The Regulative Principle of Worship is a teaching primarily emphasized in Reformed churches that the public
worship of God should include only those elements that are instituted, commanded, or appointed by command or example in the Bible. The
Westminster Confession of Faith provides a very common statement of the Regulative Principle:
"The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped 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." (WCF 21.1) By contrast, what has been termed the "normative principle" teaches that worship must consist of that which is commanded by God
but also may include that which is not specifically prohibited by Scripture so long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church. This is the view found in Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, most independant Baptist and Bible churches,
as well as in the Roman Catholic church.
A quote from Calvin
"Moreover, the rule which distinguishes between pure and vitiated worship is of universal application, in order that we may not adopt any device which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe.
Therefore, if we would have him to approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship,
requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty,
all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full
right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits, that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship,
provoke his anger against us." John Calvin,
The Necessity of Reforming the Church (
in Part 1)