Updated: Feb 19, 2020
The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) states that we must worship as God prescribes in His word. While this principle is clearly expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, it was not a 17th Century innovation. It was not a doctrine invented by the Puritans. In his commentary on Genesis 28, Calvin writes:
The greatest care, therefore, must be taken, in treating of the worship of God, that what has been once done by men, should not be drawn into a precedent; but that what God himself has prescribed in his word should remain an inflexible rule.”
Calvin’s comment is important for at least two reasons. To begin with, it does dispel a still too common notion that Calvin did not hold to anything like the RPW. But more importantly, it is instructive to note that he makes the above statement in commenting upon Scripture. The RPW, then, is not an attempt to ensconce a stuffy Puritanical sensibility toward worship. As Calvin’s comment demonstrates, the RPW is the fruit of careful study of God’s word on the subject of worship. It is preserved in the Reformed confessions because it reflects our understanding of what the word of God teaches. Perhaps the most needful part of the above quote is, “The greatest care…must be taken, in treating of the worship of God.” We would do well to heed this exhortation.