John Calvin on the Regulative Principle of Worship

Richard Barcellos over at Illumination recently posted a 4 part series on John Calvin and the Regulative Principle of Worship. With our recent consideration of this topic here at SBF, we certainly recommend these posts to you.

Calvin on Public Worship (I)

Notable quote from Calvin in this post:

“…we must always carefully insist that simplicity and order be observed in the use of ceremonies so that the clear light of the gospel be not obscured by them, as if we were still under the shadows of the law; and then that there may be nothing allowed that is not in agreement and conformity to the order established by the Son of God, and that the whole may serve and be suited to the edification of the Church.”

In the comment section of the last post on this issue, it was pointed out that a form a drama was used in the Old Testament, specifically in the sacrificial ceremonies of the law which prefigured Christ. Note that Calvin mentions here that the shadows of the law obscured the gospel. Thus, it would seem odd for us to return to shadows even if it were prescribed New Testament worship, given that the greater revelation of Christ and the gospel were hindered thereby.

Calvin on Public Worship (II): The RPW

Notable quote from Calvin in this post:

“…there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions.”


“Every addition to his word, especially in this matter [worship], is a lie. Mere “will worship” …is vanity. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate”

Calvin on Public Worship (III): The RPW – 2

Notable quote from Calvin in this post:

While discussing vows, he says:

“…[God] declares all self-made religion, however splendid and beautiful it may be in men’s eyes, accursed … If all voluntary worship which we ourselves devise apart from God’s commandment is hateful to him, it follows that no worship can be acceptable to him except that which is approved by his Word.”

Calvin on Public Worship (IV): The RPW – 3

Notable quote from Calvin in this post:

In his exposition of the Second Commandment, Calvin says,

“He [God] declares here more openly what sort of God he is, and with what kind of worship he should be honored, lest we dare attribute anything carnal to him”

What do you think? Did Calvin and subsequently the Puritans take an extreme view on the Regulative Principle of Worship and the Second Commandment?

Explore posts in the same categories: Worship

10 Comments on “John Calvin on the Regulative Principle of Worship”

  1. Don Elbourne Says:


    I do not want to sound like I am arguing against the regulative principle when I ask this question, but I’ve never understood where we draw the line between what constitutes “public worship” and what falls under all of life lived for the glory of God.

    Perhaps a few case studies would help clarify my question:

    If a group of guys from the church meet together on Tuesday nights for basketball and perhaps pray before or after they play, would the hoops violate the regulative principle of public worship? What if instead of a group of guys, its a group of kids who all take piano lessons from the church pianist and they decide to gather on a Tuesday night to play hymns? Would it make a difference if they invite their parents and the rest of their church family to listen and call it a “recital? “Would that violate the regulative principle? What about building a bird house in Vacation Bible School?

    Now I would be the first to insist that a game of basketball, a piano recital, arts and crafts, or even a drama production should never replace the preaching of the word in the main Sunday gathering; but would these things during the week, or at a time not labeled “public worship” violate the regulative principle?

    btw, on a totally different subject, ya’lls blog template does not show the author’s name when reading an individual post. I have to go to the main page to see who has written the entry.

  2. Re: “Did Calvin and subsequently the Puritans take an extreme view on the Regulative Principle of Worship and the Second Commandment?”

    -Yes. And by “extreme,” I mean “correct.”

  3. Nathan White Says:

    Hey Don,

    Great question, and one that was briefly mentioned in the meta of the last post (Drama and Christmas).

    You said: I’ve never understood where we draw the line between what constitutes “public worship” and what falls under all of life lived for the glory of God.

    Honestly, I am still studying the RPW and the exact application of the principles that I believe are prescribed by scripture, so maybe I’m not the end all to your question (Andrew could probably answer better), but I’ll give it a shot.

    Given the question and the examples that you gave, I would make a distinction between orderly corporate worship, and the RPW. That is, in the public gathering of worship, Paul gave many guidelines and instructions for proper and orderly worship (1 Cor 14). These should of course guide our thinking in ordering public worship, to thus ensure that everything is done properly.

    But, given the examples that you gave, I do not believe that scripture would label those as *worship* activities at all. We must ask: who gets to decide what is worship and what isn’t? Is just anything we do ‘worship’? No, for God decides what is worship and what isn’t, of course, and I believe He has done so in His word. Building a birdhouse or playing basketball, though harmless activities which can of course be performed to the glory of God, is not actual *worship* offered up to our great God. Worship entails all of our minds, our affections, our attention, our fervency, our hearts, etc., and the ultimate aim is to specifically marvel at His glory, adore Him as our Sovereign Lord, offer up praises and thanksgivings, specifically and fervently express our appreciation, and indeed, focus on a true and proper representation of Him as we fully subject ourselves to Him.

    Fashioning an idol is not a sin; creating ‘strange’ fire is not a sin, and both can be performed to the glory of God –just as playing basketball or painting a picture. But using these and other things and treating them *as if* they are means of worship, or channels in which to meditate on His Person, or spiritual sacrifices to offer up to Him as a thanksgiving, is of
    course an abomination and idolatry.

    So I would make a distinction, based on my understanding of scripture, between ordered corporate worship, and the RPW. The former purposed for keeping things orderly when publicly meeting for worship, and the latter actually prescribing to us what *is* worship, rather than leaving us sinful creatures to try and decide what is pleasing to a perfect and holy God, in Whom there is no shadow of turning.

    Does that help you understand what I’m aiming at here in these posts? Andrew, please correct me where I am wrong, as you certainly know more about this issue than I do.

    btw, thanks for the note about the template. I will have to make sure we get it listed just who writes what.

  4. Nathan White Says:

    BTW, Andrew, great comment; I agree completely.

  5. Don Elbourne Says:


    Thanks. that’s helpful. My desire is to humbly continue to sort this all out. Personally, and in our local church setting, I strive to hold to the regulative principle in our Sunday morning worship services.

    I’m not as clear on other cooperate gatherings throughout the week, in homes, on a casual basis, and other things. As I continue to think, pray, and study through this, I appreciate the discussions and thoughts you and Andrew post.

    btw, Andrew’s home church was here in Lakeshore last week.

  6. Matt Svoboda Says:

    I got railed in class for this view, but I still hold to it… Dramas on Sunday mornings are not bad. They can be done badly and they are done badly a lot of the time.

    Yet, dramas can be powerful and effective if used correctly. If a church uses dramas for teaching than there is nothing wrong with it… As long as a drama is edifying to believers and its purpose is too teach a point than it is legalistic to say it is wrong. If it has the same type of effect as preaching does why do so many of us dismiss it?

    When I say “same type of effect” I mean that it edifies believers using the Word of God.

  7. […] John Calvin on the Regulative Principle of Worship […]

  8. […] John Calvin on the Regulative Principle of Worship […]

  9. […] Ninth Inning Rally? There have been several kind folks who have asked me about my “Ask Anything” question that, for about a month, stood at #1 on Mark Driscoll’s “Ask Anything” website. Some of you will remember that exactly a month ago, I bailed out on the project as I thought things had gotten way out of hand, and the comments on the question seemed to miss the point. During this period of time, I seldom visited the “Ask Anything” site and did not vote. However, Andrew (here) and Nathan (here, here, and here) have been blogging it up, for which I am really grateful. […]

  10. Rich B. Says:

    Nice to see that someone is reading the MCTS blog. 🙂

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