Modern Worship

I recently read on Facebook about a church that wants to put a McDonald’s franchise in their church. The reasoning behind this is so that more people will attend church before or after stopping at McDonald’s for lunch. Although this seems funny in a way, it is really a sad commentary about the times we live in. Many churches add coffee houses, basketball gyms and other gimmicks to their buildings to get young people and young adults in the door so that, in theory, they will join a particular church and attend it regularly. The reason this is occurring is because many churches today either have low membership or they are disbanding due to membership and financial concerns. Why are these churches facing serious membership issues that cause them to resort to these strategies? They use these methods because contemporary Christian music and the latest bands and informal atmosphere in these facilities doesn’t seem to bring in the numbers that they would like to see. We as Protestant Reformed Churches are concerned with numbers to. To a certain extent this is a healthy concern. We want our churches to grow and flourish. We want our mission fields to prosper to such an extent that they become organized churches. These are good, legitimate blessings of God that we may and must pray for. God calls us to “… pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6a).  The trouble is, however, that many churches are worshiping God as they see fit, not as His word commands us. They focus on emotions, feelings and experiences rather than on praising God in a joyful and respectful manner. “God is to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all that are about Him” (Psalm 89:7). God takes these violations of His law very seriously. Take Nadab and Abihu for example. Leviticus 10:1 tells us that they “the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.” The result of this was that God became very angry “and there went fire from the Lord, and they devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (verse 2). The “strange fire” that they used for sacrifices came from a source that God had forbidden, although the Bible doesn’t tell us what it was.  Another example of this will worship came from David. Although a child of God, David didn’t always do things as God commanded him to, In II Samuel 6, he decided to transport the ark to Jerusalem on a cart, rather than let the priests carry it. All went well until the cart hit a rough spot in the road and the ark started to sway. Uzzah reached out his hand steady the ark, touched it and died. As a result, the ark was put in the house of Obed-edom and was returned to Jerusalem in a proper, reverently joyful way at a later date. From this we see that God commands us worship Him not just joyfully and with emotions running high, but with a reverence and respect for who He is  what he has done. The result of not having solid preaching in churches is that these congregations have to resort to basketball gyms and McDonald’s to attract members, efforts that don’t prove fruitful and merely delay financial trouble or disbanding for a while. When we have respect for God and His word, He will see to it that, even if we don’t prosper physically, we will prosper spiritually as we “..hunger and thirst after righteousness”(Matthew 5:6). May God grant this prosperity!
Kevin Rau

The Lord’s Service: The Edification of the Believer (3)

“Thou art great, Lord, and greatly to be praised. Great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no end. And man, who is part of what Thou hast created, desires to praise Thee. Yes, even though he carries his mortality wherever he goes, as the proof of his sin and the testimony of Thy justice, man desires to praise Thee. For Thou hast stirred up his heart, so that he takes pleasure in praising Thee. Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

(Augustine, Confessions 1.1)

Last week we looked at how God and His glory are the primary focus of Christian worship. In particular we considered how the Reformed tradition puts especial emphasis on this vertical orientation of worship. Today we consider the benefits of the Lord’s service for the worshippers themselves.

If our worship is true worship, then we will “get” a lot out of it. Although we must reject the today’s man centered approach to worship which judges the value of worship on the basis of what one gets from it, this does not mean that worship does not have to be edifying to the worshippers. That worship is edifying does not mean that it gives us a deep emotional experience or that it fulfills what we think our “needs” are. Rather, to be edified is to be built up in our faith so that we grow in holiness and love for God. Thus, while Reformed worship is above all concerned with glorifying God, it is not a one way street. There are two outstanding reasons for this. For one, worship is covenantal.[1] Worship involves the gathering together of God’s covenant people in communion with one another and with God. In worship the people gather as a congregation to partake of the deep covenant friendship with God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It is important to notice that there is no conditional or contractual element in worship. It is not as if we must bring to God our worship and praise before He will condescend to fellowship with us. God does not commune with us in covenant fellowship because we have upheld our end of the bargain in worship. God has established His covenant with us and by His grace brings us into communion with Him. Therefore our worship is covenantal because it is founded solely on the grace of God in Christ. We worship because we are already members of the covenant people; God has made us such.

Such true worship of God must and does build up the worshippers spiritually. The worshippers receive great and enriching blessings from God when they come together worship Him in spirit and in truth. The beautiful reality is that God has inseparably joined that which is our chief end to that which is the most fulfilling for us. The true worship of God not only ascribes to Him the glory due unto His name, but through such worship God also provides the spiritual nourishment and edification which the worshippers so desperately need. This brings us to the second main reason why true worship is edifying, namely, it is through worship that God furnishes His people with grace.

From this God given grace we receive the nourishment and edification that comes through God’s appointed means of grace: the preaching of the word and the holy sacraments. By these ordained means, means which are, mind you, only available within the church institute, God feeds us with the spiritual food which is necessary for spiritual life. For this reason we ought to go to the House of God with anticipation and readiness to receive the good gifts of God for the people of God. We ought to go to church with the expectation that our hungry souls will be satisfied with the spiritual food that will sustain us in our spiritual life, regardless of whether or not our emotions are aroused. When our worship is truly focused on God, when God is the center of the service and the focus of all our adoration, we will surely receive these great benefits of God’s grace. Thus we must always keep our focus in worship where it ought to be: on God and His glory. Our edification is God’s work, not ours. And He will surely carry it out if we take care to worship Him in the way that is pleasing to Him.

Justin Smidstra

[1] Reformed Worship, a short booklet published by the RFPA consisting of essays written by three of our men provides a nice, accessible, clear, and succinct explanation of our worship. For those who have not it, and are interested in matters regarding Reformed worship, I would highly recommend it.

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