Ministry Vision (#3): Church and The Regulative Principle

Summary of the sermon preached by Rev Dr K. Song on 27 August 2017 at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Peppermint Grove.
Bible-yellow brownBible Readings: (OT) Deuteronomy 7:1-11 / (NT) Colossians 2:16-3:4
Main Points:
    I. Not ‘What I feel’ but ‘What the Bible says’
    II. Setting minds on things that are above
    III. The Regulative Principle

As we continue focusing on our church’s Ministry Vision, let me remind you of the areas we’ve heard so far over the past two Lord’s Days. The first area covered was ‘church and its nature’ and the second one was about ‘church membership.’ As you remember the messages preached, church is of God – God our Heavenly Father called His elect children and given them the name of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour, through whom and by whom all members of God’s church receive forgiveness of sins and faith onto salvation. Also, through the name of Jesus, all who belong to church have received the promise of the One who never changes but is eternally faithful to His words, the promise of the eternal home and reign as kings together with Jesus.

If the previous two sermons were about who we are as God’s church through and by Jesus – in a word, our identity as the members of His church, today’s message is about what is required of us while we remain on earth, walking together with the Lord toward our eternal home. If I may explain it in this way, the previous two sermons were like a story of an orphan child who at last meets his father and hears from his father about their father-son relationship. Then, what might this child hear from his father? He would hear, ‘I’m your father. So, from now on, you come and live with me.’ That’s what we’re going to hear from today’s message. Knowing that we’re born-again children of God through faith in Jesus the Lord, and called to be the members of His household, now we hear how to live or what to concern in our life in our Father’s home. That’s basically what is depicted in the term we use, ‘the Regulative Principle.’ In other word, the one ‘rule’ our Father in heaven made for and given to all His children.

Talking about ‘rule,’ this is not really a word that makes people happy, especially of this day and age. Some people are allergic to this word while some others are hysteric. But the truth is that no one can live without ‘rules’ and living under ‘rules’ is not an option anyone could choose or not, but a mandatory and essential condition for all beings – living or lifeless – to exist. So, when I say a ‘rule’ in the Father’s house, I don’t mean it as an option to choose or not, but as the unnegotiable condition, just like all living beings breathe the air. This ‘rule’ God’s children, the members of His church, must understand is called ‘the Regulative Principle’ and we’ll hear about this ‘principle’ as explained in our text passage from Col. 2 and 3, alongside our first Bible reading from Dt. 7.

So, let’s begin from our text passage to see the teaching of the Lord. First of all, I’d like to point out the general overview or big picture of this passage. The whole section is about two different views or ways and teaches us to grab hold of one and abandon the other. One is, simply put, ‘what I (or we) feel’ and the other, ‘what the Bible says.’ The message is definitely for us to take the latter, that is, ‘what the Bible says,’ than the former, ‘what I feel.’ Let’s briefly examine our text passage to see whether it is so.

First, vs. 16-18 say, “let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath …. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels ….” Some people read from these verses and say that Christians are completely free from rules including keeping festivals or days. This view is called ‘Christian libertarianism.’ But, sadly, such is not what this section teaches. It is about where the ultimate standard or reference for Christian’s faith is and, that is, the word recorded in the Bible and given to us. God’s word is the supreme standard for faith and life. No individual’s view based on his/her thoughts or feelings can substitute the place and authority of God’s word or even stand next to it – that’s the teaching of these verses.

If you look at verses like the second half of 18 and 19, you see why it is so. There, you find a stark contrast between two views. One is the view based on ‘sensuous mind, thus, puffed up without reason.’ That is, in a word, a view of ‘I think and I feel.’ But the other view is described as ‘based on reason that holds fast to the Head, that is, Jesus.’ In a word, ‘holds fast to the Word,’ as Jesus is the Word incarnate as taught in Jn. 1. Furthermore, v. 22 talks about the view of ‘I feel or I think’ as ‘human precepts and teachings’ which have, as v. 23 further explains, “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” This is, in other word, what is called in v. 20 as ‘the elementary spirits of the world.’

The reason for God’s children to reject the view of ‘I feel’ and follow the word of the Bible only is because there’s a great spiritual danger associated with following the ‘I feel’ view. That danger is God’s wrath and a sudden destruction as the result of God’s wrath. If you remember our first Bible reading from Dt. 7 and the idea taught through that part of the Scripture, it’s easy to see why God’s wrath and destruction are associated with that view.

Think about the command given to the Israel of the OT. They were commanded not to make covenant with the inhabitants of Canaan, not to intermarry their children to any of them because, when that happens, those idol worshippers would surely draw the people of Israel and their children away from God-worshipping, God-fearing faith and life. When that happens, it’s not God’s hand that would destroy them; rather, their unbelief, their disobedience would surely lead them to self-destruction, as they would follow the various detestable ways of the idol worshippers – burning their children with fire, for example, as Dt. 12:31 talks about.

We are witnessing the same wrath of God and sudden destruction among peoples and nations even in our world. Consider America for example. It used to be considered as one of the greatest countries in the world, if not the best, at least to the minds of Americans. It was built on strong Christian faith and conviction, mainly that of the Puritans, as many people recognise. But what is happening with them? They have abandoned that great faith and we see that the greatest abominations to the eyes of God are taking place on that land in this day and age.

At a conference in America with several panels and many audience, someone asked a question and said, ‘What do you think that makes America great?’ The panels gave several answers like freedom and their great Constitution. One panel wasn’t really serious in giving his answer. So the emcee asked him again to give his ‘real’ view. Then, this particular panel began, saying that America was no longer the greatest country in the world as she had lost her conviction to what is right and worth to uphold. That panel was exactly right. Although he wasn’t a biblical scholar, he had a thorough understanding of the teaching of Dt. 7:1-11. Losing their sight of the supremacy of the Scripture, they would more and more incline to the view of ‘I feel or I think,’ then, suddenly, all would face God’s wrath and destruction. Any nation that has lost the supremacy of the Scripture, there’s judgment of God impending for all in her.

I’m not saying this to depress you; not at all is that my intention. My point is to help you to see the end of all things, borrowing the word from Rom. 6:21, like a travel guide trying to show the travellers the danger that hangs over the cliff, showing the depth of the fall over the cliff and give them a clear warning to watch out but enjoy the beauty of the scenery, staying on the safe side. So, the message is a message of joy, hope, peace in believing and following the Lord, the Head, Jesus, the incarnate Word.

That’s the message our Apostle Paul conveys in the first a few verses of Col. ch. 3. Hear what he says there, being inspired by the Holy Spirit: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is …. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” You see his point? As you’ve looked and checked out how dangerous it is, don’t go over the cliff, but stay on this side which is the safe and blessed side. What is this side called? Holding fast to the teaching that God’s word recorded in the Bible is the only supreme standard of our faith and life. The Apostle Paul’s term for this is ‘setting our minds on things that are above.’ That ‘above’ is – as he says in v. 1 of Col. 3 – where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, where Christ is set by His Father as King as in Ps. 2:6.

So, ‘setting our minds on things that are above’ is not anything that is mystic or magical, but reading God’s word from the Bible, studying it, contemplating it – yet, not adding any of our human idea to it or taking any meaning from it – then, applying it in our everyday living in this world and sharing it on the Lord’s Day when all God’s family members gather together for worship and on any other day for fellowship. Moreover, whenever anyone asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us, explain it to him/her with gentleness and respect. That’s our act of setting our hearts on things that are above.

The so-called ‘Regulative Principle’ portrays this need for Christians to set their minds on such things. Usually it is used in terms of describing the principle of our worship to God, saying that we only do in worship what is commanded in the word of God. See what the Westminster Confession of Faith summarises this principle in these words: ‘the only acceptable way of worshipping the true God is appointed by Himself in accordance with what He has revealed in His word.’ But, the idea behind it covers all areas of Christian’s faith and life.

So, the point is so clear that no one could actually raise any opposition to this principle. But, let me add another aspect to your understanding of this matter. When following the Scripture is emphasised, a problem that usually bothers Christians’ minds especially in this postmodern world is this: ‘Which interpretation of the Bible should we follow as THE supreme standard because there are so many diverse views and interpretations of the Bible?’ There are Reformed view and Arminian view in addition to liberal view and charismatic view and neo-orthodox view, just to name a few. Which view should we follow, regarding it as the only authentic view, and disown all other views? It confuses the minds of the worshippers of God and Christ these days. Rejecting one view in favour of another seems to the eyes of Christians a form of ‘spiritual pride’ or ‘arrogance.’ This makes quite a number of Christians uncomfortable to choose one and that only.

But, once again, the principle applied to the Regulative Principle has been applied in the history of God’s church over many years, I mean, thousands of years over both the Old and the NT times up until now. God’s word rightly interpreted by God’s church has been proven in time. Dt. 18:22 gives the principle how it works, saying this: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” So, basically for God’s OT church, they had to wait to see whether a prophet’s word was God’s word, that is, the supreme standard of their faith and life. Then, in the NT church, things has been slightly different but under the same principle. Yet, instead of waiting, the leaders of church since the time of the apostles gathered together to examine whether a teaching or interpretation was God-inspired, thus, a part of the supreme standard. So, beginning from the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, God’s church has had many meetings and councils for distinguish the authentic biblical view from false interpretations. As they met, the church has produced ‘creeds’ like the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed and ‘confessions’ like the WCF and ‘Canons of Dort’ to refute any false view and to uphold the biblical teaching. Mind you that the Reformation of the 16th C was a massive movement to refute false views and to turn back to the Bible and its teaching.

What these creeds and confessions point out is to go back to the true teaching of the Bible and we often call it as God’s church and its apostolicity in doctrine. We remain with the teachings of the Apostles. Eph. 2:18-22 explains it in these words: “For through Him [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are … citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him [Jesus] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Do you see the point? The Apostles and prophets made the foundation, having Jesus as the cornerstone, of this faith we uphold as the supreme standard.

So, brothers and sisters in Jesus, my fellow believers and worshippers of God in the name of Jesus our Lord, in our prayer, we must consider the will of God as given in the Bible; in our plan, we must endeavour to reflect God’s will and, in our practice, we must seek to fulfil God’s work on earth. This is not only with our worship, but also in all areas of our faith and life.

Our church’s Ministry Vision paper has been distributed and, I believe, all of you have already read it. The overall idea of every word that is written in the vision paper is to reflect this idea of God’s word and what the word teaches is to be understood well and thoroughly, applied deeply in every area of our church’s life. The most important point is that this must be done by this church as one united body. Minister cannot do it by himself; neither can Elders carry it out by themselves. The only way can this be done is to have everyone on board, praying together for the same cause, studying God’s word together for the same blessing, and living what we’ve understood from the word out in our private and corporate life. When we do it, that’s a ‘revival.’ Such is a ‘reformation’ in the name of the Head of our church, Jesus Christ!

So, my dear members of this body of Christ, let us seek the Lord’s power and wisdom and love for this simple but enormous work of the Lord. Let’s begin this from here when we gather together and carry on when we’re apart at our homes, schools and works. May the Lord bless us all in His sufficient and marvellous grace! ***


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