Can We Worship God However We Want? (Ames)

A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism (Classic Reformed Theology) 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.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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A Walk Through the Directory For Public Worship

OPC Book of Church Order (2011 Edition) The Directory for the Public Worship of God has a long history and important place in confessional Presbyterian churches.  In one form or another, the DPW has been around as long as the Westminster Standards (c. 1646).  The DPW does not at all have the same status as Holy Scripture and it is not part of the Westminster Standards, but it is very much based on Scripture and applies the Standards to the church’s life of worship.  The DPW is a very helpful resource when it comes to the topic of Reformed liturgy.

You can find a good modern-day example of the DPW in the OPC’s Book of Church Order.  Below is the outline of the DPW along with a few excerpts.

1) The Sanctification of the Lord’s Day.  “…It is the sacred duty and high privilege of God’s people everywhere to convene for public worship on the Lord’s Day.  God has expressly enjoined them in his holy Word not to forsake the assembling of themselves together.”

2) The Principles of Public Worship.  “Since the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice, the principles of public worship must be derived from the Bible, and from no other source.”

3) The Usual Parts of Public Worship.  “As a service of public worship is in its essence a meeting of God and his people, the parts of the service are of two kinds: those which are performed on behalf of God, and those which are performed by the congregation.”

4) The Celebration of the Sacraments. “…In ordinary circumstances [the two sacraments] are properly administered only in a gathering of the congregation for the public worship of God, baptism signifying solemn admission into the visible church, and the Lord’s Supper constituting the communion of believers with Christ and with each other as members of his mystical body.”

5) Public Profession of Faith in Christ.  “In order to aid those who contemplate making public profession of faith in Christ to understand the implication of this significant act and to perform it intelligently, the pastor shall conduct classes in Christian doctrine both for the covenant youth and for any others who may manifest an interest in the way of salvation.”

6) Ordinations and Installations.   “The Word of God clearly teaches that the office of minister was instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ [Eph. 4.11]. …The office of ruling elder is based upon the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, who provided for his church officers who should rule in his name. …The office of deacon is based upon the solicitude and love of Christ for his own people.”

Again, if you want a brief biblical and confessional explanation of historic Reformed worship and liturgy, you’ll have to read the DPW.  The above outline and quotes can be found in The Book of Church Order, 119-133.

rev. shane lems

American Hymnody: The Musical Dark Ages

Democratization of American Christianity Around the turn of the 19th century, Christianity (and religion in general) was undergoing a change: it was becoming more and more democratic (a religion of the people, for the people, and by the people).  Not only did this democratization affect doctrine, ecclesiology, and piety, it also affected Christian and religious hymnody.  Here’s how Nathan Hatch explains it:

“What are the dimensions in the early republic of this popular gospel music – the ‘numerous ditties’ that the respected churchman Nathan Bangs claimed had ‘almost deluded’ the Methodist Church, and that Phillip Schaff decried as ‘a rude singing of the most vulgar street songs, so that it must be loathing to an educated man’?”

“A definitive answer is impossible, because this homespun, religious music began as an oral phenomenon, was taken up by scores of rustic and anonymous song-makers, and was only later compiled and printed.  Yet the importance of the process itself has gone largely undetected by historians because its manifestations do not conform to regional or denominational boundaries and fall outside the normal purview of church music history.”

“One historian, in fact, characterized this period as the ‘musical dark ages’ – a time when ‘men of correct taste…let go their hold, and the multitude had the management of it and sung what and when they pleased.’  It is clear that this upsurge in religious folk music is yet another aspect of the democratic impulse in American Christianity.  The same imperative that sent many ordinary folk into preaching and writing compelled some to express themselves in song.  In all the populist religious movements with which this study deals – from Christians to…Mormons – people developed their own traditions of religious folk music.  The public, in turn, seemed to have an insatiable appetite for new strains of spontaneous and lively gospel music” (p. 147).

We’re still dealing with the democratization of Christian music.  Many churches sing what people like and want – hence Christian top-40 songs make it into the pews (even if they don’t have one ounce of clear Christian truth).

However, we must remember that Christianity is not a democratic endeavor.  Choosing songs for worship isn’t a matter of what “we the people” desire.  Rather than ask what we want and like in music, the primary and pressing question is this: what does God want us to sing?  Music in worship has to do with the Regulative Principle of Worship (the RPW).  In the words of the Westminster Larger Catechism, “The duties required in the second commandment are the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his word” (Q/A 108).

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).

shane lems

Reforming Worship: According to the Word

This is a great book.  I’m sorry I put off reading it for a few years!  Phil Ryken, Derek Thomas, and Ligon Duncan edited Give Praise to God together as a festschrift for J. M. Boice, as sort of a tribute to Boice’s emphasis on worship according to the Word.  The structure of the book is 4-fold:  1) The Bible and Worship, 2) Elements of Biblical Worship, 3) Preparing for Biblical Worship, and 4) Worship, History, and Culture.

I especially liked Duncan’s first two chapters, which is basically a two part essay on the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  Here’s Duncan: “True Christian worship is by the book.  It is according to Scripture.  The Bible alone ultimately directs the form and content of Christian worship” (p. 20).

He goes on.  “The key benefit of the regulative principle is that it helps to assure that God – not man – is the supreme authority for how corporate worship is to be conducted, by assuring that the Bible, God’s own special revelation (and not our opinions, tastes, likes, and theories), is the prime factor in our conduct of and approach to corporate worship” (p. 24).  Duncan explains the RPW from the OT and NT in the last part of this (his first) essay.

He also has a penetrating discussion of idolatry and the RPW.  You’ll have to read the full essay, especially the golden calf section (cf. Ex 32), but here’s where he goes:  “…there are two ways to commit idolatry: worship something other than the true God or worship the true God in the wrong way.

I’ll stop here, and post more about this essay (and Duncan’s other one), as well as a few parts of the fine essays by Ryken and Thomas as well as Terry Johnson.  I may not blog on it for awhile, but to increase your curiosity, Robert Godfrey has a great article on worship and the emotions, Nick Needham has a good one on the church’s worship through the ages, and Mike Horton closes the book with a great discussion of modernism and postmoderism (“Challenges and Opportunities for Ministry Today”).

You’ll want this book if you need more “training” on the whats and hows of worship according to the Word.  Also, for our RR friends not in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition, I’m pretty confident it would wrestle you around as you consider what God-honoring worship is all about.  Enjoy!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Ames on the RPW

A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism

In Reformed/Presbyterian confessionalism, the regulative principle of worship (RPW) is right there in the fiber of the discussions on worship (HC Q/A 96, WLC Q/A 108-9, etc).

William Ames (d. 1633) defines it this way: “God must be worshipped only for the reason and by the means by which he has personally prescribed that he is to be worshipped in his Word.”

In the second commandment, he says, “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.”

Ames goes on and gives reasons:

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 worshipping 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.”

Outstanding.  Don’t just skim that, read it well!  It is packed with theological rationale for the RPW.  On the same topic, I’m finally reading through Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship – a sort of festschrift for J. M. Boice – which has several chapters about the RPW.  I’ll post those later…stay tuned.

Quotes above taken from Ames’ A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism trans. Todd Rester (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 161-2.  NOTE: right now, you can get this book and Ames’ Marrow of Theology from RHB for a total of $40!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Regulative Principle of Prayer?

The historic Reformed position on public worship is well summarized in Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 96: we worship God in no other way “than he has commanded in his word.” That is, we worship God how he wants us to worship him, not how we order a Starbucks – what we’re in the mood for today.

More narrowly, this is applied to one part of worship – prayer. Calvin, in Institutes III.XX.49, wrote, “No man should ask for, expect, or demand, anything at all except what is included, by way of summary, in this prayer; and though the words may be utterly different, yet the sense ought not to vary. Thus all prayers in Scripture, and those which come forth from godly breasts, are certainly to be referred to it.”

No surprise here: the Heidelberg says the same thing. God commands us to pray for everything we need, body and soul, as embraced (or included) in the prayer Christ taught us (HC 118). Of course – the Scripture is the guide, rule, and norm for our prayers! This is one reason why many in the Reformed tradition suggest praying Psalms and other parts of Scripture, so we don’t get carried away by our own whims, fancies, and wants in prayer. In Calvin’s words, so we don’t “dream up” anything earthly about God, or “measure him by our small measure” or “conform his will to our emotions” (III.XX.40).

One more thing notable about Calvin and the HC on prayer is that they both follow the Lord’s Prayer so closely that they use the plural 99% of the time: Our Father…give us…. This doesn’t mean we always have to pray with other Christians in public, but it does mean we are always praying with the church for God’s glory first, our neighbor second, and then self (daily physical need makes up only around 1/10th of the Lord’s Prayer – and even it is corporate!).

Calvin is right: the Lord’s prayer “is in all respects so perfect that any extraneous or alien thing added to it, which cannot be related to it, is impious and unworthy to be approved by God” (III.XX.48).

shane lems

sunnyside wa