The forms and circumstances are matters indifferent, the leadership of local churches are to decide the best forms and circumstances that would serve the elements and lead God’s people to serve him in spirit and truth.
As you may already know, I have been a Pastoral Intern at Trinity Baptist Church, Abuja, since January of this year. As part of my studies, I read and review sections of Foundations for the Flock: Truths About the Church for All the Saints, a collection of Dr. Conrad Mbewe’s works—ranging from booklets to sermon manuscripts—directly related to the life of the local church. I read Worship in Spirit and Truth in July, which was originally delivered by Conrad Mbewe to Kabwata Baptist Church after some internal squabbles arose over “The Regulative Principle.” I profoundly benefitted from this work and can’t seem to stop talking about it (literally!).
Conrad employs a semi-historical structure to explore the subject of worship in this title: worship as encapsulated in the Old Testament; worship as liberated in the New Testament; and worship as purified by the Reformers and the Puritans.
He identifies the similarities that exist between Old Testament worship and New Testament worship. The system of worship that existed in the synagogue had four elements: the reading of a section of the law and an exposition of the reading; praying; singing of psalms; and circumcision and ceremonial washing. Likewise, the system of worship as taught in the New Testament is to be comprised of four elements: the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13) and the preaching of the word of God (Acts 2:42); prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-4); singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19); and the administration of the sacraments, i.e., baptism and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:41-42).
Conrad notes how this simplicity of worship was lost in the Roman Catholic church. Priests were introduced. Celibacy became mandatory for the clergy. More sacraments were added: ordination, marriage, confession, penance and extreme unction. This adulteration of biblical worship led the Reformers to see the need to purify much of Christian worship in the sixteenth century. And in their efforts to purify worship, the debate for the Reformers finally hung on one question: “Are we allowed to bring into the worship of God anything that God has not explicitly forbidden, or are we only to bring into the worship of God the elements that he has explicitly commanded?” (pp. 184). The former was called the Normative Principle, while the latter was called the Regulative Principle.
Most Reformers settled for the Regulative Principle (one notable exception being Martin Luther), the position which holds that God commands churches to conduct their services using certain elements clearly found in the scripture.