Biblical Authority and the Proof of the Regulative Principle of Worship in “The Westminster Confession” -- By: John Allen Delivuk

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 58:2 (Fall 1996)
Article: Biblical Authority and the Proof of the Regulative Principle of Worship in “The Westminster Confession”
Author: John Allen Delivuk


Biblical Authority and the Proof of the Regulative Principle of Worship in “The Westminster Confession”

John Allen Delivuk

This essay shows how the Westminster Assembly used its doctrine of biblical authority to derive the regulative principle of worship, and how the Westminster Divines defined and defended the regulative principle. One of the most important lessons that I learned from talking to students at a liberal seminary was that doctrines have legs. In other words, doctrines do not remain statements in books or sermons, but travel into our thoughts and deeds. True doctrines will produce good thoughts and good deeds. False doctrines will produce evil, or at least questionable, thoughts and deeds. Hence one’s doctrine of biblical authority will affect one’s thoughts and practices on areas like worship. This essay is important not only for understanding the background of and proofs for the regulative principle, but also for seeing how a church’s understanding of biblical authority affects all other areas of doctrine and practice.

My methodology will be to use documents produced by the Assembly and the writings of the members of the committee that wrote the Confession of Faith as sources. I will use them to discuss the reasons used in the seventeenth century to defend the regulative principle as God’s will for worship.1

I. The Directory for Worship

The historical background of the Westminster Assembly shows that one of its goals was to reform worship according to the Word of God. Indeed, the Solemn League and Covenant, which served as the treaty between England and Scotland, and led to Scottish participation in the Westminster Assembly said,

That we shall…endeavour…the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the word of God, and example of the best reformed churches.2 [Emphasis added.]

Because of its mission, the Westminster Assembly wrote on worship not only in the Confession and catechisms, but also wrote a directory for worship.3 The two houses of Parliament ordered the Assembly to prepare a directory for worship on October 12, 1643. The Assembly did most of its work on the directory in 1644. After the directory was completed, it was passed by Parliament on January 3, 1644/45.4

The principal application of biblical authority to worship is found in Chapter 21 of the Confession, titled “Of Religious Worship, ...

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