The Worship Service
First Baptist Church of Enfield
Adopted October 3, 2004
The worship service. What could be more fundamental to the business of the local church than the assembling of the local saints for worship? And yet how neglected and/or misunderstood the issue is in the 21st century Church.
We want our corporate worship to be right for two reasons. First always is because God is worthy of it. We ever acknowledge that He is the one,
“who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen” (1 Tim. 6.15,16).
Secondly is that our weekly corporate worship dictates how we walk before the Lord the rest of the week. Is our worship worldly? We will likely act worldly during the week. Is our worship filled with awe, reverence and thanksgiving? Then such will be in our daily walk before the face of God. In short, as the Reformers knew, “we become like how we worship.”
In the summer of 2004 the Elders of First Baptist Church undertook to examine the elements and form of the church’s worship service. This undertaking was not born out of a sudden desire to institute change for change’s sake but rather out of an increasing sense of conviction over the prior 18 months. There were several burning questions for which an answer was not readily at hand. Among these questions were:
- Why do we do what we do in the worship service?
- Is the form of our worship driven more by habit and tradition than by knowledge?
- Has any of the worship service been unduly influenced by our culture in the name of evangelism or some other noble purpose?
- What does biblical worship look like?
We knew that the only way to address these questions was to confront them with another question: What does the Bible say about worship? Moreover, given that Christ has given the church gifts in the form of “teachers for the equipping of the saints” (Eph. 4.11,12), we sought out reliable men from the past and present who have studied and written on this critically important issue. These, combined with our own prayerful studies and meetings, were of invaluable benefit in helping us to define the elements and form of biblically-centered worship.
WHAT IS BIBILICAL WORSHIP?
To be sure, the elements and form of biblical worship are not as clearly enunciated for the New Testament Church as they were for Old Testament Israel. This has led many to believe, perhaps subconsciously, that the New Testament is silent on the issue. Others would go still further and insist that the only limits to worship are our imaginations and creativity.
We would strongly disagree. Just because New Testament worship is not as neatly laid out as Old Testament worship does not mean it isn’t there. Clearly it is there and the reason it is not laid out neatly in the New Testament is because directions for biblical worship cross both testaments, circumscribed by the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
For example, one of the most striking passages that served as a constant backdrop to the Elders throughout this exercise is found in the Old Testament:
“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” (Eccl. 5.1)
If this verse says anything at all, it says that it is possible to offer “worship” that is not worship at all. Instead, it is the “sacrifice of fools.” Thus the Old Testament provides the first key piece of information which many have called “the doctrine of carefulness” when it comes to worship.
The cause for this carefulness is God Himself. As we shall see in the pages that follow, biblical worship is tied to who He is — His attributes, excellencies, works and words. For this reason one of the finest statements on biblical worship is found in the Baptist confession of faith known as The Second London Confession of 1689:
“The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture”
This clearly is in stark opposition to much of what we see in modern church worship. Today, new devices seem to spring up almost on a weekly basis. In what is often referred to as the Contemporary Worship movement, an entire industry is devoted to thinking of new ways to worship God. Church mailboxes are inundated daily with seminars, books, videos, sermons and other “helps” that promise to sensationally transform your church’s worship services.
Note here that the objection isn’t that the worship service is not supposed to contain anything contemporary. The objection rather is the introduction of extra-biblical, “religious-feeling elements” to satisfy an increasingly sensual culture. Often these elements are an outgrowth of trends in entertainment, education and business. For example, the “worship teams” so common in churches today did not come into existence out of any compelling biblical mandate, but rather were an outgrowth of corporate America’s “team approach” fad that ran approximately from 1990 to 2000.
In contrast, our task is to 1). identify those worship elements which are biblically-directed and 2). apply those elements to focus on the adoration of God. As one commentator has astutely observed “[our] corporate worship will dictate the quality of worship in all of life.”
THE JOHN 4 QUESTION
Diversity of opinion notwithstanding, almost all commentators agree that the central verse for studying the question of worship is found in the gospel of John in chapter 4. In the midst of His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, the Lord Jesus states,
“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. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4.23,24)
The first thing that we observe is that acceptable worship is worship that is “in spirit and truth.” This doesn’t mean there are two ways to worship or two parts to worship as thought by some today. Neither of these can be because there is only one preposition, (“in”) that governs both nouns.
So what does worship in spirit and truth mean? Simply put, the phrase stipulates that acceptable, God-centered worship is worship where God’s truth is proclaimed as aided by the Holy Spirit. Jesus has defined truth for us (“Thy word is truth”, John 17.17) meaning that true worship:
- Centers on God’s word
- Is undertaken with knowledge
- And must be aided, therefore, by God the Holy Spirit
The second thing we notice is that, similar to the Ecclesiastes passage, there can be such a thing as false worshipers. The phrase “when the true worshipers will worship” clearly implies that there are false worshipers. Good intentions alone are insufficient for true worship.
Thirdly — and the most important and overarching — is that the way we worship is tied to God’s character. Let’s look again:
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must…”
Here we see the inseparable link between how we worship and who God is. This statement alone should incite a godly fear in the heart of every believer because it means that our “doctrine of worship,” so to speak, is tied to our doctrine of God.
THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE
Out of a concern for these very issues some early Presbyterians and Baptists formulated a principle to guide us in acceptable worship. It is something called the Regulative Principle. It is articulated in both the Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian) and the Second London Confession of 1689 (Baptist).
The Regulative Principle basically says that we must offer to God in worship only what He has authorized us to offer. It is based on an obvious yet overlooked tautology: if our worship is in response to God’s revelation of Himself to us (i.e., through His word) then our worship must be revelationally governed (i.e., by His word).
Thus, we have an irreducible core around which our worship revolves and that is none other than the word of God. Practically speaking then, the basic format for worship is:
- Read the Bible
- Preach the Bible
- Pray the Bible
- Sing the Bible
- Obey the Bible (the Ordinances)
- Live the Bible
There are some, as one might guess, who vehemently disagree with the Regulative Principle. It is charged, among other things, that it suppresses human creativity, hinders evangelism, is insufferably boring, is legalistic or simply too old fashioned.
We shall find that none of these are the case and in fact are outright falsehoods. But even if they were true it would beg the question, “Where do we have any warrant to offer to God anything that is not rooted in the Word of God?” It is a sobering biblical truth that God is dangerous to those who are either careless or creative in worship, whether sincere or not (Lev. 10.1f, 2 Sam 6.6f, Acts 5.1ff, 1 Cor 11.29f).
ELEMENTS OF BIBLICALLY DIRECTED WORSHIP
Although worship in the 21st century tends to be “free form” it has not always been so in the Church. Historically, the Church had painstakingly studied the issue by examining worship as presented in the two testaments, but (in the case of conflicts) giving obvious deference to the progressive revelation that culminated in the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g., animal sacrifices, ritual cleansings, etc.).
The Church recognized that biblically directed worship must be:
- In fear and awe of God
- Purposed toward giving to God, rather than getting something from Him (i.e., “offering sacrifices” Rom. 12.1, Phil. 4.18, Heb. 13.15, 1 Pet.2.5)
- No longer tied to a geographical location (i.e., Jerusalem)
- Tied to knowledge (truth)
THE REVISED WORSHIP SERVICE
We have spoken at length about worship. But sooner or later we are confronted with the practical task of specifically outlining the service directory. Interestingly, even the Reformers disagreed with each other on the form of the service. John Calvin, for example, insisted on a formal, “high church” service with printed orders of worship. He viewed baptism and communion as “sacraments” that, although not salvific (saving) in nature, clearly went beyond mere signs. Calvin also believed the service should include music, although the music was limited to the Psalter and had to be sung in unison rather than in harmony.
Ulrich Zwingli, on the other hand, believed the worship service must contain as little ceremony as possible. Like us, Zwingli was anti-sacramental, viewing baptism and communion as signs rather than conveyors of any kind of grace. But unlike Calvin, Zwingli forbade the use of any kind of music in the worship service.
The Elders of FBCE strongly argue that the Bible clearly settles questions surrounding baptism, communion, music and other elements of the corporate worship. This is not meant to denigrate the wisdom of the Reformers whom we openly admire. But we have an advantage that the Reformers did not and that is that we are not recently coming out of the Roman Catholic Church as they were. The relevance of this cannot be underestimated. The tendency in such a watershed phenomenon will be either to retain as much tradition as convictions will allow (e.g., Calvin) or to (in reactionary fashion) reject as much tradition as possible (e.g., Zwingli).
The form and order of the revised FBCE worship service is not meant to be the definitive statement denoting the one and only biblically-based format. Rather it is one of no doubt many possible formats that incorporate all of the elements and concerns as discussed up to this point. (Our research, in fact, found fairly wide variations in worship services among churches today that are employing the Regulative Principle.)
Based on this, therefore, we present the revised worship service for FBCE to be as follows:
1. The Song of Assembly
2. The Greeting and Announcements
3. The Call to Worship
4. The Response
5. The First Scripture Reading
6. The Congregational Prayer
7. The Second Scripture Reading
8. The Special Music
9. The Worship in Tithes and Offerings
10. The Congregational Singing
11. The Preaching of the Word of God
12. The Closing Hymn
13. The Benediction
- The Song of Assembly — is intended to initiate a gathering of the saints prior to the start of the actual worship service. It is not unlike the so-called “Songs of ascents” as found in Psalms 125 – 134. These songs were sung by the ancient Israelites as they were making their way to Zion to worship. These songs were mostly joyful in tone as they sung of the many acts of might and kindness by God toward them.
We altered the term “Song of Ascents” to “Song of Assembly” in recognition that worship is no longer tied to a single physical location. It will, however, serve a similar function at FBCE in that it will not be part of the formal worship service but will instead be in preparation for it. It also permits us to attend to announcements and other issues before the worship proper begins.
- The Greeting and Announcements — have been retained to welcome worshipers and to allow us to communicate important news to the church. However the invitation to greet one another during this time will be eliminated. Worshipers are, of course, strongly encouraged to greet each other and to fellowship after the service.
- The Call to Worship — marks the formal beginning of the worship service and will be a short invitation spoken by the song leader to the people. It is patterned after the many “calls to worship” found in the Bible (e.g., Psalm 95.1-7, Hab. 2.20, etc.). In many cases a call to worship may join different verses together as a single call. It is envisioned that FBCE will have 20 to 30 different calls to worship with a different one being employed each Lord’s day.
- The Response — is a short congregational hymn of praise to God and is the first response of the worshipers to the call to worship. Such doxologies (as they are sometimes called) are common particularly in the New Testament as an outburst of praise by the writer in response to a particularly great truth about God (e.g., Rom. 11.33, 1 Tim. 6.15f, etc.). Many of these are thought to have possibly been hymns of the early Church.
Typical responses for our worship services will include The Doxology, Gloria Patri, May Jesus Christ Be Praised, Praise to the Lord the Almighty, All Creatures of Our God and King, Immortal Invisible, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, and many other similar hymns. Worshipers will remain seated for the Response.
- The First Scripture Reading — Each service will contain a reading from the Old Testament and a reading from the New Testament. If the Pastor’s sermon text is from the New Testament than the first reading will be from the Old Testament and vice versa. The public reading of the Word of God is specifically commanded in 1 Tim. 4.13 and is set as an example to us in places such as Neh. 8.1ff, Col. 4.16, and elsewhere. The First Reading will be read by the praying elder or a designee.
- The Congregational Prayer — The praying elder or designee will lead the congregation in prayer. The prayer will be similar to the current practice albeit with slightly more form. The prayer will begin with the adoration of God (His works, ways, etc.), then move toward confession of the sins of the congregation (e.g., Neh. 1.6ff, Dan. 9.5ff, etc.) and finally, intercession (1 Tim. 2.1-2, Phil. 4.6). The congregation will remain seated for prayer.
- The Second Scripture Reading — will be read by the song leader and will be from the opposite testament of the first reading. It will contain the text from which the Pastor’s sermon is derived.
- The Special Music — The saints within the local church are commanded to teach and admonish one another “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3.16, see also Eph. 5.18-19). That music is to be part of the worship service there can be no doubt. We moreover note that it is to be performed skillfully, may or may not be contemporary and may even sometimes be loud (Psalm 33.3, Psalm 150.3ff).
Special Music in the worship service will continue much as is currently employed in terms of diversity of styles. It may be presented by the choir, soloists, ensembles or instrumentalists. In keeping with the Regulative Principle of “singing the word,” songs should be examined closely for doctrinal precision in recognition that they are being presented to God Himself and also are a teaching ministry. Where there are questions, the Elders should be consulted as a resource.
Musicians should be especially attentive to selecting music that glorifies God and incites adoration of God through the lyrics. To the extent possible, the musician should attempt to execute the song in a way that does not overtly draw attention to him or herself. This does not mean that modest performing conventions such as hand gestures cannot be used. Instead, the performance should simply take into consideration that much of the current culture’s performance standards are not suitable as an offering to God.
To this end, two notable changes in the special music are as follows: first, there will no longer be an introduction of the performer by the song leader. Musicians and sound personnel should be ready to begin immediately after the second Scripture reading. Secondly, the music should be performed without any kind of introductory commentary by the performer. Rather the content of the music should be left to speak for itself to glorify God, exhort the saints and convict sinners.
- The Worship in Tithes and Offerings — has always been an integral part of worship by God’s covenant people (Lev. 27:30, Deut. 14.22f, Matt 23.23, 1 Cor. 9.9f). The people will present their tithes and offerings as “holy to the Lord,” doing so cheerfully and with thanksgiving. The song leader will bid the ushers to come forward and a designated usher will, without prompt, pray God’s acceptance of the tithes and offerings. The offering will be accompanied by a musical offertory.
- The Congregational Singing — Although congregational singing is not the main part of worship (as is commonly thought today) it is an important part of the worship service. (For Scriptural support for music in the worship service see “Special Music.”) The congregational singing will continue to employ the great hymns of the faith and many contemporary hymns. Additionally, we will begin to employ some lesser known Reformed hymns that are rich in doctrinal teaching on the attributes and works of God. Two or three congregational hymns may be sung.
- The Preaching of the Word of God — is the center of the worship service (2 Tim. 4.1ff) because it is where God speaks to His people. Preaching will be exegetical and nearly always expository except for occasional circumstances. The preacher’s task in all cases will be to “reprove, rebuke and exhort” (2 Tim. 4.2) in season and out of season to, in this precise order: 1) glorify God through Jesus Christ our Lord, 2) feed the flock to equip them for ministry and to encourage them during our present sojourn away from our heavenly homeland and 3) Evangelize the lost sheep of Enfield, the surrounding cities and the uttermost parts of the earth.
- The Closing Hymn — will be sung by the congregation
- The Benediction — is to be given by the Pastor to formally close the worship service. Benedictions are one of the most beautiful phenomena in Scripture and the Bible is replete with them being offered to the people of God by the leadership.
The most well-known, of course, is found in Num. 6.23-26, “…say to them, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.’” Benedictions are found in many other places including at the end of most of the epistles. Clearly the most beautiful of all is found at the end of the Bible itself, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Rev. 22.21).
What could be a more wonderful way of dismissing the people than with God’s blessing? What could thrill the believer’s heart more? For this reason it has been the historic practice of God’s Church throughout the centuries. Conversely (and interestingly), we find at least one example where the absence of a benediction is considered imprecatory in nature (Ps. 129.8).
After the benediction, the musicians will continue to play a postlude while the Pastor makes his way toward to the back of the sanctuary in order to greet the worshipers.
It is the prayer of the Elders of First Baptist Church of Enfield that these changes to the worship service will redound to the glory of God. We pray, moreover, that His people will be encouraged in all the will of God until the return of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. As we plant and water, may He be pleased to bring the increase. As we occupy until He comes, may He keep us in the everlasting arms underneath.
Now, unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.