Form And Substance: Baptist Ecclesiology And The Regulative Principle -- By: Scott Aniol

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 15:1 (Spring 2018)
Article: Form And Substance: Baptist Ecclesiology And The Regulative Principle
Author: Scott Aniol

Form And Substance: Baptist Ecclesiology And The Regulative Principle

Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is associate professor of worship ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. [email protected]

The regulative principle has long been associated with Reformed traditions that trace their heritage to John Calvin and the Swiss Reformation. This principle, which states that for church practice, whatever is not prescribed in Scripture is forbidden, contrasts with the Lutheran and Anglican normative principle, which holds that whatever is not forbidden in Scripture is permitted.1 Traditionally, the Reformed regulative principle has differentiated between the substance of worship, which must have clear biblical warrant, and the forms or circumstances of worship, which “must be decided upon in the absence of specific biblical direction,” and thus are more flexible.2 This essay will show that, in contrast to the Reformed understanding of the regulative principle, Baptists have historically and theologically insisted upon New Testament warrant for both the substance and forms of church practice.

The Reformed Regulative Principle

The Reformed regulative principle finds its roots historically in the worship reforms of John Calvin (1509–1564), who interpreted the second commandment as God defining “lawful worship, that is, a spiritual worship established by himself.”3 He insisted upon “the rejection of any mode of worship that is not sanctioned by the command of God.”4 The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) later codified this principle when it asked (Q. 96), “What does God require in the second commandment?” The catechism answered, “That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded.”

The principle spread to England largely through the influence of John Knox (1513–1572) and those with him who spent time with Calvin in Geneva during the reign of Mary I (“Bloody Mary”). Knox reflected Calvin’s thought when he argued, “All worshiping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without his own express commandment is idolatry.”5 After Mary died and Elizabeth I came to the English throne in 1558, the regulative principle became characteristic of the Reformed clergy who returned from Geneva and formed the Puritan faction of the Church of England, they who “regarded th...

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