The elders at Rockport believe in a “regulative principle” when it comes to worship, but not in the Regulative Principle as defined by those who would refuse the use of instruments at all. Worship at Rockport is regulated by the leadership of the Holy Spirit in many ways. As the elder who is leading worship prays and seeks the Lord’s direction in how we should prepare for worship, tune our instruments, study the Word, and once again, pray. And so I, like the Chief Musician of old, who received no less than 50 Psalms particularly directed to him in order for worship on instruments, will continue to seek the Lord on these matters, and in the meantime, I must now reflect on these things while strumming on my mandolin. My reflections include thoughts from my own serious study of the Psalms. Although this article is now an exegesis of every pertinent passage on the subject, my thoughts are not stated unless I have scriptural warrant for saying what I have said and would be glad to provide them upon request. However, for the sake of brevity, I will simply reflect. Now, on with the strumming.
The believer is no longer under laws and rules. We are no longer prescribed an order of worship. That is why the New Testament is surprisingly silent on the subject of worship In fact when the church gathers it is never called worship in the New Testament. There is to be a glad freedom in the grace of God and a liberty in the Holy Spirit. I don’t want you to be confused as to why we gather. Not that we are not worshiping when we gather, but that our reason for meeting is that we are “following hard after God”. We are simply wanting God to fill us with Himself, because we know that He is all that we need. That is why all of our songs have to do with Him. We are not performing an order of worship or doing our duty. We strive to pour our hearts and lives into the participatory experience of glorying in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We do not want there to be a focus on the musical excellence, or the lack thereof. We ought not to sit and judge the delivery of the sermon, or the appearance of other believers. Our focus is to be on God Himself. Every member of the body should gather hungry for God, and wait with anticipation as we pray and sing with all of our hearts and read the scriptures and preach and listen, all with the aim of drinking in His presence, His Word, His Spirit.
The regulative principle is used to apply to worship in the sense that only the Scriptures “sanction” what can and cannot be used in worship. In the scriptures, when Paul and James “sanction” believers to “sing Psalms”, they are using a word that in itself means “a striking, or a twanging” in particular, of a musical instrument. The whole of Psalms, and the matter of singing, clearly lends itself to being accompanied by musical instruments. In fact, a thorough study of instruments in the Psalms gives us the clear understanding that we are to praise Him with instruments. Meditating on the truths of Gods word while listening to an artist play that song beautifully on an instrument brings glory to God. I can play a beautiful song on the piano while worshiping Him in my heart, and the resultant chords sounding forth that song glorifies God. It is not that the sounds are in and of themselves are pleasing to God, but that the hearts and minds of the hearer, or hearers are stimulated to enjoin praise to God. This is God’s idea, not man’s. It is He who has made us and not we ourselves and to authentically sing praises to God, our whole being is to be incorporated. There is nothing wrong, in fact, there is everything right with using musical instruments to enhance our full worship experience and to help engage our hearts and our minds. Not simply one or the other. Music is God’s idea. Instruments are God’s idea. We are enjoined to use instruments in worship and it is to certainly be more than an intellectual exercise. We are to sing praises to God with passion. The Psalms were particularly written to be accompanied by musical instruments.
The Regulative Principle opposes the very scriptures it purports to uphold, as if one could sing Psalm 150, as sanctioned by James and Paul, and not use the same stringed instrument the Psalms they are singing exhort us to use. Or as if we could sing Psalm 33 and then command not to use the same harp in praising Him that we just sang about. Or sing Psalm 43 and believe that while David could praise Him with a harp, or a ten stringed instrument, we could not praise Him with a six or a twelve stringed instrument.
When it comes to the scriptures, I must be clear. We have the freedom according to scripture to use instruments in our corporate worship, and we have the admonition to at times use them loudly. There are other times when silence is necessitated. Times when reflective instrumentation is warranted. Times when beautiful accompaniment is needed. (For some of us, it is as beautiful as we can possibly make it with our talents.) And all of these at times should be implemented in our worship.
We are going to continue to use Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. We are going to sing deep theological songs, simple phrases of meditation and reflection concerning those truths, we are going to wait and linger over certain truths at times, sometimes singing them repetitively, like in the Psalms. Sometimes between verses we are going to continue the melody on the instruments in meditative praise, giving the congregation more time to reflect on the truth we just sang. We are going to use different instruments, sometimes more, sometimes less, and sometimes no instruments. Sometimes Old Hymns of the faith, like It Is Well and And Can It Be, sometimes a Hymn like it is written in the holy Trinity Hymnal, and sometimes I will re-write the song, or use the melody another has written for it that seems to go better in our culture than the old dirges they sometimes used.
In short, Rockport, a reformed Baptist church, is “reformed and still reforming.” As we learn and grow together in the grace of God, we learn to support one another, to uphold one another, to encourage one another and to pray for one another. Our desire is to be a grace-filled church, with an atmosphere of “passion for God” when it comes to worship. As the elder who oversees worship at Rockport, along with the other elders who keep me accountable, my desire it to please God above all. I also desire that our worship services are a blessing to the congregation. As we join together each week let’s encourage and exhort one another in an atmosphere of grace, longing, hungering and thirsting for God.