There is a principle held to by many Christians often called the “the regulative principle,” “law of exclusion,” or “what is written excludes” teaching that the specific commands of God exclude alternatives and additions. This principle is a critical point of separation over Christians beliefs regarding baptism, worship, Christians music, and marriages.
This principle is used by some to exclude certain religious practices for which Scriptures are silent, because the Bible is specific in instruction. In other words, the “law of exclusion” is the idea that though the Bible does not explicitly say that some things are wrong, these things are still wrong being contrary to specifically written instruction from Christ’s Spirit. Many Christians would be surprised to know what the Bible is silent about and even more important that the Bible is very specific about in instruction. It is the object of this article to put to test this “law of exclusion” that forbids many man-made religious practices.
Where did they get this idea that specifics of God’s instructions exclude? Did Jesus, the Apostles, and prophets use this principle? Is this principle a Scriptural one? Do the specifics of the Scriptures exclude and condemn certain religious practices? Let’s progress in testing this “law of exclusion” by addressing some specific religious practices that have been excluded.
Polygamy and Marriage
For instance, polygamy is condemned by most believers, but the Scriptures do not explicitly condemn polygamy (a man having more than one wife), such a practice is greatly condemned by most Christians. Why? Let’s examine the practice of polygamy and see why it is condemned. Should polygamy be condemned as a sin? In doing this, the questions asked above will be answered on the subject of the principle of exclusion.
Polygamy existed without condemnation in the Old Testament Scriptures though opposed by the specifics of God’s instruction from Genesis. Lamech is the first in Scripture to have taken more than one wife (Gen 4:19). Abram’s wife Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as a wife (Gen 16:1–3), and it is by Abraham, a polygamist, that all the nations are blessed by faith in Christ. Jacob was blessed for taking two wives and two concubines. Then from Jacob to Gideon to David, these men had more than one wife, and they were righteous in the eyes of God. What is wrong with a Christian man having more than one wife? The New Testament Scriptures do not forbid it and Christians are the offspring of Abraham. Why do most believers in Christ believe that it is a sin for a Christian man to have more than one wife? Christians read God’s ideal for marriage from Christ and they read of God’s ideal for marriage in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and then they conclude that polygamy would alter that ideal and what God has made perfect. Are they right to think that polygamy is wrong for altering God’s ideal for marriage?
It is true that polygamy does go against God’s ideal for marriage since the very beginning. Even though God did allow polygamy in the Patriarchal and Mosaical ages, God’s ideal for marriage is that, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Eph 5:31).
In Matthew 19, Jesus used Genesis 1:26 and 2:24 to teach not to go beyond what is written concerning marriage. He used what is written to exclude divorce for any reason other than fornication. Jesus clarified that Moses for the hardness of heart of the Israelites suffered them to put away their wives, “but from the beginning it has not been so” (Matt 19:8). Jesus affirmed His and God’s ideal for marriage is one man and one woman for life by quoting Genesis, and therefore Jesus showed that God hates divorce in saying, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:6). In fact, Jesus taught that those who divorce for any other reason than sexual immorality were committing adultery in marrying another (19:9). By God’s ideal for marriage, the practice of polygamy is also excluded being that marriage is for a man and a woman. Polygamy is thus condemned along with other alterations to God’s ideal for marriage.
The Biblical Principle
The specifics of God’s ideals exclude alteration. Why? Simply, because the Scriptures makes one complete and equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16–17). There are no better or more moral things to do. The New Testament is perfect in presenting God’s ideals. Look back at Jesus’s words on marriage, He showed that there is a principle of exclusion in using Scripture. If you deny the existence of a principle for excluding practices contrary to the details of God’s ideal, then you must accept polygamy, divorce for any reason, homosexual marriage, and all alterations to marriage. Therefore, one would then be denying the words of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Many are confused because of the inconsistency of the use of this principle. It is by the usual reference to the principle as “silence forbids” that the principle is discarded, but it is even tragic when this phrase “silence forbids” is built upon and maintained by good brethren.
Now, does silence exclude? Is there a law of silence that excludes? Some would say that the silence concerning God’s perfect ideal for marriage in Genesis and established by Christ does exclude. At the same time, the Scriptures are silent about couples praying together. Silence if it does exclude does not exclude here. Te idea of silence excluding does not present consistency. There is a principle of exclusion used by Christ, but silence does not in itself exclude. There are numerous practices that the Scriptures are silent about, but Jesus showed that it is what is specifically written that excludes when He made the case of God’s ideal for marriage excluding alterations. Here is the principle of exclusion simply stated: the specifics of God’s ideals exclude. The written specifics of God’s ideals in Scripture exclude all alterations. In other words, a positive statement declaring God’s Will excludes all changes to it, because the Word of God is perfect. Let’s see from the Scriptures how this law of exclusion is proven further.
This principle of exclusion means that when God’s ideals are written then all adding and taking away from such is a sin and receives cursing. This principle of not going beyond what is written is found throughout the Scriptures in such passages like Galatians 1:6–12; 3:15; Proverb 30:5–6; Revelation 22:18–19; and 2 John 9. Second John 9 states, “Whosoever goes onward and abides not in the teaching of Christ, has not God: he that abides in the teaching, the same has both the Father and the Son.”
The Infallible Scriptures
Why is it wrong to do more than God asked for? This is the adding to God’s wonderful and perfect will for His people. Even if these Scriptures about neither adding nor annulling did not exist, all alterations made to God’s ideals are wrong. With the reliance on the Scriptures alone for one to be complete and equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17), it makes sense that the Spirit’s revelation in Scripture presents God’s ideals for any and all matters of beliefs and practices, so that all additions and subtractions are wrong and such would be quenching the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19).
Beyond What is Written
The principle of exclusion is an old principle that has been misunderstood as “silence excludes” being the “law of silence.” Those who teach that silence exclude usually explain that silence excludes when God has specified, but that is to over state the simple. The scriptural principle applies not to judge beyond what is written. Christians must “learn not to go beyond the things which are written” as is stated in 1 Corinthians 4:6. In the context of this passage, Paul is instructing these Christians not to judge Apollos and himself by going beyond what is written. Should believers judge that certain scriptures and prophets of the same God are contrary to one another because one addresses a matter that the others does not and vice versa? This passage does not say “learn not to go beyond the things which are not written.” The specifics of the Scriptures are “the things which are written” that exclude changing God’s Word. The Scriptures are silent and do not speak of using cars, computers, and projectors; but these things are not excluded because nothing is written contrary to using new ways to travel and present the Gospel. One might add that silence only excludes regarding specifics from God, and authorization is needed within given specific instructions. This is correct and fair, but a slightly over complication of the simple truth that what is specifically written excludes believers from thinking more, adding, or taking from the Truth. Why not just say, “The specifics of God’s ideals exclude,” or say concisely, “biblical specifics exclude”? Then even better just say, Christians are “not to go beyond the things which are written” (1 Cor 4:6).
An Example of the Principle
An excellent example of excluding specifics is to consider God’s specific instructions for the ark that Noah was to build. Genesis 6:14–16 depicts,
“Make you an ark of gopher wood; you will make rooms in the ark, and you will pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is how you will make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, the width of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. You will make a light to the ark, and to a cubit shall you finish it upward; and you will set the door of the ark in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories you will make it.”
God’s ideal and His specifics for the ark. Is there a better way to build the ark? Could man improve upon God’s design? Would anyone make the ark and use some pine wood even one piece? Would anyone not pitch the inside and the outside? Who would not meet the measurements to the cubit? Who would think of making the window larger than one cubit? Who would build more than one door on the side of the ark? Who would add or subtract a story from God’s instruction for the ark? God’s ideal ark is perfect. See, God’s ideal for the ark was clear, and it excluded all adding and taking from His instructions even without a word of warning. For further insight, also consider the particulars that God commanded for the Israelites to take Jericho (Joshua 6). How many times were the Israelites to march around the wall? What were they to do?
The Principle Applied
The principle of exclusion applies to New Testament beliefs and practices. God wants Christians to partake of the Lord’s Supper. We know the Lord’s Supper is a meal communing with Christ and remembering His broken body by eating bread and remembering His blood of the covenant for the remission of sins by drinking the fruit of the vine (1 Cor 11:17–34). Now, we could reason that since Christ is the Passover Lamb for Christians, then we could have lamb’s meat added to the supper. Even in our desire to do good, we would be adding to what the Creator of the Universe has established for the Lord’s Supper. We would have arrogantly concluded that the Lord’s Supper could be improved upon from what the Lord has established. If the lamb’s meat was such a good idea, then why did the fully incomprehensible mind of God not establish such from the beginning? God’s ideal is written, and His pattern excludes all alterations.
Regarding baptism, why not immerse in flower pedals, smoke and, or a mist? One could also do water baptism too as a part of the one baptism. One would still be baptizing correctly and the Scriptures do not say, “You shall baptize with flower pedals,” but God’s ideal is already written and it excludes alterations. Regarding prayer, why not pray to Peter or Mary along with praying to God? One would still pray to God, but also to others who have passed away. Why not pray with incense and candles? The Scriptures do not forbid it, but God’s ideal is already written. Regarding church government, why not have a Pope or an Archbishop over multiple congregations and follow the Scriptures in having a plural number of elders overseeing each congregation? The Scriptures do not forbid it, but God’s ideal is already written and it excludes additions. Even in our “desire to do good,” we would be adding to God’s ideals. The fully incomprehensible mind of God did not establish these mad-made alterations to His written Word. Only in arrogance and pride, would we conclude that God’s will could be improved upon from what the Lord has established.
The Regulative Principle of Worship
Considering the next subject, this is where many people leave this principle and ignore the Truth, and say to oneself, “Well, that can’t be right.” The New Testament has specified music for worship to God. The New Testament Scriptures have only one type of music directed to and for God. Singing is what is specifically written and nothing else. Singing is God’s ideal music (1 Cor 14:15; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Heb 13:15). There are no instruments, humming, whistling, or clapping in the New Testament Scriptures. Just like polygamy, instrumental music is in the Old Testament, and just like polygamy, instrumental music is excluded by the New Testament Scriptures. Instrumental music like polygamy is nowhere to be supported in the New Testament while God’s ideal is readily available in the Holy Writ to be read by anyone concerning marriage and God’s music for worship. Marriage is between one man and one woman for life, and music is to be intelligible vocal music (1 Cor 14:15). Instrumental music is not meaningful vocal music. The practice of instrumental music among churches has just been made popular in the last 200 years. Before this, the founders and major teachers of denominations believed that the use of instruments to be wrong. This includes such men as Luther to Calvin to Wesley to Spurgeon. Just like God’s ideals for marriage, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, prayer, and church government exclude alterations, so does God’s ideal for making melody by singing excludes alterations.
Only by intelligible singing does one worship in spirit and in mind as the Spirit of Christ condemned preaching, praying, and singing in unknown languages (1 Cor 14). Note what is written about making melody by singing also excludes rhythmic body percussion of feet stomping, patting, snapping, hand-clapping, and so on along with other non-intelligible vocal music like humming and whistling. If Paul by the Spirit excluded the use of unknown languages for being meaningless worship, how much more are meaningless vocal sounds and musical instruments and body percussion excluded from New Testament music?
The Scriptures undoubtedly affirm the principle of exclusion. A true irony in not accepting the principle of exclusion is when one does not accept the principle of exclusion by excluding the principle by the principle of exclusion. Since according to those rejecting the principle, the Bible is silent regarding the principle, and thus many exclude the regulative principle. There is a contradiction. How could the Bible being silent exclude the principle that excludes things for which it is silent? Again according to many, the Bible does not exclude other practices not mentioned in the Scriptures, therefore this principle is excluded being not mentioned in the Bible. How some use the principle to exclude the principle. The contradiction is clear. What a confusing and contradicting belief!
In conclusion, may Christians “learn not to go beyond the things which are written” (1 Cor 4:6). May believers continue to walk in the light, so that Christ’s blood will continue to cleanse us of all sin (1 John 1:7). If anyone does not agree with this essay, this article is a plea and a challenge present the errors or read it again. Grace and peace in Christ to everyone who read.