is not corporate worship. Corporate worship is the worship of the gathered church, not the private worship of the family even though the family consists of more than one individual. Also, I do not believe that Paul's prohibition of women teaching men (1 Tim. 2:11-14) pertains to the act of teaching but to the office of teaching. That is, I believe women can teach men, but I do not believe they can be ordained to the office of elder. I do believe that his prohibition against women speaking in church (1 Cor. 14:34-35) pertains to corporate worship, but I do not believe that the prohibition is as broad as the language of these two particular verses might suggest when read out of context (cf. Women in Authority on both these matters). So, Paul's prohibitions would not apply to a mother teaching or preaching in family worship, or to an unordained man, preaching and teaching in family worship, or even to an unordained man or woman preaching a sermon in corporate worship.

By the way, as long as I'm addressing the issue of preaching in corporate Sabbath worship, it is worth noting that this is something we have "added" to worship per your construction of the Regulative Principle. There is no Old Testament command to preach in the temple on the Sabbath, and there is no New Testament command to preach in the church on the Lord's Day (unless, of course, one believes that "prophecy" in 1 Cor. 14 includes "sermon," which I do not [per "revelation" in v. 30]).

Still, I would agree that there is something special about Sunday worship -- that something is the fact that it takes place on the Sabbath, on the Lord's Day. The Sabbath is a corporate command for the people of God, it is not a personal thing to be observed randomly by individuals. Our corporate Sabbath worship is holy to God, and more special than our other times of corporate worship (e.g. Wednesday night service, etc.). But I do not believe that the fact that it is more special implies that it ought to be governed by different rules. I believe all corporate worship ought to follow the same restrictions and freedoms.

Regarding Uzzah, I think you are entering some dangerous territory in your exegesis. Your argument can condemn far too much, including such things as rejoicing over God's goodness, and even transporting the ark properly. You have offered no limits to what may be condemned as guilty by association, and in this you have gone way beyond Scripture. 1 Chronicles 15:13 does condemn more than Uzzah's act -- it also condemns the sinful way the ark was transported. But the Bible never suggests that everything else that went on during this procession was sinful. No condemnation of musical song exists in this text, or is even implied in the text. While I believe many of your other exegetical points on other passages are tenable even though I disagree with them, I think this one is careless and hazardous. I would encourage you to rethink your hermeneutic here.

Chronicles 29:27-30 does not state that the psalms were sung without musical accompaniment, though this is certainly one possible interpretation of the language. In no event, however, does it imply that psalms must always be sung this way -- after all, the text explicitly states that the song of the Lord was accompanied by musical instrumentation (v. 27). Also, I continue to insist that the text states that both sacrifice and instrument accompanied the consecration. I believe your assumption that the instruments were there to accompany the sacrifices is unwarranted.

You stated, "It is very difficult to see how the example of God's ordained 'instruments of David' are an authorization to use ANY instrument we wish in worship. I still don't see the connection from prescription to permission." I assume by "any" you mean that we ought to use the instruments David used and not new ones like organs, pianos, electric guitars, etc.? That, of course, is a rather significant problem for all of Scripture if we place such requirements on it. The same kind of argument might suggest that we must use the same kind of bread in the Lord's Supper that Jesus used. The obvious problem is that we don't know precisely what instruments David used, just as we don't know precisely what kind of bread Jesus used. Just as we don't refuse to observe the Lord's Supper just because we can't do it the same way Jesus did it, we ought not to refuse to use instruments just because we can't play the same ones. The Bible is sometimes more precise about its commands, and sometimes less precise. When it is less precise, there is more freedom of expression in obeying its commands. It is not an all-or-nothing, black-and-white situation most of the time.

Your second point above is more important to our discussion: the connection from prescription to permission. First of all, a single prescription for a particular instance does not imply a universal prescription for every instance. Universals tend to be stated in the form of law, and then rather vaguely. But sometimes additional prescriptions are added that are not intended to be universal, such as the use of instruments at the consecration of the priests. That was a particular instruction given for a unique event, not intended for universal applicability. According to your reading of that text, some song was accompanied (assuming you admit my point about 2 Chr. 29:27), some was not. The Bible is not offering us contrary prescriptions here. It is not saying that song must be accompanied and song must not be accompanied. Rather, it is saying that the song of the Lord was to be accompanied, and the other was not accompanied. We have contrary praiseworthy examples, but an example does not necessarily imply a prescription. From these praiseworthy examples we draw principles to apply to the rest of life and worship, such as "accompaniment is acceptable" and "a cappella is acceptable." Both are acceptable, neither is a universal norm. Thus, from one particular, non-universal prescription we draw the inference of universal permission. As we find other texts relating to the matter, we adjust our views accordingly. This is really no different from the way we apply any of the rest of Scripture: first we determine what exactly the command required originally, then we figure out how to apply the command to ourselves given our different personal, redemptive-historical and cultural contexts.

On your suggestion, I will move John Girardeau's article to the top of my "to read" list. Have you yet read John Frame's books on worship (Worship in Spirit and in Truth, P&R, 1996; Contemporary Worship Music, P&R, 1997)? If not, I commend them to you.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.