But how do we know that we need authority? Well, it’s obvious. You see, the opposite of the Regulative Principle is the Normative Principle.
In summary, where the Bible is silent, we either have authority or we don’t. Either silence is permission or prohibition. And if silence is permission, all sorts of possibilities arise, such as infant baptism.
The argument thus is —
* Worship and many other practices require authority from God.
* Where we have specific authority, alternatives are excluded.
Hence, singing is a worship practice. We have commands to sing — which certainly create authority. Therefore, all alternatives are excluded. And if this isn’t so, it’s okay to baptize babies.
Now, implicit in this argument is the idea that God actually cares which “acts of worship” we use. The argument for there being a uniform pattern of acts of worship given by God goes back to Alexander Campbell. Campbell began a series of lessons on the order of worship, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things No. V,” by arguing that, logically, there must be a required order of worship from two premises –
The first is, either there is divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies, or there is not. …
On the supposition that there is not, then the following absurdities are inevitable: There can be no disorder in the Christian assembly; there can be no error in the acts of social worship; there can be no innovation in the department of observances; there can be no transgression of the laws of the King. …
But, to make this matter evident to children as well as men, we will carry it a little farther. One society of disciples meets on the first day morning and they all dance till evening, under the pretext that this is the happiest way of expressing their joy, and when they have danced themselves down they go home. … Another society meets for worship, and they sing all day; another shouts all day; another runs as in a race all day; another lies prostrate on the ground all day; another reads all day; another hears one man speak all day; another sits silent all day; another waves palm branches all day; another cries in the forenoon and listens to the organ in the afternoon … .
Now, for those paying close attention, the two arguments I’ve referenced are both flawed for several reasons, but one reason is that they are both a false dichotomy. A “false dichotomy” is a false choice, that is, fooling one’s opponent into picking between only two options when there are in fact many other options. (This is not to suggest that Campbell or others are dishonest. False dichotomies are so tricky we sometimes fool ourselves.)
Husbands, imagine that your wife comes home in a $10,000 designer dress. You are shocked! You bluster, “How much did that cost?”
She says, “$10,000. But that’s what dresses cost today. You don’t want me in rags, do you? You don’t want your friends laughing at me, do you?”
Your wife is attempting a false dichotomy — rags or 10 grand. And you are not an idiot, and you are not fooled. There are lots of choices between the two options.
In the Regulative Principle argument above, the dichotomy is either —
* ALL silences are prohibitions or
* ALL silences are permissions.
But perhaps authority isn’t even the issue. Perhaps it’s not about prohibition vs. permission. Perhaps SOME silences are prohibitions and SOME are permissions. Maybe there are LOTS of in-between positions.
Next, we look at Campbell’s argument. He says either there is an order of worship or there is not. If there is no order of worship, then all sorts of ridiculous things are allowed. Therefore, there is an order of worship.
Again, perhaps there’s not an order of worship but there are principles that prevent the ridiculous possibilities Campbell argues from.
Always be wary of either/or arguments. Often there’s another choice — or hundreds.
Now, to make the point, I will now prove beyond all reasonable doubt that all church buildings must be painted green. It’s obvious, you know. All right thinking Christians know this. Indeed, one of the earliest chapels ever built was green. (It really helps sell a false dichotomy if you are condescending and absurdly self-assured. Many churchgoers are easily intimidated. And since God is on your side, you can even stretch the evidence a bit — you’re saving souls!)
You see, either God wants buildings painted green or he doesn’t. Either the rule is green or else the church building can be any color you want. For that matter, if it doesn’t have to be green, it could be several colors, in any combination at all. Why not? God doesn’t care.
To follow Campbell, “But, to make this matter evident to children as well as men, we will carry it a little farther. One society of disciples meets” in a building painted black, and therefore very unattractive and hard to cool in August. But another church actually allows a local beer distributor to paint its logo on the building. Why not? God hasn’t made a rule! And a third has erotic images painted on the building. Again, as God allows any color or combination of colors, why not colors that just happen to look like a naked woman? We live in a Postmodern age. Who are we to judge? The liberals are fine with pornography. Maybe attendance will go up! Who are we to judge?
And so, you see, by plain and sound logic, we have shown that Christian leaders who love God and respect the inspiration of God’s word and haven’t ever once questioned inerrancy paint their buildings green.
My tract titled “IS YOUR BUILDING GREEN — OR ARE YOU GOING TO HELL?” is available in lots of 100 at 50 cents per tract. Many sound and faithful churches have already ordered these. A good friend has given generously so that the tract can be mailed to all non-green churches. We pray that God will be patient with these God-hating, pornography-loving, beer-swilling churches. (Insert references to “straight and narrow” verses from last week’s sermon.)
If you bought that, then you should buy your wife a $10,000 designer dress. But do you see the flaw? Why is my logic wrong?
Okay. Here’s the answer.
There are, of course, many choices that God will approve other than green. Sherwin-Williams sells 1,500 choices. If you use two colors, the options are over two million.
But what will keep us from painting beer logos and erotica on our buildings?
Well, do you have beer logos and erotica on your non-green buildings now?
Because we are opposed to those things.
Because they aren’t green?
No, because they aren’t godly.
So the real test is whether something is godly, not whether it’s green?
I guess so. But wouldn’t green be safer?
No. Imposing rules God didn’t make isn’t even a little safe. In fact, it’s dangerous. We should be silent where the Bible is silent, and the Bible says nothing about the color of the building. We cannot be safe by adding rules to the Bible. Indeed, it’s easier to find condemnations of added rules than ignored rules. For example,
(Matt. 15:8-9 ESV) 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”
This is a condemnation, not of acting outside authority, but adding commandments that God did not command.
So what does this have to do with the Regulative Principle?
Why are we opposed to infant baptism?
Because it lacks authority.
No. See if you can say it in different terms. What else is wrong with infant baptism?
Well, baptism is for believers.
Exactly. Not every mistake is about exceeding authority. You see, baptism has a purpose — several purposes — and none of them are suited for infants. It’s about forgiveness, and babies haven’t sinned. It’s a pledge toward God. And babies can’t pledge. It’s about repentance. And babies don’t need to repent and can’t repent.
It’s not about authority but purpose.
But what about Nadab and Abihu?
They were struck dead for offering strange fire, but God had provided the fire to be used in the altar and they violated God’s command. It wasn’t lack of authority. It wasn’t about God’s silence. It was about violating a command (Lev 16:12-13; 3:5, for example). (There are other distinctions.)
What about Uzzah?
He violated the Torah’s commands for how to transport the ark (Exod 25:12–15; Num 3:29–31; 7:9; Deut 10:8). He didn’t violate a silence. He didn’t act without authority. He violated very plain commands about who should transport the ark and how. Uzzah was not an innocent bystander. He’d been charged with the transport of the ark, which had been kept at his father’s house (2 Sam 6:3), but he’d not bothered to see what God had commanded regarding his duties.
(1 Chr. 15:11-15 ESV) 11 Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, 12 and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. 13 Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” 14 So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel. 15 And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD.
And Ananias and Sapphira?
They lied, which breaks one of the Ten Commandments
Don’t you see that there’s a huge difference between violating a command and doing something not commanded which doesn’t violate a command?
Are you saying all silences are permissions?
NO!! Oh, please, pay attention. The Bible is silent as to the color of the building, right? Does that permit pornography? No. Why not? Because there are other principles of godliness, not just this fictitious silence. You see, there is no silence when a proposed act violates some other command or principle, such as love for God or love for our neighbors.
So what about instrumental music?
Some music honors God and some doesn’t. Some a cappella music is lewd or teaches contrary to God or worships Satan. Some instrumental music does the same. The question isn’t: is it authorized? But rather: is it godly? Does it serve God’s purposes? Does it magnify the name of Jesus? Does it honor his name? Does it edify? Does it encourage? Will it bring unbelievers to their knees in the presence of God?
Those are actually tougher standards. They aren’t as concrete, but they point the church in the right direction. Rather than worrying about being damned because we got an authority question wrong, we instead focus on serving God — in everything.
Rather than learning about specific and generic authority and regulative and normative whatevers, we study to learn God’s nature, his character, and his purposes. And we strive to be like God by being like Jesus — and this means sharing in those purposes.
And when we do this, we are led by God’s Spirit and we are not under law (Gal 5:18).