Worship at First Byron
Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of the will to his purpose—and all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.
A Philosophy of worship
Because we are a church in the Reformed tradition, there is a distinctive approach we take to worshipping God. The foundation for our worship is the sovereignty of God—the fact that God is Lord! His lordship defines “who” we worship, “where” we get our instructions for worship, and “how” we worship.
The “Who” of worship
The center and focus of our worship is God. Our worship aims to have a vertical rather than a horizontal focus. One author has said that worship of ‘the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord.” i
Because God is sovereign our worship is focused on him. No one else deserves our worship. We worship him as our Creator and King. We worship him as our Father who calls us his children because of Jesus. We worship him as our Savior who’s forgiven our sins at Calvary and gives us new life through his resurrection. We worship him as a holy God who’s jealous of our worship. We worship him in the power of his Spirit who draws us to God. Worshipping God is the whole point of our existence.
Whenever we are distracted from God and become pre-occupied with our own pleasures or wishes we are off track in worship. C. S. Lewis said, “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.” ii
“Where” do we learn how to worship?
Because God is sovereign he tells us how to worship. God lays down the principles and sets the guidelines for how worship is to be done.
The Bible, God’s Word, is our authority for worship. The Bible tells us what to do in worship. Psalm 95 says, “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (vs.1,2). “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker…” (vs.6). Jesus said in John 4:24 that “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Hebrews 12:28 says, “…Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…”
The Bible also tells us what to avoid in worship. The 2nd commandment is a command about “how” to worship God. It says that we should not make any idols, even if they are meant to help us worship God. God cares about the form of our worship. God pays attention to detail in our worship. During Isaiah’s day, God criticized Israel’s worship for being made up “rules taught by men.” (Is. 29/13) They designed their own worship instead of following God’s design.
Our Reformed forefathers took these thoughts from Scripture and developed what has been called the “Regulative principle for worship.” This principle clearly states how we should plan and evaluate worship. Question and answer 96 of the Heidelberg Catechism states the principle: “What is God’s will for us in the 2nd commandment? That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his Word.”
The regulative principle sets the boundaries of our worship. We must learn to apply the principle with godly wisdom. It’s a principle that both limits and frees us. “We must be both more conservative and more liberal than most students of Christian worship: conservative in holding exclusively to God’s commands in Scripture as our rule of worship, and liberal in defending the liberty of those who apply those commandments in legitimate, though nontraditional, ways.” iii
“How” should we worship?
Based on our understanding that God is the focus of our worship and his Word is our guide for worship, what is the philosophy of worship that unites us?
•God-centeredness – Our priority will be on the vertical in worship. Our ultimate aim is to meet God and glorify him. We will avoid drawing attention to pastors and worship leaders and any focus on the praise of men.
•Bible based and Bible saturated – The content of our singing, praying, and preaching must always conform to the truth of Scripture. The content of God’s Word will be woven through all we do in worship and will be the authority we appeal to.
•Expectation – We will worship expecting the powerful presence of God. James challenges us, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).
•Climaxed in the preached Word – Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” For John Calvin, “God’s greatest gift to the church is the preaching of the good news which is mighty to save, alive with blessing and judgment. And the church is most church when the Word is preached and heard, for there God is actually calling, justifying, sanctifying his people.” iv
•Characterized as a dialogue – Because our worship is a meeting with God, our worship generally should take the shape of a dialogue with him. God calls us to worship. We respond with praise. We confess our sins and God assures us of his forgiveness, etc. We will stress keeping our order fresh and dynamic within this overall structure.
•Head and heart – We aim for worship that kindles deep, real, and strong emotions toward God but at the same time does not result in emotionalism. We want our emotions to be stirred by reflection and thought on the greatness of God.
•Reverence and joy – We seek worship that blends the responses of reverence and joy. Reverence will be stirred by thinking about God’s greatness and the need to confess our sin. Joy will result when we concentrate on God’s grace and love. These responses are primarily attitudes of the heart. “Reverence does not always mean quiet, and joy does not always mean noise. Joy may be intense in the singing of a very quiet song. Reverence may be expressed in loud singing.” v
•Active, not passive – Worship is the work of acknowledging God’s greatness. It is something we do. In worship, we cannot be passive but must participate. Therefore, we will avoid all worship where God’s people become the spectators and are entertained.
•Exalting and edifying – We will make every effort to stay focused on God while keeping worship intelligible and edifying for the worshipper. While focusing on God, we will use language, music, and styles which speak to all people.
•Loving – Out of love for each other we not allow differences in style and taste to become our focal point. We will focus on substance in worship and “put understanding above accusation, forbearance above faultfinding, and Biblical unity above the demand for uniformity.” vi
•Excellent and inclusive − We will strive for excellence in worship, considering God worthy of our best gifts (Malachi 1:13,14). Excellence will also help us avoid distractions created by sloppy efforts. At the same time, we will allow gifted members to contribute in worship, recognizing their gifts are imperfect.
In conclusion, John Piper gives us a compelling vision of what we should hope for in worship: “The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God; the fire that makes the fuel burn white-hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit; the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit; and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship, pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands, and obedient lives.” vii
i John Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, p.1.
ii Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, Baker 2000,p.1140.
iii Frame, p.46.
iv James Hastings Nichols, Corporate worship in the Reformed
v Robert Godfrey, Pleasing God in Our Worship, p.24
vi John Piper, “Philosophy of Worship”, p.2
vii John Piper, Desiring God, p.66.