The modern church should learn from the 16th century Reformers that “men are experts at inventing idols.” They studied the Word of God and concluded that “God…cannot endure new modes of worship to be devised…All kinds of worship invented by men…are accursed and detestable.” Like the 16th century Reformers, “We must hold that first the spiritual worship of God does not consist in external ceremonies, or any other kind of works whatsoever; and that no worship is legitimate unless it be so framed as to have for its only rule the will of him to whom it is performed. Men allow themselves to devise contrary to his command, he not only repudiates as void, but distinctly condemns” (John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church). Notice that Calvin says, “Worship is to be ordered according to rule of the one to whom it is performed.”
A study of the full counsel of God is necessary to determine the outward expressions of worship. The debate is divided into two categories. The majority of Protestant churches assume the position that all expressions of worship are acceptable unless they are prohibited in Scripture. The minority report is that only the expressions commanded by God are acceptable. Although there are slight variations among the minority, they generally find prayer, offerings, singing Psalms and hymns, reading and preaching of the Word of God, the sacraments, and the benediction are necessary elements in public collective worship. Some churches are more specific. For instance, some churches believe the Westminster Confession of Faith outlines the biblical elements of worship. They are:
- Reading of the Scripture
- Sound preaching
- Conscionable hearing of the Word
- Obedience with understanding, faith, and reverence
- Singing of psalms
- Administration of sacraments
- Religious oaths and vows
- Solemn fastings
- Thanksgivings upon special occasions
A brief commentary of these elements will be useful.
Westminster applies the regulative principle to worship which means that God has commanded in Scripture what He will accept in religious worship. There are specific qualifications for certain parts of Christian worship. Reading of Scriptures is not sufficient; rather they must be read with godly fear. Furthermore preaching is not enough. It must be sound preaching. That would disqualify much of what passes for preaching in churches in the present era. Apparently, Westminster does not believe that singing hymns is part of religious worship, because they only mention singing of Psalms. Even so, singing of Psalms is not enough. They must be sung with grace in the heart. Receiving the sacraments is not enough. It must be worthy receiving. Then there are special services for “special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religious manner.” If Westminster is wrong, then most of the evangelical church today is right. If Westminster is right, then most of the evangelical church today is wrong. The Bible is the final authority and Christians must be like the Bereans so that by searching the Scriptures the church will offer worship acceptable to the triune God, the object of Christian worship. I personally believe hymns may be part of Christian worship, if they are true to Holy Scripture. Unfortunately, many hymns are not true to Scripture and should not be used in worship. (Doctrine of Sound Words, by Martin Murphy, p. 130)
The only way to offer perfect worship is to offer worship to God through the Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, my last comment will be misunderstood by many who read this blog.