I was going to offer my own thoughts on worship in the Christian church but then I started reading Dr. Robert Reymond’s great (one of my top five systematic theologies) book A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith; after going to his section on worship I realized I would better serve others by quoting him. Here are his words:
For its own spiritual health and well-being then, the church must continually bear in mind the importance of this regulative principle in all that it does in its worship of God. Accordingly, the Reformed worship tradition has a number of things to say to this generation of Christians about the issue of worship.
First, the Reformed worship tradition should remind every generation of Christians that the worship of God is the most important of all the Christian’s tasks. That is the primary reason why the Christian should go to church: to worship God. In today’s church climate this is a radical idea. Nevertheless, Christians should go to church, not to evangelize, not to provide a comfortable “consumer-friendly” setting for the unchurched, not even primarily for the benefit which fellowship with other Christians provides, and definitely not just for lectures and devotionals, but in order to worship God. Christians should also understand that evangelism and the missionary task are not the most important tasks the church has. Such efforts exist among the nations, as John Piper argues in his Let the Nations Be Glad, only because worship of the true God among them does not!
Second, Reformed Christians must convince this generation that their tradition’s “regulative principle” regarding worship should be the governing principle of all Christian worship, that is to say, that Christians must do in worship only those things which God commands, clearly perceiving that “what is not commanded is forbidden” and just as self-consciously rejecting the dictum that “what is not expressly forbidden is permissible” (see again Gen. 4:4–5; Lev. 10:1–2; Num. 16–17; 2 Chron. 26:16–19; Jer. 19:5; Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:6–13; John 4:22–24; 14:6; Col. 2:20–23). This approach to worship will produce a worship that is biblical, spiritual, simple, weighty, and reverent. It will produce a worship centered upon God, substantial and life-transforming. It will prohibit a worship that is superficial in character, complicated by ritual, stimulated by props, and flippant in tone.
Anyone who will take the time to study the matter will have to conclude that worship in evangelical churches in this generation is, speaking generally, approaching bankruptcy. There is neither rhyme nor reason, much less biblical warrant, for the order of and much that goes on in many evangelical church services today. The fact of the matter is, much evangelical “worship” is simply not true worship at all. For decades now evangelical churches have been conducting their services for the sake of unbelievers. Both the revivalistic service of a previous generation and the “seeker service” of today are shaped by the same concern—appeal to the unchurched. Not surprisingly, in neither case does much that might be called worship by Christians occur. As a result, many evangelicals who have been sitting for years in such worship services are finding their souls drying up, and they have begun to long for something else. Accordingly, they have become vulnerable to the appeal of the mysterium of hierarchical liturgical services. This is why some today are “on the Canterbury trail” or defecting to Greek Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Others who have been simply spectators for years in their worship services are getting caught up in the people-involving worship of charismatic services.
…The Triune God of the Reformed faith is an awe-inspiring, absolutely sovereign, infinitely just, and infinitely gracious, incomprehensible Deity. He will not long be known as such or served as such by a people fed rote ritual or revivalistic preaching or emotional choruses and gospel songs. Our God must be worshiped with the mind as well as the heart. Faith in him requires understanding. And the understanding of Christian congregations grows primarily as it is nourished by the singing of hymns and psalms and by the prayers and preaching of the public worship services. Therefore, Reformed churches cannot adopt forms of worship that are either simply “liturgical” or theologically shallow and expect to remain for long biblically sound, Reformed, and presbyterian. Reformed theology, like all systems of theology, must have a form of worship through which it is expressed and communicated. Neglect that form of worship and Reformed theology will cease to be meaningful.
What then should Reformed worship include? It will include theologically sound congregational singing. For this I recommend the new Trinity Hymnal. It will also include the much-neglected singing of the psalms, which express the full range of human emotions in worship. The biblical psalms are realistic in a way that many hymns are not and that choruses can hardly ever be. They also contrast the righteous and the wicked, highlight the conflict between them, and thereby encourage a bold, militant spirituality such as the Huguenot and Puritan forefathers knew and lived by. For this I recommend, particularly for churches for whom regular psalm-singing would be a new thing, the Trinity Psalter.
Reformed worship will emphasize and feature biblically based, hermeneutically sound expository preaching of the Holy Scripture, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, as interpreted by the Westminster Confession of Faith and the two Westminster Catechisms.
Reformed worship will also include contemplation of God’s holy law in keeping with the law-gospel paradigm in order to aid the worshiper in his understanding of his vileness before God (its second use) and to promote its use as a guide for Christian conduct (its third use). Our carnal and antinomian age is in desperate need of a healthy dose of the law of God. Evangelical Christians have become morally lazy, excuse-ridden, and relativistic. It is the Reformed tradition, above all others, which has given prominence to reading and meditating on the law of God. Regular contemplation of God’s holy law in worship would do much to cure this age of its rampant immorality and “carnal Christianity” and to restore true personal piety, parents’ and children’s responsibilities, and the Protestant work ethic in the world.
What should Reformed worship exclude? It should exclude all that God does not command, all announcements (which can be made prior to the call to worship), and any and all other things which do not contribute directly to the Bible’s prescribed worship of God.*
Soli Deo Gloria!
*Reymond, R. L. (1998). A new systematic theology of the Christian faith (872–874). Nashville: T. Nelson.