The Regulative Principle of Worship in the Westminster Standards
In Summary, God has ordered certain things to be included in His worship that must not be neglected nor added to. To bind the conscience of anyone to those things not appointed for His worship is to do as the Pharisees. These things commanded for His worship have warrant in Scripture from either an explicit command, deduced by good and necessary consequence, or by an approved historical example in the Scriptures. The elements of corporate worship commanded by God in Scripture are: Reading the Scriptures, sound preaching, singing of Psalms, administration of the Sacraments instituted by Christ and Prayer.
Unlike the ordinances of worship, not all circumstances of worship must have clear Biblical warrant. Most circumstances of worship are determined by Biblically informed common sense: i.e. a set time to begin, shelter, light, heat, chairs, things that promote the orderly conduct of the ordinances. They contain no direct religious or moral significance and are incidental to the ordinances themselves.
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI: Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day
1. The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might (Rom 1:20; Ps 19:1–4a†; 50:6†; 97:6†; 145:9–12†;Acts 14:17†; 17:24; Ps 104:1-35†; 86:8–10†; 95:1–6†; 89:5–7†; 119:68; Jer 10:7; Ps 31:23; 18:3; Rom 10:12;Ps 62:8; Josh 24:14; Deut 6:4-5†; Mark 12:33). But the acceptable way of worshiping 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 (Deut 12:32; Matt 15:9; Acts 17:25; Matt 4:9-10; Deut 4:15-20; Exod 20:4-6; John 4:23-24†; Col 2:23). 5. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear (Luke 4:16-17†; Acts 15:21; Col 4:16†; 1 Thess 5:27†; Rev 1:3), the sound preaching (2 Tim 4:2; Acts 5:42†) and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence (Jas 1:22; Acts 10:33; Matt 13:19; Heb 4:2; Isa 66:2), singing of psalms with grace in the heart (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19; Jas 5:13; 1 Cor 14:15†); as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God (Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 11:23-29; Acts 2:42): beside religious oaths (Deut 6:13; Neh 10:29; 2 Cor 1:23†), and vows (Ps 116:14†; Isa 19:21; Eccl 5:4-5; Acts 18:18†), solemn fastings (Joel 2:12;Esth 4:16; Matt 9:15; Acts 14:23†; 1 Cor 7:5 [TR]), and thanksgivings upon special occasion (Exod 15:1-21†;Ps 107:1-43; Neh 12:27-43†; Esth 9:22), which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner (Heb 12:28).
4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful (1 John 5:14; John 15:7†); and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter (1 Tim 2:1-2; John 17:20; 2 Sam 7:29; 2 Chr 6:14-42†; Ruth 4:12): but not for the dead (2 Sam 12:21-23; Luke 16:25-26; Isa 57:1-2†; Ps 73:24†; 2 Cor 5:8, 10†; Phil 1:21-24†; Rev 14:13), nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death (1 John 5:16).
Chapter I: Of the Holy Scripture
6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men (2 Tim 3:15-17; Gal 1:8-9; 2 Thess 2:2). Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word (John 6:45; 1 Cor 2:9-10, 12; Eph 1:18†; 2 Cor 4:6†): and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed (1 Cor 11:13-14; 14:26, 40).
The Directory of the Publick Worship of God
Of Singing of Psalms.
IT is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family.
In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.
That the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a psalm book; and all others, not disabled by age or otherwise, are to be exhorted to learn to read. But for the present, where many in the congregation cannot read, it is convenient that the minister, or some other fit person appointed by him and the other ruling officers, do read the psalm, line by line, before the singing thereof.
Touching Days and Places for Publick Worship.
There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord's day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued."
The Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 107. Which is the second commandment? A. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Exod 20:4-6; Deut 5:8-10†).
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment? A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word (Deut 12:32†; 32:46–47; Matt 28:20; Acts 2:42; 1 Tim 6:13-14); particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ (Phil 4:6; Eph 5:20); the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word (Deut 17:18-19; Acts 15:21; 2 Tim 4:2; Jas 1:21-22; Acts 10:33); the administration and receiving of the sacraments (Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 11:23-30); church government and discipline (Matt 18:15-17; 16:19; 1 Cor 5; 12:28); the ministry and maintenance thereof (Eph 4:11-12; 1 Tim 5:17-18; 1 Cor 9:7-15); religious fasting (Joel 2:12-13; 1 Cor 7:5 [TR]); swearing by the name of God (Deut 6:13), and vowing unto him (Isa 19:21; Ps 76:11; 116:14, 18†): as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship (Acts 17:16-17; Ps 16:4); and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry (Deut 7:5; Isa 30:22).
Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising (Num 15:39), counseling (Deut 13:6-8), commanding (Hos 5:11; Mic 6:16), using (1 Kgs 11:33†; 12:33), and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself (Deut 12:30-32; Lev 10:1-2†; Jer 19:5†); [tolerating a false religion (Deut 13:6-12; Zech 13:2-3; Rev 2:2, 14-15, 20; 17:12, 16-17);] the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever (Deut 4:15-19; Acts 17:29; Rom 1:21-23, 25); all worshipping of it (Dan 3:18; Gal 4:8), or God in it or by it (Exod 32:5); the making of any representation of feigned deities (Exod 32:8), and all worship of them, or service belonging to them (1 Kgs 18:26, 28; Isa 65:11); all superstitious devices (Acts 17:22; Col 2:21-23), corrupting the worship of God (Mal 1:7-8, 14), adding to it, or taking from it (Deut 4:2), whether invented and taken up of ourselves (Ps 106:39), or received by tradition from others (Matt 15:9), though under the title of antiquity (1 Pet 1:18), custom (Jer 44:17), devotion (Isa 65:3-5; Gal 1:13-14), good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever (1 Sam 13:11-12; 15:21); simony (Acts 8:18); sacrilege (Rom 2:22; Mal 3:8); all neglect (Exod 4:24-26), contempt (Matt 22:5; Mal 1:7, 13), hindering (Matt 23:13), and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed (Acts 13:44-45; 1 Thess 2:15-16).
Q. 110. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it? A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it, contained in these words,For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Exod 20:5-6); are, besides God’s sovereignty over us, and propriety in us (Ps 45:11; Rev 15:3-4; Ps 95:2-3, 6-7†; Exod 19:5†; Isa 54:5†), his fervent zeal for his own worship (Exod 34:13-14), and his revengeful indignation against all false worship, as being a spiritual whoredom (1 Cor 10:20-22; Jer 7:18-20; Ezek 16:26-27; Deut 32:16-20); accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations (Hos 2:2-4); and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations (Deut 5:29).