Psalm 29:1-2 states:
Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
As God’s people we are called to worship God and ascribe to him the glory due his name.
A. Definition of Worship:
Worship is our ascribing to God the praise, honor, glory, and submission to which he is entitled as Creator of all things and Author of our salvation in Christ.
B. Purpose and Focus of Worship:
The focus of worship is giving glory to God. Worship is not for man’s entertainment, nor only for his edification. Therefore, worshippers should approach worship with their hearts and minds focused on God with the goal of bringing glory to him.
Elements that we seek to incorporate in worship can be summarized as the 4 R’s and G’s of worship:
- The Reality of God
- The Recognition of Guilt
- The Realization of Grace
- The Response of Gratitude
C. Content of Worship:
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. XXI:1 states that “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in Scripture.” In other words, God has determined how he is to be worshipped and has set forth in Scripture all the elements that are to be included in worship. No other elements of worship from any other source are to be allowed.
WCF XXI:3 and 5 set forth the following specific elements of worship: prayer, reading of Scripture, preaching, hearing of the Word, singing of psalms, administration of and worthy receiving of the sacraments, and on special occasions religious oaths and vows, fastings and thanksgivings.
D. Manner of Worship:
Manner is the way in which the content is expressed – how the words are spoken, music is used and sung, prayers are prayed, etc. It includes style, tone, appearance, and mannerism. The Scriptures do not provide a complete code for the manner of worship. While the Scriptures give important instruction in this area, there is also much left to Christian freedom, common sense and prudence according to the general principles of the Word.
Concerning this, there are four main styles in which Christians express worship to God:
- Style 1: Contemporary format with only the use of contemporary music and expressions of worship.
- Style 2: Contemporary format with some use of traditional music and expression of worship.
- Style 3: Traditional format with some use of contemporary music and expressions of worship.
- Style 4: Traditional format with only the use of traditional music and expressions of worship. This is the most formal expression of worship.
All of these styles of worship can be biblical expressions of worship to God. The most contemporary and the most formal expressions of worship can be easily abused and must be approached with great care and awareness of potential abuses. Sensitivity to the cultural and personal backgrounds and personal preferences of the members of a church determines which style is adopted by a particular church. However, it is unlikely that every member will be completely happy and comfortable with every worship decision. In this regard, it is important for members to exercise love, tolerance, and respect toward one another as long as biblical doctrine is not compromised. The principles of Christian liberty and love set forth in 1 Cor. 8 and Romans 14 should be embraced and followed in this area.
At Covenant of Grace Church, our worship style follows a pattern that is a blend of type 2 and 3. We have a goal of using both contemporary and traditional music as well as some traditional forms such as prayers of confession, responsive Scripture readings, and corporate confession of historic creeds. In this, we seek to encourage the believer to worship God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. We believe worship is more than an intellectual exercise; it involves volitional, emotional and physical expression. This expression may take a variety of forms such as clapping hands, raising of hands, invitations for prayer. Care must be exercised so that no one feels forced to express themselves in ways they are not comfortable with or do not find meaningful. Therefore, it is important that principles of Christian liberty (1 Cor. 8; Rom. 14) be followed.
E. Worship “in Spirit and Truth:”
In John 4:24, Jesus said, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Jesus sets forth two aspects of worship: 1) Worship in the Holy Spirit; 2) Worship in truth.
1. Worship in the Holy Spirit.
Paul echoes this statement of Jesus concerning worshipping in the Spirit in Philippians 3:3: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh. . . .”
It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit that makes true worship possible. The ministry of the Holy Spirit, not only teaches the truth concerning Jesus (John 16:13), but also glorifies him (John 16:14).
Worshipping in the Spirit (with the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit) means that as we gather as God’s people to worship him we confess our sins individually and corporately to the Lord so as not to quench or grieve the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19; Eph. 4:30). Therefore, part of worship is an acknowledgment of sin and a reaffirmation of our trust in Christ for forgiveness (1 John 1:9; James 5:16; Ps. 66:18; 34:18). The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and works repentance in our hearts.
The Holy Spirit’s ministry in worship also includes giving liberty to the service (2 Cor. 3:17), directing and enabling the prayers of the congregation (Eph. 6:18), making intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Rom. 8:26,27). The Holy Spirit empowers the preaching and teaching ministry in worship and enables the hearers to apply it to their lives.
Worship in the Holy Spirit will be expressed in joyful adoration and praise to God from the heart.
2. Worship in truth.
Many people worship a god of their own imaginations and not the God of the Bible. Worship in truth first of all means that we worship only the living God who has revealed himself in Scripture. This implies thoughtful participation in worship. We are to cultivate a biblical understanding of God’s revelation of himself in Scripture and focus our worship accordingly. This means that we seek to have a balanced view of God’s holiness and justice and his love and mercy.
This also means that we understand we can only approach God through the person and work of Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) It is not worshipping in truth when people presume to pray, worship, or in any way come to God apart from faith and reliance on Jesus Christ.
Everything in the service flows out of an understanding that we come to God only through the atonement of Christ. The preaching of the gospel proclaims the work of Christ. The prayers of the congregation are offered through the merit of Christ and the Lord’s supper celebrates and remembers it.
F. Worship should have a balance between celebration and reverent reflection.
Psalm 95:1,2 speaks of joyful celebration in the worship of the Lord:
“Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”
Psalm 95:6 also mentions the idea of reverent, quiet reflection in worship:
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;”
Both of these elements are to be present in worship. The manner of worship should reflect the holiness and majesty of God as well as conveying joy, gladness, and enthusiasm concerning God’s salvation and the fact that he is our God and we are his people.
In keeping with the above points concerning worship, it is our goal to build this understanding into our church and see it reflected in meaningful and Scriptural expressions of worshipping and glorifying God.