Theology drives worship

41H0WSGF75L._SY346_One of the best books I have read on the subject of Christian and Reformed worship is D.G. Hart and John R. Muether’s With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship.  One of the insights that I find most valuable about this volume is the connection it makes between our theology and our worship.  In a section early on called “Theology matters”, they write:

We begin from an explicitly Reformed perspective, because worship inevitably follows from theological conviction.  As the apostle Paul wrote to Titus, certain things are “fitting for sound doctrine,” matters such as temperateness, dignity, sensibleness, faith, love, and perseverance (Titus 2:1-2).  So too we believe that good theology must produce good worship, corporate acts of praise and devotion that fit the sound theology of the Reformed tradition.  On the other hand, defective theology yields inferior or inappropriate forms of worship.  The protestant Reformers understood this…

We suggest that when churches undergo dramatic changes in what is often called “worship style,” they may actually be changing their theology as well.  Form and content cannot be separated.  So in congregations where worship has changed, something significant may have happened also to their theology.  Is it possible to preach the whole counsel of God in an up-tempo service?  Can the hard truths of Calvinism be taught in a setting geared toward attracting outsiders?  Can pointing out our sinfulness ever be made appealing?  Churches that depart from older patterns of worship may very well abandon the theological coherence assumed by the Reformed creeds and confessions.  When this coherence is lost, something must replace it.  In our day the solution comes either through evangelistic zeal that makes soul-winning the sole criterion for evaluating the ministry of the church, or through therapeutic forms of positive reinforcement that orient worship more toward self-fulfillment than to self-denial.

The following is a short and helpful review of Hart and Muether’s book from here:

Why read a book on worship? The topic of worship should be of perennial concern to the church. It is our first and highest calling. and it comes from God himself. The authors. both OP ruling elders. emphasize that doctrine and worship go hand in hand. What we believe bears directly on how we worship; conversely, the form and content of our worship mirror what we believe.

But why read this book on worship? The authors contend that faithfulness to Reformed doctrine also means commitment to distinctively Reformed worship. They demonstrate how Reformed doctrines, such as the Creator-creature distinction, divine sovereignty, total depravity, a high view of the Sabbath, and a Reformed view of the church (and the world) all come to expression in Reformed worship.

They also address several issues that are being debated in many Reformed churches today. In this connection, they discuss the regulative principle, giving careful attention to the distinction between elements and circumstances. They unpack the dialogical character of worship, and they show how the covenantal dialogue between God and his people speaks to the question of who should lead in worship. And finally they address the issue of song in worship, showing that many of the observations that they have made concerning other aspects of worship also bear on how and what we sing in worship.

This book also addresses the consequences of abandoning the Reformed habits of worship. A disregard for these distinctives in worship should not be seen as an appropriate adaptation to today’s culture or as evidence of open-mindedness, but rather as “an indication that many in the Reformed camp no longer see the implications of their theology for their worship services.”

For all its wonderfully rich content, this is not a difficult book to read. It was specifically designed as material for adult Sunday school, and it is well suited to this task. With an introduction, eleven chapters, and a conclusion, it fits perfectly into a typical teaching quarter, and the chapters, about fifteen pages long, can easily be read and digested from week to week.


Discover a better way of worship?

photoIn today’s Tatler newspaper, which is circulated in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, RCSS ran its first of six advertisements to raise awareness of its presence in the community.  The purpose of the “campaign” is to invite you to re-discover or perhaps discover for the first time a better way of worshipping God.

Maybe you are uncomfortable with how church services today all too often replicate a cleaner version of broader consumer-orientated, entertainment-driven and self-focused culture?  RCSS offers something different.  We welcome you to come and find out for yourself.

Not yet convinced that there is perhaps a better way, that maybe reverence and awe (coupled with joy!) is more God-honoring than the show-time hype of so much of contemporary worship geared towards making the un/under-churched feel comfortable?  Then take a peek at the sermons and other material on this site to pique your interest in joining us one Sunday in the future.  For another little foretaste, consider the following words by pastor and theologian Robert Godfrey concerning the reverential character of worship that Scripture says is acceptable to God:

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.

The rest of this essay can be read here.