In chapters 6 and 7 of The Deliberate Church, Dever and Alexander deal with what should transpire when the church gathers. Their comments are based on their biblical convictions that worship is the purpose of redemption and that in both the Old and New Testaments God has given us regulations about how we are to worship him. Thus the authors argue that the church's corporate worship should be governed by the Regulative Principle. That is, "everything we do in a corporate worship gathering must be clearly warranted by Scripture" (p. 77).
An alternative to the Regulative Principle is the Normative Principle. The authors give us a terse distinction between the two. While the Regulative Principle forbids anything not commanded by Scripture, the Normative Principle allows anything not forbidden by Scripture. There may not be a whole lot of differences between these two principles in actual practice. For example, the authors cite Exodus 20:4 at one point, but this is a passage that seems to me to be an expression of the Normative Principle if anything. But I do think that chapter 7 entitled "Applying the Regulative Principle" offers the pastor some very helpful guidance. The authors apply the Regulative Principle by identifying five basic elements of corporate worship. I'll state them briefly here:
- Read the Bible: The regular public reading of Scripture.
- Preach the Bible: A consistent diet of sermons that present the gospel and its implications as the natural outworking of the point of a biblical passage.
- Pray the Bible: Corporate prayer.
- Sing the Bible: Ensure that the church's singing is to theologically rich and memorable tunes.
- See the Bible: The proper use of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.
I find it hard mentally to think in terms of either the Regulative Principle or the Normative Principle. But I do think that the authors have presented a solid case for our church's services to be "deliberate," centered around the five basic elements. And they may very well be right that we ought not add anything else to these five. I tend to agree, for example, that by incorporating drama into our worship gatherings we have robbed the sacraments from being the dramatic presentations of the gospel they were designed to be (see pp. 207-08, note 9). Perhaps the pressure to be entertaining has distracted us from worshiping God the way he wants us to.