Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Should We Worship?

"[It is the] tension between the need to remain faithful to the gospel and the Christian tradition while at the same time faithfully communicating that Evangel [good news] in a changing and complex cultural milieu that presents mammoth challenges to the continued witness of the Christian church." ~ J. Matthew Pinson, Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views

How we should worship God, especially in public worship, is an important question for the Church. It is one of the more important questions because worship is one of the main ways we glorify God before an unbelieving world, and it is what we will be doing for all eternity in the new heavens and new earth. I would like to pose a list of fifteen things that I think are essential for public worship. Now, this list is a work-in-progress and I am in no way claiming that it is exhaustive. I welcome any comments on how to biblically refine these points.

Here we go: public worship should...
  1. ...be God-exalting, Christ-centered, and Spirit-filled: The second commandment, the Psalter (e.g. Ps. 134), and the rest of the Scriptures declare of the glory of the Triune God and that He is to be worshiped and only Him. Other Scriptures (cf. Jn. 4:21-23; 5:23; Php. 2:9) tell us that worship in spirit and in truth is Christ-centered worship for He is the glory of the Father and the one whom God has exalted to the highest place. Finally, passages like 1 Co. 12:3 tell us that no one can worship God unless indwelt by the Spirit, for a renewed heart is essential to the right worship of God. 
  2. ...put the amazing back into grace. The grace of God to us in Christ Jesus is more than we can fathom and we can never the exhaust the depths of this grace. Every worship service must amaze us and shock us by the grace of God, for we are a people prone to wander and we need constantly to be reminded of the magnitude of what He has done for us. 
  3. ...be founded on the fact that we are created to worship God and enjoy Him. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) asks, "What is the chief end of man?" It then biblically answers, "Man's chief end is to glorify God (cf. Ps. 86; Is. 43:7; 60:21; Ro. 11:36; Re. 4:11), and to enjoy Him forever (cf. Ps. 16:5-11; 144:15; Is. 12:2; Php. 4:4; Re. 21:3-4)." It is important to note that this is one end with two aspects—when we truly glorify God, we also enjoy Him. This means that public worship (and private too) should always be an overflow from our very purpose of existence. It should also be enjoyable because glorifying God and enjoying Him are inseparable. 
  4. ...be on the Lord's Day. The Sabbath was not just part of the 10 Commandments (though that is no trivial thing) but was part of the creation ordinance. Even before man fell, he was to rest and worship one day in seven. In the OT, the Lord's Day was the seventh day of the week. Now that Christ has come, He is making a people for Himself, and grace abounds, the first day of the week is the Lord's Day (Re. 1:10; cf. Mt. 28:1; Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20:1, 19-23; Ac. 20:7; 1 Co. 16:2) for it mirrors grace—we rest in grace and then we work—and it is the day in which our Lord was raised from the dead. Though not foundational, it is also practical, for God's people need a Lord's Day to have a common day to gather for worship (cf. He. 10:25). 
  5. ...be corporate. On the Lord's Day (see above), God's people gather for corporate worship. While private worship is absolutely essential, one can and should distinguish between corporate and private worship. There are few explicit commands in the NT that tell us to gather together to worship (He. 10:25 being one) but that is not because the NT does not expect there to be corporate worship. That is because the teaching of the NT apostles rests firmly on the OT view of public worship and the assumption that the NT saints gather together in a public, definable worship service. Indeed, many of the NT commands about worship are unintelligible if there is not a distinct, corporate worship service for God's people (cf. Mt. 18:20; Ro. 14; Ac. 20:17-38; 1 Co. 7-11; 14; 16:2; 1 Ti. 2; 4:6-13; 2 Ti. 4; Tt; 2; He. 4:9; Re. 1:10). 
  6. ...be governed by the Regulative Principle (RP) of worship. This principle is thrown around a lot these days and sometimes quite incorrectly, so let me attempt to define it for you. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) 21.1 states it well, "But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped 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 (Dt. 12:32; Mt. 15:9; Ac. 17:35)." Why does it say this? It's justification is stated in WCF 20.2, "God alone is Lord of the conscience (Js. 4:12; Ro. 14:4), and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word; or beside it, in matters of faith or worship (Mt. 15:9; 23:8-10; Ac. 4:19; 5:29; 1 Co. 7:23; 2 Co. 1:24)." In short, the RP tells us that pastors, sessions, worship leaders, or anyone else directing worship can only prescribe in public worship that which God Himself has prescribed. Because God alone is Lord of the conscience, man has no right to insist another man do anything in matters of faith and worship unless God Himself has commanded it. No man has a right to make another man feel guilty about anything unless it comes from God's command in Scripture (cf. Mt. 15:1-9; Ro. 14; 1 Co. 8-10). This frees man's conscience from the tyranny of man and places it under the only Sovereign who can rule the conscience without damaging it—God. It is helpful, when discussing the RP, to distinguish between elements (those things prescribed as essential to gathered, public worship), forms (the way the element is expressed in public worship), and circumstances (those considerations regarding how, when, where, and in what manner or amount the elements are to be performed, i.e. bulletins, length of prayers, number of songs, times of services, etc.). The RP tells us the elements of public worship but leaves the forms and circumstances open. The forms and circumstances are those things that are, as WCF 1.6 states, "common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word." (In the case of forms, they are open but only to things which do not detract from the element itself, and some forms can detract from the element, which is why the WCF says, "ordered by... Christian prudence." E.g. reading Scripture in Latin to a people who do not understand Latin, as the Roman Catholic church did and still does at times, is a form which detracts from the element and therefore unacceptable.)
  7. ...contain the following elements: reading the Bible (1 Ti. 4:13), preaching the Bible (Ro. 10:14, 17; 1 Ti. 4:6-13; 2 Ti. 4:2), praying the Bible (Ac. 2:42; 1 Ti. 2:1-4), singing the Bible (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16), and "seeing" the Bible, i.e. the sacraments (Mt. 28:19; Lk. 22:14-20; Ac. 2:38-39; 1 Co. 11:23-26; Col. 2:11-12). Why is it that we read, preach, etc. the Bible? Because God’s Word is central to our knowledge of Him, His works, His will, and our salvation. With its content and its content alone can we be assured that we are worshiping Him properly. Therefore, as the elements of worship are derived from Scripture, so should those elements be saturated with Scripture. 
  8. ...be following the one, true worship leader—Jesus Christ Himself. Everyone else who directs a worship service is merely a minister, Jesus is the one who leads us into worship (Mt. 18:20; Jn. 4:21-23; He. 2:5ff). Jesus gathers us together in Him and brings us before God as our great High Priest. If we really remembered that Jesus is our worship leader (not the man or woman with a piano or guitar), would we not worship differently? 
  9. ...be the whole thing—every activity between the call to worship and the benediction. Worship is not just singing. Worship is reading God's Word, praying, preaching, singing, and participating in the sacraments. Every act between from the beginning to the end is part of public worship. When we hear God's Word read or listen to a sermon, we should be cognizant that the hearing, actively listening, and contemplating of it are acts of worship and should lift our affections toward Him. 
  10. ...have music that aids in the worship of God but never gets in the way of the worship of God. I do not think it is biblical to quibble over style of music in general, yet there are things that need to be considered when we choose our style. Music is a great way to involve our affections in worship, but it can also manipulate those affections and lead us away from worship, when not used properly. Being moved emotionally is not the same thing as being spiritually changed. Music should engage the affections but always in a way that is spiritually edifying, not just emotionally charged. 
  11. ...be orderly. This is a simple but very important aspect of public worship that Paul pounds into the Corinthian people in 1 Co. 14. Paul builds an argument for order in worship and then closes it by saying, "But all things should be done decently and in order." How else is it going to edify God’s people and be a witness to the lost? 
  12. ...be edifying. Like the previous point, in 1 Co. 13-14, Paul tells the Corinthian people that gifts and actions in worship are to be done "so that the church may be built up." What good does it do to speak in a tongue, prophesy, or have all knowledge if it is not used in love for the edification of the body? Paul answers in 1 Co. 13:3 we "gain nothing."
  13. ...be covenantal. WCF 7.1 states, "The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant." God's people should come before God to praise Him for what He has done, hear His Word preached, understand the new covenant in Christ, learn about His commitment to them, learn about their commitment to Him, give Him thanks for His covenant, and receive the sign and seal the covenant and be nourished by Christ in the Lord's Supper. All these are aspects of a covenant renewal ceremony, which is at the heart of public worship.
  14. ...engage the affections. Jonathan Edwards, in his excellent work Religious Affections, states, "True religion consists so much in the affections, that there can no true religion without them." One can have sound doctrine and not be a Christian, but one cannot be a true Christian and not have true affections. Now, it is important to note that affections are not just emotions, they are the response of the whole person. Affections are not emotions as distinct from the other faculties but the whole lot of emotions, will, and mind. They involve the will, the intellect, and the full range of emotions (not just the happy emotions). It is only through the engagement of the affections for God that we can glorify and enjoy Him. 
  15. ...be simple, transferable, and flexible. Worship should not require any elaborate ritual or prescribed book of liturgy/prayer. Since it is based on the principles of God's Word, it is simple, not complicated. Worship, if guided by the RP, is also transferable. The elements are defined (and uncomplicated) but the forms and circumstances can be adapted to every culture (when guided by Christian prudence and the light of nature, according to the general rules of the Word). Finally, worship should be flexible. Like its transferability, it is flexible because biblical worship does not and cannot produce a "cookie-cutter" pattern that everyone church must fit into. The flexibility of worship guided by the RP encourages diversity and cultural expressions. 
As I stated above, this list is not exhaustive and I welcome any comments that may help me biblically refine what is said above.

By His Grace,


Jake C. Rudge said...

Thanks for explaining the regulative principle that way. I've always heard it used to say contemporary music is bad and tradition music is good. I've even heard people say it means we can only use a piano. The way you explained it makes sense though. I think I could be a regulative principle guy if we are talking about issues of consciences and not just using it to defend our style of music.

A. Taylor Rollo... said...

Thanks Jake. Glad it helped. I agree with you. I used to think I did not agree with the RP because I had always heard it used to defend the traditional way of doing things. It was used to make me feel guilty because there was some contemporary music that I enjoyed. Used to make me feel guilty! That is the exact opposite of that for which it was designed! When I was taught what it really meant and how it was supposed to protect, not violate, our consciences, I realized that I love it.

Lucy Abbott said...

What do you think of contemperary Christian music?

A. Taylor Rollo... said...

Lucy, I am not opposed to contemporary music as music. It is not unbiblical to write songs that are tailored to the cultural tastes of the time. There are a couple of caveats to that, though. First, as I said above, the music must never distract from the content of worship, which some contemporary music does. Second, it must actually have biblical and meaningful content. I find most of contemporary worship songs to be shallow and a few are downright heretical (though that could be said of hymns too). If it has meaningful, biblical content/lyrics and music that facilitates worship, then I am fine with any type of music, be it tradition or contemporary.

Rob said...

Have you read "Worship in Spirit and in Truth" by John Frame? What do you think of his view of the regulative principle? I ask because I think you guys are similar in some ways but it sounds like you would still disagree with him.

A. Taylor Rollo... said...

Rob, I have read Frame's book, and you are right, I would disagree with him. In seminary I was involved in a class debate on the book, and I had the daunting task of rebutting Frame. He is one of the greatest theological minds of our time and I love John Frame. His Doctrine of the... series is excellent, and I would recommend much of his other work as well. That makes the task of disagreeing with him unenviable. Yet, I was assigned that position in class and it is the position I hold.

If you want to read my debate transcript, I have made it available on Google Docs here. In short, Frame denies the distinction between public worship and private worship. So, he conflates that which may be acceptable in private worship into public worship. I believe his denial of the distinction between the two is unbiblical so his conclusion is as well. Read my transcript if you want more details.

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