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TOC Worship by gyvwpsjkko


									Pastor Randy Booth, 2000
                                       O Worship the King
                                             Table of Contents

Lesson One: Introduction to Biblical Worship.................................................................1
Lesson Two: Pitfalls in Worship.......................................................................................5
Lesson Three: Covenant Renewal..................................................................................9
Lesson Four: Symbols and Worship...............................................................................13
Lesson Five: Principles of Worship................................................................................17
Lesson Six: Spirit and Truth...........................................................................................21
Lesson Seven: The Order of Worship (part one)...........................................................25
Lesson Eight: The Order of Worship (part two).............................................................29
Lesson Nine: Music and Singing (part one)...................................................................33
Lesson Ten: Music and Singing (part two).....................................................................37
Lesson Eleven: Prayer...................................................................................................41
Lesson Twelve: Preaching.............................................................................................45
Lesson Thirteen: Ministerial Robes...............................................................................50
Lesson Fourteen: Covenant Baptism............................................................................54
Lesson Fifteen: Covenant Communion.........................................................................58
Lesson Sixteen: Little Children and Worship.................................................................63
Appendix for Lesson Eleven...........................................................................................67

This study was prepared and presented to Grace Covenant Church of Nacogdoches, TX by Pas-
tor Randy Booth. In addition to several books and other resources, Pastor Booth relied heavily on
materials written or presented by Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, (pastor, Grace OPC, Placentia, CA), Rev.
Jeffrey J. Meyers, (The Lord’s Service: Worship at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, St.
Louis, MO), and Pastor Steve Wilkins (Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church, Monroe, LA).
                                        here is no more important topic for the Christian Church
                                       to study than the topic of “worship.” God created us to
                                   worship Him—worship is at the heart of our reason for being.
                                   We were created to be His image—an image that would reflect
                                   His glory. In fact, this is why the whole creation was brought into
                                   existence, to reflect the Divine glory. The Westminster Shorter
Catechism begins with the question: What is the chief end of man? It answers: Man’s chief end
is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This bears witness to the fact that God created us to
worship Him.

Rejection of Sacred/Secular Dichotomy in Life
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye
present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which          Worship is that
is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be    conscious, wholehearted
ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is
that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).      activity of ascribing honor
                                                                           and praise to the living and
Romans 12:1-2 uses the phrase “your reasonable service,” where
the Greek word for “service” is one of the common words for
                                                                           true God for who He is and
worship. The passage speaks of offering “sacrifice” to God. It                for what He has done.
is obviously a passage that instructs us in a godly attitude
toward worship.
In this sense, “worship” is the expression of a transformed life—a life that stands apart from world-
liness and makes every activity a form of serving and praising God. “Whether therefore you eat or drink
or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). “Like as He who called you is holy, be also
yourselves holy in all manner of living” (1 Peter 1:15).
A biblical attitude toward worship does not allow for a sacred/secular distinction in life. All of life
is sacred. Everything we do in life is to be an act of worship to God—whether cooking dinner,
weeding the garden, dressing for school, working for an employer, or chatting with friends.

Recognition of the Special Duty of Corporate Worship
The Christian’s duty to worship goes beyond making all of life a form of worship or service to God.
It also recognizes the biblical call to corporate praise and exhortation—something that is distinct
from our daily, ordinary and private worship.
In the New Testament, those assemblies that constituted the corporate worship of God were
understood as something clearly distinct from informal household fellowship and eating, even
though the worship assembly may have been in an actual home. Paul distinguishes between “the
Lord’s Supper” at the assembly and the ordinary meals in one’s house (1 Cor. 11:20, 22). Being in
“the church” at worship is, therefore, something more than any normal gathering with other believ-
ers—even if at the gathering we engage in eating, singing, or prayer.

Heavenly Worship
          In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train
         of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered
         his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said:
         “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” 4 And the posts of the door
         were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 So I said:
         “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a
         people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:1-5).

Worship is the constant activity of heaven, and our worship is to be a part of and an extension of
that heavenly worship. The ascended Christ Himself performs worship to the glory of the Father in
the heavenly sanctuary: “Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24
But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Therefore He is also able to save to the
uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews
7:23-25); “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way
which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and
our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

                                          God Commands Us to Worship Him
                                          God not only created us to worship Him, He also commands us
                                          to worship Him. The first four of the Ten Commandments are
                                          directed toward this objective.

                                   You shall have no
                                                                                     John Calvin said the first
                                   other gods before Me.
                                                                                 commandment means that we
                                   Jesus tells us that the first
                                                                                are “with true zealous godliness
                                   and greatest command-
                                                                                  . . . to contemplate, fear, and
                                   ment is that we are to “love
                                                                                      worship his majesty; to
                                   the Lord our God with all our
                                   hearts, with all our minds, and               participate in his blessings; to
                                   with all our souls.” There-                    seek his help at all times; to
                                                                                  recognize, and by praises to
                                   fore, our deepest love and
                                                                                 celebrate, the greatness of his
devotion is to be directed toward God and not ourselves.
                                                                                 works—as the only goal of all
                                                                                     the activities of this life.”
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or
                                                                             [Institutes II, viii, 16]
any likeness of anything that is in heaven above,
or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the
water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.
God created us to be the reflection of His image (Acts 17:22-31), and therefore, we are not to use
images or idols in our worship, since God is not represented by the art and imagination of men.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not
hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
This commandment teaches us that our worship is not to be “vain,” or “empty,” but that it is to be
honest and sincere. As Jesus put it, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and
truth” (John 4:24).

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
The fourth commandment tells us to remember—do not forget to worship God on the Sabbath day.
This is a call for the corporate worship of the covenant community of God’s people, who sanctify
one day in seven for the public worship of God.

The Biblical Call To Worship
The religious piety of the Old Testament saint was evident in his desire to “Give to the LORD the glory
due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!”
(1 Chronicles 16:29; cf. Psalm 96:8-9). The believer is eager to worship God openly and faithfully.
This includes worship in the midst of the assembled people of God. David the Psalmist wrote,
“I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You” (Ps. 22:22). “I will give
You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people.” (35:18; cf. 116:12-17).
David’s inspired testimony shows that his desire for congregational worship is normative for all of
God’s people: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Ps. 95:6).
“Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing. 4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and
into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (100:2, 4). “Let them exalt Him also in the
assembly of the people, and praise Him in the company of the elders” (107:32). “Praise the LORD! Sing to the
LORD a new song, and His praise in the assembly of saints” (149:1).
God’s New Covenant people looked at their own practice of worship in the light of the Old Testa-
ment pattern: for instance, “Therefore by Him [Christ] let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God,
that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15); or again “you also, as living stones,
are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus
Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

This is a specific duty and privilege of the Christian life: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up
love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one
another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). When we miss attend-
ing the church’s worship service or do not participate in its activities, we are not living up to the
Scriptural command for us to stand together in worship: “that you may with one mind and one mouth
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6; cf. Eph. 5:19-21).

The Corporate Worship of Christ’s Church
Our priorities are often mistaken, looking upon going to church as an option, to be used at
our interest and discretion, rather than our moral obligation. Do we look upon
other biblical commands this way, such as “You shall not steal”? We sometimes
consider corporate worship as a duty to be endured, rather than a high and
gracious privilege that we should look forward to with joy.

Our perspective is often distorted, thinking of ourselves as the audience,
with the preacher as the entertainer, taking His cues from God.
In reality, we are the participants, the preacher gives the cues,
and God Himself is the audience. Sometimes we think of
God as somehow far away, watching over our services at a
distance, when, in fact, God is in the very midst of the
worshipping congregation.
Our practice is often flawed, not preparing our hearts for worship. We often do more to
prepare for school exams! We are prone to not give worship our best efforts in singing, attention, or
fellowship. Yet this is our highest, holiest, and most important performance. We do not
worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We fall into ruts, externalism, and human devices for

We see, therefore, that congregational worship is not a matter of entertainment and personal discre-
tion (e.g., “shall we go to church this morning or to brunch?”). Nor is it a matter of informal get-
togethers with other Christian friends where religious activities take place (e.g., “we met at their
house, sang together and prayed”). God’s holy and authoritative word says more. Scripture makes it
our moral obligation not to forsake the assembling of God’s flock “as the church” for the specific
purpose of corporate worship, as defined by the Lord, under the leading of the shepherds. If we
profess to obey Him in all things, let us not be lax or self-willed especially at this important point! It
is the highest privilege of the Christian to stand with fellow believers as God’s redeemed people, in
His presence, to render to Him the praise, adoration and worship, which are due to His name. It is
preparation for eternity.

 Worship is the workshop         Worship and Personal Holiness
 where we are transformed         For the Christian, holiness of life and sincerity of worship must go
  into the Image of Christ.       together. When those who worship God live immoral lives the glory
                                  of God is obscured. On the other hand, when we reflect the holi-
ness of God, and are in fact the image of God, then God is glorified and we show forth the praises
of Him “who called us out of the darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This does not mean that
we have to be completely holy before we can worship God—if it did, then none of us could worship.
Holiness is rather the fruit of true worship.

It is in coming together for worship that we become the church (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:17-22). It is
here that we are united into one body by the Holy Spirit and made participants in the kingdom of
God. It is in corporate worship that we hear the good news of our salvation, that we are saved from
our sins and transformed into the image of Christ. When we are transformed into His image, then
we reflect His glory. It is through the ministry of praise and prayer, the ministry of word and
sacrament that we are transformed to offer that spiritual worship which is acceptable to God.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Several questions must receive biblical answers if we are to offer            Martin Bucer said:
acceptable worship to God: Who are we to worship? What is worship           “It is only the worship
to consist of ? When should we worship? Where should we worship?              which God asks of
Why should we worship? This study will deal with these and other                 us which really
                                         questions as we focus on the             serves Him.”
              Calvin wrote:
                                         formal, corparate worship of
  “We know in what great liberties
                                         God in the Church. We will examine the principles of
    the world indulges itself in the
                                         worship, the elements of worship and the practice of
  service of God; for while it lightly
   and contemptuously imposes a
    mere trifling upon him, as if he
  were a child, it still imagines that
   its duty is properly discharged”

                                                      O ur theology can hamper and undermine
                                                         our practice. It is also true that our
                                                  practice can undermine our theology. This is
                                                  particularly true in regard to worship. The way
                                                  in which we worship
                                                  inevitably affects our       Ultimately, form
understanding of God and molds our relationship with God. Eventually,           and substance
the way we worship determines how we live because the way we worship               cannot be
indicates what we believe about God Himself.                                       separated.

If parents allow their children to treat adults as their equals they are undermining the biblical in-
struction that demands that children honor their elders. No matter how much we may teach on the
importance of honor, allowing children to act as though adults were their peers nullifies our instruc-
tion. Likewise, we may say much about the greatness and glory of God, but if we are not careful in
how we act in our worship of God—if we are careless casual, and thoughtless—then we are not
going to think of God as great or glorious.

We see much of this problem in modern evangelical worship. We are told of God’s majesty, but the
casual way that God is approached in worship makes it difficult to believe that He is truly majestic.
Worship practice is central in forming our views of God and consequently in influencing our lives.
This is why the question of the nature and purpose of worship is so important. If we understand
its purpose, we will know better how we ought to go about worship. There are any number of ideas
about worship in our day. Let us consider some of them and their pitfalls.

According to this view, the reason we worship publicly is to reach out to the unbeliever and evange-
lize him. Under this view, everything in worship is oriented around the unbeliever. We must be
“seeker-sensitive” and not do anything that turns off the unbeliever (if the purpose of worship is
evangelism, then we must be sure above all else that we have unbelievers present to evangelize).

Practically, this means that the liturgy [i.e., the form of worship] must conform to the culture.
Whatever appeals to the unbeliever, whatever grabs and holds his attention must be brought into
worship. And, conversely, whatever is distasteful, whatever is incomprehensible or offensive to the
unbeliever must be removed from worship.

Therefore, if traditional worship is unappealing, we must become more contemporary. If long sermons
are difficult, we must go to brief sermons, or, perhaps even better, instead of a sermon we should
have a dramatic monologue or skit. If old hymns do not communicate, then we must move to more
contemporary music and choruses. Entertainment, informality and trendiness are in—formality,
tradition, and authority are out. More and more, worship focuses upon entertainment. The congre-
gation becomes not so much a body of active worshipers as a passive audience or spectators. The
architecture of the church is even affected. The pulpit must not be intrusive, the sanctuary takes on
the look of a concert hall or multi-media entertainment center (complete with big screens and
closed-circuit TV). The focus is upon the worship leaders and musical performers.

This even affects such things as how we dress for worship. If worship is important, our dress ought
to demonstrate that. One of the objections to this is that it might make unbelievers

                               uncomfortable. They do not like to dress up and they would not feel
 The only impression
                               at ease around a congregation in more formal attire. If the purpose
                               of worship is primarily for evangelism this objection makes sense.
  worship gives is,
 “Wow, that was not
                               With this view, worship becomes another technique to accomplish
   like any church
                               evangelism. Evangelistic effectiveness becomes the driving authority.
   service I’ve ever
                               If we are not getting results with one form of worship, we must
   been in before!”
                               change our worship. Paul said that we are to worship in such a way
that when unbelievers join us, they are convinced that “God is truly among you ” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

The pitfall with this view is that it is no longer a concern that God be pleased with what we do.
Inevitably, we become more concerned about pleasing the unbeliever. The focus is entirely wrong.

In this view, worship is for the purpose of lifting us up out of
the discouraging situations and circumstances of our day-to-
day lives. It is to make us feel loved, accepted, wanted, impor-
tant, and significant. It is designed to give us a meaningful
experience. This is the view of liberal churches.

Of course this view is founded upon the idea that Christianity
is primarily for the purpose of giving us an emotional uplift. It
is to be the dominant positive against the predominant nega-
tive of the world. The preacher must always be upbeat. He should focus upon those things that
make people feel good about themselves. He must avoid topics like sin, death, and hell and focus
upon love, peace, and joy. Anything that injures a positive self-image is anathema. “God loves you just
the way you are! ” is the watchword. Not only am I OK, but you’re OK too! The goal of this sort of
service is that all leave encouraged and uplifted.

Here again the main pitfall of this view is that it focuses upon man and ignores God. God is viewed
as the divine psychologist who exists to help us get through the day. Psychological well-being is far
more important than faithfulness to the covenant.

                                 From this perspective, mindless emotionalism, empty sentimental-
                                 ism, vain experimentalism have no place in the worship. Worship is
                                 the place where we are equipped, mentally, to live in this world.
                                 Thus, the focus of worship must be the imparting of information.
                                 Men must know the truth of God if they are to live faithfully and
                                 the place where they are to learn this truth is worship. Thus, under
                                 this view, worship becomes centered around the sermon. Everything else
                                 is kept to a minimum (singing, prayers, readings, etc.)—these are
                                 mere preliminaries—their function is to prepare the people for the
                                 sermon. Therefore, for all practical purposes, worship becomes
                                 a theological or biblical lecture time, with a couple of hymns and
                                 a prayer thrown in around it.

This is of course a bit closer to the biblical nature of worship. It is certainly true that the preaching
of the word is vital and must be an important part of our worship. Nowhere else do we hear the
voice of Christ and thus, clearly, the sermon is vital and there can be no biblical worship without it.
But the problem here is that this is almost all that is emphasized. The other parts of worship are so
minimized that people feel as though they are insignificant and unimportant. Usually, in such
services, the sacraments are ignored or severely de-emphasized. There is no sense of the place and
significance of God’s people worshiping together and responding to the mercy and grace of God as
a covenant body. Worship is simply an opportunity to learn.

Sadly, this has become the pattern for Presbyterian and Reformed                 Any other liturgy
churches. We disdain the emotionalism, the lack of emphasis upon               aside from a couple
biblical teaching, sentimentalism, and story-telling found in many             of hymns and prayer
churches, and react by filling our services with biblical instruction.            is viewed with
The pitfall here is that it is a reactionary view of worship. What we            suspicion and as
might call “Reformed fundamentalism,” which has encouraged an                       a step on the
overly rationalistic view of Christianity that is gnostic in its tendencies.       road to Rome.
It is mistaken and damaging, no matter how well-meaning.

                            Those espousing this view hold that worship is the time to praise God and
                            it must be devoted to this objective. The service must be celebratory; it is
                            our opportunity to give to the Lord the glory due unto His name. Here again, this
                            view has biblical support. It is surely the case that worship involves praise
                            to the Lord for His wonderful works (the psalms indicate this over and
                            over). It is also true that praise of God is often neglected. We are far
                            more concerned over having our own needs met and finding out God’s
                            quick fixes to our problems than we are about giving Him praise and
                            thanksgiving for all His blessings. There are a couple of pitfalls associated
                            with this view:
One of the pitfalls with this view is that it has an overly-narrow understanding of the depth and
breadth of of worship. It is assumed that worship is primarily and essentially characterized by joy
and gladness. Indeed, the very word worship is taken to mean joyful praise. But the word worship is
often a translation of the words meaning bow down or prostrate oneself (Psalm 95:6 “Oh come, let us
worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”). Implied in bowing down or falling down
before God is a sense of our unworthiness and a recognition of God’s greatness. To bow down is
to be filled with humility, reverence, and awe. It may also imply not only joy, but also grief, sorrow,
fear or anxiety. Surely, one bows down before God in order to be lifted up by Him, so this does not
exclude joyful praise, but it certainly includes much more than joyful praise.

These have rejected all the other misunderstandings of worship and have come to see the
importance of form and order. They have an appreciation of the beauty of the ancient forms
of worship the church has used, and have grown to appreciate the importance of biblical routine
in framing the heart and mind. Thus, to these, worship is often a matter of having an opportunity
to go through the liturgy again—to read the prayers, give the responses, chant the psalms, and have
the sacrament. Sermons are almost optional—the unplanned, the disordered, the spontaneous are
completely unwelcome.

Now, let us recognize the truth in this view as well. It is incorrect to
think of some forms of worship as “liturgical” and others forms as
“non-liturgical.” All worship is liturgical, some follow older forms than
others, but worship is unavoidably “liturgical” in that it follows a
certain form. We are not free to have non-liturgical worship. The
only question is which liturgy will we follow and whether we have thought about
it or not.

This view at least recognizes the importance of repetition and routine
in training and framing the mind and heart in Christian order and
discipline. There is a value in being forced to say “Thanks be to God”
after the reading of the Word, just as you train your children to say “yes
sir,” and “no sir.” There is an important discipline present when we
have to kneel to confess our sins or to pray. We are forced, as it were,
to humble ourselves bodily even though we may not have initially felt
humbled in our hearts. The very form rebukes us and reminds us of our hypocrisy and there can be
great value in this.

This view recognizes the fact (either implicitly or explicitly) that the Church is one and that we who
worship today are covenantally joined to those who have gone before us. We are visibly and audibly
reminded of this glorious fact by the singing of the Gloria Patri, the confessing of the Nicene or
Apostles’ Creed; giving the congregational “Amen”; and hearing and responding to the salutation
and greeting—things that the church has done for 2000 years. It is important that we remind our-
selves and declare to the world that we are not the first ones to believe these things or to do this.
The old liturgies and forms help us in this and ought not to be despised. This is one of the most
important benefits of utilizing the older forms.

The pitfall with this view is that is identifies the liturgy with worship—making them one and the
same—so that if we have recited the liturgy then we have worshipped. Worship, however, is more
than merely going through the order in the prayer book, as valuable as that order may be. Worship is
more than merely giving appropriate responses at the proper time. It is the real meeting of God
with His people and this must be emphasized.

The pitfall with each of these forms is that they latch on to some particular and make it the whole.
Clearly, the gospel is preached in worship and thus, evangelism is done; surely worship engages
the emotions and truly “lifts up the soul” in a substantial, biblical sense; obviously, worship involves
hearing God speak, with all the glory that this implies; certainly biblical worship will be filled with
praise and cannot help but be so; and without doubt, worship ought to be formed around a
traditional, historic, biblical liturgy. All of these things are important but the purpose of worship
must not be reduced to any one of them.

What then is the purpose of worship? In lesson three—Worship as Covenant Renewal—
we will examine a more balanced, biblical approach to worship, which inculcates many of the dimen-
sions of worship mentioned in the views above, while focusing more keenly on the heart of biblical
worship, and hopefully avoiding several of the pitfalls.

T     he Bible uses the word “covenant” over
      three hundred times in the Old and New
Testaments to describe the relationship God has
with His people. God enters into, remembers,
and renews His covenant with His people
(cf., Gen. 6:18; Deut. 5:3; Ezek. 16:60; Heb. 8:10;
Luke 1:72; 22:20). His people must not break, but remember and renew their covenant with God
(cf., 1 Chron. 16:15; Ps. 103:18; Hos. 6:7).

                                             Our relationship with God is not merely a “personal relation-
                                             ship,” which could mean anything, but it is a covenantal relation-
                                             ship. God’s personal relationship with us takes the form of a
                                             covenant, which structures the personal relationship with us.
                                             Personal relationships may be very casual, but a covenant
                                             relationship is a formal, binding relationship between God and us.
                                             Like marriage, God’s covenant with us has a definite shape
                                             and content. It contains promises that are made to be kept
                                             (by God and by us), privileges that we are to enjoy, and
                                             stipulations that we must strive to obey.

Worship as Mutual Service
Man was created for communion with God and thus, worship is central to his being and life.
Redeemed man’s first duty is to express his gratitude to God for His grace and mercy and to offer
himself as a living sacrifice to God to serve Him for His glory. Thus we hear Paul say, “I beseech you
therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,
which is your reasonable service. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your
mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

Our reasonable “service” or “worship” consists in presenting ourselves, body and soul, as living
sacrifices to God. This is done, of course, in response to all that God has done for us in and
through Jesus Christ. This is the fundamental nature of worship. On the day of the Lord (or the Lord’s
Day) the Triune God draws near to His people in mercy and judgment, convicting us, correcting us,
instructing us, and equipping us—restoring us for His service and living before Him faithfully in His
covenant. In response to God’s initiative, we confess our sins, sing His praises, give thanks unto
Him, profess our faith, hear His voice, and commune with Him so that we are renewed and readied
to live faithfully in covenant with Him.

We do not come together simply to “have an experience,”
nor are we only “performing the act of worship.” There is      Worship is Covenant-Renewal,
much more to worship than our experiences and our acts,              and Covenant-Renewal
though it certainly should include both of these. God            (like covenant inauguration)
comes to us and we respond by His grace to His mercy and          is always initiated by God.
condescension. There is thus a reciprocal movement in
Christian worship. God comes, and we respond—God serves us, and we serve Him. Our confes-
sion is a response to His holiness. Our thanksgiving is a response to His goodness. Our praise is a
response to His greatness. Our submission is a response to His wisdom. Thus, worship involves
not merely giving to God but fundamentally receiving from Him.

    We are called together in order to get, to receive. This is crucial. The Lord gives, we receive.
    Since faith is receptive and passive in nature, faith-full worship must be about receiving from
    God. He gives, and by faith we receive. We are given his forgiveness, his Word, his nourish-
    ment, his benediction, etc. we come as those who receive first and then, second, only in recipro-
    cal exchange do we give back what is appropriate as grateful praise and adoration.
                                                                             —Jeffrey J. Meyers—

This is why it is necessary for ordained elders to lead the worship. Elders are the
representatives of Christ and act in His behalf in worship. Worship is not merely
God’s people getting together to praise, pray, and offer their devotion. God is
meeting with us and giving us His gifts. Thus the elders as His representa-
tives become the “mediators” of His gifts to the people. When he pro-
nounces the pardon, it is the Lord who declares the forgiveness of His
people; when he baptizes, it is the Lord who cleanses and unites to Him-
self; when he offers bread and wine, it is the Lord who invites us to His table;
and when he preaches, it is the voice of Christ that is heard. The elder is the
Lord’s representative. This is one of the chief reasons an elder must be a man.
He represents the Divine Husband and speaks in His behalf to the bride. In
the synagogue and the early church, the minister was referred to as the “angel
of the church,” (angel = messenger; cf. Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14).

Now, this is not to say that the Lord serves us exclusively through the elders. That is not the case
since we are told that all of God’s people minister to us and are used by the Lord to build us up in
His grace and knowledge. This is part of the blessing of corporate or covenant worship with the
congregation. We get to hear one another sing and confess and pray and commune together. This
is a great encouragement to us and is profitable.

The Lord serves us when we gather together. This is why the older way of designating worship is so
helpful. It used to be that we referred to worship as “the Lord’s Service.” This has a helpful ambi-
guity to it. Who is serving whom in the service? Is God serving us or are we serving Him? The
answer is that both are true. God comes and serves His people and we in turn offer our service to
Him in response. God’s service, however, is primary. Worship on the Lord’s Day is the time that
God comes in a peculiar way to His gathered people and gives them His gifts and so restores them
into covenant and fits them for His service. The people of God respond to His call to gather, come
to receive His mercies from His hand, and respond by giving themselves back to Him in covenant

                                      Worship as Sacrifice
                                      The distinctive way of renewing covenantal relationships in the
                                      Bible is by way of sacrifice (e.g., Gen. 8:20-9:17; 15:8-18a; Ex.
                                      24:4-11; 34:15; Lev. 2:13; 24:1-8; Num. 18:19; 1 Kings 3:15; Ps.
                                      50:5; Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15, 18; 9:20; 12:24; 13:20). If worship
                                      is covenant-renewal, then the pattern of worship must reflect
                                      this. One of the distinctive ways in which covenant-renewal
                                      takes place in the Bible is by means of sacrifice. Worship is
                                      sacrificial in that we follow the pattern of covenant renewal by
                                      offering ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord who has so
                                      graciously come and redeemed us. Again, this is indicated in
                                      Romans 12:1-2. The word translated “service” is the Greek word
                                      “latreia” which usually refers to the sacrificial worship by which
                                      the worshiper offers himself to God (Hebrews 9:6, 9 “Now when

these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the
services [i.e. the “liturgies”]. . . 9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered
which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience”).

                                Priests, Temple, Sacrifice
                                In the New Covenant, all of God’s people are priests. The entire congre-
                                gation is the Temple and the sanctuary. Thus, all the people perform
                                priestly service of sacrifice (Heb. 12:28 “Therefore, since we are receiving a
                                kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve [i.e. “do
                                the liturgy” or “worship”] God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”) The
                                term for worship is connected with the practice of offering a sacrifice,
                                which points us to the way in which God has ordained that we approach
                                Him. God’s way of His people approaching Him is not arbitrary but
                                follows a predictable sequence that is controlled by his character as the
                                Triune God. The way of sacrifice is the way in which we are allowed into
                                His presence.

                                 Under the Old Covenant (which was the shadow of things to come, and a
tutor to lead us to Christ) the worshiper was brought near to the Lord by means of a substitutionary
sacrifice of an animal. What happened to the animal, happened to the worshiper himself. The
worshiper offered himself by means of his substitute (Psalm 51:16-17 “For You do not desire sacrifice, or
else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a
contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.”)—this is what the sacrificial animal signified. “With
what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt
offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O
man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with
your God?” (Micah 6:6-8).

Christ fulfilled this sacrificial symbolism by offering the true sacrifice for
our sins. The believer, being united to Christ not only receives the benefit
of the work of Christ in his place (the penalty of sin is removed) but also
is being made into an acceptable sacrifice himself by faith in the Savior. If we
offer ourselves to God through Christ we will be acceptable sacrifices to the glory
of God. Thus, every Lord’s Day, we are drawn into God’s presence by the sacrifi-
cial work of the Savior.

There were three basic types of regular sacrifices or offerings in the Old Testament (2 others were
occasional—the guilt offering and the restitution offering). The three types of regular offerings
       1. The purification offering (or the sin offering, the animal was killed and the blood
       splashed upon the altar). The emphasis of this offering was upon the confession of sins and
       forgiveness (as in the day of Atonement, Leviticus 17).

         2. The ascension offering (or the whole burnt offering, the animal is washed, skinned, and
         cut in pieces, prepared for the altar). This sacrifice emphasized consecration and ascension
         into God’s presence.

         3. The communion offering (or the peace offering, the animal is burned—i.e. turned into
         smoke—and incorporated into God’s presence). The emphasis here was upon union and
         communion with God. A common meal was eaten between the worshiper, the priests, and
         his family in God’s presence.
The sacrifices were offered in this order. The order of worship
follows the order of the sacrifices. The inauguration of the
priesthood of Aaron in Leviticus 9 shows us the order in which
each of the sacrifices were offered (this was the order followed in
the Temple as well, 2 Chron. 29:20-36). There first had to be
cleansing, the purification offering; then consecration, the
ascension offering; and finally communion. This was all fulfilled
by Christ for us and applied to us by the Spirit who makes us fit,
acceptable sacrifices ourselves.

The Order in Which We are Drawn into
God’s Presence in Worship:

       1. FIRST: we must be cleansed from our sins. Our covenant standing must be restored.
          We thus, confess our sins and God forgives.

       2. SECOND: we must be consecrated for God’s service and this is accomplished by the
          word of the Spirit. We are cut up by the Word of God as it is read and preached. Our
          lives are re-ordered and we are transformed.

       3. THIRD: we must communion with God and this we do in the Lord’s Supper. God gives
          us food to eat in His presence and we give ourselves to Him for His honor.

The order moves from tension to peace; from mourning to joy; from prostration to standing and
marching forth as the army of the Lord. God calls us to Himself, cleanses us from our sins, teaches
and equips us to serve Him, feeds us, and sends us forth into the world as His renewed creatures to
live for His glory. Thus, the order in worship is that God comes to us giving His covenant gifts and
we respond to His good gifts. In this way:

       !   He calls us to worship—We gather together and praise Him
       !   He calls us to confess our sins—We confess our sins—He cleanses us
       !   He consecrates us by His Word—We respond in prayer and giving
       !   He communes with us—We eat His food
       !   He commissions us—We march out to serve Him faithfully

Throughout the service, God initiates and we respond. Thus, God calls and we respond, God
speaks and we listen, God gives and we receive, God acts and we thank Him, God sends and we go.
This is the divine pattern for worship. Thus, as Myers points out, after going through the biblical
material that illustrate this approach to God in worship, the refrain that:

                            The Bible doesn’t give us an order of worship” is somewhat misleading: Sure,
                            God never provides for us a sample bulletin or explicitly lists the elements of
                            worship and their proper order. And yet, how much clearer does it need to
                            be? The force of these biblical commands, principles, and examples firmly
                            establish a prescribed way of approaching God in worship. . . If the covenantal
                            structure, the sacrificial system, and the personal examples of men and
                            women drawn into the Lord’s presence do not instruct the Church in the
                            proper way to approach God, then what are they there for? If these passages
                            don’t count as liturgical instruction for the church, what would?

Worshiping with Body and Spirit
Both the spiritual and the physical realm are created by God and are to
be redeemed by the work of Christ. God saw what He made and called
it “good.” This is why the Scriptures are so explicit that Jesus Christ
possessed a physical body, and was not simply a spirit. In the Incarnation,
flesh and blood combined with spirit to make a real man who would redeem
real men, body and soul. Many denied that Jesus came in the flesh, because they
viewed all flesh as corrupt and evil. These false and heretical views of God and
man were and are expressed in a heresy known as Gnosticism, which has taken various forms.
This heresy continues to plague the Church today.

In the Garden of Eden creation was seamless. Man was in perfect agreement with his environment
and with God. The physical and the spiritual were united in perfect harmony. This was all ripped
apart by the Fall—the garment was torn—the secular was divided from the sacred. Our bodies are
now torn from our spirits in the ultimate separation called death. The Incarnation reverses all this—
God became flesh. Once again, having been reconciled with God and redeemed by Christ, all of
life is brought back together in harmony before God and again we walk with God in harmony and
“present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable, which is our reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
                                 We must resist the gnostic tendency to separate our lives into “secu-
                                 lar” (i.e., physical and external) and “spiritual” (i.e., invisible and
                                 inward). If Monday through Saturday are thought of as “secular,”
                                 and Sunday is thought of as “spiritual,” then something is wrong.
                                 Likewise, neither is worship to be separated into this sort of unnatu-
                                 ral divide. Redemption in Christ did not apply to some narrow slice
                                 of our lives, but rather to every area of life—physical and spiritual.

                                Life is full of the pleasures of beautiful music, colors, symbols,
                                gestures and ceremonies—they are inescapable. These things are to
                                be used to the glory of God. While we must certainly avoid the
                                dangers of mere externalism, superstition and idolatry, we must not
                                run to the other extreme which pits the spiritual against the physical.
                                In our legitimate desire to keep worship where it belongs (i.e., in the
                                heart of man), evangelicals have often denied the principle that they
                                allow in every other area of their lives, namely the principles of
                                symbolism and ceremony. We are physical and spiritual creatures and
                                thus, both the physical and the spiritual must be in harmony with one
another and with God. Our bodies and our spirits must worship Him. It is Platonism, Buddhism and
Gnosticism that call us to disavow our flesh and to be rid of everything but our thoughts. The
Gospel of Christ gives us back all our faculties to be enjoyed and used to His glory.

Bodily Posture
It has been taught by some that God is not interested in the posture of our bodies, but only in the
attitude of our hearts. This is a false antithesis and it is not what the Bible teaches. There are too
many references to outward bodily postures in worship to dismiss them as mere formalism. We
often fail to recognize the fact that bodily posture will both express as well as help establish the
posture of one’s heart. This is why, for example, we tell children to “sit up and pay attention,” or to
“look someone in the eye when you speak to them.” When we are humbled, we hang our heads.
When were are joyful, we express it with our posture. After citing numerous biblical references,
Professor Robert S. Rayburn notes:

   The position of the body is itself an act of worship. When you kneel or stand because you are in the
   presence of the Almighty and are to speak to him, you are honoring him with your entire self, with your
   soul and body together expressing reverence. . . . If we are really worshipping God as his children, then
   we are to worship him not with half ourselves but with our whole selves and our bodies ought to be as
   involved as our souls. . . .This was the feeling of the church in the days of the Reformation. A failure to
   take proper positions of body in the church was regarded as an act of irreverence.

                                         The Inescapable Symbols of Life
                                      All of life is full of symbols that express the unseen—we grasp
                                      the unseen world by way of the seen. It is true that the out-
                                      ward appearance can be a false representation of a thing, but
                                      we recognize it as being untrue because we also recognize that
                                      outward expressions should be genuine representations of truth. Thus,
we think someone to be hypocritical if they smile and shake our hand while at the same time harbor-
ing hatred or resentment in their hearts—they are fakers, fraudulent, insincere, etc. We expect the
physical acts and symbols of a person to be genuine expressions of who they are and what they
think and feel.

Facial expressions, eye-contact, posture, hand-shakes, hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and myriad
more such things are all symbols of our thoughts and emotions.
They are not only spontaneous, but also routine in their forms.
Our life is full of such symbols at every turn—removing our hats,
stopping for a funeral procession, architecture, music, art, clothing,
flags, gestures, fireworks, parades, wedding rings, diplomas, birthday
candles, flowers and a million other symbols that help us order our lives and
give legitimate expressions for our beliefs and feelings—they enhance and convey meaning to us
rather than diminishing it. We are quickly offended when someone messes with our symbols.

Symbols in the Church
The influences of Gnosticism and Pietism (not the Reformation), have lead many evangelicals to
shun outward symbols in worship. The Reformers opposed the abuse of symbols that lead to
superstition or idolatry, but they clearly appreciated appropriate biblical symbols and forms of
worship. For example, the Reformers did not object to the act of crossing oneself, provided it was
not done superstitiously. Thus Martin Bucer said: “This sign [of the cross] was not only used in the
churches in very ancient times: it is still an admirably simple reminder of the cross of Christ.”

Even when churches try to remove all the physical symbols from their
building and worship and focus on the purely “spiritual,” we quickly
realize that this is impossible. You cannot put up four walls and a roof
without making some kind of statement. The absence of a given symbol
speaks as loud as the symbol that has been removed. To remove your hat
may symbolize respect. To not remove your hat may symbolize disrespect.
The arrangement of the church furniture, our dress, our tone of voice,
bowing the head, closing the eyes, kneeling, lifting the hands, the order of
worship, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the selection of music—all of these
and many more are physical symbols of spiritual realities. These are not simply intellectual, but
engage our other senses as well. When our symbols are biblical, and when they are clearly under-
stood, then their beauty emerges and causes us to have a deeper expression of spiritual truth. This
is why we mark special occassions with symbols and ceremonies.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). He thereby establishes
heaven as the pattern for what is to be done on earth. This is especially true when it comes to
worship. The manner in which worship is conducted in heaven is the model for the Church on
earth. In fact, our earthly worship is symbolic of heavenly worship, not the other way around. When
the Apostle John was privileged to witness heavenly worship, he saw an orderly, formal service
performed by angels, living beings, and the twenty-four elders. They repeated various rituals and
ritual responses (Rev. 4:9-11). They alternated responses antiphonally (Rev. 5:11-14). They sang
hymns in unison (Rev. 5:9). They fell down together, and they jointly recited prayers of praise and

Form Without Substance
Since Christian worship is to be spiritual, it is often argued that we should minimize external activi-
ties in order to avoid the danger of externalism. Someone could go through the outward motions of
worship and fool themselves or others into thinking they have offered genuine worship. It is cer-
tainly possible to have “a form of godliness” while “denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Is this not what the
psalmist warned against when he said to God: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do
not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O
God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17)? Such dangers are real, and must be avoided at all costs.
However, as we have already pointed out, form is unavoidable in worship. It is the human heart that
is the problem, not the forms. Even in the most casual and spontaneous church the danger of
formalism is present. We hear familiar phrases in public prayers, familiar texts from Scripture,
favorite hymns are sung over and over. The problem with the “vain repetition” of the Pharisees was
not the repetition, but rather the vanity—form without substance.
We have often come to be suspect of such things as written prayers and written congregational
                        responses since spontaneity is often seen as “sincere and from the heart,”
                        while written forms are thought to be insincere. And yet, we use psalms
                        and hymns to assist us in worship and they, like written prayers, are forms
                        written by someone else to help us give expression in a deeper way than
                        we might do on our own. They help us expand our thoughts and feelings,
                        not restrict them. We are not merely “reading a hymn,” we are “singing a
                        hymn,” and we are not merely “reading a prayer,” we are “praying a

Reactionary Christianity
We are Protestants because we rightly protested the corruption and abuses of the Church, including
the abuses in worship. It is appropriate that we should oppose superstition and idolatry. As Re-
formed Christians we have likewise continued this spirit of protest against other abuses found in
evangelicalism. But is protest enough? Should we simply form our worship in reaction to the abuses
of others and forget that Scripture alone is our only rule of faith and life? Because the idolater bows,
will we refuse to do so? Because the idolater prays, will we refuse to pray?

                                     How many things do we not do because they are “Roman Catho-
                                    lic,” or “Charismatic,” or “Modern Evangelical”? We do not
                                   hesitate to read Aristotle or Homer and filter them through the
                                 screen of Scripture, so why are we afraid to do the same with the
                                 worship practices of others? For example, if the sitting posture
                                 exists in a church only as a protest against kneeling because Roman
                                 Catholics kneel, then we have taken our protest too far. If we refuse
to lift our hands in prayer simply in protest to the abuses of Charismatic Christians, then Scripture
alone is no longer our standard.

Form and Community
Forms, like manners, enable us to commune with one another. Forms constitute a language that
allows us to speak both with depth and brevity. A picture is worth a thousand words. And so, as a
hand-shake or a kiss or a wedding ring speak volumes, so too do the forms of our worship. As we
recite the familiar forms of the creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, responsive readings, and offer congrega-
tional “amens,” we learn to speak with one voice as a community of God’s people. The corporate
prayers of the worship service are offered via a single spokesman who represents the covenant
community before God. The Lord’s Supper speaks of the communion of God’s people around this
symbolic, ceremonial, and sacramental meal—through sight, taste, touch, smell and sound.

If spontaneity from the worshiper’s heart is the only sincere worship, then all congregational worship
is ruled out. People must do things together in congregational worship. The people of God gather
together as a community of His people, to offer unified prayer
and praise to the Father through the Son in the power of the
Holy Spirit. If prearranged forms are impositions on the
individual worshipper’s freedom, then the only thing left is for
everyone to gather and worship the Lord spontaneously as
individuals. We could not even set a time for worship, since
that would restrict their freedom in the Spirit. We would do
well to remember that a train is most free when it is on the
tracks. Only then will it safely reach its desired destina-

Principles of Worship
From highly formal and regulated ceremonies to the spontaneous and chaotic, and everything in
between, worship under the name of “Christian” has been displayed throughout the centuries.
We may be tempted to think that due to this wide variety of expressions, there is no way to find
agreement over how we should worship. Yet the fact that so many have arrived at differing answers
to the question does not exclude the fact that there is one right answer, and many wrong answers.
When children arrive at many different answers to a math problem, we do not conclude that there is
something wrong with math. Sound principles of biblical interpretation are essential if we are to
become faithful and obedient worshipers of God.

History of Reformed Worship
The Church of the 16th century had grown corrupt, both doctrinally and in
parts of its practice. The Reformers of the Church during that time were
agreed on the fundamental principle of sola Scriptura [Scripture alone as the
only rule of faith and life]. However, they were not all agreed on the appli-
cation of that principle to the subject of worship in the church (e.g., we
may agree on the principle [i.e., law] of loving our neighbor, but then
find some disagreement over exactly how to apply that principle).
This disagreement over the application of sola Scriptura to the subject
                        of worship was, and remains, an important
                         struggle within the reformation movement.

                        Two basic views emerged: a) Lutherans,
                         Anglicans, and some others held that any
                            form of activity is admissible unless the Bible forbids it—called the
                              “normative principle.” Luther wrote in a letter: “I condemn no cer-
                              emony except such as are opposed to the gospel; all the rest I leave
                               intact within the church.” b) The Calvinistic view held that nothing
                               is admissible unless the Bible commands it—called the “regulative
                                principle.” The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses the regulative
                                principle this way in chapter 21:

    The light of nature shows that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just,
    good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted
    in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might (Jer. 10:7; Mk. 12:33).
    But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself (Deut. 12:32), and so
    limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imagination and
    the devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other
    way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures (Ex. 20:4-6).

Divisions over these issues did not end with those who embraced the regulative principle and those
who rejected it. In 1548 there arose in Germany what was known as the “adiaphorist controversy.”
It found Luther and Melancthon in opposing camps. They agreed that the Church was allowed to
retain any ceremonies, rites, or practices that were not expressly forbidden in Scripture, but the
questions remained: what are the things forbidden, and what are the things allowed? What are the
“adiaphora” (a Greek term meaning “things indifferent” or “things morally neutral”)? A similar
question troubled the Calvinists as well (i.e., those holding to the regulative principle). After 400
years it still troubles the Church. Which things actually fall in the category of “adiaphora”? The
Westminster Confession of Faith answers the problem this way:

     …there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church,
     common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and
     Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed”
     (Ch. 1, sec. 6).

In the language of today this means that there are some things that must be worked out by the use
of common sense. While nature and prudence do not overrule or set aside the Bible, since the Bible
itself provides “general rules” which must “always be observed,” nevertheless, it becomes clear that
these so-called “principles” must be qualified by a number of exceptions.

Principles of Worship
                     It has been suggested that while the regulative principle of worship was a breath of
                      fresh air when compared to the many superstitious abuses found in the pre-reforma-
                      tion church, nevertheless, the “regulative principle” soon reached the point where if
                       something could not pass the somewhat arbitrary test for “commanded,” it was
                       viewed with grave suspicion as the very thing which would
                      cause—or begin to cause—the Reformed churches to
                         return to Rome. In reaction to Catholics and Episcopals,
                         the Puritans often took the “regulative principle” and ran
                    to extremes with it. J. I. Packer observed: “The idea that
                   direct biblical warrant, in the form of precept or precedent,
is required to sanction every substantive item included in the public
worship of God was in fact a Puritan innovation, which crystallized out
in the course of prolonged debates that followed the Elizabethan settle-
ment.” [“The Puritan Approach to Worship,” in A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the
Christian Life, p.247.] According to Pastor Steve Schlissel:

     In the matter of a principle for acceptable worship, at least one other possibility presents itself
     immediately upon the most casual reflection, a possibility which, hopefully, will be shown to be
     the correct alternative to the regulative principle: “What is not commanded might be permitted. It
     depends upon other considerations.”

Certainly, we are not to do those things in Christian worship that Scripture forbids (e.g., idols, animal
sacrifices, etc.), and certainly we must do those things that Scripture commands (e.g., singing, pray-
ing, preaching, etc.). Those holding to the normative principle and the regulative principle both

agree that everything that is forbidden by Scripture should not be done, and everything commanded
should be done. Nevertheless, there are many other things that fall within the parameters of things
forbidden and things commanded.

Other considerations that have bearing on our worship practices are such things as the examples of
the Temple or Synagogue practices, or early church practices, or various cultural influences, etc.
These might all inform us concerning our worship practices within the boundaries of Scripture. We
would expect some variation in actual worship practices from country-to-country, region-to-region,
and church-to-church. We acknowledge that Christ Himself is the one infallible, authoritative
Legislator and Governor of His Church. He is the only Lord of the conscience. Nothing inconsis-
tent with His will should be practiced—nothing He requires should be left out. William
Cunningham points out two great dangers:

    The one is to stick rigidly and doggedly to a general principle, refusing to admit that any limita-
    tions or qualifications ought to be permitted in applying it; and the other is to reject the principle
    altogether, as if it had no truth or soundness about it, merely because it manifestly cannot be
    carried out without some exceptions and modifications, and because difficulties may be raised
    about some of the details of its application which cannot always be easily solved. Both of them
    are natural, but both are unreasonable, and both indicate a want of sound judgment. The right
    course is to ascertain, if possible, whether or not the principle be true, and if there seems to be
    sufficient evidence of its truth, then to seek to make a reasonable and judicious application of it.

             While there is way too much that goes on in the name of “Christian worship” that
             should be strenuously objected to on the grounds that it is clearly outside the standards
                 of Scripture, nevertheless, we could probably benefit from a more generous and
                   patient spirit toward fellow Christians whose worship practices, when practiced
                   within the scriptural standards, may look somewhat different from our own.
                   John Newton expressed the idea this way:

                            Men are born, educated, and called, under a great variety of circum-
                            stances. Habits of life, local customs, early connections, and even bodily
                            constitution, have more or less influence in forming their characters, and in
                            giving a tincture and turn to their manner of thinking; so that, though they
                            are all led by the same Spirit, and mind the same things; in
                            others of a secondary nature their sentiments may, and
                            often do, differ as much as the features of their
    faces. A uniformity of judgment among them is not to be expected, while
    the weaknesses of human nature, which are common to them all, are so
    differently affected by a thousand impressions, which are from their various

Application of Worship Principles
There should be Christian liberty (in things adiaphora). For a thing to be indifferent it must lack a
positive command by which it is ordered and there must not be any negative precept by which it is
prohibited. It must be something that is left free to be used or not to be used, as circumstances may
require. For an indifferent thing to be introduced into the church’s worship it must be clearly useful

and edifying. It may be a desirable thing elsewhere or at some other time, but is it desirable here and
now? Such things should not be made matters of compulsion nor raised to the level of an “ought.”
For example, it is permissible, or perhaps even desirable to lift our hands during a particular prayer in
the public worship. We take things a step too far, however, when we elevate things that are permit-
ted or desirable and make them required. Many things in worship are required, and many things are
permitted—we must not confuse the two. When indifferent things fall under authoritative tyranny,
they cease to be indifferent.

As we speak of accommodating various worship practices, we are not talking about compromising
truth. To compromise truth is to not do what God commands or to do what He forbids in order to
please others. To compromise truth is to knowingly and willingly disregard God’s directives. We
must be aware that accommodation might require some self-denial, since as members of the church
we are part of the covenant community. We are not going to personally like everything other Chris-
tians do in worship. Our comfort level is going to be challenged when we are presented with new
things that we are not used to. Worship is the imperfect service of God’s people, utilizing the means
God has allowed in His Word, under the leadership of the elders.

Doctrine and Practice
Having stated the necessity of a patient and charitable attitude, this not to say that biblical worship is
therefore simply a matter of personal preference. While there may be some variation in worship
                               practices between biblical churches, we would expect that doctrinally
                               sound churches would have more in common in their worship prac-
                               tices than they do variations. It matters immensely what we do in
                               worship, since what we do is a reflection of what we believe. Like-
                               wise, what we believe will be reflected in what we do. Our views of
                               God, man, sin, redemption, and much more, can all be seen in how
                               we worship. Our worship ritual has an enormous impact—an impact
                               that is not only reflected in our churches, but our culture at large.
                               The culture is a mirror of the Church. Jeffery Meyers writes con-
                               cerning the trend in evangelical and reformed seminaries:

    We actively teach silly, sentimental pop worship, not realizing that one day we will, because of our
    pop worship (lex orandi, lex credendi), abandon the orthodox faith. My point here is that the
    weekly Lord’s Day ritual has an enormous impact on the development of one’s theological
    convictions. [The Lord’s Day Service, p. 81.]

We cannot separate form from content. The way we worship God always corresponds to what we
think about God. We therefore must have theologically equipped leaders, instructing their congrega-
tions in sound doctrine, and self-consciously applying that biblical theology to every detail of Chris-
tian worship. This will not only glorify God, it will edify His people, provide salt and light for a
decaying and dark world, and preserve our faith for our children and our children’s children.

                                                        F          alse worship includes the worship of false
                                                                  gods or idols, as well as the false worship of
                                                             the true God. God is holy and therefore requires
                                                             sinful men to approach Him in the way He
                                                             desires. We are not free to worship God in any
                                                             manner that we like. On the one hand, it is
unacceptable to offer even sincere worship if it is offered in a manner inconsistent with what God
demands. On the other hand, it is equally unacceptable to follow the true forms of worship without
the proper spirit of worship. When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, who
was a Gentile, she only knew of an unknown god, and therefore
could not worship in truth, nor could she worship with the right
spirit. Jesus said to her: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the
true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is
seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him
must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).

God is concerned about both our inward heart-attitude as well the
outward form (which is to be a picture of the inward heart-atti-
tude). “But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your
mercy; in fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple” (Psalm 5:7). Notice in this verse that there is
                        an attitude of “fear,” expressed by a bodily position, “worship toward Your holy
                                temple.” We observe this also in Psalm 100:

                                    Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2 Serve the LORD with
                                    gladness; come before His presence with singing. 3 Know that the
                                    LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
                                    we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter into His
                                    gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be
                                    thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the LORD is good; His
                                    mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”

The heart of the worshiper is seen in his joy—expressed in a shout; his gladness—expressed in
coming before the Lord and singing; his awareness of who God is and who he is—expressed by
confession; thankfulness—expressed by entering His courts with praise; and finally, an
acknowledgement of God’s goodness, mercy and truth. This is worshiping God in spirit and in

Form vs. Substance
Since we know that people, including ourselves, have sometimes simply
gone through the motions of worship without thinking, or without
sincerity, we may be tempted to blame the outward aspects of worship
(i.e., the forms) as being the culprit. But the Bible teaches us that it is
not the outward forms that are the problem, rather it is the sinful
heart of man. If our problems in worship were the external things,
then removal of those externals would solve the problem. Proverbs
4:20 warns us: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the
issues of life.” And Jeremiah observes: “The heart is deceitful above all

things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? 10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind…”
(17:9-10). It is the responsibility of every worshiper to guard his heart and to make certain
that he is worshiping in spirit and in truth. “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your
hearts” (Hebrews 4:7).

                             Because of deceitful hearts, men have often fallen into the sin of external-
                             ism. “Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.
                              Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8‘These people draw near to
                             Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
                              And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”
                             (Matthew 15:6-9). Vain or empty worship involves both an insincere heart
                             and often a tampering with the truth as well. The covenant people of God
                             have repeatedly fallen into this sin: “Though they say, ‘As the LORD lives,’ surely
they swear falsely” (Jeremiah 5:2). The Apostle Paul warned Pastor Timothy of this danger when he
spoke of those “…having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). The Lord’s Supper is
an excellent example of where substance and form come together. The outward form of the
Supper is to be a reflection of what is true in the heart of the worshiper. Failure to examine the
heart may result in God’s judgment, rather than His blessing.

Formalism and Pietism
Most heresies are partial truths made into to the whole truth. God desires and
requires both piety and proper form if our worship is to be acceptable to Him.
It is possible, therefore, to fall into the sins of pietism and formalism.
Pietism says that the only thing that matters is the individual’s heart,
and formalism says the only thing that matters is the proper form.
Ecclesiastes 5:1 warns: “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God;
and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not
know that they do evil.”

God requires both the right heart (attitude) and the right actions (obedi-
ence) before worship is acceptable to Him. He brought an indictment against
His people in Malachi 1:7-13, for failing in both aspects of worship:

     You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, “In what way have we defiled You?” By saying, “The
     table of the LORD is contemptible.” And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And
     when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be
     pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably? Says the LORD of hosts. But now entreat
     God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, will He
     accept you favorably? Says the LORD of hosts. Who is there even among you who would shut
     the doors, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you, says
     the LORD of hosts, Nor will I accept an offering from your hands. For from the rising of the sun,
     even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall
     be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations, Says
     the LORD of hosts. But you profane it, in that you say, “The table of the LORD is defiled; and its
     fruit, its food, is contemptible.” You also say, “Oh, what a weariness!” and you sneer at it, says
     the LORD of hosts. And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; thus you bring an offering!
     Should I accept this from your hand? Says the LORD.

True worship always starts in the heart (by faith) and then works itself out in obedience. Anything
less is vain worship, and we might as well stay home as offer this empty sacrifice. “O Lord, open my
lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not
delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God,
You will not despise” (Psalm 51:15-17). However, this is not an excuse to stay home from worship—
that would be a double disobedience. Rather, it is a call to prepare for the proper worship of God.

Balance Before God
There is often a temptation to add to or take away from the word of God. We
either want to do less than God requires or more than He requires. When it
comes to the practice of worship, some have advocated a sort of
“stream-of-consciousness,” “do as you please,” “spontaneous,” “any-
thing goes,” approach to worship, usually emphasizing the “spirit”
and internal aspects of worship. Others have gone to the other
extreme and multiplied rules and forms beyond what the Bible
calls for, emphasizing the objective truths of the gospel and the
external aspects of worship. Our objective in worship must be to
not err to the left or the right, but to find the balance and to
worship in “spirit and in truth.” Jesus spoke to this as He rebuked the Pharisees:

     Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin,
     and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you
     ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and
     swallow a camel! 25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside
     of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first
     cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
     (Matthew 23:23-26)

Biblical worship begins in the heart and then manifests itself publicly. Private and public—internal
and external—body and soul—every aspect of our being should be involved in the worship of God.

     I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart. 9 I have proclaimed the good
     news of righteousness in the great assembly; indeed, I do not restrain my lips, O LORD, You
     Yourself know. 10 I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your
     faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the
     great assembly. (Psalm 40:8-10)

                                Truth is truth whether it spoken by one who sincerely believes it or not.
                                  Nevertheless, we all know that we would rather hear the truth from
                                    one who has the credibility of sincerity rather than hearing it from
                                     the hypocrite who says one thing and does another. Paul was keenly
                                     aware of the fact that when he spoke he was in the sight of God,
                                     and therefore sincerity of heart was required: “For we are not, as so
                                    many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak
                                   in the sight of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). Moreover, the true
                                 worshiper recognizes that he too is in the sight of God and therefore
                              examines his heart to insure acceptable worship.
It is clearly possible to miss the point of God’s instruction, even for those who teach the Bible to
others. “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere
faith, 6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7desiring to be teachers of the law, understand-
ing neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:5-7). Likewise, it is possible to miss
the point of worship (which is covenant-renewal), and to substitute false and insincere activity
instead. A clear understanding of who God is, as He has revealed Himself to be in Scripture, is the
best guard over our hearts as we come before His presence. Joshua made this connection between
the fear of God and worship when he declared:

     Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which
     your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! 15 And if it seems
     evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the
     gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the
     Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD
     (Joshua 24:14-15).

The Searching Work of the Holy Spirit
We spend a great deal of time preparing to be seen by men. We put on the right clothes, the right
smile, and follow the right protocol, all to be certain we make a good impression on
others. We also know, however, that it is possible for us to have these things right
and at the same time to have a heart that is bitter, hateful, malicious and insin-
cere. We may succeed in fooling others, or even in fooling ourselves, but we
will never fool the Lord. “For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at
the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

One of the reasons we assemble for worship as the covenant people of God is
to have our hearts and minds ministered to by the word of God. “For the word
of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the
division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and
intents of the heart. 13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and
open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13). As the word of
God is set before our senses, by way of the various elements of worship, the Holy
Spirit applies that word to His people, conforming them more and more into the image of Christ—
the Word made flesh. We therefore must pray with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart;
try me, and know my anxieties; 24and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”
(Psalm 139:23-24).

While God promises to reject all forms of false worship, and any worship that is not offered from a
sincere heart, He likewise promises to receive the worship of those who offer it “in spirit and in
truth.” Real worship produces real blessings for real people.

     Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your
     hearts, you double-minded. 9Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourn-
     ing and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
     (James 4:8-10)

                                                          W e come now to discuss the order, or the
                                                             liturgy of the worship service. Not every
                                                    church uses the word “liturgy,” but every church
                                                    orders its worship service according to some
                                                    rationale. It is impossible not to have an order
                                                    of service. Even if that order is not well
thought out or is poorly prepared, nevertheless, some order of worship will be displayed during the
Sunday worship service.

Unfortunately, many evangelical and protestant churches end up with a haphaz-
ardly thrown together worship service that consist of various elements that
are randomly placed here or there without any biblical rationale. Some-
times practical reasons are given for a particular order. A hymn follows a
prayer because the congregation needs to stand up and stretch after
sitting for a while, or a solo follows a Scripture reading in order to add
some variety to the service. Sometimes spontaneity is seen as more
“spiritual” than pre-planned arrangements.

C. S. Lewis called the constant itch for novelty in worship the “liturgi-
cal fidget.” If the worshipper is constantly confronted with novelties in the
service, they will be distracted from the very point of the service. According to
Lewis, the best liturgy “would be one we were almost unaware; our attention
would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service
itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping.” The one thing that is too
often missing is any biblical/theological reflection on how the church ought to approach the living God.

A Recipe for Worship
                          Is having a recipe for worship bad? Do you prefer your meal to be prepared
                            spontaneously or do you prefer the chef to follow a recipe? The spontane-
                             ous method may work for a good chef, but only if he had internalized the
                             “rules” for good cooking. Every meal is the product of some recipe just
                             as every worship service will inevitably follow some order or liturgy. The
                             real question is not whether but what kind of established liturgy does the
                           congregation follow?

                      The first question we must ask about any liturgy is: does this liturgical order
                    and content embody God’s service to His assembled church? Is this the biblical way
                 in which God draws His people close to Himself by way of sacrifice, weekly renew-
             ing His covenant love for them? And since worship also consists in the congregation’s
active praise before God, the second question we must ask is: does this order and content of wor-
ship enable the congregation to respond to God’s gracious service, gratefully giving back to God
worship and praise that is pleasing to Him?

Here then is a good and concise definition of liturgy: the orderly, biblical way in which the congregation is
drawn into God’s majestic, life-giving presence. As we have seen, the biblical way is the way of sacrifice and
the purpose is covenant renewal. The Bible reveals how God graciously draws His people into His
fellowship and this sacrificial “order” or “way” by which God brings us near and renews His cov-

enant informs the order of our corporate service on the Lord’s Day. We will begin to examine each
element of our Sunday worship service, explaining its purpose and method, along with its place in
the overall order of worship.

Overseers and Rulers
                         Elders are responsible for the liturgy or order of worship. Since all of worship
                           is regulated by the Bible, and elders are the ordained ministers or servants of
                             the word of God, then they are the ones qualified to protect and insure that
                              the liturgy—both its content and form—are in keeping with sound doc-
                              trine. Elders are responsible for every aspect of the public worship of
                              God: the order of service, prayer, singing, preaching, and the sacraments.
                              Elders that fail to take seriouly the responsibility for the worship of God,
                                  who do not faithfully and self-consciously apply the word of God to
                                  every aspect of worship—are careless, thoughtless, or cavalier—invite
                                  disaster upon the church and open the door to every kind of abuse
                                  (well-intentioned or otherwise).

The reason elders receive a theological examination before their ordination is so that the church has
some assurance of their ability to discern error and correct it. If this kind of theological discern-
ment is easily done, then there is no need for overseers and rulers. Since one of the primary tasks
of the church is the public worship of God, then this is likewise one the primary areas where elders
need to be on guard. Remember, faith and practice cannot remain separated. Erroneous doctrine
will produce wrong practices—wrong practices will produce erroneous doctrine.

On the one hand, elders must be on guard against savage wolves
that overtly threaten the church: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to
all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the
church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29For I know this, that
after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock”
(Acts 20:28-29). On the other hand, elders must also be on guard
against the more subtle pressures to simply give people what they
want rather than giving God what He wants: “I charge you therefore
before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at
His appearing and His kingdom: 2Preach the word! Be ready in season and
out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have
itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be
turned aside to fables. 5But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your
ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Before the Service Begins
Make every effort to prepare yourself and your family for worship. This is contrary to the modern
attitude of laid-back, trendy worship services. No preparation is required, so none is made. None is
required because he is a spectator—a part of the audience—not a participant. As we have seen,
however, worship is not a spectator sport, and preparation is necessary. What we experience as a
congregation on the Lord’s Day is not a normal activity; it is a special time that the Lord has set
aside for intimacy with His bride. We should follow the commended example of Mary, and not her

harried sister Martha, where Mary ceases from her normal work and prepares herself by sitting at
the feet of Jesus in order to attentively listen to Him: “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that
good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

Here is some practical advice for worship preparation. End the debate on church attendance. Do
not make that decision every week—make it once. Our family will attend church every Sunday—
Sunday School and Worship Service—unless someone is genuinely sick or some other emergency
demands otherwise. Sunday is the Lord’s Day! Take time to pray before you come to
the worship service, asking God to put you in the proper frame of mind to worship
Him. Be sure to get adequate rest. None of us can perform our service as well as we
should the next day if we have not had enough sleep. Give yourself and your family
plenty of time in the morning so that you are not heading out the door in a mad rush
to get to church.

Be on time. Of course there are exceptions whereby we are providentially hindered
(e.g., a flat tire). But the Lord is not pleased when we casually stroll into His
majestic presence at our leisure. If any important human official were to invite
you to a special meeting, surely you would be on time. Why then would we treat a
meeting with the King of the universe with less respect? Do you really believe that God is meeting
with you on Sunday morning? Just before the worship service begins, we should also be careful to
take care of any matters that might distract us or others. This include making sure our children have
their personal needs met (e.g., water, restroom, etc.). Since the worship service is a corporate and
public activity, it is important that we are always on guard against anything that might take away or
distract from its purpose.

The Call to Worship
                        God Himself calls us to worship. He summons us to assemble. If we have
                        properly prepared ourselves we should be ready to give our full attention to
                        that call when it is pronounced. When the call to worship is made, this marks
                        the begining of a very special time between God and His people, and our
                        focus must be on receiving from Him and responding to Him.

                        We do not just decide to gather and then ask Him to be present. This is the
                        Lord’s Day. While it is true that God is present everywhere, nevertheless, He
                        is present in a special sense when His covenant people gather for public
                        worship. We may not excuse ourselves from the public worship of God and
                        go fishing or golfing with an argument like this: “God is present at the lake
                        just as much as He is present at the church.” God is present in heaven and
                        hell, but not in the same way in each place. Church is the place where He
gathers with His covenant people around the word and the sacraments. He has not promised to be
in the mall for you on Sunday (though He may be there against you), but He has promised to be in
church for you on Sunday.

The external voice of the call to worship will normally be that of a pastor or elder, and the congre-
gation responds to the call that comes from outside of us as the very voice of God. The call comes
from some portion of the word of God that contains a clear call to worship, authoritatively sum-
moning the congregation into God’s presence—e.g., “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel
before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). The congregation responds to the call of God, again from
the word of God—“For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand”
(Psalm 95:7).

Declaration and Salutation
The minister proclaims: “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” To which the people
respond with a hearty “Amen!” Here we identify ourselves and our worship as Christian—as bap-
tized believers we bear the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the God we worship, and
under whose authority and in whose presence we live and die. The Bible clearly
admonishes the faithful: “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of
the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him (Col. 3:17; Eph. 2:18;
1 Cor. 12:3). We solemnly and publicly call God and the world to witness
that we are “gathered together” in His Name (Matt. 18:20) and in that Name
alone we offer our prayers, praise and thanksgiving (John 16:23).

The salutation is a greeting, a salute. The minister hails the congregation, “The Lord be with you!”
and the people respond, “And also with you!” This Hebrew form of the greeting and response
arises out of the promise of Emmanuel, “God with us.” We see an example of this type of greeting
in Ruth 2:4. Even the Lord and His angels greet people this way (Judges 6:12; Luke 1:28). In the
New Testament it becomes common among Christians as well (John 20:19; 2 Thess. 3:16; 2 Tim.
4:22). By the end of the third century it had become an almost universal practice in all the liturgies
of the churches. It was the greeting that signaled the beginning of the worship service.

Invocation and Lord’s Prayer
The invocatory prayer is offered up to God, usually by an elder as a representa-
tive of the congregation, whereby an appeal is made to God for assistance in
worship. Having been summoned by God to worship, the worshippers begin by
acknowledging their dependence on God and their inability to offer true
worship to God on their own. This establishes the Creator/creature
distinction and the Redeemer/redeemed distinction—God is our Superior
in every way—we humbly bow before Him as inferiors, seeking His grace
and blessings.

The leader of this prayer of invocation then leads the congregation into the corporate praying of the
Lord’s Prayer, indicating our dependence, loyalty and obedience to Christ and His instruction as well
as the covenant and corporate nature of our worship. In this model prayer, the congregation ap-
proaches God in humility, honor, submission, confession, and praise. We will say more about the
various postures of prayer in a separate lesson on the subject of public prayer, but for now we can
summaraize the point by saying that the bodily posture of prayer that is demonstrated in Scripture is
always distinct, and it matches the type of prayer being offered e.g., standing, hands spread out or
lifted heavenward, bowing of the head, lifting of the eyes, kneeling, falling down with faces to the
ground, etc.

                                                           The Opening Psalm or Hymn
                                                              Remember, the entire service moves
                                                              forward as God speaks and the congrega-
                                                              tion responds. It is something of a con-
                                                              versation between God and His people.
The Lord has called us to worship Him, we have responded in prayer, and
now we respond in the praise of song. “I will declare Your name to My brethren;
in the midst of the assembly I will praise You” (Psalm 22:22); “Oh come, let us sing to the
LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before His
presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. 3 For the LORD is
the great God, and the great King above all gods. 4 In His hand are the deep places of
the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. 5 The sea is His, for He made it; and
His hands formed the dry land. 6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel
before the LORD our Maker” (Psalm 95:1-6).

Flexibility Within the Liturgy
The fact that we follow a prescribed and planned order of worship does not keep us from
interjecting some variety and flexibility within the biblical framework. The various elements
and aspects of biblical worship e.g., prayers, songs, confessions of faith, readings, sermons
and sacraments may be presented with differing content, styles, or emphasis. While we
guard aginst the temptations of novelty, we must likewise guard against the temptations of
rote or vain motions and words in our worship. Guarding our hearts before God in a
thoughtful and biblical manner can lead us to a more God-honoring worship that brings real
blessings to His covenant people. In our next lesson we will continue to look at the remain-
der of our liturgy or order of worship.

Confessing Our Faith
The word “Creed” comes from the Latin verb credo—the first word in the Latin creeds—and means,
“I believe.” In the recitation of one of the historic creeds (or confessions of faith), we proclaim
that we are Christians, that this is Christian worship, and that we stand in the historic river of ancient
Christianity. The word “god” means all kinds of things to people these days. The historic creeds
proclaim that this is the God we worship and serve—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We will be clear,
courageous, and precise in our confession of faith. The first commandment demands as much.
This is more than an academic or doctrinal statement, but rather it is a declaration of personal faith
or trust. The Greek translation of the word credo is the word pisteuo, which is precisely the word for
“faith” in the New Testament (John 3:16, 36; Rom. 10:10). Both the Apostles’ and the Nicene
Creeds provide us with the opportunity to recite our trust in the Persons of the Trinity and their
work on our behalf.

Reading of the Law
As we come into the presence of the Almighty, Holy God, we are
made painfully aware of our own sinfulness and guilt. Consider
Isaiah’s experience: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of
unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have
seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). The Law is a transcript of the
character of God, and the public reading of that Law sets before us a
clear standard by which we must judge ourselves as we come into His

presence. As we are brought face to face with the Lord of Glory and His righteous Law, we are
made conscious of our own unworthiness. Now it is true that many people do not like to be re-
minded of their sins—this is too negative! We must remember, however, that God is the object of our
worship, and our comfort is not the issue. The principle question is not, “How can we make the
church user friendly?” but rather, “Is it biblical?

Confession of Sin
Our response to the reading of the Law and coming into the presence of Holy God, is to bow
before Him and confess our sins. (Remember, our prayer posture should reflect the type of prayer
being offered. Bowing or kneeling is an indication of humility before God.) Before we presume to
worship God, we must remember the clear teaching of the word of God: “If I regard iniquity in my
heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18). Until we have sincerely confessed our sin before God, our
worship will not be acceptable in His sight. Confession of sin in public worship is a corporate
prayer—personal expression of your personal sins is appropriate for private or silent worship, and
time should be provided for this type of confession. It is therefore appropriate for public confes-
sions of sin (though not essential) to be prayed in unison by the whole congregation. The corporate
confession is more like the confession of faith—a statement in which we confess that we are sin-

Assurance of Pardon
After the confession of sin we hear the minister proclaim the Lord’s forgiveness to all who have
honestly confessed their sin and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Again, the word of God is
proclaimed. This is God’s word of assurance to us, and we need it every week. This is one of the
central blessings for God’s people on the Lord’s Day: the opportunity for weekly cleansing and
covenant renewal—the assurance of God’s grace authoritatively proclaimed by the minister to
believers who repent of their sins. This is not absolution in the Roman Catholic sense, since the
minister has not special power to remit sins. Nevertheless, he does have the office that entitles him
to proclaim authoritatively God’s forgiveness to all who truly repent. Tender consciences often need
such a weighty pronouncement. Just as the Apostle John can write to assure the saints, so the minis-
ter may also proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Christ to His people (1 John 2:12).

Hymn of Consecration and Thanksgiving
The congregation now responds to God’s gracious forgiveness with a promise of renewed
commitment and thanksgiving. The burden of sin has been lifted and we are filled with the
joy of the Lord. We are anxious to express our gratitude to God for His
goodness and mercy and to declare our intention to serve Him with
gladness. “Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is
beautiful. 2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make melody to Him with an
instrument of ten strings. 3 Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout
of joy. 4 For the word of the LORD is right, and all His work is done in truth”
(Psalm 33:1-4).

Tithes and Offerings
The offering ought to be a part of the corporate worship service. It is not merely an opportunity
for individual Christians to give their tithes and offerings, but also a corporate act of the body of
Christ. We offer ourselves and the work of our hands in unison with the whole congregation, to the
Lord in gratitude for His mercy and grace in Christ. A prayer is offered up to God on behalf of the
congregation as the offering is presented to God. In addition, a petition for God’s blessing upon the
offering is also made, calling upon Him to make good use of these gifts for the glory of His Name
and the good of His people.

                                  Scripture Reading
                                    The public reading and hearing of God’s word is central to Chris-
                                    tian worship. Among other things, it will help prevent biblical
                                    ignorance in the next generation. Most of the Bible was written
                                    to be read aloud in the congregation. The minister announces,
“Hear now the word of God.” At the conclusion of the reading he declares, “May God bless the
reading of His word,” or “Thus far the reading of God’s word.” The Bible comes to us out loud in
the community. We do not choose what part of the Bible comes to us. We are commanded to
“hear.” The whole word of God is brought to bear upon us, and we are called to submit ourselves
by faith to the authority of God’s word—God speaks, we listen. Another form of the public
reading of the Scriptures is the responsive or antiphonal reading, whereby the minister reads a portion
of the Scriptures and the congregation responds with another portion of the Scripture. The Psalms
lend themselves well to this type of reading.

Hymn of Preparation
A Psalm or hymn is now sung by the congregation in response to the Scriptures that have been read
and in preparation for receiving the sermon. The content of the song should reflect the general
theme of the sermon that is to be delivered to the congregation. This should help focus the atten-
tion of the people on what they are about to hear and prepare them for the message.

Pastoral Prayer
This prayer should be centered on anticipation and preparation for receiving the sermon. It should
call the congregation to focus their attention on the fact that they are about to hear the word of
God through the servant of Christ, and that they must have hearts and minds eager to receive that
word, and feet that are ready to obey. The pastor should call upon God to send His Holy Spirit to
enlighten the minds of His people, and to convict, instruct and comfort them.

We should remember that the entire worship service is sermonic, not just the sermon. We read, sing,
pray, and recite the word of God from the opening of the service to the very end. The sermon is
very important, but it is not the all-important event. It is an important part of many
other important parts of worship. If we ignore the other aspects of public
worship, then the sermon can take on a disproportionate importance. A
sermon ought to be the time when Christ personally speaks to His bride
through the ordained minister (Eph. 4:11-13). We sit down and listen to
our Husband speak to us through His appointed representative (Eph. 5:26).
The minister has studied and prepared his sermon so as to instruct God’s
people (2 Tim. 2:15). This means that the sermon is not primarily evange-
listic, at least not in the narrow sense. Anytime the word of God is being
preach, the gospel (i.e. the “good news”) is being declared; “…teaching them
to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). The sermon is the
time when the minister ought to explain the word of God and bring it to
bear upon the life of the congregation. This is not “story time” for the
preacher. Rather, it is time for the people of God to be instructed from
the Bible and to be exhorted by it.

Hymn of Response
This psalm or hymn is a response to having heard from God—God speaks and we respond. It
should express the various aspects of our response, depending on the nature of the particular
sermon e.g., contrition, dedication, thanksgiving, joy, etc.

Lord’s Supper
We have been cleansed and consecrated, but before
God sends us out to serve Him in the world He first
sits us down for a meal. He must strengthen and
nourish us for the task ahead with bread and wine.
Therefore, we are invited to sit down and eat this
covenant meal with Jesus and receive from Him by
faith His own life-giving flesh and blood. This meal
is the symbol—the picture of God’s intimacy with His people. It is the place of covenant renewal
whereby we are refreshed and stirred up in our affections for Christ. All the senses are engaged:
sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. The Gospel is communicated to us in this simple but powerful
and public declaration of the saving grace of God! In this meal we are routinely reminded of our
Lord’s death, with all of its implications, along with the fact that He is coming again. “For as often as
you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The Doxology
                           The Last Supper was followed by the singing of a hymn (Matt. 26:30; 14:26),
                           and so we too offer up a song of praise to God for all His blessings that are
                           communicated to us in Christ. Worship is a celebration of life and a tribute
                           to the Giver of life. The bride worships her Husband for the kindness He
                           has shown to her.

                           Prayer of Adjournment
                           A final prayer of thanksgiving is offered on behalf of the congregation as
                           we prepare to end the worship service. It is an acknowledgement that we
                           have been privileged to be in the presence of God and to hear from Him.
                           Moreover, it is a pledge to walk with Him as His people in the week to

The whole worship service has been a “dress rehearsal” for life. Now the service ends and it is time
to start living as God commissions us to go back into our families, communities and jobs as the His
peculiar people. The benediction (i.e., the “good word”), is a blessing from God to the congrega-
tion. It is not a prayer, so eyes should not be closed, but looking forward with attention as God
speaks to His people. The minister lifts his hands, (palms toward the congregation, indicating a
blessing being given), and pronounces the blessing of God upon His people as they leave the assem-
bly and return to the world. The pastoral benediction arises both from the Lord’s direction to Aaron
and his sons: “‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: 24 ‘The LORD bless you and keep
you; 25the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26the LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
and give you peace.’ So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:22-27); as
well as the Lord’s practice: “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed
them” (Luke 24:50).
“... I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing
with understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15).

M      usic is a creation and a gift from God, and
        is therefore both good and God glorifying.
Nevertheless, like all of God’s good gifts, music
can be twisted and abused by sinful men, whereby
it is no longer good or God glorifying. Our
obligation is to understand the right use of God’s gifts, an understanding that comes only by careful
study of God’s word. Godly discernment is not always as easy as it may first appear. “For everyone
who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those
who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil”
(Hebrews 5:13-14). Sometimes that which appears to be harmless may, in fact, have destructive
consequences. The power of music is considerable, and therefore, we must be careful to use it
wisely, especially when it comes to the worship of God.

The Importance of Singing
                                               The Bible is full of music and provides both instructions and
                                               examples for God’s people. Singing is an important expres-
                                               sion of believers for several reasons. First, the instinct of
                                               singing to God simply cannot be suppressed by God’s people
                                               when they receive deliverance from the various trials and
                                               enemies of life. After Israel escapes from the Egyptian army
                                               and gets to the other side of the Red Sea they break into
                                               song: “Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse
                                               and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” (Ex. 15:1). They cannot
                                               help but respond in song upon having their needs met by the
                                               Lord. Having conquered the Canaanites, the thirst of Israel
                                               was quenched and we read, “Then Israel sang this song: Spring
                                               up, O well! All of you sing to it— 18the well the leaders sank, dug by
                                               the nation’s nobles, by the lawgiver, with their staves” (Num. 21:17-

                                       Second, singing is important because of its value in memo-
                                       rizing. We remember many songs. In fact, it is difficult to
                                       ever forget some of them. This is true to our experience.
Have you ever gotten a song in your head you could not get rid of ? When it comes to the church,
sound theology in music serves two purposes as it pertains to memory. On the one hand, it helps
perpetuate the truth from generation to generation, thus helping maintain the faith. On the other
hand, when people do turn away from the faith, these songs stand as a testimony and witness against
them. There are many unfaithful churches that retain sound hymns in their hymnals and even sing
them on occasion. God specifically cites this as a reason for some songs:

   “Now therefore, write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their
   mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel. 20 When I have brought
   them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and
   filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke
   Me and break My covenant. 21 Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them,
   that this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their
   descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the
   land of which I swore to give them.” 22 Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to
   the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:19-22).

Third, singing impacts our mood and our attitudes. Just as architec-
ture, graphic arts, and literature have such an impact, so too music
unavoidably is both a reflection of existing mood as well as mood
altering. As James writes: “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” (James
5:13). Likewise, we read that “whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul,
that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would
become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him”
(1 Sam. 16:23). We should be careful, however, that music is not used
to manipulate people’s moods apart from their self-conscious aware-
ness of the truth that is being conveyed in the songs. “Loving God with
all our minds” is to be wedded with our emotional responses.

Fourth, singing can give great courage to those who otherwise might be discouraged, weak or
fearful. Every army has its battle songs, and likewise Christian soldiers need battle songs since they
too are in a war. After recently hearing the hearty singing of a group of men, I commented to
someone that “this makes you want to storm something.” We see an example of this use of singing
when the men of Judah were threatened by their enemies:

   And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of
   Jerusalem bowed before the LORD, worshiping the LORD. 19 Then the Levites of the children of the
   Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with voices
   loud and high. 20 So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and
   as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusa-
   lem: Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall
   prosper.” 21 And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the
   LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were
   saying: “Praise the LORD, for His mercy endures forever.” 22 Now when they began to sing and to
   praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come
   against Judah; and they were defeated (2 Chron. 20:18-22).

Paul and Silas were beaten and chained and in a dungeon. Many would despair under these condi-
tions. Yet, we see these two believers lifting up both their hearts and their voices: “But at midnight
Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
Moreover, when Jesus finished the Passover meal, just before His agony, and after the institution of
the Last Supper, Mark tells us “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mark
14:26). Certainly, the psalms and hymns of the church are important to God’s people in such times.
We cannot wait until the trials or the enemies are upon us before we learn to sing.

The Bible Sees Music as an Essential Part of Life and Worship
One of the duties of the Levites in the O.T. was to provide the music of worship— David orga-
nized the Levitical chorus and musicians: “And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their
brethren to be the singers with instruments of music, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the
voice with joy” (1 Chron. 15:16). The whole of the choristers and players were divided into 24 classes,
and are said to have been 4,000 in number (¼ of all the tribe of the Levites), with 288 leaders. Even
the name of the director of the choral recitals is given. One aspect of Josiah’s reform was the
restoration of music:

   And he set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, accord-
   ing to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the
   commandment of the LORD by his prophets. 26And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and
   the priests with the trumpets. 27And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And
   when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD began also with the trumpets, and with the
   instruments ordained by David king of Israel. 28And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers
   sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished….30
   Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the LORD
   with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed
   their heads and worshipped” (2 Chron. 29:25-28, 30).

The Bible refers to nineteen different musical instruments. In addition to other instruments it
mentions generally: “the horn, flute, harp, lyre, psaltery, and all kinds of music…” (Dan. 3:5). David even
created new musical instruments for religious use: “…four thousand praised the LORD with the instru-
ments, which I made,” said David, “For giving praise” (1 Chron. 23:5).

The Command to Sing is Common in Scripture:
“Sing unto the Lord; for He hath done excellent things: this is known
in all the earth” (Isa. 12:5). God describes the creation singing
with joy: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of
God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7). David declares that when God
comes in judgment during the course of history, the trees
will respond with music: “Then shall the trees of the wood sing
out at the presence of the Lord, because He cometh to judge the earth”
(1 Chron. 16:33).

Music is not only an expression of joy, but of faith: “Sing
unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks at the remem-
brance of His holiness” (Ps. 30:4). Instrumental music is also
important, and regularly referred to in Scripture: “Rejoice in
the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. 2 Praise
the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instru-
ment of ten strings. 3Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a
loud noise. 4 For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are
done in truth. 5 He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full
of the goodness of the LORD” (Ps. 33:1-5).

Types of Songs

   “Then David spoke to the LORD the words of this song, on the day when the LORD had delivered him from
   the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. 2And he said: ‘The LORD is my rock and my
   fortress and my deliverer; 3The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my
   salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior, You save me from violence. 4 I will call upon the
   LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies’ ” (2 Samuel 22:1-4)

   “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The
   watchman stays awake in vain. 2It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of
   sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep. 3Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of
   the womb is a reward. 4Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5Happy
   is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their
   enemies in the gate” (Ps. 127:1-5)

   “In my distress I cried to the LORD, And He heard me. 2Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips And from
   a deceitful tongue” (Ps. 120:1).
   “I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up, And have not let my foes rejoice over me. 2O LORD my
   God, I cried out to You, And You healed me. 3O LORD, You brought my soul up from the grave; You have
   kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. 4Sing praise to the LORD, You saints of His, And give
   thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. 5For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life;
   Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:1-5).

   “Blessed be the LORD, Because He has heard the voice of my supplications! 7The LORD is my strength
   and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with
   my song I will praise Him. 8The LORD is their strength, And He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
     Save Your people, And bless Your inheritance; Shepherd them also, And bear them up forever” (Ps.

   “Let God arise, Let His enemies be scattered; Let those also who hate Him flee before Him. 2As smoke
   is driven away, So drive them away; As wax melts before the fire, So let the wicked perish at the
   presence of God” (Ps. 68:1-2).

   “Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
     Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excel-
   lent greatness! 3Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise
   Him with the lute and harp! 4Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
   Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! 5Praise Him
   with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! 6Let ev-
   erything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” (Ps.

   “Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise in the assembly of saints” (Ps. 149:1).

Worship Music
The Levites were responsible for the worship music. “These are the singers, heads of the fathers’ houses of
the Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and
night” (1 Chron. 9:33). “Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the
LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their
heads and worshiped” (2 Chron. 29:30).

We have an entire book of inspired Psalms—the hymn book of the Hebrew people—the model for
all Christian songs. There is no more ambitious music program than that prepared for the dedica-
tion of Solomon’s Temple. A great orchestra and robed choir were employed. God clearly found
this acceptable:

   And the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and
   their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instru-
   ments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets— 13indeed it
   came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in
   praising and thanking the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and
   instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,”
   that the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, 14so that the priests could not continue
   ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God (2 Chron. 5:12-14).
M      ature theology gives birth to mature
       music. Likewise, immature theology
cannot rise above its immaturity, and thus the
music it produces reflects this simplistic
quality. In the history of the Church, worship
music has had various forms of expression,
from professional musicians and choirs to congregational singing; from grand choral pieces to
children’s choruses. The history of hymnody is a complex story of development and decline that
are the products of theology in the context of crisis, culture, and tradition. When the theological
influences have been sound they have combined with these other factors to produce some of the
greatest music the world has ever witnessed. Likewise, when the theological understanding of the
church has been weak, the music produced has reflected this diminished understanding.

                          The Importance of Singing Psalms
                          We have in the book of Psalms a divinely inspired book of songs that
                          provides the model for maturity in singing. Therefore, the people of God
                          ought to sing Psalms and sing them often—they are theologically perfect.
                          Properly understood, the Psalms are very Christ-centered, and thus
                          appropriate for Christian worship. They also cover the whole spectrum
                          of God’s Being and deeds. We receive a theological balance in the
                          Psalms that we are prone not to receive in a diet of hymns only. For
                          example, the psalmist had enemies, something rarely seen in other
                          hymns. In the Psalms there is always something solid and fitting for
                          worship. The Psalms are filled with true, full-orbed, biblical manliness
                          and vigor—true covenantal vitality. There is an absence of sentimental-
                          ism and an emphasis on the realities of life.

When we have the Psalms as the core and model of our singing we set a high standard. As a
result, we will be less likely to admit junk into our worship because it will not measure up. Many
have wanted to follow their impulses and feelings when it comes to worship music—whatever
makes them personally feel good or comfortable. It is, however, the Church’s duty to guard every
aspect of the worship of God, including what is sung in her worship. The familiar is not always
our best guide. Worship music is not a matter of democratic vote by the congregation, but rather
the serious work of those trained both in theology and in music. While the Bible does not require
the exclusive singing of the Psalms in worship, nevertheless, all other songs to be sung in worship
must pass high biblical standards and be approved by the Church. The songs we sing today in the
Church will be the familiar songs for our children when they are adults. It is essential that we leave
them a godly, mature musical heritage.

Nineteenth Century Influences
A variety of nineteenth century influences have strongly impacted the music of protestant and
evangelical churches. In addition to the already strong emphasis on American individualism and
the frontier mentality, the dominant Reformed theology of the nineteenth century was assaulted
from many directions and circumstances. The anti-Calvinistic theological influences of Unitarian-
ism actively undermined what it considered to be the harsher aspects of Calvinistic theology by
replacing them with a softer and more tolerant vocabulary.

Many social crusades were begun during this period, including one that came to be known as the
Sunday School Movement. Prior to this time, churches had catechism classes lead by the elders of
the Church. The Sunday School was an attempt to provide non-sectarian literacy training for
children who could not read. Many churches joined in this effort on the grounds that more people
would then be able to read their Bibles. Since this initially involved young
children, Sunday Schools were soon lead and taught by women, thus
providing an new avenue for influence within the church—an influence
largely outside that of the elders and pastors of the Church. Special
songs were written for the children; most notable among these were
many of the songs written by Fanny Crosby. Soon, the Sunday School
Movement expanded to include adult classes as well. The feminine
influence was felt more and more in the church as the masculine
influence declined. A more sentimental emphasis was found in the
hundreds of popular “Gospel Hymns” produced during this period, as
seen by the more prevalent use of words such as gentle, precious, and
tenderly. While these hymns were not necessarily heretical in their con-
tent, nevertheless, they were not well balanced in their theology, and
reflected an immature and sentimental picture of the Christian faith.

                          The popular evangelistic crusades of the nineteenth century made wide
                          use of these sentimental hymns and brought further decline in the theo-
                          logical vigor of the Church and its worship music. This was especially
                          popularized in the Moody-Sankey Revival Era. From the 1870’s “gospel
                          hymns” came forth as a major force in urban revivalism especially
                          through the meetings of evangelist Dwight L.
                          Moody (1837—1899) and his musical associate
                          Ira D. Sankey. Much of their work was related to
                          the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).
                          Hymns previously associated with the Sunday
                          School movement came to be known as “gospel
hymns.” In their mass meetings Sankey introduced many gospel hymns as
he accompanied himself at his portable reed organ. These simple, up-beat
songs were very popular. Sankey saw the content of these hymns as of
little importance and focused more on the fact that they contributed to the
“positive” mood of the revival meeting. Presbyterian theologian Robert
L. Dabney, writing at the time, commented on this innovation:

    We conclude with a word touching the office of Mr. Sankey, “singing the gospel.” The Jewish
    temple service had its chief singer. It will be a curious result if this modern movement should
    develop this function into a new and prominent branch of the ministry unauthorized by the New
    Testament. Singing is unquestionably a scriptural means of grace, and good singing is a very
    efficient one. But in order that the church may retain the blessing of good singing, the privilege
    which Mr. Sankey and his imitators claim, of importing their own lyrics into God’s worship, must be
    closely watched. That saying has been quoted in favor of Mr. Sankey’s “ministry of song,”…“Let
    me make the ballads of a people, and I care not who makes their laws.” We cite that very
    principle to condemn the approaching license of so-called sacred song. Dr. Nettleton was wont
    to say that he could cause a company of people to “sing themselves into the doctrines of the

    gospel more easily than he could preach them into it.”
    Then it is even more important that church courts should
    use their authority of deciding what shall be sung than of
    securing the qualification and orthodoxy of its preachers.
    Dr. Nettleton took the liberty of compiling and using his
    “Village Hymns” in public worship. His learning, sancti-
    fied genius and experience excused the act in him. If
    the same license is to be usurped by every self-appointed
    chorister, we shall in the end have a mass of corrupting
    religions poetry against which the church will have to wage
    a sore contest. Our children will then learn, to their cost,
    how legitimate and valuable was that restriction which we
    formerly saw in the lyrical liturgies of the old Protestant
    churches, expressed by the imprimature of their supreme
    courts, “Appointed to be sung in the churches.” The most
    that can be said of Mr. Sankey’s developments in this
    direction is, that they do not appear to have introduced positive error as yet, and that they exhibit
    no worse traits than a marked inferiority of matter and style to the established hymnals of the
    leading churches. The most danger thus far apparent is that of habituating the taste of Christians
    to a very vapid species of pious doggerel, containing the most diluted possible traces of saving
    truth, in portions suitable to the most infantile faculties supplemented with a jingle of “vain repeti-
    tions.” What shall we gain by giving our people these ephemeral rhymes in place of the immortal
    lyrics of Moses, David, Isaiah, Watts, and Cowper, so grand in their rhythm and melody, so pure
    in taste, and above all, so freighted with compact and luminous truth? “The old wine is better.”

The 1933 edition of the English Hymnal included some of these hymns is a section headed, “Not
Suitable for Ordinary Use.” As music historian Eric Routley comments, “It is a style which
ministers to immaturity and when over-used keeps people immature.” This form of “religious
pop” music has continued in its popularity to our present day, with its special focus on the senti-
mental dimensions of the music. Such music conditions the people to a lower threshold. There is
a place for some of this, but it is a very small place (e.g., for children). Many churches are stuck in
this mode of infantile music. Someone has jokingly suggested that if you can substitute you
girlfriend’s name in the place of “Jesus,” it ought not be sung in the Church (e.g., “Every day with
Lisa, is sweeter than the day before…”).

Choruses and Praise Songs
Many of the popular “worship and praise songs” of our own day continue to reflect this affinity for
sentimental and simplistic music. These are the religious equivalent of the “pop” music. The
problem with this practice is not that these songs are necessarily false in what they are saying
(though many are). It is most often that these songs either do not say much, or else the focus is not
directed toward God but rather toward the people who are singing them. They are directed prima-
rily at producing a certain emotional response. While music inevitably brings about emotional
responses (as does all art), such responses should be secondary, not primary in worship. Even the
singing of Scripture can be used in this inappropriate manner. Some of these songs, as well as
some of the “gospel hymns” may be appropriate on various informal occasions—contexts other
than the formal, corporate worship of the Church. Many things are legitimate in one circumstance
but not in another. It requires maturity and wisdom to know the difference.

Musical Assumptions
The goal of the Church must be to sing songs that reflect God’s preferences, not our own personal
preferences. Like everything else in the Christian life, worship music is inevitably a reflection of
our theology, and will always shape our personal judgments. If, on the one hand, our assumptions
are biblical, then our music will reflect these assumptions. If, on the other hand, we have acquired
our assumptions about beauty, simplicity, speed, etc. from the culture around us, we will find that
our music reflects these unbiblical values. We may tend to want everything to be automatic and
therefore we reject whatever does not immediately please us.

One modern assumption is the idea that new is better than old. C. S. Lewis calls this “chronologi-
cal snobbery.” In an evolutionary world that would be true, but in a biblical world it is not neces-
sarily the case. Sometimes we are told to “ask for the old paths, where the good way is” (Jer. 6:16),
and sometimes we are told to avoid the old ways where there has been sin (Heb. 3:9-10). It takes
maturity and wisdom to discern when to do what. It is a false antithesis to set old against new or
ancient against modern. The real criterion for evaluation worship music must be drawn from
mature theological understanding as applied to content and musical theory and composition.

The Importance of Singing Well
The church only makes progress when we make good use of music. If we are going to have refor-
mation, we are going to have to make progress in music. Lack-luster singing cannot move anyone.
Good singing is important in the proper worship of God. Singing is our opportunity to express our
worship to God—reaching to heaven and the ear of God while joined with every other heart. The
beauty of corporate singing is that we do not have to be professional singers. We are offering a
sacrifice of praise.

Singing well can be difficult, but we need to be patient and persistent.
Let us look to the future of what we are going to be singing like in ten
years. Do not worry about how we sound today. Most things worth
learning are difficult and take time. We rob ourselves of wis-
dom if we judge a hymn or psalm after only one singing. If it is
worth doing, it is worth doing well. It may mean studying more
music, taking music lessons, or reading more music history—the
effort will be worthwhile. We should sing loudly, clearly and with
understanding, making the best of our Western musical tradition by
singing parts, in good tempo, whether dirges or songs of victory.
Our singing must be united in heart and voice and sung unto God.
“Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious” (Ps. 66:2).

                   Corporate Prayer
                 In keeping with our under-
                 standing of worship as com-
                 munion or conversation with
                 God—He speaks and we
                 respond—prayer is an essen-
                 tial element of biblical worship. Our responses to God take several forms during
the worship service, including singing, responsive reading, confessing our faith, giving, and listening.
Likewise, the various prayers that are offered up during worship are in response to what God calls us
to do. We invoke the presence of God, confess our sins, offer up praise, call for blessing, intercede
for others, and make petitions—all in response to God. For example, in the prayer of confession,
we are called upon to bow down before the living God and confess our sins. Having been con-
fronted with God’s greatness and glory, and the demands of His holy law, we now realize more than
ever our sinfulness and thus must confess our sins and implore God’s forgiveness on the basis of
Christ’s atonement.

                          All the prayers in the public worship service are corporate acts—prayers from
                          the whole church. Prayers may be expressed in unison by the congregation,
                          by psalms or hymns, responsive prayers, or by an individual who speaks as a
                          representative of the congregation. Regardless of the form of the prayer,
                          corporate worship requires that each member of the congregation enter into
                          the prayer with understanding, attention and passion.

Recitation of Prayers
Often, we may recite a pre-composed prayer. These prayers may be from God’s word, they might be
taken from the recorded and published prayers of Christians in the past, or they could be newly
composed prayers from the elders or others in the church. This may feel a bit awkward at first for
those who have grown up in the modern evangelical culture of the past century where recited
prayers or read prayers have generally been frowned upon in favor of spontaneous, extemporaneous,
uncomposed prayers.

The very idea that the unplanned is more real or genuine than the planned is
problematic. Is it true that the spontaneous is a more genuine expression of
our hearts than the planned and thought-through response? Well, perhaps,
sometimes, but often our spontaneous response is not reflective of our true
attitude. The idea that the unplanned and spontaneous is more meaningful
than the planned is false. Just listen to most spontaneous prayers. Are they
more meaningful than the prayers that have been carefully composed and used
in worship through the centuries. “Lord we just pray that you will reach out
and touch someone today” (the Bell South prayer). “Lord, we just pray that
you will help us to be all that we can be” (the army prayer). Simply count the
number of times you hear the phrase, “Lord we just pray” (and what, by the
way does that mean?). Now, compare the prayers you have grown up hearing
to this:

    Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we Thine unworthy servants do give Thee most humble and hearty
    thanks for all Thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless Thee for our creation,
    preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for Thine inestimable love in the redemption of
    the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech
    Thee, give us that due sense of all Thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we
    show forth Thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to Thy service, and by
    walking before Thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom,
    with Thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
    (“The General Thanksgiving” from The Book of Common Prayer)

The truth is that total spontaneity is impossible. We learn to pray by hearing others pray
and we use the phrases we have heard used (in prayer meeting, worship, or, as it
appears today, on TV). This is not true spontaneity, it is the copying of the phrases
of others and making them our own. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong
with this practice (i.e. if we chose good phrases). The common objection to
read prayers are that they are not sincere. But this is not necessarily the case.
People read vows at a wedding or even memorize what they say. Does this mean
that they are insincere? Hardly. In fact, human beings very carefully choose their
words when they really have to mean them. Remember, this is how people act at
special occasions before special people.

But how can I pray what someone else has written? These are not my words.
They don’t come from my heart. Doesn’t this quench the Spirit?” Think about
this for a moment—if the only prayer that a member of the congregation can
pray during worship is one which comes spontaneously from the individual
worshiper’s heart, then we must do away with the whole idea of congregational
worship, because people are required to do things together in congregational
worship. We are not to come together as independent, unrelated individuals
but as the body of Christ. We are to offer unified praise and prayer. If all pre-
planned forms are inadmissible, then the only thing we can do is worship God
individually. There is no fundamental difference between a congregation reciting a pre-composed
prayer and singing a hymn in unison out of the hymnbook. When we sing we are using words
composed by someone else and praising God with them. This is not a well thought through objec-

                              The Old Testament is full of set forms of prayer (see Ezra 3:10 “When
                              the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their
                              apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise
                              the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel.”) see also Neh.
                              12:24 and Psalm 136 which gives us a constant refrain throughout the
                              psalm which was apparently particularly designed for congregational
                              use. David appointed the Levites to compose prayers and songs for
                              worship (1 Chron. 6:31-48; 15:16-24; 16:4-6; 25:1-5). And these prayers
                              were preserved for corporate use (Lev. 23). David himself composed
                              prayers for corporate use (1 Chron. 16:7 “On that day David first delivered
                              this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren, to thank the Lord”). The
                              very language of the Psalms shows that they were to be used in public
                              worship. There are hymns (95; 145-150), corporate confessions
                              (78;105;106; 135); and psalms to be sung during the pilgrimages to
                              Jerusalem (120-134).

There are Many Benefits to Corporate Prayers:

   1. These prayers teach us how to pray. There are biblical ways to pray and biblical prayers
   teach us these ways. When we use the prayers of the Church we are led to pray in ways and for
   things that we might never have come to on our own. To have these faithful forms imposed upon
   us is a great blessing to the faithful heart.

   2. Prayers sung or said in unison manifest the unity of the church.

   3. Prayers said together aid congregational participation. It is much easier to be distracted
   when listening to someone else pray than it is when you are joining in that prayer together with
   the congregation.

As is true with every element of worship, we
must guard against the sinful tendency of
allowing our forms of worship to become
substitutes for the substance of worship. It is
easy to simply “go through the motions” of
worship and to forget why we are doing what
we are doing. We can appear outwardly to sing,
give, and listen, while inwardly our thoughts
and attitudes can be far from engaged. Like-
wise, we can “say” our prayers without praying them. We must keep in mind that formalism is not
only a danger for good liturgies it is also a danger resident in bad liturgies. The difference is with a
good liturgy we at least have an opportunity to worship in an acceptable manner, though we may
fail. And, with a good liturgy if we fail, it is not the fault of the liturgy but the fault of our own

Posture in Worship
“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to
God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

                                                     Worship is “service” according to the Scripture. It is not
                                                     passive, no less than a servant is to be passive before his
                                                     master. It is active. Worship is not something to sit back
                                                     and enjoy—it is not a spectator event—it is spiritual
                                                     service and spiritual work. It is also physical service and
                                                     work. We are not disembodied spirits. Our bodies and
                                                     spirits should serve and work together in worship. The
                                                     Bible speaks of a variety of bodily postures assumed
                                                     during prayer (see appendix to this lesson).

Kneeling or bowing is the most common posture in Scripture for prayer. The Apostle Paul says, “I
bow my knees unto the Father.” (Ephesians 3:14). He adds, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him
[Christ] . . . that every knee should bow, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”
(Philippians 2:9-10). Kneeling for prayer expresses a variety of attitudes: humility, respect, submis-
sion, thankfulness, and praise. The common position of sitting for prayer in most evangelical
churches is nowhere to be found in Scripture; never do we see Abraham, David, or even Jesus sit for
prayer. Instead, one finds in the Bible a different posture for a very good reason. The bodily action
of bowing or bending the knees in prayer puts form to our attitudes.

Standing to respond is a way of showing respect. For example, when a judge enters a courtroom, all
rise to honor him. Likewise, when the word of God is read, we stand out of respect for that word.
On the other hand, sitting is an appropriate way of hearing the word of God preached. We sit at
the feet of our Master to learn from Him. So, the physical movement in the service—standing,
sitting, and kneeling - is quietly teaching God’s people important lessons. They are to respond with
action when God speaks. Yet, they are not to respond in just any old way they want.

But some object, “God is not so much concerned with our physical posture as with the state of our
hearts!” True, but very often our physical posture not only manifests the state of our hearts but

assists our hearts to get into the proper frame. And God does not view our bodily posture as a
matter of indifference. There are too many references to kneeling or falling before God in the
scriptures to label the practice mere formalism.

                                  We are not disembodied spirits but body-soul creatures. The state
                                  of our bodies invariably affects our souls just as the condition of
                                  the soul often affects the condition of the body. Given this com-
                                  plex relationship between body and soul, we ought naturally to
                                  understand that bodily posture in worship is not a matter of
                                  indifference. We speak of someone’s “body language” and under-
                                  stand that this is a significant indicator of what is going on in the
                                  heart. When we are humbled, we hang our heads. When we are
                                  joyful, this is manifested by the way we walk and move and how
                                  we look. We also train our children to act properly understanding
                                  that though we cannot control their hearts, if they act properly,
                                  their hearts will be affected. And if we ignore their actions, there
                                  will certainly be no affect on their hearts. Thus we require them to
                                  speak clearly and look at those who are addressing them, to stand
                                  up straight and shake the hands offered to them—whether they
                                  feel like it or not (and especially if they don’t feel like it), and we tell
them to “sit up and pay attention.” If we do what is right, our soul will often come into conformity
with our body. This is the importance of posture in worship.

Dr. Robert Rayburn notes that the position of the body is itself an act of worship:

     When you kneel or stand because you are in the presence of the Almighty and are to speak to him, you are
     honoring him with your entire self, with your soul and body together expressing reverence. In Holy Scripture,
     whenever men or women came face to face with God, they always immediately and instinctively assumed
     postures which were appropriate for a creature and a sinner before the living God . . . If we are really worship-
     ing God as his children, then we are to worship him not with half ourselves but with our whole selves and our
     bodies ought to be as involved as our souls. . . This was the feeling of the church in the days of the Reforma-
     tion. A failure to take proper positions of the body in the church was regarded as an act of irreverence. (Quoted
     in Myers, p. 32)

Leading in Public Prayer
To lead the congregation in public prayer is to speak to God on behalf of the people of God—it is
to stand as a representative, as an attorney would his client. Just as the one offering the public prayer
should be mindful of the fact he is speaking for others, so too, each member of the congregation
should enter into the prayer being offered, giving it their full attention and affirmation. Since this
prayer requires the members of the congregation to enter into what is said, it is important that they
actually hear what is prayed. Therefore, the one offering the prayer should pray with a public voice, so
that each person can both hear and understand what is said. To assist in this, public prayers should
be loud and clear, generally from a standing position and facing the congregation.

                                                   Preaching of the Word
                                                    is old fashioned and
                                                    out-of-date. It is far
                                                     too authoritarian for
                                                     modern sensitivities.
                                                     Evangelicals have come to
prefer their pastors to “share,” give “talks,” and “tell stories”—preferably in
under twenty minutes. This is not the Scripture’s view of preaching. Preaching
has been central throughout redemptive history. Noah was a “preacher of righ-
teousness,” followed by the prophets, apostles, and pastors. It is hard to imagine
Noah “sharing” with the people he preached to. The apostle Paul expressed the
biblical perspective when he said, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel! ” We have
lost the sense of wonder and majesty over the glorious privilege of hearing and
preaching the gospel. This is the result of forgetting what preaching actually is.

                                                           The Importance of Preaching
                                                              We must have a settled conviction of the central
                                                              importance of preaching in communicating the
                                                              truth of God and accomplishing the purposes of
                                                              God. The Bible is plain that it is the preaching of
                                                               the Word that is the chief means God is pleased
                                                               to use in the saving and the edification of His
                                                               people. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world
                                                               through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God
                                                               through the foolishness of the message preached to save
                                                               those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). “And He Himself gave
                                                               some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and
some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of

Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good
work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living
and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word!
Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with
all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Scripture is profitable, but Paul doesn’t tell Timothy
simply to read the Word but rather to preach the Word.

The means that God ordinarily uses is the message
preached. He addresses men through the faithful preaching
of His servants. Just as the word spoken in the beginning
dispelled the primeval darkness that covered the creation, so
it is the Word spoken that God continues to use to dispel the
darkness in men’s hearts by His Spirit: “For it is the God who
commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our
hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the
face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Paul notes that faith comes
by hearing the Word (“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing
by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
                                                   Jesus says that men must hear His voice if they are to be
                                                   saved: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and
                                                   believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come
                                                   into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25Most assur-
                                                   edly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead
                                                   will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live”
                                                   (John 5:24-25). “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of
                                                   the sheep. 3To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his
                                                   voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . .
                                                      And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I
                                                   must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock
                                                   and one shepherd. . . . 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know
them, and they follow Me” (John 10:2-3, 16, 27). “Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’ Jesus
answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world,
that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice’ ” (John 18:37).

Hearing the Voice of Christ
But how can men hear the voice of Christ now that He is ascended into heaven? The answer lies in
understanding the nature of preaching. When the Word is proclaimed faithfully, the voice of Christ
is heard. To hear the faithful preaching of the Word is to hear the voice of Christ. Preaching is not
merely the act of men. This is the point Paul makes in Romans 10:14, “How then shall they call on Him
in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall
they hear without a preacher?” Paul is not merely noting the fact that God uses the preaching of the
Word to save men, he is telling us how this can be so. What is it particularly about the faithful
preaching of the word that makes it such a mighty instrument in the hands of God? Note that the
word “of ” is not in the text of v. 14. Paul is not saying that we must hear “about” Christ but that we
must hear Christ Himself. The text of v. 14 should read “And how shall they believe in Him whom they
have not heard?” When the Word is faithfully proclaimed, men do not merely hear about Christ but
they hear Christ Himself. When the Word of God is faithfully proclaimed, men hear the voice of Christ.

The ordinary way in which we hear
the voice of Christ is through the
mouth of the preacher. This should
not be surprising to anyone. Paul is
merely following the teaching of
Jesus Himself at this point. Jesus
identifies with His appointed spokes-
men. “He who receives you receives Me,
and he who receives Me receives Him who
sent Me” (Matt. 10:40) To hear them
is to hear Him: “He who hears you hears
Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). Thus, Paul
commends the Galatians, “And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me
as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus” (Gal. 4:14). And to the Thessalonians, “For this reason we also
thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not
as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thess.

                                              The amazing reality is this: When God’s word is
                                              faithfully proclaimed, the voice of Christ is heard. There is
                                              a real presence of Christ in the preaching of the Word
                                              that must be understood if we are properly to
                                              understand preaching at all. God nowhere deals
                                              more intimately and familiarly with us than in the
                                              preaching of the Word. Calvin says, “God does not
                                              wish to be heard but by the voice of His ministers.”
                                              (Commentary on Isaiah 50:10) He notes that God
                                              draws near to men by means of the preaching of
                                            the Word for there He speaks to us face to face—
                                          “This ought to add no small reverence to the Gospel,
since we ought not so much to consider men as speaking to us, as Christ by His own mouth...”

Some Misconceptions
First, this view has nothing in common with Karl Barth’s view of preaching. Barth’s view of
preaching was that the human words of witness of the preacher become the Word of God to us
when we hear it. In Barth’s view, the hearers never know if God is going to speak. There is
always uncertainty over whether you will hear the Word of God or if the words of the
Preacher will become the Word of God. The orthodox view is that in faithful preaching the
voice of Christ is always heard. For this reason, faithful preaching is thus, always a savor of
life unto life or a savor of death unto death. It always accomplishes the purposes of God for
it is His Word. “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but
it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

Second, this does not mean that the biblical
sermon is the Word of God in the same way that
Scripture is the Word of God. The Scripture does
not teach that elders and preachers are divinely
inspired or infallible. Preaching, if it is faithful to
the Word, is an administration of the Word of
God to men. Where there is error or misunder-
standing that is not the Word of God. Thus, there
is always the necessity of “examining” what is
heard. “These were more noble than those in
Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all
readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily,
whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). The fact
that the human preacher is a sinner and an imper-
fect man is never to be forgotten by the hearers. But neither must they forget that the ordained
spokesman who proclaims the word faithfully is not speaking for himself or from himself, but his
words are to be received as the very Word of Christ to them.
Third, this does not mean that there is power inherent in the sermon itself. Of course it is not merely
preaching that is powerful—it is always the Spirit of God that makes the sermon powerful and
efficacious. Thus, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he and Apollos were merely instruments used
of God, it was always God who gave the increase. The point here is that faithful ministers are really
and truly God’s instruments and He speaks through them to His people.
Fourth, this does not mean that the Scripture is inadequate or incomplete and somehow needs
preaching to make it complete. Everything we need for life and salvation is revealed in the Scriptures.
But, though the revelation of God is completed, the administration and application of that word in the
purposes of God are not complete. This is the role of preaching. The elect have not all been called,
the Church is not completely built. It is Christ alone who builds His
Church and he has ordained the preaching of the Word to accomplish
this task (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Fifth, this does not mean that preachers have grounds for arrogance or
pride. Obviously, this teaching can be abused to promote self-importance and
ecclesiastical tyranny, but rightly understood, it promotes the opposite. Christ
alone is the Life-giver, the Teacher, the Shepherd, the Sanctifier of the
Church. It is not the gifts, eloquence, wit, or wisdom of the preacher that
make his preaching effective—it is the fact that Christ speaks! His servants are
merely His ambassadors, through whom He beseeches men to come to be
reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). This reality ought to humble the servant so
that he always approaches the task with awe and earnest prayer that he be
enabled to discharge his task in such a way as the voice of Christ is heard.
His views, opinions, feelings or perceptions, have no place in the preach-
ing of the Word. The people must see Jesus and hear Him.

The Fruits of Biblical Preaching
It is this amazing reality that accounts for the blessing upon preaching. We are commonly more
helped by the preaching of the Word than by our own private reading. We gain insight that we never
had before, our sins are exposed, comfort is obtained that we never noticed in our private reading.
Pierre Marcel notes that we cannot understand the reading of the Word apart from the preaching,
“The graces obtained by personal reading depend on the grace of the preached word (Luke 24:25-
27; Acts 8:32-40), the word explained and commented on by a man designated for that purpose”
(The Relevance of Preaching, p. 20). God draws nigh to us nowhere more closely than He does by means
of the preaching of the Word. These are things that often do not happen in the private reading of
the Word. Indeed, when you carefully consider it, there are a great many advantages which preaching
of the Word has over mere reading of the Word.

                                           First, by means of preaching the truth is made manifest.
                                           This is the point of Paul’s words in Titus 1:3 “…but has in
                                           due time manifested His word through preaching, which was
                                           committed to me according to the commandment of God our
                                           Savior.” God is often pleased to open our eyes and illu-
                                           mine our minds by means of the preaching of the Word.
                                           Passages we have read hundreds of times are opened up
                                           to our understanding under the preaching of the Word. It
                                           is the work of our great Teacher. Just as He did with
                                           Lydia, “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a
                                           seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The
                                           Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” Acts
                                           16:14, so He does every Lord’s Day by His Spirit.

Second, by means of preaching,
difficulties can be cleared away and
men are turned from darkness to
light. The calling of Paul is illustrative
of how God uses the preaching of
the Word: “But rise and stand on your
feet; for I have appeared to you for this
purpose, to make you a minister and a
witness both of the things which you have
seen and of the things which I will yet reveal
to you. 17I will deliver you from the Jewish
people, as well as from the Gentiles, to
whom I now send you, 18to open their eyes,
in order to turn them from darkness to
light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those
who are sanctified by faith in Me” Acts 26:16-18. Obviously, Paul had no power in himself to accomplish
these things. The point is that the Savior is making plain to Paul how He is going to work in and
through his preaching. Thus, Paul exhorts Timothy to be faithful in his preaching since it is the
means by which God brings men to repentance, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle
to all, able to teach, patient, 25in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them
repentance, so that they may know the truth” 2 Tim. 2:24-25. God has ordained elders (pastors and teach-
ers) for the building up of the saints (Eph. 4). He gives them insight into the truth and the ability to
make it known and thus God’s people are enabled to understand those passages that are more
obscure and difficult.

Third, errors can be refuted. The church is the “pillar and ground” of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). God has
ordained that the Church be the instrument of maintaining, promoting, and sustaining the truth in
the world. This is done preeminently through the preaching of the Word. Calvin: “If there be no
public teaching of the Gospel, and no godly ministers who by their preaching rescue the truth from
darkness and oblivion, [then] falsehoods, errors, impostures, superstitions and corruption of every
kind will immediately seize control. In short, silence in the Church means the departure and sup-
pression of the truth.” God of course could preserve His truth apart from the Church but this is
not what He has ordained. Thus it is by the ministry of the Word through the Church that the truth
of God is preserved and propagated in the world.

                                                      Fourth, applications of the truth can be made that
                                                      are not made in the Scriptures themselves. The
                                                      modern manifestations of ancient sins can be re-
                                                      buked and exposed. Specific sins can be pointed out.
                                                      Specific duties can be noted. It is the presence of
                                                      Christ in the preaching that accounts for those
                                                      remarkable instances that often occur in the sermons.
                                                      Hidden sins are exposed by an off-hand comment or
                                                      an unplanned (or planned) illustration. You hit the
                                                      mark in complete ignorance that you are doing any
                                                      damage to anyone at all. But Christ is dealing with
                                                      His people and thus, by the Spirit brings these things
                                                      to your mind.

W       hy do the elders wear robes? Does this
        mean something? Is it biblical? Or is it
something that has just always been done that way?
Isn’t this too “Catholic”? Does the robe mean that
the pastor is better than I am? Closer to God than
I am? Is he a priest? These are good questions.

While ministerial robes are not required, nevertheless, there is good reason and biblical precedent for
making use of them. As already noted, symbols are important means of communication, and there
are few things more symbolic than the clothes we wear. Casual or formal dress, tuxedos, uniforms,
expensive or cheap—all speak volumes concerning the person, the position or the occasion. Such
statements are unavoidable. A minister in an $800 suit, or with a Mickey Mouse tie, or blue jeans
and a T-shirt, or a ministerial robe, all say something about what we think of the office of elder or

Clothing is Symbolic
                    When Jonathan learns that David has been anointed and chosen by God to have
                    the throne of Israel, he takes off his robe and puts it on David signifying that
                         David holds his place (“And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it
                              to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt” 1
                                   Sam.18:4). To lose the robe is symbolic of losing the office of
                                   authority. Isaiah prophesies that the unfaithful steward Shebnah will
                                   be removed from office and God signifies his removal from office
                                 by taking away his robe (“So I will drive you out of your office, And from
                         your position he will pull you down. 20 Then it shall be in that day, that I will call My
                          servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah; 21 I will clothe him with your robe And strengthen
                           him with your belt; I will commit your responsibility into his hand. He shall be a father
                           to the inhabitants of Jerusalem And to the house of Judah. 22 The key of the house of
                            David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall
                            shut, and no one shall open” Isa. 22:19-22).

It is from the symbolic significance of the robe that we speak of a minister being “defrocked”— to
be removed from office is equivalent to having his robe taken away, and thus he is identified as one
who no longer holds authority in Christ’s Church. This also helps us understand the prohibition of
men from wearing women’s clothing. For a man to wear a woman’s garment or a woman to wear a
man’s garment is an abomination (“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man
put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God” Deut, 22:5). It is an
abomination because the clothing signifies position and authority. For a man to wear women’s
garments is to reject his calling and position as a man.

The robe, among other things, therefore helps emphasize the office of the
elders and deemphasize the personality of the men themselves. Sometimes it is
hard to be led in worship by an elder or pastor who is a good friend or a
peer or even one who is younger. To help us get over this feeling, the
church in general, and the Reformed church in particular, has historically
placed special robes on her ministers when they conduct worship. This
helps the people to remember that it is not just good ol’ Randy or David up
there; rather, it is God’s appointed ministers leading us into God’s presence
and speaking God’s Word to us. We submit to the office, not to the man,
during worship. (The concept of submission to church office is eminently
biblical: Acts 20:17, 28-35; 1 Cor. 12:28; 16:16; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Thess 5:12,
13; 1 Tim. 3:lff; 4:14; 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1-7.)

                               These truths are reinforced when the elders wear something that
                               reminds the people of his special calling on the Lord’s Day. In the
                               Bible clothing and calling are often connected; a person’s calling or
                               office—together with whatever authority is connected with the
                               office—is often visually symbolized by the clothing the man wears
                               (Joseph’s coat of many colors was symbolic of his father’s favor, Gen.
                               39:1-13; all of the references in Exodus and Leviticus to the clothing
                               of the priests; Saul’s robe was a symbol of his authority, 1 Sam. 24:4,
                               5, 11; Mordecai wore royal apparel, Esther 8:15; God clothed Eliakim
                               with a robe as a symbol of his authority and responsibility, Isa. 22:21;
                               the king of Niniveh exchanged his robe for sackcloth, Jonah 3:6;
                               special garments were worn for weddings, Matt. 22:11ff.; the finest
                               robe was placed on the returning prodigal son, Luke 15:22; the
                               twenty-four elders around the throne of God were clothed in white
robes, Rev. 4:4; Christ Himself was clothed in a special robe, Rev. 19:13, 16). The purpose of the
robe is to cover the man and give assent to his God-ordained office or calling.

From the Reformation until comparatively recently Presbyterian ministers wore robes or some dress
of office when serving in the sanctuary. The biblical support for this is straightforward enough:
“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty” (Exod. 28:2). This is the
only rationale ever provided (i.e. these are not vestments in the traditional sense). Would you want
the contrary: your minister, as he is leading worship and preaching God’s Word, to be without
dignity and honor (again v. 40)?

The minister who leads the worship plays a symbolic role during worship. When he leads the congre-
gation in prayer before God, he symbolizes Christ leading the church in prayer before the Father.
When he reads and preaches the Word, he symbolizes Christ, the Husband, speaking to his holy
bride. The robe is not meant to set him above the congregation, but to set him apart from them
because of his unique office as pastor during the Lord’s Day worship service. Here’s what the
French Calvinist theologian Richard Paquier says about this:

   It is natural that the man who officiates in the worship of the Church be clothed in a manner corre-
   sponding to the task assigned to him and expressing visibly what he does. Moreover, whoever leads
   in the act of worship does not perform as a private party but as a minister of the church; he is the
   representative of the community and the spokesman of the Lord. Hence, an especially prescribed
   robe, a sort of ecclesiastical “uniform,” is useful for reminding both the faithful and himself that in this
   act he is not Mr. So-and-so, but a minister of the church in the midst of a multitude of others.
   (Dynamics of Worship: Foundations and Uses of Liturgy [Fortress Press, 1967], p. 138.)

Think about who the pastor is and what he is doing. The pastor is not a businessman. He is not the
CEO of the ecclesiastical corporation. Just because a congregation does not have its pastor wear a
robe does not mean that they escape the idea of a uniform. In most American Protestant churches,
for example, there is an expectation that the pastor dress conservatively, with a black or dark suit, a
white starched shirt, a conservative necktie, etc. In our culture this is the weekday uniform of a lawyer
or middle to upper management businessman. This has become defacto the American Evangelical
clerical garb. This “uniform” often communicates precisely the wrong message in our churches and
the communities in which we minister. Our pastors too often seek to conform to the patterns and
symbols of authority prevalent in American culture. It is simply not possible to escape the symbol-
ism of clothing. When the minister of the Word wears a robe, it helps to focus the congregation on
the work of Christ and the Apostles, because the minister has no authority outside of them.

The robe also adds dignity and reverence to our services (Exod. 28:1). Why is it that pastors wear
robes during wedding services and not during Lord’s Day worship services? At weddings the robe
adds to the solemnity and glory of the event. The same ought to be true on the
Lord’s Day. Are wedding services more important than Sunday services? No, just
the opposite. The Lord’s Day worship service ought to be just as (or more) glorious
and formal as a wedding.

It is only in America and by and large only in this century that the elders in
certain branches of Protestantism have forsaken the robe. Anything that
can only appeal to this country in this century for historic precedent is
suspect. The prejudice against clerical garb among some Protestants has
been motivated by the egalitarianism of this century rather than any
concern to follow the Scriptures. The democratic egalitarianism has greatly
affected the evangelical Protestant Church. We still tolerate judges in robes, but
insist that our elders “dress like we do.” No one accuses professors at State-
controlled universities of arrogance when they dress in robes during formal ceremonies, but we are
offended if elders wear robes in worship. Why is this? The reason is that there is no longer any
recognition of the distinctive authority of ecclesiastical office. We still recognize the authority of the
state and thus, are not offended when the judge wears a robe (or when the “official priests” of the
State, the university professors wear robes).

Possible Objections
First, someone might think that this looks too much like Roman Catholicism. The Reformers and
Puritans were opposed to vestments. That is true but their opposition was not based upon the
notion that the Scriptures forbad them but because they felt that vestments had been so abused that
it was better to avoid them at least for a time. Instead they wore the Geneva gown which was an academic robe
and that became the common garb of elders during worship. Thus, we see that though they were opposed to
the retaining of the vestments of the Roman priests, they were not opposed to “special garb” for
the elders in worship. This was true not only of the Reformers but of the Puritans as well. The
Geneva gown became the common garb of elders with the addition sometimes of a clerical collar.
Pictures and portraits that we have of these pastors show them in clerical or academic garb. Take for
example the painting by John Lorimer, called “The Ordination of Elders.” The minister in the
picture is wearing a black robe, and he also has a peculiar collar with two white tabs sticking out
from it. No one else is dressed that way in the service. Scottish Presbyterian ministers, who tradition-
ally have been fiercely anti-Catholic, have consistently worn clerical uniforms (You can’t get more
presbyterian that this!). There is nothing characteristically Roman Catholic about pastors wearing
distinctive clothing during the worship service.

                                                           A second objection: the formality will turn
                                                           people off. Many mistakenly think that
                                                           avoiding formality and ceremony is an
                                                           evidence of simple faith and humility. C. S.
                                                           Lewis said, “The modern habit of doing
                                                           ceremonial things unceremoniously is no
                                                           proof of humility; rather it proves the
                                                           worshiper’s inability to forget himself in the
                                                           rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone
                                                           else the proper place of ritual.”

                                                           Third, maybe the robe will make the pastor
                                                           unapproachable. Not so. It makes him more
                                                           approachable in his capacity as pastor. It forces
                                                           the individual man to recede and brings
                                                           forward the office of pastor. The robe will
                                      highlight the pastor’s office and role. In fact, people may be
                                      more apt to address the pastor with spiritual questions and
                                      concerns. They want their pastors to be different. People need
                                      to be able to place some kind of secondary confidence in the
                                      office of the pastor and elder (our primary confidence, of
                                      course, is in God’s Word!). An outward sign of that office helps people.
                                      This is not hard to prove. Think about doctors, nurses, judges,
                                      and policemen. People want them to wear something distinctive
                                      that reminds them of their expertise or calling. We are helped
                                      when our doctor wears a white uniform. The uniform assists us
                                      in remembering that we can place some confidence in him. This
                                      is his calling.

                                      The uniform reminds us of his training and commitment. The
                                      same ought to be true with our pastors. biblical teaching as a
                                      whole links clothing and calling. You are what you wear or you
                                      wear what you are. Just as judges, physicians, policemen, and
                                      auto mechanics wear clothing that befits their calling, so should
the pastor, especially when he is performing the specific duties of his office during the Lord’s Day
worship service. Again, Rayburn’s comments are helpful:

   We do not obey them or listen to them [judges, mayors, congressmen, or policemen] as individuals,
   or because of their personal virtue or opinions. But because they hold office. The judge speaks for
   the law and the minister speaks for God! The man himself should fade into the background and the
   office come to the fore! What has happened over the last generation has been the reverse. The man
   has come to the fore and the office has been in full retreat from the view of the congregation.

Representing Christ
In Christian worship, biblically and historically, the ministers wear distinctive garments to testify to
their office as representatives of Christ. The robe serves to hide the personality of the man and high-
light his special calling. God in Christ calls us to worship, to confess, to hear His word, to give, etc.,
and He does so by means of His ordained servant. The pastor does not act for himself, but for
Christ. A judge or a policeman wears a uniform because he does not act for himself. He is under
orders. He represents the law and government of the county, city, or state in which he serves. In the
same way, a minister represents the law and government of another kingdom—the clothing he wears
testifies to this. He also is under orders. The pastor’s authority does not derive from his economic or
social status (expensive suits and starched shirts). It does not derive from his natural charisma (im-
pressive hair or flashing dark eyes). It most certainly does not derive from the fact that he looks and
acts like other leaders in the world (business suits), even though this is what happens too often in
America. Just as the location of the pulpit and table have symbolic significance, so also the minister’s
clothing communicates that he is the ordained servant of the risen Christ, called to lead God’s
people in covenant renewal worship.

Therefore, by placing a robe on our minister during the worship service we are 1) taking a stand
against the current American evangelical church’s tendency to transform the pastorate into some-
thing like an executive position (the CEO of the church!) by mimicking American corporate big
business, 2) we are also taking a stand against the pervasive egalitarianism of our culture and ac-
knowledging that there are, as the Westminster Confession puts it, superiors, inferiors and equals,
and 3) seeking to bring our practice in line with what the Bible implies, back in line with what the
historic Church has practiced, and in line with what other Reformed churches do worldwide.

Ritual Without Reality
Most of us have observed some empty religious
ceremony at some time or another—an event that
should have great meaning ends up being a
meaningless ritual performed merely out of habit.
There is a temptation to replace substance with form. Baptism is one of the ceremonies that might
easily fall into this pit of formalism. All Christians agree that baptism is an important part of the
church, but few are able to articulate what the Bible teaches concerning baptism. Baptism is highly
symbolic, but what does it signify? Is it simply a dedication, a public profession, or is there more to
it than that? In the evangelical church especially questions arise concerning the practice of infant

Covenant Baptism
The term “covenant baptism” is preferred over “paedobaptism,”
or “infant baptism,” since the basis of any baptism (infant or
adult) is founded, not upon the age of the recipient, but upon
the recipient’s entrance into and membership among the cov-
enant people of God. A person is either in the covenant com-
munity of God’s people or he is not. If he is in covenant with
God, then he must receive the initiatory sign and seal of that
covenant relationship. In the Old Testament this initiatory sign
and seal was circumcision and in the New Testament it is bap-
tism. As the wedding ring is the sign and seal of the covenant
of marriage and the relationship between husband and wife, so
too these covenant signs and seals (circumcision or baptism)
proclaim the relationship between God and His people. In
covenant baptism, God graciously lays claim to a person, giving
them promises of blessings (including salvation) if they forsake their sins (repentance), receive His
Word (faith) and follow Jesus Christ (obedience). If the one who is in covenant with God forsakes
the terms of this covenant by unbelief and disobedience, then God promises to cut them off from
His covenant (to divorce or excommunicate them) since they have disregarded the covenant and
become covenant-breakers.

A Great Heritage
Every gospel doctrine has its roots in the Old Testament. For example, if you want to understand
the doctrine of sin, you must begin with Genesis. Likewise, if you are wondering what the Bible
                       teaches about the baptism, you must begin in the Old Testament. In Romans
                         4, Paul explains that Abraham’s salvation was by God’s grace and through
                          faith. We read in the Old and New Testaments, “Abraham believed [had faith
                           in] God, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:9.) Thus,
                            Abraham is our Old Testament counterpart. Just as we are sinners saved by
                            grace through believing, he was a sinner saved by grace through believing.
                            In Genesis 17:7 God calls this saving relationship an “everlasting covenant”—
                            a covenant of salvation from generation to generation. The mighty God
                            stooped down to make a covenant with a sinful creature. He gave
                            Abraham a sign or symbol to mark that covenant relationship. He said
                            that Abraham was to be circumcised, and this circumcision was to be a
                            sign of the covenant of salvation: “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of
                          your foreskin; and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you”
                       (Gen. 17:11).
Why did God choose circumcision? Circumcision repre-
sented cleanliness. In Isaiah 52:1, the words “uncircumcised”
and “unclean” are synonymous, thus, we safely can say that
God used an outward sign of cleanliness to denote inward,
spiritual cleansing (Deut. 30:6). When an adult from outside
of Israel became a believer, he was to be circumcised.
(Exod.12:48). Passages in the Old Testament so closely
identify the sign with the real event that God actually uses
the word circumcision instead of salvation. The saved person
or community is called “circumcised”; the unsaved person or
community is called “uncircumcised” (Isa. 52:1; Ezek. 44:9; 1
Sam. 14:6). This is done so often that we are compelled to
ask if circumcision saves the individual. The answer is a
resounding “No!” The thesis of the first part of Romans 4 is
that Abraham was saved by faith, not by circumcision. Yet
we must emphasize that God commanded circumcision as a
sign of salvation: “. . . and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith”
(Rom. 4:11).

So circumcision was the sign of salvation in the Old Testament. What does that mean to us? If you
continue to read in Genesis 17, we find an extraordinary command. God tells Abraham to apply this
sign of salvation to infants born into his house. This is astounding to our twentieth century evangeli-
cal ears. How could the sign of salvation be applied to an infant who had not yet believed? But right
there it is: “. . . and every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations”
(Gen. 17:12). We must see that Abraham was a sinner saved by grace through faith, and that God
made circumcision a sign of salvation. The sign of salvation was to be given to infants of believing
parents. If we had lived in the Old Testament period, as believing parents, we would have circum-
cised our children. We thus would have applied the sign of salvation to our infants. After becoming
adults, they might have been questioned by a new convert as to when they had been circumcised.
Our children would have replied that they were circumcised as infants. No doubt the new believer
would have responded happily, “What a great heritage!”

God uses an outward symbol to denote an inward spiritual reality. Like circumcision, baptism too is
a sign and seal. We can easily understand why God chose water. It is a universal cleansing agent.
God, therefore, chose this universal cleanser to be a sign of spiritual cleansing. The application of
water to the individual in baptism is not a Saturday night bath or washing of your hands after
                                      working on the car. Baptism has to do with a man’s relationship
                                       to God. You may have water applied to your body every day
                                         of your life (by way of showers, baths, washing hands,
                                           swimming, diving, walking in the surf or the rain, doing
                                           dishes, etc.) and still not be baptized. In the biblical cer-
                                           emony of baptism, water is sprinkled or poured on the
                                           individual “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
                                           Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Baptism indicates that the stains
                                           of sin have been washed or removed from the heart: “Arise,
                                           and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name”
                                           (Acts 22:16).

Baptism is also a sign of the cleansing wrought by being born again: “He
saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to
His mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus
3:5). When we are born again (regenerated), we die to sin, and as we grow
in our new life, we put to death sinful ways and live more and more in
righteousness—our lives are cleaned up! Baptism is a sign of this. Baptism
means being set apart to a holy life. Just as utensils and people were anointed
with water or oil in the Old Testament and set apart for holy use, so in baptism
the person is anointed and set apart for holiness. The sign of baptism is so
closely identified with salvation in the New Testament that we are forced
to ask if a person is not saved by baptism.

Read just two passages: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have
clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His
name” (Acts 22:16). If we had just these two verses, we would think that baptism saves. There are
denominations that teach that today. But water baptism (like circumcision) is a sign of an event, not
the reality itself. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us we are saved by grace, not by any works of righteousness.
And in Romans 4, we have already seen Paul refute those who would say the sign saves. We must say
firmly that our sins are cleansed by the blood of Christ, and our lives are made holy by being born
again. Baptism is an outward sign of this inward work. In the light of that fact, the following verses
may seem surprising. As people were converted, not only were they baptized but their families were
also. Lydia, a business woman from Thyatira, believed the gospel, and Paul baptized both her and
her household. The writer goes out of his way to call attention to her household (Acts 16:15).
Likewise, an unnamed Philippian jailer believed, and he and his household were baptized (Acts
16:33-34). And in 1 Corinthians, Paul is speaking of baptizing certain individuals in Corinth; but he
also mentions baptizing the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16). As the gospel of the New Testa-
ment began to pervade the world, with Paul and Peter leading the charge, its message was no less gracious
and encompassing than the message of salvation to Abraham in Genesis 17. There was a new sign, but believ-
ing parents had the same responsibility and blessing as Abraham and baptized their children, who
had a great heritage like Isaac.

Circumcision Fulfilled by Baptism
                                     God always finishes what He begins. He keeps His vows,
                                       fulfills His promises, and leaves no loose ends. When we
                                         look at the life of Jesus we see Him completing and
                                         fulfilling many vows and promises of the Old Testament.
                                         Many of us err in thinking that Christ contradicted Old
                                         Testament teachings. His Sermon on the Mount was, in
                                         fact, the greatest message ever preached on the Law and
                                         the Prophets. How does Christ see Himself and His
                                         ministry in relation to the Old Testament? “Do not think
                                         that I came to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I did not come to
                                         abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth
                                         pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the
                                         Law, until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18). Far from
denying or contradicting the Old Testament, He completes and fulfills. Though some of His work is
yet to be completed, much was fully accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection.

Sacrifices were continually offered throughout the Old Testament, but when Jesus as God’s Lamb
was offered at Calvary, all valid sacrificing was ended. The animal sacrifices were symbols of Christ,
pointing forward to Him. When He came and died for our sin, there was no more need for animal
offerings. On the Passover evening, as the Jews remembered how God delivered them from the

angel of death, they ate the Passover lamb. The eve of Christ’s death was such an
occasion, and He ate the symbolic lamb with His disciples. After supper He gave
them bread, saying it represented His body broken for them, and wine, which
represented His blood shed for them. Just as they ate the Passover lamb in the
Old Testament, now they were partakers of the Lamb of God offered for
their sin. Thus, the Lord’s Supper fulfilled and took the place of the
Passover supper (along with the other Old Testament feasts). In exactly the
same way, baptism takes the place of circumcision as the sign of salvation.

Consider the following three questions in the light of the preceding chapters:
   1. When a person believed the God of Abraham and trusted in Him in the Old Testament, what
      happened? He was circumcised.
   2. What was the outward event that represented the clean heart in the Old Testament?
   3. What was the outward sign that marked a person’s entrance into the community of believers in
      the Old Testament? Circumcision.

Now consider the same questions, replacing the words “Old Testament” with “New Testament”:
   1. When a person believed the God of Abraham and trusted in Him in the New Testament, what
      happened? He was baptized.
   2. What was the external event that represented the clean heart in the New Testament?
   3. What was the outward sign that marked a person’s entrance into the community of believers in
      the New Testament? Baptism.

Paul explained this to a group of converted Gentiles in Colossae. Some Jews were telling new
converts they needed to be circumcised because this was the sign of salvation. Since the converts
were not from a Jewish background, they had never been circumcised. A great controversy arose
among them—indeed within the whole Mediterranean church. Note what Paul wrote to these fragile
new followers of Christ: “ . . . in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, having
been buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:11-12). Even though they had not been circumcised outwardly,
Paul affirmed that they had indeed undergone a circumcision “not made with hands.” In other words,
theirs was a symbolic circumcision. How? When did they receive this? When they were baptized.
Paul said, in effect, “Don’t you understand that I baptized you as a sign of your salvation? Therefore,
you don’t need circumcision.

                                                  It is not strange that baptism fulfills circumcision.
                                                  Every doctrine taught in the New Testament has its
                                                  roots in the Old. We are moved to tears at the beauty
                                                  and unity of Scripture as we see Aaron slay the lambs
                                                  and then see Jesus slain at Calvary, punished by God
                                                  for our sins. We feel a kinship to Joshua as we see his
                                                  family gather to eat the Passover lamb in old Israel, and
                                                  we gather to partake of the body and blood of God’s
                                                  lamb in the new Israel. But most precious is that God
                                                  does not withhold a blessing He gave His people in
                                                  former days. We follow in the footsteps of Abraham
                                                  circumcising Isaac when we bring our children to be

                                                 Memorial Sacrifice
                                                     The Passover was the most prominent of all the
                                                     covenant memorials or sacramental feasts in the Old
                                                     Testament. It was a covenant memorial meal (Ex.
                                                     12:14). When the Lord saw the blood on the door-
post, He remembered His covenant and spared His people. In fact, all the sacrifices made by Israel
were offered as memorials directed toward God so that He would remember the covenant (Ex.
12:14; Lev. 2:2; 6:15 calls sacrifice “a memorial for the Lord”). The Lord’s Supper likewise memorializes
the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, when the smoke rose up to heaven, God
smelled the pleasing aroma, remembered His covenant, and was at peace with His people. Many
other passages speak of memorial objects or events as dramatic ways in which to petition God to
remember His covenant (Gen. 9:8, 11-17; 8:1; Ex. 20:24; 28:12, 29; 30:16; Num. 10:10). We even
find this use of the word memorial in the New Testament. Cornelius, the Gentile God-fearer, learns
from an Angel that his “prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4).

When understood against the backdrop of these Old Testament memorials, the
Lord’s Supper as a “memorial” is shown to be first of all a dramatized ritual
prayer reminding God of His covenant. The Lord’s Supper is the New
Covenant Memorial. It is the fulfillment of all these older ways, which the
Lord instituted as the means whereby His people would call upon His Name
and ask Him to remember His covenant. All the Old Covenant memori-
als, including the feasts, are fulfilled and completed (compacted) in the
one simple covenantal memorial meal of the New Covenant. Jesus says
we should do this as a memorial to Him.

Two Major Moments in the Sacrament
First, there is the memorializing of the death of Jesus. Herein we pray to God to remember the
work of Jesus and keep His covenant. We show forth the death of Jesus to the Father asking Him
to keep His gracious promises to us in Christ. In the case of the Lord’s Supper this memorializing is
an act of the congregation, a pleading of the promises of God on behalf of the Son. Second, there is
God’s response to our plea. He comes in blessing for His people and in judgment on His enemies.
Memorializing Jesus to the Father causes Him to act, to come, to visit His people. Thus, the Lord’s
Supper is both a dramatized, ritual prayer, in which we call upon God to remember the sacrificial
death of Jesus Christ to keep His covenant with us, and then in response to our memorial prayer,
God comes near to serve and nourish us with the life-giving nourishment available to us in Christ.
The Lord’s Supper marks the culmination of our being drawn into God’s presence by way of sacri-
fice and thereby anticipates the Wedding Supper of the Lamb when the process of our being con-
formed to the image of Christ will be finally and comprehensively accomplished in us. At the Table
the Church ritually anticipates the New Heavens and Earth, when she will participate in the Son’s
thanksgiving offering of the entire creation to the Father.

                     Covenant Communion
                      The children of believers by virtue of their membership in God’s covenant are
                         to be given the sacrament of covenant reconciliation. Under the Old
                           Covenant this sign was circumcision. All the members of the household
                            of a believer were to be given the sign and seal of God’s covenant.
                            Thus, not only the children, but also the servants who were purchased

                                                       by the believer were considered to be part of
                                                       the household of faith and therefore to receive
                                                       the sign of God’s ownership. The same holds
                                                       true under the New Covenant. All the mem-
                                                       bers of a believer’s household are members of
                                                       the covenant by virtue of God’s sovereign
                                                       claim and as such, should be given the cov-
                                                       enant sign of baptism to indicate this glorious
But what are we to say about the second sacrament, the sacrament of communion, the Lord’s
Supper? Both the Lord’s Supper and baptism signify and seal to us the benefits and blessings of
God’s covenant. Presbyterians have historically insisted on this in regard to baptism. The children of
believing parents are given the sign and seal of God’s covenant upon their birth and are joined to
the living God in covenant union. This union is an objective reality. By virtue of God’s covenant,
they are joined to Him like branches to a vine. There is a real, vital union—one which ought to
produce fruit and one in which the members may be judged if they are barren. By virtue of God’s
gracious covenant, men not only have a covenantal union with Christ, but also enjoy covenantal
communion with Him.
It is because of this reality, that God’s people are not only given the sign and seal of covenant union
(circumcision/baptism) but are also given the sign and seal of covenant communion (Passover/
Lord’s Supper). As members of God’s covenant, children should be given the signs and seals of that
covenant. If being in covenant means being in covenant union with Christ, then it is proper to give
the sign and seal of that covenant union to all who are in covenant with Christ. This is why we give
baptism to our children. Covenant union implies covenant communion. How can there be one
without the other? Any branch in union with the vine enjoys communion with that vine. If there is
no communion, there is no union. This is the principle followed in our church discipline. What is the
last step in Church discipline? Excommunication—the cutting off from the communion table of the
Lord. Communion is the unmistakable mark of union. Where communion is cut off, there is no
union with the body. If we are to give our children the sign of covenant union, then we must also
give the sign and seal of covenant communion.
This view was the nearly unanimous position of the Church for
the first twelve centuries and has been held throughout history
by one branch of God’s Church or another. It was acknowl-
edged as the orthodox position by the council of Toledo in 675,
and by the Gelasian Sacra-mentary of 425. This position is not
novel or unusual in the history of the church though it has not
always been held by the majority of the Church (at least since
the twelfth century to the present). Nevertheless, Scripture is
our ultimate rule of faith and practice. Two basic lines of
biblical argument support this position:

    1) Children were admitted to the sacramental meals of the Old Covenant (including Passover).
    There were numerous covenant feasts under the Old Covenant. Preeminent among them
    however was the Passover, which was the meal that signified the deliverance from the slavery of
    sin that would be accomplished by God’s Son (the Lamb) and the judgment that would fall on all

    the impenitent and unbelieving. All who trusted in God for salvation would be
    delivered and made victorious over the consequences of sin and disobedi-
    ence. Without the atoning sacrifice for their sins (the shedding of the
    blood of the Lamb) they would suffer the condemnation that was about to
    fall on God’s enemies. One can easily see the analogy between the
    Passover and the Lord’s Supper: The Passover pointed to the fact that
    God would provide a substitute (the Passover lamb) to suffer and die for
    His people to deliver them from the curse of their sins. The Lord’s Supper
    points to the Lamb of God (Jesus, who is called by Paul “Christ, our
    Passover”) who shed His blood for His people to deliver them from the
    curse due to them for their sins.
    2) Children are nowhere excluded from participating in the sacramental
    meal of the New Covenant (the Lord’s Supper). Covenant children under the New Covenant are
    still viewed as members of the covenant community with all the privileges and responsibilities of
    that community. Paul addresses them as members of the church and includes them among the
    number of the “saints.” He gives them covenant commands and sets before them covenant
    promises. There is no indication that their position and privileges under the New Covenant are
    any less than what they were under the Old. In fact, we find, as we would expect, that their
    covenant privileges are even greater (Thus, for example, it is now the case that both males and
    females are allowed to have the covenant sign of reconciliation [baptism], and now they may
    enjoy weekly covenant meals, unlike the Old Covenant). Nowhere is there the slightest hint that
    covenant children lose the privilege of communing with the congregation that they enjoyed under
    the Old Covenant.
God in His grace and mercy has included the children of believers in His covenant. Because of this,
the children of believers are rightly given the signs and seals of this covenant—baptism and the
Lord’s Supper. Children should be admitted to the Lord’s Table because of their membership in the
covenant community and not because of their understanding or discernment of the theology of
that community as important as that is. Children were admitted to the sacramental meals of the Old
Covenant and there is no indication that this has been altered under the New Covenant.

                            The Elements: Bread and Wine
                            Most evangelical churches in America have used bread (unleavened or
                            leavened) and grape juice as the elements for the Lord’s Supper. The
                            issue, however, is not a matter of what traditions have been established
                            or practiced, but rather, what do the Scriptures teach? It is the “Lord’s
                            Supper,” and therefore He sets the table and the menu, and not us.
                            Understanding biblical symbolism and the historical context of the
                            establishment of the Lord’s Supper is necessary if we are to arrive at a
                            proper understanding of biblical teaching on this subject.

The Lord established this new covenant meal at the Passover meal He was observing with His
disciples shortly before His crucifixion. In addition to several other elements used in the Passover
meal, there were the three loaves of unleavened bread (the afikomen), and there were four cups of
wine that were offered up. The core “blessings” of the Seder (i.e. Passover), date to the early com-
mon tradition of drinking four cups of wine. These four cups are based on the four “I wills” of
Exodus 6:6-8:

     1) I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (cup of
     2) I will redeem you (cup of redemption).
     3) I will take you to Me for a people and I will be to you a
         God (cup of the covenant).
     4) I will bring you in unto the land (cup of homecoming).

The third cup of wine is the cup that Jesus took and said “this cup is the new covenant in My blood” (1
Cor. 11:24). There is an abundance of historical literature that lets us know that the elements of the
Passover meal were unleavened bread and fermented wine. In the course of this meal, Jesus takes
two of the elements (the bread and the wine) and He gives them special significance. Evidence that
the wine was fermented is seen when we recall that one of the problems at Corinth was that some
people had abused the elements of bread and wine and had become gluttons and drunkards. The
rebuke is not for drinking too much grape juice, but for the sinful abuse of bread and wine.

Leavened or Unleavened Bread?
Many have the idea that in the Bible leaven only represents sin or unrighteousness (a notion popular-
ized by a note in the Scofield Reference Bible). But this is a serious distortion of what Scripture says. A
partial truth represented as the whole truth is a lie. It is true that in Scripture leaven can be a symbol
for unrighteousness, but it is also true that Scripture uses leaven a symbol of righteousness. Perhaps
a better way to understand the true symbolism of leaven is to say that in Scripture leaven represents
the outworking of religious commitments and ideas over time (i.e. it represents dominion or
growth—ideas have consequences). “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the
whole lump? 7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our
passover is sacrificed for us: 8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and
wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:6-8:); “How is it that ye do not under-
stand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the
Sadducees? 12Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of
the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:11-12-); “Another parable spake H unto them; ‘The kingdom of
heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened’”
(Matt. 13:33).

                       The Passover was called the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” Therefore, unleav-
                      ened bread was necessary—there could not even be any leaven in the house. So
                     there is no question that when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper He did so with
                       unleavened bread. Isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that settle the question?
                                  Shouldn’t we therefore use unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper?
                                       We must understand that in the Passover, the absence of the
                                         leaven had a particular symbolic significance. We must likewise
                                          understand that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ
                                          transformed that significance. The Bible tells us what the ab-
                                     sence of leaven meant at the Passover. It represented a break
with the leaven or sins of Egypt. The leaven of Egypt (i.e., the ideas of Egypt), were to be left
behind—none of Egypt’s culture was to be carried out of Egypt. We see that this was a real prob-
lem in the Wilderness. Deuteronomy 16 calls this bread the “bread of affliction.” The absence of
leaven also indicated the haste by which they left Egypt—they did not have time to let bread rise.

But remember, leaven can represent one of two things in the Bible: either growing wickedness or
growing righteousness. Either righteousness is the loaf and unrighteousness is the leaven, or
unrighteousness is the loaf and righteousness is the leaven. Something is going to be working on
something else. It is not a question of “dominion vs. no dominion”; it is only a question of whose
dominion. It was necessary for the people of Israel, coming out of slavery, to have this defensive
mentality to make sure they made a clean break with Egypt.

                                                                               But the Bible also has more to say.
                                                                               Israel was to begin building a new,
                                                                               godly culture. In Leviticus 7:11-13,
                                                                               we see an interesting development:
                                                                               “And this is the law of the sacrifice of
                                                                               peace offerings, which he shall offer unto the
                                                                               LORD. 12If he offer it for a thanksgiving,
                                                                               then he shall offer with the sacrifice of
                                                                               thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with
                                                                               oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil,
                                                                               and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour,
fried. 13Besides the cakes, he shall offer for his offering leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace
offerings.” When you are offering thanks, you are to use both unleavened and leavened bread. This
leaven is the leaven of Israel—the leaven of the Promised Land. The “festival of firstfruits” in
Leviticus 23:16-17 is associated with Pentecost in Acts 2: “Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath
shall ye number fifty days [Pentecost]; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. 17Ye shall bring out
of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven;
they are the firstfruits unto the LORD.” You are to offer the best that you have.

So, which kind of bread should we use? What statement do we want to make? Are we on the
defensive or the offensive? The first occurrence of the Lord’s Supper was before the cross, but the
completed work of Christ changes our perspective? Perhaps unleavened or leavened bread is an
appropriate symbol, depending on what message we are trying to give. On the one hand, our cel-
ebration of the Lord’s Supper is unleavened in that we have made a break with all worldliness and
sin (defensive). On the other hand, our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is leavened in that we
proclaim a Gospel that will transform the entire world (offensive). It would seem that the primary
message we want to give is that the Gospel of the Kingdom is growing throughout the world. “And
Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19Go ye therefore, and
teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching
them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the
world. Amen’” (Matt. 28:18-20). This is the leaven of the Gospel. Leaven grows—leaven spreads!
The Lord’s Supper is the corporate proclamation of the Gospel, and the Gospel is leaven. The
Kingdom of God shall permeate the world and the kingdoms of this world shall become the king-
doms of the Lord and of His Christ! “Another parable spake He unto them; ‘The kingdom of heaven is like
unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened’” (Matt. 13:33).

                                                           Should little children participate in the
                                                           worship of God? Well, in one sense the
                                                           Bible says that we are all little children, as
                                                           Jesus indicated when He said to His dis-
                                                           ciples: “Little children, yet a little while I am
                                                           with you” (John 13:33). Therefore, in
principle, it is clear that little children must worship Him. But there is another sense in which we
speak of “little children,” and that, of course, is in reference to infants or toddlers. What, if any
obligation do they have to worship God and, more particularly, what, if any place do they have in
the corporate worship of God? As God’s people, we should rejoice over hearing infant noises in
our midst. This is an indication of His covenant blessings and of His gift of life. God thereby
adds to our number and advances His kingdom through the generations. But does this mean that
without exception children must always be present with their parents in the congregation?

Learning Great Things
Little children are sponges when it comes to soaking in new information. In Luke 1:44 the Bible
reports this statement from Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, when she heard Mary, “For,
lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for
joy.” Even when they seem not to be paying attention, the youngest of children often surprise us
when we hear them recite the very thing we thought had passed them by (sometimes to our delight
or chagrin). From the moment a child is born (or perhaps even before that), parents begin to teach
their children by speaking, singings and living out before them a Christian life. The fact that they
cannot articulate or emulate immediately all that we impart to them does not cause us to stop
teaching them. We know that soon they will pick it up and mimic what they have been taught.
Even if the child does not understand all that he is doing, he is learning that these are the things
God’s people do. In time he will understand why.

There is nothing more important for a child to learn than
the worship of God, both privately and corporately. This is
one of the chief obligations of all God’s creatures. As we
teach our children to walk and talk, at the same time we
should diligently teach them the Scriptures and how they
should worship God when they “sit in their house,” when
they “walk in the way,” when they “lie down,” or when they
“rise up,” (Deut 6:6-7). We have a clear biblical example of
the importance of this very early training found in 2 Timo-
thy 3:15, where the apostle Paul writes to Timothy saying,
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures,
which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through
faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The Greek word for “child”
in this text is the word used to describe a “nursing babe.”
No doubt, the infant Timothy heard the word of God from
the mouths of his faithful mother Eunice and his grand-
mother Lois from the time he was born.
                            Being grown-up is no guarantee that one will learn or comprehend the
                            truth of God. Jesus is thankful that truth is revealed even to the imma-
                            ture: “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, ‘I thank Thee, O
                            Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from
                            the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father;
                            for so it seemed good in Thy sight’” (Luke 10:21). While it may be a
                            mystery to adults, nevertheless God is clearly capable of communicating
                            with and receiving praise from even nursing children. In fact, we read the
                            prophesy in Psalm 8:2 that this would, in fact, be the case; a prophecy
                            that was fulfilled in Matthew 21:15-16: “And when the chief priests and
                            scribes saw the wonderful things that He [Jesus] did, and the children
crying in the temple, and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David;’ they were sore displeased, and said
unto Him, ‘Hearest Thou what these say?’ And Jesus saith unto them, ‘Yea; have ye never read, Out
of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?’” While Christians should not be
mystics, nevertheless, neither should we dismiss the fact that there are mysteries in the ways of
God, and that the Spirit, like the wind, “blows where it wishes.” (John 3:8).

Children are Members of the Covenant Community
We should first be clear that all of God’s covenant promises belong to “you and your children.”
Covenant children are members of the covenant community and are entitled to its benefits. Just as
circumcision was an advantage for Jews—“much in every way” (Rom. 3:2)—so too, those who have
received the covenant sign and seal of baptism have all the covenant privileges. Paul especially
points to the fact that their chief privilege is having been given “the oracles of God.” In other
words, God’s Word is given to all the members of the covenant community, including the little

When Moses assembled the congregation of the Lord, whereby God established them as His
covenant people, the congregation was all-inclusive:

   Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your
   tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, your little
   ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy
   wood unto the drawer of thy water: that thou shouldest enter into covenant
   with the LORD thy God, and into His oath, which the LORD thy God maketh
   with thee this day: That He may establish thee today for a people unto
   Himself, and that He may be unto thee a God, as He hath said unto thee,
   and as He hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
   Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; but with him that
   standeth here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with him
   that is not here with us this day. (Deuteronomy 29:10-15)

God’s covenant with His people obviously includes not only their little children, but even those yet
to be born. This covenant continues in the New Covenant where the promise is reaffirmed on the
day of Pentecost: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off,
even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Even the New Testament epistles are
often addressed to the constituent members of the covenant household i.e., husbands, fathers,
wives, mothers, children and slaves (cf. Eph. 5-6; Col. 3:18-25).

Should Little Children Be Included
in the Public Assembly?
This is an important question. We find biblical precedent for both affirma-
tive and negative answers, or perhaps better put: sometimes yes and some-
times no. Often, when the Bible refers to the assembly of God’s people or
to the congregation, it includes the youngest of children. For example, in 2
Chronicles 20:13, “And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little
ones, their wives, and their children”; and in Joshua 8:35, “There was not a
word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the
congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that
were conversant among them.” Likewise, in Joel 2:15-16 we read: “Blow the trumpet in Zion,
sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the
elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his
chamber, and the bride out of her closet.” Soon after this trumpet call in this prophecy (2:28-32),
Peter tells us that Joel was speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Jesus Himself thought it was appropriate for children to be brought into His presence: Mark 10:13-
16, “And they brought young children to Him, that He should touch them: and His disciples re-
buked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was much displeased, and said unto
them, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom
of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he
shall not enter therein.’ And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed
them.” Again, the Greek word used here is for “nursing babes.” It seems to be a mistake to forbid
even the youngest of children to participate in the worship of Christ.

                          As a rule, covenant children should be present with the congregation for
                              worship. They are part of the corporate body and therefore should be
                                     part of the corporate worship. This is of the essence of who
                                     they are as covenant children. Nevertheless, this is not the same
                                       as saying that it is always necessary that these little ones be
                                       present in every kind of congregational meeting. Some
                                      meetings may not be appropriate for very young children. In
                                     the Old Testament we see that three times a year only the males
                                    appeared before the Lord, and in Nehemiah 8:2 we read, “And
Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that
could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.” Some meetings may be
especially geared to men, or pastors, or some other special occasion. They may be too long for
small children, as in the case of conferences with multiple sessions, or (as in the case cited above) it
is simply beyond their comprehension. However, these meetings are primarily for instruction
rather than worship.

Training Children for Worship
When children are brought into the corporate worship service it is essential that parents be con-
scious of the fact that it is not enough for them simply to be present, but that they must also be
trained in the proper way to worship. Children should be taught to sit still and be quiet out of
respect for their parents and others, and they should also learn that the reason for this is the honor
and worship of God. Parents likewise have an obligation toward the other worshipers and toward

God Himself not to allow their children to distract from worship. It is the parents’ responsibility to
teach, discipline, and maintain control of their child in the worship service. The goal is to train the
child to exercise self-control and learn how to worship.

Parents must clearly establish the rules of behavior for their children as well as helping them under-
stand the reason they are in the worship service. During this training process children will inevitably
cross the lines and need further teaching, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2
Tim. 3:16). I mentioned in the introduction that congregations “should rejoice over hearing infant
noises in our midst.” One of the sounds they should rejoice over are the sounds of discipline—a
child being quietly corrected by father or mother, or even the occasional sound of crying as they are
being led out of the sanctuary for a more intense form of reproof.

                           Parents with very young infants, and those with children in the process of
                             being trained, should sit near an exit and be prepared to quietly exit the
                               sanctuary if their child begins to cry or otherwise becomes distract-
                                  ing to others. An occasional whimper or coo is normal and
                                    usually does not require much more than being picked up and
                                     rocked or patted on the back. However, if this fails to quiet the
                                     child, parents should, out of courtesy and respect for others
                                    and for worship, take their child out of the assembly until they
                                   have been quieted.

                        Toddlers pose a different challenge for parents. They should have been
trained at this point to understand what “no” means and should be expected to sit through a service
quietly. Failure to do so should be treated as any other willful disobedience (i.e., sin) and the appro-
priate discipline should be enforced. We all understand that they are “little children,” but remem-
ber, our responsibility as parents is to bring them to maturity by teaching them what is expected and
insisting that they obey. If a child is cranky because he has been sick, is cutting teeth, or has some
other legitimate reason for not feeling well, then perhaps he is not equipped to be present with the
congregation that day. However, even tired or sick children should not be allowed to sin.

Clearly, little children should be a part of the corporate worship. They are ready
to participate with the congregation as soon as parents assume the responsibil-
ity to teach, train and discipline their children for worship. Certainly, there
are exceptions where it is either unwise or inappropriate for very young
children to be present in a congregational meeting. In such cases, while
parents are still responsible for the care of their children, a volunteer nursery
may prove of genuine Christian service to meet these temporary needs.
When parents take seriously their responsibility to train their children to
participate in the corporate worship of God—respecting the needs of the
others present—then their little ones will be a delight to everyone—especially
the Lord. Likewise, the patience, prayers and help given these parents and
children by the rest of the congregation will facilitate the preparation of cov-
enant children for the worship service. This labor will be well worth the effort as another genera-
tion of children is equipped to faithfully serve and worship our glorious God.

Appendix To Lesson Eleven
Postures in Prayer
2 Chronicles 6:12-17— “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and
spread out his hands13 (for Solomon had made a bronze platform five cubits long, five cubits wide, and three cubits high, and had
set it in the midst of the court; and he stood on it, knelt down on his knees before all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his
hands toward heaven);14 and he said: ‘LORD God of Israel, there is no God in heaven or on earth like You, who keep Your
covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts. 15 You have kept what You promised Your
servant David my father; You have both spoken with Your mouth and fulfilled it with Your hand, as it is this day. 16 Therefore, LORD
God of Israel, now keep what You promised Your servant David my father, saying, “You shall not fail to have a man sit before Me
on the throne of Israel, only if your sons take heed to their way, that they walk in My law as you have walked before Me.” 17 And
now, O LORD God of Israel, let Your word come true, which You have spoken to Your servant David.”

Daniel 6:10-11— “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows
open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was
his custom since early days. 11 Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.”

Mark 10:17— “Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what
shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’”

Luke 22:41-42— “And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,42 saying, ‘Father, if it
is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’”

Acts 7:59-60— “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 Then he knelt
down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Acts 9:40— “But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she
opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.”

Acts 20:36-38— “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 Then they all wept freely, and
fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him,38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more.
And they accompanied him to the ship.”

Acts 21:5— “When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with
wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.”

Psalm 95:6-7— “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. 7For He is our God, and we
are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice.”

Ezra 10:1— “Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a
very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly.”

Nehemiah 9:2-3— “Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their
sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God
for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.”

Daniel 9:3-4— “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth,
and ashes. 4 And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, ‘O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps
His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments.’”

Genesis 18:22— “Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD.”

1 Samuel 1:26— “And she said, ‘O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the

Mark 11:25— “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven
may also forgive you your trespasses.”

1 Kings 8:22— “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out
his hands toward heaven.”

Nehemiah 8:6— “And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their
hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”

Psalm 63:4— “Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.”

Psalm 134:2— “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.”

Psalm 141:2— “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”

Lamentations 2:19— “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water before the face
of the Lord. Lift your hands toward Him for the life of your young children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street.”

1 Timothy 2:8— “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”

Genesis 24:48— “And I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, who had
led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son.”

Exodus 12:27— “…that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of
Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’ So the people bowed their heads and worshiped.”

2 Chronicles 29:30— “Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the LORD with the
words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.”

Psalm 121:1— “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help?

Psalm 123:1-2— “Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens. 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand
of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He has mercy on

Psalm 141:8— “But my eyes are upon You, O GOD the Lord; in You I take refuge; do not leave my soul destitute.”

Psalm 145:15— “The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season.”

John 11:41— “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. and Jesus lifted up His eyes and
said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.’”

John 17:1— “Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son,
that Your Son also may glorify You.’”

Daniel 9:3— “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and

Isaiah 45:23— “I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me
every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath.”

Matthew 17:14— “And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying.”
Mark 1:40— “Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can
make me clean.’”

Luke 22:41— “And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed.”

Ephesians 3:14— “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Genesis 17:3— “Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying.”

Numbers 14:5, 13— “Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of
Israel….13 And Moses said to the LORD: ‘Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from
among them.’”

Numbers 16:4,22,45— “So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face;…22 Then they fell on their faces, and said, ‘O God, the God
of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and You be angry with all the congregation?’…45 ‘Get away from among this congre-
gation, that I may consume them in a moment.’ And they fell on their faces.”

Deuteronomy 9:18, 25, 26— “And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor
drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger…. 25
Thus I prostrated myself before the LORD; forty days and forty nights I kept prostrating myself, because the LORD had said He
would destroy you. 26 Therefore I prayed to the LORD, and said: ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people and Your inheritance
whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.’”

Joshua 5:14— “So He said, ‘No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to
the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant?’”

Judges 13:20— “It happened as the flame went up toward heaven from the altar— the Angel of the LORD ascended in the flame
of the altar! When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.”

Ezekiel 9:8— “So it was, that while they were killing them, I was left alone; and I fell on my face and cried out, and said, ‘Ah,
Lord GOD! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?’”

Ezekiel 11:13— “Now it happened, while I was prophesying, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then I fell on my face and
cried with a loud voice, and said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Will You make a complete end of the remnant of Israel?’”

Matthew 26:39— “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass
from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’”

Mark 14:35— “He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.”

Luke 5:12— “And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell
on his face and implored Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’”

Luke 17:16— “…and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.”

Revelation 11:16— “And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God.”

1 Kings 8:42— “…for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and
prays toward this temple.”

Luke 18:13— “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast,
saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ Luke 18:13


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