Biblical Worship 3: The Principle in Practice

Last week I wrote about the regulative principle of worship. That means that the worship of the church is regulated by the way it is instituted in the New Testament. This week we will look at the way that the churches of the reformation came to this conclusion.

Just prior to the reformation a secular movement in education known as the renaissance brought renewed vigor and zeal to go back to the original sources for study. During the late middle ages, the average student would read books containing excerpts from the ancient writers, and books about the ancient sources. What the renaissance brought was the motto ad fontes, or to the source. The renaissance man interested himself in knowing the original document, not just what people said about it. This led to many upheavals in the thinking of the church because many churchmen were also renaissance humanists (which means those who were trained in the humanities). These men went back to the Bible and to the ancient writers of the church. What they found in the text of scripture and the testimony of the first Christians brought about reformation. They recovered nothing less than the pure gospel of Jesus and religion of Christianity.

The reformers went to the primary source, the holy scriptures themselves. They found the Bible held a way of worship which contained certain elements such as calls to worship, blessings, Scripture readings, preaching, prayers, confessions of sin, hymns, psalms, creedal recitation, and the sacraments. Not only did they find these elements of worship in the New Testament, and the principles for them in the Old Testament, they also found uniform early attestation to them in the church fathers. The relationship between the early Christians and the scripture is helpful for us. I don’t want to promote some sort of golden age theology of worship, nor should we ever trump scripture with tradition, but it makes sense that the early church leaders (some of whom were converts of the Apostles’ ministry and worshipped in their churches) would know a thing or two about the way to implement the worship of the church. What that looked like was essentially what we do in our worship services. If there is any one way to describe the worship of the reformation churches it is Apostolic. This means that the elements and even pattern of worship has its foundation in those earliest churches.