What is Reformed worship?

banner2Reformed minister and church planter with the United Reformed Church, North America, Rev. Danny Hyde, shares in an essay a question that he often gets from visitors to his church:

“Why is the worship in a Reformed church so different from the worship at almost every other church I have ever gone to?” I cannot tell you how many times visitors ask this question. I have found that what first strikes people about a Reformed church is not our doctrine, but our worship. It has an unfamiliar; even cold feeling at first for many.

We owe it to all serious inquirers to explain not only what we do in worship, but why intelligible worship is a biblical requirement. Children asked their parents when they celebrated the feast of the Passover some 3500 years ago: “What do you mean by this service?” (Exodus 12:26) While worshipping the Triune God is profoundly transcendent and mysterious, it must be understandable. This is also what the Apostle Paul taught in his first letter to the Corinthians, when he said that preaching in foreign languages, commonly called “tongues,” must be translated for the edification of those assembled.

This article begins a series intended to introduce you to the basics of Reformed worship so that you will understand and be equipped to explain why we as Reformed churches do what we do in worship. We will do this by looking at eight characteristics of Reformed worship: it is biblical, historical, covenantal, evangelical, liturgical, reverential, joyful, and eschatological.

After setting up his discussion of New Testament worship by speaking to the church as an organism of the Word; corporate worship as regulated by the Word; the Second Commandment and worship; the lessons from Cain and Abel, and Nadab and Abihu; he writes the following:

“But this is all Old Testament teaching,” you might be thinking. Yet Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Is the solemn requirement that the Church teach all things that Christ has commanded not at the same time a solemn prohibition against teaching anything that He has not commanded? If, in the worship of God, we observe all that Christ has commanded, ought we not also to scrupulously avoid anything and everything that He has not commanded?

Jesus said that the Pharisees worshipped God “in vain” (Mark 7:7). Why did God reject their worship? ¬†Because, Jesus said, “You leave the commandment of God” preferring “the tradition of men” (Mark 7:78). They worshipped God in vain because they worshipped God as they wished, rather than as He required. In the same way, the apostle Paul warned the Colossians: “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Col. 2:18). This was worship offered because they wished to offer it, rather than because God commanded it: “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23).

No doubt Jesus was rude by our standards when He said to the woman at the well, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Yet, He was only being truthful. “God is spirit,” He said, “and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

True worship was impossible for the Samaritans as long as they worshipped God as they wished. They needed to worship God as He commanded in order to find acceptance with Him. “For the Father is seeking such people to worship Him,” said Jesus, who would be “the true worshipers [who would] worship the Father in spirit and truth (4:23). When we persist in worshipping God as we will, rather than as God wills, we are not “true worshippers.”

In Romans 1:21-25 the Apostle Paul condemns every false kind of worship invented by men. He also reveals the source of such false worship. Men become “vain in their imagination,” he says. They invent what they vainly imagine to be “good ways” to worship. They worship as they will, not as God commands. But when they do this, they really “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator,” says Paul, and for this reason “they are without excuse.” They are without excuse because there is no excuse for departing from the rule, which says “we must not worship God in any other way than He has commanded in His Word.”

Rev. Hyde then concludes by discussing the sufficiency of the Scriptures and the elements of worship.

Don’t let what is foreign hold you back from discovering a better way of worship.¬† Just as the Lord surprises us in revealing the gospel of justification by faith alone, so too he surprises sinners in the way he wants to be worshiped – by his Word and Spirit, and with reverence and joy!