Pastor Paul Mizzi
1. The missing jewel
I consent with A.W.Tozer’s statement that worship is “the missing jewel of the evangelical churches.” Such an evaluation concerning worship is not simply negative; it seeks repentance and reformation in the ways where we have gone astray.
On the whole, and judging from my reading and my experience both abroad but especially locally, Christians are not even aware that the Father is seeking such who worship him in Spirit and truth. They are not taught that worship is the “ultimate priority,” as pastor J.MacArthur, Jr. called it. And it certainly is.
Worship is expressed by such terms as latrueô and proskuneô. The former signifies to serve, to render religious service or homage. The latter means to make obeisance, do reverence, (pros, towards, kuneô, to kiss). In worshipping man takes his proper place, with his face to the ground and God is acknowledged for who he is: the Creator, Preserver and Sovereign Redeemer of his elect. When God is confessed in this way, our whole life, attitude, world-view, and perspective on all things will be radically affected.
Perhaps the Lord has hid his face from us and has caused us to stumble; we are groping in darkness, multiplying activities and running here and there, assuming we are serving God. But God wants the sacrifice of ourselves before he wants what we have. The All-sufficient One does not need us: “If I were hungry I would not tell you” (Ps.) Perhaps we think we’re doing God a favour in attending worship services; and we do not realize that in worshipping God we come to know both him and ourselves better.
The evangelical church today suffers in this way, I think, because it is much engulfed in the spirit of the age. Being men of little faith, we do not “see” the invisible God. Thus it is only “sometimes” that God surprises us with his presence, as Cowper expressed it in verse.
We certainly need reformation in the church, before expecting revival. We have departed from the pattern shown unto us, as those who worship God in the Spirit and put no confidence in the flesh. We need to trace our steps back to the “old paths.”
2. The abasement of the soul
“Nothing abases the soul of man more than the sight of God.” Why did Jeremiah Burroughs, the author of the sentence, write such a sweeping statement?
To borrow Calvin’s opening sentence of his Institutes: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
It so happens that, lacking a sound grounding in Scriptural truth, man exalts himself and debases God: he thinks that God is somewhat like him. But in actuality there is an infinite gulf fixed between the Creator and the creature. And though man was created in God’s image, now being fallen and alienated from God, man is foul and corrupt in spirit and in every faculty of his being.
His self-esteem, his inordinately high opinion of himself with be crushed to nothingness when, and only when, he realizes that he is nothing but dust and ashes. Such an evaluation of ourselves can happen only when God is pleased to reveal himself to our soul, as he did to Job. Job is described as a righteous and God-fearing man, and yet after his schooling in suffering, he came to admit that he must put his hand to his mouth. He repented. His change of mind came about when he “saw” God.
Something similar happened to Isaiah when he saw a vision of God in the temple, with all his ineffable majesty and glory. He cried out, “Woe is me, for I am undone.” He realized he had unclean lips, even though he was God’s prophet!
Peter, seeing Christ’s power in miracles, could not remain comfortable in his presence. He cried out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
The publican, in the parable, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat on his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”
In his pride man thinks he is fine; but when God shines in our heart, then the darkness, the lie and the error are all exposed. That is why it is foolish for man to compare himself with man; rather the standard is Jesus Christ, God incarnate.
3. How balance in worship may be attained
Here are some suggestions how balance may be attained between the four elements of worship, that is, preaching, prayer, singing of Psalms, and reading of Scripture.
The four basic elements of public worship should be so integrated that they form one beautiful and organic whole, one element leading naturally and logically to another, so that at the end of the service, the congregation may know that they have been in the presence of the Triune God and have been blessed by him.
The preacher, together with the elders, should organize the meetings in such a way that the focus of attention may be God, not man; and that meditation of the people may be helped assisted, everything must be conducive to the greater declarative glory of God.
A local church, under the leadership of Jesus Christ and the guidance of Holy Scripture, has the obligation to formulate its services without any one element blocking out the other three. In saying so I should make it clear, though, that the preaching of the Word should be the climax of the whole service.
The eldership should avoid singing a number of Psalms, sandwiched in between other items. I think it appropriate, after a call to worship, for the congregation (without a choir) to sing and extol God, then a chapter from the Old Testament, read with understanding in the hearing of all, leading to prayer (not concentrating on only one aspect, such as intercession, but including also thanksgiving, praise, confession of sin, and supplication). God speaks to us in Scripture, we address him in prayer, and this relationship reaches its culminating point in the sermon, for as the Belgic Confession says, the Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.
Whereas the reading of Scripture is to be cultivated and recommended (since it is commanded in Scripture itself), the sermon is the Word expounded, and comes with conviction; the congregation learns how to handle the Word, how to absorb and hide it in their hearts, since it is applied to their particular needs. The preaching of the Word is emphasised in Scripture and should be given prime importance. The church of God exists and grows and is nourished by the Word. What a solemn responsibility for the people to hear and the preacher to see that he is giving sound doctrine that cannot be censured, with meekness, in love and faith.
Maintaining a balance does not mean giving equal time between the four elements; rather integrating them together and giving weight to each according to Scriptural analogy.
4. Biblical worship
Broadly speaking the whole of the Christian’s life may be denominated worship. This is acceptable as we keep in mind that everything the church does should be considered worship and the individual, in all his acts and thoughts and words, is thereby worshipping God and glorifying Him.
But in this essay the term will be reserved to the corporate and private worship that the Bible urges us to present to our Creator and Redeemer. It is quite relevant and appropriate that we focus attention on this vital subject for our life is enriched and made abundant as we pour our hearts before God, acknowledging Him in all things, for in Him we live and are moved and exist.
What is worship?
Worship may be defined as the activity of glorifying God in His presence with our voices and hearts.
Worship then is an act of magnifying and exalting God. Yet all aspects of our lives are supposed to glorify God. But specifically worship is something we do especially when we come into God’s presence, when we are conscious of adoration of Him in our hearts, and when we praise Him with our voices and speak about Him so other may hear. In commending the teaching and mutual admonition and the singing Paul is encouraging us to worship (Colossians 3:16).
The primary reason God calls us together as a local church is to worship Him with one voice and mind. “God had demanded of Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert’ (Exodus 7:16b)…God brings them out that he might bring them in, into his assembly, to the great company of those who stand before his face….God’s assembly at Sinai is therefore the immediate goal of the exodus. God brings his people into his presence that they might hear his voice and worship him” (Edmund Clowney).
This actually occurred, but the people could not remain around Mount Sinai forever. In bringing them into the land of Canaan God instituted for them several feasts to be observed, festivals which served as occasions when the people could gather together before the Lord three times a year. The Israelites were specifically called to be a worshipping people, to praise together the name of the Most High.
That Israel did not live up to her high calling is manifest throughout her history and the denunciations and warning of God’s prophets sent to her. Eventually they were spit out of the land of promise and sent into exile because they forgot to give the wholehearted allegiance that the Lord expected and demanded from them.
But God promised that His purposes for His people would yet be fulfilled. There would someday be a great assembly not just of Israel but of all nations before His throne (Isaiah 2:2-4; 25:6-8; 49:22; 66:18-21; cf. Jeremiah 48:47; 49:6,39).
This began to be fulfilled at the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel call is really a call to worship, to turn from idols and sin to serve the living and true God, whilst a sure hope is entertained in the heart concerning Christ’s glorious return. Hebrews 12:18-29 is a lucid passage about New Testament worship: “…But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel….Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.”
We enter the festival assembly of the saints and the angels. We gather in spirit with the spirits of just men made perfect. We enter the assembly of glory through Christ our Mediator, and the blood of his atoning death.
Reverent corporate worship, then, is not optional for the church of God. Rather, it brings to expression the very being of the church. It manifests on earth the reality of the heavenly assembly. Before the church engages herself to do anything, she must be above all a worshipping church (Acts 13:1ff.).
Our place in worship
Worship is a direct expression of our ultimate purpose for living. We are meant to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever. God is calling a family for Himself; He speaks of having sons and daughters, adopted into His family, that Christ might be the firstborn among many brethren. “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6-7).
Scripture is certainly not deficient in pointing out to us our fundamental purpose of existence: it is that God may be magnified through us. We who have our hope set upon Christ have done so because we have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12).
In worshipping God we are explicitly saying that He is worth our adoration and at the same time implicitly stating that we are not worthy. No man and no angel and no other creature is meant to receive worship. “Worship God” is the angel’s admonition to John who excitedly fell at his feet (Revelation 22:8,9).
Saints and angelic beings always refuse any worship accorded to them, for they know how God is jealous for His own honour and He rightly seeks His own honour. “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:50. “My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11). The transcendent God cannot possibly be robbed, but when we render to the creature what is due to the Creator must certainly be described as robbing God. We should rejoice that it is right that God seek His own honour and be jealous for His own honour. Infinitely more than anything He has made, God is worthy of honour. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for thou hast created all things, and by your will they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
Are we persuaded that this is absolutely right? Is our soul absorbed with God? Are we ready to accord to Him all worship? Then we have the appropriate heart attitude for genuine and acceptable worship.
Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal ductless glands and affecting circulation and muscular action. The adrenal glands are vital to many of the body’s normal functions, and are particularly necessary to us in resisting infection and coping with stress, thus making the person ready for flight or fight.
Today, the dangers and stresses we face are as likely to be psychological as physical, but either way, the body has the same physical reaction. There is a surge in the production of adrenalin which makes the heart beat faster and more strongly. This raises the blood pressure, while at the same time constricting the blood vessels near the surface of the body and in the gut, re-directing the flow of blood towards the heart – the reason we go ‘white with fear.’ It also turns glycogen stored in the liver and muscles into glucose required for extra energy.
When the danger is over or the stress removed, adrenalin production is reduced and the body returns to normal. However, if the danger or stress is constant, or if we are continually over-excited or under pressure, the body remains primed for action – and this can lead to stress-related conditions (for instance, high blood pressure).
In the West it is well-known how society seeks excitement. People want to be set in motion, to be roused up, to promote activity by stimulus. Many are satisfied in their thrill-seeking expeditions to act quite passively, for instance in watching football on television, in watching a thriller, or following some other sport through the media. Others enter into an emotional mood through the abuse of music. It is well-known how music acts upon man: soldiers are aroused to action by the beat of the drum and trumpet. Music can make us mourn; it can make us dance too.
The point is that people, quite unconsciously, want that adrenaline rush that makes them feel worthwhile. Some go to the extent of courting danger, like those who jump out of an aircraft just for the exciting feeling it creates in them. Others want to overcome the seemingly impossible task, so they take to climb mountains.
The trouble is that the more we get the more we want. We may easily get hooked and addicted to the thing that originally gave us the rush feeling. Then the only solution is to increase the dose. To create that same pleasurable feeling one needs a greater dose of adrenalin.
Some people, instead of engaging themselves in sports (which can become a mania with religious implications), are content to get a religious buzz. The phenomenon that catered for this type of rush is undoubtedly the charismatic movement where the mind is bypassed or at least down-played, while the whole concentration is on the feelings. Before the event people (who for all intents and purposes are counted as Christians) are phased up; the whole (worship?) service is intended to make the feel good; to make them enjoy that feeling of euphoria; to have the sense of well-being. This has become known as the celebratory type of worship, in competition with the traditional (and biblical) type which addresses the heart through the understanding.
If one is used to adrenalin-related worship he will find it difficult to leave that type of atmosphere, and yet, even while attending a charismatic circle, he will eventually crave for a higher dose of adrenalin. The body gets used to the former dose and asks for more. He finds the traditional mode of worship totally unprofitable and unsatisfactory.
The truth is that when one is hooked on adrenalin, whether from sports or religion, he would want more and more of the same thing. The Pentecostal movement regressed into the charismatic movement; the charismatic into the Vineyard movement; the Vineyard into the Toronto blessing (so-called); the Toronto blessing into the Brownsville ridiculous (and even blasphemous) happenings. It’s a downward spiral, never-ending.
Such worship does not come to the standard of true biblical worship, where the Lord requires us to be in full control of our understanding, our minds, our will, and all our sentiments, and not least our body. Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit which makes for peace and well-being.
Historically, when extremistic movements arose in protest to “formal” worship (such as Montanism), they were quickly condemned and dismissed as dangerous. But it seems that what’s happening in our generation, with people seeking a religious rush, is quite acceptable.
We need to raise our voices, to say that carnal worship is worse than nothing, and to seek the old paths once again.
In worshipping God, it goes without saying that we do not call attention to ourselves or in some way bring glory to ourselves. Worship must be God-centred, as everything else.
1. Whether it be preaching, the preacher must not by his antics and idiosyncrasies draw the listeners’ attention to him, but rather to the Triune God. The preacher who delights in parading his scholarship or skill in preaching is only exercising himself in pride. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
2. In public prayer the Christian is not meant to show off his theological expertise, but rather to humble himself and acknowledge God’s magnificence.
3. In the leading of worship, the person in charge must see to it that the people’s emotions are not jerked back and forth so quickly that they are unable to respond as whole persons, with the result that they withdraw emotionally and do not respond from the heart. They will then leave the service feeling frustrated and disappointed because they have not encountered God. For most human beings, focused attention is slowly attained and easily lost. Because of this, a worship leader who talks to the congregation between songs usually distracts attention away from the Lord and onto himself. Worship is thus greatly diminished.
4. Music, if any, must be in harmony with the dignity and loftiness of God. Levity in such things is condemned. The quickest way to destroy an atmosphere of worship is to have a soloist or choir (both of which have no backing from Scripture) who enjoy drawing attention to themselves.
5. The celebration of the Lord’s supper is a good occasion to worship our Redeemer and give thanks to Him for His wondrous love manifested on Calvary. The minister, more than at any other occasion, must be self-effacing and motivate the people to “remember Him.”
6. Even the announcements and the offering must be thought of. Are they really bringing glory to God in the way they are done? In directing the church of Corinth about the offering, Paul used such spiritual language that lifts a mundane task to the level of worship.
7. Our gifts, whether in serving or giving or speaking, are to be utilized in such a way that “in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).
When we worship
As we magnify God the proper and biblical way, the results will be numerous and significant.
For one thing, we learn to delight in God. David made it his aim to seek to dwell in the house of the Lord, to behold His beauty, and to meditate in His temple (Psalm 27:4). He know that in God’s presence there is fulness of joy, and in His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Asaph climbs to such heights that he is able to say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon the earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73:25). The sons of Korah, similarly, knew the joys of worshipping God (Psalm 84:1,2,4,10).
The goodly heritage was passed over to the New Testament believers, who “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God…” (Acts 2:46). Even before the descent of the Spirit, “they were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52,53).
Secondly, God takes delight in those whom he has created and redeemed. “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Such a revelation should fill us with encouragement for as we love God and praise Him we bring joy and delight to His heart.
Thirdly, in worship we draw near to God. During the dispensation of preparation, the people of God drew near in a very limited way. The tabernacle was set up, and God dwelt in their midst, and yet they were not allowed entrance into the Holy of Holies.
Under the New Covenant, believers have the privilege of being able to enter directly into the holy of holies in heaven when they worship (Hebrews 10:19). We are therefore exhorted: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). Though we do not see God with our physical eyes, we gather in His presence, having access to His throne through Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, in worship God draws near to us. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). For in worship there must be repentance, a contrite heart, and God is attracted to those who are lowly.
Worship is worthwhile
Worship is an activity of eternal significance and utmost value. Worship is doing the will of God. Worship is the result of understanding “what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17-20). It is making the most of the time, seeking to live life qualitatively.
Not only during our short pilgrimage are we to raise of song of praise, but during eternity the church will worship God. The benediction has an everlasting dimension, integral to it: “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 25). It is the primary activity of the inhabitants of heaven (cf. Revelation 4;8-11; 5:11-14).
Participating in God’s worship
Worship must be empowered and made real by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers. Only through Him will we be enabled to worship God according to His requirements. “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23,24). It means worshipping in the spiritual realm, in the realm of spiritual activity. Mary knew this: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46,47).
This signifies that only Christians are qualified to worship God, and no others. Though this may not cater to the ecumenical spirit of the age, Christians must remember their high calling and act accordingly. “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
An attitude of worship comes upon us when we begin to see God as he is and then respond to His presence. That is why the mighty preaching of the Word is always imperative, for in Scripture God reveals Himself.
Tozer was right is lamenting that the missing jewel in the evangelical church today is the lack of proper worship. Have we seen God? Have we really encountered Him? When Isaiah saw Him he realized his sin and filthy speech; only then did he learn to worship. Genuine worship is not something that is self-generated or that can be worked up from within ourselves. It is the outpouring of the heart in response to God’s self-manifestation in Christ Jesus.
Again, if we are truly to draw near to God, there must be a striving for personal holiness. “Without holiness no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). It is only the pure in heart who shall see God, according to our Master (Matthew 5:8).
Practical considerations are to be taken into account too. For instance, the place where believers meet should be appropriate, having a setting that is conducive to worship, one that is ordinarily private and free from distractions, giving opportunity to focus attention upon the Lord.
What a challenge lies before us! How we have neglected our privileges! God has not withheld any good thing from us: we enjoy forgiveness, justification, redemption, eternal life, adoption, yea, all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3ff.).
How are we responding? I do not mean primarily to these superb gifts, but to the Giver Himself! “Christ is all and in all.”
Spurgeon opened his sermon on January 7th, 1855, this way: “And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares?
“Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as form a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.”
“Grant what you require of us, Lord, and we will give it you” (Augustine). Teach us to worship you, O Lord, and we will worship you.
5. Hindrances to worship
Some hindrances to the spiritual worship of God that I have encountered in my own experience.
1. After my conversion my primary hindrance was undoubtedly my relative ignorance of Scripture. You simply cannot worship meaningfully if your knowledge of God is sparse. And we come to know God in the mirror of his Testimony.
2. As a married man, whenever my relationship with my wife is not on a high level, this rubs off in my spiritual life. (1 Peter says that if we do not dwell with them with understanding, then our prayers will be hindered: how true it is.)
3. Hidden and unconfessed sin mars our worship. Our relationship with the Father cools down. We MUST learn to confess sin immediately and seek grace to abandon it.
4. Because of expectations from others, I have found that occasionally I have pretended to be other than I actually was (hypocrisy). Such an attitude brings sterility to our worship, both private and public.
5. Unbelief; fearing to stand on the promises of God for all provision and need in our daily life.
6. Lack of orderliness in time and place. I have now found it to be very helpful to have set times to meet with God in private prayer.
In giving directions for worship Paul laid it down as a principle: “God is not the author of confusion but of peace…Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:33,40).
Cases of disorderly worship widely accepted among professing Christians today:
1. Starting the worship service at a later time than stipulated. Christians should understand that they gather to worship the Most High. If we are careful to be punctual for an interview, etc., how much more when we are to appear before the King of all the earth?
2. Clapping, dancing, hallooing in church, common among charismatic groups. This gives free rein to sentimentalism, and what’s more, the people would be indulging in unscriptural practices. “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve (lit. worship: latreuô) God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Joviality is not spirituality.
3. Sitting in church idly during the sermon. It is disorderly because we should seek to fellowship together, anticipating God’s presence among us and his speaking to us through the exposition of the Word. In church Christians should be alert. “You should love the Lord thy God with all thine…understanding (mind).” An effort should be exercised.
4. Not participating in the Lord’s Supper. This ordinance if for all Christians, a communion in the body and blood of Christ. If someone abstains from partaking, then he is creating disorder. Whatever the reason he must repent and approach the Table with gratitude, together with the brethren.
6. Can traditional worship be improved upon?
Can Traditional Worship be improved upon, so as to remove those elements defined as “boring,” yet still retain biblical integrity?
Taking Traditional Worship to mean biblically-based worship, we need first of all the mention the elements of worship that are known by the due application of the regulative principle. In other words, what does God want us to do as a congregation when we gather together in Christ’s name?
To quote the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone…Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men…The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgiving upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religious manner” (Ch.XXI:2-5).
It appears that the regular elements in the worship of the church are the following and no more:
1. Public Prayer.
2. Public reading of Scripture.
3. Preaching of the Word.
5. Administration of sacraments.
The question now boils down to this: can God’s wisdom and God’s will for us be improved upon? Are we better than He? It is the height of impiety to even suggest that we can innovate and introduce elements of worship that God does not command and not even mention. Scripture actually condemns innovations as “will-worship,” as carnal inventions that give the impression of holiness in those who practice them but actually they do nothing more than pamper the flesh.
But a firm refusal to change anything from what we have received from our spiritual forefathers does not imply that we are free from criticism. This actually calls for a self-examination and the continuing reformation of the church.
All change is not necessarily forbidden or bad. Some brethren are, perhaps, struggling to emerge from church backgrounds that have been hide-bound by human tradition. For them the refreshing liberty that the Scriptures give is a new lease of life. Such change is welcome and necessary; it is scriptural reformation. However, when change involves dismantling prerequisites that are clearly biblical and historic, then that is another matter altogether.
While we should be adamant in hold fast to what we know to be biblical, it does not necessarily mean that we are doing our duty the biblical way. Let’s take public prayer, for instance. If we are not careful, public prayer, led by carnal and proud people, can be nothing more than a show-off. That would not only be boring but also calling for censure.
Again, to read Scripture in the assembly of the saints is no easy task. Many take it for granted, thinking something like, “Well, I’m not illiterate; I can certainly read.” But the actual reading will not be reverent, loud enough to be heard by everybody, with worthwhile pauses and emphases, and of the right length, not to short, not excessively long.
Expository preaching (which should be the regular – not exclusive – type of preaching) is the climax of evangelical worship. The preached Word is God’s Word to us, personally, and in our generation. But how is it done? Are pastors free from guilt in this matter? Are they well-prepared for the task, do they approach the pulpit with fear and trembling, dependent on the Holy Spirit’s efficacious work, or do they find it an occasion to exhibit their raw and undigested knowledge? Is their speech clear, is the theme well-applied to the hearts of the audience?
The singing: is it well-led? Is the theology of the hymns sound and edifying, giving glory to God? Or are we using the singing to fill in between one item and the next? Is it well-varied?
The administration of the Lord’s Supper can indeed become boring if the saints are not prepared in heart to remember their Lord. It can easily become mechanical and formal, especially in churches where it is held on a weekly basis.
If we take care to approach our Lord in a reverent and humble and repentant way then the worship prescribed for us will not be boring. It will rather be challenging, refreshing and the highlight of the whole week.
What should we think of the modernizing movement that denigrates the biblical mode of worship and craves to introduce new styles in the church? Weighing these thing in the balances of Scripture and church history will give us a safe perspective. The following points are relevant:
1. This movement is not new. Moody was a catalyst here. His friend F.B.Meyer soon introduced the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, with anthems by a choir, a short address, and even applause. But the preacher’s business is to correct the spirit of the age. God calls His church to change, not by changed by, the spirit of the age. Strange fire is unacceptable (Leviticus 10:1ff.).
2. This modernising movement removes reverence from God’s worship (Psalm 89:7; 1 Corinthians 14:24,25).
3. This clamour for change may well be a symptom of something else. Instead we should rather mourn before God, in humiliation, fasting and enquiring prayer. Seeking to be happy, happy, happy all the time is discouraged (James 4:8-10).
4. This movement fails to reckon with man’s true need. The worldling needs to be addressed according to his creation, not his culture. If we really believe in the biblical doctrines of man’s total depravity and God’s sovereign grace, we will avoid this frivolity.
5. Scripture is against the approach this movement takes. Evangelism seems to be the all-controlling factor. As if effectiveness here must determine everything else. This is unscriptural. The order for God’s church is first worship, then witness (Isaiah 60:6; 1 Peter 2:5,9). We have been told how to behave in God’s church (1 Timothy 3:15). To yield to the demands of this movement is to let the world into the church. But in the early days unbelievers would not dare join themselves hypocritically to true believers (Acts 5:13).
6. To keep to the old paths does not invite decline or extinction. Growth comes only from above (John 3:27; 1 Corinthians 3:6).
But it remains to be said that carnal people, and also baby Christians, still untaught in the Word, do find such simple and yet profound worship to be boring. How can you rejoice in God whom you do not know?
So my question is, “Boring to whom?” If it’s boring to the world, to unbelievers, then we are not prepared to change the agenda. It’s a God-given mode of worship; let’s seek to fulfill our task in a spiritual way (such as Isaiah chapter 1 and chapter 58 prescribes for us). We are not to become like the world; we ought to win the world with the gospel and invite the nations to worship God with the worship implicit in that same gospel, that is “with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28,29).
Our watchword is unchanged: “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise….What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30,32).
“Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
7. Worship only through Christ
The Westminster Confession of Faith underlines the important truth that our worship must be offered to God through the appointed Mediator Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is unacceptable.
“Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone: not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone” (XXI:2).
Here are a few Bible passages which prove that we cannot worship God without Christ acting for us as Mediator.
1. Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5.
2. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. Hebrews 13:15.
3. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Colossians 3:17.
4. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13.
5. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:5.
6. Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6.
7. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5.
8. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Ephesians 2:18.
Are you convinced? If so, what value do you place on world religions? Do you regard the Christian faith as exclusive? Is Christ the only real and effective Mediator for you?
8. Preparation for worship
The following are some ways I would encourage or direct others to prepare for public worship.
Pastoring a church, I direct the attention of the congregation to such explicit exhortations in Scripture that speak about communal worship: “I rejoiced when they said unto me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.” “Not neglecting the gathering of ourselves together as it the habit of some but encouraging one another…” “As was his custom, Jesus entered the synagogue. Church-going, for the purpose of worshipping God, should be established as a part and parcel of our life, and we should be jealous to guard those days and times, esp. the Lord’s Day, when we gather together to lift up our hearts to God.
Before coming together, I occasionally exhort believers to prepare their hearts and remember that primarily they would be standing in the presence of God and only secondarily they would be meeting together.
As my custom is to preach expositionally from one particular book at a time, I motivate the people to read that same book, to become familiar with its contents so that the preaching would be more appreciated and understood. The same applies for Wednesday evening when we meet and (presently) are studying the Bible, using the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I encourage them to have the Catechism on their fingertips, so that they would know the whereabouts.
Even such trivial things, as forgetting their spectacles behind (and thus deprive themselves of psalm-singing and following the Scripture reading), I have to keep reminding them about such things.
Punctuality is another matter. Attending worship is a solemn matter; it is a great appointment. I often give them “gentle rebukes” for coming late. But it needs to be done in a sensitive and loving way.
On Sunday morning we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The people are taught that they need to examine themselves before partaking. This should be done at home, rather than one minute before partaking.
Basically, teaching them patiently, and showing yourself a model for other to imitate, is the key. And when it seems that they are not responding, remember: “Love believes all things, and hopes all things.”
Dealing with problems
How you would deal with such problems as talking during service, levity, persistent late arrival, etc.?
Elders should see first of all that they themselves are sober and dignified in speech, in their manner of life; in all comportment they should see that they are honouring the sound doctrine that the church has received as a deposit.
In unison the presbytery should evaluate the present spiritual health of the congregation, mark out the problems that are recurring in church life, ask the Lord for wisdom and direction in when and how to tackle those problems – without showing partiality to anyone.
Those little foxes that spoil the vineyard, such as levity from members or visitors, late arrivals that distract the attention of the congregation, etc., should be handled with extra care and sensitivity lest by our abrupt and crude manner we drive away people from under the hearing of the gospel, and thus in trying to amend one bastion we allow the enemy to penetrate through from somewhere else.
But still, these problems should not be overlooked since they are symptomatic of worse problems, i.e., they reveal a low and inadequate view of our great God and Saviour, of his excellency and majesty. They reveal the fact that people might be coming to church simply “to have a good time,” or “to meet friends,” rather than to worship God.
So those individuals that are causing these problems should be individually confronted in love, counseled, and made conscious of their misbehavior. Time should be allowed to see if they are making any progress.
If not, a loving warning should even be given from the pulpit, not pinpointing a particular individual (to put him to shame) but rather addressing the whole congregation and exhorting them to faithfulness and remind them what is the purpose of our meeting together: to worship God with reverence and godly fear.
If some blatant disobedience continues to appear, challenging the authority of the local church leaders, there might be a case of starting formal disciplinary action against the transgressor. But this should be resorted to when all other attempts have manifestly failed.
9. Participation in worship
Should we encourage large-scale congregational participation in public worship?
By large-scale congregational participation in worship I understand such things as Scripture reading by lay-persons, perhaps even preaching at times, prayer being led by women and such things that are common in charismatic circles today.
Certainly the service should be oriented towards the edification and spiritual growth and comfort of the people. The elders should see that the saints gathered together are being fed and led in a proper way to worship God.
But this does not mean delegating certain duties to members which should be handled by the leaders. Leaders are there to lead, because God ordains them, and are furnished with the appropriate gifts and abilities. They should determine from Scripture where and to what extent the congregation should actively and vocally participate in worship.
For instance, in singing I am convinced that the whole congregation should join in, men, women, and children. This is the right and privilege of every Christian. Choirs should be abolished. They have no biblical precedent or example. The levitical singing in the Old Testament is superseded by the larger privilege in the New Testament of every believer being a priest unto God. Ephesians, Colossians and James 5 all indicate that every Christian is to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In attempting to have regular times for solos or giving an opportunity for people to get “up front” for whatever reason backfires on the very idea of community worship, for then the soloist becomes “an actor” and the congregation “an audience.”
As for Scripture reading, even the way Scripture is read, the nuances in pronunciation, the pauses, the speed, etc., all involve some interpretation, and sometimes it is mandatory for the reader to pause and explain briefly some word or words which without explanation would make it difficult for the hearer to understand. Thus I think the reading should be handed by qualified men, even perhaps one or other of the elders.
Prayer is usually led by the pastor, but room should be given for men in the congregation to lead in prayer too. I think it is too restrictive to reserve prayer for the pastor alone. Mature men may, after standing up, lead in prayer too.
The preaching of the Word is to be reserved to the pastor, who is set apart for this very purpose, studying it and making it his aim to present it without adulteration to God’s people.
Having said all this, it does not mean that the congregation is largely passive. Not at all! In hearing the Word read and preached, they are active enough; you need concentration and an attentive mind to listen, and in listening you would be listening to the Word of God. How we need that!
10. Physical excitement in public worship
The English word means “worthship,” denoting the worthiness of an individual to receive special honour in accordance with that worth.
It goes without saying, then, that in the worship of God all the faculties of man are to be legitimately involved and exercised. Nothing is to be kept back: God is to be accorded our all: our intelligence, our memory, our will, our emotions, all our humanity. For He is the Source, the Maintainer and End of our whole existence.
Physical excitement is not to be frowned upon when we come to consider the true worship of God. Even the seminal terms taken from the Bible, the Hebrew saha and the Greek proskuneo emphasize the act of prostration, the doing of obeisance. This may be done out of regard for the dignity of personality and influenced somewhat by custom (Genesis 18:2), or may be based on family relationship (Genesis 49:8) or on station in life (1 Kings 1:31). Bu the point here is that in worship the body is certainly involved: it is not passive or neglected.
On a higher plane the same terms are used of divine honours rendered especially to the one true and living God who reveals Himself in Scripture and climactically in His Son (Exodus 24:1).
We have instances in the history of redemption when the people of God celebrated their God-given victories. The women of Israel danced and sang after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 15). David also danced in joy and jubilation as the Ark of the Covenant was brought back from among the Philistines.
In New Testament worship, the soul and body of the worshipper are holistically involved in rendering to God what is due to Him, the praise and honour and thanksgiving for His great salvation through Christ His Son. For one thing, Paul insists that every individual in the church is to offer up his own body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1ff.). And if the members of our body are no longer to be used in the service of iniquity, how much more are they to be involved in the worship of God! Which Christian has not at one time or another felt at least some excitement as he heard the preached Word attentively, and God spoke to Him through the preacher, His earthen vessel?
The two men who walked with Christ confessed how their inward parts burned as they listened to the risen Christ explicating to them the prophecies concerning Himself. That happens to us too: we feel the excitement as we consider the riches of God’s grace. The apostle puts it this way: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory…” (1 Peter 1:8).
Yet all must be done decently and in order, for God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as Paul points out. All our worship is to reflect the character of God. There is a limit up to where we may go, and that limit is indicated to us in Scripture. The regulative principle is always to be guarded and kept in mind, for it is the safest rule to know that our worship really pleases God.
In quite a few circles today the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. The worship of these Christians is marked by extreme soberness and gravity, to such an extent that it is positively dull and uninspiring. The people look like statues; they might as well go to sleep, for they are expecting nothing and do receive nothing.
But what should concern us more is the triviality that have invaded the churches of Christ today, especially in Pentecostal circles. These tend to equate worship with the bodily excitement that is generated. Nothing else seem to matter except to drug their senses and work up their bodily members to a frenzy. They introduce dancing, clapping and rhythmic motions of the body that really denigrates God, for God has not commanded such things to be offered to Him. If David danced it does not necessarily mean that during our worship services today we are meant to dance. That is not commanded of us.
If physical excitement is not the by-product of the mind in receiving the truth of God, then we may safely conclude that it is carnal and unworthy of God. During revival periods, it was reported how many people, under conviction of sin, shook and trembled. If it is of the Spirit, it is not to be hindered (for the soul and the body exercise a mutual influence); but if it is imitative and fleshly, then it is to be restrained and prohibited, though it may be difficult to judge by appearance. Discernment is called for here.
11. Spiritual worship
What do you understand by spiritual worship? I base my answer on the Larger Catechism, such a delightful guideline I find there concerning true spiritual worship, which is demanded of man in the first and foremost commandment (both the Shema, and the first in the Decalogue).
Spiritual worshippers, those kind of people which God seeks for himself, can be today denominated as Christians. Non-Christians in no way can or are even willing to worship God according to his requirements. Philippians 3 says “we are the true worshippers, who worship God in Spirit and put no confidence in the flesh.” “We are the true circumcision.”
True worship begins in knowing and acknowledging God as the only true God, and our God and Father. Pharaoh found no reason to obey or worship, “I do not know him,” he retorted haughtily.
Our worship should be in accordance to God’s being and revelation of himself. Will-worship is condemned and unacceptable. It is called “strange fire.” Many people may sound sincere and zealous but they are inventing ways of worshipping instead of submitting to God’s directives. (When we approach a head of state, there are certain established policies to observe; how much more this applies to God, the king of kings!)
Christians worship best by thinking of God, meditating upon him, remembering and highly esteeming him. All our life is lived “unto him.” Coram Deo. We are called to adore, choose, love, desire and fear him.
The three cardinal virtues of faith, hope and love are to be directed towards him. Thus we are to give all praise and thanks and yield all obedience and submission to him with all our being. In worshipping Him God is pleased for this is his due and we are to be sorrowful and displeased when we fail in this fundamental matter.
Humility and a spiritual frame of mind makes our worship possible. The mind set on the spirit is life and peace (Romans 8). Thus man find true fulfilment is being lost in wonder, love and praise of his Creator and Redeemer.
This well-written and useful article is reproduced from http://www.tecmalta.org/tft.htm