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The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 17


For most Christians, worship is at the heart of our relationship with God, both as individuals and a community. In worship we focus on God: on hearing a message from the Bible, on prayer, and on the sacraments. Of course individual Christians can worship in private. However in worship we ground our life as a community in a corporate experience of God.

It goes without saying that we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ wish to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. That has been the main thrust of the last 2 sermons on worship. It also goes without saying that as believers we wish to please God in our worship.

But how do we know what pleases God? How do we know how to offer God centred worship to the Supreme Being who is

1. Worthy of our Worship,

And who is One who

2. Demands our worship by virtue of His Character.


Last week we thought about how to prepare ourselves for worship – concluding that when we gather for corporate church worship, 2 basic things are happening.




And right at the end of the message we concluded that there exists a great principle that God has put into place to govern and direct our corporate worship – which principle is this –

Only those things which have the positive sanction of Holy Scripture are permitted in Public Worship of God.

When our worship is in accordance with God’s Word alone, then we please Him, glorify Him and ascribe to Him the honour of which he alone is worthy.

So now we need to examine and identify the scriptures which point us to ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP – ACCEPTABLE TO God, that is.

There are many today who would describe acceptable worship as what is acceptable to the worshipper. They look for a church whose worship is acceptable to them – for a style of singing, preaching, praying or other so called WORSHIP ACTIVITY that suits their spiritual needs, experience or traditional background. What they want is more important than what God wants and with which God is pleased.

I believe that the only place that we can find out what God enjoys, what pleases Him, and what is acceptable to Him – is the scriptures. The Bible also tells us what is unacceptable to Him and what is an abomination to Him – so that we may be warned and discouraged from going down that road. We read from Isaiah 1 and Lev 23.

In the encounter with the woman of Samaria the Lord Jesus Christ told her that the Jews had stripped worship of its spiritual element, and the Samaritans had stripped worship of its TRUTH element. In other words he said that they were worshipping in ignorance of God’s Word. The saviour brought Spirit and Truth together saying that God the Father seeks such to worship Him – full-heartedly and truthfully.

Let us examine this proposal made earlier – that

Only those things which have the positive sanction of Holy Scripture are permitted in Public Worship of God.

At the beginning of the 19th century a term was coined based on the historic reformed Confessions of Faith, – principally the Westminster and the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 – which became known as


This Biblical principle is clearly outlined, but not with that name, in the confessions and in the writings of many reformed and puritan theologians since the reformation of the 16th century. But because what the Bible and the Confessions teach about worship are principles which regulate how human beings who are Christians worship, the term has stuck – regulative principle of worship.

It is a necessary term for us this morning.

A regulator is a piece of machinery which controls the action or pace of another piece of machinery. A tap is a regulator of the amount of water that flows under pressure. But it works according to a set of rules – the smaller the hole in the tap outlet the less water will come out – the larger the hole the greater the flow of water. To regulate something is to control by rule. It is the same in the field of electronics – switches regulate electricity; then we hear of many regulators today in every kind of human organisation. There are regulators in the gas and electricity supply industries; regulators in the financial sector and many more – that simply exist to limit price increases, profits or competition.

A regulator then limits what can be done. Moderation, rules and restrictions are the hallmarks of regulation.

Now all this sounds very limiting and claustrophobic.

Yet we are already used to restrictions in every part of our lives. We are not allowed to go as fast as we can on any road in the land in our cars – we are restricted – we are regulated – for very good reasons.

God has given to us the 10 commandments which regulate the way that we live in relation to Him and to others.

We should not squirm as we think of a Regulative Principle, when it comes to worship of the great God whom we love and serve.

In worship then a Principle of Regulation exists to govern our acts of worship – and they are in the scriptures.

This principle is a distinctly Protestant and Biblical doctrine which has been stated like this –

“The Regulative Principle is a principle which requires POSITVE SANCTION or WARRANT OF divine Authority for all parts of worship.”

The term POSITIVE SANCTION does not only mean PERMISSION – but it communicates a command. So put another way

“The Divine Command is the only basis for worship, – so that what is not commanded in Scripture is forbidden.”

My friends it is easy to do our own thing in worship. We are not alone in our desire to be innovative and original in devising ways to please the Lord – in ways that we think would please him. What we forget is that we began life NOT pleasing the Lord. We are sinners. We were dead and altogether worthless to God. We were lost in trespasses and sins – what then makes us think that we are suddenly experts in the worship of God? What makes us think that, even though redeemed by the precious blood of Christ; even though forgiven all of our sins; even though saved by sovereign grace – that we have any innate ability to worship God and to please Him!

We could not come to God for salvation on our own – we needed God the Holy Spirit to quicken us and lead us to Christ – so it is with our worship – we begin ignorant – and we need to be led by the same Holy Spirit through the word of God to know what God requires and to guide us into acceptable worship – and to regulate us in our worship.

There were those in Jesus’ day from the Jewish community who replaced God’s regulations with their own rules –

Mark 7 v 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Bishop Ryle comments on this passage like this – “It contains a humbling picture of what human nature is capable of doing in religion. Judaism was in a low and degraded state when the Lord was upon earth. There is a tendency of man to invent things in religious observance which supplant God’s word.” Verse 8 draws our attention to the

laying aside of God’s commandment;

9 ye reject the commandment of God that ye may keep your own traditions.

Laying aside, and rejecting God’s commands – a serious charge indeed.

Man left to himself is a disaster! But –

The Bible has the power to transform and change. This was illustrated in a Japanese POW camp in Burma between Christmas 1942 and 1943. In 1942 the camp was a sea of mud and filth. It was a scene of brutality – Japanese guards treating the prisoners cruelly – and the dominant attitude was every man for himself – since there was little food – the law of the jungle! 12 months later the ground of the camp was cleared and clean. The bamboo bed slats had been debugged. Green boughs had been used to rebuild the huts and on Christmas morning 1943 2,000 men were at worship. What had happened? During the year one prisoner had shared his last crumb of food with another man who was in desperate need. Then the sharing prisoner died. Amongst his belongings they found a Bible. Could this be the secret of his life – of his willingness to share and not to grasp for himself? One by one the prisoners read the scriptures – one by one the Hoy Spirit began to change their hearts and within months there was a spiritual and moral revolution in the camp. They were lifted from disgrace to dignity by the royal standards of the word of God – the Bible.

When the Word of God begins to be lived – men begin to be lifted! (From J Blanchard Truth for Life p 130) We need the word of God more than anything else – in life and in worship!

At the birth of the Christian church Jesus Himself established proper ordered worship – Spirit and Truth worship – and he warned His disciples and other followers against copying the Pharisees – men whose invented traditions superseded God’s commandments.

We should not follow such, my friends!

But what happened next in history – the history of the past 2000 years?


Allow me to briefly review some Reformation history this morning in order to show you how the Biblical Doctrine of true worship in Spirit and in truth was recovered.

Within 2 centuries after the Lord Jesus’ founding of the Church with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost idolatry crept in to Christian worship. After three centuries the Roman Catholic Mass and an infallible Pope were set up and the church was doing exactly the same as the Jewish leaders –

“teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”

And so it continued through the Dark Ages with a vice like grip over all the world where Roman and Greek and Eastern Catholicism held sway.

Until, that is – the 16th Century – when a Roman Catholic priest and theologian, Martin Luther began to question and challenge things like indulgences sold to poor gullible people to guarantee them heaven – and other excesses of religion. In October 1517 he nailed a piece of paper listing his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg in Germany. Luther BEGAN a process of change in belief – but sadly Luther did not go quite far enough.

Martin Luther actually did not identify nor practice the regulative principle of worship. He continued to retain the trappings of Roman liturgies and worship modes. He supported what is called the OPPOSING PRINCIPLE – which states –

“Providing a thing is not expressly forbidden in scripture – then it is allowable.”

Now even though they came out of the same Protestant Reformation, these 2 views about worship prevailed – and they tend to divide people today.

Martin Luther had a very high view of the Bible. He knew it to be the Word of God and he insisted that the church return to Bible preaching and the proclamation of the Gospel.

He said “My conscience must submit to the Word of God. To act against conscience is unholy and dangerous.”

But the same Martin Luther also said, “I condemn no ceremonies except as such are opposed to the Gospel. All the rest I retain intact within the church.”

Luther saw some ceremonies as free and harmless. He believed that we can do anything in worship providing that it is NOT FORBIDDEN by God in scripture, not opposed by the Almighty. That is why it is called the Opposing principle.

Martin Luther was once asked “Where has Christ commanded that the host be elevated at the mass?” This refers to the way that the Roman Catholic priest raises the wafer in his hands high in the air.

Luther replied “And where has Christ forbidden it?” There are many reasons why this hero of the Reformation held this view. The most important being that Luther really believed that the preached word was the all-important thing – that pure doctrine needed to be recovered as a priority – and that the preaching of the Gospel of the free grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ be re-established at all costs! So he was willing to ignore any need to reform ceremonies and rites in the process – so long as THE WORD WAS PREACHED.

Along with Melancthon, another Reformer and Theologian at Wittenberg University, Luther was prepared to go to any lengths to ensure that the pure gospel was preached in churches. Yet he believed that he could safely leave alone the rites and ceremonies – calling them “indifferent to the cause of the Gospel.”

The Lutheran reformation was therefore built on the principle that in worship, “providing it was not forbidden – it was allowable.” Time would show that Luther created a Theory/Practice gap here that was as wide as the ocean. Pure Biblical Doctrine is not sterile – it is living and active – and it brings about changes in the heart and mind. Paul’s doctrinal letters included practical applications. They are rich with exhortations for his readers to live out and practice what has been taught.

And this gap between Doctrine and Practice exists today. More and more, in evangelical churches today, services start off with so-called WORSHIP TIME – YET WHICH IS NO MORE THAN A JAMBOREE OF MAN-CENTRED SONGS AND SPONTANEOUS PRAYERS AND WORDS OFTEN CALLED “The preliminaries”. These are designed to get the worshippers in the mood to hear the preached word. And some people come away from such meetings saying “The first part was awful – but it was a good word!” Excuses are made for the preliminaries because the preaching and teaching was good. The first part of the meeting is justified by the Bible Ministry which is supposed somehow to cancel out the unhelpful first part.

But this is where Luther stood – so long as the Bible was preached – so long as doctrine was rediscovered – then the practice of worship did not seem to matter too much!

However other Reformers parted company with Brother Martin Luther on this issue. They could see that the reforming process permeated every part of the Christian life and church life.

Ulrich Zwingli ministered as a Pastor in German Switzerland in the 1520’s. His reforms in that country resulted in relics being buried; processions prohibited and images removed from churches. He desired to abolish all that could not be proved by scripture.

In Geneva, in French Switzerland, a similar reformation was under way at the same time – under the leadership of John Calvin. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion he insisted on the proper regulation of church affairs based solely on the scriptures. Let me quote from the Institutes – commenting on Colossians 2 v 20

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

“Paul maintains that the doctrine of the true worship of God is not to be sought from men, because the Lord has faithfully and fully taught us in what way he is to be worshipped. Indeed “will worship” in verse 23 is condemned as fictitious modes of worship which men devise or receive from others concerning the worship of God.” Institutes p 418/419.

John Calvin leaves us in no doubt about how God ought to be worshipped – God does not need man to invent his own ways – the Lord has laid them down for us.

Another notable person in the Reformation of worship was Thomas Cranmer – the first truly Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury – in 1533.

Cranmer was responsible for the Reformation in practice in the Church of England in the 16th Century. He was the architect of the 39 articles and the Prayer Book. However Cranmer was Lutheran in his outlook. We remember that he was the Archbishop of Canterbury during Henry Vlll’s reign. To retain the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church and to eclipse them by an emphasis on the word of God might have been a compromise – but it became a convenient and political doctrine to hold. The Church of England to this day retains the right to ordain ceremonies which are not specifically forbidden in scripture. This is how it is so easy for inter-faith and multi-faith services to be arranged by the Church of England authorities.

John Knox in Scotland, the English Puritans and the English Separatists took the line of Calvin – Sola Scriptura – the Bible only – worship can only be ordered according to that which God has commanded.

Can we find this so called Regulative Principle in scripture? Has the Living God given His believing people guidance on how to worship?

Yes He has – which is consistent with His kindness to us – he does not expect us to make things up as we go along. He does not make unreasonable demands on us by requiring a standard of worship, but not telling us how to approach Him! He has laid out His will for us clearly so that there can be no misunderstanding or mistakes. His will is found in the Bible.


1. In the Old Testament.

2. Specifically in the Moral Law

– In the Ten Commandments and in particular the first two commandments.

3. In the New Testament.

1. In the Old Testament.

We begin our Biblical Survey in the Old Testament.

1. When did God first appoint worship?

It was in the Garden of Eden. The tree which was forbidden set the bounds of man’s responsibility. If man obeyed – then blessings would abound – but for disobedience – a curse. God was the authority and therefore He commanded worshipful obedience.

We know what happened and man fell.

Outside of the garden an animal was slain because the death of an animal became the way of access to God. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. Without a proper approach to God through a sacrifice – there was no acceptable worship.

Cain found this out to his cost – because he brought an offering in worship that God did not accept – and his face fell.

Genesis 4 v 1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. 2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

Abel’s worship offering was accepted.

Cain’s worship offering was rejected.

God had given the Adams family instructions – his divine pattern for worship.

Abel offered according to the Regulative Principle.

Cain offered according to the Opposing Principle.

God had not forbidden vegetables – so Cain thought that they would be acceptable.

But God had commanded, by His provision after the fall, that man should bring a lamb whose blood was shed.

2. Worship in the Tabernacle.

Exodus 25 v 1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering.

8 And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. 9 According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.

40 And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.

God gave Moses clear and concise instructions regarding the tabernacle, its construction and the rites and ceremonies that were to be performed there in worship. God allowed only that which he had ordained. God had a pattern – a blueprint – and he expected his people to stick to it – or bear the consequences. I only have to name 2 men – Nadab and Abihu to illustrate what happens when strange worship is offered – they met a terrible end! Leviticus 10 has the details.

3. In Solomon’s Temple.

1 Chronicles 28 v 9 And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. 10 Take heed now; for the LORD hath chosen thee to build an house for the sanctuary: be strong, and do it. 11 Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlours thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat, 12 And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the LORD, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things: 13 Also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the LORD, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the LORD.

Solomon observed the rules for the setting up of the temple – God gave instructions.

4. Jewish Rites of Worship.

Deuteronomy 4 records God’s precise regulations for worship for the people of God –

1 Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. 2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

12 v 32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

5. God noticed deviations.

The Lord disapproved of practices that He had not commanded. We have referred to the 2 priests who offered strange fire that WAS NOT COMMANDED in Leviticus 10. But we also can notice what happened in the case of Hezekiah the King. 2 Chronicles 30 shows how this good king removed idols from the land. An excellent reformation was put into place – but for one thing –

2 Chronicles 30 v 18 For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good LORD pardon every one 19 That prepareth his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. 20 And the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.


6. Death was the result in the case of Uzzah.

When God’s work is not done in God’s way according to His regulations disaster often follows. 1 Chronicles 13 records the results of this.

God is serious about worship – can we be anything less than serious when we learn from God’s word what He thinks about it?

These are some of the incidents in the Old Testament.

Now we come to key themes in the law. Turn to Exodus 20 –

1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

2. Specifically in the Moral Law – in the Ten Commandments and in particular the first two commandments.

The Moral Law summarises the unalterable and eternal requirements of God – of us His creatures.

Commandment Number 1 deals with the Object of our worship the Lord God Himself. No other gods before me. This is the theme of WHO WE WORSHIP.

Commandment number 2 is concerned with HOW WE WORSHIP God. He requires us to worship Him in His appointed way – He insists upon it – according to His word – and not according to human devices and inventions.


He insists on being worshipped in the way that HE says – thou shalt not appoint anything contrary to His will in worship.


We are not to devise anything according to our own will or whim – for ourselves, without a commandment from God.


Anything that we make up out of minds, imaginations – or make with our hands to worship – are condemned by the Lord God.

My friends the Law of God declares the Regulative Principle and dismisses the Opposing Principle. God gives us the details of ordered worship – not man.

3. In the New Testament.

Since the Moral Law of God is eternal and permanent, and the Regulative Principle is declared in the Moral Law, then we can expect to see the same principle running through the New Testament also.

We know that as New Testament believers the Old Testament rites and ceremonies were removed with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He fulfilled all the types and pictures in the ceremonies and the offerings. We can remember how the veil in the temple was ripped in two and access to the Holy of holies was obtained through His sacrifice.

So worship in the New Testament should be in that new and living way – through the Lord Jesus Christ alone – not in ceremonies, but in Spirit and in Truth – through the ascribing of worth to Him – through the praises of His people ; through the preaching of His word and through the 2 ordinances.

But what has happened during these past 2000 years?

Christians have merely replaced Old Testament ceremonies with their own man-made, man inspired, man stimulating and man centred rites and services.

God never intended that to happen when He abolished, in His Son, the old ceremonies. The Lord God has retained the right to legislate and to regulate our New Testament worship as well.

1. The Lord Jesus Christ taught regulated worship. We have seen that from John 4 v 24 where he defines worship – as Spirit and Truth – or the adoration of the soul taught and directed by God’s truth.

Worship then must have warrant – Authority.

George Swinnock a puritan says “In truth – that is opposite to the inventions of man’s HEAD. In spirit – that is sincerely – opposite to the pretences and deceits of man’s HEART.”

2. There are references in the New Testament to Moses. We read earlier from Hebrews 3. Moses was the head of the Old covenant – in which God regulated worship in every detail.

The Lord Jesus Christ succeeded Moses as the head of the New Covenant in the same way – and the Lord Jesus Christ regulates worship in every detail.

When commissioning His disciples in Matthew 28 he told them to

teach all nations,


Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:

My friends this gives us no leeway whatsoever to do our own thing in worship.

The circumstances of worship may vary from place to place and time to time – but the elements of worship will never vary according to the Lord Jesus. We will look closer at the elements another time.

3. The Apostle Paul is also concerned with Order in Worship. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit he writes to the Christians at Colossae, Corinth and Ephesus and to Titus and Timothy particularly mentioning worship.

Let us as we worship together be sure that we know why we are doing what we are doing in the praise and adoration of our wonderful God and saviour Jesus Christ. Let us be sure that we are doing it HIS WAY and not ours. Let us know what it is to please Him. And let us live up to our name – evangelical – let us be truly Bible Christians – in practice as well as theory!

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