Monday, April 24, 2017

Let's go back to the basics of Christian Worship! : The beauty and simplicity of the Regulative Principle of Worship

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                                    "Gospel" Hula Dance

From when has our holy altar been degraded into a mere human theatrical stage? 
Who has robbed the glory of God in the midst of the sanctuary where only and only He is to be worshiped and paid attention to? 
Lo, paganism invasion! O impudent human-centeredness! 
O, may God give mercy upon us!

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Kevin DeYoung, THE FREEDOM OF THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE @ The Gospel Coalition(source)

Even though I grew up in a Reformed church, until seminary I was one of the multitude of Christians who had never heard of the regulative principle. It’s not been at the core of my identity. But over the years I’ve come to appreciate the regulative principle more and more.

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Simply put, the regulative principle states that “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself and so limited by his own revealed will” (WCF 21.1). In other words, corporate worship should be comprised of those elements we can show to be appropriate from the Bible. 

The regulative principles says, “Let’s worship God as he wants to be worshiped.” At its worst, this principle leads to constant friction and suspicion between believers. Christians beat each other up trying to discern exactly where the offering should go in the service or precisely which kinds of instruments have scriptural warrant. When we expect the New Testament to give a levitical lay out of the one liturgy that pleases God, we are asking the Bible a question it didn’t mean to answer. It is possible for the regulative principle to become a religion unto itself.

But the heart of the regulative principle is not about restriction. It is about freedom.

1. Freedom from cultural captivity. When corporate worship is largely left to our own designs we quickly find ourselves scrambling to keep up with the latest trends. The most important qualities become creativity, relevance, and newness. But of course, over time (not much time these days), what was fresh grows stale. We have to retool in order to capture the next demographic. Or learn to be content with settling in as a Boomer church or Gen X church.

Where are all the young people, Yoido Full Gospel Church?
a youth gathering at a certain mega church (source)

2. Freedom from constant battles over preferences. The regulative principles does not completely eliminate the role of opinion and preference. Even within a conservative Reformed framework, worship leaders may disagree about musical style, transitions, volume, tempo, and many other factors. Conflict over preferences will remain even with the regulative principle. 

But it should be mitigated. I remember years ago at a different church sitting in a worship planning session where people were really good at coming up with new ideas for the worship service. Too good in fact. We opened one service with the theme song from Cheers. Another service on Labor Day had people come up in their work outfits and talk about what they do. Everyone had an idea that seemed meaningful to them. The regulative principle wouldn’t have solved all our problems, but it would have been a nice strainer to catch some well-intentioned, but goofy ideas.

3. Freedom of conscience. Coming out of the Catholic church with its host of extra biblical rituals, newly established Protestant churches had to figure out how to worship in their own way. Some were comfortable keeping many of the elements of the Catholic Mass. Others associated those elements with a false religious system. They didn’t want to go back to the mess of rites they left behind, even if by themselves some rites didn’t seem all that harmful.

This was the dynamic that made the regulative principle so important. Reformed Christians said in effect, “We don’t want to ask our church members to do anything that would violate their consciences.” Maybe bowing here or a kiss there could be justified by some in their hearts, but what about those who found it idolatrous? Should they be asked to do something as an act of worship that Scripture never commands and their consciences won’t allow? This doesn’t mean Christians will like every song or appreciate every musical choice. But at least with the regulative principle we can come to worship knowing that nothing will be asked of us except that which can be shown to be true according to the Word of God.

4. Freedom to be cross cultural. It’s unfortunate most people probably think worship according to the regulative principle is the hardest to transport to other cultures. And this may be true if the regulative principle is mistakenly seen to dictate style as well as substance. But at its best, the regulative principle means we have simple services with singing, praying, reading, preaching, and sacraments–the kinds of services whose basic outline can “work” anywhere in the world.

5. Freedom to focus on the center. Usually when talking about corporate worship I don’t even bring up the regulative principle. It is unknown to many and scary to others. So I try to get at the same big idea from a different angle. I’ll say something like this: “What do we know they did in their Christian worship services in the Bible? We know they sang the Bible. We know that preached the Bible. We know they prayed the Bible. We know they read the Bible. We know they saw the Bible in the sacraments. We dont see dramas or pet blessings or liturgical dance numbers. 

So why wouldn’t we want to focus on everything we know they did in their services? Why try to improve on the elements we know were pleasing to God and practiced in the early church?” In other words, the regulative principle gives us the freedom to unapologetically to go back to basics. And stay there.

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Anonymous said...

Freedom to be cross cultural.
Singing,praying,reading,preaching and sacraments.These can surely be simple service to God.I agree with it.All these things are written in bible also.

Many churches have their own style of worship.And when missionary came to other country to preach gospel,they might bring their own church style also.

I think that worship reflects spirit of believers and their church community.Entertainment or service?Which are we seeking? Maybe we should ask ourselves sincerely.


Kinuko H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kinuko H said...

Dear Sanae,
Good morning, thank you for your insightful comment. First of all, I must confess to you and other readers that I was once even worse than others in terms of the attitude toward "entertainment" in the church.

Two times, I had played the theatrical stage, and one of which I had acted as a comical "man" and made people laugh so much through my actions and words. And I did it in the sanctuary! So what I am now is solely because of His grace. In Christ, Kinuko

Regina said...

This is the reason I love visiting conservative Mennonite churches. They have not gone worldly. I went to a women's conference recently and worldly secular rock music was playing while we waited for the conference to start.
At church on Sunday, the worship team played an introduction to a song that was from a secular rock band!

Regina said...

I once was involved in a "Christian" skit where I played a I well "working girl" if you know what I mean. Back then I saw nothing wrong with it but now as a more conservative head covering woman "What was I thinking!?"

Kinuko H said...

Dear Regina,
Thank you so much for your honest sharing. My shameful past experiences and failures make me feel unworthy to receive His abundant mercy and at the same time, appreciate His amazing grace, patience and love.

And, oh, by the way, we have interacted with various conservative Mennonite youths here in Greece! They are so lovely and awesome. They are being sent by various conservative churches back in the states in order to serve amongst refugees in Greece.

We enjoy talking and discussing many themes such as : "What is conservativeness? What does it mean to you personally? Tell me the merit and demerit of it!" And many Mennonite girls are so curious to know about my headcovering story! hahah...And in fact, many of them tell me that it is good and edifying to hear the covering testimony of non-Mennonite women, since many of them have grown up with the headcovering things and do not really appreciate nor know the vital meaning of this biblical practice. In Christ, Kinuko

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about how learning in theological school is like,but I heard that some schools teach students how to act in a skit and dance performance.

This problem maybe question of 'Does good intention (spreading gospel,winning young souls, creating modern worship for christians in 21th century etc)justify these means or not?'.I noticed that my former church started to accept gospel Hula recently.

I feel sad because I know that in many cases christians trys to reach people using entertainment from goodwill.

I think that many christians do not notice this problem.We maybe so blessed.Thank you for sharing your experience with courage.May God bless you and be with you always.


Kinuko H said...

Dear Sanae,
Thank you for your wonderful message. Yes, you are right. I assume that most of them are doing with really good intention. So, I think that we should pray for church leaders fervently because in many cases they are the ones who open/close the gate of all these things and then, the members in the churches just follow this new policy.

I also noticed with great surprise that the most liberal church in my hometown is now performing the gospel-hula dance! It is really conquering both liberals and conservatives.

At the same time, I believe that the healthy discussion about the issue of gospel-hula might provide us wonderful opportunities to talk about the essence of Christian evangelism, Christ&Culture, ministry for youths, understanding and loving local people in Christ way etc..
I am learning a lot, too:) with love, Kinuko