The Regulative Principle: Cookie Cutter Worship?

 As a sort of follow up on Andrew’s earlier RPW (regulative principle of worship) post, I thought I’d mention Ligon Duncan’s helpful essays in Give Praise to God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2003).  Duncan wrote chapter 1 (Does God Care How We Worship) and chapter 2 (Foundations for Biblically Directed Worship).  These were helpful for me as they set out the RPW clearly and positively “applied” the RPW.  Here are a few quick lines from chapter 1.  His main point, perhaps, as he paraphrases James Boice, is “Sing the Bible, pray the Bible, read the Bible, and preach the Bible in worship.”

“True Christian worship is by the book.  It is according to Scripture.  The Bible alone ultimately directs the form and content of Christian worship.” 

“God’s own character (who he is; his attributes) and word must govern our worship of God.”

Here are a few from chapter 2.

“Our doctrine of worship is an implication of our doctrine of God… the regulative principle is grounded in God’s character and not merely in some peculiarity of the Sinai covenant.”

“Often we hear, and agree with, the dictum that ‘we become like what we worship,’ but the Reformed understanding of worship teaches us that it is also true that ‘we become like how we worship.”

“The regulative principle is designed to secure the believer’s freedom from the dominion of human opinion in worship.”

Near the end of the essay, Duncan explains how the RPW leads to simple, biblical, transferable, flexible, and reverent worship.  I appreciated those, especially flexible and transferable.  This Bible-formed and normed (RPW) worship is “more culturally transportable for the work of missions than the more elaborate high-church forms or the more electronic and entertainment oriented forms of contemporary worship.” 

In other words, the RPW “does not produce a cookie-cutter pattern.”  The proper understanding of it doesn’t mean we force everyone to sing Genevan or Scottish tunes, for example, but it does mean we sing Scripture.  The RPW doesn’t mean we force people to become traditionally/culturally like us (whether German or Dutch or Welsh), but it does mean the same Scriptures tell us how to worship no matter what tradition/culture we’re in.   The RPW will “look” a little different in each culture/tradition.

To end, here’s Duncan again.  “Do not let anyone tell you that historic [RPW] worship will not transfer or that it cannot work outside of Anglo-American culture or in the context of a postmodern generation.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

2 thoughts on “The Regulative Principle: Cookie Cutter Worship?”

  1. Excellent post. Duncan threads the needle perfectly on the RPW. I forget… which seminary is he affiliated with?


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