Why are the worship services of Reformed churches different from the worship services of most evangelical churches? Why won’t you find props, balloons, skits, films, lights, projectors,* and rock/pop music at confessional Reformed churches? And why aren’t worship services in Reformed churches a Sunday morning free-for-all where we can just wing it?
It’s not simply because Reformed Christians don’t like film, rock/pop music, or skits. Instead, it’s because Reformed churches do their best to have God’s Word regulate everything they do in worship. From the opening prayer to the closing Scripture reading, confessional Reformed worship services are ordered according to clear biblical principles. This is called the Regulative Principle of Worship and you can find it explained in various places in the Reformed confessions (HC Q/A 96, WLC Q/A 108-9, etc). The RPW is essentially based on the second commandment and other places in Scripture where it’s clear that God does not accept worship that is contrary to his command (see the stories in Leviticus 10 and Numbers 16 for two examples). Reformed churches have worship that is reformed according to the Word.
William Ames (d. 1633) defines it this way: “God must be worshiped only for the reason and by the means by which he has personally prescribed that he is to be worshiped in his Word.”
He also wrote the following concerning worship and the second commandment:
“It is taught…that under the names of images, every will-worship introduced by people is condemned, so that no one may approve anything other than what God personally has prescribed. Also it appears to hint at this doctrine in the phrase, ‘You shall not make for yourself’ – that is, by your own decision (arbitrio) – and you will introduce no worship by your own pleasure.”
Here are the reasons he gives for this Reformed position on worship:
1) God alone knows what is pleasing and suitable to his nature.
2) The blessing and fruit of all our worship that we owe to God depends on God himself. It is also not for us to prescribe to God the means by which it might be performed and he might be blessed by us.
3) The worship that has not been prescribed does not have in itself the rationale of obedience. Moreover, God wishes what pertains to his honor, so that by obeying we may worship him and by worshiping him we may obey him.
4) Such is the vanity and futility of the human imaginations in divine things, that if it were left to us to choose for ourselves the means of divine worship, that our entire worship would be converted into ridiculous and inane observances, just as experience teaches that the devil has in this way led humans to inane superstitions throughout almost the whole world.”
I appreciate Ames’ commentary on the second commandment as it applies to worship. Obviously more can be said, but these are some good thoughts about worship that truly pleases God. God-pleasing worship isn’t defined by our feelings, emotions, likes, or dislikes, but by God’s own word!
The above quotes are found on pages 161-162 of A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism by William Ames.
*(By “projectors” I mean projectors for showing movie clips.)
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015