The Regulative Principle: The Laws of Inclusion and Exclusion

freedom_authority.jpgLet’s take a moment and ponder the Law of Inclusion and Exclusion. A typical statement is found in this quotation from Dub McClish

Respect for the silence of Scripture, involving the “law of inclusion and exclusion,” is rooted in Scripture itself. Simply put, when God specifies what He wants man to do or how He wants man to do a certain thing, He simultaneously includes what He wants and implicitly excludes every other thing in that class. We naturally and unconsciously use this principle every day.

When a song leader says, “Please turn to number 100,” he implicitly excludes every other song by including the song specified.

He then goes on to talk about gopher wood and such.

Now let’s consider how real people really use real language. Consider this example.

A family’s grandmother invites all her children and grandchildren to the house for Thanksgiving. She assigns to each child something to bring. One is to bring cranberry sauce, another her famous dressing, and another the bread.

On Thanksgiving Day, the children all arrive with grandchildren in tow and arm loads of food. The child asked to bring the bread also brings butter, jam, and her beloved chocolate chip cookies. The child asked to bring the dressing also brings a pumpkin pie.

Are these gifts accepted? You bet they are! Thanksgiving is a feast of sharing good food. There’s no harm and much good in bringing extra. No one complains. In fact, everyone celebrates.

However, the third child, who was supposed to bring cranberry sauce is partially deaf. She thought the grandmother said, “horseradish sauce,” which is what she brings. Her nieces and nephews, who love cranberry sauce, are disappointed, but she is nonetheless welcomed. After all, she’s family. And anyone with family knows that brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles are always less than perfect.

On the other hand, the family has a fourth child who has a malicious streak. He brings a live cobra! And the grandmother tells him that he can’t come inside until he puts the cobra safely away — or better yet, kills it. Grandmothers don’t like snakes!

Now, under Br. McClish’s interpretation, all of the first three children should be banned from the meal. They all violated the “law” of exclusion and inclusion. When the grandmother said “dressing” she excluded bringing anything extra at all.
But common sense tells us that they the offerings were welcomed. Some extra things (mmmm … pumpkin pie) are welcomed. Some extra things (ugh … cobras) are not. Under his standard, as pies are part of the same class as the other food items specifically requested, they are wrong, but because the snake is of a different class, it’s okay!

Well, that’s just plain ridiculous. The way real people really make real decisions is this:

* Real commands must be obeyed.

* If a command is silent on some point (and they all are), the silence is filled by resort to some principle other than the command and the silence.

Hence, the grandmother was silent on pumpkin pie. Her daughter reasoned that the pie would be welcomed because, well, that’s just the nature of Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, had she been invited to bring dressing for a hospital for diabetics, she’d have been quite wrong to bring the pie.

The cobra was wrong, not because it wasn’t commanded, but because it’s dangerous. However, if his grandfather were a herpetologist who loved snakes, it may well have been a welcomed gift.

You see, you just can’t answer the question by some supposed law of exclusion. The answer has to come from somewhere else.

Hence, the whole rubric of authority, silence, and such is wrong. It’s all built on false assumptions — indeed, assumptions easily shown to be false in many ways. You just have to take a step back, clear your head, and use a little common sense — and not get caught up in all the argumentation.

We’ve taught this so often and so loudly that we’ve lost our perspective. We take these false teachings as axiomatic — as too obvious to require proof — when they are in fact not true at all.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to The Regulative Principle: The Laws of Inclusion and Exclusion

  1. Nick Gill says:

    Good answer, and one that blends well with both Hebrews 7:14 and the whole import of Hebrew 9:1-10:25.

    I know you've written on Nadab and Abihu before, but you know you're going to hear it again from someone.

    I would guess that if the Secretaries of State and Defense showed up to the Inauguration drunk and rowdy, they'd get thrown out too.

  2. josh says:

    "A family’s grandmother invites all her children and grandchildren to the house for Thanksgiving. She assigns to each child something to bring. One is to bring cranberry sauce, another her famous dressing, and another the bread." (Jay)

    God isn't your grandma. His thoughts are higher than her thoughts and his ways are higher. God told his "grandchildren" Nadab and Abihu to bring fire to his "Thanksgiving" and they brought the wrong kind, and he burned them alive. Sounds to me like God uses language a bit differently from grandma. And perhaps, just perhaps, by reading the Bible rather than relying on human wisdom an man-made similitudes that aren't really all that similar, we can see how God uses language. Wow! What a concept!

  3. Mark says:

    Yes, good old Nadab and Abihu. The Bible doesn't say they did what was commanded "plus something extra." It says they offered strange fire contrary to God's command.

    What about this episode?
    And Jesus answered, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?" Luke 6:3-4 RSV

    You notice that David didn't get consumed by fire. God knows his children and our hearts. He isn't the legalist some make him out to be. In fact, he shares some things in common with Jay's grandma. Or, better said, she shares some things in common with him. She knows, loves, and receives her children, even when they don't perform perfectly.

    Good work, as usual, Jay.

  4. josh says:

    So David and his men ate the shewbread when they were starving to death. Is not using instrumental music in the corporate worship going to cause you to die? will you starve?

  5. Mark says:

    The text says "hungry." Josh says, "starving to death." Then, from waaay out in left field, you want to know if not using IM in worship will make me starve to death.

    Forget IM for a moment, if you can. You are making some theological assumptions based on your reading (a misreading, in my opinion) of the Nadab and Abihu story. The story Jesus references in Luke 6 challenges your theological assumption. Go ahead and deal with that instead of deflecting it with an inane question.

  6. josh says:

    "The story Jesus references in Luke 6 challenges your theological assumption."

    There is no assumption and no challenge. David was starving. David broke the law to maintain his existence. You are not starving and yet you want to add in instruments just because you want to. It is all very clear.

  7. gkerrigan says:

    Did I miss something? I didn't see instrumental music brought up anywhere in this post. I thought we were talking about silence.

  8. Nick Gill says:

    Dear Josh,

    Have you ever even read the second half of Leviticus 10? Do you even know who Eleazar and Ithamar are?

    God told them to eat the sacrifice and they openly disobeyed that direct command.

    Go read the rest of the chapter and find out what happened to them.

    Then ask yourself, "How (by what linguistic means)and why (for what purpose) did the Holy Spirit inspire Moses to connect these two passages?"

    I doubt that Scripture will affect your presumptions with reference to the nature of God, but the investigation might affect others, as well.

    Check it out!

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Josh wrote,

    "God isn’t your grandma. … And perhaps, just perhaps, by reading the Bible rather than relying on human wisdom an man-made similitudes that aren’t really all that similar, we can see how God uses language. Wow! What a concept!"

    God wrote,

    (Psa 103:8-18) The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

    11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

    13 As a father has compassion on
    his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

    (Quote is longer than needed to make the point, but read it all to really see God's heart.)

    (Isa 49:15-16) "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."

    God loves me more than my father or my mother, and he will show me more compassion than even my grandmother.

    Finally, no one is going to be persuaded by Nadab and Abihu because the analogy doesn't apply for reasons I've repeatedly explained and which I don't care to repeat.

  10. Mark says:

    I have been looking at 1 Samuel 21, and I just can't find where David was starving and needed the shewbread to stay alive. Maybe I'm looking at the wrong passage. To which passage are you referring?

  11. Nick Gill says:

    David was not starving.

    Jesus and his disciples were not starving.

    If David was starving, and
    If Jesus and his disciples weren't starving,
    Then Jesus would be using the text in an inappropriate manner.

    Therefore, David was not starving.

  12. David Guin says:

    Mark referenced above the Luke 6 account of Jesus and his disciples eating grain on the Sabbath. The Matt. 12 account includes a bit more of Jesus' explanation. I think Jesus' comment in v. 7 of the Matthew account is particularly appropriate here – "If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent."

    Jesus was quoting the beginning of Hosea 6:6. The rest of that verse adds further explanation – "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings."

    Clearly, this was not merely creating an exception in the case of starvation. Rather, Jesus was making the point that it is our heart that matters to God. Contrary to much of what I was taught growing up, that was as true in the OT as in the New (Jesus is quoting Hosea after all). David could eat the Bread of the Presence because he was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14) – he wouldn't have done so without good reason and was due mercy. Jesus and his disciples could pick and eat grain from a field on the Sabbath because nothing in the Torah prohibited such. It was only nitpicky rules that the scribes had created through their manmade hermaneutics (laws of inclusion/exclusion and the like) that treated grabbing a few kernels of grain as prohibited "work." The Torah was "silent" as to whether eating grain constituted "work."

    Jesus must have really liked Hosea 6:6. He also quoted it in Matt. 9:13 when responding to the Pharisees who criticized him for violating their manmade and judgmental scruples.

  13. Jay Guin says:

    I wrote something on this a while back. My take is at

  14. josh says:

    Nick says "Dear Josh, / Have you ever even read the second half of Leviticus 10? Do you even know who Eleazar and Ithamar are? / God told them to eat the sacrifice and they openly disobeyed that direct command. / Go read the rest of the chapter and find out what happened to them."

    Thank you Nick for reminding me of this very important part of the story. When Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire on purpose knowing better and in obstinance against God, and God slew them with fire from heaven for their insolence, then did God instruct Aaron and his remaining sons that they were not allowed to mourn their brothers since they died as heathen men. And although able to physically comply with such a command, certainly they mourned the death of their brothers internally, which resulted in them transgressing the commandment to eat the sacrifices in the holy place, but not willfully but rather from being overcome with grief to the point of forgetfulness. So also, those who add in instruments of music with malice aforethought are destroyed lock stock and barrel by the Lord and the brethren that remain alive spiritually are commanded not to mourn, but our hearts still grieve, and in our grief we may become forgetful and leave some duty undone, and God will forgive us but by no means will clear those Nadabs and Abihus. For he says in Exodus 34:7 that he is a God who is "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin," but yet at the same time says he is a God "that will by no means clear the guilty"–what is the distinction? He will forgive the sin and trespass of penitent Christians, but not of Nadabs and Abihus who transgress on purpose to see how far they can push him, and indeed how much they can grieve the true brethren.

  15. Mark says:

    what about those who add instrumental worship believing that it is consistent with the word of God to do so? Is that in any way different from adding instruments "with malice aforethought?"

    Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire contrary to God's command. It is impossible to offer instrumental worship contrary to God's command because there is no such command.

  16. Nick Gill says:

    That is some amazing self-justifying exegesis, Josh. Very impressive.

    God hates the evil those other folks do, but he'll forgive yours, eh?

    How do you know that God draws the line where you draw the line?

    Your evil assumptions about those whom God has accepted are every bit as much "malice aforethought" as anything the worst "progressive" ever brought into a congregation. There is not one ounce of "grieving on the inside" in what you wrote. If this is how "true brethren" communicate, I want no more of it.

  17. Todd Collier says:

    No, no, no. Reread Lev. 10. God will only destroy us if we use the instrument with malice aforethought while drunk. Josh the text speaks for itself – Nadab and Abihu did not regard God as holy. They sinned willfully and without regard to the consequences and so were punished. Eleazar and Ithmar sinned because they feared God and the consequences of messing up and were forgiven. Again God looks upon and punishes or absolves the heart. The God of grace strikes again.

  18. Gary Cummings says:

    This is a beautiful post and makes a lot of sense! One thing though, the grandchild could have brought a pie to a diabetic , if they used Splenda in the place of sugar. I make a low calorie pie for Thanksgiving each year and use Splenda. It tastes the same and even has no crust (or does that violate the Nadab and Abihu model?


  19. Gary Cummings says:

    Both were hungry.David ate the bread for the priests and Jesus and boys ate the corn in the field.

  20. youlackmadmen says:

    The thing that always seems to stop me from accepting ideas like this is the Pope. If anything can be added as long as it doesn't violate a specific command, does that mean that we can have a Pope? We are commanded to have elders in every city (Titus 1:5 – which seems to suggest the Catholic system rather than our own) but we're not told that it's wrong to have "elders above elders" (i.e. archbishops, cardinals and Popes). So would your rejection of the regulative principle allow that? Or is there something that I'm missing?

  21. Norton says:

    I don't think Jay is suggesting that anything can be added to church worship or government as long as it doesn't violate a specific comman, anymore than he would suggest its fine to get an abortion because it doesn't violate a specific command. We are expected to apply some judgement.

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