“They didn’t have it in Bible times.” “They didn’t do it that way in Bible times.” This is how some people attempt to explain their approach to worshiping in God’s house and carrying out ministry God’s way. This is the way some people caricature those of us who are restricted in our way of worship and work. But “they didn’t have it or do it that way in Bible times” IS NOT the guiding principle for deciding how we worship or what “methods” we will use. If not, then what is it?
1. In our worship and work God must be approached and served as He has commanded.
a. In the second commandment and many other places we observe that the true approach is defined by God Himself and not by men (Exodus 20:4-5, Gen. 4:3-5; Leviticus 10:2-3; 1 Chron. 13:9-10; 15:2). [In some circles this is called the “regulative principle.” Baptists have articulated this principle, though not in those specific words, at least as far back as the 1644 London Confession.]
b. We are to observe and teach to observe all the things Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:20). This includes positive statements, approved examples and necessary inferences. Something does not have to be explicitly stated in the form of a command in order to be authoritative for church practice. For example, we Baptists establish our church government after the New Testament pattern even though there is no explicitly worded command in scripture that every church must do this.
2. Commands of specificity exclude that which is not commanded. The specification of one thing is the prohibition or exclusion of every other thing. For example, God’s command to Noah, “Make thee an ark of gopher wood,” excludes the use of oak, elm, pine, cedar and every wood other than gopher wood. To use any other kind of wood would have been disobedience of the highest order. When Jesus commanded His disciples to immerse professed believers, the specification of that excluded the sprinkling of professed believers, the immersion of professed unbelievers, and so on. The specificity of the command must be understood properly. For example, Jesus commanded “GO ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” The command to “GO” excludes us from not going, but does not bind us in how we go – on foot, by buggy, ship, plane, train or automobile. This can be confirmed in the New Testament as we see the disciples “going” in the various ways available to them. All commands do not inhere the same degree of specificity.
3. Distinctive apostolic practice is normative. Distinctive apostolic practice is the practice of the apostles and early church related to their calling and mission – rather than the culture of the day. It is the consistent and uniform practice of the New Testament churches regardless of their geographical locations. These distinctive practices are not common culture or meaningless form, but rooted in and consistent with the theology of the New Testament. For example, the New Testament practice of participation of all members of the church corresponds with the New Testament theology of the equality of believers and the local church as a body (1 Corinthians 12:14). It is distinctive from both Jewish and Gentile worship. In contrast, wearing a tunic or robe was not distinct, but a common cultural adaptation engaged in by most everyone. But the apostles did establish distinctive practices and enjoined the churches to follow them in these practices. Cf. 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1-2,16; 14:33; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thess. 1:6-7; 2 Thess. 2:15.
I hope this subject isn’t a “hobby horse” to ride into oblivion. Nevertheless, I am deeply concerned that a majority of Baptists have no clear guiding principles whereby to approve and exclude what will be included in worship services of the gathered church and what “methods” of ministry will be employed or rejected. May the above principles spur your thoughts on the subject.