Worshiping with Reverence
When we have a right view of the divine sovereignty, we will approach God with appropriate reverence. Psalm 5:7 teaches the need for holy awe. David said, “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.” Similarly, Psalm 89:7 tells us that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.” So if a church believes in a sovereign God, its worship will be markedly different from the worship commonly found in contemporary Christian churches. There will be godly humility, mixed with an awe of the holy. People will rejoice with trembling. Moreover, a church with this faith will make sure that every element of its worship is prescribed in the Scriptures, for it will want God’s approval, not His disapproval.
Submission to His Authority
The knowledge of a sovereign God will move us to submit to His authority and observe His commandments. It was said of Job first that he “feared God” and then that he “eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). Job’s profound sense of God’s sovereignty made him dread sin and choose the way of righteousness. David confessed, “I have set the LORD always before me” (Ps. 16:8). He constantly bore in mind that God observed him and witnessed his every action. This, more than anything else, influenced how he lived.
…“What is worship?” This is a question of great importance today, when so much confusion is evident among professing Christians. The Westminster Shorter Catechism declares in its first sentence that “man’s chief end is to glorify God,” and God Himself says to us in the psalms, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me” (Ps. 50:23). How vital it is, then, for us to grasp this issue of worship and rightly fulfil the purpose for which God made us, preserved us, and redeemed us. There is surely no greater work on earth or in heaven than this.
Worship is the reverence and homage that we render to the Supreme Being, through means such as praise, prayer, the reading of Scripture, and the preaching of the Word of God. “Reformed worship” is worship that is strictly according to God’s written Word, which is “the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.” It includes everything authorized by Scripture, and it excludes everything not authorized by Scripture. Calvin stated the biblical and Reformed view of worship when he wrote this: “We are not to seek from men the doctrine of the true worship of God, for the Lord has faithfully and fully instructed us how he is to be worshiped.”
The Object of Worship
God’s perfection entitles Him to the honor of our worship. In Isaiah 6:1–3, we read of Isaiah’s vision of the Lord enthroned on high in His temple. The seraphim were present with their faces covered, and they were admiring that glory which separates and distinguishes Him from all others. “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” Men and women entertain similar thoughts, for they too are aware that no one can be brought into comparison with Jehovah. “There is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?” (Jer. 10:6–7). Such infinite glory deserves some external expression of our inward veneration. Soul and body must unite in this service, for if the soul is not involved, it is mental atheism, and if the body is not involved, it is practical atheism. The Lord Jesus declared, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10). The apostle Paul delivered this exhortation to believers: “Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).
In worship, our intention should be to give, not to get. The Psalms teach that to “give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name” is one and the same as to “worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2).
…The Way of Worship Reformed theology declares that only God has the right to determine the true and proper mode of worship. He has clearly prescribed this in His Word. The law of worship is that only what God has prescribed in Scripture may be introduced into His worship, or, to put it in another form, what Scripture does not prescribe, it forbids. Today there is a great deal of confused thinking about worship. Some people think that we can adopt any mode of worship, provided that God has not expressly forbidden it in His Word. In practice, this allows for many human corruptions and abuses. Where in Scripture are we forbidden to use particular vestments? To bow toward the east? To make the sign of the cross? To read from the Apocrypha? To kneel at the Lord’s Table? It is clear that this principle is entirely unsatisfactory. It allows for practically anything in divine worship. However, the scriptural law of worship is not that we can do whatever is not forbidden, but rather that we can do only what is clearly prescribed. When this regulative principle is faithfully applied both outwardly and inwardly, the result will be the recovery of pure and spiritual worship. The Word of God clearly teaches this Reformed view of worship.
Biblical Teaching on Worship: The Old Testament
The moral law of God, summarized in the Ten Commandments, authoritatively states the rule that should govern worship. In the first commandment, God declares Himself to be the only one who should be worshiped. In the second, He requires that believers observe only those institutions that He has divinely appointed: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:4). As sovereign Lord, it is God’s prerogative to order His own worship, and He makes it clear that there is no place for the inventions of men (“Thou shalt not make unto thee”). In the Hebrew, that word we read translated as make means “constitute” or “appoint.” So in the second commandment, God is prohibiting human beings from devising or observing anything in worship which He has not instituted. It is as if God is saying, “I am the Lord God, and I alone order My worship. People are not at liberty to introduce their devices into worship without My command.”*