WORSHIP: WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: TEN GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR WORSHIP AT . . .
First Presbyterian Church (PCA), Hinckley, MN
September 19, 2003
FIRST, We believe that the focus of worship from beginning to end is the Glory of God. Because worship
is about doxology we seek to accent the objective redemptive events instead of subjective personal experiences.
We focus on the Savior rather than the “seeker.” Worship must be driven by Scriptural command, not market demand. Our audience is the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What we do in worship comes from a desire to please the Lord, not ourselves.
SECOND, We believe that the design of worship is to lead God’s people to Christ. Thus worship is to be saturated with the gospel. It is a mistake to view worship as an evangelistic outreach for the lost. But, it is also a mistake to presume everyone present is a believer. Sinners must come to Christ to be saved. But saints must also come to Christ to grow. Worship that is Christ-centered, grace-oriented and faith-filled will be “evangelistic” for both sinner and saint. The marks of such Christ-centered worship are its simplicity and clarity.
THIRD, We believe that the Bible is a sufficient guide for worship. Thus worship is filled with Scripture and is ordered by Scripture. We understand that the Bible contains no standard format for worship, but it does insist on “orderly” worship. A number of items referred to as “ordinances” or “elements” are repeatedly called for when God’s people gather for the purpose of worship. The two most important parts of worship are the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments. Historically the Church recognized the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Sacrament. Other elements include, calls to worship, readings of Scripture, confessions of faith, confessions of sin, giving and receiving of offerings, laying on of hands, prayers and benedictions. Anything without express Scriptural warrant should not be included as part of worship.
FOURTH, We believe that devotion in worship is enhanced by music. God’s people are called upon the “sing to the Lord” and a great variety of instrumentality may be used to support the Church’s song. However, music must never be viewed as a performance. Musicians must never see themselves as entertainers or present music in an entertainment format. Music has come to dominate worship in the modern Church in a way that often overshadows what is central. Although not an element of worship, music is a wonderful gift and serves to enhance the devotional aspects of prayer, praise, confession, exhortation, and the like. Not all music styles are equally suitable for worship because they inadequately carry the Christian message or fail to support the reverent demeanor that worship calls for. Nevertheless, we freely admit that there is far more variety available than most churches are able to make use of. Church musicians should be adequately train in their craft, and, if responsible for music selection or producing lyrics, they must be theologically trained and spiritually discerning.
FIFTH, We believe that worship on the Lord’s day is fundamentally corporate in nature. We recognize that in one sense worship involves our whole life. But when we gather on the Lord’s day, we worship, not as a collection of individuals seeking his or her own personal moment with God. We take this into account in the songs that are chosen and the prayers that are offered. The pronoun of worship is “we” not “I.” Personal testimonies, although valuable in other settings, are individualistic and subjective, and therefore, not a part of corporate worship. Worship is not about recounting personal experiences which no one else can share in. It is about recounting God’s great and common redemptive works, the benefits of which all God’s people may enjoy.
SIXTH, We believe that corporate worship is a dialogue between God and his people. God speaks and we respond. God always has the first and last word because his words are most important. We enter by invitation and depart with benediction. It is his Word that creates the worshiping community. Thus we begin with a call to worship from our Heavenly Father and we respond in praise and adoration. We confess our sins and God responds with the assurance of his pardoning grace. We hear his word and then respond in the giving of our gifts. He offers his body and blood and we respond in thanksgiving. We show our gratitude and depart with his final words of blessing.
SEVENTH, We believe that since worship is a dialogue between God and his people, someone must be appointed to speak in God’s behalf. By virtue of their office, this should be the ordained elders and particularly the teaching elder or pastor. Pastors are not priests in the Old Testament sense, nor do they dispense grace in the Roman Catholic sense. But they do fulfill a priestly function (Rom. 15:16). When they speak the words of God, they speak them as from God. The invitation to worship, the promise of pardon from sin, the reading and exposition of Scripture, the administration of the sacraments, and the benediction are to be received as though Christ, not the pastor, were speaking to us. On the other hand, the pastor also ministers in a “priestly” manner when he represents the people before God. He offers prayers in Jesus’ Name and unites the congregation in corporate praise.
EIGHTH, We believe that the prevailing tone of worship should be that of reverence. The Bible clearly teaches this (Hebrews 12:28-29). We do affirm the place of both joyous celebration and sober contrition when we gather to worship the Lord. Nevertheless, the Lord remains holy and righteous and our demeanor should reflect that. He is our Creator and Redeemer, not our “chum.”
NINTH, We believe that we worship best when we respect the heritage and traditions of those who have gone before us. This does not mean that there is no room for improvement or fresh creativity. Every generation must “reform” its worship according to the Scriptures. However, many today who seek to “reinvent” worship will soon find that their new tradition does not have enduring value because it is too bound to modern pop-culture. The reason that certain traditions have stood the test of time is that its Biblical rootedness has been tested by the wisdom of the ages. Our Reformed heritage should not be quickly laid aside in favor for what is new and trendy.
TENTH, We believe that corporate worship requires prior preparation on the part of the worshiper. This preparation is to be viewed in two ways. First, we must give ourselves to adequate spiritual preparation for the Lord’s day by prayerfulness, devotion, adequate sleep and so forth. Second, we must afford ourselves opportunity to learn about worship. Worship is a language and, like any language, can be confusing at first. However, in time it will become second nature. Like a new shoe, it needs to be broken in. Parents must teach their children about worship through family devotions and the singing of the best hymns at dinner or bed-time. The Church also must regularly hold classes on worship so members of all ages can learn why we do what we do.