The Regulative Principle.

The Regulative Principle-Contrary To The Traditional RPW.

The regulative principle is really just the application of the principle of sola scriptura, or scripture only. The scriptures are the first axiom of all thought and existence. The scriptures prove themselves and are the beginning presupposition of all thought. It is a principle often looked at with reference to worship only, but it should be a principle for the Christian in every area of life. Sadly, many associate the RPW with a specific group of ideas which those who hold to them take to be self evident when they are not. In fact, many of the beliefs and practices associated with the traditional RPW position actually are a violation of the biblical principle with respect to the public worship of God. The biblical regulative principle was spelled out clearly by Paul in his words to Timothy in his second letter. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (3:16)

This principle was also spelled out by God through Moses (Cf. Dt. 4:1-2). With respect to the public worship of God he made quite clear that Moses was to construct a place of worship that was based on the vision the LORD gave him from heaven itself. “According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern.” (Ex. 25:9) David passed on this regulative principle to his son Solomon, who went on to build the temple based on the heavenly pattern also (I Kgs. 2:3; 6:11-14). Those who argue for the so called “simplicity of worship,” meaning psalms only with no instrumental accompaniment argue that the church is based on the synagogue and not the tabernacle-temple pattern. The problem is there is no such scriptural command, so on this most basic position they fail to follow the regulative principle. This leads them to suggest that the use of instruments was part of the ceremonies which found there fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ, even though the psalms themselves command the use of instruments!

There is no position in the history of the church which is not more dependent on tradition that the traditional conception of the RPW! By barring instruments they sin by breaking the command of God in the psalms themselves. The scriptures are also replete with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs outside of the psalter which are also employed in the worship of God. There are psalms that occur outside the psalter (II Sam. 22; I Chron. 16:9ff.). One can think of the book of revelation alone as proof. The angels of the glory presence worshipped saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come.” (4:8, 11). This reiterates what Isaiah recorded. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (6:3) The elders before the throne sang a new song saying “You are worthy.” (Rev. 5:9ff.) With the angelic host they “worshipped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom…” (7:12) Again, “We give thanks, O Lord God Almighty…” (11:17-18). Furthermore, they repeat the Song of Moses, found originally in the law (15:3-4 Cf. Dt. 32).

The heavenly host were engaged in responsive praise (16:4-7). There are numerous examples throughout the law, the prophets, and the wisdom and poetic literature of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. Even though these are also titles given to the psalms as well, these are used to refer to those outside the psalter therefore a command to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” applies to them as well (Eph. 5:19). Therefore, the question remains as to whether there is warrant from this directive for songs, hymns, and spiritual songs that are outside of scripture, and for this we find a parallel in the other aspects of worship which are also commanded. We are commanded to pray, and we have many prayers which are recorded in scripture, but no one in the traditional RPW camp has ever argued that we should only pray the scriptural prayers. Similarly, there are sermons that were preached, which are recorded in scripture, but no one has ever argued that these only are to be read.

Clearly the scriptures themselves allowed for human involvement in the worship of God, whether this be the skilful use of instruments, or psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that are faithful to the scriptural testimony. To argue for uninspired preaching and prayer but not song writing is to elevate the former to the level of scriptural revelation. Therefore, not only is the traditional RPW position unbiblical, it is also internally logically inconsistent, and therefore also hypocritical. I was personally told by a former pastor that if I left the Free Church and went to a church that allowed for so called man-made hymns with instrumental accompaniment, that I would be guilty of idolatry. This is consistent with their ideology but grossly hypocritical. He would later join me, at a Canadian Reformed church, in the public worship of God! It is time for the biblical reformed community to call out the traditionalists for what their position really is-traditional hypocrisy! Furthermore, they divide the church on unscriptural grounds.

The Regulative Principle-Psalms, Hymns, And Spiritual Songs.

That these are titles for compositions outside of the psalter is evident upon even a cursory reading of the scriptures. The same word that is used for the psalms [“the songs of Zion (Ps. 137:3)], was in fact used by Laban for party songs before the psalter’s composition (Gen. 31:27). It is the same word used for the forgotten harlot Tyre who was told to “sing many songs.” (Is. 23:16) Clearly it was a generic term for a certain type of genre and composition. It is the word used for the song of Moses in Ex. 15, as well as that of Deuteronomy 32. It is also the same word used for the song we find in Numbers 21:17-18.

Solomon’s songs numbered 1005, clearly well beyond the number in the psalter (I Kgs. 4:32). It is the same word used as the title to the Song Of Songs (1:1). The word used by Paul in Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 is used by John to refer to the song of Moses and the song of the lamb (Rev. 15:3). He also uses it to refer to a new song (5:9; 14:3). The same word used for a song of degree or ascent (Pss. 120-134), is the same word Solomon used to refer to the song of fools (Eccl. 7:5). In fact, Ezekiel used this word not to refer to a song as such, but figuratively God used it of Ezekiel (33:32).

That the word ‘song’ was used as a synonym for ‘psalm’ is seen in the following psalms/songs, where both titles are used (Pss. 30, 45, 46, 48, 65, 66, 67, 68, 75, 76, 83, 87, 88, 92). In fact the only word of these three that is used exclusively for the psalms is the word ‘psalm’ itself. The word ‘hymn’ is a synonym for psalms and songs as we find it in Col. 3:16, and Eph. 5:19, but interestingly enough it is never used to refer to a specific psalm or song, and does not occur in the psalter. It had a first century meaning like it does today-a religious song of praise. There is no more proof of exclusive reference to the psalter than to any other song.

2 thoughts on “The Regulative Principle.

  1. Hi Richard, I found the logic of the unaccompanied Psalms only argument convincing for many years until I realised the logic of the regulative principle would require the regulative principle to be expressly set out in scripture – which it isn’t. To infer it from directions to Moses etc like many do seems to be using our imaginations rather than receiving a regulation!

  2. “To argue for uninspired preaching and prayer but not song writing is to elevate the former to the level of scriptural revelation.”

    This is a point I hadn’t seen quite this clearly before…..thank you for pointing this out, Richard.

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