One of the great marks of Reformed Baptist churches is their practice of the regulative principle of worship (see Chapter 22 in the Second London Baptist Confession for a full exposition of this principle). By simple definition this principle teaches that when it comes to how the gathered church worships God – whatever is commanded by God is right and what is not commanded is wrong. At the heart of this principle is the fact that God alone determines how He is to be worshiped. It is not man who decides what elements are most appropriate or fitting to serve as part of a worship service. It is God who says what is right and what is wrong in the matters of His worship. Thus, it is God who regulates His worship.
But how do we know what God has regulated or commanded for His worship? The answer to this question is straightforward: it is by God’s Word alone. What God has revealed in His Word by divine command, as it pertains to those portions of what His gathered church carries out in worship of Him – this and this only is what a worship service should consist of. Hence, there should be the reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13), the preaching and hearing of Scripture (2 Tim. 4:2), the teaching and admonishing of one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), corporate prayer and intercession (1 Tim. 2:1-8), and lastly, the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are the sacred and divinely prescribed elements of biblical worship. They are to be effected by the church with spiritual understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear in submissive obedience to the Lord (Heb. 12:28-29).
What should strike us on the surface is the simplicity of God’s regulated worship. To the average onlooker it is a plain, unadorned affair that might be scorned as boring. But such a charge betrays two things: first, this mocker of such biblical worship has only an appetite for the flesh. If there is nothing in this service to appeal to his flesh then he’s ready to leave and discard it as not worthy of his affection nor attendance. But here he only reveals how worldly he is when he thinks about God’s worship. His thinking about the worship of the church is something which terminates only on what his natural senses find attractive. It is therefore not God’s worship he’s really after but a time spent for his own liking and entertainment.
Second, the mocker who decries biblical worship as boring is further revealing his own distrust in the sufficiency of God’s Word. God has said all that He’s going to say about how and what He expects His church to do when it comes to offering Him acceptable worship. He has not nor will He ever reveal anything further. Hence, those scriptural elements commanded by God for His worship are enough for the church of Jesus Christ to carry out every Lord’s day. Nothing is to be added nor taken away. However, when well-meaning, sincere Christians believe it best to add or subtract from what God has commanded for His worship – they expose their lack of faith in the sufficiency of God’s own Word. They really don’t believe that such simplicity in worship as regulated by God is enough. They surmise that the reading, singing, preaching and hearing of God’s Word is too bare and restrained. They worry that people won’t like it and they won’t come back if a worship service doesn’t have other elements which excite and thrill the congregation. But what they don’t understand is that God is only going to bless and anoint what He has authorized by His Word (see Lev. 10:1-3). The Lord therefore is not looking for His church to be novel and creative in worship but obedient to what He has commanded. And what He has commanded the church to do in His worship is sufficient to be called true worship.