New Wineskins, In Reply to Kyle Pope (What Keeps Us From …?)

WineskinsbannerIf faith working through love is the only standard,
then what keeps us from … ?

In a classic argument for the Regulative Principle, Kyle asks,

Alright, if we can do this with instrumental music, to what else can we apply this “better hermeneutic?”  What other things (that the Lord has said nothing about) can I add to worship?  Shall we dance in worship?  Shall we have wrestling matches?  Where do we draw the line?  Why is it so hard to imagine that if God was pleased with something in the First Century, He can be pleased with it now?  I suppose I just don’t understand.

The argument proceeds from the false dichotomy that silences are either permissions or prohibitions. But, of course, it’s entirely possible that some silences are permissions and some silences are prohibitions — that is, that the standard isn’t about authority or lack thereof but something else entirely. Who decided that the pivot-point must be authority? Who decided that New Testament worship is about what is and isn’t authorized?

As I’m sure Kyle would agree, the standard for how to worship God must be derived from the scriptures, not from polemics invented for debates that were entirely foreign to Paul’s thought. What does the Bible say?

(Mar 7:1-8 ESV) Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem,  2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.  3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders,  4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.)  5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”  6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;  7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

The sin of Pharisees was not in ignoring God’s law, but in adding commands to it. They demanded that the people wash their hands before eating, even though the Law commanded no such thing. It was, in their minds, a necessary inference because the dirt they touched might have come from a dead body or a menstruating woman. And these things would make a man unclean. They were trying to be safe by scrupously applying God’s commands. And Jesus declared their worship “vain” ( = futile). Indeed, their willingness to impose laws not made by God on others shows their hearts to be far from God.

This is a most serious warning, and yet we have traditionally sought to find safety in the finding of rules in the silences of the Bible. It seems a very, very dangerous practice. Imagine the consequences of a mistaken inference!

(Col 2:23-1 NIV) 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” — or “will worship” in the KJV — in context are regulations added by men that God did not impose. Again, we are seriously warned against imposing rules that God does not. There is no safety, no comfort in adding rules just to be sure.

Let’s instead consider what Paul teaches in the context of the Christian assembly. In 1 Cor 14, Paul addresses whether its appropriate to speak in tongues or to prophesy in the assembly. If the traditional Church of Christ hermeneutic were right, then Paul would check to see whether these are on the list of authorized “acts of worship.” If so, well and good. If not, the acts would be prohibited. Moreover, as worship is for the benefit of God and not man, we would traditionally argue that it hardly matters how well or effectively we do it, so long as we do it from the heart.

But Paul does not approach the questions this way at all. Not even close. Rather, he asks how the proposed acts affect the congregation!

(1Co 14:2-4 ESV) 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.  3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.  4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.

He doesn’t declare that God never authorized tongues or prophecy in the assembly and they are therefore banned. No, he asks how these acts impact the congregation. Would they upbuild (edify), encourage, or console the congregation?

He then considers, not whether they are authorized, but how they might be done in a way that edifies etc. and how they might be done in a way that does not. He reasons very pragmatically —

(1Co 14:26-31 ESV) 26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.  27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.  28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.  29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.  30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.  31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,

The test Paul applies is conditional. If the acts can be done in a way that builds up the church, teaches, or encourages, they are permitted. Otherwise, they are not. The test is how these acts of worship impact the assembled believers!

But not just them —

(1Co 14:23-25 ESV)  23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?  24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,  25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

The impact on visiting unbelievers is also important. We shouldn’t act so that unbelievers consider us crazy! They should be led to worship God by what they experience.

Now, the traditional Church of Christ logic is that it’s all for God and the impact on the assembled members and visitors is very nearly irrelevant. Paul, however, tests what is and isn’t proper by its impact on the assembly!

But isn’t the most important thing what pleases God? Yes! But what pleases God is the strengthening, edification, encouragement, consolation, and teaching of his children. He loves us. He loves us so much he’d die for us.

Just so, we read in Hebrews —

(Heb 10:24-25 ESV) 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We attend the assembly so we can encourage each other “to love and good works.” That is, we assemble so we can help each other’s faith work itself out through love. And this is the point of 1 Cor 14 — we choose our acts of worship to be acts that express faith through love. Love call us to edify, console, encourage, and teach each other. Faith makes us understand that these things are done in the framework of the gospel. We encourage each other toward the mission we’ve been called to as sons of God. We edify each other so that we grow in love and more and more like Jesus. We console each other with the hope found only in faith. We act so that visitors are drawn to worship God.

It’s just not about what is and isn’t authorized. That’s 20th Century debate “logic” borrowed from arguments between the Calvinists and Lutherans and Catholics in the early years of the Reformation. It’s not Bible. We find out how to assemble from the pages of the scriptures — and they are entirely sufficient. We don’t need man-made traditions — such as the Regulative Principle (or the early church fathers) — to complete the Bible.

Now, this perspective stands our traditional view of worship on its head. But that’s because we’ve failed to understand how very gracious, very giving, and very self-sacrificing God is. And that’s because we forget that God is best revealed through Jesus and his sacrifice.

God has the right and power to demand whatever kind of worship he wants! But he pleases to give us an assembly designed to strengthen and encourage us, to help us as we strive with him in his mission.

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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23 Responses to New Wineskins, In Reply to Kyle Pope (What Keeps Us From …?)

  1. Anonymous says:

    The "what keeps us from …" question can show how far our heart is from God. Jesus' command was to love as he loved — to give ourselves to others, for their good, expecting nothing in return.

    If our question is "what keeps us from doing this or that?", then it's clear our heart is about ourselves and not about others.

    The question about worship is how can I help others worship God — not what helps me worship.

    So long as our questions about worship focus on meeting our personal needs or preferences, we are missing Jesus' point about loving others.

    I have a new favorite phrase about spiritual matters: If all we do is follow the rules, then we are probably missing the point.

  2. One question those who argue as brother Pope did need to consider is this: "Who in Scripture asked the question, 'By what authority do you do these things?'" Is it just possible that many times that is asked, it is not an appropriate question?

  3. Todd says:

    Splendid exposition and yet it lays bare the true problem among us. Scripture clearly positions the NT assembly as a means of building up the Body for worship which Scripture clearly tells us is our everyday lifestyle. Yet somehow we developed a view of the assembly which was more in keeping with the Mass.
    In the congregations I grew up in we assembled regularly to offer up fresh sacrifices to God so we could maintain His attention and favor. To accomplish this vital goal we had to offer sacrifices that were "pleasing and acceptable" to God according to His Law and Pattern. Every jot and tittle of the Law had to be kept and any variation rooted out or we would incur the wrath of an angry God.
    This is how I was raised and educated and it is all wrong. The attitude behind it is pagan, not Christian. The way we apply the regulative principle is condemned again and again by Jesus and by Paul and yet our weak flesh refuses to reject it. So, teaching another gospel – which indeed is really no gospel at all – our congregations condemn themselves and turn salvation into a blind merchant's transaction (I hope I got what I paid for…) rather than the gift of God.

  4. Laymond says:

    The pen is mightier than the sword
    In all the writings here as to how we are to live in a godly way within the parameters of god's church, I have yet to hear the name of Peter mentioned, yes the apostle that Jesus gave the keys to the church.

    Mat 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon
    this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail
    against it.
    Mat 16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of
    heaven: ————

    "Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he
    dragged off men and women and put them in prison" (Acts 8:3).

    Intended or not, Paul has done with the pen what he could not do
    with the sword.
    He has put brother against brother, and sister against sister. caused splits in the church from time to time. All caused by the way he determined church should be done.
    Yes most of the argumentes in the church start with these words.
    "The test Paul applies" just as Jay applies in his arguments.
    I have no doubt this will fall on the cutting room floor, but I felt compelled to say it anyway.

  5. Rose Marie says:

    Jay said, The test is how these acts of worship impact the assembled believers

    This is the answer to Abasnar's criticism of my observation several posts ago that we don't sing a capella very well and the rest of the world notices that. I just truly believe that we need to want to sing well and practice to do that and encourage good singing by having dynamic leading and a core a people who can sing well. I don't mean a choir. I do mean that some time needs to be devoted on a Wednesday night or some other time to practice difficult songs and develop voices to sing the various parts. It will uplift those who hear our worship. I don't care so much if we cling to the a capella style. It is just fine if we do it well. God may not be judging us by our ability but He will surely notice if we desire to do well.

  6. Royce Ogle says:

    Excellent references and commentary. Traditionally, we have bought the idea that what pleases God is "doing" certain things, or not "doing" certain things when we meet together. What God wants is worship, worship in Spirit and in truth. We have tried to make worship a mechanical formula, "do" 5 things and you have worshiped. The truth is you can do those 5 acts for decades and never worship once.

    If we even ask the question "what keeps us from…." we have completely missed the point. God doesn't keep a check off list, he knows us, really knows us.


  7. Nancy says:

    Todd wrote: "…Yet somehow we developed a view of the assembly which was more in keeping with the Mass."

    Yep. And, I'm still looking for the command to assemble together in the first place. Obviously there is great benefit to getting together with other Believers (as the Hebrew writer noted and as early Christians observed ) but there is no command that I have found.

  8. Wendy says:

    Looking for commands is perhaps the wrong approach.

  9. HistoryGuy says:

    This is not directly related to Kyle’s article or our response, but I posted here since it has some relation….and the other page is getting full -:) I have noticed you bring the RPW into everything, lately. You have done this on some of my questions even when I specifically said one does not have to hold to the RPW to take a particular position on whatever our topic was, even IM/AC.

    Sometimes it seems that you are torn between two hermeneutics, which is my observation and not an attack. The normative principle of worship (NPW) teaches that worship must consist of that which is commanded by God and may also include that which is not specifically prohibited by Scripture.

    On one hand you want to apply the normative principle of worship (NPW) cautiously and conservatively, in the name of “expedient missional theology,” but on the other hand, you seem at war with the conservative side of the RPW, even though there is a liberal side of the RPW you never mention.

    The RPW is not always as cut and dry as you would like to present. Not everyone who holds to the RPW believes the same thing or applies it the same way. Have you considered that maybe your solution lies in the struggle with how the RPW applies? After all, this is a debate that good folks in many denominations outside the COC continue to participate in, while taking a less strict form of the RPW.

    This does not solve the IM/AC debate, because as I have demonstrated, people who hold to the RPW, NPW, and other hermeneutics fall on both sides of the issue. However, I felt the hermeneutical points were worth consideration.

  10. Doug says:

    HistoryGuy, could you write some more about the Liberal RPW? What does it look like and how is it different from the plain old garden variety RPW? Who Practices it? Thanks…

  11. HistoryGuy says:

    Getting object error when trying to post .. Test


  12. HistoryGuy says:

    Links are giving me an object error…

    I have used the Frame-Hart debate as an example of “to what the RPW applies." Though it is from 1998 and it has been expanded since, this is a good starting place. People can then follow the sources from there. Jimm Domm, a student at Reformed Baptist Seminary summarizes the history of the RPW, especially in its Reformation, anti-catholic setting.

    Definitions of the Regulative Principle have not been uniform. There has been a considerable amount of discussion about which items of corporate worship are subject to the Regulative Principle and which ones are not. — Jim Domm

    Even the respected John MacArthur sees value in some liberal form of the RPW, and weighed in on the issue in his book, "The Coming Evangelical Crisis"… How Shall We Then worship? A discussion on the regulative principle often leads to disagreements on whether to use musical instruments in worship, and I [MacArthur] am more concerned about other issues:

    I have no interest in igniting a debate about musical instruments, pastoral robes, sanctuary decorations, or other such matters. If there are those who want to use the regulative principle as a springboard for such debates, please leave me out. The issues that spark my concern about contemporary worship are far larger than these matters…My concern is this: The contemporary church’s abandonment of sola Scriptura as the regulative principle has opened the church to some of the grossest imaginable abuses…Even the broadest, most liberal application of the regulative principle would have a corrective effect on such abuses.” — John MacArthur

    grace and peace,

  13. HistoryGuy says:

    I am sorry, but the bold did not stick either. Let me try –

    John MacArthur (clearly not a legalist)

    The contemporary church’s abandonment of sola Scriptura as the regulative principle has opened the church to some of the grossest imaginable abuses…Even the broadest, most liberal application of the regulative principle would have a corrective effect on such abuses.

  14. Doug says:

    HG, I'm afraid that you're going to have to break it down further if I'm going to be able to understand what "liberal" RPW looks like. Is it related to what aspects of the practice of the Church to which it applies?

    Interestingly, I read and learned about the RPW a few years ago after starting to attend a Church of Christ. Since then, I have mentioned it to my minister and to Elders and others. All of them had never heard of the RPW although some had heard of Zwingli and others who began the evolution of the RPW practice. I came away with the preception that not too many people who attend the CofC actually know that they are worshipping according to this Principle but rather believe that their manner of worship and practice is a higher thing… even God given and commanded.

  15. Jay Guin says:


    The Churches have not historically used the term Regulative Principle, preferring terms like The Law of Silence.

    A few years ago, the Gospel Advocate mentioned RP, which is where I first heard the term. The term hasn't become commonplace, and likely won't , due to its roots in Calvinism.

  16. aBasnar says:

    Imagine our small house church: 6 adults, no real song leader among them. But we sing. And we enjoy worship. It is not about the quality of singing in the first place. When we all assemble in one place every other week, then we are about 50 adults and it sounds a lot better.

    Anyway we don't sing "for the rest of the world" – a Christian assembly is not for the world, but for the saints. So our concern should not be, what might outsiders think of it. Or: We must meet the expectaions of people used to listen to professional singers.

    But please imagine the origins: Christians met in living rooms or upper rooms as rather small house-churches. They sang as they used to sing from their upbringing, because back then they had no radio, no TV and no MTV. People sang themselves!

    One root problem is that we are accustomed to "professional" music, and we expect or even demand the same from our assemblies. then we judge unprofessional singing as poor and bad and having no impact on others. How wrong this perspecticve is!

    We just finshed our advent singing. 2 adults, three kids sininging traditional advent- and Christmas Hymns – no we are not professional singers, but we sing with joy. And that's what makes singing good or bad.

    Maybe – just a suggestion – congregational singing sounds poor when the hearts are dry. But this is a spiritual problem – the solution for this won't be found in external means.


  17. HistoryGuy says:

    From Jim Domm — “There has been a considerable amount of discussion about which items of corporate worship are subject to the Regulative Principle and which ones are not [some include all of life]. To what is the RP applied? How is it defined? What is an element? What is a circumstance to carry out the element?

    The backdrop is – Roman Catholicism had elevated human traditions to a place of authority equal or superior to Scripture and imposed them upon God’s people. Both Luther and Calvin, united in their opposition to Rome, were persuaded of the sole authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and desired to restore the pure worship of the primitive church. How would this be done? Luther would allow what Scripture did not condemn. Calvin would allow only what Scripture commanded. Luther would do what Scripture didn’t prohibit. Calvin would do only what Scripture prescribed. From this essential difference and their application, centuries of controversy ensued [as with all hermeneutics].

    In time some denied the RPW altogether, others interpreted it in a manner that made it barely recognizable, and some advocated the traditional/balanced approach to it. The hermeneutic “CENI” Command Example Necessary Inference is probably what you would know as the RPW. It has some good Biblical foundations, but its application is on the conservative side of the RPW scale. Most can agree this is just as good as any other hermeneutic, but the division comes from the application. Again, to what does it apply? What is cultural and what is timeless? Perhaps it is best to say that the application of the RPW is what is liberal or conservative.

    Most who use the some form of the RPW are fairly conservative in theology. Conservative/liberal theology should not be confused with the conservative/liberal scale within the context of RPW. Within the RPW scale, “conservative” would apply the RPW strictly. For example, the “most” conservative would be “EP” or exclusive psalm singing and no images [pictures, crosses, nothing]. The “Liberal” side of the scale would be at the opposite end of the spectrum, and apply the RPW in a way that allows for everything from IM, to the “most” liberal embracing women elders. I listed John MacArthur as an example of the “almost neutral scale” application since he realizes that Sola Scriptura is about authority and regulation (RPW), but applies it in a way that allows for IM, which would be like +1 liberal side. IMO, the IM issue is generally the “litmus test” or “0 – neutral” for the conservative or liberal side. This is why I listed MacArthur as a +1.

    All this said, I have tried to make the point many times that one’s stance on a cappella or IM is not directly related to the RPW. The AC/IM has been a debate among those holding to many other hermeneutics.

    I am having a problem posting links, so remove the spaces and see if these are helpful.
    frame-poythress . org /frame_articles/ 1998HartDebate . htm
    blog.rbseminary . org /2009/11/ the-regulative-principle-of-worship-in-historical-perspective/

    grace and peace

  18. Doug says:

    HG, Thank you for the explanation. I really don't see how a Church that permitted women Elders could be consider liberal RPW or even liberal Normative PW as that would have to be a pretty clear cut case of ignoring or going against scriptural direction. I would think that where the scriptures speak, both RPW and NPW would result in the same conclusion so I don't think in that case it makes sense to consider liberal or conservative.

    I made a case for the RPW being more divisive than the NPW in a CofC small group based solely on observation of the number of divisions in the CofC vs the Independent Christian Church a little while back. I was a bit suprised at the way that went over because I thought it was pretty clear that there is much more division in the CofC than in the Independent Christian Church. In that case, I was accused of lobbying for IM which was amusing because I never even mentioned IM. It seems that even though many in my CofC feel that IM isn't a salvation issue, they do feel that it's a tradition issue and they can get quite emotional about the issue.

  19. Scott says:

    Why don't you address Kyle's point? It's odd that you dodge rather than your usual profane.

  20. Price says:

    Alexander…I understand your point but I think what was presented clearly indicated that the assembly, at least to some degree, is INDEED to consider the visitor…I mean, that's what it says…to say that it is only "for the saints" is to reject Paul's instruction to regulate worship for the benefit of the visitor…I'm thinking you might have overstated your position…

    But, oh how arrogant is sounds to suggest people should be careful to sing in perfect pitch…!! whew !! However, we must admit that it does sound better to do it correctly. And, we do try and at least begin on "key" and we do use song books (though not authorized in scripture) to set forth clear objectives to reach in tone, melody and pitch…And of course David in the 33rd Psalms speaks of those who would play their instruments "skillfully" (as opposed to unskillfully) so perhaps there is some expectation that we should do our best to do it skillfully…

    @ Scott…I think he did provide Kyle a foundational reference to go back and consider for himself those things which might be considered but perhaps it could have been said that David in Psalms 149 and 150 mentioned dancing to the Lord in worship. Was it ever specifically EXCLUDED in the NT ?? The Lord Himself spoke through the prophet Jeremiah about dancing for joy as a result of His provision..Song books, overhead projectors, sound systems, pitch pipes, etc., etc., are examples of unspecified "additions" that seem to assist the building up of one another in the congregational assembly….right? Now, mud-wrestling might in some cultures be an appropriate one to further develop spiritual insight but not in my neck of the woods so it could probably be withdrawn as an option without much debate.

  21. Jay Guin says:


    "Your usual profane"? Just what are you accusing me of?

  22. R.J. says:

    How bout the IPW(Informative Principle of Worship)? Is there anybody talkin' about that?:)

  23. Jay Guin says:


    I'm not familiar with that one …

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