From time to time a certain subject will become fascinating to me. So much so that I want to share my thoughts on that subject, even though my own views are still forming. Very often the particular position that I am articulating will be one that may fly in the face of many Christian traditions or doctrines. Of course, these views deserve much more than my few words, however I think it a good thing to get these ideas “out there”. Not only so I can influence and convince, but so I can be corrected and sharpened. Very often these views will be more abstract than not, though I do think that these views do have important practical implications. I write this preface because I do not want anyone to think that what I am writing is all of my thoughts on a particular subject. So these “sketches” posts will be shorter than typical. I do not say this to make myself immune from criticism. In fact, I encourage it. Let’s have at it, then!
The Regulative Principle of Worship is an ideology that teaches that the exclusive means of worship are prescriptive. Meaning, only the specific means of worship prescribed in scripture are allowed in worship. This is opposed to the more widespread (and more Biblical) view of Christian Liberty in Worship, tempered of course, by the negative prohibitions set against our behavior, examining the normative practices in the New Testament, and wisdom. The RPW restricts how we can worship to only the specific means prescribed (a LOT of debate can be had about how many of these means are actual prescriptions). The opposing view is the Normative Principle of Worship that recognizes that Christians have liberty to worship in ways that are not prescribed specifically, but rather Christians should be guided by what is specifically prohibited, wisdom, and the normative practices found in the New Testament Church.
The texts most commonly used in defence of the RPW are Deuteronomy 4 and Deuteronomy 12 (along with a few other similar texts). These are going to be your “do not add to what I commanded of you, or take away from it” kind of texts. These texts are genuinely setting up a strict regulative principle, and breaking these regulations, by either adding non-prescribed elements, or taking prescribed elements away talking about the strict regulation of Temple and tabernacle worship were harshly punished by God Himself. Temple/tabernacle worship was by its very nature highly regulated and very strict in its ordinances, even though the spirit of the breaking of the regulation sometimes trumped regulation, such as in the case of David eating the showbread. One of the most flagrant and fundamental errors Regulative Principle advocates make is to apply the same sort of strictness to New Covenant assembling as we have in Old Covenant Temple worship. Before the establishment of the Temple and it’s strict ordinances the Old Testament believers had decentralized worship with very few prohibitions (such as no idols, child sacrifice, ect. Basics like that). This sort of less formal and relatively deregulated worship continued after the Temple ordinances set in, but, of course, the specific ordinances of the Temple (such as animal sacrifice) were rightly regulated to the Temple. This is why worship at the “high places” were condemned because they usurped the purpose of true Temple worship, i.e. blood sacrifice rituals. But legitimate informal community and family worship continued in both truth and spirit. It is a myth to think that the ONLY worship that ever happened happened at the central and highly regulated Temple. We have, of course, the synagogues as proof of this. Synagogues were not subject to the strict regulative principles of Temple worship because it simply wasn’t a Temple and wasn’t usurping the Temple functions.
Leviticus 23 is a clear justification for worship and synagogues outside of Jerusalem. If we do not make a distinction between the highly regulated Temple texts and all other non temple/tabernacle worship text me then we then have a clear contradiction. The obvious answer is that there is clearly a distinction.
Simply put, there were all sorts of local, community based types of regular worship happening in ancient Israel and throughout the New Testament. This sort of legitimate worship is not to be confused with the sacrificial worship at the high places (Samaritan worship for example), because the high place worship was usurping the prescribed temple/tabernacle system.
Worship in the Old Testament was not highly regulated. Sacrifice was.
Every text used to support a modern regulative principle is taken from regulations pertaining to the sacrificial system, not all of worship. If those texts did apply to all of worship, all the vast amount of local worship that did not happen at the temple would be strange fire. Of course, it’s not. The RPW DID exist. But it pertained to the sacrificial systems that are clearly and with finality fulfilled on the Cross.
It’s clear to me that the type and shadow of The Cross of Christ is the highly regulated sacrificial system of the Temple and Tabernacle. The type and shadow of the New Testament Church is the decentralized, non sacrificial, relatively deregulated Old Testament synagogue worship. The Modern Regulative Principle advocate gets this backwards, and thus severely misses the spirit and nature of New Covenant fellowship and community.
The reason why this is important is because the OT did have a distinction between special (Temple) and common worship (synagogue, family, ect) . The special worship was highly ritualistic and was fulfilled on the Cross.
The RPW does not continue because Christ died.
Any text that I have found affirming the RPW is regulating Temple worship. Not one text in all of Scripture places a RPW restriction on non-Temple (common) worship. Not one.
The RPW is a impotent farce of ancient Israel Temple Worship. And binding saints consciences to it is not a small mistake. In fact, it strikes a blow to the very work of the Cross that our Lord accomplished. Has the Temple Veil been torn or not? That’s why I care about this topic. It misses the mark on the Cross and thus it hurts the Church.
Now, if some curmudgeonly Presbyterians who reek of stale tobacco and whose pastime is to ruin any fun the kids may be having want to have a bunch of extra biblical restrictions, then more power to them. The RPW order of worship and style is not sinful. Just dull. But calling other forms sinful is in fact sinful and it’s bad theology.