Calvin and the Regulative Principle of Worship

25 January 2010 by Wes Bredenhof

There are those, especially in continental Reformed circles, who argue that the regulative principle of worship (we must worship God in no other manner than that which is commanded in his Word) is a Presbyterian innovation or distinctive.  I have never been persuaded of this.  W. Robert Godfrey is not persuaded either and he says as much in his recent John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.  He noted that Calvin’s approach to worship would later be known as the regulative principle.  He gives a lengthy quote from Calvin’s On the Necessity of Reforming the Church to back up this assertion.  But footnote 24 is what really caught my attention:

Attempts have been made at times to argue that the regulative principle is a Puritan invention foreign to the thought of Calvin.  Such a division cannot be maintained.  It is true that Calvin’s application of the principle was not always in harmony with some Puritan applications, but Puritans differed among themselves on the application of the principle.  This crucial distinction between principle and application is missed in Ralph J. Gore Jr., “The Pursuit of Plainness: Rethinking the Puritan Regulative Principle of Worship,” PhD dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1988, and therefore the relationship between Calvin and the Puritans on this point is fundamentally misunderstood.  (78)

I love good footnotes and this one definitely qualifies.  Although the name is never used (it didn’t appear until the twentieth century), Calvin definitely was in line with the RPW.  I have more proof for this in my booklet, The Whole Manner of Worship: Worship and the Sufficiency of Scripture in Belgic Confession Article 7.  The RPW is found with Calvin, in the Belgic Confession, and also in Lord’s Day 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

One response to “Calvin and the Regulative Principle of Worship”

  1. Kathryn Stegall says:

    A more biblically accurate name would be The Regulative Principle of Access into God’s Presence.

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