The Lord’s Service: the Focus of Reformed Worship

“Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever”

(Westminster Larger Catechism, A.1)

Quite some time ago we introduced an intended series of posts on the nature and purpose of Reformed worship and the reasons we in the PRC worship in the way we do. It is about time that we picked up that dropped thread and begin anew with a few reflections on this topic that is so central to the life of the Reformed Christian. As the blog of the Protestant Reformed young people one of the main purposes of this site is to encourage enthusiasm for our own Protestant Reformed distinctives and unity in our identity as Protestant Reformed Christians. Hopefully, these posts will stimulate thought about our worship practices and remind us of the rich tradition that we are blessed to have received.

Presently, we shall consider the “what” of worship, that is, what worship itself is and what the focus of worship ought to be. The answer to this question should be obvious. The focus of worship can only be whatever it is that we in fact worship. If we worship Jehovah our covenant God, then He must be the center of the service, and He must be allowed to determine every detail of our services. In particular God has determined that our worship is to be directed entirely to Him and His glory. Nothing which distracts or detracts from this supreme goal of worship is to be permitted.  We take this very seriously in the Reformed tradition, and so the focus of worship in our churches is entirely upon God and His glory and worth. After all it is the Lord’s service, a divine service; it is not ours to customize as we wish. This is one of the distinguishing features of our Reformed tradition. Our worship first and foremost is vertically oriented. We emphasize the majesty, sovereignty, and transcendence of God in our worship services, even as we have joy in Him and do not forget His imminence in Jesus Christ. We come to God not casually, but with an attitude of reverence, awe, and humility; for we understand that we are in the presence of the almighty king of heaven and earth. “The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him”(Hab. 2:20).

When we enter church, this must be our mindset. When we enter the sanctuary, we must come with the intention of praising God and magnifying His glory. We must not first of all be concerned with what we are going to “get” out of the worship service, but with what we are to render unto the Lord for all His goodness to us.  It follows that true worship can only come from the heart, and not just any heart, but a devout and believing heart. This is because only a regenerate child of God can ever have this proper attitude. Whereas by nature man’s heart is given over to sin and only ever curses God, true worship is the natural language of the believing heart. Worship is the outpouring of Spirit-prompted praise that cannot be contained but rather must bubble forth as a spring of water. The child of God can do nothing else than worship the Lord of his or her salvation with joy and reverence.

This is also the case because the worship of God is the very thing for which we have been created. It is also that for which we have been redeemed in Christ. As the Westminster puts it, the glorification and praise of God is our chief and highest end. God made us for His worship and glory! This is the teaching of Scripture in that illustrious first chapter of Ephesians, in which the apostle Paul, himself busting forth with unrestrainable praise, proclaims:

“that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (Eph. 1:10-12).

For worship we have been created, and to worship we are presently called. On the pilgrim journey of this life the worship of God in the church on the Lord’s Day is the highest calling of the Christian, and also one of the greatest “good works” which a Christian performs out of faith. It is in a real sense a prelude to eternity, in which that chief end of man will be fulfilled, and beholding God in the face of Jesus Christ, we shall worship God and enjoy Him in perfect blessedness forever. It is easy to lose sight of what we are doing on the Lord’s Day, and it is easy to render nothing but routine lip-service, but we must do all that we can to put away such indifference from us. If we truly understand who God is and what He has given us in Jesus Christ, how can we ever be so cold and careless toward worship? As the next Lord’s Day approaches let us strive to focus upon God and His glory so that we may offer sacrifices of praise, which are both acceptable and pleasing in His sight. Such is the Reformed way.

Next time we shall consider the horizontal aspect of worship, namely, the importance which the Reformed tradition places upon the truth that worship ought to be edifying for the believer.

Justin Smidstra

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