Public Worship and the Reformed Faith
Prof. Barry Gritters
Strange fire is being offered on the altars of
worship in many churches today. That fire is being offered on
For one reason or another, worship is not the same as
it used to be. Perhaps the leaders of the churches are trying to raise
the attendance at the evening worship service. Perhaps, because the
young people are not impressed with the worship anymore, pastors and
consistories are trying to lure the young people (who have wandered off
to more charismatic or enthusiastic worship services) back to the
services of their church.
For some reason, perhaps because the people are not
by the worship services of the church, dramatic presentations are
offered, movies are shown, talented singing groups are asked to lead the
worship and even liturgical dances are offered as worship to God, many
times in place of the preaching. All this is to make the services
True to his Reformed heritage and, therefore, true to
the Scriptures, the Reformed believer asks the question, "What is the
worship required by my Lord?" He asks this question because he is
a Reformed believer. With the Scriptures open before him, with an
eye on the Reformed confessions and a finger on the history book of the
Church of Jesus Christ, the Reformed man or woman asks the question,
"What is the true worship that I must give to God?"
When we frame this question, we are implying that God
does command His church to worship Him. God calls His people to worship
him individually. "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I
pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice," the Psalmist says in
Psalm 55. The people of God do not wait until Sunday to worship God.
True worship of God takes place in families, when
father and mother lead the children in true worship in the living room
or around the dinner table, reading and explaining the Bible, leading
them in singing Psalms of praise and offering prayers for the family and
But all that comes to focus when the families gather
together for public worship as a congregation. With that we are
concerned now. The worship God requires of His people is that they
gather collectively, as a body, and offer united homage to their
Lord and Redeemer. The Old Testament abounds with proof. In
Psalm 122, the believer sings, "I was glad when they said unto me,
Let us go into the house of the LORD." He sings, "With joy and gladness
in my soul, I hear the call to prayer. Let us go up to God's own house,
and bow before Him there." This call to public worship was echoed in
Psalm 95, "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before
the LORD our Maker."
The New Testament church continued this tradition of
worship. Following the custom of our Lord, who regularly went to the
synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke
4:16), the early New Testament church regularly met together for
public worship, as is evident from the entire book of Acts. So important
was this that the writer to the Hebrews calls the church "not (to)
forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is"
The public worship of the church is vital for
obedience to the will of our God who saved us. In eternity the
church will be worshipping God. The seer of God, the apostle John, wrote
Revelation 14:6-7, "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of
heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on
the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour
of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth, and
the sea, and the fountains of waters" (see also
The "everlasting gospel" is: Worship God.
We are concerned about this because worship is a
subject. Not only is this an important subject because presently
there is strange fire being offered in many places, but the remembrance
of the Reformation brings us to this subject.
The fathers of the Reformation were concerned not
only with the doctrinal aberrations of the Roman Catholic Church,
but with the practice of that church in its public worship. For
that reason, you will find an entire volume of Luther on the subject of
public worship, and hundreds of references of Calvin on the subject. So
important a place did public worship have in the life of Calvin,
that his expulsion from the city of Geneva was rooted in differences on
the question of how the church would worship God.
What is Worship?
In its very NATURE, worship is fellowship with
This is plain from the Old Testament form of worship.
The children of Israel worshipped God collectively at the tabernacle or
temple. Worship was brought there because God was there. God's
people frequented the tabernacle to fellowship with Him in covenant
fellowship, through the offerings of lambs and goats and doves and
New Testament fellowship with God is made possible
through the offering of Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God. Now we meet
with God in blessed covenant fellowship as Christ dwells among us
through His Pentecostal Spirit. But now we need no particular place to
worship. Although it is nice to have a church building, we can
fellowship with God in a school gym, a public hall, a store attic or a
catacomb, as Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My
name, there I will be in the midst of them." That is worship: GOD IN THE
MIDST OF US THROUGH CHRIST!
The PURPOSE of our public worship is to bring glory
to God's name.
This is brought out in the two New Testament words
for worship. The first word means "to kiss the hand of" or "to bow down
towards" someone. This is the word for worship used to signify humble
adoration. The second main word means "to render honour" or "to pay
homage." Both these words carry the idea of giving something to God. The
Anglo-Saxon word from which we get our word 'worship" is weorthscipe,
which is what worship is: declaring the worthiness of God.
Psalm 95:3 says it well, "The LORD is a great God, and a great king
above all gods."'
This brings out the truth that worship is for God.
In this, our humanistic society, there is a strong
tendency to make our worship services man-centred instead of
God-centred. Dr. P. Y. De Jong sounded a warning about this already many
years ago in
The Banner, the official periodical of the Christian Reformed
Church: "Today we hear voices insisting that worship must meet our
needs. It must become the channel of self-fulfilment for man. It must
ennoble his life and give him worthwhile ideals. It must comfort him in
sorrow and give assurance in the struggle with sin. The Calvinist does
not deny that these have a legitimate place in life. Yet with all the
strength of his soul he fights against the idea that these alone
validate worship. We worship as the company of believers to praise
our God who is the overflowing fountain of all good." Worship must be
When complaints are lodged against the worship of a
church (and sometimes legitimately), ninety-nine percent of the time the
complaint is, "I didn't get anything out of the service!" How
often does the complainer say, "This worship service brought no glory to
A danger exists that we forget that going to church
is worship of, bowing the knee towards, kissing the hand of, God!
We reflect that loss of memory when we say, "I sure don't feel like
going to church today." Do we realize what we are saying? We would be
much less inclined to speak that way if we viewed worship as going to
worship our great God. "I don't feel like worshipping God today?"
We begin our worship services by saying "God," and we
end the same way (Isaiah
42:8). God is great and greatly to be praised. "I am the LORD: that
is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise
to graven images." Because of this principle truth, our view of God will
directly affect how we worship in church.
This is the Reformed tradition.
Dr. P. Y. De Jong said, "One of the chief emphases in
Calvin's teaching which greatly influenced his order of worship was his
adoring sense of the majesty and power of God. Although all Christian
believers accept in one form or another the doctrine of the
transcendence and glory of the God of the Scriptures, none emphasized
this as emphatically as Calvin. And we see immediately how this would
influence the pattern of worship. If man exists for the sake of the
glory of God rather than that God should exist for the sake of the
happiness of man, worship takes on a new perspective."
Whether or not he receives personal satisfaction and
pleasure from the acts of worship is secondary. We do not throw this out
as a consideration, but it is subordinated to a high aim and goal: the
glory of our God.
For this reason the God-glorifying and God-centred
Psalms have pride of place in the Reformed worship service and not
hymns, which are, for the most part, man-centred. (We have available
another pamphlet that presents the Reformed position for exclusive
Psalmody in the church. Please write to the address on this booklet to
receive a copy.)
Glorifying to God, worship will also edify His
church. That is the second purpose of worship.
Edification means building. Edification of the church
takes two forms. In the first place, the living stones must grow. We
are concerned that we benefit from worship service, that we are
led into the green pastures and beside the still waters, that the bread
of life is broken for us. This is why the Psalmist could say in
Psalm 84, "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul
longeth, yea even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my
flesh crieth out for the living God ..." And, "I had rather be a
doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of
wickedness." Why? "For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will
give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from
them that walk uprightly" (see also
Psalm 27:4). In the second place, building up of the church is the
addition of new stones: the elect whom God has chosen from eternity.
These elect are gathered from the children of believers and from
unbelievers who are brought into the church from the church's mission
The third purpose of worship is to bring believers
into fellowship and communion. The Psalms are clear on this. The body of
believers sings, "O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a
joyful noise to the rock of our salvation." And, as
Psalm 122 is versified, "With joy and gladness in my soul, I hear
the call to prayer; Let us go up to God's own house, and bow before Him
there ... We stand within thy sacred walls, O Zion blest for aye,
Wherein the people of the Lord united homage pay ...."
This fellowship is both necessary and possible
because of the nature of the church. The church is the body of
Christ, each believer living his life as a necessary member of
that body. Apostle Paul drives that point home in
I Corinthians 1:12-27, that great extended comparison of the human
body and the church. Believers need each other! Members of Christ's body
may not and can not live in isolation. This is one reason why the
apostle's calling to the church in Hebrews is so urgent: "Let us not
forsake the assembling of ourselves together ..." (10:25).
In the fellowship of worship, believers pray together
for their life as a body, offer united homage to their king, support the
cause of God's kingdom in the world, listen collectively to the word
that they preach through their pastor. This fellowship (and the
fellowship after the official service) cements the bond of love
among them, serves to encourage each in his calling, and supports the
witness that they give to the community.
The question comes down to this: "Since edification
of the church and true fellowship of believers can result only when
worship is for the glory of God, how can we conduct a worship service
that glorifies God?" The answer is twofold: first, if we worship only as
God has commanded us (the Regulative Principle of Worship); second, if
our worship services have certain basic characteristics.
The Regulative Principle
Reformed believers teach that our worship is to be
just what God commands it to be—nothing more, nothing less. This is of
utmost importance for us to understand in connection with Biblical,
Reformed worship. God does not leave it up to us to determine the
of our worship of God. God's Word regulates us in how we must
This is the difference between the Lutheran and the
Calvinistic branches of the Reformation. Followers of Luther, when
reforming the extravagance of the Roman Catholic Church, held to the
position that whatever was not explicitly forbidden in the Bible
was permissible in church. For that reason, the Lutherans kept a
good deal of Roman Catholic practices in their worship. Whether
consciously taken or not, this is the position of most churches
today. This is not Reformed!
The Calvinists, on the other hand, held to what is
called "The Regulative Principle of Worship." That regulative
principle says, "We worship God only as He has commanded
us in His Word." For that reason, the worship services of Reformed
churches historically have been limited to prayer, singing, sacraments,
preaching, and offerings.
One can easily see how this principle speaks to the
modern changes in the worship services. Trying sincerely to be up to
date, or trying sincerely to attract the young people to the church, the
old is pushed aside, replaced by new kinds of worship. Often one of the
services is reserved for something other than preaching. The questions
that are most often asked are, "What will please the congregation? What
will be more stimulating? What is nice?" But the question rarely is,
"What does God's Word say about it?"
People are under the delusion that as long as they
are not doing something that is condemned in the Bible, as long
as they are guided by proper motivations, as long as they are
worshipping the true God, there is no limit as to what they may
do. But they forget that God does not leave it up to us to decide how we
are to worship Him. We are REGULATED BY THE WORD OF GOD in our
worship. We must be so careful in the manner of our worship.
This regulative principle needs proof.
The foundation for this principle is the second
commandment of God's Word. The first two commandments (actually, the
first four) speak about worship. The first commandment lays down the
principle that the church may not worship any other god than the LORD.
The second commandment also speaks about worship, but not of whom
we worship. It speaks of how we worship whom we must. It
lays down the principle that we are to worship God in the manner
He prescribes in His Word.
This is plain from the commandment itself which says,
"Not by graven images." Violation of this commandment was the sin of the
Israelites when they first came to mount Sinai. Bowing down to the
golden calf, they were not violating the first commandment (worshipping
other gods), at least not by their admission. They were attempting to
worship God, but in a way other than how He had commanded.
The positive implication of this second commandment
is that God—and God alone—will determine how we must worship Him.
The Reformed confessions bring out this principle. The
Heidelberg Catechism (Lord's Day 35) gives the Reformed
interpretation of the second commandment. It asks, "What
does God require in the second commandment?" Its answer:
"That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship
him in any other way than he has commanded in his word."
This is the Regulative Principle of Worship.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, the
standard of Reformed Presbyterianism, takes the same
position in chapter 21. "But 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 Holy
Scripture." And in the Westminster
Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 109, "The sins forbidden in the second
commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding,
using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not
instituted by God himself."
Would to God that Reformed believers understood the
second commandment and the Reformed confessions concerning this point.
The Reformed fathers took this position as well. In
his Sermons on the Ten Commandments, in this connection, Calvin
says, "We should know that the principal service which God requires is
obedience" (p. 67). "Martin Bucer says, 'it is only the worship which
God asks of us which really serves Him.' Bucer obviously did not
understand worship as though it were some sort of creative art, as
though the object of worship were to entertain God with elaborate
liturgical pageants and dramas. God directs us above all to worship him
by the proclamation of his word, the giving of alms, the celebration of
communion, and the ministry of prayer" (Hughes Oliphant Old,
Cooperate Worship in the Reformed Tradition, p. 3.)
Even John McArthur, outside of the Reformed tradition
as most of us know it, says, "God will not accept deviant worship. Some
would insist that any kind of sincere worship is acceptable to
God, but that is not true. The Bible clearly teaches that those who
offer self-styled worship are unacceptable to God, regardless of their
good intentions. No matter how pure our motivation may seem or how
sincere we are in our attempts, if we fail to worship God according to
His revelation, He cannot bless us" (The Ultimate Priority, p.
There are some pointed historical examples in the
Bible that bring that out. Cain was interested in bringing an offering
to Jehovah. As far as he was concerned, and as far as his profession was
concerned, he was worshipping the one true God. The trouble with that
was that he did not bring the offering God required. For that reason God
spurned the offering, and burned His wrath on it. What was Cain's sin?
He did not worship God in the manner God requires in His word.
This is also brought out in the matter of Saul's
offerings. Saul waited impatiently for seven days for Samuel to come to
Gilgal. All the while the people were scattering from him, diminishing
the strength of his army. So, instead of waiting for Samuel, Saul
offered the worship to God on the altar because he wanted God's blessing
on his battle with the Philistines. Partly because of this, the Lord
took the kingdom from him. Why? Because Saul did not worship God in the
manner prescribed by Him. Only priests were ordained to sacrifice.
Most are familiar with the story of Uzzah offering
God the service of reaching out his hand to steady the ark when it was
in danger of falling, and God's punishment of that act with immediate
death. What was Uzzah's sin? He was serving God contrary to the way God
commanded in his word, for God had said that no one was to touch the
ark. But that in itself is not the entire story. The root of this
problem is that David had failed to conduct the return of the ark in the
proper way. Uzzah's error—though serious—in other times probably would
not have been serious enough to warrant the Lord smiting him dead. But
when seen in the light of David's first slap-up job of attempting to
bring the ark back, one can understand "Uzzah's breach." In the first
attempt, David let unsanctified Levites bring the ark; they carried it
on a cart pulled by oxen; and they had an unorganized parade of people
following along with the ark. In the second attempt they used 1) the
chief of the Levites, 2) sanctified Levites, 3) Levites carrying
the ark on staves, and 4) the people in a serious and organized
procession instead of a parade. And the Lord was pleased with this
There is an incident in the life of Hezekiah that
brings out the truth of the regulative principle of worship. We read in
II Chronicles 30 that Hezekiah gave a great worship service to God
in Jerusalem, which consisted of celebration of the Passover. Out of
love for God, Hezekiah sent an invitation to the ten tribes of Israel. A
godly remnant came and participated in that service. But when they did
that, God plagued the people and made them sick. Why? Because many had
not kept the ceremonial rules of cleansing themselves that God required
of them in His word concerning His worship in the Passover. Only when
Hezekiah prayed fervently to the Lord, pleading that they simply did not
have time to sanctify themselves ceremonially, but that they
cleansed their hearts by faith, did the Lord receive their worship.
This shows that good intentions are not enough. We
might make the judgment that God is sticking to technicalities here.
Their hearts were right, we might say; at least David's and Hezekiah's,
we would complain. "David desired the ark to be back at Jerusalem so
that the people could inquire at the Lord's face once again. Hezekiah's
desire was to bring back the worship of God in the Passover, remembering
the symbolic blood of the Lamb that saved them. Is not God going too far
here?" But who are we to stand in judgment against God? Calvin says
about this kind of worship: "... we should know that it is unnecessary
to parade our 'good intentions' as a cover-up for what we have invented,
indeed; but on the contrary we should know that the principle service
which God requires is obedience" (Sermons on the Ten Commandments,
You can be sure that David felt good in his heart
about his worship of bringing the ark back to Jerusalem; that Hezekiah
was moved and thrilled by the sight of so many returning to Jerusalem to
worship. But God is not pleased with mere feelings that we have about
man-made worship. He desires us to worship him as He has commanded.
Our worship is regulated by the Word of God.
Would to God all Reformed believers understood this
basic principle of the second commandment and the Reformed confessions.
Alas, most do not.
Perhaps someone has read all this so far, and
responds like this: "I understand all that, I think, but I still wonder
what's wrong with having an altar call at the end of the worship
service." Or, "What's wrong with having a puppet show that conveys to
the children a fundamental truth of God's Word?" Aside from the fact
that altar calls are Arminian and not Reformed in their origin and
meaning, and aside from the fact that puppet shows and other cute
inventions undermine the solemnity of worship, asking those questions
shows that the point of the regulative principle has been missed
completely. Why? Because the regulative principle of the second
commandment says, "Do not ask, 'What's wrong with it?' But
ask, 'Does the Word of God command it to be done in the worship
of the church?"'
True to this regulative principle, Reformed worship
services have these elements: singing of Psalms (Colossians
Ephesians 5:19-20); offering of prayer (I
Timothy 2:1-8); reading of Scriptures (I
I Timothy 4:13); the preaching and hearing of God's word (Romans
II Timothy 4:1-2); the administration of the two sacraments (Matthew
I Corinthians 11:23-29); and the giving of our offerings in the
support of the ministry and the relief of the poor (I
I Corinthians 9:11-14).
Characteristics of True
Worship that is regulated by the Word of God not
will have only those elements taken from the Word of God, it will
have certain basic characteristics.
Speaking to the woman at Samaria, Jesus lays down the
first characteristic of true worship. It is worship IN SPIRIT AND
4:24). Worship in spirit means that we worship God in and with our
spirit which has been set free by the Spirit of Christ. The proper
manner of worship is inward. We worship God in such a way that we
consciously enter into His presence, enjoy fellowship and communion with
Him, and worship Him with our hearts, minds, wills, and emotions.
The danger is that we make our worship only outward
and formal. Then we drag ourselves to church because that is the thing
to do, perhaps sleeping through the service. Or we come awake and let
our minds wander, so that we do not give God true worship; we are there
only outwardly. This is the worship that stank in the nostrils of God in
the Old Testament. This is the sin against which the prophets warned so
strongly. "Away with your feasts and your new moons, I cannot stomach it
all. Bring me a sacrifice of a contrite spirit and a broken heart. That
I will not despise." This brought glory to God (Isaiah
This, worship in spirit, and not all
kinds of changes in the liturgy to arouse interest, is the cure for dead
formalism in worship! Luther has an interesting comment about changes in
the liturgy to liven the worship. Says Luther, "... I have been hesitant
and fearful [to change the liturgy, BG] partly because of the weak in
faith, who cannot suddenly exchange an old and accustomed order of
worship for a new and unusual one, and more so because of the fickle and
fastidious spirits who rush in like unclean swine without faith or
reason, and who delight only in novelty and tire of it as quickly when
it has worn off. Such people are a nuisance even in other affairs, but
in spiritual matters, they are absolutely unbearable. Nonetheless, at
the risk of bursting with anger, I must bear with them, unless I want to
let the gospel itself be denied to the people" (Works, vol. 53,
The cure for dead formalism in worship is to worship
in spirit—to come prepared to stand in the presence of the great God; to
come with joy and gladness in our hearts at the call to prayer; to come
with eagerness to hear the word preached and visit with the saints; to
come as participants, not spectators.
But worship cannot be in spirit unless it is also
To worship God in truth means that our worship must
always be a confession of the truth of God's Word. Our worship must not
only be governed by the Word, but have the Word as its
The truth that God is God, sovereign in the heavens; the truth that
man is man, unable to save himself, worthy of eternal death; the truth
that in His love, God sent into the world His only begotten Son Christ
to die for those (and those only) whom God had chosen from before the
world began; the truth that through the outpouring of that Spirit,
Christ is applied to believers; the truth that Christ shall come again
to judge the living and the dead and establish an everlasting kingdom in
glory. That is the truth. In short, the whole counsel of God.
Indeed, here is where worship is badly distorted
today. Relatively speaking, the additions of dances and pageantry and
films are child's play compared with the violation of God's worship with
the lie, with false doctrine. God loves all men? God is so weak that He
cannot save a man unless that man first opens the door of his heart? God
chooses men whom He foresees will choose Him? This—false
doctrine—offends God more than any other violation in worship.
Does not this emphasize the preaching?
The preaching is at the heart and centre of every
Reformed worship service. The preaching of the whole counsel of God
is what makes the service a true worship of God, bowing the knee before
Him and His Word in Christ. The preaching gives glory to God, but also
edification for the church. Why, the preaching alone can cause living
stones to grow. The preaching alone can gather in dead stones and make
them part of the living temple of God. But what is happening today? The
sermons are getting shorter and shorter, for the most part. The
preaching is left off completely sometimes, to be replaced by some
gadget to get the young people to come to church again. Special talent
is called in to attract people, and when it is all over, the poor
preacher must get up and give the sermon, knowing all the while that he
is playing second fiddle to the famous gospel-singer or band. The pulpit
is pushed off to the side. The heart of the truly God-glorifying and
church-edifying worship service is cut out.
Ah, the preaching! This was the Reformers'—Luther's
and Calvin's—forte. Characteristically, Luther put it this way, "And
this is the sum of the matter: let everything be done so that the Word
may have free course instead of the prattling and rattling that has been
the rule up to now. We can spare everything except the Word ... In
Luke 10:42, Christ Himself says, 'One thing is needful,' that is,
that Mary sit at the feet of Christ and hear his word daily. This is the
best part to choose and it shall not be taken away forever. It is an
eternal Word. Everything else must pass away, no matter how much care
and trouble it may give Martha. God help us achieve this" (Works,
vol. 53, p. 14).
Some sixty years ago already, the editor of the
pointed this out when he said, "Ancient church history teaches us a
warning in this regard. A thousand years or so ago, when the priests
discontinued explaining the Word of God ... slowly but surely the church
edifices became scenes of all kinds of pageants, and dramas, and
comedies. The result was the great darkness spiritually of the Middle
Ages, ended ... when the dawn of the reformation began to spread a new
light" (The Banner, Jan. 15, 1926). Will we lose that light by
tossing the preaching out the window? What the church needs badly is
of the Word of God.
There is a relation between these two elements,
spirit and truth. God has bound them together, so that when one falls
the other does as well. If the preaching fails to bring the truth, there
can be no true spiritual worship. If the preacher fails to prepare, or
if the preacher brings the lie, or if the preacher has nothing but skim
milk in his jug, there can be no true spiritual worship. The fault of
ungodly worship must be laid at the door of the preachers and
Surely much, if not most, of the blame must be
placed there. But shall we lay all the blame there? God has bound these
two together. Shall we blame the preachers for all the trouble in the
church today? Is it not true, as every school boy is taught, that,
pointing one finger at another, four remain pointed at himself? Could it
not be that because the believer has not prepared for worship, because
the congregation comes bleary-eyed to church, because the people have no
joy in their hearts and desire to lift up God's name, GOD HIMSELF has
removed the truth from that church?
God Himself has taken away good preaching because He
has bound together spirit and truth in worship, and will not be mocked
by a cold, lifeless worshiper?
Oh, the Word cuts both ways.
But if this characteristic of worship (in spirit and
truth) is present, all else will fall into place.
The Reformed worship is characterized by
CONGREGATIONAL PARTICIPATION. Every act of worship is an act in
which the believer participates. The congregation is not a group of
spectators who come together to watch some professional priest or
theologian do his thing. They are not observers, but worshipers. This
was the great deliverance God gave His people at the Reformation.
In 1948, Dr. P. Y. De Jong wrote this: "The church in
the middle ages reduced believers to a state of bondage. Instead of
being active at the time of public worship, they were present in the
church largely, if not exclusively, as silent spectators. A dead and
dread silence hung over the cowed worshipers on the eve of the
Protestant Reformation. One of the outstanding contributions of this new
arrival was the restoration of the congregational singing to its
rightful place in the house of God" (The Banner, 1948).
In this direction many churches are heading today, if
they have not arrived there already. This is why, historically, Reformed
churches have never allowed choirs and special numbers to come into
public worship. The entire congregation is called to participate
in every act of worship in the church. There is sometimes an objection
raised at this point. In Old Testament worship there were Levites
specially trained to perform the singing for the people of God in their
worship at the temple. They sang for the people. The conclusion
pressed for at this point is that if there was special singing in the
Old Testament, why can there not be today? The answer is quite simple.
In the Old Testament the believers depended exclusively on the priests
and Levites to do the worshipping for them. But in the New
Testament, we are all prophets, priests, and kings. We believe the
fundamental reformational principle of the priesthood of all
believers. To let choirs supplant any of the congregational singing is
to detract from that great biblical truth that every believer is a
But mainly, to promote choir singing in the church is
to take away from the God-glorifying nature of congregational worship.
Our worship should be characterized by REVERENCE.
Worship is coming to God, bowing down before Him,
praising and adoring Him, the King of creation, the Sovereign of the
Psalm 89:7 says it well: "God is greatly to be feared in the
assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are
about him." If the angels, without sin, cover their faces in the
presence of God and cry out, "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts,
the whole earth is full of his glory," how can we worshipers, who remain
sinners our entire life, do anything less than come into His courts with
reverential awe? Again, departure from Psalm singing has detracted from
our reverence of God. The Psalms bring us into that frame of mind: God
is great, and greatly to be praised, His greatness is unsearchable.
Understanding this principle, the Reformed
will not come to worship God dressed casually, but in his best.
Understanding this, the Reformed pastor will not promote a
casualness and carelessness in worship. Understanding this, the Reformed
believer will pray for grace to come into God's presence with a reverent
fear. Understanding this, the Reformed organist or pianist
will play songs that bring to mind the greatness and glory of God. They
are going to meet their King!
The Reformed worship service is a SIMPLE service.
We do not have all kinds of clutter in the Reformed
worship building. This is in keeping with the Reformed view. Nor do we
(most, anyway) have symbols of Jesus' cross and the Holy Spirit, because
Christ is present, not with His cross, but when He is evidently set
forth before you in the WORD. The Spirit is present, not in some symbol
of a dove, but in the power of the preaching of the gospel.
This is not to say that Reformed worship is not
ACTIVE, JOYFUL AND THANKFUL.
There are some who think that worshipers must all be
long-faced. Everyone ought to dress in black; all ought to refrain from
smiling; and the entire mood of the worship must be as though it were a
funeral. If Reformed worship services are guilty of that, that is not
because of the faith or the worship, but because of misunderstanding in
the preacher and the people. True worship in spirit and in truth will be
joyful worship. How can it be otherwise? The gospel is preached!!! The
gospel of our misery is preached, and we are brought low by the Spirit
of Christ working in us the guilt of sin. Sometimes we come to church
burdened with trouble in our life, with the guilt of sin pressing hard
on us. But Jesus Christ is preached, the glorious truth that the blood
of the lamb was shed, that redemption is accomplished and applied to
believers, that salvation is "Yea and Amen," that God is the rock of our
salvation, that we lay our trust in Him! Oh, then worship is a joyful,
active, and thankful activity by the Reformed believer. That man that
comes to worship his great God, knowing his sins, and hearing the gospel
of forgiveness, must necessarily be the happiest man alive.
There is legitimate concern expressed in some circles
that worship services are dead, dry, stale, colourless formalities. Then
people search high and low, far and near, to be moved, to find something
impressive in worship.
They climb the liturgical ladder to the heavens (or
are chased up by preachers), crying out, "Is the moving worship service
here?" Then there are testimonials to jerk tears, altar calls to spur on
the emotions, a nationally known quartet, or a weekly change in worship
because novelty excites.
But it is not there.
So they descend the liturgical ladder down to the
depths; and try drama and dance and even rock bands. Or it is an outdoor
service on the front lawn, or a puppet show or film.
And, as praiseworthy as their motives might be, it is
not there either.
The solution is nigh thee, in thy heart, in the Word
of faith preached soundly (see
What is impressive in a worship service? God's people
are impressed in the worship service by a powerful sermon expounding the
truths of the sovereign grace of God for helpless sinners. God's people
are impressed by a worship service in which the congregation sings
lustily the God-glorifying songs of Zion because they were moved by the
Spirit in the preaching of the gospel of grace. God's people are
impressed when the children, at the elbows of their parents, sing along
because they have been taught the Psalms at home and school. God's
people are impressed when the offering plate is passed and God's people
quietly give their widow's mite for the kingdom cause, because the
Scripture says so.
Let us not pour artificial stimulants into our
worship, burning strange fire on the altar. Let us have preachers who
pore over the Word of God so they can bring a rock solid, Reformed
message of the gospel to the congregation. Let us have worshipers who
come prepared, reverently calling upon the God of their salvation, eager
to do what worship really is: Declaring the worth of their great God.
Then we will be impressed. Then the Spirit will move.
Then God's church will be saved.