The Calvinist Regulative Principle of Worship
In Switzerland, unlike Luther’s Germany, the Reformation went an entirely different direction. In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli adopted the Regulative Principle of Worship, arguing that we may only do that which has been authorized by express command, approved precedent, or necessary inference. As a result, he rejected instruments in worship, although he was, like Luther, an accomplished musician. See this excellent article by John Mark Hicks for further background.
The Regulative Principle was originally limited to worship — on the theory that worship holds a special place in NT theology. However, the Churches of Christ have expanded the principle to apply to the use of church buildings, the church treasury, church organization, the name of the church, and for some, all of life. That sounds like an exaggeration, but the claim has been made, and it’s not unusual to read articles from the early 20th Century judging whether it’s wrong to play cards or listen to a brass band in a city park based on the RPW. Questions Answered, a book that compiles articles answering readers’ questions published in the Gospel Advocate, by David Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell, is filled with such material.
In Geneva, John Calvin was more extreme, banning all instruments from the city — not just from the churches. The city was without musical instruments for 200 years due to his influence.
Zwingli’s and Calvin’s movements merged to create the Reformed Church. Soon, Calvin’s disciple John Knox brought Reformed (Calvinist) theology to Scotland, and the official state religion of Scotland became Presbyterianism. In England, the Puritans worked to have the Anglican Church adopt Calvinism.
In Calvinist churches, singing was originally limited to the Psalms, translated into French or English but not re-arranged to provide regular meter or rhyme. No original hymns were permitted. You see, the scriptures say to sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs. Only the Psalms have been preserved, and so only the Psalms are allowed.
Over time, the rules were loosened to allow re-arranging of the psalms to have regular meter and even rhyme, but original hymns remained banned for many years — and some Presbyterian denominations continue to ban anything but the Psalms even today.
The Puritans rejected the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP), as lacking authority. Of course, in the Churches of Christ, almost all of our weddings come straight out of the BCP. When Church of Christ scholars such as J. W. McGarvey reject “reading printed prayers,” they’re copying far older arguments made by the Puritans over issues that leave modern Churches of Christ scratching their heads over why we’re feuding over such things. It’s not hard to trace Church of Christ arguments regarding the need for express scriptural authority to Puritan arguments made centuries earlier.
So during the 18th and 19th Centuries, many Calvinist denominations were struggling with whether to allow any hymns other than biblical Psalms, and whether to allow Psalms to be edited to make them more singable. It’s no coincidence that the Lutherans and Anglicans produced some of the greatest composers in history (Bach, Handel, etc.), while the Calvinists struggle to name a one.
Their theology put a straightjacket on creativity and beauty — making nearly everything into a fight over what is and isn’t authorized, and leading to countless denominational rifts, splits, and sects. And yet for all the ink spilt over the question, the NPW churches haven’t started worshiping Mary and offering animal sacrifice.
 We so blindly copy Puritan rhetoric that we continue to quote Justin Martyr’s supposed objections to instrumental music even though we’ve known for 100 years that Justin did not write these things. We’ve not bothered to do much in the way of original research in over a century. Indeed, I’ve had church members hand me articles written by Puritans in the 19th Century as supposedly persuasive authority, completely ignoring over a century of study and scholarship on the origins of Christian worship and the early church fathers. The articles were likely good scholarship when written, but today many of their historical claims have been disproved. I mean, if you’re going to split churches and damn denominations over such things, do take the trouble to check your facts.
 Although even under the RPW it’s hard to see error in reading printed prayers.