Monday, February 14

The Puritans: Regulative Principle of Worship

The Puritans had a high view of scripture, and wished to order their lives by the principle of sola scriptura, and one of the ways this emphasis showed in their society was in their view of what was acceptable in a worship service. They believed that the true worship included only those practices specifically commanded by God. From The Regulative Principle of Worship by C. Matthew McMahon:
Simply the Regulative Principle States this: True worship is only commanded by God; false worship is anything not commanded. This was the Puritan’s view of worship. As Samuel Waldron has said, "It seems that one of the major intellectual stumbling blocks which hinders men from embracing the Regulative Principle is that it involves the idea that the church and its worship is ordered in a regulated way different from the rest of life. In the rest of life God gives men the great precepts and general principles of his word and within the bounds of these directions allows them to order their lives as seems best to them. He does not give them minute directions as to how they shall build their houses or pursue their secular vocations. The Regulative principle, on the other hand, involves a limitation on human initiative in freedom not characteristic of the rest of life. It clearly assumes that there is a distinction between the way the church and its worship is to be ordered and the way the rest of human society and conduct is to be ordered."
There was some difference among the various Puritan groups in how this worked out in the services, but for the most part, this meant that only psalms were sung in worship services, since the book of Psalms was seen as the divinely inspired songbook. There would be no instrumental accompaniment. There was no liturgy or liturgical holidays, since neither of these things are prescribed in scripture. There is no command for Christ's followers to celebrate the birth of Christ or his resurrectiion on special days set aside for that purpose, so the celebration of Christmas and Easter was forbidden.

The Regulative Principle of Worship is not something I've looked into much, and isn't an issue I'm very interested in. If I had to give an opinion off the top of my head, I'd say the Puritans, along with those before and after them who adhered to this principle, may have mistaken the description in the New Testament of what was done in worship as a prescription of all that can rightly to be done. If this is an issue that interests you, here are a few links (in addition to the one given above) that you might find interesting:

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