Author/evangelist Mark Driscoll did a series of sermons on the topic of “Religion Saves and 9 Other Misconceptions.” The last sermon in that series had to do with the Regulative Principle, the hermeneutical approach that says that unless Scripture specifically authorizes something, that thing is prohibited.
Driscoll stated the theme of the sermon as a series of questions:
Do you believe that the Scripture not only regulates our theology but also our methodology? In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not?
He then went on to offer an evaluation of the Regulative Principle and its counterpart, the Normative Principle. Let me share his analysis of the two principles (some of this taken from this blog which summarizes the sermon):
- The Regulative Principle (Only do the things specifically warranted in Scripture)
- Seeks to define worship by God and his Word
- Tries to honor the Bible and hold it in high esteem
- Draws a ditch between the world and the church keeping out syncretism, worldineess and paganism.
- Separates worship in the assembly from worship in everyday life
- Insufficient. Doesn’t answer questions about things not mentioned in the Bible (service length, approved seating, order of worship)
- Legalistically applied making rules with extreme applications that are not in the Bible (Psalms-only worship)
- The Normative Principle (Things are allowed unless forbidden by Scripture)
- Sees the bible as principles and gives flexibility for methods
- Allows cultural contextualization
- Treats gathered and scattered worship the same. When you live throughout the week you live by the normative principle
- Opens the door to syncretism, the mixing of biblical principles with ungodly cultural principles
- Makes our enjoyment and not God’s pleasure the object of our worship
- Elevates unbiblical elements to the point where they squeeze out biblical elements
Driscoll goes on to say that he doesn’t fully follow either principle. He states his own view as
“All of Christian life is ceaseless worship of God the Father, through the mediatorship of God the Son by the indwelling power of God the Spirit, doing what God commands in Scripture, not doing what God forbids in Scripture, in culturally contextualized ways for the furtherance of the gospel when both gathered for adoration and scattered for action in joyous response to God’s glorious grace.”