Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher



February 2011



Regulative Principle: Resources Pro and Con

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry, Theology

This week in my Church History II classes, we’ve been discussing the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed understandings of corporate worship. The Reformed view, often called the regulative principle, limits corporate worship activities to those elements prescribed or implied by the New Testament. The Lutheran view, often called the normative principle, argues that any activity not forbidden by the New Testament is acceptable in a corporate worship context.

Please note that some groups that are not Reformed, including many Baptists, affirm the regulative principle. And some groups besides the Lutherans, also including many Baptists, affirm the normative principle. Tying the principles to the Reformed and Lutheran traditions isn’t meant to imply they have a monopoly on those traditions, but rather is simply a way to connect the principles to their historical theological provenance.

As promised in class, this post will direct students (and others) to some online resources related to this debate. There are many more articles about the regulative principle than the normative principle, at least in terms of explicit explanation and defense. I tried to pick a handful of representative resources defending the regulative principle.

Few folks defend the normative principle, and when they do, they often reject that term because they aren’t Lutheran (or Anglican). Nevertheless, most vritics of the regulative principle assume the normative principle (whatever they call it), since it is the more common of the two approaches, and work off of that assumption. The critiques of the regulative principle I link to below are not uniform and none of them embrace the normative principle label.

Defenses of the Regulative Principle

T. David Gordon, “Nine Lines of Argument in Favor of the Regulative Principle of Worship” (Presbyterian)

C. Matthew McMahon, “The Regulative Principle of the Church: How Should We Worship God?” (Presbyterian)

 “A Position Paper Concerning the Regulative Principle of Worship” (Reformed Baptist)

Critiques of the Regulative Principle

Mark Driscoll, “Regulative Principle” (Acts 29; this resource is a sermon)

Grant Gaines, “Some Problems with the Regulative Principle of Worship” (Southern Baptist)

Presbyterian theologian John Frame has written a number of articles and books critiquing the Regulative Principle–you can find his writings on this topic (and other topics) at Frame’s website.