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John Calvin
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The regulative principle of worship is a teaching shared by Calvinists and Anabaptists on how the second commandment and other parts of the Bible orders public worship. The substance of the doctrine regarding worship is that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command, precept or example in or by good and necessary consequence from the Bible are permissible in worship, or in other words, that God institutes in the Scriptures everything he requires for worship in the Church and that everything else is prohibited. The term "regulative principle"—only in use since the twentieth century—is less frequently broadened to apply to other areas such as church government (Thornwell, 1841-2), but in this sense it becomes synonymous with the principle of sola scriptura.

The regulative principle is often contrasted with the normative principle of worship which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship, as long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church. In short, there must be agreement with the general practice of the Church and no prohibition in Scripture for whatever is done in worship.

The normative principle of worship is the generally accepted approach to worship practiced by Lutherans, Anglicans, Evangelicals, and Methodists. The regulative principle of worship is generally practiced by the conservative Reformed churches, Restoration Movement, and in other conservative Protestant denominations, and it finds expression in confessional documents such as the Westminster Confession of Faith (see Chapter 21), the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the London Baptist Confession of Faith.


The regulative principle regarding worship, which distinguishes the Calvinist approach to the public worship of God from other views, is that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command or example or which can be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture are permissible in worship, and that whatever is not commanded or cannot be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture is prohibited. Its strictest interpreters understand this to mean that God institutes in the scriptures precisely what he requires for worship in the church and that everything else is prohibited. As the regulative principle is reflected in Calvin's own thought, it is driven by his evident antipathy toward the Roman Catholic Church and her worship, and it associates musical instruments with icons, which he considered violations of the Ten Commandments' prohibition of graven images.[1] On this basis, many early Calvinists also eschewed musical instruments and advocated exclusive psalmody in worship,[2] though Calvin himself allowed other scriptural songs as well as psalms,[1] and this practice typified Presbyterian worship and the worship of other Reformed churches for some time.

Those who oppose instruments in worship, such as John Murray and G. I. Williamson, argue first that there is no example of the use of musical instruments for worship in the New Testament and second that the Old Testament uses of instruments in worship were specifically tied to the ceremonial laws of the Temple in Jerusalem, which they take to be abrogated for the church. A similar view is taken with respect to dancing in worship.[2] Since the 1800s, however, most of the Reformed churches have modified their understanding of the regulative principle and make use of musical instruments, believing that Calvin and his early followers went beyond the biblical requirements of the Decalogue[1] and that such things are circumstances of worship requiring biblically rooted wisdom, rather than an explicit command. Despite the protestations of those few who hold to a strict view of the regulative principle, the vast majority of modern Calvinist churches make use of hymns and musical instruments, and many also employ contemporary worship music styles and worship bands.[3]

While music is the central issue in worship debates, other matters have been contentious as well, including doxologies, benedictions, corporate confession of sin, prayer and the readings of creeds or portions of scripture. The presence of any one of these, their order and priority have ranged over various denominations.


  1. ^ a b c Barber.
  2. ^ a b Schwertley (1998).
  3. ^ Frame (1996).




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