In reflecting on the great blessings God has given us through His Son, the writer of Hebrews urged us, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). Worship should be, according to Hebrews, acceptable to God, offered in a reverent way, by those who approach God with amazement and wonder.
This raises an essential question, namely, what is worship that is acceptable to God? Many people believe that as long as our worship is sincere and well-meant, then God must surely accept it. But according to the Bible, we are to worship God in accordance with His Word. That is, God has told us what kind of worship is acceptable to Him. The way for us to offer acceptable worship, then, is to worship in accordance with Holy Scripture.
This emphasis on biblical worship stems from the Protestant Reformation. Having returned to biblical doctrine, it was inevitable that the Reformed churches would insist on biblical worship. Two concerns motivated this conservative approach to worship. The first was a desire to exalt God’s sovereignty over His church. The second was a humble belief that we, as the creatures, simply lack the competence to devise means for worshiping our holy God, especially given our tendency to sin and folly.
As John Calvin wrote, “it tends greatly to establish God’s authority that we do not follow our own pleasure.” Meanwhile, he reminded us that we simply are not spiritually competent to devise our own means for worship: “once we have turned from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions” Calvin warned. The experience in evangelical churches today confirms Calvin’s concern and warning. Following these convictions, our church adheres to the Reformation approach known as the “regulative principle” of worship. The Westminster Confession of Faith, explains this principle:
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).
This states that God has told us how he desires to be worshiped and that we are to worship in obedience to the commands and relevant examples of the Bible concerning worship. Key to this approach is an emphasis on biblical “elements” in worship. Our worship service is to be made up of elements – activities – that all have biblical warrant through explicit commands or examples.
These biblical elements include the reading of Scripture, the sound preaching of God’s Word, corporate prayer, the faithful administration of the sacraments, the giving of tithes and sacrifices, and the singing of praise to God. You will note that these are the primary elements in our worship service at Second Presbyterian Church. Indeed, from start to finish, every element in our worship service is based on a biblical command or example, since we desire to worship the Lord in a way that is acceptable to Him.
Let me suggest how this approach should shape our attitude to worship together. First, this reminds us that we approach a sovereign deity who calls us to obey His Word. He says, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22). We do not come to God demanding to have things our way, but submitting to His good and perfect, sovereign will.
Second, when we worship biblically, we have a great cause to rejoice, since God’s way of worship directs us to the saving work of Jesus Christ. God wants us to draw near to Him through faith in Christ’s blood, to praise Him, to pray to Him, to learn from Him, and to meet with Him. What good news this is for us!
Third, and perhaps most importantly, we come for the purpose of worshiping God and not ourselves or our felt needs. Worship always has an object, and the object – the recipient – of our worship – is not the congregation, nor the visitors, but the God whose name we praise. To put it a bit differently, we do not come to church “to get something for ourselves,” but to give our praise to God: worship is for Him, and not for us.
The beauty of biblical worship is, however, that when we worship in such a God-centered and God-glorifying way, we get so much out of it! He has designed it that the best thing for us is to give ourselves wholly to God, so that biblical, God-centered worship is the most evangelistic and most edifying worship possible. To Him be the glory as we worship Him today!
First published in The West End Herald, January 29, 2018