Monday, December 07, 2009

What does God require in our public worship services?

A good friend recently invited me to special musical performance and I thought it might be helpful to share my full response in a broader context:

I am inviting you to the Children's Christmas Programme - Sunday 13th December - 11am ServiceOur children's church will be performing a special musical event during our Sunday Worship Service. You will be blessed by their talent as they present - "Glory to God in the Highest". Invite your family and friends to attend -... all welcome. The Cafe will be serving Free mince pies after the service - be sure to have a cuppa and make new friends!

I responded initially: "I'd come over for a cuppa afterwards and say hello (since I don't think that this performance is appropriate for a Lord's Day worship service), but I have commitments at my own fellowship which is from 12 to about 1 or so, so I probably won't even be able to come for that." To which my friend replied:

How is this performance not appropriate for Lord's Day worship service

Good question! While I'm absolutely sure that this will be a wonderful performance and very worthwhile in many other contexts, I have a very high view of how we have been called to set apart the Lord's Day for public and private worship with the saints. And it is the historic position of God's people in faithful churches throughout the past too, and one of the most important issues that led to the Reformation in the 16th century.

I believe that God requires of us that we worship "in spirit and in truth", and this includes only worshipping Him in the way He has specifically commanded and no other way. If the second commandment teaches us not to make any graven image with which to worship God, then this shows us that we ought not worship with anything of our own invention/imagination, but only with the means that God has prescribed for us to worship Him. In the Old Testament, this was veiled by the earthly shadows of the temple and the sacrifices, but now the veil has been torn, the temple destroyed and the sacrifices nullified - because Christ has come - and we approach the Father only through Him, and no other way. Our worship is pleasing to God only as we are accepted as forgiven in Christ through faith in His sacrifice once for all. See also Psa. 51:15-19.

Since then we are seek salvation only in Christ, and worship only through Him, and by His Spirit of Truth at work in us, it must be that we only search the Scriptures to learn of how we must rightly worship the one true and infinitely glorious God. Certain elements of the worship service are clearly commanded in Scripture by apostolic example, such as public congregational prayer, biblical, expository and exegetical preaching by ordained ministers of the Word (and biblical listening and obeying too!), congregational singing of the spiritual Word of Christ found in the book of songs/hymns (i.e. The Psalms; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-19), reading of Scripture, and congregational offerings for the work of the Gospel and mercies for those in need.

In prayer we pray to God through Christ, and the Spirit prays without utterance with our uttered prayers (since our prayers are so frail and often ignorant; Rom. 8:26-28) and so Christ intercedes Himself for us and works out all things for our good, since He has purchased us by His blood. In preaching, Christ speaks to us by His lawfully called and ordained ministers of the Gospel as they faithfully explain and apply His Word in the Scriptures, the Spirit giving us all understanding and applying the Word to our hearts to change us by God's grace. In singing, which is much like prayer, we all together (not only a certain group) offer up the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to Him (Heb. 13:15-16) by the power of the Spirit which fills us to work true spiritual devotion in us toward God, as we teach and admonish one another by the words of Christ in the inspired Psalms. And in offerings, we give as we have prospered freely and cheerfully as worship to God, for the support of the ministers of the Gospel who must have their living from this work, and for good Christian schools for the godly teaching of our covenant children, and for all those of the household of faith who are in need - all for the mutual edification of God's people.

By these means, we live in covenant fellowship not only with the other saints who are our brethren in the household of God, but also with our Father and His Son Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit (I John 1:3), we speak and live with Him, and He speaks and lives with us as we are the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. If then, this additional special musical performance takes the place of one or more of these vital elements of the worship service, I strongly disapprove (Col. 2:20-23). And even this performance is merely additional, it still does not have a right to be in the worship service. For example, it is not the whole congregation singing, but only the children, which in the public worship is not fitting and is in fact schism and not covenantal. Also, they are not singing the God-breathed Psalms which God Himself has granted to us graciously that we might have songs worthy to bring before Him in worship, songs which are those of Jesus Christ Himself. And this should therefore not be considered as appropriate worship for the public worship service.

If it was held afterward or before, then that is certainly permissible, and even beneficial for others as they use their talents to sing about such wonderful topics as God's glory. These truths about acceptable worship being regulated by the Word of God, while once generally widely known and understood, have sadly fallen into obscurity in these times, which is why I gave such a long explanation here. God is seeking those that worship Him in spirit and in truth, and so may He graciously gather us and teach us, if it be His will, so that He would praised as He ought to be in the splendour of holiness.

God bless,

Sam W.

P.S. I have not dealt here with many other crucial issues in proper worship, but I would recommend the many good resources found here:

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