The Fraudulent Nature of the Regulative Principle

From Gary North’s Critical Mass – Part 17: Liturgy and Church Growth

…churches fight over music and liturgy, but there is little New Testament evidence to support any of the combatants. That which is central to formal corporate worship — liturgy – has almost no New Testament guidelines. The so-called New Testament regulative principle is a Presbyterian folk myth. If I am wrong about this, then where are the New Testament’s clear-cut answers for these obvious questions: Should we meet only on Sunday evenings, as the disciples did on resurrection day (Luke 24:29-35)? Should preachers preach until midnight, as Paul did (Acts 20:7)? Should we get rid of our Sunday schools? Should we get rid of musical notation in our hymnals? Should we get rid of hymnals altogether? What about standing up and sitting down? What about responsive readings? What about kneeling? What about kneeling rails? (Are they a sell-out to “weak-kneed Christians”?) What about printed prayers? What about the recitation of a creed? What about altar calls? What about speaking in tongues when there is no second-party translator? What about baptism? (Why isn’t this done in homes, as was true of the Philippian jailer?) What about the Lord’s Supper: wine or grape juice, leavened bread or unleavened? Those Presbyterians who cling most dearly to the so called regulative principle of worship are exclusive psalm singers. They do not tolerate hymns during formal worship. Some even reject musical instruments.

The only thing that absolutely is required by the New Testament – that we greet each other with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16; I Cor. 16:20; II Cor. 13:12; I Thess. 5:26) – no modern church does, ln short, there is no New Testament regulative principle that comes close to covering the whole of weekly church worship; denominational tradition prevails everywhere.

Liturgy and Theology

There are probably more church battles over liturgy than over doctrine. Consider the early days of the Puritan movement. What were the fundamental dividing issues? Were they theological? Hardly. The Anglican Church’s thirty-nine articles were Calvinistic. Four key issues were the burning ecclesiastical issues of the day: the clergyman’s surplice, the legitimacy of wedding rings, the legitimacy of coming forward to take communion at a railing, and tracing the sign of the cross on the forehead at baptism. (See J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness [Crossway, 1990], p. 53.) Because the English Puritans could not abide by these four practices, they destroyed the unity of the Anglican Church.

Meanwhile, they said nothing about Erastianism: the king as the lawful head of the English church–or worse, the queen. This was not a matter for public discussion. Everyone in the Church accepted this theological and ecclesiastical abomination.

It’s best not to worry overmuch about liturgy as the fundamental issue. Instead, focus on doctrine.

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