The Need for Reformation in Our Understanding of Worship

My all-time favorite show is The Office (US). This show’s writers expressed a mastery of creating dynamic character relationships that were relatable and downright hilarious. Probably the most prominent of these instances is illustrated in an episode in which Jim impersonates Dwight. They have an interesting conversation about what kind of bear is best. Dwight tries to answer the question before he is cut off by Jim who says, “False. Black bears [are the best].” Dwight responds with, “Basically, there are two schools of thought.”

This scene was meant to be ridiculous in order to draw a laugh or two. Obviously, there are no species of bear that are “better” or “worse” than another—Except grizzly bears. They’re the best.— but I do want to focus in on Dwight’s response. “Basically, there are two schools of thought.” This statement describes the landscape in the Church’s battles over how worship is supposed to happen.

There are two schools of thought. One of these is called the “Regulative Principle of Worship” and the other is called the “Normative Principle of Worship.” The names don’t tell us a whole lot here, so let me explain what these mean. The Regulative Principle of Worship (hereafter RPW) is a principle that says that we may not do anything in corporate worship without there being an explicit command to do so in Scripture. This means that there can be no videos, stage props, woman preachers, etc. in the public worship of God. The Normative Principle of Worship (hereafter NPW) says that we are allowed to do anything not explicitly forbidden in Scripture. This means that there may be smoke machines, videos, woman preachers, all of it. So how do we know which is correct?

The spirit of the Reformation is that we can go to Scripture and get back to what God would want. Both sides of the argument agree to this. It seems, only one side, however, takes this seriously.

The proponents of the RPW argue that because God takes worship so seriously (2 Samuel 6:6-7) there must be a proper way to do it, outlined by God. This worship includes the preaching of the Word (2 Timothy 4:2), partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19-20) and Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20), and singing (Colossians 3:16).

It, therefore, seems obvious to me that this is a position worth holding. We must act within the parameters set out by God lest He strike us down in anger.

Often, we forget that God is so wrathful and vengeful. We forget that God cares. It seems like the proponents of the NPW forget altogether the holiness of God and the significance of worship. As our dear brother, Shai Linne, says, “I love them as brothers in Christ, but not their conclusions.” This view leads to all manner of silliness and idolatry and is another veiled attempt for pragmatism to get a foothold in the Church.

But let us not forget what Dr. James White is fond of saying, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” If we use anything outside of the Scriptural bounds set forth for worship, we’ll have to continue to do so in order to keep the congregation. In other words, they won’t stand for worship within the biblical parameters set forth by God. They will be more interested in the videos, stage props, smoke machines, and youth groups (looking at you with this one, James).

There are also those who go too far the other way, though. They say things like “We must only use real wine in Communion because that is what was used at its institution,” or, “We may only sing Psalms and no hymns.” I think this is much too severe a position to take, but I am thankful for these brothers’ zeal in trying to worship biblically.

Brothers and sisters, we must reform our understanding of worship. Ask yourself this question in any church setting you find yourself in. Would the Lord Jesus Christ recognize the service here? If the answer is no, then please don’t dignify that service with your time. Soli Deo Gloria.

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