The Character of Worship

The latest on the venue front is that we should be in the Scout Hall in Rondebosch on November 4, 2012.  So, this means that we will be meeting, once again, at the Reformed Church in the city bowl this coming Sunday.  The following are the details:
Date: October 28
Time: *6PM*
Place: Cape Town Reformed Church (
(Corner of Orange and Hof Streets, just before the Mount Nelson; parking off Hof Street)

Once again, to whet your appetites for this coming Lord’s Day, you might like to read the following by Rev. Robert Godfrey (Reformed minister and President of Westminster Seminary, CA) on the character of worship.  The rest of the essay below can be read form the beginning here.  Come and worship our Trinue God with reverence and joy, together with us, this coming Sunday evening…

The Character of Worship
To learn how to worship God in a way that will please God rather than offend him and be judged by him, we must begin by understanding the Bibles definition of what worship is. The Bible uses the word worship in at least three important ways.
Personal and Corporate Worship
First, worship can refer to the whole life of the Christian. We are to live our lives for God and under God. We should seek to have all we do become loving service to him. Paul had this sense of worship in mind when he wrote at the beginning of the application section of the book of Romans, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (12:1-2). In these verses all life is looked upon as worship.
Second, worship can refer to those personal times of prayer, praise, reflection, or Bible reading when we focus on God. David worshiped as he prayed and sang alone at night:
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. (Ps. 63:6-7)
Third, worship can refer to times when Christians gather officially as a congregation to praise God. This form of worship is commended and commanded in the Scriptures. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb. 10:25). The Psalms celebrate this privilege of corporate worship:
Praise the LORD.
I will extol the LORD with all my heart
in the council of the upright
and in the assembly.
(Ps. 111:1)
Clearly God wants his people to gather as congregations, expressing that they are the body of Christ as they worship him with one another.
This third use of worship, corporate worship, deserves special attention for two reasons. First, the arena of corporate worship is where most of the worship wars are being fought. Changes in corporate worship need careful examination in our time.
Second, many Christians seem to have a measure of prejudice against corporate worship as a priority in the lives of believers. They seem to believe that the official worship of the church is not very important. They find it too formal and impersonal. They feel that individual times of prayer and Bible reading or small group experiences are much more important in cultivating nearness to God than is corporate worship. Some of the recent changes in corporate worship reflect an effort to make it more like a small group activity. However, as we examine the Bible’s teaching about worship and its content, we will see that corporate worship is vitally important for every obedient and growing Christian.
A Critical Text: Hebrews 12:28-29
The book of Hebrews is particularly important here because it shows the connection between the worship of the Old Testament and the worship of the New Testament, and also because it draws attention to the uniqueness of our worship as the New Testament people of God. Hebrews 12:28-29 states:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

This passage directs us to two key elements for our thinking about worship: first, the character of God as the object of our worship, and second, our response to God in worship.
1. The Character of God. The first truth about God’s nature that we need always to remember in worship is that our God is a Trinity. The one God exists eternally in three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This aspect of God’s nature is not explicit in Hebrews 12:28-29, but it is pointed to in the immediate context. Thus Hebrews 12:23-24 reminds us that in worship we come by faith to the living God and to Jesus who is the mediator of a new covenant.  Here two of the persons of the Trinity are distinguished.
As our God is triune, so our worship must be trinitarian. God in his unity is a proper object of worship, but so too are each of the persons of the Godhead. We worship God, and we also worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In worshiping any of the divine persons we worship the whole Godhead, for God is one.
Our worship may focus on any one of the divine persons at particular points because the Bible itself shows us that each person of the Trinity is associated with certain divine acts particularly. For example, in the Bible the Father is particularly linked to the planning of salvation in order to reconcile sinners to himself. The Son is linked to accomplishing salvation as the God-man living, dying, and rising in the place of sinners. The Spirit is linked to applying salvation, drawing sinners to Christ, and giving them faith and new life.
Christian worship reflects the Bible’s emphasis on the work of each person in the Godhead. The Father is particularly the object of our worship. We usually pray, as Jesus taught us, Our Father.  The Son is the mediator of our worship. Jesus opened the way to the Father for us by his saving work, and we always come to the Father in his name. The Spirit empowers and blesses our worship. He warms our hearts and draws us, not to himself, but to Jesus and his Word. The very nature of God leads us to worship the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit.
The second aspect of God’s character that we see explicitly in Hebrews 12:28-29 is that God is a saving God. He has prepared an unshakable kingdom of eternal life for those who belong to him. This kingdom belongs to Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:8), who is the Savior of his people and the mediator between man and God in all our worship. Jesus and his Gospel must always stand at the heart of our worship. We must remember that he is the eternal second person of the Trinity, made man to be our Savior. We must rejoice in his perfect life of obedience for us, in his death on the cross where he bore all our sins, and in his glorious resurrection to be our ever-living Savior and High Priest. Worship fails utterly if Jesus Christ is not at the center. His person and work must light up the worship of his people. He makes God fully known and fully accessible to us. He is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1). He saves us from our sins, and our worship must celebrate him.
The third aspect of God’s character that we see in Hebrews 12 is that God is a holy God, one who is jealous for his worship. He is a God who stands in judgment of sin and calls for holy living among his people. Hebrews is quoting Deuteronomy 4 when it states that God is a consuming fire. Deuteronomy 4 calls the people of God to faithfulness in all of their lives, but especially in worship:
Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (vv. 23-24).
This passage in Deuteronomy clearly rests on the second of the Ten Commandments, which forbids false worship, as we have seen. The holy character of God must echo as clearly through our worship as does the saving character of God.
These passages show that the Lord takes his worship very seriously. They show us very specifically that our worship must reflect both God’s great saving work in Christ and his holy zeal for the purity of worship. Only such worship will be acceptable to him. When Hebrews 12:28 speaks of acceptable worship, it means worship that is first and foremost acceptable to God.
This priority needs to be reaffirmed especially today. Too often today when people speak of acceptable worship they mean worship that is acceptable to themselves or perhaps acceptable especially to the unchurched. While worship must communicate clearly to the gathered congregation, the Bible insists that worship must above all be acceptable to God. And we must always remember that we can only know what is acceptable to God by a careful study of his Word.
2. Our Response to God. How should we respond in worship to this holy, saving God? Hebrews 12 not only specifies the character of God for us in worship, but it also clarifies the character of our response to God: our worship is to be characterized by thankfulness and awe. Especially in reaction to God’s saving work, we are to be thankful and filled with joy The Psalms often express this response:

Sing for joy to God our strength; Shout aloud to the God of Jacob! (Ps. 81:1)
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. (Ps. 95:1-2)
Serve the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (Ps. 100:2)
For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. (Ps. 92:4)

Our response to God ought to be one of great joy and gladness for the saving work of Jesus. Thankfulness should manifest itself in many parts of the worship service. The Psalms remind us that music is one of the key ways in which we express our joy and thankfulness to God. (We will look more fully at music in worship later in our study) Other manifestations of thankfulness include prayer and heartfelt response to the preached Word.
In response particularly to the holiness of God we experience awe and reverence before him. The Psalms also show us this reaction:

Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. (Ps. 96:9)
The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.
Great is the LORD in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name he is holy. The King is mighty, he loves justice you have established equity; In Jacob you have done what is just and right. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his foot stool; he is holy.
(Ps. 99:1-5)

At times in worship there must be serious, sober reflection. As we meet with the God who created heaven and earth, who gave the Law at Mount Sinai, and who visited his wrath against sin on his Son at Calvary, we must be filled with reverent awe. We should quite literally be awestruck when we come into God’s presence in worship. Real reverence is never stodgy or dull but is profound and moving.
Today these two responses, joy and reverence, are frequently set in opposition to one another. One kind of worship is called joyful, uplifting, and exuberant, while another kind is called reverent, sedate, respectful. However, in the Scriptures joy and reverence are not antithetical but always complementary Worship can be joyfully reverent and reverently joyful. Joy and reverence should always be united in our worship.

Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. (Ps. 2:11)
The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. . Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, O LORD.
(Ps. 97:1-4, 8)
He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever holy and awesome is his name. (Ps. 111:9)

This combination of joy and awe may not always be easy to achieve, but it must be our goal. We must remember that reverence does not always mean quiet, and joy does not always mean noise. Joy and reverence are first of all attitudes of the heart for which we seek appropriate expressions in worship. Joy may be intense in the singing of a very quiet song. Reverence may be expressed in loud singing.
Traditional Protestant worship has probably been strong on reverence, and what has been called contemporary worship often seems enthusiastically joyful. But proponents of each approach must ask whether their views achieve a biblical balance. Traditional worship may proceed so mechanically and formalistically that emotion seems absent. Contemporary worship may be so insistent on fun and excitement that reverence and joy seem lost.
As we seek balance we must begin by remembering that corporate worship is meeting with our God, who is a consuming fire; and for that to happen, we must know God’s will for how we are to worship. That knowledge comes only through knowing his Word.

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  1. Dear Simon
    What a simply WONDERFUL and powerful sermon. Justification… it says so much about the human psyche and how we do so often get it wrong.
    Hopefully as Christians we are ever learning & can feel blessed at our salvation thru nothing we have deserved other than just believing….believing
    without question (as a little child). . Psalm 90 the hym that was sung on Sunday is just amazing, the words encompass so much.
    Well done! I look forward to Sunday and seeing you again.
    Every blessing to YOU and your family. Dorothy Lucejko

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