Drippings from the Honeycomb
More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
"In Lev 10:1 there is a story of the priests, Nadab and Abihu, offering a “strange fire” in worship before a holy God and as a consequence their death by fire. The reason is because this holy God, a consuming fire, had prescribed or regulated how He was to be worshipped (“which He commanded them not”). What was true under the Old Covenant, is true of all time and today under the New Covenant. We must worship God corporately as He wants to be worshipped and not as we wish. We must worship in “spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24)
This discussion has generally been framed between the regulative principle (we are only to worship God how He has expressly said He should be worshipped) and the normative principle (we may worship God in any way that He has not expressly forbidden) (though some have taken the normative to an extreme some have called the affective principle, if I like it and it makes me feel close to God it is good). The danger with the former is we can lose the “spirit” from “worship the Lord in spirit and in truth” and settle for nominalism. The danger of the latter is we can compromise the “truth” under the guise of spiritual liberty. Truth is what God has said about worship; the spirit is joy and love and self-control as we commune with Him. Maintaining spirit and truth is the regulative principle (and it is important to recognize it is a principle. It regulates the elements and spirit, yet not the form [e.g. written or extemporaneous prayers, or styles of sermons] nor the circumstances [e.g. a 9 a.m. or an 11 a.m. service, pews or chairs, etc].
A number of years ago I, the guest preacher, was almost taken out by a lady swinging flags in a church I was visiting. In many mega-churches and Pentecostal churches, sometimes in the extreme vein of attractionalism and sometimes because of poor or bad theology, there is no end to the true tales of what goes on in worship (something the window of Youtube reveals). Recently Transformation Church, OK, USA, made the news for an Easter service that was dubbed “the Christian Grammy’s” (not a compliment). Likewise, during Covid I watched a liberal church service that included non-Christian readings, a gong and eastern meditation (and I’ve even heard of inviting Imam’s, etc, to preach the sermon).
The regulative principle protects the Church from expressive individualism, the abuse of authority by leaders and bad theology. We should all know what to expect when we gather for corporate worship because God has instituted the worship of Himself lest our pride turn worship into a mockery.
"But all things should be done decently and in order." 1 Cor 14:40
"…self-made religion..." Col 2:23
Our Baptist (and Protestant) forbearers put it this way:
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