The Regulative Principle of Worship

This short article is the second in a series of bulletin inserts on worship at Trinity URC

Not only are we commanded in Scripture to worship God, but we are actually told how we are meant to worship him. The first characteristic of reformed worship is that it is done according to Scripture. Traditionally, this principle has been known as the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). The RPW basically states that in called Lord’s Day services, God may be worshiped only as he has commanded in his word, and in no other way. Scriptural backing for this is primarily found in God’s will for us as expressed by the Second Commandment, which according to the Heidelberg Catechism means, “That we in now way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word.” This is why the elements of worship of reformed churches have stayed mainly the same throughout the centuries.

The goal is always to stay as close as possible to the prescriptions of the Word of God. To our modern ears this may sound somewhat constricting – something in us potentially resists the idea that we can’t bring the elements of our own time and culture into the worship service. For example, we live in an age which highly values the visual medium, so why not substitute the sermon for a gripping biblical drama, or film? Because, “it pleased God through the folly of preaching to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:12).” The preached Word and the Sacraments are the means which God himself has chosen to save and sanctify his people. For us to substitute the preached Word for anything else would be like substituting steak for celery – eat as much of it as you like, you’ll still starve. But in the Word and Sacrament God has provided us with a rich feast indeed!

The RPW is not meant to be a constricting principle, but a deeply freeing one. During the period of the Reformation the RPW proclaimed that no king, bishop, or Pope had the right to invent worship regulations and force them on the churches. This meant that God’s people were free to set aside all of the ceremonies and traditions of the Roman Catholic communion which were not grounded in Scripture. God alone has the right to determine how we will approach him in worship, and we can find his will in no other place than in Scripture alone. So let us all greatly rejoice this morning that God has provided us with his Holy Word, and through it the means by which we are to right approach him! “Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28).”

-Rev. Brian Vos and Austin Reed