“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
“In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
“Nadab and Abihu… offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord… the Lord spake, saying, ‘I will be sanctified in them that come near me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’”
The Regulative Principle:
– G. I. Williamson
– Brian Schwertley
– George Gillespie
– Jeremiah Burroughs
– Michael Daniels
– Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
– Greg Price
– Kevin Reed
– Carl W. Bogue
It must be regarded as a fixed principle, that all modes of worship devised by man are detestable. [Institutes I.XI.4]
The Lord cannot forget himself, and it is long since he declared that nothing is so offensive to him as to be worshipped by human inventions. [Institutes IV.X.17]
The doctrine of the true worship of God is not to be sought from men, because the Lord has faithfully and fully taught us in what way he is to be worshipped. [Institutes IV.X.8]
He has been pleased to prescribe in his Law what is lawful and right, and thus restrict men to a certain rule, lest any should allow themselves to devise a worship of their own. [Institutes I.XII.3]
“We know that elsewhere there are many other ceremonies which we deny not to be very ancient, but because they have been invented at pleasure, or at least on grounds which, be these what they say, must be trivial, since they have been devised without authority from the word of God, and because, on the other hand, so many superstitions have sprung from them, we have felt no hesitation in abolishing them, in order that there might be nothing to prevent the people from going directly to Jesus Christ. First, whatever is not commanded, we are not free to choose. Secondly, nothing which does not tend to edification ought to be received into the Church. If anything of the kind has been introduced, it ought to be taken away, and by much stronger reason, whatever serves only to cause scandal, and is, as it were, an instrument of idolatry and false opinion, ought on no account to be tolerated.” (“The Form of Prayers and Ecclesiastical Chants with the Manner of Administering the Sacraments and Solemnizing Marriage, according to the Custom of the Ancient Church”, 1542 John Calvin)
“Not to Command is to Forbid” (Samuel Rutherford, The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication (London, 1646) 96.)
“Nothing ought to be added to public worship concerning which God has given no command.” (John Lasco; 1499-1560)
“The only infallible rule of faith and practice, no rite or ceremony ought to have a place in the public worship of God, which is not warranted in Scripture, either by direct precept or example, or by good and sufficient inference.”(Samuel Miller, Presbyterianism the Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ, “The Worship of the Presbyterian Church” (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1835) 64-65.)
“The Holy Scripture prescribes the whole content of worship. By this is meant that all elements or parts of worship are prescribed by God Himself in His Word. This principle has universal reference to worship performed by men since the fall. In other words, it has equal application to the Old and the New Testaments. It is also universal in that it is regulative of all types of worship, whether public, family, or private.” (William Young, “The Second Commandment,” in Frank J. Smith and David C. Lachman, eds., “Worship in the Presence of God,” p. 75)
“What About the Regulative Principle in the New Testament?
For those in love with their human traditions (that they have added to God’s ordained worship), an obvious way to circumvent the clear meaning of the Old Testament passages discussed would be to assert that the regulative principle was meant only for an immature old covenant church. It is asserted that because the old covenant people of God did not have the Spirit of God in the same manner or fullness as new covenant believers, God had to prescribe all their worship ordinances in minute detail. But with the outpouring of God’s Spirit at Pentecost: “The Church, it may be said, has passed from childhood to years of maturity where it can exercise discretion and liberty in determining its own worship.” This argument (although common) is fallacious—for the New Testament teaches the exact same principle of worship as does the Old Testament. Christ held strictly to the regulative principle before and after His resurrection and the apostle Paul adhered strictly to the regulative principle many years after Pentecost.
1.Jesus and the Regulative Principle
“Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition’” (Matt. 15:1-3)?
The Pharisees were the respected religious leaders of the Jewish people. They believed that they had the liberty to add to the commandments of God. The law of God did contain various ceremonial washings to signify the unclean becoming clean. The Pharisees simply added other washings to emphasize and perfect the law of Moses. There is no express commandment forbidding these ceremonial additions except the regulative principle (e.g., Deut. 4:2; 12:31). These additions have no warrant from the word of God.
Jesus Christ is the champion of the regulative principle. He strongly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for adding to God’s law. What happens when sinful men add rules and regulations to God’s law? Eventually manmade tradition replaces or sets aside God’s law. “Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition” (Matt. 15:6). The ancient Christian church added its own rules and ceremonies to the worship of God and degenerated into the pagan and idolatrous Roman Catholic church. If we do not draw the line regarding worship where God draws the line, then, as history proves, the church will eventually degenerate into little better than a bizarre pagan cult. Christ’s rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees applies today to virtually every (so called) branch of the Christian church. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). Calvin says: “Christ has faithfully and accurately given the meaning, that in vain is God worshiped, when the will of men is substituted in the room of doctrine. By these words, all kinds of will-worship (ethelogescheia), as Paul calls it (Col. 2:23), are plainly condemned. For, as we have said, since God chooses to be worshiped in no other way than according to his own appointment, he cannot endure new modes of worship to be devised. As soon as men allow themselves to wander beyond the limits of the Word of God, the more labour and anxiety they display in worshiping him, the heavier is the condemnation which they draw down upon themselves; for by such inventions religion is dishonored.”
2. The Great Commission
After Jesus Christ’s resurrection He gave orders to His church to disciple all nations: “Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Note that Christ gave the church a very limited authority. Only those things taught in the word of God are to be taught to the nations. Therefore, whatever the church teaches by way of doctrine, church government and worship must come from the Bible alone. The church does not have the authority to make up its own doctrine or worship or government. William Young writes: “The charter of the New Testament Church at this point is expressed in identical terms as those of the Mosaic economy which we have seen so expressly to exclude the inventions of men from the worship of God. No addition to or subtraction from Christ’s commands may be allowed in the New Testament any more than with respect to the commands given on Mount Sinai in the Old…. We have no more right to alter that divinely instituted pattern of ordinances for the New Testament Church than Nadab and Abihu, Saul, Jeroboam, or any others in the Old…. The will of God, not the will of man, is the rule of the worship of the New Testament Church.”
“The apostles obeyed Christ and taught the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). One can search carefully in the Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation for divine authorization for many of today’s church practices (e.g., holy days such as Christmas, the liturgical calendar, the use of musical instruments in worship, the use of uninspired human songs in worship, music soloists, choirs, etc.), but there is no biblical warrant at all. Most pastors and teachers are not just teaching what Christ commanded but are also teaching many human traditions. Christians who want to honor Christ as the only King and head of the church must refuse to observe these man-made additions to what our Lord commanded.”
3. Paul Condemns Will Worship
Paul in his epistle to the Colossians concurs with both the Old Testament’s and Christ’s teaching on worship. Paul condemns those who seek to impose Judaical food laws and holy days upon the church (Col. 2:16). (Because the ceremonial laws were shadows that pointed to the substance—Jesus Christ—they are done away with.) They are no longer authorized and therefore forbidden. Paul’s warning regarding human philosophy is the backdrop of his condemnation of false worship and manmade laws (legalism) in the same chapter. “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
Paul condemns manmade doctrines and commandments. “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why as though living in the world do you subject yourself to regulations—Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, which all concern things which perish with the using according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:20-23). Paul says that any human addition to what God has commanded is self-imposed religion, or as the King James version says, “will worship.” The Greek word used by Paul (ethelothreskeia) signifies worship that originates from man’s own will. “This is worship not enjoined by God, but springing out of man’s own ingenuity—unauthorized devotion…. The worship referred to is unsolicited and unaccepted. It is superstition….” “The gist is that these ordinances are forms of worship or religious service chosen by man (according to the will of man), not means chosen by God. This is the essence of corrupt worship, when men seek to establish their own forms of religious service. We might call it free-will worship, since the advocates of man-made worship are claiming that men possess the right (or freedom) to institute acceptable means to worship God.”Furthermore, Paul says that adding to God’s word is a show of “false humility.” It is “will-worship” religion instead of God’s will religion. Manmade laws take away the liberty we have in Christ. God’s moral law is perfect. It does not need additions. Manmade rules and regulations are “not in any honor” to the believer.
God has given His church a Psalm book and a holy day (the Lord’s day). Can man improve upon the worship and service that God has instituted? Of course not. It is the height of arrogance and stupidity to think that sinful men can improve upon God’s ordinances. “It is provoking God, because it reflects much upon His honor, as if He were not wise enough to appoint the manner of His own worship. He hates all strange fire to be offered in His temple (Lev. 10:11). A ceremony may in time lead to a crucifix. Those who contend for the cross in baptism, why not have the oil, salt and cream as well.”” (Brian Schwertley, Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principle of Worship)