In his very helpful 2006 book, On Being Presbyterian: Our
Beliefs, Practices, and Stories, pastor and theologian Sean Lucas said: "Presbyterians historically have thought
quite a bit about what worship is. Some scholars have even argued that the sixteenth-century Reformation was more a reform
of worship than doctrine (116)." Something caught my attention this week that confirmed the need for the reform of worship
Earlier in the week Jen and I sat
down to watch sermon video of a young pastor who presents himself as something of a rising star. I first heard about him in
a humorous post at Reformation21. A little research confirmed that he has all the 21st-century ministry credentials: a mega-church, a book deal and a regular
slot at church-growth conferences. Being curious (or was it envy?), I wandered over to his church website and watched/listened
to a sermon. Needless to say, it was brimming with innovative ideas, but the one that stuck out most because it was
repeated frequently was the phrase: "worship experience." On several occasions the pastor mentioned how
the church staff had worked hard to provide a "worship experience" for those gathered. It must have been
extraordinary because while he prayed at the opening of the sermon we could see four or five people cleaning and sweeping
up the stage directly behind him.
clear in all this was two things. First, the pastor was teaching 8,000 weekend worshippers that worship was primarily about
them. Second, the ministerial staff understood themselves as experience makers, kind of like the staff at Disney
World. In carefully chosen and repeated language, the pastor teaches his congregation that what matters is
the experience they have in worship. Worship is valuable if one has an experience, which by default is defined
by what the staff produces and performs on stage. This is a powerful and powerfully wrong-headed way to speak of worship.
How can anyone who hears such a framing of worship often enough avoid measuring all future worship services by the standard
of what they have experienced at such-in-such a church? Was the music loud? Was there a full band? Were the vocalists
glamorous and Grammy-worthy? Did they avoid talk of sin and bloody atonement? Was everything chummy and upbeat? Did somebody
do interpretive dance? The presence of these things - these ingredients of the experience - become determinative
of the value of worship for those trained this way. So what happens when their child goes off to college in a small country
town where the worship is considerably more modest...or more biblical? Will God not seem far off to them, lost even, because
his nearness was measured for years by a throbbing worship experience?
The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the Larger (WLC) and Shorter (WSC) catechisms shed much light
and wisdom on questions about worship. Here is a section from WCF 21.1 - "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."
Question 154 of the
WLC has this: "What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation? Answer.
The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances;
especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation."
Question 88 of the WSC is similar: "What are the outward
and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption? Answer. The outward and ordinary
means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments,
and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
Presbyterian and Reformed churches see a principle of worship in the above entries that we call the
regulative principle. Simply stated, Christians are to worship God only as he has commanded, and whatever God has not
commanded for worship in Scripture is forbidden. Here's an obvious first example. If I throw candy out to the congregation
each Sunday - as if I am riding a float at a parade - I am adding to the worship of God what has not been commanded.
I am creating an "extra-ordinary" means of worship. Thus I am dishonoring God and I am training his people to think
the candy-toss is essential in communicating the benefits of Christ's redemption to them. The regulative principle protects
you from this foolishness. Here's a second example. If I do not lead us in a confession of sin that resolves in a gospel pardon
- either in a prayer I pray or in a corporate prayer - then I an taking away something God has commanded. Here again
I am letting my ideas control the worship of God instead of God's own.
The regulative principle must, of course, be derived from Scripture or it is itself an innovation. In Leviticus
10 we read about Nadab and Abihu offering "unauthorized fire before the Lord which he had not commanded them." The
Lord consumed both men with fire and they died that day. In Matthew 15 our Lord scolds the Pharisees and scribes saying, "This
people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the
commandments of men." This passage presses home a key blessing of the regulative principle: the conscience of the believer
is not ruled by the commandments of men but by the commandments of God. God is always a better Lord in every way than is man.
You see, in both so-called contemporary and traditional worship services the temptation remains to make
the commandments of men determinative of true worship. Man made worship can be either upbeat or sober. Pharisees can wear
robes or turtlenecks. True worship, however, is by the Spirit through faith and according to God's Word thus calling
for much reverence and much joy.
Notice that the catechism spoke
of "the outward and ordinary means" by which Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his redemption. Throughout
the ages, and even still, the outward and ordinary means of word, sacrament and prayer have at various times and in various
places bored God's people when at worship. Why? Because the "ordinary means" require faith. To hear the benefits
of Christ in the preached word; to taste the benefits of Christ in bread and cup; to see the benefits of Christ in the water
of baptism; to seek the benefits of Christ in prayer; all this is done by faith and faith alone. Where faith wanes in a local
church or in an era of Church history there will be little comfort and communication from the "ordinary means."
Thus innovators have always stood by, ready and willing to fill the void bringing extra-ordinary means into worship to keep
peoples' attention or to soften God. When the people of the Exodus first drew near to Sinai they greatly feared the Lord.
While they trembled in the foothills Moses ascended to meet God. Upon his return Moses finds the people with a new disposition:
cheerful, dancing, enthralled and somewhat comforted...all before a golden calf. True worship, on the other hand, only draws
near to God through his appointed means, means which present again and again to us the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
through whom we alone can meet God and escape his wrath.
Almighty Father of our Lord Jesus Christ please grant us the grace to worship you by faith. May your word and Spirit lead us and keep us in worship that pleases you and glorifies
your eternal Son. Grant also that we would not boast in our worship but in your Son Jesus Christ. May all see that your truth
has not hardened our hearts but has filled us with love, true concern and deep compassion for your Church, just as Christ
had these for us in His humiliation and has for us still in His exaltation. In His name. Amen.
In 2 Samuel 22:1 we learn much about why the redeemed of the
Lord sing. "David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies
and from the hand of Saul. He said: The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge."
Then the song goes on as long as a sermon, forty-eight more verses in your English Bible.
Why does King David sing? Because everything that a high rock is to a Philistine king,
everything that a high walled city is to a Jebusite king, everything that a secret cave is to an Amorite king, God is all
that and more to King David. A rock, a fortress, a cave may deliver for a day, but God delivers his anointed and his descendants
forever (2 Sam. 22:51). And so God's anointed and his descendants sing songs of deliverance (Psalm 32:7). It is a triumphant
choir and you are among her number.
Through the Davidic
King - Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of the heavenly Zion - God has delivered you too. His many battles against the offspring of
the serpent culminated in a fatal blow to the serpent's own head when he triumphed at the cross (Col. 2:15). And so you sing
to Jesus and with Jesus because in Him and through Him you are delivered from the schemes and violent designs of your enemy.
The triumph of God's Anointed is your triumph by grant and so you sing. His triumph over Satan's temptations is your triumph
by grant and so you sing. His triumph over death - Satan's goal in temptation - is your triumph by grant and so you sing.
His triumph over Satan is sure and so is your triumph sure because your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Why is singing such an irresistible response to the triumph
of God through his Anointed? Sure, obedience is a fitting response, but why does singing so cling to our worship of God? Could
it be that singing best represents the whole-life devotion to God that a gracious and triumphant deliverance would compel?
Think about it. Singing involves the giving of your mind to God (the formulation of scripture-marinated thoughts coherently
written down as words). Singing involves giving your body (carrying the tune, commanding the vocal chords, using the ear to
achieve harmony). Singing involves giving your heart (where else are you so unreserved with your whole being as you are when
singing?) Singing is the public jubilation of the sons of the Most High God. A jubilation fueled by the knowledge of
God's deliverance of you - not just someone from back then or someone living over there, but God's deliverance of
you - from a real enemy that had every justifiable reason to claim you and keep you as his own. But God has claimed
you as his own and He keeps you and He has every justifiable reason to do so because Jesus, his Anointed, "shared in
[our] humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil (Heb 2:14). Neither
the devil nor your sin can speak against the justice of God in Christ crucified!
Whether we sing songs of joy or songs of lament, we sing to God because God has delivered us unto himself.
Such a deliverance has led many to write a song and many more to sing them.