The Regulative Principle: The Scriptural Argument, Part 1

freedom_authority.jpgThere are as many proof texts and arguments in support of the Regulative Principle as there are Church of Christ preachers, it seems. I’ve addressed most in previous posts, but I thought it might be helpful to accumulate them here and to fill in a few blanks I’d not gotten to yet.

“If anyone … does not bring this teaching …”

(2 John 1:9-11) Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

The argument based on this passage is answered here. As the linked post explains, the command is actually to condemn those who reject the pure, simple gospel of Jesus.

They worship me in vain

(Matt. 15:8-9) “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

This passage actually says that it’s wrong to bind laws that God hasn’t bound. It’s explained here.

Will worship

(Col 2:20-23) Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

“Self-imposed worship” is translated in the KJV as “will worship.” The Greek word is ethelothreskeia, which Strong’s Dictionary translates as “voluntary (arbitrary and unwarranted) piety, i.e., sanctimony:–will worship.”

In context, just as in Matt. 15:8-9, the passage is speaking of commands imposed by men to honor God that aren’t really commands. The Colossians seem to have been imposing restrictions on themselves “just in case.” Paul condemned this — and yet many of our teachers claim this passages supports making all silences into prohibitions. It really says quite the opposite.

If anyone adds anything …

(Rev 22:18) I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.

This passage is cited as proving that it’s sin to add practices to Biblical practices. But it actually condemns adding words to the book of Revelation — a very different thing. And even if it refers in principle to all the Bible, the sin would be to add a command that God didn’t make. You see, it condemns adding to the “words” of the Bible. Hence, silence must remain silence.

You see, it’s just as wrong, perhaps worse, to make a command God didn’t make as to deny a command that God made. These three passages plainly condemn imposing commands that God didn’t impose in an effort to please him.

These passages certainly tells us to be silent where the Bible is silent — and not by binding uncertain prohibitions.

A different gospel

(Gal 1:6-9) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Now, Paul certainly speaks very harshly of teaching “a different gospel”! But what was it the Galatians were doing that put them at risk of eternal condemnation? Well, they were imposing a command that God didn’t impose — just to be safe. They made circumcision a requirement to be saved — and were standing on the edge of damnation for trying to honor God in this way.

What on earth would cause us to think that God wants us to issue commands he hasn’t? I mean, no one suggests that God ever actually said not to use instruments! Why then add a command to the Bible in the teeth of these dire warnings?

The Regulative Principles contends that God prohibits anything that’s unauthorized. We’ll consider the proof texts for this argument in the next post.

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 Scriptural Argument, Part 1

  1. josh keele says:

    So let's bring in the censors and cross ourselves on our heads ten in a larger fashion on our chests and run our fingers through rosaries and/or prayer ropes and bow to statues (or for those offended by statues, paintings that we shall call "portals to heaven") of Jesus and Mary and kiss them. We can't forget to place the bread in a monstrance (a big sunburst lampstand looking thing) and hold it up for all the congregation to bow to. And then we'll have an order of celibate men separate from everyone else, and one of these will place a dissolving wafer in people's mouths so they won't chew. The Bible doesn't specifically say we can't right? Why can't we? At the beginning, we won't be teaching a different gospel–oh, we'll keep preaching the same gospel to be sure. We'll just do everything in a different form and make it more showy. But eventually, we'll end up worshiping Mary as a goddess and believing that we can pay this new order of men a little money to get our souls of this new place called purgatory. But that's ok too right, because where does the Bible specifically say "thou shalt not beleive in purgatory?" It sure is too bad that I can't use "ad hominems" anymore due to your new rule, Jay, because I feel one coming on.

  2. josh keele says:

    Oh, and we can't forget to place our paintings of Jesus on sticks and parade them around while chanting something barely audible and wearing really cool "pius looking" hats. Yeah, that's the way to go now that Jay has slain that horribly offensive Regulative Principle that has bound us to Jesus Christ and his Gospel like some tyrannical fetter.

  3. josh keele says:

    I would be negligent to not menton our uber-awesome new yoga and taebo service fully euipped with a cross between African dance and a Native American rain dance.

  4. Jay Guin says:


    You wrote, "But eventually, we’ll end up worshiping Mary as a goddess." Why would this be wrong? Because it violates some law of exclusion?

    No. It's wrong because it would be idolatry. We don't need to invent a law of exclusion to know that it's wrong.

    The harder question is whether a morally neutral act becomes wrong solely by the scripture's silence. Harder yet is whether a morally good act becomes wrong because of the scripture's silence.

    For example, baptizing a convert is certainly morally good. But there's no authority for conducting baptisms during the worship service. The Christian church did not conduct baptisms during Sunday assemblies until the 19th Century — it's a feature of frontier revivalism.

    It's certainly good to baptize someone. But may we add baptism as an act of worship to be performed in the assembly just because it's a good thing? Why not wait until after the closing prayer?

    I mean, we can play instruments or have a choir after the closing prayer — but many would say these same acts are wrong before the closing prayer. Why is baptism different?

    Where in scriptures do we find authority to baptize during church? And if the scriptures are silent, why isn't it a prohibition?

  5. josh keele says:

    "I mean, we can play instruments or have a choir after the closing prayer — but many would say these same acts are wrong before the closing prayer. Why is baptism different?"

    Unbeknownst to yourself I think you answered your own question: baptism is commanded in the Testament and neither choirs nor instruments are.

    And, yes, praying to Mary would be idolatry, as would an unaltered Native American rain dance. But what if we altered the chant used in the raindance to specifically be directed to Jehovah–could we use it in worship then? And what if instead of praying to Mary we just kissed paintings of her?

  6. Jay Guin says:


    Worship of anyone or anything other than the one true God is idolatry. We don't need a law of exclusion to figure that one out.

    Let's move to a more important question: Let's just imagine that you and I were to disagree about what's appropriate in the assembly. Neither of us is pushing idolatry or licentiousness. We just read the examples and commands differently.

    Let's suppose I approve of multiple cups and you insist on just one. Does that mean we must treat the other as damned?

    If so, what passage says that grace won't cover such a disagreement? I mean, if grace doesn't cover sin, what does it do?

  7. josh keele says:

    "Let’s suppose I approve of multiple cups and you insist on just one. Does that mean we must treat the other as damned?"

    Jesus is Lord, Jay. Jesus (the Lord) took a cup. Jesus (the Lord) said "this cup is the new testament ratified by my blood." Jesus (the Lord) said "do this in remembrance of me." Are you the Lord? If not, from whence receivedst thou this authority to change what the Lord established? But suppose you did not seek to change it, but just believed that others could. Ok, just grit your teeth in the interest of unity then and don't go around trying to persuade everyone of your ridiculous error. But if you did seek to set yourself up as Lord in Christ's place and change what the real Lord had established, then you are causing division contrary to the doctrine of the Lord Christ and are to be marked and avoided. (Rom 16:17)

    But I will add, that here no "law of exclusion" as you call it is necessary since the Lord established exactly what was to be done and gave each thing its specific significance. Where a "law of exclusion" would come in is on something like trying to bring a Christianized rain-dance into the worship. You still have yet to answer whether or not that would be ok. An unaltered raindance we agree would be idolatry–but what of a Christianized raindance? What of taebo exercises as part of the worship?

  8. Jay Guin says:


    Regarding worship, manifestly, whatever is done must be consistent with the purpose of the assembly.

    Regarding multiple cups, is it your position that all doctrinal error damns?

    Or is it your position than only certain errors damn? And if so, which errors are those? What's the test?

  9. Ray Perkins says:


    The same thing can be said about hymnals, pews, announcements, baptisms, etc. None of those things are evident in Scripture. Do those damn too? Or only those things that are your pet issues?

    How about a song leader? No scriptural evidence for that position. In fact the Biblical example is quite different. I trust you can read the worship passages in I Corinthians.

  10. josh keele says:

    Please show me exactly where I said that using multiple cups damns. I want to see it in black and white where I said such a thing! Jog my memory, por favor! I recall my Luke 12:42-28 discourse that the person who puts it in and the false teachings pushing and maintaining it will be cut asunder, i.e. damned, and those who know better but are not prepared to speak up will be beaten with many stripes, and that the people being ignorant and led astray will be beaten with few stripes although not damned. Surely, Jay, you have not forgotten my position on this? You just keep alleging that I am saying it damns as an ad hominem, even though you have supposedly banned ad hominems from your site. But I don't mind that. 🙂 I'll let you break your no ad hominems rule since alleging that I say it damns is all you have wherewith to fortify yourself against the Scriptures.

    But notice this: Whether it damns or not is beside the issue. Do you only concern yourself with obeying Scripture when you are 100% persuaded that disobedience damns? Isn't purposefully leaving good undone a sin? To him that knoweth to do good and does it not, to him it is sin. Is it good to observe the communion properly? Doubtless. Then to purposefully leave that undone or purposefully corrupt the communion is certainly sin. And if willfully persisted in, it will damn as per Hebrews 10:26, from whence it is not unjust to say that the originators of the false practice and its willfull protectors are damned.

    Ray, how is whether or not an expedient like a hymnal is allowed or not equivalent to a complete denial of a particular verse? Paul says that we being many are one bread because we partake of that one loaf. Now, if I throw out the one loaf and institute a new supper using multiple wafers (in imitation of the Roman Catholic Church) in outright opposition to the obvious fact that not only did Jesus take one loaf and call it his body (of which there is only one) but also Paul says that we partake of one and therefore are one–if I reject all that and mimick the Pope in using multiple wafers, is this not altogether different from printing a hymnal to keep the singing organized? Yes it is VERY different. Your argument is hackeyed and just plain silly.

  11. josh keele says:

    above, "and the false teachings" clearly should be "and the false teachers"

  12. Ray Perkins says:

    Josh, you fail to see the principle you espouse. If you champion the position that Jesus passing a cup and breaking a loaf of bread is the absolute and only means of partaking communion, then you impose a literal, unmovable application of an example. In order to be honest, then, with your interpretation you must apply that principle across the board to any kind of example within Scripture. Therefore, the "expedients" as you term them are invalid, as they are diviations from the Divine examples contained within Scripture, i.e. treasuries, song leaders, hymnals, etc. To do otherwise, invalidates your imposing of one form of binding an example by the ignoring of others. The result is that your argument is hackeyed (your term, but I suspect you mean hackneyed=trite, platitudinous, vapid, banal)

    BTW: It is an old CofC position that if someone else does it it is an Addition; if we do it it is an Expedient. This seems to fit your varying, disconnected positions on a multiplicity of things.

  13. Ray Perkins says:

    To put this another way, and in more plain terms, if the example of Jesus taking one cup and passing it to his apostles is binding, so is the example of the collection/treasury, as Paul wrote in I Corinthians 16, as the means of Christian benevolence and the only way those funds can be utilized. Now, this stands in stark conflict with the way those funds are used in the majority of CofCs and with the insistence by the Antis within the CofC that benevolence cannot be enacted from funds held in the treasury. (BTW which is another one of this issues similar to the one cuppers that split the CofC)

    Here is where your theological directive breaks down. Does it matter whether there is one cup or more than one cup, or is the principle and substance of celebrating the Messiah's sacrifice the priority? Does it matter whether benevolent work is financed by the individual or by the treasury, or is the principle and substance of meeting the needs of the needy the priority? Form or Function? Is there room enough to differ over minutia, respecting the others position, while fulfilling the celebration of the Cross in the communion and extending the goodness of Christ in feeding, clothing, and caring for the impoverished?

    The answer to these questions, and many more similar in nature, is found by the devotion to serve Him. The communion is no different in one cup or many; it remains a celebration of victory over sin and death. Benevolence is no different done from the pockets of the individual or the church treasury; it remains an extension of the love of God and his people.

  14. Jay Guin says:


    You're avoiding the question. I simply asked, "Let’s suppose I approve of multiple cups and you insist on just one. Does that mean we must treat the other as damned?

    "If so, what passage says that grace won’t cover such a disagreement? I mean, if grace doesn’t cover sin, what does it do?"

    I made no accusation. I just asked a couple of questions.

  15. Todd Collier says:

    Late to the ball, but how is using multiple trays for the bread (a necessity in a congregation of anysize) any different from using multiple wafers or the smaller pieces of cardboard bread some use? This isn't Cathoicism, it's using a God given brain. There is no way 1,000 people can partake of only one loaf in a literal sense. They can't even partake of matza from only the same box.

    If what Jesus did is to be followed precisely then where is the foot washing to proceed every communion? Where is the Seder to fil the gap between the bread and the Kiddush? Most importantly why do we do this on Sunday morning instead of the Biblically approved and Jesus mandated Thursday night?

    The sad truth about our legalistic ways is that when we are truly engaged in them we can no longer see that the logic of our position fails any imaginable test – including that of the scripture.

    Foolish Galatians, either Jesus saves us by His grace and all we can do is live out that grace or we are left to our own devices and therefore quite lost.

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