The way you worship determines the God you worship

It was just May of last year when the news of Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s ‘Children’s ministry’ at First Baptist Springdale was brought to the attention of many within the Southern Baptist Convention. A fire-engine baptistery, complete with confetti and water cannons, was not exactly warmly received by many in the SBC.

But the question I would like to raise today is:

On what basis do we declare that a fire-engine baptistery and a children’s church service complete with “fun praise and worship, hilarious skits and videos, cutting edge technology, and interactive Bible lessons”, is or is not pleasing to the Lord? What should guide our principles of corporate worship: what seems best to men, or what is prescribed in scripture?

I’d like to use this example as a jump-start for a discussion the Regulative Principle, -specifically how the RP could/should be applied in the SBC.

Have you ever heard of the Regulative Principle? Essentially, the Regulative Principle is a classic Reformed/Puritan doctrine that teaches that true corporate worship is only that which God has commanded of us in His word. In other words, God has given us methods for the church to worship Him (psalms-hymns-spiritual songs, preaching, giving, discipline, baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and anything outside of these things is not true worship, and should not be a part of corporate worship. The 1689 London Baptist Confession breaks it down nicely,

Chapt. 22:1._____ The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. ( Jeremiah 10:7; Mark 12:33; Deuteronomy 12:32; Exodus 20:4-6 )

However, don’t confuse the Regulative Principle with private worship. Sam Waldon has said,

“It seems that one of the major intellectual stumbling blocks which hinders men from embracing the Regulative Principle is that it involves the idea that the church and its worship is ordered in a regulated way different from the rest of life…The Regulative principle…involves a limitation on human initiative in freedom not characteristic of the rest of life. It clearly assumes that there is a distinction between the way the church and its worship is to be ordered and the way the rest of human society and conduct is to be ordered. Thus, the Regulative Principle is liable to strike many as oppressive, peculiar, and, therefore, suspiciously out of accord with God’s dealings with mankind and the rest of life.”

Essentially, there are two views in this area. The Regulative Principle teaches that only what God gives us in scripture is acceptable in corporate worship, and the moderate or normative principle teaches that whatever is not prohibited by Scripture is permitted in worship, as long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church.

In an age where the popular church is filled with drama, concerts, testimony times, games, comedians, Christmas pageants, youth group activities, singles parties, etc., the Regulative Principle is certainly a foreign and even ‘outdated’ concept to most American professing Christians. But I would encourage you to consider what the 1689LBC teaches above, as I prepare to post on this issue at least once more. Specifically, in light of many aberrations or abuses of corporate worship by many churches, should the SBC consider adopting a principle of worship such as the Regulative Principle of the 1689?

As we prepare to discuss this topic in more detail, please keep a few things in mind when thinking of your own position regarding this subject:

  • Was God sovereign in giving us ‘everything for life and Godliness’ when He gave us the scriptures?
  • Is human philosophy, creativity, and preferred methodology absolutely necessary to truly worship God?
  • Are we to look at the Old Testament for any kind of examples or teaching on this matter, or are we to consider the New Testament alone?
  • Should the SBC adopt a principle for corporate worship to guard against the many abuses of corporate worship that are quite common?
  • Finally, on what basis do we condemn or applaud such things as the fire-engine baptistery, the Children’s church entertainment service, or such things as the ‘hanging of the greens’? Is there an overarching principle of scripture to guide us, or should we handle this in an ‘as needed’ manner?
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26 Comments on “The way you worship determines the God you worship”


  1. I’m really glad you said whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship. Because while following your post initially, you had basically just completely removed Deaf worship as “acceptable to the Lord.”

    Deaf worship relies heavily on dramas, storytelling, interactive Bible lessons, and yes, “fun praise and worship” to help them understand Scripture and what is happening in worship. And all this prior to or in conjunction with preaching. “Traditional” or “contemporary” worship methodology simply does not reach this generation of Deaf people. It is minimally successful with the older generation, as well.

    I don’t know, the more I work in a Deaf context, the more I find myself jettisonning many of the principles of worship our corner of the SBC like to talk about. For all of our harangues about methodology (which, ironically, I am in agreement with), the solutions presented more often than not offer my church absolutely nothing.

  2. Nathan White Says:

    Hey Stephen,
    Yeah, you slightly misunderstood. I’m sorry for not being more clear. When I said “whatever is not prohibited in scripture is permitted in worship,” I was simply explaining the normative principle as opposed to the regulative principle found in the 1689.

    My point was that if anything not condemned in scripture is permissable, then on what basis do we condemn fire-engine baptism in childred’ church, etc.?


  3. Stephen,

    Ministries to the deaf would certainly not, in themselves, be in violation of the Regulative Principle, as sign language would be viewed alongside any other language as a way to proclaim the Gospel to a certain culture. However, you have to accept that in the deaf community as well as in any other community, there must be parameters on what is or is not acceptable in worship (certainly, if we believe in communication of and delight in God by means of His Word as central to worship, we must see anything that obscures His Word or replaces His Word as detrimental to worship). The question becomes, ‘What sets the parameters of worship?’ Is it individual experience (“the U2charist makes me feel closer to God”) is it pragmatic considerations (“many people are coming under our ministry through our fire-engine baptisms”), or does the Word of God itself inform us of the parameters of worship?

  4. Pat McGee Says:

    There should be a vast abyss separating worship and entertainment. A fire engine baptistry falls under entertainment. I also believe that music which sounds like the world ought to be rejected. Anything that smacks of entertainment should be rejected.
    I firmly believe in the regulative principle. It is a safeguard against excess in the worship service.

  5. Jim Pemberton Says:

    There is a difference between the ‘how’ and the ‘focus’ of worship. The ‘focus’ should always be God and God alone. If the RP regulates the ‘how’ to the detriment of the ‘focus’ then it needs to be jettisoned. If the NP permits the ‘how’ to change the ‘focus’, then it needs to be regulated.

    Besides the Levitical Law and the institution of the ordinances, scripture is fairly silent on ‘how’. It is, however, explicit about ‘focus’. This to the extent that God despises even adherence to the Levitical Law if the ‘focus’ has been compromised.

    With this in mind, our congregations are filled with people of varying understandings and ‘foci’. We can monitor somewhat the hearts of worship leaders and pastors through their professions and proclamations. However, the same element of worship can be apprehended by one who uses it to worship with the correct ‘focus’ while another is merely entertained. Therefore, Some understanding of the local culture must be used to derive the appropriate ‘how’ of worship while the ‘focus’ is explicated continually for the purpose of unity of corporate worship toward God.

  6. Nathan Says:

    What do you think about the use of smoke machines in worship? The FBC in my town has electric guitar driven worship and the new sanctuary and occasionally uses a smoke machine for the ‘effect’. They use cloth backdrops on which they can project images of the current series. Right now it’s “Heroes” as in the TV series and the message ties in by teaching the congregation that we need to find the God-given talents in our lives. The baptistry is in the old building, so they video tape the baptisms and show in the Sunday services the following week. Most of the churches in my area are theme driven like this, often taking themes from the marketing we are bombarded with through media. Any advice as I am looking for a church home but don’t want to compromise by attending a place that does not hold to a biblical model of worship?

  7. Nathan White Says:

    Jim said: If the RP regulates the ‘how’ to the detriment of the ‘focus’ then it needs to be jettisoned. If the NP permits the ‘how’ to change the ‘focus’, then it needs to be regulated.

    Jim, I think the problem here is the focus. The focus should be on worshipping how God has commanded in scripture, or by example of what we can see practiced in the NT church. That is, if drama is introduced into the worship service, and drama is not a part of the NT church in scripture, wouldn’t that be putting focus on the wrong thing? Thus, the issues of focus and ‘how’ are the exact same.

    The fact is, whatever is practiced in worship clearly reveals what people think is most important to God. And what is most important is obviously the focus.

    We cannot ‘regulate’ the inward focus, but we can be obedient to what God has given us as pertains to the ‘outward’ focus.

    Jim said: “Therefore, Some understanding of the local culture must be used to derive the appropriate ‘how’ of worship while the ‘focus’ is explicated continually for the purpose of unity of corporate worship toward God.”

    Regarding the understanding of local culture, is this something you derive from scripture, or do you see it as ‘understood’ or as ‘common sense’? I ask because I believe that God has either given us specfic instructions, or He has explicitly told us that we are free to use our own devices. I believe the former to be true.

  8. Arthur Sido Says:

    Nathan,

    Smoke machines? Really? I need to get out more often!

    I am perhaps too stodgy, but anything that detracts or attempts to augment the proclamation of the Word of God in worship ought be viewed with suspicion at best. Churches that focus on entertainment do so because the message coming out of the pulpit is lacking. For me, the music ought to be in praise to God, theologically sound and designed to prepare the hearts of the congregation for the presentation of the Word.

  9. Nathan White Says:

    Nathan,

    I don’t know the specifics of your church, but if I had to speculate based upon the information you have shared, I would say that they are probably very weak in doctrine and biblical leadership. I would encourage you to dig just a little deeper into things, -ask some leaders some questions and examine what is being taught, and I think the answer you are looking for will become obvious to you.

    SDG

  10. Nathan White Says:

    Nathan, by the way, Arthur makes an excellent point, and something that will probably be mentioned in one of my future posts on this subject, but the preaching should be, biblically speaking, the focus of the entire service. Adding things like smoke machines and stuff in there most likely detracts from the all-important preaching of the Word, and probably substitutes what is lacking from the pulpit.


  11. But to return and add to my comment, sometimes preaching cannot convey to certain audiences the concepts one wants to communicate as well as a drama or story. I’ve often found that after a drama or story moment, our congregation “gets it” more easily than if I spent a chunk of the sermon explaining everything. Are we still, according to your comment in #7, erring since drama is not recorded as part of worship in Scripture?

    We couldn’t be, since you subsequently say that whatever is practiced in worship clearly reveals what people think is most important to God. And since we think that getting our people to understand what the Scriptures are telling them is what is most important, is our focus in error? After all, it’s very difficult to glorify God if you don’t understand how He has laid out for us to go about doing so.

    I strongly think this point of yours needs more thought and development, though in principle I agree totally.


  12. In regards to Jim’s statements:

    “There is a difference between the ‘how’ and the ‘focus’ of worship. The ‘focus’ should always be God and God alone.”

    I understand the very real concern you have here. We at SBF entirely agree with the statement that, “The ‘focus’ should always be God,” affirming that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), and to enjoy him for ever (Ps. 73:25-26).”

    However, when you say, “The ‘focus’ should always be… God alone,” you must be careful, for God has given us means for the end of focusing on Him– namely, the means of His Word (see Romans 10:17, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, etc.). If we neglect the means of His Word, we will inevitably begin to have our vision of God distorted by our own selfish interests (a point Nathan was making in the title of his post). The regulative principle of worship is intended to apply the sanctifying Word of God in ways He intended during our corporate worship of Him.

    You (Jim) say,

    “If the RP regulates the ‘how’ to the detriment of the ‘focus’ then it needs to be jettisoned.”

    Again, I understand the concern. The tendency when we form a conviction on an issue is to exalt the conviction– and our own powers in discerning it. This is a tendency that all Christians– we who claim unique access to the Truth– must battle against. A Christian could certainly hold to the regulative principle while dishonoring God through pride in keeping the regulative principle and an abusive spirit toward brothers and sisters in Christ who do not keep this principle as we think they ought.

    However, when you conclude that if we begin to focus on the regulative principle to the detriment of our focus on God, then the regulative principle needs to be “jettisoned,” I would ask you to reconsider. If the regulative principle is indeed biblical, as we are arguing, then it cannot be “jettisoned.”

    Please allow me to illustrate through the use of counter-examples:
    1. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul charged Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Now, if Timothy’s congregation became enamored with his preaching and focused on his rhetorical ability rather than on God, would we counsel Timothy to “jettison” preaching, in direct contradiction to what he had been commanded?
    2. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul charged the Church to admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19). Now, if a congregation began focusing on singing ability rather than on God, would you counsel the congregation to jettison all songs, in direct contradiction to what we have been commanded?
    You see that an abuse of a good means established by God does not lead to the conclusion that we should jettison the means, but rather that we should reconsider our particular application of the means. It is our position that the regulative principle of worship is a means ordering our entire corporate experience of worship– that it is intended to help us truly focus on God– if this means falls into abuse, the application should be re-examined and we should certainly repent of any pride that has arisen, but we should not turn our back on a principle of Scripture.


  13. Stephen said,

    “…sometimes preaching cannot convey to certain audiences the concepts one wants to communicate as well as a drama or story.”

    Stephen,
    While I appreciate your comments here, in this case I find myself compelled to directly and simply deny the point you are trying to establish. The Bible teaches that faith comes through the WORD of Christ (Romans 10:17) and that God has chosen the foolishness of PREACHING to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1). Likewise, the Apostle Paul charged Timothy to “PREACH THE WORD” (2 Timothy 2:8). God has chosen words– direct, cognitive, (normally) verbal communication in order to establish His works of creation and redemption. As Mark Dever noted in his “9Marks” book, “God’s people have always been created by God’s Word. From creation in Genesis 1 to the call of Abram in Genesis 12, from the vision of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, to the coming of [Jesus,] the living Word, God has always created His people by His Word.”

    When we read of God using other means to communicate, it is usually a sign of severe judgment. So when we read of the prophets, for example, acting out certain scenarios rather than preaching (situations in Scripture many turn to for support of drama), it is actually a very bad thing. It is as if God is saying, “I’m not on speaking terms with you any more, therefore watch this prophet act crazy and burn this model of your city and strike it with a sword” (see Ezekiel 5). Unless that is the message we’re trying to communicate to our congregation, I think we’d best stick with preaching.

  14. Nathan White Says:

    Hey Stephen,

    A few quick points in regards to your comment:

    -In the original post, I asked the question: “Is human philosophy, creativity, and preferred methodology absolutely necessary to truly worship God?” To which, from your comment, I would guess that you would answer yes to this? That is fine, we would disagree, but I would like to better understand how you would come to such a conclusion. That is, if we go by scripture and scripture alone in our worship, what and how would it be lacking?

    -Secondly, I would agree with Andrew’s comment above. The focul point of all true corporate worship should be the preaching; anything that takes the focus off of that should be jettisoned.

    -Next, in my post, I simply wanted to present what the Reformers and Puritans taught on this subject, instead of simply giving my own opinions.

    -Lastly, when I said: “whatever is practiced in worship clearly reveals what people think is most important to God”, I simply meant to convey that if our worship is about us, how it makes us feel, how it ministers to us, how it communicates to us, what we think is best to practice, etc., then we are in a sense worshipping ourselves. To put it better, as a friend of mine said, “Whoever determines worship is actually the one being worshipped”

    SDG

  15. Arthur Sido Says:

    Stephen,

    >>And since we think that getting our people to understand what the Scriptures are telling them is what is most important, is our focus in error? After all, it’s very difficult to glorify God if you don’t understand how He has laid out for us to go about doing so.

  16. Arthur Sido Says:

    Here is the rest of my comment…

    Too many preachers assume that the congregation is too dim to “get” what the Bible says, so they dumb down the message with stories and dramas. That gives little credit to our people, that they are unable to comprehend the Word of God, properly handled and preached. It may be partly true that deeper matters of doctrine are foreign to the average congregation, but that has less to do with their inability to comprehend higher concept, and more to do with an indictment of the church for failing for years to proclaim the truths of the Gospel from the pulpit. I worry at times that I am getting to deep for my flock, but they never cease to amaze me with just how much they understand. Trust your people and trust the Holy Spirit and see just how powerful the Word of God is!

  17. Nathan Says:

    I left out the best part about the FBC I’ve been visiting. During selected songs during worship, spotlights are shined onto a wooden cross hung on the wall on both sides of the auditorium. Live video feeds display the service on large screens just above the podium. Each time the spotlight comes on the cameras pan the imagery of the cross. I guess this is meant to encourage the worshiper to remain focused on the cross instead of the music, but it is obviously very deliberate. I’ve seen the smoke machine used once during a special worship service and my 7 year old was very concerned that the building was on fire! How do you explain that to a kid? “….uhm, yeah some folks are more comfortable singing when the place looks like the tavern down the street.” I know this is not an anomaly in evangelical America since Ed Young’s church (nearby) makes FBC look hyper conservative. There is a pattern emerging that is proliferating core churches that once were pillars of the Gospel. Even Sunday School, the foundation of Christian education in America for over 100 years, is disappearing from many churches as well. Maybe I’ll become Presbyterian!

  18. Andrew Says:

    Re: “Maybe I’ll become Presbyterian!”

    That wouldn’t really help if you’re becoming persuaded of regulative principle seeing as how ‘baby sprinkling’ is absent from the concordance.

  19. Nathan Says:

    Yeah, I don’t quite get why they choose not to immerse in baptism. But the PCA does a good job of expository preaching.

  20. davide Says:

    Stephen,

    I think many Christians have the idea that drama was nonexistent during the apostolic times. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Drama and theatre were huge during that time. Paul could have easily used skits, drama and plays in order to communicate the gospel. But why didn’t he? The same thing goes for music. Why didn’t the early church have music concerts during the services?

  21. Arthur Sido Says:

    “I don’t quite get why they choose not to immerse in baptism”

    Probably to avoid drowning the babies!


  22. Arthur Sido said: Too many preachers assume that the congregation is too dim to “get” what the Bible says, so they dumb down the message with stories and dramas. That gives little credit to our people, that they are unable to comprehend the Word of God, properly handled and preached. It may be partly true that deeper matters of doctrine are foreign to the average congregation, but that has less to do with their inability to comprehend higher concept, and more to do with an indictment of the church for failing for years to proclaim the truths of the Gospel from the pulpit.

    Arthur, you’ve just completely missed my point. You (and others on this thread) don’t seem to understand that I am preaching in a Deaf context. Many hearing people just don’t seem to understand that different methodology is required in this context, and as such dismiss out of hand our issues, as has been done sweepingly here.

    My concern here has nothing to do with my congregation being “dim.” Every member of my church would take umbrage at such a statement. What our members would say, however, is that you guys would be talking over their heads. Deaf people do not learn in the same ways hearing people do, and our worship and preaching, to be effective, must be sensitive to that fact. Deaf people are not “auditory” learners, which is the underlying assumption carried all throughout this thread. That’s a faulty and potentially deadly assumption to carry.

    When a story or drama can illustrate the meaning and point of a Scripture being preached to such a group, is it really such a bad thing? Or have we let our own “preferences” blind us to becoming all things to all people? Yes, the preaching of the Word is the focal point in worship, but if preaching gets in its own way with the audience, should we not find ways to magnify what is preached for the greater understanding?

    It’s not enough for me to just know sign language. No, I had to understand the culture, understand how Deaf people tend to think and learn, before I could ever effectively communicate the Gospel. No Regulative (nor Normative) Principle can prepare a pastor for that.

    I’m just shocked that this thread has given little consideration for the ways certain groups of people learn best. I’m just as shocked to see it suggested that to take such into consideration isn’t biblical. Again, this whole point needs much more thought and development than has been given.

  23. Nathan White Says:

    Stephen,

    Please don’t be offended, I don’t think many of on this thread understood that you were preaching to a strictly deaf audience.

    However, even so, I do think this takes some ‘special’ methodology, but I would still caution you about using drama or other such means. Instead, I think a more personal, one on one approach might be the best option, in addition to the sign language of the sermon.

    No matter what the case, God has not left us inadequate methodology in His word, –and we would do well to prayfully consider that.

    SDG

  24. Joel Says:

    davide: Right you are, the theatre was a very important part of Helenic culture, and Paul could have easily adopted that venue for his own. And as the theater was an important part of Greek/Roman life, so it is today. Hence the contrast to preaching, which is foolishness to those that are perishing, but to us which believe, it is the power of God unto salvation. Is there any thing in this world that people hate more than preaching?


  25. […] With the Christmas season officially just days away, we’ll undoubtedly begin to see quite a few churches putting on Christmas plays over the next month or so. Because the Regulative Principle of Worship has been a topic here of late, I’d thought it would be appropriate to briefly discuss the issue of drama and how it relates to the principle and the season. (If you are not familiar with the Regulative Principle of Worship, please briefly research the issue here and here in order to properly follow the line of thinking in this post.) […]

  26. Ernest Meeks Says:

    On what basis do we declare that a fire-engine baptistery is or is not pleasing to the Lord?
    My response; Mr. Waldon you are absolutely right! ? “The idea that the church and its worship is ordered in a regulated way different from the rest of life involves a limitation on human initiative in freedom not characteristic of the rest of life.”
    On what basis do we condemn or applaud such things as the fire-engine baptistery, the Children’s church entertainment service, or such things as these? Is the question at hand.
    Answer: worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will. The truth of scripture is that God has set forth the manner of worship of himself since the garden of Eden when Adam was instructed to care for the garden and not eat of the forbid trees. And the sacrifice of animals passed to Adam and Eve after their sin and rebellion against the authority of God. To the condemnation of Cain for bringing the sacrifice he deemed appropriate rather that what God required. On down to the temple of the old testament that was so detailed by God’s command that even the type of stitching of the thread was to be exact. Leaves no question that there is an appropriate and in appropriate way of worshiping God.
    Take for example those Jews that settled the northern kingdom and chose to build their own temple and a golden image to represent God, and they were judged by the true God. Or the man who thought that good intentions would spare his life when knowing the commandment of God reached out and presumed to catch the ark of the covenant to keep it from falling while on the cart being led back to Jerusalem. He was struck dead in his good intentions. We should use the whole council of the word of God to dictate the form of worship, including the spirit of God’s intention as to form and functionality. God is not the author of confusion, therefore if scripture is used as guide for worship then all will be done as God wills. (1Cor. 1 40) Let all things be done decently and in order.
    Back to Mr. Waldon; the human element is not part of Spiritual worship and the rest of life as we know it should never look like the Church and the Church should never look like the rest of life.
    2 Cor.6: 14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 7:1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
    Furthermore : 1 Tim.3: 14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.


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