Dear Church Family,
This coming Sunday, we will resume our normal Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30 am. In the adult Sunday School class, we will be examining what it means to support the work and worship of the church. Specifically, we will be examining what makes the worship of a Reformed church distinct – as she seeks to order her worship according God’s Word.
Along the lines of this topic – what makes the worship of Reformed churches distinct – I commend to you a short article by W. Robert Godfrey published earlier this year called “Worship: Evangelical or Reformed.” Dr. Godfrey is the president of Westminster Theological Seminary in California and a minister in the United Reformed Churches (URC). The article may be found online here: http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=193.
In his article, Godfrey makes two points:
1. God doesn’t just observe, but speaks in public worship.
Often, a well-meaning description is applied to God’s involvement in the corporate worship of the church: “In worship, there is an audience of one: God.” While this does help to remind us of the dangers of an overemphasis on the vertical aspects of worship (between God’s people) to the detriment of the horizontal aspects of worship (between God and His people), there is a danger in thinking of God as the audience of our worship.
Those who sit in an audience are typically passive observers. All is done on stage with or without the audience. The audience may weep, the audience may cheer, but the audience has very little to say about the performance. In contrast, God is not merely the audience of our worship. God is the director and recipient of our worship! When the calls to worship are given, Scriptures are read, assurances of pardon pronounced, sermons preached, sacraments administered, and benedictions pronounced – God is speaking to His people! He is very much engaged in our corporate worship.
2. God speaks to His people through the ordained minister in public worship.
Connected to this idea of God’s personal directing and leading in worship, is the principle that God does so through ordained ministers of the gospel, called by God through the congregation. In the Old Testament, God directed and lead His people in worship through priests, kings, and prophets. In the New Testament, God directed and lead His people in worship through the Apostles, pastors, elders, and teachers. Today, God continues to direct and lead His people in worship through pastors and elders – men who have been trained, examined, set apart, and ordained for these tasks. These men sometimes even speak on behalf of the congregation to God, as in the pastoral prayer.
This basic principle is described in the “Introduction” of the New Trinity Hymnal which we use in our congregation. The Introduction gives instructions for worship to the three main roles in worship: the pastor, the accompanist, and the congregation. Here is just the first paragraph from the section entitled “To the Pastor” from the Introduction to the New Trinity Hymnal:
“God has called you to be a worship leader. You are a preacher, administrator, educator and counselor. But all of those tasks merge into one when you stand before your flock to lead them into God’s presence. Worship is the highest calling, and guiding a congregation through worship is one of your greatest privileges. What happens in corporate worship is a foretaste of and preparation for eternity as we join with all the saints surrounding the Lamb’s throne to sing his glory!”
3. God regulates how He is to be worshipped in the Scriptures.
In his article, Godfrey limits his description of what makes worship in Reformed churches distinct from the worship of evangelical churches to the two previous points. Of course, there may be many others that we could add, but one foundational one that deserves mention is the regulative principle of worship (RPW). The RPW is summarized in our confession: “…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).
The RPW states that the acceptable way of worshipping God is limited by His own will as prescribed in the Holy Scripture. It stand in stark contrast to the “normative principle of worship” which states that God may be worshipped in any way not proscribed (or forbidden) in the Holy Scripture (all is allowed unless it is expressly forbidden). The Reformed doctrine of worship (the RPW) finds its roots in God’s command concerning not only who may be worshipped (the first commandment, Exodus 20:3), but also His command concerning how He may be worshipped (the second commandment, Exodus 20:4-6).
More could be added with regard to the biblical basis for the RPW, but the maintenance of this RPW is important for several reasons. First, we are seeking to be obedient to our Creator and Redeemer as we seek to worship Him as He has commanded us in His Word. Second, we are guarded against following the imaginations and devices of men which inevitably lead us to idolatry. Third, we are freed from having our consciences bound to the whims and opinions of those who lead us in worship.
These are just some of the major elements which make the worship of Reformed churches distinct from that of many evangelical churches; however, these distinctions ought not to be thought of as merely distinctions of preference or of history. Rather, these distinctions are biblical – rooted in God’s word. It is ironic that many evangelical churches often look to the Scriptures for how to vote or how to reflect or influence the culture around them (something which God’s Word does not do) and yet do not look to the Scriptures for how to worship Him (something which God’s Word does do).
Though there are major distinctions between the worship of Reformed and evangelical churches, let us not become arrogant or critical. Let us first seek to worship Him sincerely (from a heart of thankfulness) and obediently (according to His Word). Then as we interact and converse with our brothers and sisters in Christ from other churches, let us explain why we worship the way we do. And, let us do so with humility and gratitude to our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the One who calls us to ascribe glory to His name and to worship Him in holy array! (Psalm 29:2)
I look forward to worshipping with you again this coming Lord’s Day – the first of the New Year!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch