Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reformed worship..

We will not have Jesus Christ at the center of our church services if we do not have His Word at the center." "If we are not interested in the Word of God, can we really be interested in God?" Thus, in our worship services we must read, preach, pray, sing, and see in the sacraments the Word.

Our worship is biblical because of the way in which we determine what we do in worship. This is not determined by "what works" in getting vast numbers of people through the door, or what is enjoyable, or even what we may or may not like. Instead, the Bible regulates our worship.

Reformed worship is biblical because we believe God Himself gives us the particular things we are to do in public worship (the "elements" of worship). We call this the "regulative principle of worship." This means that God regulates how we are to worship Him in His Word. God is jealous for His Name to be revered and hallowed (Ex. 20:7, 34:13-14; Deut. 4:24; Matt. 6:9
Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 110), and when we are jealous for His glory by worshipping Him how He deserves and desires we "serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28). After all, God is God, which means how He is worshipped is His right to demand.

Where do we find this principle taught in God's Word? There are many places in Scripture, but we will focus in on a few examples. In the first Commandment the one true God who has redeemed us to be a worshipping people, a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9), commands us to worship him alone:

"You shall have no other gods before Me." In the second Commandment this one true God tells us the way we are to worship Him negatively by saying how we are not to worship Him: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image" ( Deut. 4:15-19). Positively, this teaches that we are to worship God only according to His word.

We see this in the very words of the second Commandment where the "steadfast love" of the LORD is towards those who "love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:6). Intricately linked with the prohibition of images of the LORD is the language of doing what the LORD says in His word.

The book of Leviticus, as well, expresses this positive aspect as it mentions repeatedly that worship is "according to the rule" (e.g., Lev. 9:16cf. Lev. 10:1; Deut. 12:29-32). Thus, all worship not "according to Scripture," is what the Paul calls "will worship" (Col 2:23; ASV).

At the end of the Ten Commandments, this matter is stated in an unforgettable way: "If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it" (Ex. 20:25). If the ancient Israelite would think that he could improve upon the worship commanded of God by carving a more beautiful altar, he was to know that even one mark added by the hand of man to that commanded by God was a complete contamination as far as God was concerned. When men try to improve the worship of God, they ruin that worship, rather than improve it.

This Commandment is impressed upon the people of God with the injunction that the LORD is a "jealous" God. This is the language of marriage. The LORD has forsaken all others for His bride, Israel, and He loves and desires her only. When it comes to worship, then, He expects and desires Israel to respond with the same zeal for Him that He has for her.

In the familiar, yet fearful, story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 we recall that they offered "unauthorized fire before the LORD" (v.1). In the preceding verses, we read that Aaron, Nadab and Abihu's father, had offered the first sacrifices in the liturgical life of Israel. In Aaron's case "fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering..." (Lev. 9:24), yet in Nadab and Abihu's case "fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them" (Lev. 10:2).

But this is all Old Testament teaching," you might be thinking. Yet Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). Is the solemn requirement that the Church teach all things that Christ has commanded not at the same time a solemn prohibition against teaching anything that He has not commanded? If, in the worship of God, we observe all that Christ has commanded, ought we not also to scrupulously avoid anything and everything that He has not commanded?

In Romans 1:21-25 the Apostle Paul condemns every false kind of worship invented by men. He also reveals the source of such false worship. Men become "vain in their imagination," he says. They invent what they vainly imagine to be "good ways" to worship. They worship as they will, not as God commands. But when they do this, they really "worship and serve the creature more than the Creator," says Paul, and for this reason "they are without excuse." They are without excuse because there is no excuse for departing from the rule, which says "we must not worship God in any other way than He has commanded in His Word."

Rev D Hyde

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