Applications & Implications of the RPW

Based on the 2nd commandment and other biblical texts and stories, historic Reformed and Presbyterian churches have taught and practiced the Regulative Principle of Worship: we are to worship God in no other way than he has commanded in his word (HC Q/A 96, WLC Q/A 109).  There are several different applications and implications of the RPW.  Here are a few based on Exodus 32 and some other verses.

1) True worship is not a democratic endeavor.  What is right and proper in Christian worship is not based on what a majority of people think is right and proper.  Many Israelites approved of the golden calf but it was still blatantly disobedient and offensive to Yahweh.

2) True worship does not cater to the consumer.  What people want or are looking for should not determine how Christians’ worship God.  True Christian worship isn’t based on what attracts people – such as entertainment, celebrity, comfort, and what is the most fun or relevant.  Israel no doubt enjoyed the rowdy party around the golden calf, but Yahweh still detested the calf and Israel’s worship.

3) True worship is not grounded on emotions and feelings.  Just because a person feels like a certain style of worship is good doesn’t make it so.  Feelings, emotions, and experiences can be false or sinful and should not drive our worship principles.  The Israelites felt the need to have the golden calf since Moses was taking so long, but it was still a breach of God’s command and thus a terrible sin that was punished severely.

4) True worship is not a matter of preference.  The standard for true worship is not what I like, what you prefer, what the youth want, or what unbelievers will be attracted to.  Aaron’s preference was to throw a wild party for Yahweh around the calf, but Moses still told Aaron that he had sinned against Yahweh.

5) True worship is (obviously!) a matter of truth.  Christians must worship the triune God in Spirit and truth – God’s word is truth (Jn. 4:23 & 17:17).  In other words, worship must be clearly biblical: in worship we must sing the truth, pray the truth, preach the truth, and listen to the truth.  If something is not commanded in Scripture, it cannot be part of corporate worship.  Reformed churches are reformed – and always reforming – according to the word of truth.  This also has to do with one of the solas: Sola Scriptura.  The word is our ultimate authority.  In worship, we should want to do what God wants us to do: “thy will be done” even applies to worship.

6) True worship forbids formality.  A person can worship the true God using true words, but the heart might still be far from the Lord (Is. 29:13).  Just going through the motions of corporate worship is not true worship.  So we must repent of formality, hate it, fight it with a renewed appreciation for the gospel of sovereign grace, pray that our hearts would be “in” worship, and prepare our hearts for corporate worship.

There are more implications and applications of the RPW (I encourage you to think of some).  These are some evident ones based on the following resources I’ve read over the years: Give Praise to God, A Better Way, With Reverence and Awe, Dining with the Devil, and The Necessity of Reforming the Church, among others.

shane lems

Entertaining Ourselves To Death

 In the United States, our culture is largely based upon and driven by entertainment.  From TV News, to political talk shows, to the job site, to Christian worship, to the school room, to your drive home, everyone is always being entertained.  And like good Americans, we typically run to the newest and most entertaining thing.  Many Christian churches cater to this desire for entertainment by having movies, bands, skits, sculpting, mime, ceramics, clowns, Harleys, and other such things during worship.  I have a Roman Catholic friend who recently went to a mega church for the first time.  His one response was, “It was waaaay too commercialized!”

There are several ways to confront this error of mixing entertainment and worship.  One way is to consider the Reformation teaching of the ordinary means of grace.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains this well in Q/A 88: “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” 

I also love Thomas Vincent’s commentary on this Q/A.

“We ought not to make use of any ordinances which are of men’s appointment only, in order unto salvation, because this is will-worship, which is both vain and offensive; and we cannot groundedly expect the blessing of the Lord upon, or to receive any true benefit of any ordinances, but by those alone which are of his own appointment only (Col 2.20-23; Matt 15.9).”

“The ordinances [of Christ] are called the ordinary means by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, because the Lord hath not wholly limited and bound up himself unto his ordinances; for he can in an extraordinary way bring some out of a state of nature into a state of grace; as Paul, who was converted by a light and a voice from heaven: but the ordinances are the most usual way and means of conversion and salvation, without the use of which we cannot, upon good ground, expect that any benefit of redemption should be communicated to us.”

Well stated.  God has promised to work through the ordinary means of preaching, sacraments, and prayer.  We do well to stick to those and trust in God’s wisdom, Word, and Spirit.  It does require patience and faith, but it gives us the confidence that because he has promised to do so, God will work through these things in his timing, for his glory, and the church’s good.

[Side note: I really appreciate Vincent’s commentary on the WSC.  FYI, it was published first in 1674 and quickly given public approval (“it is very worthy of acceptation”) by men such as John Owen, Joseph Caryl, Thomas Manton, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, and other eminent Presbyterian preachers/teachers of the day.]

shane lems

The Main Points of the Reformation

In preparation for our Reformation conference on worship Friday night, I’ve been reading some Calvin.  Here’s how he summarized the main points of the Protestant Reformation:

“All our controversies concerning doctrine relate either to the legitimate worship of God, or to the ground of salvation.”

The quote is taken from Calvin’s treatise called The Necessity of Reforming the Church. We’ll be talking about that phrase “the legitimate worship of God” here in Sunnyside on Friday night (see link above), so stop by if you’re in the area!

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Reformation Conference 2010

If you live anywhere near South Central Washington State (specifically the Yakima Valley) you’re invited to an evening Reformation Conference hosted by the church I pastor.  Rev. Matt Barker (of Emmanuel OPC in Kent, WA) and I will be speaking on this topic: Worship According to the Word: The Reformation Recovery of Biblical Worship

In a day where Christian worship includes clowns, pottery wheels, movie clips, mimes, and TV-giveaways, churches have got to get back to the biblical basics.   This conference is aimed to be a catalyst for that.  Hope to see you there!

DATE: October 29, 2010
TIME: 7-8PM (followed by snacks/coffee/friendly discussion)
LOCATION: 1750 Sheller Road in Sunnyside, WA
OTHER: we will also spend time in prayer and song.

You can visit the website here:

Let me know if you have questions/comments.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Cheesy Church Choruses

If you’ve been in (or are currently in) an average American evangelical Christian church, no doubt you know what a cheesy Christian song is all about.  From “Shine Jesus Shine” to “I Can Only Imagine,” solid theology is out and emotions and contemporary are “in.”   I like what Stephen Nichols has to say about this.  Commenting on “I Can Only Imagine,” he writes that it

“…Has a rich sound and explicitly religious, even Christian, lyrics, but in the end it presents a rather vacuous theology.  These crossover artists remind me somewhat of the Osmonds.  They are wholesome, safe, and clean-cut, especially compared to their purely secular counterparts, but you can listen for a long time and not hear anything overtly Mormon.  Perhaps the same could be said of Christian crossover artists.  They too are wholesome, safe, and clean-cut, but not much Christianity crosses over with them.”

“In some ways this problem confronts more than the crossover artists.  The whole sweep of CCM may come under its purview.  CCM itself attempts to crossover, combining tastes and styles of the popular culture with the sensibilities and (a modicum of) the lyrics of church music.  How well it straddles that fence becomes a point of debate.  One problem that arises, however, is what CCM communicates in general about evangelicalism’s ambivalence to culture.  While the early days of Jesus music had an edge, arising as it did from the streets, CCM today has dulled the edge, producing music that is safe, not all that complex and artistically ranking a little below the songs on pop albums that don’t make it into radio circulation.”

“CCM has become ghettoized, the Christian suburban youth’s counter to what their unchurched friends listen to.  James Davidson Hunter refers to this dynamic as parallel institutionalism, which means that you can listen to Christian music on Christian radio stations or at Christian concerts or on CDs brought at Christian stores.  You can even download Christian ringtones for your phone bought, hopefully, from a Christian-owned-and-operated kiosk at the mall.”

“Hank Hill, the character from the animated series King of the Hill, sagaciously quipped in relation to Christian rock, ‘You aren’t making Christianity better, you’re just making rock and roll worse.'” (p. 134-5).

Since Christians learn much of their theology from the church/worship songs they sing, no wonder evangelicalism is a mile wide but only an inch deep.  You can’t expect Christians singing quasi-Christian pop music week after week to mature into doctrinally sound believers (cf. Heb 5.13).

shane lems

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

Reforming Worship: According to the Word

This is a great book.  I’m sorry I put off reading it for a few years!  Phil Ryken, Derek Thomas, and Ligon Duncan edited Give Praise to God together as a festschrift for J. M. Boice, as sort of a tribute to Boice’s emphasis on worship according to the Word.  The structure of the book is 4-fold:  1) The Bible and Worship, 2) Elements of Biblical Worship, 3) Preparing for Biblical Worship, and 4) Worship, History, and Culture.

I especially liked Duncan’s first two chapters, which is basically a two part essay on the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  Here’s Duncan: “True Christian worship is by the book.  It is according to Scripture.  The Bible alone ultimately directs the form and content of Christian worship” (p. 20).

He goes on.  “The key benefit of the regulative principle is that it helps to assure that God – not man – is the supreme authority for how corporate worship is to be conducted, by assuring that the Bible, God’s own special revelation (and not our opinions, tastes, likes, and theories), is the prime factor in our conduct of and approach to corporate worship” (p. 24).  Duncan explains the RPW from the OT and NT in the last part of this (his first) essay.

He also has a penetrating discussion of idolatry and the RPW.  You’ll have to read the full essay, especially the golden calf section (cf. Ex 32), but here’s where he goes:  “…there are two ways to commit idolatry: worship something other than the true God or worship the true God in the wrong way.

I’ll stop here, and post more about this essay (and Duncan’s other one), as well as a few parts of the fine essays by Ryken and Thomas as well as Terry Johnson.  I may not blog on it for awhile, but to increase your curiosity, Robert Godfrey has a great article on worship and the emotions, Nick Needham has a good one on the church’s worship through the ages, and Mike Horton closes the book with a great discussion of modernism and postmoderism (“Challenges and Opportunities for Ministry Today”).

You’ll want this book if you need more “training” on the whats and hows of worship according to the Word.  Also, for our RR friends not in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition, I’m pretty confident it would wrestle you around as you consider what God-honoring worship is all about.  Enjoy!

shane lems

sunnyside wa