People who think and speak in commandment/obedience terms often exhibit an OT law orientation.  They create a distinctive OT climate or mood by the way they discuss Scripture.  Some Reformed theologians (as below) are of this mentality and prone to create a rigid legalistic atmosphere by the way they craft their message and by language they use.  Perhaps this inclination comes from studying the Puritans or Reformers, all of whom (probably) in some way or other did not pull all the way out of Roman Catholicism which always has been OT based (ie, adherence to paedobaptism).  Concepts carried-over in this way have been adjusted and woven into many versions of Reformed Theology such as Covenant Theology [See RESOURCES] by men trying to describe how the various teachings relate to each other.  Another less obvious carry-over in thinking produces the kind of perspective exhibited in the regulative/normative discussion below.  Such thinking creates logical boxes, ways of thinking and reasoning that are confined by false assumptions - difficult for those inside to criticize or break out of.  Such arguments vary in degree of subtlety [See Chap 5 & 6 of "But I Say Unto You" By John Reisinger].  I have touched upon the tendency to inject OT thinking into the New1 with respect to the Cultural Mandate, and that of the Pharisees' with respect to marriage and the Sabbath [Cultural Mandate…Commands; War…Reading and Discussing Scripture; Keeping the Sabbath].

"Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you." (Dt.4:2)  The commands here and several other places in the Bible express universal principles concerning the alteration of God's word through any means, including teaching.  Teaching necessarily involves interpreting, explaining, and reasoning, at which point the Word is often adulterated or even perverted, leading to the misleading and manipulation/control of people.  Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets so that every last detail will be accomplished.  Consequently there is a curse upon anyone who relaxes [diminishing the force to render not binding] even the least command and so teaches others (Mt.5:17-19).  In Mk.7 the Pharisees and scribes confront Jesus about the failure of His disciples to wash their hands before eating.  Jesus condemns them for useless worship in teaching the traditions [rules] of men as though they were the commands from God.  "You leave [cancel, abandon, neglect] the commandment of God and [instead] hold to the tradition of men…thus making void the word of God by your tradition" (Mk.7:7-8, 13).  Paul calls Titus to sharply rebuke people who teach and devote themselves to "Jewish myths and the commandments of people who turn away from the truth" (Tit.1:11, 13-14).  Before His conversion, Saul (Paul) was vigorously persecuting the church because of the false literalistic instruction he was indoctrinated with.  Paul publicly rebukes Peter who is being influenced by legalists to contradict the liberating teaching of the Gospel by his restrictive actions (Gal.2:11-14).

Scripture gives us the absolutes of God which frame all of reality.  Altering these has the effect of moving a neighbor's landmark (Dt.27:17).  Taking another’s property is a form of theft.  Just as moving boundary stones reduces a neighbor's acreage, so where the doctrinal form is tightened by adding arbitrary regulations as absolutes, freedom is constricted beyond what God intended.2  This is a form of legalism.  The Scripture describes people who are caught in such restrictive logical boxes as "weaker brethren."  They are the ones that think (have been taught that) all kinds of things are wrong (even though they are not) and are not free to enjoy them before God.  Under the New Covenant where each believer has the Spirit of God, the word is “Each one should be convinced in his own mind” (Rom.14:5).  The NC is not the place for binding consciences with a bunch of rules like the Pharisees did with the regulations under the Mosaic Law.  We are to give one another latitude in this regard because knowledge and understanding are cumulative and progressive.  We are to be careful to treat one another with kindness and gentleness to allow each person to grow and pursue God in good conscience according to his understanding of the Scriptures.5


1.      The New Covenant is not Sabbatarian, though much of the Reformed movement has been devoted to a confessional and legalistic emphasis on Sunday as the new Sabbath.  The circumcision (death) of Christ ends the Mosaic Covenant marked by the sign of Sabbath keeping [see The Old Covenant].  The Old Covenant mark of male circumcision is not continued in the form of water baptism in the NT.  Christ has been circumcised for us and our coming to Him in faith makes us heirs of the promises to Abraham as depicted by our baptism into His death (circumcision) and resurrection [see Children of Abraham].  Neither does the NT have an earthly tabernacle, priesthood, continuing sacrifice or “sacraments.”  It boasts no visible external means of grace, or sacred times, or tithes as a Christian duty, etc.  [See the New Covenant Essays]  I have already explained in other articles what I have come to understand as true under the NT with regard to some issues [ie, baptism, see RESOURCES; Sabbath, see Keeping the Sabbath].  Remnants of other non NT concepts (such as agonizing over sin in repentance, the “mourner’s bench” from the Puritans) still show up as norms and ought to be rejected as NT church practice.  “…all those who give evidence of regeneration, which is repentance and faith…”  This idea of a probationary period during which baptism and acceptance as “brothers” in Christ rest upon evidencing of conversion seems to be a leftover from somebody (Puritans, Anabaptists).  Someone - leadership or congregation, has to at some point (6 months, 1 year) judge the authenticity of such professions.  Confession of trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins is more in character with the tenor of the NT as a requirement for baptism and acceptance into the fellowship.  The expectation is that scriptural understanding and spiritual growth will proceed and convictions will be formed that will allow one to later comprehend the complex matters of church membership.  [Pg.329-352, Notes on Believer’s Baptism at RESOURCES]

2.      Removing, diminishing, or changing absolutes is antinomian and promotes presumptuousness and disrespect toward God.

WORSHIP: The Regulative Principle and the Biblical Practice of Accommodation, 01 by Ernest Reisinger and Matthew Allen, a book about Baptist worship

If there are proper forms or rules of public worship, whatever framework is appropriate obviously applies to all its forms – regular scheduled meetings at the church building as well as small group meetings in homes.  “…the regulative principle [RP] teaches that God has set forth in Scripture the only acceptable ways of worshipping Him3 and that it is a sin to attempt to worship Him in any other way.  The opposite view, the normative principle [NP], teaches that we may worship in whatever way we wish as long as it is not forbidden in Scripture…an overly stringent application of the RP has caused almost as many problems as its rejection…the RP is not a coat-rack upon which every aspect, circumstance, and mode of worship must be hung…it is a hedge that acts as a boundary around broadly prescribed areas of worship.  Outside its boundaries we should not and cannot go.  [See Cause & Effect; Boundary Conditions; Form & Freedom]  Yet within its boundaries, there is ample room for variation in worship style and practice.”

“The RP is a carefully nuanced doctrine.  To fail to appreciate the nuances is to unduly caricature the doctrine.”


1: The RP applies only to church ordinances, church government, and acts of worship and not to the remainder of the Christian life…the RP is cabined to worship only…in every other area of life, Christians are under the liberty of the NP.  In this sense, the RP is an exception to the doctrine of Christian liberty.”

2: Under the RP, an explicit command from Scripture is not required to legitimize a worship practice…what ‘may be deduced from Scripture’ has the authority of Scripture itself…as long as an act of worship may be inferred from Scripture [as a “necessary logical corollary”]…”

3: The RP applies to ‘things’ or ‘elements’ of worship but not to ‘circumstances’ of worship…Circumstances surround worship but do not actually involve worship…‘adjuncts’ of worship.  ”include the time and place…the shape of a building, or the use of pews…

4: The RP does not apply to the ‘mode’ of worship…Scripture…does not always detail how these ‘elements’ are to be carried out…‘Preaching is an element of worship…but Scripture does not specify how many sermons must be in a service, whether there should be only one preacher or several, how loud or softly one should preach, what text a preacher should use on a particular occasion, etc.’”

“…we are free to draw upon the OT and its delineation of elements of worship not specifically abolished as part of the ceremonial law…While it is easy to state these ‘elements’ in their broad sense…there is much division over what is encompassed within each element as an appropriate and allowable act of worship…much of this division is unnecessary…God gives us much freedom within the parameters of these broad categories4…however…that freedom is not boundless.”

“Accommodation…is…the willing restriction of the exercise of legitimate Christian liberties for the purpose of redeeming people and circumstances which are governed by ignorance and misunderstanding…[it] flows out of Christian liberty.  It is the willingness to freely and volitionally restrict the exercise of Christian liberty.”


3. “our worship practices should consist only of what God commands.”

4. “Adiaphora are non-essentials [“things indifferent,” “externals” – vestments, liturgies, formulas, various ceremonies, rituals, etc.] which may be used or not used freely by the church.”

excerpts from Sola Scriptura and The Regulative Principle of Worship by Brian Schwertley


Sola scriptura is one of the fundamental principles of the Protestant reformation.  The other great principal doctrines of the Reformation - sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus are logically dependent upon sola scriptura.  By making the Bible the sole standard and authority for faith and life, Protestants refuted the Romish doctrines and practices that originated from human [even pagan] tradition.  The Calvinistic reformers achieved a greater, more thorough reformation in the church because they applied sola scriptura more consistently, logically, and effectively to doctrine, church government, and worship than did their Anglican and Lutheran counterparts.

The doctrine of sola scriptura, with its teaching regarding the authority, completeness, perfection, and sufficiency of Scripture, needs to be taught today with a renewed zeal and urgency.  The chief reason is the current declension among the conservative Reformed and Presbyterian denominations today, particularly in the area of worship.  Not only are many Reformed and Presbyterian churches allowing human innovations in worship, but the regulative principle of Scripture and the correlative doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible in all matters of faith including worship, are openly rejected by many pastors and elders.  The regulative principle (sola scriptura applied to the worship conducted by the church) is one of the greatest achievements of the Calvinistic reformation.  Reformed believers today need to understand the theological relationship that exists between sola scriptura and the regulative principle of worship.  Sola scriptura, properly understood, leads directly to the regulative principle.

What Is Sola Scriptura?

The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura teaches that the Bible (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) is the divinely inspired word of God and therefore infallible and absolutely authoritative in all matters of faith and life.  Because God's inscripturated word contains all the extant supernatural revelation of God, and because all forms of direct revelation have ceased (with the death of the apostles and the close of the canon), the Bible is the church's sole authority. Because Scripture is perspicuous (all the necessary teaching for salvation, faith and life are easily understood by the common people), there is no need for any additional sources of authority to infallibly interpret the Bible for the church.  The church (whether popes, cardinals, bishops, church fathers, church councils, synods, or congregations) does not have authority over the Bible, instead, the self-authenticating Scriptures have absolute authority over the church and all men.  Because of what the Bible is, the church's job is purely ministerial and declarative.  All men are forbidden to add or detract from the sacred Scriptures, whether by human traditions, or so-called new revelations of the Spirit, or by the decrees of councils or synods.  The Bible is sufficient and perfect and does not need any human additions.  Further, only that which is taught in Scripture can be used to bind the consciences of men.

The "Misrepresentation of the Regulative Principle" Argument

A rather common method of circumventing the regulative principle today is to give it a definition that is scripturally and rationally indefensible.  After defining the regulative principle falsely in this manner, the opponents of sola scriptura over worship then proceed to make their false straw-man version of the regulative principle look totally absurd.  The false version of the regulative principle that is used is: "If it is not commanded, it is forbidden."  In other words, there must be an explicit divine imperative for every worship ordinance in the church.  Fundamentalist Baptists argue in this manner when they say, "Where are we commanded in the Bible to baptize infants?"  Seventh-day Adventists say, "Show us where God commanded the apostolic church to rest and worship on Sunday instead of Saturday!"  Anti-regulativists use arguments such as: (a) the worship of the synagogue was never commanded by God; (b) Christ and the apostles attended and approved of synagogue worship; therefore, Christ and the apostles rejected the regulative principle.

Once a person understands the true definition of the regulative principle, he will immediately recognize that these objections are not based on Scripture, but on an ignorance of the regulative principle itself.  Although it is not uncommon to see a regulativist give a statement such as "if it is not commanded, it is forbidden" as a brief statement or summary of the principle, the Westminster Confession and virtually all Reformed authors define the regulative principle in a much broader fashion.  The regulative principle refers not just to explicit commands of Scripture, but also to approved historical examples within the Bible and to good and necessary consequence.  A particular worship practice or ordinance is inferred from many passages of Scripture.

Infant Baptism and the Regulative Principle of Worship

by Fred Malone [edited and interacted with]

and notes from God's Covenants (part 1), MP3 by Fred Malone

Two Conflicting Principles of Worship

According to the Westminster Presbyterian and the 1689 London Baptist Confession (the mother confession of American and Southern Baptists), the regulative principle teaches that God-approved Christian worship includes only elements and practices "instituted by God Himself limited by his own revealed will and not any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture."  In other words, speculation, invention, imagination, and uncommanded practices, etc., cannot be permitted to change or neglect instituted worship.

On the other hand, the normative principle of worship is practiced by Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, many charismatic and fundamental Baptists as well as a growing number of Southern Baptists who have turned from their theological heritage in the regulative practice.  It teaches that worship must consist of that which is commanded by God and may also include that which is not specifically prohibited by Scripture.  This opens the door to add many uncommanded activities which often limit, alter, or replace the practice of those commanded elements, which has the effect of changing the character of the NT.5

The normative principle invites invention, creativity, and new elements of worship which are never commanded or mentioned in Scripture.  It also permits practices which are prescribed in Old Testament worship to be used in New Testament Christian worship by the "good and necessary inference" principle of what may be deduced from Scripture, even if these practices are not prescribed for [or are out of character with] Christian worship.  This accounts for the traditional differences in worship between those from normative versus regulative backgrounds.  It also explains the normative additions of pageantry, altars, priesthoods, vestments, prayer books, mariolatry, prayers to saints, and other practices not instituted by Scripture for Gospel worship.6

The regulative principle has always recognized "that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed" (WCF 1:6).  However, these circumstances of worship are always limited to time, place, order of worship, length of worship, language, pews, air conditioning, etc. - issues which are common to any human society.  They have never included new uncommanded activities such as those normative additions mentioned above.

Adding to the confusion, others who claim to hold to the regulative principle have redefined the simpler elements of worship to include creative "applications" of those elements by "good and necessary inference."  Thus they justify new practices such as drama as a form of preaching and dance as a form of praise.  These are justified by good and necessary inference even though such practices are never commanded in either Old or New Testament Christian worship.  Such teachers have returned to the normative principle of worship by adding what Scripture has not specifically prohibited.

The Regulative Principle and Infant Baptism

Presbyterians often state that the authority for infant baptism comes from necessary inference of Old Testament circumcision of infants, not from positive command, example, or institution in the New (Warfield, Berkhof, Murray, et al).  In fact, they candidly and regularly admit that there is no command or example of infant baptism in the New Testament or anywhere else in Scripture.

Baptists often reject Presbyterian infant baptism by showing that the Paedobaptist ("infant Baptist") brand of covenant theology erroneously allows necessary inference from Old Testament circumcision to overrule7 the only positive institution of baptism in the New Testament, that of disciples alone.8  However, few recognize that this Presbyterian error of infant baptism is a violation of their own "regulative principle of worship."  On the other hand, Baptists have held historically to the very same regulative principle of worship and practice, the baptism of disciples alone, because of it.

Baptism is one of the sacraments [inappropriate term] which has been instituted by Christ.  Thus it is regulated by God, limited by His revealed will, and prescribed by Holy Scripture.  This regulation extends to the subjects of baptism.  Who are to be baptized?  How?  Why?  To answer these questions we must ask a more basic one: What has been instituted by Christ [and what is it intended for or to show]?

Christ's institution of baptism, in its mode, meaning, and subjects is to be regulated by the Word of God.  Yet Baptists and Paedobaptists agree that the only subjects of baptism which can be conclusively determined by Scripture are professing disciples.8  Infants are included only by necessary consequence, a normative addition which is never commanded in the Bible.  Therefore, the practice of baptizing babies violates the regulative principle.

Amazingly, Paedobaptist apologist, Pierre Marcel, actually states that God only gives us general instructions concerning the doctrine of baptism and then leaves it up to us to determine its practical application to infants.  This is done, he argues, by "normative principles" and therefore does not need to be prescribed literally by Scripture.  He compares the practice of infant baptism to the work of application in preaching.  This is a woefully inadequate comparison when one considers the Westminster Confession's inclusion of sacraments is under the regulative principle of worship.

It is even more astonishing to see how he uses the lack of biblical instruction concerning the baptism of adults who were born to Christian parents.  He makes these adult children of believers a special class and then cites the Bible's silence regarding their baptism to justify the baptism of infants.  The Scripture is not silent on the baptism of adults born of Christian parents.  They, along with everyone else, including boys and girls of every age are commanded by the Lord through the Scripture to repent and believe the gospel.  Those who do, regardless of their backgrounds, should be baptized (Acts 2:41) like the first century believers of NT times.

To make a special class out of the adult children of believers and then to equate the Scripture's silence regarding them with its silence on infant baptism is preposterous.  Such thinking can lead anywhere, even back to the seven sacraments of Roman Catholicism.9  After all, the Scripture is no more silent on infant baptism than it is on the administration of last rites.

When God instituted circumcision, He was very specific to identify its subjects.  This is why male infants were circumcised in keeping with the regulative principle.  Now in this New Testament era, are we to assume that the regulative principle concerning the subjects of the sacraments "instituted by Christ" (baptism and the Lord's Supper), limited by God's revealed will, and prescribed by Holy Scripture, are to be left to our application as if it were an uncommanded circumstance of worship?  Obviously not.  According to the regulative principle, the only subjects of baptism "instituted by Christ" and prescribed in Holy Scripture are disciples.

In Ex.12 every child ate of the Passover feast.  But when Presbyterians celebrate the Lord's Supper, the children are excluded because the NT commands us to examine ourselves and not to take it in an unworthy manor.10  Why are the children (even if baptized as infants) not permitted to partake until they profess faith in Christ and are able to examine their own hearts? - Because the principle of interpretation known as "good and necessary inference" was being misapplied from the OT into the NT.  Since Abraham, our father in the faith, circumcised his children as infants, it is appropriate by inference for us as Christians to baptize our infant children.  Do the inferences from the OT overrule principles and commandments of the NT for our practice as Christians?  No, the NT content has priority in determining how the OT is fulfilled in it.11  The NT makes it clear that the reality of our burial and resurrection with Christ is through personal faith (Col.2:12).  Therefore the Baptist position regarding believers' baptism and communion is in keeping with NT revelation.5

{The transfer of the OT principle of whole family participation in the Passover meal and all male (patriarchal) participation in circumcision into the NT Lord's Supper and baptism is not an inference that is logically necessitated at all.  There is continuity between the OT and NT figures and illustrations because the Bible is a unity and all revelation and covenants are given by the one unchanging God.12  But it is a violation of the NT interpretive authority to equate the OT practices with those of the NT due to a failure to understand the individual or personal accountability13 emphasized in the call of Christ pictured in these ordinances.  A covenant is a promise, oath, bond, or pledge by God defined by the revelation which establishes it.  The defining characteristics of an OT covenant do not govern the New Covenant because they are both preparatory and materially different in their content.  With the appearance of Moses and Elijah as a comparison, the Father’s word to us comes to the apostles, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him" (Mt.17:2-5).}

The supposed inference which establishes infant baptism has opened the door to other difficulties within the Reformed and evangelical Christian world - theonomy, paedocommunion, and applications of the regulative principle of worship which in fact have transformed it into the old normative principle.

Why we do what we do in worship, how the sacraments of the church are to be observed, and what the Word specifically says about the subjects of baptism are questions that must be answered from the Bible.


5.      Although the author’s examination and conclusions of church practices may be correct, I wonder if reasoning in terms of regulative, normative, or reasonable inference is the best way to describe Christian worship.  I prefer to discuss such matters in terms of the more universal principles of form and freedom and to approach all faith and practice in terms of that which is in character [tune, line, keeping] with the tenor of NT revelation (in general) and maintains the centrality of Christ and His redemptive work (in particular) [See NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY; Determining How Bible Passages May Be Used]  - access to God is through personal faith in Christ; basic ingredients of worship are humility before God as creator and trust in Christ as redeemer.

In this way, after the necessary elements are identified, man's creativity in keeping with the tenor of the NT and centrality of Christ is recognized.  In other words, within the basic forms governed by NT revelation there is freedom of conscience [individual soul liberty] with respect to all matters of faith and practice as to what is acceptable to God.  In light of realities uncloaked in the NT, one need not infer any norms from OT shadows and figures to be taken as absolutes, or even from NT practices to be taken as prescriptive.  Doing so results in a kind of reverse “reading back” from the OT into the NT that always clutters up and ruins freedoms with restrictions that transform the practice into a burden and obscure its real meaning and purpose - like what the Pharisees did to the Sabbath.  [See Cause & Effect…; RPCD, Appendix I]

Rigidly holding to the regulative principle can be destructive to the truth, beauty, and simplicity of the Gospel in a manner similar to the literalistic hermeneutic held by Dispensationalists.  Because of its literalistic inclination, consistent application of the regulative principle creates difficulties in areas other than baptism.  For example, instrumental music is not commanded in the NT.  What provisions are made for the exercise of Spiritual gifts in your worship service in accordance with 1 Cor.14?  Does one have to be ordained as pastor to serve communion or have the gift of teaching to teach in the church?  What about foot washing?  During the Passover meal at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus “rose from supper,” washed and wiped the disciples feet, and explained it as their duty to follow His example in washing one another’s feet (Jn.13:4-5, 12-17).

6.      Others add drama, dance, puppets, clowns, movies, magicians, comedians, weight lifting, high-pressured "altar calls," entertainment, and whatever else they can think of.

7.      Baptists and Presbyterians subscribe to the same principle of progressive revelation - The NT is the final, clearest authoritative revelation of God to man and must be the interpreter of OT types, prophecies and covenants.  OT figures and teachings cannot contradict NT fulfillment and revelation.  The NT determines the meaning of the OT language.  Though we [reformed Baptists] believe the same principle, we do not apply it in the same way or with the same consistency.  The 1689 London Baptist Confession omits the phrase "good and necessary inference" found in the Westminster Confession of Faith to avoid certain Presbyterian errors.

8.      Believer or credo-baptism is confessional baptism.

9.      demonstrates a defective theological framework and shows a forcing of the Scriptures to fit a system

10. There are some who both baptize their infants and give the Lord's Supper to the smallest of children.

11. The principle of the analogy of Scripture in which the clear interprets the unclear makes the NT the final authority in all matters of faith and practice - the Lord's Supper and baptism included.  The analogy of Scripture rests upon progressive revelation in that God has disclosed more and more details of His purpose and plan through time.  He accomplished this in stages as He revealed himself in each distinctive period by way of covenants in which He outlined His relationship with men.

12. This does not lead to the methodological presumption that Christians are obligated to obey OT commandments unless the NT indicates otherwise.  The primacy of the NT likewise denies Theonomy's imposition of OT case law and penalties upon modern society, and Dispensationalism's literal future fulfillment of OT prophecies or rebuilding of the temple, restored sacrifices, a Jewish millennium, etc.  There is no inference which is logically necessary to bring OT pageantry, dietary laws, priesthood, Sabbath day restrictions, or other forms of OT portrayals of reality into the NT.  By the same hermeneutical principle, interpretation of prophecy from a Jewish OT perspective cannot be held in opposition to the NT's explanation of its fulfillment.

13. "Behold, the days are coming (v.27)…In those days they shall no longer say: [there will be a change] 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.'  But everyone shall die for his own sin.  Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge." [the change involves personal culpability] (Jer.31:29-30; see Ez.18)  This was a proverb used by the Babylonian exiles to blame previous generations for the disaster of the Exile of Judah and thereby question the justice of God.  The exiled people were claiming that they were being punished unfairly for their ancestors' sins when in fact they were just as guilty because they were involved in the continual generational disobedience of Israel.  The change that will silence such arguments is the New Covenant God will make with His people to take away their enmity toward God (Jer.31:31-34).  Under this covenant, unlike the previous one with their ancestors, each individual will know God (v.34).