Christian worship is the response of the believer to the revelation of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. This response must come from the whole man: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.”
The object of worship is God alone ( Father, Son and Holy Spirit ). “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt Thou serve.” Worship must not go beyond what is appointed in the Word of God and it can be rendered only through the One Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. It must be offered in spirit and in truth.
The settings of worship are the secret place, where the individual believer has fellowship with God, the home, where a family unites in worshipping the Heavenly Father, and the meeting-house where the congregation of God’s people assemble for worship.
Occasions for worship are unlimited, but there is one special day appointed for congregational worship to be diligently observed – the Sabbath. The first day of the week, which is the Christian Sabbath, is to be observed as a day of rest from all regular employment, except such duties as may be considered works of necessity and mercy. The Sabbath should be devoted particularly to the public and private exercises of Christian worship and to the performance of good works.
Congregational worship, as revealed in the Word of God, consists of praise, prayer, the reading, preaching and hearing of the Word of God, (Acts 2:42; 2Chron. 29:30) tithes and offerings, the benediction and the administration of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (Matt. 28:19; 1Cor.11:23-26; 1Tim. 5:17; 2Tim. 2:2 ). The climax of this worship is preaching of the Word. Congregational worship is ordinarily under the leadership of an ordained pastor, and the preaching, in particular, is committed to those who are duly qualified and who have been regularly appointed. There are also references in Scripture to special observances such as solemn vows and covenants, thanksgiving and humiliation. (Ex. 24:7; Jos. 24:24; 2Kgs. 11:17; 23:3).
The Bible makes it clear that God has a particular care for the purity of His own worship. Its constituent elements are not left to man’s choice or opinion. The punishment of Nadab and Abihu, who offered, “strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not”; of Saul, who assumed the duties of a priest in defiance of the command of Samuel; and of others, (1 Sam.13:12,13), who worshipped in their own way, emphasises the danger of what the Bible calls “will-worship” (self-devised worship), and the urgent necessity of strict conformity to God’s requirements. Whatever is not commanded in the worship of God is forbidden.
The Book of Psalms, part of the Scriptures given by inspiration of God, is divinely appointed for praise in worship, to the exclusion of all songs and hymns of merely human composition. To substitute anything else for the Divinely-appointed Book of Psalms is to fail to realise that the Divine provision for our praise is perfect and adequate. It is clear that the use of the Psalms in worship is commanded in both the Old and New Testaments. It should be noted that the command in Colossians 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (cf.Eph.5:19) – does not authorise the use of songs for worship other than those contained in the Book of Psalms, for the “psalms,” “hymns” and “spiritual songs” referred to there, were the titles attached to the Psalms in the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament which was in general use in the Apostolic Church.
The fact that certain songs of praise preserved in the Old Testament are not included in the Psalter, has been used as an argument against exclusive psalmody. The Bible itself, it is affirmed, goes beyond the ‘exclusive psalmody’ restriction. Passages cited include the song of Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1-10); the psalm of Jonah (Jonah 2:3-9); the song of Hezekiah (Isa. 38:10-20); the song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43; Ex. 15:1-18); the song of Deborah (Judges 5:1-31); the song of Habakkuk ( Hab. 3:1-19).
It is clear that the Psalms of the Psalter grew out of a liturgical milieu, many of them being anonymous. They cover a span of almost a millenium, from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to the period of the Exile ( Psalms 126 and 137). The existence of songs of praise prior to the final collection and close of the Psalter, but not included in that collection, is not a problem. Not all the songs and canticles of the Old Testament period were included when the Psalter was completed, just as not all the apostolic epistles were included in the canon of Scripture (1Cor. 5:9; Col. 4:16). What the Holy Spirit has given us in providence is adequate for our needs.
The Psalms contain many references to Christ and He frequently quoted them during His earthly ministry. Their beauty has endured throughout the centuries and they provide a common ground upon which all who accept God’s Word can worship together.
There is no warrant for instrumental accompaniment to the singing in New Testament worship. In Hebrews 13:15, Christians are called upon to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” It seems clear that the constitution and form of worship of the New Testament Church were patterned after the Synagogue which did not have instrumental music and not after the Temple, which did as part of its sacrificial ritual. (2 Chron.29:27-30). If we are to follow the pattern of worship of the New Testament Church, which is our standard, our praise in worship will consist of psalms sung without instrumental accompaniment.
Prayer is an ordinance of congregational worship in which, in ordinary circumstances, one person leads the worshippers and speaks for them to God. It is to be offered, like private prayer, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, with the utmost reverence in thought, language and manner, with simplicity and with deep humility such as becomes sinners in approaching the presence of the Holy God. The worshippers should consciously, in sincerity and in truth, identify themselves with the prayers which are being offered. It is probable that in the New Testament Church the people signified such identification and assent by responding ‘Amen’ at the end of the prayers. The Scriptural postures in congregational prayer are standing, kneeling or prostration.
READING AND PREACHING THE WORD
God has appointed the reading and preaching of the Word by His messengers as the way by which His redemptive work is made known to men, so that they are made wise unto salvation. The proclamation of the Word is the centre and climax of public worship. The working of the Holy Spirit must be prayerfully sought in order that He may make the Word read and preached an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up, in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. Preaching requires careful preparation of heart and mind on the part of both preacher and hearers.
All should attend to it with diligence, preparation and prayer, receive the Word with meekness, faith and love, lay it up in their hearts, and practise it in their lives. (Shorter Catechism Q.90), (Heb. 4:2; James 1:21).
The giving of tithes and offerings is an appointed and fitting part of congregational worship. God requires His people to give a portion of their substance to Him. This should be done cheerfully, regularly and proportionately as He has prospered them.
Congregational worship is fittingly concluded with the pronouncing of the benediction by the minister, as the servant of God, who prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit may be with His people.
The only sacraments of the New Testament Church are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are holy ordinances instituted by Christ “wherein by sensible signs Christ and the benefits of the New Covenant, are represented, sealed,and applied to believers” (Shorter Catechism Q. 92). For a fuller treatment of this theme see the chapter; The Church and the Sacraments.
WORSHIP AND LIFE
The Bible emphasises that worship and conduct cannot be separated. Repeatedly the prophets preached that laxity in conduct could not be compensated for by ritual observance. Also Christ Himself linked our worship of God inseparably with our conduct towards our fellowmen. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” The purpose of worship can be realised only when, through it, the will of the worshipper is conformed to the will of God.