“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)
As Baptists we practice what is known as the “regulative principle of worship” as outlined in Chapter 22, Section 1 of the Baptist Confession of 1689:
“But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”
That being said, we recognize there is liberty within this principle insomuch that I have noticed that no two churches are completely identical in their worship service. Some may start the service with a song, and others may start the service with a prayer (just to give an example). God’s Word does not command us one way or another. So, we grant that there is liberty in such cases.
“Scripture leaves many questions open—questions that different churches in different situations can legitimately answer differently. That should not surprise us very much: following God’s commands is always the way of freedom. When we substitute human ideas (whether past traditions or contemporary notions) for God’s word, the result is bondage to human wisdom. God’s yoke, though binding, is much easier and lighter. A word of caution is in order on this point, however. While there is broad freedom within the boundaries of these categories, that freedom is not boundless. We must take care not to let our God-given freedom swallow up the regulative principle entirely. For example, we must guard against creative redefinition of the elements of worship to smuggle in new and unauthorized practices, such as drama as a form of preaching or dance as a form of praise. This is nothing more than a disguised return to the normative principle.”
Reisinger, E. C., & Allen, D. M. (2001). Worship: The Regulative Principle and the Biblical Practice of Accommodation (pp. 54–55). Founders Press.
What is the normative principle?
Someone once gave a good illustration and I read in the above cited book and adapted for my own use which I think is helpful:
Two builders are building a house. Mr. Methodist follows the normative principle, and Mr. Baptist follows the regulative principle. In building the house, Mr. Methodist must use the materials of the Word of God, but has no blueprint and may use the other materials. Mr. Baptist must use only materials of the Word of God and he has a blueprint.
It’s one thing to sing 4 hymns every service because “that’s the way you have always done it.” It’s quite another thing to skip the preaching of the Word of God because “that’s a bit old fashioned” and you’d rather have a discussion over coffee and cookies.
We grant liberty to the church who sings 4 hymns when we might only sing 2, but we recognize the error of the other church who throws out the sermon for the cookies and coffee. Let me put it this way, not all tradition is bad, only that which is in direct conflict with the Holy Bible.