Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Regulative Principle?

Do you subscribe to the regulative principle?


andy scott said...

i do find myself asking "contemporary questions" such as what to do with modern equipment and technology not referred to in scripture (i think about the lights and whatnot used in passion worship conferences) or how to a passage like 1 corinthians 9:19-27 (becoming all things to all to all men) speaks to a principle which certainly places God as the director of His worship. i know paul is not saying that man dictates what God's worship should look like, but is there grounds here for having God-centered worship that maintains Biblical principles yet looks like the times in which we live?

Dex said...

I can remember reading T.H. White's book _The Once and Future King_, which among other things chronicles the boyhood of Wort, who would grow up to be King Arthur. Wort's tutor, Merlin, turned him into an ant and sent him into an anthill to learn what he could there.

Everywhere in the anthill Wort observed signs that said, "Anything not expressly forbidden is compulsory!" I think the Regulative Principle, for all my respect for our Puritan forebears, may be a bit like the signs Wort saw in the anthill, but is more like the doxological counterfactual: "Anything not expressly commanded (in worship) is forbidden!"

And I would have to respectfully express a scruple with the WCF (the Confession of my church) on this point. I'm a bit more comfortable with Luther's approach, which is, in keeping with the terminology of the anthill, "Anything not expressly forbidden is allowed."

Obviously one would have to take a pretty wide inferential hermeneutic to the Lutheran principle, but I think Paul gives us the pastoral principle in "Let everything be done decently and in order." Wise counsel, that.

What I do not want to see is the Regulative Principle used as it generally is, an ecclesiastical shibboleth that actually manifests not biblical principles, but generally speaking, cultural norms layered on top of the Gospel.

Paul was horrified to see his opponents come behind him in the churches of Galatia and, representing themselves as officials from the "home office" in Jerusalem, imposing Jewish cultural and cultic requirements on the vulnerable young Christians in the new churches Paul and Barnabas had planted, and Galatians is primarily about being able to distinguish between cultural traditions and the Gospel.

Patrick was kidnapped as a boy by Irish corsairs and put into slavery in Ireland. After he was able to escape back to his native England, he was converted to Christianity and only in his forties, as a monk (and past the normal lifespan for the , was called to return to Ireland and evangelize the Celts who had been his masters. He returned, grew out his hair and forsook the tonsure, and allowed the Gospel to take on a cultural form that was at once deeply Christian and deeply Celtic. He was lambasted by (the Venerable) Bede, who was sure that church ought to be done in the Roman way, and Patrick didn't comply. Nor did Columba, who went back across the Irish Sea and evangelized the blue-painted, wild tribal people known as the Picts, ancestors of the Scots. The Culdee church that resulted was not Roman, and Rome was aghast.

Hudson Taylor went to China with a group of British missionaries who stayed in the coastal areas of Shanghai and Kowloon, subsisting on import food and drink, evangelizing and teaching the Chinese that becoming Christian meant becoming respectable British gentlemen. Taylor scandalized his superiors in the mission office by putting on silk pajamas, shaving the front of his head, and heading inland to evangelize China and let the Gospel take a Chinese cultural form. Today he is venerated as a model of missionary contextualization.

I would submit to you that neither Paul, nor Patrick and Columba, nor Taylor violated the Regulative Principle, biblically applied, but I would suggest to you that they were all criticized by others in the church who applied a cultural shibboleth and doubtless tried to justify it biblically.

If I may be bold, to hell with the imposition of extra-biblical cultural shibboleths! Let us be like Paul, Patrick, Columba, and Hudson Taylor. Let us plant churches that take on the cultural form of their contexts -- yes, we critique the aspects of all cultures that should be judged, and all cultures have them (Bible Belt moralism among them). But let us use and celebrate those aspects of each culture that resonate with the biblical norms of the Gospel, and every culture has some of them, too.

In Christ, for His glory,