“28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12:28-29 NKJV
In a previous article, “Why Should We Sing the Psalms Exclusively?”, the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) was given as one of the fundamental, biblical reasons as to why we sing the Psalms exclusively. My pastor recently went over the RPW at my church, and I would like to share some more Bible verses on the RPW along with what he called the Regulative Principle of Philly Cheese Steaks. Definitions of the RPW, ordinances, and circumstances are given at the bottom of the article for reference which were adopted from a book he cited.
The Regulative Principle of Philly Cheese Steaks
Background: Imagine you are in Philadelphia and go to the restaurant which has, in your opinion, the sacred purpose of making the best Philly cheese steaks around. Upon receiving your order, you notice that your cheese steak has caramel syrup and colorful sprinkles on top. Displeased with your cheese steak, you call for your waiter.
You: “Waiter, why is there caramel syrup and sprinkles on my cheese steak? I didn’t ask for caramel and sprinkles to be put on top.”
Waiter: “Well we decided to change the way we make cheese steaks, and you didn’t specify that caramel and sprinkles were unacceptable to be put on your Philly cheese steak.”
You: “But this is not how a Philly cheese steak is supposed to be made! I ordered a Philly cheese steak with a specific description of what I wanted.”
Waiter: “I understand sir, but we found that our cooks really enjoy putting caramel and sprinkles on cheese steaks. It has been a great way to attract cooks, since they are bored of the normal way of making cheese steaks.”
You: “But this is unacceptable! I want to receive exactly what I ordered! I should not have to specify everything that you cannot add to my cheese steak!”
Of course this example works with any food of your choice, but the point is that you would be upset if you ordered food and received something different due to the preferences of the cooks. In the same way, the RPW states that God has told us how we are to worship Him in the Bible, and we do not have the freedom to add to the worship of God what we want. Just as the Philly cheese steak is for us and not the cooks, worship is for God and not us.
Key Texts for the RPW
Here is a larger list of biblical texts which relate to the RPW. I would like to challenge you to read these verses while meditating on what God teaches concerning His worship.
Cain’s Offering (Gen. 3:21; 4:3-7; Heb 11:4)
Second Commandment (Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10)
Second Commandment Expounded (Deut. 12:28-32)
The Golden Calf (Ex. 32:1-8; Neh. 9:18)
Strange Fire (Lev. 10:1-4)
Saul’s Transgressions (1 Sam. 13:5-14; 15:10-26)
The Ark on a Cart (Ex. 25:10-16; 2 Sam. 6:1-13; 1 Chron. 15:1-3; 11-16)
Jeroboam’s Innovations (1 King 12:25-33)
Child Sacrifice (Jer. 7:21-32; 19:4-6)
The High Places (Duet. 12:2; 5-6; 8-9; 1 Kings 15:11-14; 2 Kings 10:28-29: 2 Chronicles 33:11-17)
Ahaz’s Alter (2 Kings 16:10-16)
Spirit and Truth (Jn. 4:19-24)
Religious Hand-Washing (Matt. 15:1-9; Mk. 7:5-13)
The Temple Cleansing (Mk. 11:15-17)
Will Worship (Col. 2:18-23)
Scripture’s Sufficiency (2 Tim. 3:14-17)
God’s unchanging Nature (Heb. 12:28-29)
John’s Warning (1 Jn. 5:20-21)
The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW): Whatever is not commanded by scripture in the worship of God is forbidden. Anything that the church does in the worship must (1) have warrant from an explicit command of God, (2) be deduced by good and necessary consequences, or (3) be derived from approved historical example. [Worship = Any public, private, or domestic acts of direct worship offered to God.]
Ordinances: Worship ordinances are those things and activities received from divine revelation. Every worship ordinance is appointed by God. Anything connected to worship that has religious and moral significance has to be based on divine command (explicit or implicit) or approved historical example. The church receives all worship ordinances from God as revealed in the Bible. The church must obey all of God’s ordinances. The church does not have the authority to add or detract from those things God has appointed.
Circumstances: The circumstances of worship refer not to worship content and ceremony but to those things “common to human actions and societies.” Unlike the ordinances of worship, the circumstances of worship are not necessarily dependent on clear Biblical warrant. Although some circumstances (such as not ascending the alter via steps, Ex. 20:26; or as some would argue female head coverings in 1 Cor. 11) are specifically determined by Scripture, most depend solely upon general revelation and sanctified command sense. Believers and unbelievers alike know that shelter and heat are useful to conduct meetings in January, in Minnesota. They understand the desirability of chairs, lighting, clothing, and so on. It is understood that a time must be chosen in advance in order to conduct a meeting. There are many things common to both religious and civil (or secular) meetings that are not dependent on specific biblical instructions. These things, which contain no direct religious or moral symbolism or significance, are circumstances, or incidentals, of worship.