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Biblical Worship (Page 2)

Biblical Worship (March 2003) Page 2

Is There Another Way?

Edmund Clowney offers a very interesting list of activities to be included in CW either commanded or taught by example in the NT.34 The presupposition behind such a list is that God has indeed told us in the NT how He desires to be worshipped. I have made my own such list, drawing from Clowney’s, all the while adding some points and removing others. (That fact alone ought to attract our attention, but more on that later.)

I believe the activities that comprise CW, either directly commanded or clearly exemplified in the NT, are as follows:35

  1. teaching (preaching, correction, training in righteousness, reproving, rebuking, exhortation, pastoral admonishment) [RP]36
  2. fellowship37
  3. the Lord’s Supper [RP]38
  4. prayers [RP]39
  5. meeting the physical needs of the church40
  6. reading of the Word [RP]41
  7. corporate “amen” to prayer and Truth42
  8. collections for the needy43
  9. testing (not despising) of prophecies44
  10. public confession of faith45
  11. discipline / restoration of sinning brother46
  12. admonishing each other47
  13. women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over man in CW (male leadership)48
  14. singing [RP]49
  15. public greetings from other assemblies50
  16. greeting one another with the holy kiss / kiss of love51
  17. exercising gifts from the Holy Spirit52
  18. obey and esteem elders53
  19. thanksgiving54
  20. missionary reports of God’s work55
  21. confession of sin56
  22. commemoration of the Lord’s work57
  23. testimonies to God’s gracious dealings with individuals58

Several things should be immediately obvious:

  1. By its very nature, a list like this is open to dispute. Not all the items listed occur in a CW context (such as the command to sing). Besides this, there are many other things that Christians are commanded to do! For example, “bear with one another” is a general command in the realm of Christian ethics, yet it is an activity that overflows into the realm of CW – my point is that it is not easy to decide when an item should be thought of merely as a “church activity” and when it should be put under the CW banner.
  2. The nature of this list suggests that that the application of these principles (that is, the commands and examples of the NT) may vary based on culture, era, setting, etc. At the same time it acknowledges that in other cases the application of these principles may alter and transform culture. What the command “to teach” looks like in Namibia may not be identical to Canada… but if either culture is void of teaching, they need to be altered.
  3. It is assumed that adding to this list of examples and commands would be very dangerous, but must be done in answering questions such as the use/non-use of musical instruments, the location of meetings, the physical position of worshippers, etc.
  4. While it is understood that edification is not the end of worship – ascribing worth to God is – it is obvious from the nature of the activities included in the list that true worship will most often result in the “building up” of the church.
  5. A list like this assumes that not every element can be accomplished every time the church gathers – there are just too many items.
  6. Finally, this list highlights the primary (although not exclusive) position of the Word in NT CW.

Comparing the RP to My List of the Contents of CW

Now, although this is not yet a fully developed model for what must take place in our worship, I want to diverge for a moment and compare this list to the RP. The RP starts with an excellent point: “The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and does good to 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. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.” With this point we heartily agree! Man is neither capable nor permitted to devise how God is to be worshipped – we are dependent on Him to tell us how He is to be worshipped. But, after this agreement, the paths diverge.
The RP then demarcates the constituent elements of CW this way (according to the 1689):

  1. Prayer (with specific points as to its structure, timing, place, etc).
  2. The public reading of the Scriptures.
  3. Preaching, and hearing the Word of God.
  4. Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord.
  5. The administration of baptism, and the Lord's Supper.
  6. The observance of solemn humiliation, with fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, used in an holy and religious manner.

In comparing the RP as it is described above, to the components of CW I have already listed, it is obvious to see the two do not agree. My own opinion is that the RP falls short on 5 counts:

  1. The first problem is obvious. My list of the “elements” of worship includes 23 items; the RP allows for 6 . As I understand the RP, the goal was to protect the conscience of the worshipper. (e.g.: Lighting a candle in prayer is an extra-biblical practice that would offend the conscience of many. If the church commands such a practice they infringe on the freedom of the worshipper and violate his conscience.) Thus, the goal is to narrow down CW to its bare necessities so that we do nothing to offend a brother or to violate his conscience. In an effort to nail down these “elements” though, specific and commanded practices of CW have been omitted (such as corporate greetings, testing of the prophets and restoration of fallen brethren). Thus, the RP actually accomplishes the opposite of its objective. By prohibiting genuine expressions of CW taught and modeled in the NT, the RP violates the conscience of the one who is free to engage in these components.
  2. Secondly, the RP cannot be consistently applied. Most churches do not have the Lord’s Supper every time there is CW (some do) as the RP would suggest. Most churches do not have baptisms every time there is CW – simply because there is not always someone to baptize. The RP does not clearly define what elements must take place every time the church meets for CW.
  3. The RP principle injects an unwarranted and unwanted distinction into CW when it uses the terms “elements” and “circumstances” of worship… terms that have zero consistent interpretation. This confusion leads to a broad spectrum of practice – all the way from non-instrumental services to the regular use of drama and dancing.
  4. The RP creates a solid line where one does not exist. We could do the same thing with our list of 23, but we must not fall for it! These lines must be drawn in pencil, not blood.

Comparing the NP to My List of the Contents of CW

The NP fares even worse. It does not take into account God’s right to limit the activities of CW. Even though the added forms of worship that the NP is intended to allow for are always to be checked against the backdrop of “orderliness,” this is too broad a construct. Historically, such reasoning has permitted a virtual return to Roman Catholicism (within some sectors of Anglicanism). For example, the use of vestments is not prohibited in the NT, but a thoughtful study of the flow of redemptive history would lead most to see their use as detrimental to proclaiming the priesthood of all believers and the High Priesthood of Jesus.

Summing Up the Content of CW

  1. Our goal must be to worship God the way God wants to be worshipped.
  2. Our source or model for how God desires to be worshipped must be the NT – and the OT as it is interpreted by the NT.
  3. Churches must be given freedom to differ on what activities make up CW as long as there is biblical basis for the activity. This does not suggest that we must proof-text every activity that we include in CW, although we must be able to give sound biblical (theological) reasoning as to why we do what we do.
  4. Churches (and church leaders) must guard against the activities of worship replacing the heart of worship!

The Structure of Corporate Worship: How Does God Want Us to Organize Our Meetings?

Orderliness is one of the primary concerns to God-honoring CW. Paul writes to the disorderly Corinthian church: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace… But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:26-33, 40)

Yet, even in this orderliness, there is spontaneity as seen by different members participating in the selection of hymns and in the teaching.

This combination of corporate involvement and godly orderliness requires a strong leadership that allows for spontaneity, yet protects against reckless, individualistic disorderliness. Hence, Paul demands that the Corinthians develop a regular habit of gathering the men (only) to “test the prophets.” One presumed reason for this is that with many offering their “prophecies,” error was bound to be heard and it must be dealt with. He also gives common sense rules for the exercise of some of the more flamboyant charismata in order to guard the CW meeting from excess.

The NT does not, in my estimation, go much further than this. Carson notes: “… there is no explicit mandate or model of a particular order or arrangement” of the elements included in CW. This is to say that ordering a service after our “theology of conversion” may be a good idea, but it is outside the realm of biblical principle.

The key factors to strive for are a legitimate balance between spontaneity (congregational involvement) and orderliness that reflects the peace that is ours in Jesus.

A Mini Conclusion: The Essential Components of Corporate Worship

What have we proffered so far? That CW is distinct from AOLW. That this distinction comes from two things – the unique activities that belong to CW and the intensifying effect on worship that is created by bringing many Christians together.

I have suggested that the time of CW is whenever Christians gather together for that purpose; the location of CW is wherever those Christians happen to gather; the purpose of CW is to properly respond to the Almighty; the means to CW is to grow in both our knowledge of and delight in the Lord; the experience of CW will result in the worshipper being “genuinely affected;” the participants of CW are authentic, sin-hating, Christ-exalting Christians; the content of CW is made up of at least 23 activities (and perhaps more); and that the structure of CW is to reflect a balance between spontaneity and orderliness. This is a summary of some of the major biblical principles when it comes to CW. There only remains the task of injecting these principles into our 21st century North American churches.

The thought struck me several years ago, that any biblical principle ought to be trans-cultural. The principle of personal holiness, for example, transcends every culture and ethnic group. In one culture, that may mean women need to wear dresses all day, every day; in another culture it may mean wearing jeans is perfectly acceptable. The distinction is in the realm of application as opposed to principle. This provides a good test for us in our theology and preaching – is what I am calling principle something that would be true in every culture? – if not, then I am in the realm of application and must be tirelessly careful how I apply. This is a most vital distinction to maintain when we seek to apply the principles of CW listed above.



A Test Case: How Shall We Then Sing?

Addressing all the elements of CW is far beyond the scope of this small(?) paper, so I will seek to address only one activity of CW – by far, the most divisive one in North American churches today – singing. We begin with the principle: we need to sing in CW. How do we arrive at this as principle?

  1. Singing is a part of normal Spirit-filled Christian existence with other Christians. Ephesians 5:19 “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart…” Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Please note that these oft-quoted references are not in a CW context in either letter – a regular oversight!
  2. Singing is a result of joy in the Lord. James 5:13 “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”
  3. Singing is exemplified by Jesus. Mark 14:26 “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Hebrews 2:12 “…‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’”
  4. Singing is exemplified by the inhabitants of heaven – where CW is continual. Revelation 5:9 “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” Revelation 14:3 “…and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.” Revelation 15:3 “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”
  5. Singing is standard in church meetings. 1 Corinthians 14:15 “…I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” 1 Corinthians 14:26 “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn…”

From these references we deduce that singing is a legitimate function of CW. That is the principle. The next step is to apply our principles of CW highlighted above to the duty of singing. We discover that:

  1. The time of CW is whenever Christians gather together for that purpose; thus, Christians ought to sing when they gather.
  2. The location of CW is wherever those Christians happen to gather; thus, singing is not limited to any specific building or location – it could even be outside!
  3. The purpose of CW is to properly respond to the Almighty; thus, singing ought to be that which is directed to God, not others. This certainly puts the emphasis on corporate singing, although it may not rule out solos or choirs.
  4. The means to CW is to grow in both our knowledge of and delight in the Lord; and the means to our singing is the same. We must sing songs that are theologically rich and songs which focus our attention on the Lord, not us.
  5. The experience of CW includes being “genuinely affected;” thus, we are right to expect our emotions and “animal spirits” to be moved as we engage in CW through song. The very nature of singing is such that it affects the singer.
  6. The participants of CW are genuine, sin-hating, Christ-exalting Christians; and they are the only ones who can truly mean what they sing and sing it from their hearts!
  7. The content of CW includes at least 23 activities; and singing is one of these. It is to be an activity that is regularly engaged in outside of CW, but it is clear it is also to overflow into our CW.
  8. The structure of CW is to reflect a balance between spontaneity and orderliness; so our songs ought to be appropriate to the theme of our services, yet we should also allow for congregational involvement in the choice of what is sung.

This is a good start, but we have yet to deal with the touchy issues. No one I know debates the necessity of singing in CW - the fury is surrounding the content of what is sung. Some say “psalms-only.” Others say, hymns-only “though less traditional forms of music, if used judiciously, may be appropriate…” Others suggest that nothing short of good old Rock n’ Roll is the way to praise God… and they all have their reasons!

We turn again, to the Word. What does it tell us about content? The clearest verses have to be Colossians 3:17 and Ephesians 5:19 which say that our singing is to include “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” The problem is in figuring out what this means! Many confident pronouncements have been made concerning the definition of these words. Calvin wrote: “…under these three terms [Paul] includes all kinds of songs. They are commonly distinguished in this way — that a psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of: a hymn is properly a song of praise, whether it be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while a [song] contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles. For this has a connection with his argument.” N. T. Wright agrees, saying, “These three terms indicate a variety and richness of Christian singing which should neither be stereotyped into one mould nor restricted simply to weekly public worship.” It is interesting to me that the most specific reference to the content of our singing has very little to say regarding the style of music – the description Paul gives is very broad!

Perhaps the correct way to think about the content of our singing, then, is to focus more on the words we sing than on the musical form that delivers them? If Calvin is correct, that seems to be the emphasis Paul is getting at in Colossians. In Ephesians, the emphasis has more to do with what being “filled with the Spirit” looks like. In neither reference is Paul laying down specific rules for style of music (i.e. four verses in common meter or one line repeated several times). Rather, he suggests that being filled with the Spirit or having the Word dwell in you “richly” ought to result in singing. The reference to teaching and admonishing one another in the immediate context of both verses suggests that a secondary purpose to this singing (the first being to express the overflow of “Word/Spirit fullness”) is to sing words that are theologically rich and personally relevant.
Musical style is not the same thing as song content – that is my point. There are some atrocious hymns - just because they are in a hymnal does not make them good. There are also some excellent new songs. The tool we must use to evaluate any song or hymn must be, first of all, the content of the words. I think this is where the Biblical Principle on singing focuses. After this point, we are in the realm of applying other (justifiable) considerations like:

  • what does the style of music communicate if left to stand on its own
  • does the style of music draw people back to old, sinful lifestyles
  • is the musical style worshipped more than the Lord
  • is the musical style conducive to corporate singing

These are not easy considerations, which is probably why so many like to suggest there is more biblical principle in this matter than there really is. It is much easier to stay status quo with one hymnal than it is to actively evaluate the steady stream of new songs being generated for CW!

Yet, I am suggesting that we must learn to do just this. At Grace Fellowship Church we have been blessed with many young Christians. Without trying to embarrass them, I have noticed some things about their singing in worship. First of all, they love to sing! They sing with all their hearts and unto the Lord. Secondly, most of them are not able to sing hymns very well. They try and they love the words, but it is difficult for them to sing. Why is this? Part of the reason is that they have grown up in a culture where things like common meter or “three verses with a chorus” are totally foreign. They think of music more as a steady stream of rhyme mixed with driving bass rhythms. Is their taste in musical style ungodly? Do we reject all hymns since they are foreign to a large constituency of our church? Let me try to illustrate the application of the general command to sing in our setting, and see if this helps. Negatively, there are some musical styles that we do not use in our CW. Now, I don’t like rap, R & B, nor most modern styles of music… I do like jazz. I listen to it all the time! But, we don’t sing in rap, R & B or jazz styles at Grace. Why not? Because these musical styles are not conducive to corporate singing. They fail one of our tests since they violate (in our opinion) the command to corporate involvement in the singing.

Positively, we do include many other musical styles that are conducive to corporate involvement. We sing many hymns at Grace. We do this for several reasons. First, most hymns, because of their repetition and steady rhythm, are learnable by almost every culture so we feel free to force that musical style. Secondly, the great hymns of the church are a rich, theological treasure that cannot be lost. Therefore, we are very purposeful in teaching the meaning of these hymns by pointing out the flow of thought or reading through the words before we sing it together. On occasion we modernize the language of the hymn to help with the understanding – other times we leave it as is and explain what it means. Another tact in this approach is to modernize the music to some of the hymns. This was done very nicely by Vikki Cook with the glorious hymn, Before the Throne of God Above by Charitie Lees Bancroft. We also embrace many of the new hymns being written, whose musical style is more modern, while still “hymnish.” One nice example would be Stuart Townend’s hymn, How Deep The Father's Love For Us:

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Then there are other songs that differ from the hymns, but provide another way of singing to the Lord with excellent theological content. One of the most popular of these songs in evangelicalism today is Darlene Zschech’s, Shout to the Lord. Another example would be the stirring song, Great Are You Lord:

Holy Lord, most holy Lord
You alone are worthy of my praise
O, holy Lord, most holy Lord
With all of my heart I sing

Great are You, Lord
Worthy of praise
Holy and true
Great are You, Lord
Most holy Lord

Then there is a category of songs I call “with potential,” either songs or hymns that have an excellent idea or goal behind them, but lack theological punch and/or clarity. We take full liberty to edit these songs to make them useful to our CW. One example of this would be the Vineyard song, At the Cross. The goal is a meditative look at the cross with thanksgiving. Part of the original lyrics read as follows; “I know a place, a wonderful place / Where accused and condemned / Find mercy and grace / Where the wrongs we have done / And the wrongs done to us / Were nailed there with Him / There on the cross ” This song, as it is written, teaches a general atonement and shifts the focus of the cross off of Christ to our so-called “wrongs.” As it is written, we would not sing it. However, with a few minor alterations, I think it becomes a very meaningful song of praise to God for His atoning work. Our version reads like this: “…Where the sins of my life / (So great was their cost) / Were nailed there with Him / There on the cross.” The focus is shifted back to Jesus and the magnitude of our penalty which He endured. We also sing songs that might be labeled doxological. Who is not impressed by Paul’s frequent exultations in the middle of his letters? Does this not model that there are times in our CW, after having meditated on some great theological truth, we may simply offer our own song of praise? These doxologies might be very limited in word count and even repetitive. At Grace Fellowship, we often sing the cadenced words of Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to Him who is able to do,
Exceeding, abundantly beyond,
Whatever we ask, or whatever we think;
By His power in us.

To Him be the glory (echo)
To Him be the glory (echo)
Both in His people and His Son,
For now and forever, Amen!

Or the somewhat simple and meditative, Everlasting:

Everlasting, never changing
Always knowing, knowing all
You are Lord, You are God, Most High
You are Lord, You are God, Most High
Alleluia alleluia

Add to this the singing of the psalms. We use both modern and ancient adaptations and seek to sing enough of the Psalm (preferably all of it!) so that we do not carve out the indicative from the response. Now you will begin to understand how we try to apply the NT principles of singing in CW.

A Word of Caution… A Word of Encouragement

The caution is that we must not allow our CW preferences to divide our unity. Is what I have described above how every church should apply the principle? Should we all sing the same hymns, songs and psalms using identical musical styles? Absolutely not – as long as we are all seeking to apply the principle and not just cling to tradition, preference or (for that matter) church growth trends. We seem very able to accept this in the realm of missions, but not on our own turf! Are foreign believers somehow immature until they can sing our 200 year old hymns? Of course not, and the reason is that their culture differs from ours. The issue must remain the content of the words and the direction of the singing.

The encouragement is found in the one side benefit this approach brings to CW: variety. Now, variety is not our God, but even Spurgeon recognized that changing the order of service around could be a great help to the people of God by jolting them out of routine and alerting them to the present reality. The old mantra “familiarity breeds indifference” is seen too often in churches where an identical order of service and style of music is used week after week. Including so many elements in our list of the contents of CW allows for a suitable variety. Some elements will remain nearly constant, such as teaching and prayer; others will be more sporadic, such as the ordinances; others will be welcomed to the service without hesitation when they are appropriate, such as “solemn humiliations,” or greetings from sister churches, or commemoration of the Lord’s work.
Dare we suggest that some items in our worship might even be spontaneous? Is there a place to permit someone to suggest a hymn to be sung that is of particular relevance to the preaching they have just heard (1 Corinthians 14:26)? (And I am not just suggesting we have a “favorites” night!) I believe there is (even though I am not exactly sure how to go about it!).


CW is something much easier to do than explain! We have attempted to dissect its parts for examination in order to provoke our thinking and move us closer to the NT model. By examining the component of “singing” we have attempted to make a test case of our principles listed above.
Hopefully such an approach will keep us from appearing like two foolish boys in the store fighting over what card to buy their dad… while he stands behind them. What does the dad want more than a card? Obviously, love between his sons. How often Christians have acted like those foolish boys, scratching and clawing and devouring one another over what they are going to give to their Father! May God give us much grace to elevate the greatest commandment over our tastes and preferences.
Certainly we will not all understand the principles the same way nor apply them the same way… but we have great freedom in Jesus to enjoy our differences in these matters.
It would be interesting to visit each of our churches and compare our CW. Having been to most of your assemblies, I am of the opinion that there is a massive amount of overlap in content and purpose in how we worship. I believe this reflects the fact that we are all aiming our worship to the same Person. Lord willing, the closer we get to Him, the closer our thoughts on CW will become. May God richly bless our time of discussion!



  1. Carson writes: “Ideally, of course, our ideas about worship should be corrected by Scripture, and doubtless that occurs among many individuals with time. But the opposite easily happens as well: we unwittingly read our ideas and experiences of worship back into Scripture, so that we end up “finding” there what, with exquisite confidence, we know jolly well ought to be there.” (emphasis his) Donald Carson, ed., Worship by the Book (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002) 13.
  2. I agree with Carson that we cannot arrive at a definition through lexical study alone. There are no precise parallels from Hebrew and Greek into English for the words we render “worship.” (Carson, 19). I think the term has to be handled conceptually, looking beyond the mere occurrences of the English word to the whole flow of the idea through the biblical text.
  3. Quoted in Carson, Worship, 26 (emphasis added).
  4. A. W. Tozer aptly writes, “True worship of God must be a constant and consistent attitude or state of mind within the believer. It will always be a sustained and blessed acknowledgment of love and adoration, subject in this life to degrees of perfection and intensity.” Whatever Happened to Worship? (Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, 1985) 24.
  5. My translation; it takes the verb as imperative rather than indicative. I believe this better fits the hortatory nature of the passage.
  6. Again, this term is borrowed from Carson. These are just terms for the sake of discussion – not iron-clad divisions.
  7. It is more than conceivable that they could be giving glory to God in their hearts and through their speech and actions as they talk about how to change a piston – this is, by my definition, the essence of AOLW.
  8. Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel, New Covenant Theology: Description, Definition, Defense (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2002) 7.
  9. Someone may well argue that the reference in 16:1-2 to the church setting aside funds “on the first day of the week” gives a clear contextual pointer to Sunday being the day “when the church comes together” for CW. My objection to this is that the reference in chapter 16 is a directive concerning when to store up the gift for Paul to take to Jerusalem – not a prescription for when to meet for CW. As for the reference to “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10), much has been written that cannot be engaged here, although it is worth noting that the activity John was engaged in on that day (receiving a “vision”) is not one normally associated with CW nor are there any other contextual indicators that John was involved in CW on this particular day (presumably identified as “the Lord’s” due to His resurrection on the same).
  10. See also Romans 14:5, 6 “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord…” in its full context.
  11. That remark is not meant to sound harsh or judgmental, because I do not think Sabbatarians worship their calendars. I am merely trying to point out that the focus in our CW is to be on doing it, not so much as on when we do it. This is freeing for the Christian, like my friend who flew to Australia a few weeks ago. The way the flights were timed, he had no Sunday that week as he crossed the International Date Line. That meant he lived the same amount of hours as the week before, but there was no Sunday. Did he break the Sabbath?
  12. This was, of course, a radical departure from the Old Covenant with its worship via an earthly temple. Under this system of worship, the high places and private worship sites were outlawed and vows, sacrifices, praise and prayer were to take place either in the temple or (if you were not in Jerusalem) facing toward it. Solomon knew God did not need a place to live on earth (“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! - 1 Kings 8:27); yet, He also understood that the temple would become man’s contact point with God – hence the repeated injunction in 1 Kings 8 to look toward the temple and pray so that the Lord might “hear in heaven” (verses 32, 34, 36, 39, 49). God, indeed, made Himself known in special ways at the temple (see the physical manifestations of 1 Chronicles 5:14 and 7:1-3), but all of this is now fulfilled in Christ who is our temple, sacrifice, Sabbath, High Priest and Mediator.
  13. I do not think John 4:23 is referring to the Holy Spirit. Also, the relation between “truth” and “Christ” is driven by the same relationship found throughout the gospel of John. For examples, see 6:32 “the true bread,” 6:55 “the true food and true drink,” 15:1 “the true vine,” 1:14 “full of grace and truth,” 14:6 “I am the truth.” Worship, therefore, is IN the realm of the supernatural and IN the person of Jesus. I think I am indebted to Carson for some of this thought, but I don’t remember from where. ☹
  14. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith agrees: Paragraph 6. “Neither prayer nor any other part of religious worship, is now under the gospel, tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed; but God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth…”
  15. We could add Matthew 4:8-10 “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Or, the song of the 24 elders again, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
  16. I appreciate Marva Dawn’s reworking of Neil Postman’s important essay, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” She (re-)writes: “when the congregation becomes an audience and its worship a vaudeville act, then the church finds itself at risk; the death of faith and Christian character is a clear possibility.” Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995) 13.
  17. Carson, Worship, 32.
  18. See, David Peterson, Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992).
  19. See, John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 2003).
  20. “To instance in the duty of prayer: it is manifest, we are not appointed in this duty, to declare God's perfections, his majesty, holiness, goodness, and all-sufficiency, and our own meanness, emptiness, dependence, and unworthiness, and our wants and desires, to inform God of these things, or to incline his heart, and prevail with him to be willing to show us mercy; but suitably to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask. And such gestures and manner of external behavior in the worship of God, which custom has made to be significations of humility and reverence, can be of no further use than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.” (I. II. 9.)
  21. “And the duty of singing praises to God seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.” (I. II. 9.)
  22. “The same thing appears in the nature and design of the sacraments, which God hath appointed. God, considering our frame, hath not only appointed that we should be told of the great things of the gospel, and of the redemption of Christ, and instructed in them by his word; but also that they should be, as it were, exhibited to our view, in sensible representations, in the sacraments, the more to affect us with them.” (I. II. 9.)
  23. “And the impressing divine things on the hearts and affections of men, is evidently one great and main end for which God has ordained that his word delivered in the holy Scriptures, should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And therefore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and expositions on the Scripture, and other good books of divinity; because, although these may tend as well as preaching to give men a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the things of the word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men's hearts and affections. God hath appointed a particular and lively application of his word to men in the preaching of it, as a fit means to affect sinners with the importance of the things of religion, and their own misery, and necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; and to stir up the pure minds of the saints, and quicken their affections, by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance, and setting them before them in their proper colors, though they know them, and have been fully instructed in them already, 2 Pet. 1:12, 13.” (I. II. 9.)
  24. The paragraph continues: “He who has no religious affection, is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection. As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.” (I. III. 1.)
  25. I am indebted to a helpful phone conversation with Pastor Carl Muller for this thought.
  26. Tozer, Whatever, 84.
  27. This is where the Religious Affections is a help – in driving us to the biblical text to determine what counts as a legitimate expression of an affected soul.
  28. A. W. Tozer writes, “The blessed and inviting truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and in our worship of Him we should find unspeakable pleasure.” Whatever, 28.
  29. Related to this issue is the use of the body in worship. For a challenging series of articles on this very topic, see Bob Kauflin’s 4 part email series. Available from the author.
  30. Tozer, Whatever, 56.
  31. We might go even further and suggest that it is not just Christians who can worship, but Christians who are not harboring any sin (Matthew 5:23, 24 “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”); who are walking in humility before the Lord (Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, / who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: / “I dwell in the high and holy place, / and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, / to revive the spirit of the lowly, / and to revive the heart of the contrite.” ); and who are not engaging in some mere perfunctory ritualism (compare Psalm 51 to Acts 5:1-11). God wants the heart of the man – Old Testament and New!
  32. For one example (of many!) of how each subscriber thinks they are the only ones who are interpreting the RP correctly, see Brian Schwertley’s judgment on John Frame: “In order to soothe guilty consciences Frame wages guerilla warfare upon Reformed worship. He attacks the regulative principle by completely redefining it and gutting it. He then attacks the standard, historic biblical positions held by Presbyterians until the declension began (e.g., exclusive Psalmody, the non-use of instruments in public worship, the non-celebration of pagan, papal holy days, etc.). The secondary purpose of Frame’s book is to justify to his already backslidden (Trinity Hymnal, piano and organ) audience the superiority of Arminian-charismatic contemporary worship. We will see that what most modern Presbyterians need is not an apologetic for declension but rather a call to sincere repentance.” Taken from
  33. Carson, Worship, 55.
  34. See Carson, Worship, 48.
  35. Items bolded are those which, in my estimation, receive the most Biblical reference (as I wonder if there is a relationship between the amount something is talked about and its importance). The items that have a [RP] following them are those that are included in the confessions’ Regulative Principle.
  36. Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching…” / 1 Timothy 4:11-13 “Command and teach these things… Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching…” / 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” / Acts 6:4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” / Acts 20:26-27 “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
  37. Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to… fellowship…”
  38. Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves…to the breaking of bread…” / Acts 20:7 “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” / see also 1 Corinthians 11. It may get missed, but I think it is worth pointing out that I have not included baptism on my list. I do not think the NT evidence limits baptism to CW. John Frame agrees, Worship in Spirit and Truth (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1996) 55.
  39. Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the prayers.” / 1 Timothy 2:1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” / 1 Timothy 2:8 “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling…” / Colossians 4:2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”
  40. Acts 2:44-45 “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” / Acts 5:1,2 “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet.”
  41. 1 Timothy 4:13 “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” / 1 Thessalonians 5:27 “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.” / Colossians 4:16 “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”
  42. 2 Corinthians 1:20 “That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
  43. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.” / Hebrews 13:16 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” See also 2 Corinthians 9:10ff.
  44. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” / 1 Corinthians 14:29-32 “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.”
  45. 1 Timothy 6:12 “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
  46. 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” / And of course, Matthew 18:15-20 in context.
  47. Acts 20:31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” / 1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle.” / Romans 15:14 “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct (Greek: νουθετεω) one another.”
  48. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
  49. Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” / Ephesians 5:18-19 “And 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 all your heart…”
  50. 1 Corinthians 16:19 “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings.” / Colossians 4: 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
  51. 1 Corinthians 16:20 “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” / 1 Thessalonians 5:26 “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.” / See also 1 Peter 5:14, Romans 16:16
  52. Romans 12:6-8 “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” 1 Corinthians 12-14.
  53. Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
  54. Ephesians 5:20 “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
  55. Acts 14:27-28 “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.”
  56. James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
  57. Acts 4: 24 “And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them…’” Or, Scriptures like Psalms 105 and 106.
  58. Romans 1:11,12 “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you —that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.” / See Acts 15:3,4.
  59. Carson, Worship, 50.
  60. I am focusing more on the RP, to be frank, since many of our churches hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith that, in no uncertain terms, teaches the same. I am not suggesting by this examination that we chuck the confession, but I am trying to force us to look at this aspect of it again through the eyes of my feeble attempt at biblical theology.
  61. Most discussions of the RP name only five elements, but it is unclear to me from the arrangement of the confessions why “solemn humiliations” is left off this list. I am including that point as my sixth.
  62. This is for free… those who hold to the RP generally assert that the preaching of the Word must be present in every meeting of the church. I find that unfortunate for Prayer Meetings. How many of them end up being a lesson with a few minutes of prayer tacked to the end as opposed to the whole meeting being devoted to prayer? Is teaching at the Prayer Meeting inappropriate? I don’t think so… as long as we really pray! I am merely suggesting that it might be more effective to skip the teaching to ensure the praying.
  63. This so-called distinction is hotly debated among our brothers who hold to the RP. In a position paper on the RP published by ARBCA, the following paragraph highlights an attempt to bring clarity to the issue: “We affirm that the very elements of public worship are appointed and revealed, to which nothing can be added or subtracted if God is to be pleased. We deny that the circumstances of worship of God are so ordered. Elements are matters commanded by God in particular and are non-negotiable; circumstances are matters common to human societies in general and are changeable. Elements are fundamental to worship; circumstances are functional elements that allow it to take place. The distinction between elements and circumstances is clear; circumstances must never assume the status of elements.” “The elements of public worship are those parts of worship that are essential to the worship itself, those acts commanded by God in His word. They are non-negotiable. The elements are what constitute worship as worship. Those elements are clearly delineated in Chapter 22, Paragraphs 3-5 of the [1689] Confession.” ( My only difficulty with this statement is that it is making distinctions I do not think the NT makes. (See the rest of my argument.)
  64. In my opinion, this forced distinction is necessary because of a presuppositional flaw in the argument, namely, that it is driven more by a desire to be consistent with Covenant Theology than it is by a desire to be consistent with the New Covenant in Jesus. This point is predominantly a matter of opinion, however, that is why I hid it in a footnote!
  65. Tozer (Whatever, 41) writes, “How can anyone ever worship God acceptably without knowing what kind of God He really is?” This strikes me as the crucial issue. We need to know God, not just His rules concerning worship.
  66. Carson, Worship, 51. Later he adds: “…the New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public ‘services’ so much as with examples of crucial elements” 52.
  67. Recent evangelical periodicals have been running front page titles like, “Worship Wars,” or, “The Worship Divide,” etc – all of which refers to musical style and content.
  68. See footnote 21.
  70. From which is an online version of Calvin’s Commentary on Colossians.
  71. N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: Tyndale NT Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986) 145.
  72. The Little Brown Church in the Vale comes to mind!
  73. Along with a plethora of stinkers, like; “Shoop Shoop Doobee Doo Doo” (by David Mudie & Paul Crouch © 1995 Daybreak Music, Ltd. [Admin. by Integrity Music, Inc.] CCLI Song No. 1535157 CCLI License No. for this song and each one referenced is 2048851). “Wop bop doobee doo waa / We sing Your name and shout / Hallelujah / Wop bop doobee doo waa / King of kings forever You are” Even the very popular, “The Heart Of Worship” (by Matt Redman © 1997 Thankyou Music [Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing] CCLI Song No. 2296522) leaves much to be desired. The seeming purpose of the song is to get the worshipper’s eyes off of himself and onto the Lord… but he tries to do it by singing all about himself and how he has gotten his worship all wrong and his eyes off the Lord!
  74. I also think this is confirmed by the fact that the Bible does not preserve music, but it does preserve the word content of songs. Were there a necessary style of music for CW we might assume that the Lord would have kept that for us in the Book – and that it would have been decidedly Jewish!
  75. This is tricky, though. A man who idolized the symphony in his pre-converted state may be drawn to all sorts of sinful thoughts by a symphonic version of “And Can it Be?” just as much as the man who idolized Billy Joel might be tempted by the musical style of Billy James Foote’s, “You Are My King” which lyrics read, in part, “Amazing love / How can it be / That You my King / Would die for me / Amazing love / I know it's true / It's my joy to honor You / In all I do I honor You.” (© 1999 songs [Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing] CCLI Song No. 2456623) Perhaps the singer has to learn to deal with his individual temptations in worship in order to express his Christian deference and love?
  76. Marva Dawn suggests many other aspects of the actual music that ought to be evaluated. Although I do not agree with them all, I think her discussion on the “honesty” of the music is crucial. The tune and accompaniment need to match (or, ‘be honest with’) the word content of the song or hymn or psalm. See, Reaching Out, 165-204, esp. 189.
  77. You can ask men like Bill Gothard and get that answer if you like – but I don’t think he has come at the question from the Bible. The real issue – the content of the words – is never addressed in his model, rather it is “death by association.” That is too bad for many of our African brothers and sisters… yet we don’t seem to mind as much if they aren’t like us white educated folk.
  78. With apologies to our dear brother Geoff Thomas who writes an opposing view on this matter available through the Banner of Truth website Thomas does not object to modern hymns being written with “you” instead of “thou;” he is urging the cessation of re-writing the older hymns into our modern tongue. I am suggesting a middle ground.
  79. How many mature Christians know what an “Ebenezer” is?!
  80. © 1997 PDI Worship (Admin. by The Copyright Company) CCLI Song No. 2306412
  81. © 1995 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing) CCLI Song No. 1558110
  82. 82 Some people call these “choruses,” but I do not use the term since it is too loosely defined. When some people think “chorus” they think 7-11: seven words sung eleven times in a row! Others think of a Gaither Homecoming Night. I am not thinking of either of these categories.
  83. 83 © 1993 Darlene Zschech (Hillsong) (Admin. in U.S. & Canada by Integrity's Hosanna! Music) CCLI Song No. 1406918
  84. 84 by Steve Cook / Vikki Cook © 1984 Maranatha Praise, Inc. (Admin. by The Copyright Company) CCLI Song No. 26863
  85. 85 Written by Randy Butler / Terry Butler © 1993 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services) CCLI Song No. 1312246
  86. 86 We got this idea of reworking lyrics from the Trinity Hymnal. For example, in Fanny Crosby’s “to God Be the Glory” the hymnal compilers changed stanza 1, line 4, from “And opened the lifegate that all may go in” to “And opened the lifegate that we may go in.” This change reflects a theological bias and frees the worshipper to sing with joy. Every hymnal does this at some level, merely in choosing which verses of a hymn to include and which to leave out… at least, I have never seen a hymnal that includes all 17 verses of Wesley’s “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing!”
  87. 87 Written by Rick Founds © 1990 Maranatha Praise, Inc. (Admin. by The Copyright Company) CCLI Song No. 454710. Another thing I like about this song is its opposition to open theism!
  88. 88 See, Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002) 27.