How should Christians worship when we gather on the Lord’s Day? Today, John Tweeddale defines the regulative principle of worship, demonstrating how God’s Word governs how His people worship.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: This week, I’m joined by Reformation Bible College’s Vice President of Academics and Professor of Theology, Dr. John Tweeddale. Dr. Tweeddale, could you help us understand what the regulative principle of worship is?
DR. JOHN TWEEDDALE: Yeah, this is often a difficult phrase to understand, but the idea is really simple. And to put it as succinctly as I know how, the regulative principle of worship is the teaching that God’s Word governs God’s worship. Or in other words, God’s precepts fuel God’s praise. And I’ve tried to catch the essence of this teaching in the little phrase, “When the Lord’s people gather on the Lord’s Day, they worship the Lord the Lord’s way”—that is, according to His Word. God’s Word shapes, informs, fuels, and governs God’s worship. And so, when we gather to praise God as His people, we do so according to the specific commands of Scripture. So, only what God prescribes in His Word informs what we do when we gather together in public worship.
And so, for example, when you read the pages of Scripture, you see Paul in 1 Timothy 4:13 tell Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” Then in Ephesians 5:19, Paul says we’re to address one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Then Paul says unequivocally in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word.” Then we can think of Jesus in Matthew 6 telling His disciples that we are to pray according to the pattern that He’s given us in what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. And then even Jesus Himself ordained certain ordinances or sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And so, when you look at the Bible and the New Testament in particular, there are clear commands, fixed points, that inform our worship. So, when I was in seminary and when I did an internship at a church, my pastor used to say, “We read the Bible, we sing the Bible, we pray the Bible, we preach the Bible, and we see the Bible in the sacraments.” Nothing more, nothing less. So, the regulative principle teaches that God’s Word governs God’s worship.
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