For an outline pattern of one of our worship services, see Order of Service. Here we set out the principles which should form the basis for all Christian worship. Whilst acknowledging our shortcomings in this as in everything else, we seek by God’s grace to worship in accordance with these Biblical principles. These are the reasons why we worship the way we do.
- Worship should be God-centred.
- Worship should be regulated by Scripture.
- Worship should be conducted with reverence.
- Worship should recognise the Christian Sabbath.
- Worship must depend on Christ as Mediator.
- Worship should be orderly.
- Worship should be from the heart.
- Worship should focus on the Word of God.
- Worship should include the New Testament Sacraments.
- Worship should not be liturgical.
- Worship should not be “charismatic”.
Worship should be God-centred.
Scripture tells us to do everything to the glory of God, even our eating and drinking every day (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). How much more when we gather to worship! In worship services, we meet first and foremost to glorify God, not primarily to meet with one another, and not at all to entertain the congregation. The First Commandment states: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Worship means ascribing “worth” to this Triune God, by centring all the attention upon Him who has said, “I am the Lord: that is My name: and My glory will I not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8).
Worship is to be regulated by Scripture.
God has not left His church free to invent her own worship. Rather, He has laid down in His Word exactly what is to be done. The Reformed and Biblical principle is that what is not commanded is not allowed in divine worship (Deut. 12:32 and Matt. 28:20). The Second Commandment begins: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:4). The Shorter Catechism rightly explains that this forbids “the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His Word” (Q. 51). This Regulative Principle of Worship requires that everything in worship must have divine warrant drawn from Scripture. Nothing else must be added.
This is why we should not sing in worship any songs other than the Psalms given by infallible inspiration of God, nor use musical instruments. We should not keep “Christmas” and “Easter”, for although the birth, death and resurrection of Christ are in Scripture, there is no mention of marking them with an annual commemoration. Neither should we have images of any kind in our churches – no pictures of God or Christ or the Holy Spirit, and no symbols such as crosses, crucifixes and doves. Nor should we have dancing, drama, processions, soloists, choirs or any of the other human inventions delighted in by so many today.
Instead we should do only what the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Head of the Church, has told us to do in His Word. We should sing only the Psalms of Scripture. We should pray. We should read and preach the Scriptures. We should administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The plain and unadorned simplicity of Scriptural worship may seem strange to those who are not used to it. That is only because the worship of so many churches has departed so far from the Bible. Even many who claim to be reformed in doctrine cannot claim to be reformed in worship. See the Regulative Principle of Worship for more information on this vital subject.
Worship should be conducted with reverence.
The Third Commandment forbids taking the name of the Lord in vain (see Exodus 20:7). The Shorter Catechism explains the breadth of what is required: “the holy and reverend use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works” (Q. 54). Worship services should emphasise reverence. A sense of God’s majesty has been lost in the relaxed and informal atmosphere in many churches today, where humour and triviality have become normal. As a result the reaction of some who attend Scriptural worship for the first time is to think it somewhat formal and overly solemn. But it is not formality. The worship of God is a serious matter, in which we must show due honour and reverence to Him with whom we have to do. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Psalm 89:7). The unchangeable God has declared: “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me” (Leviticus 10:3).
One particular manifestation of reverence is standing for prayer, which is the posture most Scripturally suitable for public prayer. Sitting at such a time shows disrespect to the One we pray to. This is nothing to do with culture or preference. It was the Lord Jesus who said, “And when ye stand praying” (Mark 11:25). Read more at Standing for Prayer.
Worship should recognise the Christian Sabbath.
Whilst there are prayer meetings and sometimes services on other days of the week, we ought to recognise the abiding obligation of the Fourth Commandment to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Therefore we emphasise the worship of the Christian Sabbath, which is the first day of the week, called the Lord’s Day in commemoration of Christ’s resurrection on that day. Apart from works of necessity and mercy, the whole of the day is to be spent in worship, publicly in church and privately at home. No other days are holy in this New Testament dispensation.
The so-called festivals of the church calendar should not be recognised by Christians in any way. No one can deny that Christmas, Easter and the rest are not required in Scripture. Therefore they are not to be done. They are strange fire drawn from paganism and popery which have been imposed on the church by men. To be free of these man-made ceremonies is not over-strictness. Rather it is true Christian liberty, for “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship” (Westminster Confession of Faith 20:2).
For more on the abiding obligation of the Sabbath, see Why the Sabbath should Still be Kept. For more on Sabbath-keeping, see How the Sabbath should be Kept. For more on the change of the day from the seventh to the first day of the week, see The Change of the Day.
Worship must depend on Christ as Mediator.
There is sin in all that we do. No worship can be acceptable to God unless it is offered through Christ as Mediator. There is no access to God in worship except through Him. Worship, like every other Christian activity, must be performed by faith — faith in Jesus Christ. In their worship, Christians “offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
Worship should be orderly.
Much evangelical worship today has become so relaxed as to be disorderly. But Scripture’s rule has never changed: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Therefore worship services should follow a regular pattern, in which the different aspects of worship are balanced and given their due importance. See Order of Service for more details of what to expect when you attend a Free Presbyterian service. Our form of worship follows the general principles encapsulated in the Directory for Public Worship produced by the Westminster Assembly in 1645.
Worship should be from the heart.
Yes, Scripture must regulate everything that is done in worship, even outwardly and extending even to posture. Nevertheless, God looks upon the heart chiefly, and condemns those who draw near to Him with the lips but whose hearts are far from Him. True worship is spiritual and comes from within. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). True worship comes only from regenerated hearts united to Jesus Christ by faith (see Proverbs 15:8 and 21:27).
Worship should focus on the Word of God.
Reformed churches emphasise the Word of God, by singing, reading and preaching it. Believing in the primacy of preaching as the chief means of grace, both for converting sinners and edifying saints, preaching forms the major part of our worship, up to an hour or so at a Sabbath service when there is a minister. “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation” (Shorter Catechism, Q. 89).
Worship should include the New Testament Sacraments.
An essential mark of a true branch of the visible church is the Scriptural administration of the two New Testament sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both are badges of profession, but also means of grace. Not only does the Lord signify His grace by them as signs, but also conveys grace to His elect through them as seals.
Baptism, taking the place of Old Testament circumcision in God’s administration of the one covenant of grace, is to be administered not only to those who (not previously baptised) profess the true religion, but also to their children. For more on this, see Subjects of Baptism. The idea of baptismal regeneration, that baptism with water automatically effects a spiritual regeneration within the soul, is to be altogether repudiated. Baptism is to be administered with water and nothing else, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Being a sign of “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5), it is rightly and most Scripturally administered by sprinkling or pouring, not by immersion. For more information see Mode of Baptism.
The Lord’s Supper is a most precious but also solemn ordinance to the people of God, in which they remember their Saviour in His death by sitting at His Table, where they eat broken bread signifying His broken body and drink wine signifying His shed blood. It is more than a commemoration; it is a means through which the Lord nourishes His people’s souls spiritually. The Lord’s Supper is held once or twice a year in most of our congregations, in the context of communion-seasons, where from Thursday to Monday services are held to help the Lord’s people in the various duties Scripture lays upon them both before and after their sitting at the Lord’s Table (which itself takes place at the Lord’s Day morning service).
Worship should not be liturgical.
Whilst worship is to be orderly, it is not to be liturgical. Prayer is to be extemporaneous, not read according to a set form of words. Responses from the congregation as in a litany are not required by Scripture. Relying on a man-made book for worship belies the promise of the Holy Spirit to assist in worship. Whilst “we know not what we should pray for as we ought,” the solution is not to recite our prayers out of a book, but to depend on the aid of the Holy Spirit: “the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities” (Romans 8:26).
Worship should not be “charismatic”.
Beginning with the Pentecostal churches in the early twentieth century and rapidly spreading through many denominations from the 1960’s onwards, much of evangelical Christianity has imbibed the idea that the supernatural sign gifts of the New Testament are still being given today. Along with all historic Protestantism, we repudiate this utterly. Those charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the gift of tongues, were given for specific purposes for a particular time, which ceased with the completion of the Canon of Scripture. The power of the Holy Spirit is still much needed, for He alone is the Author of regeneration, and Comforter and Sanctifier of God’s people. Without His operations there can be no spiritual blessing. But the charismatic gifts have ceased. For more information, see The Gifts Have Ceased. The Free Presbyterian Church Catechism has some questions and answers on the Charismatic Movement in Section 12, Modern Errors.
Rev Keith M Watkins