In my last entry, I alluded to the fact that the relationship between the means in a corporate service and the ends is symbiotic. In other words, just because you have a God-honoring “end” in mind (a congregation passionately worshiping Jesus) doesn’t mean that just any “means” are appropriate. To say it another way, many times unbiblical means will most of the time tell me that the biblical end is not properly understood.
Before I end up sounding like a hard-lined regulative principle guy, let me be clear—there are freedoms allowed with the means we are to use in a corporate setting. But there are also restrictions. While I don’t hold to the regulative principle (because I believe it to be more conservative than God), I don’t hold to the normative principle completely either (because I believe it to be more liberal than God).
For those whom I may have just confused, let’s look at the two principles mentioned and then I will offer a third alternative.
Regulative Principle (RP). This tenet says that unless the scriptures clearly indicate permission, a means to worship is not allowed. In other words, worship is regulated strictly by only literal, approved examples given in scripture. Within the RP camp there is disagreement, however. The most hard-lined RP guys are “Psalms-Only” folks. They believe that the only songs clearly permitted in church music are the 150 Psalm texts. There are also Modified RP folks that believe that church song lyrics should only be scripture texts. There are yet other RP folks who wouldn’t stand that conservatively on the issue.
Normative Principle (NP). This tenet says that unless the scriptures clearly indicate non-permission, a means to worship is allowed. In other words, if God doesn’t forbid it, it’s in play. The most hard-lined NP guys will allow things like this. They believe that God has given total freedom in any means necessary to engage a congregation’s affections. There are Modified NP folks that are more conservative that would not be comfortable with the example I’ve linked but would not forbid other less-liberal examples such as regular use of mood lighting, imagery, and icons.
Here’s my concern with both camps—they unintentionally go beyond the bounds of scripture by creating extra-biblical rules. Their intentions are very good. All involved are after the same thing I’m after—seeing God’s Bride enamored with Jesus. However, I fear that many times the RP and/or the NP are taking the path of Convenience over the more difficult task of wrestling through the Handbook that God gave to us. That’s why I like to call myself a BP guy (no—not the gas station).
Biblical Principle (BP). This tenet says that the scriptures clearly forbid some means and clearly endorse others while sovereignly remaining silent in yet other areas giving freedom all the while commanding mutual love and body edification all to the glory of God. (I’m still trying to codify this definition and have been trying to do so for some time. As I modify it, I will continue to share it here at the blog as well as at my Facebook page and Twitter page.) To say it another way, the BP seeks to be conservative where God is conservative and to be liberal where God is liberal. It seeks to be balanced , not because balance is the chief end of man but because God, in His wisdom and loving goodness can, most of the time, be best described that way. (God forbid that I make “balance” more important than God Himself!)
I understand that I’m probably sounding high and mighty and condescending on both the RP and NP camps. My intent is neither. But I do believe that both the RP and NP folks, with all their sincerity and loving intentions, have denied the sufficiency of scripture while attempting to do just the opposite (affirm scripture sufficiency). What a paradox! I will continue to fill all of this in over my next entries. I guess I’ve started another series….