How Then Shall We Worship?
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…
Question 108 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the duties required in the Second Commandment?” It gives the answer, “The duties required in the Second Commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one's place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.” Last week we looked at the regulative principle of worship.
This week we consider the particular elements of worship prescribed by Scripture.
Worship takes place when the people of God; from their hearts and with a sincere faith in Christ; give God all the honor, praise, and glory that is due to Him alone. We give God this worship as we engage in those particular acts that He has prescribed for us in His Word. In other words, we are to be active in our worship of God. Worshipping God is something we DO. From the regulative principle, we saw that God’s holiness demands that we only do those things that He has commanded when we draw near to Him in worship. This principle keeps our worship free from the imaginations of sinful men and it also allows us to worship God with the certain knowledge that He accepts and approves of our worship. If we fear God and truly seek to please Him alone in our worship, we will not seek to do what we desire, we will only seek to do what God has actually told us that He desires.
So what specific actions of worship has God prescribed for us in His Word? In today’s question the Catechism lists several of them, providing Scriptural references for each one. If we are going to engage in the worship that God commands from us, we must:
1. Pray and give thanks in the name of Christ (Phi. 4:6; Eph. 5:20)
2. Reading the Word of God (1 Tim. 4:13)
3. Preaching the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:2)
4. Hearing the Word of God (Jam. 1:21-22)
5. Administering the sacraments of baptism & the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11)
6. Religious fasting (1 Cor. 7:5; Act 14:23)
7. Taking proper oaths and vows (Deut. 6:13; Psa. 76:11)
Scripture lists other acts of worship that we are commanded to give to God, such as singing praise (Col. 3:16; which is also set forth in Westminster Confession 21:5), and giving financial offerings (1 Cor. 16:2). Theologians refer to those actions of worship commanded to us in Scripture as “elements” of worship. Furthermore, the elements or worship are to be distinguished from “circumstances” of worship. Elements are nonnegotiable commandments of God. Thus, to worship God in a way that is acceptable to Him, we must pray, preach the Word, sing songs of praise, etc. Elements are primarily concerned with the “what” of worship. Circumstances chiefly address the “how” of worship. The circumstances of worship are not specifically commanded by God but are to be dispensed in an orderly and prudent way as applied to various audiences and cultures by those called and ordained to lead. Thus, we must pray in worship, and the prayers must be by faith, in the name of Christ, for things lawful, with reverence, etc., but how many times we pray, how long we pray, when we go to prayer in the service, whether we pray standing or sitting down, or with our hands folded or up in the air, and etc. are all things to be decided according to principles of wisdom and common sense. Even as we are to engage in the elements of worship with real love for God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, so we should seek to set forth the circumstances of worship in such a way that we show love for our fellow worshippers and respect for those God has called to lead. May God grant that we worship Him in such a way that we always seek His glory and our neighbor’s good!