Worship must be carried out according to God’s revealed will. We want to worship God in the way that He has prescribed as best as we possibly can. So, we want our worship to be drenched in Bible. We want every aspect to pour out biblical truth.
Public worship must succeed as much as possible in carrying out what God has given us in His word to do. We should acknowledge, however, that “The New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public ‘services’ so much as with examples of crucial elements.” Even though it is true that the New Testament does not give us “a complete manual of liturgics,” it does gives us clear things that we are to do.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us a few things that are essential for disciples of Jesus. Matthew 28:19-20 says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We will look at implications from the Great Commission first and then turn to other crucial aspects of what it means to be the called out ones of God.
First, the church is given a command. Something we must collectively work at carrying out. We must make disciples and that includes sharing the good news of Jesus with others (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Public worship then is to facilitate discipleship (which includes encouraging evangelism).
Second, after those that we share Jesus with trust Him and repent of their sin then they are to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16). Thus, the church is to celebrate baptisms.
Third, we see the church must teach disciples to do all that Jesus the Lord commanded and so we see the importance of teaching, preaching, and reading Scripture within the church (Matt. 28:19-20). Why is preaching such a big deal? Preaching is essential because it teaches God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.
Thus, we see the preaching of the Scriptures have a central place in the gathered services of the church. Sermons communicate God’s transforming truth, they exalt Jesus Christ, they teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and they encourage conformity to Christ.
Fourth, gathering together on a regular basis is vital (Heb. 10:24-25). It was the practice of the early church to gather together on Sunday, the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7-11; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). Thus, we see the vital importance of community.
Fifth, celebrating the Lord’s Supper together is essential because that’s what Jesus told us to do (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Jesus said “…do this…” so it’s not an option. We must gather together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together.
Sixth, qualified leaders (elders/pastors) are very important so that they can ensure the health of the church. Titus 1:5-9 tells us that Paul put elders in Crete because things were out of order until qualified elders were leading. Leaders are also given to the church to teach and equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-14 see also Col. 1:28-29). Thus, it is important that qualified leaders have oversight of the public worship of the church.
Seventh, the Bible also tells us that it is important for churches to sing songs together. Ephesians 5 says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 18-20; cf. Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). Notice too that it’s not just a person singing by their self but rather we address one another as we sing.
Eighth, it is also very important that churches be a holy witness and so church discipline is vital. See, for example, Matthew 18:15-20 (and also Phil. 2:15; 1 Cor. 5:9-12). Matthew 18:17 says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” When the church gathers for public worship it is, as much as possible, to be a gathering of saints; or course, seekers are welcome to! But, false converts who will spread heresy like gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17) are not.
Ninth, another foundation of healthy public worship is the practice of spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of the body, the church (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 14:26). This is important because “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). It’s good to be “eager for manifestations of the Spirit” but we see from Scripture (and especially 1 Corinthians) that it’s more important that we “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12).
Tenth, from reading the New Testament we also see that prayer is an important part of the gathered church. Jesus taught on the importance of prayer and we can see from reading Acts that prayer was vital to the early church (e.g. Acts 1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31).
Eleventh, almsgiving and charity are also important aspects of a Christian church because Christians are called to care for and help people, as they are able. We see this seems to be the regular practice of the early church (e.g. Acts 6; 1 Cor. 16:1-4).
With all this being said, I agree with Michael A. Farley, we should not “read the NT in an inappropriately narrow and legalistic fashion as if the NT as a whole is to function as a collective new covenant version of Leviticus. If none of the individual NT books were written to be an exhaustive liturgical manual, then it is wrong to read and apply the NT as a whole in this restrictive fashion.”
 I appreciate what Michael A. Farley says: “Evangelical scholars employ a range of very different hermeneutical strategies in applying the Bible to worship. This is not surprising, of course, since evangelicals are divided over the theory and practice of biblical hermeneutics in many areas of theology. The first step toward progress in reconciling divergent views is a clear recognition and accurate characterization of the diversity of hermeneutical approaches to constructing a biblical theology of worship. If discussion can take place at this level, evangelicals can avoid the frustrating experience of talking past one another without comprehending why one’s arguments are not persuasive to one’s interlocutors” (“What Is “Biblical’ Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship,” JETS 51/3 : 610).
 Worship by the Book, 52.
 Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship?,” 610. “There is no single passage in the New Testament that establishes a paradigm for corporate worship” (Worship by the Book, 55).
 For example, I really appreciate this summary by Edmond Clowney: “The New Testament indicates, by precept and example, what elements of [corporate] worship are. As in the synagogue, corporate prayer is offered (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 2:1; 1 Cor. 14:16); Scripture is read (1 Tim. 4:13; 1 Th. 5:27; 2 Th. 3:14; Col. 4:15, 16; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16) and expounded in preaching (1 Tim. 4:13; cf. Lk. 4:20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 4:2). There is a direct shift from the synagogue to the gathering of the church (Acts 18:7, 11; cf. 19:8-10). The teaching of the word is also linked with table fellowship (Acts 2:42; 20:7, cf. vv. 20, 25, 28). The songs of the new covenant people both praise God and encourage one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:15; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26; cf. 1 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 5:9-13; 11:17f; 15:3, 4). Giving to the poor is recognized as a spiritual service to God and a Christian form of ‘sacrifice’ (2 Cor. 9:11-15; Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:16). The reception and distribution of gifts is related to the office of the deacon (Acts 6:1-6; Rom. 12:8, 13; cf. Rom. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8:19-21; Acts 20:4; 1 Cor. 16:1-4) and to the gathering of believers (Acts 2:42; 5:2; 1 Cor. 16:2). The faith is also publically confessed (1 Tim. 6:12; 1 Pet. 3:21; Heb. 13:15; cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3). The people receive God’s blessing (2 Cor. 13:14; Lk. 24:50; cf. Num. 6:22-27). The holy kiss of salutation is also commanded (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Th. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). The people respond to praise and prayer with the saying of ‘Amen’ (1 Cor. 14:16; Rev. 5:14; cf. Rom. 1:25; 9:5; Eph. 3:21 etc.). The sacrament of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are explicitly provided for. Confession is linked with baptism (1 Pet. 3:21); and a prayer of thanksgiving with the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11:24)” (Clowney, “Presbyterian Worship,” Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D.A. Carson, 117 as quoted in Worship by the Book, 48).
 Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1
 Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship,” JETS 51/3 (2008): 610-11. “Liturgical theology ought to be a matter of wisdom that results from reflection upon all that God has revealed in Scripture about corporate worship in light of the person and work of Christ. Thus Christians need to employ a more theologically oriented regulative principle rather than one that would limit legitimate liturgical practices solely to those explicitly attested in the NT” (Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship?,” 611). In a similar way, John Piper says, “In the Old Testament, there is an extremely detailed set of guidelines for how everything should be done in relationship to the tabernacle and the sacrifices and the way people come to God. In the New Testament, those details are almost completely lacking. I am tempted to say completely lacking. There is no way anybody could construct a normative worship service from what we have in the New Testament. Lots of people think they can, but I don’t think so. There is more tradition going on there than they realize.” “Do We Really Need Musical Worship?” https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-we-really-need-musical-worship. John Piper goes on to say, “I don’t think you look for prescribed patterns in the New Testament. You look for emphases, trajectories, implications, the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of his mind, the nature of his emotions, the nature of salvation, the nature of gifts. And what you find is that there is an extraordinary centrality and emphasis to the word of God in the Christian life” (Ibid.).
Brief History of the Principles
Humans have been worshiping and thinking about worship since the beginning. We see this, for instance, by looking at the narrative of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Further, all of life is about worship. The question we are considering here, however, is how are we to formally worship God as the gathered church?
The two classic Protestant views of worship are the normative principle of worship and regulative principle of worship. There is a lot of confusion as to what these principals mean and how they are worked out in the life of the church. For example, an article online said that those who hold to the regulative view do not use instruments in their church services.
If “worship” means singing songs of praise, as “worship” is very often used, then here are some goals of worship: We strive to build each other up (1 Cor. 14:26), be filled with God’s Word (Col. 3:16), be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18ff), be a testimony to an unbelieving world (1 Cor. 14:24-15), and gives thanks to God for all He is and has done for us (Eph. 5:20). It is our joy to sing but we are also commanded to sing (e.g. Ps. 100:1-2). Singing is serious.
We do not, however, want to worship God merely in song for if our worship is only in song it is not true worship. We show what we worship by what we give worth. Jesus said, where your treasure is your heart will be also. Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters, but we will serve one. So, worship is inevitable; it is not a matter of if but of what or who. We will serve one or the other. We will worship.
- When you think of God’s glory, what are some of the things that first come to mind?
- God deserves glory for so many reasons. What are some reasons you think of that weren’t talked about in the sermon?
- Can you relate to C.S. Lewis’ struggle? Is it hard to understand why God cares so much about His own glory? What has been helpful for you as you think about this?
- What are some of the results of idolatry in our lives?
- What is an idol? Give some examples of good things in life that can become idols.
- What idols do you currently struggle with?
- How can personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god?
- What are possible signs in an individual’s life that point to the fact that success is an idol?
The heavens scream out and tell us of God’s surpassing worth (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). God’s glory is beyond our comprehension. For example, do you know how far away the closest star is (besides the sun)? It is approximately 4 light-years away. A light-year is the length that light travels in one year. Light travels 186,000 miles per second and there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. A light year is really far. One light year is almost 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000) miles! So, it takes four years for the light from the closest star to get to us.
The universe is also vast beyond comprehension. Hugh Ross said, “Somewhere around 50 billion trillion stars make their home in the observable universe.” That is impossible to conceive. “A comparison may make it more comprehensible: if that same number of dimes were packed together as densely as possible and piled 1,500 feet high (as high as some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers), they would cover the entire North American continent.”
Singing Cultivates a Heart of Thanksgiving
“And be thankful… singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:15-17).
“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19-20)
Another element of singing is thanksgiving. We sing to one another making melody to the Lord in our hearts (not just in our ears), giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19b-20 cf. Col. 3:16).As we sing rich theological songs we come to see the glories that God has brought to us through Jesus and the regenerating work of the Spirit.
As we sing songs of praise to the Lord the song we make with our hearts is more important than the sound we make with our voices. Singing teaches and transforms us as we thank God for who He is and all He has done. As we thank God for who He is it serves a dual purpose, it also reminds us, we are so prone to forget (and thus, as the song says, “prone to wonder”). As we tell God that He is worthy we ourselves are reminded afresh that God is worthy.
Many of us sadly have a very shallow view of God. In the words of William Lane Craig, we have “a defective concept of God.” We sometimes view God
“as sort of a big chap up there and we appreciate him and we look up to him and so forth, but I think we don’t really understand why we worship God which is to adore God as the supreme good… He is the highest good. He is the paradigm of goodness. That is to say, God’s nature defines what goodness is. It is not as though God lives up to some external standard and does a good job at being good. He is goodness itself. Therefore, he is to be worshiped and adored because he is the highest good.”[i]
So we see that “worship is an active response to God whereby we declare His worth. Worship is not passive, but is participative. Worship is not simply a mood; it is a response. Worship is not just a feeling; it is a declaration.”[ii] That’s in part why were told to make a joyful noise to the LORD, even when we don’t feel like it (Ps. 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; 100:1). “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp!” (Ps. 150:2-3).
We sing because we are thankful (Eph. 5:19b-20) even in the midst of suffering (see Acts 16:25). We do not merely work ourselves up into a frenzy but are moved into orderly worship by the Spirit as we have the eyes of our hearts enlightened (cf. Eph. 1:15-23). Again, we sing with our spirit, but we sing with our mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). Notice that when we look at the book of Nehemiah we see that revival came to God’s people in part through understanding the Scriptures and a retelling of God’s abundant grace to His people (Neh. 8:1ff).
When we sing songs to God we are not just thinking. We are not just singing for the sake of singing or just edifying each other. We are recounting God’s truth and goodness and being moved anew to thanksgiving (cf. Ps. 78). We are declaring God’s worth.
God is worthy not just of songs about Him, but songs of praise to Him.[iii] We may sing country songs, pop songs, etc. but those songs do not consciously praise anyone or anything. As we sing songs of praise we are consciously praising God, realizing He alone is worthy. We are purposely thanking God for all He is and has done. So, even when we don’t feel like it, we should still sing songs of hearty praise to the LORD. He is worthy!
So, what are some goals we have for our singing? We strive to build each other up (1 Cor. 14:26), be filled with God’s Word (Col. 3:16), be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18ff), be a testimony to an unbelieving world (1 Cor. 14:24-15), and gives thanks to God for all He is and has done for us (Eph. 5:20). It is our joy to sing but we are also commanded to sing (cf. Ps. 100:1-2). Singing is serious. So, let’s do as Psalm 47:6 says:
“Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!”
[ii] Ronald Allen and Gordan Borror, Worship, Rediscovering the Missing Jewel [Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1982], 16.
[iii] “Since God is neither an a-personal truth…, contemplation is not appropriate as a way of relating to God. Adoration is. To adore God is not simply to behold the truth in a disinterested way, but to affirm one’s allegiance to God by praising God for his deeds in creation and redemption” (“Reflections on a Christian way of Being-in-the-World,” 209. Italics mine).