Gospel Liberty, RPW is Freedom from being Forced to Worship God in ways Devised by Human Invention

The Regulative Principle of Worship is Gospel Liberty. It is Liberty in that we are not forced to worship God in any way devised by human invention.

It is not enough to that that every single believer whose liberty is thus taken away is free to go and worship somewhere else. Nor does it justify imposing their human ideas of how God is to be worshipped on others. A church ought to order its affairs in general and its worship in particular in such a way that any believer who comes together with it should immediately feel at home and should no more be forced to worship in ways not found in scripture than he should be compelled to hear erroneous or heretical doctrine in the preaching and teaching or fail to receive the basic love and hospitality due a fellow believer.

Whether it deals with Crosses, Man-made Hymns, Choir, Drama, Dance, Musical Instruments, Musical Styles or a million other sorts of man-made and devised forms of worship.

David Lachman on Gospel Liberty in Worship from the book “Worship in the Presence of God”

“While positively, gospel liberty in worship is freedom to worship God as He would be worshipped, negatively it is freedom from being forced to worship God in ways devised by human invention. It takes away our liberty in Christ to be forced to sit and watch while a priest goes through some sort of mumbo jumbo or hocus pocus, with gestures, incense and the like. It equally curtails our liberty to be forced to sit and watch while ‘the fat lady sings’, while doting parents admire (and perhaps applaud) a children’s choir, while a dance troupe performs or while a dramatic production is presented. It does not matter if the performance is well or badly done. It does not matter if the performers are talented or not. It does not even matter if the performers intend in their hearts to honor God. For none of these things is required of us in Scripture, there is no indication God wishes to be worshipped in these ways. And to impose such worship on believers gathered together to worship God is to force on them worship of human invention. Whether or not they recognize that this is being done, the gospel liberty given us in Christ is thereby taken away.

It will not do to say that the individual believer whose liberty is thus taken away is free to leave and worship elsewhere, where there is a more congenial style of worship. This assumes an urban, suburban or large town setting in which there is a church which worships without the offending practice. It does not cover a situation in a rural or small town environment (or a state church in which non-biblical forms of worship are prescribed) in which the abridgement of liberty can not – or at least can not easily—be remedied.

Nor does it justify those who would impose their ideas of how God is to be worshipped on others. A church- any church- ought to order its affairs in general and its worship in particular in such a way that any believer who comes together with it should immediately feel at home and should no more be forced to worship in ways not found in scripture than he should be compelled to hear erroneous or heretical doctrine in the preaching and teaching or fail to receive the basic love and hospitality due a fellow believer. Those who believe themselves free to impose their ideas on other believers are seriously out of accord with New Testament teaching. We are not Lords and Masters in the church of Christ, but are only servants and ambassadors for Him; we have only powers which are ministerial and declarative, not legislative. There is nothing in Scripture which gives us power to innovate in worship; we are as restricted in this as we are in matters of doctrines, and without the authority of Scripture, are no more free to invent ways of worshipping God than we are free to invent teaching about Him.

 

Some have maintained that it is appropriate for different churches to have differing worship styles, often citing cultural differences. In practice this tends to mean catering to a variety of musical tastes (classical, folk, gospel, rock, etc) and often is just various kinds of entertainment, frequently with an emphasis on instrumental accompaniment. Indeed, much of what goes under the guise of worship today is essentially entertainment. The applause which increasingly frequently accompanies the performance of, for example, a musical or dramatic presentation is illustrative of this and those who attempt to excuse it as an expression of appreciation to God are simply deluding themselves, while justifying a practice which is essentially blasphemous, giving as it does honor to man in a service supposedly designed to worship God. Of course there is no indication in the New Testament that God is pleased by such a man-centered, entertainment oriented worship, whatever the musical orientation, there is no indication in Scripture that worship is to vary from church to church or that the aesthetics, musical or cultural taste of believers should have any influence on worship. New Testament worship is spiritual worship and, as such, like the worship of the synagogue, is devoid of signs, symbols, and ceremonies (apart from the two instituted by our Lord, baptism and the Supper); it is a worship in which cultural differences are minimized to the circumstantial and are not allowed to intrude into the substance of worship. Thus it is wrong to expect that we should have dancing in the aisles in one culture and ceremonies and vestments in another. While such externals as dress (as long as it does not signify anything and thus enter into the substance of worship), type of building and seats (if indeed there are seats at all), and time of meeting are circumstantial and vary from place to place and time to time, the substance of worship ought to be such that Christians from any time or placer ought to feel immediately at home- and ought not to find anything which would surprise them. Those who urge the expression of cultural differences generally do so because they also urge the inclusion in worship of practices which God has not commanded and which by their very nature are culture oriented. Gospel liberty in worship is such that cultural barriers are minimized; restricted our worship simply to what God has commanded enables this. Emphasis on different styles and on cultural differences separates Christians, both from each other and from God.

Others have sought to obtain freedom to worship God as they please by saying that only principles are taught in Scripture (e.g. that we are to praise God is clearly taught, but not how we are to praise Him; thus we may do so in prayer, drama, or whatever suits us. We are not confined to song).

But although it is true that praise of God ought to permeate our prayers and preaching, for example, as well as our songs, it cannot legitimately be concluded that the primary form of praise, that of song by the whole church, is not commanded as much as is the principle of praise. It is true that principles are taught, but that this is the case does not mean that forms are not prescribed as well. Saying that it is left to our judgment as mature Christians how we will render praise to God sounds noble, but if it leads to practices that are contrary to God’s revealed will it is nevertheless simple will-worship and rebellion, however artfully disguised by fine-sounding words.

How has the church been led into the non-Scriptural practices so common today? It is probable that the modern failure to consider God’s commands rather than human desires in worship stem largely from nineteenth century Revivalism which, working on semi-Pelagian or Arminian principles, sought to concentrate first the Revival meeting and then worship in general on the sinner and his conversion rather than on God. The results have been a worship oriented to the worshipper rather than the One worshipped. As the potential convert seemed to respond to gospel songs and extended emotional appeals and anxious seats, these were emphasized. Soon they became institutionalized in worship. It was reasoned that people were influenced for good by the use of such means; surely therefore God would be pleased. The progression to the present day, in which worship is largely entertainment, has been gradual, but really is little more than the logical results of such a premise. If it pleases people and attracts them to hear the gospel (often itself adjusted so as not to offend), we assume God will be pleased by it and that we are therefore free so to worship Him.

All this makes it plain that, as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it in the matter of divorce, “the corruption of man be such as is apt to be study arguments” that will enable him to worship God in a way that please him, without concern as to how God wants to be worshipped. This was true in the case of Cain and is equally true today. In my own experience, there is little as likely to get many, ostensibly spiritually mature, Christian people really angry than to suggest that they ought to consider if what they are doing in worship is really pleasing to God, according to Scripture. If we are genuinely seeking to worship God, if our worship is not to be will-worship, if it is not to be primarily oriented to entertain ourselves, surely we ought to focus on what will please God. For therein lies not only the right and only safe course of actions, but also the only true path of liberty, the freedom given us in the gospel truly to love God and serve Him as He would be served, forever.”

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