PUBLIC WORSHIP AND THE REFORMED FAITHby Rev. Barry Gritters
- What is Worship?
- The Regulative Principle of Worship
- Characteristics of True Reformed Worship
The material printed here is the text of a Reformation Day Speech sponsored by the Lecture Committee of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. The address was given on October 29, 1987, and was delivered by Rev. Barry Gritters, pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church. The large and positive response to the lecture, as well as the message presented, we believe, warrants the publication of this pamphlet.
In this pamphlet, Pastor Gritters explains the principles of Holy Scripture regarding public, or corporate, worship. Because God has placed us here on earth to praise and worship God, it is vital that we answer these three questions:
1. What is worship?
2. How does God's Word regulate our worship?
3. What characterizes true Reformed (Biblical) worship?
This pamphlet sets forth the biblical and historical answers to these important questions.
Our prayer is that God will use this booklet for the defense, maintenance, and renewal (restoration) of historic, Reformed and Presbyterian worship. And it is our prayerful hope that this booklet will guide you in your worship to do what pleases God: "worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).
THE EVANGELISM SOCIETY
Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church
1945 84th Street (P.O. Box 71)
Byron Center, MI, 49315
Phone: (616) 878-1811
ittle did the Evangelism Society and congregation of the Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center think that within two years the entire supply of this pamphlet's first printing would be exhausted. Requests have come from almost every branch of Presbyterianism, as well as many from the Reformed churches of Dutch descent.
We are discouraged by what so many who write us, that the worship in their church or denomination has been thoroughly corrupted. But we are encouraged that so many are interested in maintaining or restoring a true worship of our holy, covenant God. And we are thankful to God that we have been able to be a witness to the truth of God as presented in these pages. We continue to pray that the Lord will use this booklet for the preservation of public worship in the Reformed tradition which we believe is Scriptural and, therefore, pleasing to God.
Rev. Barry Gritters, Byron Center, MI, USA July, 1990
Strange fire is being offered on the altars of worship in many churches today. That fire is being offered on Reformed altars.
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 moved 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 moving.
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 the church.
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 corporate 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" (10:25).
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 in 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 Rev 22:9).
The "everlasting gospel" is: Worship God.
We are concerned about this because worship is a Reformation 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.
In its very NATURE, worship is fellowship with God.
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 incense.
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 honor" 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-centered instead of God-centered. Dr. P.Y. Dc 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-fulfillment 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 God-centered.
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 God!"?
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-centered Psalms have pride of place in the Reformed worship service and not hymns, which are, for the most part, man-centered. (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 work.
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.
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 manner of our worship of God. God's Word regulates us in how we must worship Him.
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" (emphasis mine: BG). This is the Regulative Principle Of Worship.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, the standard of Reformed Presbyterianism, takes the same position in chapter XXI. "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" (emphasis mine: BG).
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" (page 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 Olds, Cooperate Worship in the Reformed Tradition, page 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, page 6).
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 worship!
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 had 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, page 67).
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 3:16, Ephesians 5:19,20); offering of prayer (I Timothy 2:1-8); reading of Scriptures (I Thessalonians 5:27, I Timothy 4:13); the preaching and hearing of God's word (Romans 10:13-17, II Timothy 4:1,2); the administration of the two sacraments (Matthew 28:19,20, I Corinthians 11:23-29); and the giving of our offerings in the support of the ministry and the relief of the poor (I Corinthians 16:1,2; I Corinthians 9:11-14).
Worship that is regulated by the Word of God not only 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 TRUTH (John 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. (See Isaiah 1:10-17; 57:15; and Psalm 51:15-17).
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, Volume 53, page 19).
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 in truth.
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 content. 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 center 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 Reformer's - 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, Volume 53, page 14).
Some sixty years ago already, the editor of the Banner 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 preachers 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 seminaries.
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 priest.
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 universe. 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 believer 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, colorless 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 Romans 10:8).
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.