PASTORAL LETTER ON WORSHIP
Ooctober 8, 2002
Written by: Sue Crosset, Vaughn Engle, Glen Francis, Bill Gerhardt, and Mark Verhagen
I. BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
Teaching Elder Glen Francis challenged the board of elders at our November, 2001, retreat to consider the meaning and the essential elements of worship for a graciously reformed Evangelical Presbyterian Church. This study of worship became our primary emphasis in 2002 along with establishing our own facilities where worship would be preeminent.
The Book of Worship as contained in the Book of Order functions as the foundational statement for our worship service in the EPC and therefore will serve as the ECC position paper on public worship. This pastoral letter will have the purpose of informing and educating the body on the elders' study of worship and liturgy as laid out by the Scriptures, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Book of Worship, and additional readings. This letter will also share how our study will influence the uniqueness of our worship service and its implementation.
Worship is a covenant renewal ceremony. God created worship, maintains worship, and preserves us through worship. Worship as defined by the Westminster Confession states, "Natural understanding reveals that there is a God, Who is Lord and sovereign over everything, Who is good and does good to everyone, and Who is therefore to be held in awe, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all our heart, soul, and might."(Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21-1), (Romans 1:20, Psalm 119:68). This statement tells us the emotions characterizing worship. We should express awe, love, praise, trust, and service as we come before our sovereign Lord (Hart, page 151).
Regulative Principle Definition:
If by natural understanding all human beings know there is a God, it would logically follow that these beings should worship Him. It then follows that only God can prescribe how He is to be worshipped (Gerstner, page 100). The Westminster Confession states, "The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is established by God Himself" (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21-1) (Deuteronomy 12:32, Acts 17:25, Matthew 4:9-10). The Book of Worship states, "Proper worship is defined and outlined in God's revealed will and is to be followed in giving glory to Him. True and proper worship therefore finds its prescription in Holy Scripture." (Book of Worship, Chapter 2-1). This concept is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship.
God’s chosen people called upon the name of the LORD throughout the Old Testament. The Israelite people used many names for God which pertained to the attributes covering every need of this people. In the Old Testament, the kabod (glory of the Lord) manifested God's presence at Mt. Sinai, in the tabernacle, and in the temple on Mt. Zion. The heart of Old Testament worship was the sacrificial system of ceremonial law (burnt offerings by the priests to atone for the sins of the people). The shed blood of the sacrificial animal was offered to expiate the holy wrath of God which was upon sinners.
In the New Testament Jesus Christ became our perfect once-for-all sacrifice, the Lamb of God with His shed blood. The veil of the temple was torn in two and Christ became our High Priest. Ceremonial Law found fulfillment in Christ who became the temple (John 2:19). We now bring our spiritual sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, joy, righteousness, repentance, and self, acceptable to God, in the name of Christ, as our Christian act of worship on the Lord's day (Hebrews 13:15; Psalm 107:22; Psalm 17:6; Psalm 51:19; Leviticus 7:7; Romans 12:1). Christ has called us to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).
II. ELEMENTS OF WORSHIP
ECC desires to have a form of worship that brings glory to God in a proper and orderly manner. Elements are the essential components for reformed worship. The book of Leviticus clearly defines God's chosen worship in the Old Testament, but there is no such book in the New Testament. Elements are therefore drawn from the actions of the Lord himself, the teaching of the apostles, and the book of Acts (2:24). These elements, based upon our biblical theology and purpose, are to be found in this Pastoral Letter.
The Lord's Supper:
In the Old Covenant, all worship was a holy meal. The sacrifices of reconciliation offered at the altar were called "food" and '"bread" for God (Leviticus 6:7; 21:6) and the people were commanded to eat (Deuteronomy 12:6-7). In the New Covenant Jesus establishes the Lord's supper as an essential sacrament (Matthew 26:17). The Lord's supper is not an occasional element in the Church's worship. It is the source and center of Christian worship; it is the Gospel itself. The supper is a perpetual remembrance of what Jesus Christ did for all mankind on the cross. God alone provided the payment for our sin in the sacrifice of His Son. It is a seal of all those benefits of Calvary for believers and signifies their growth and nourishment. The supper is the church's proper response to God who has given his Son for us. It is a bond and pledge of the communion of believers with Jesus Christ and with each other as parts of the Church (Kineer, pp.4-6).
The Book of Worship states that the observance of the sacrament should always be in conjunction with the reading and preaching of the Word, with the prayers of the people accompanied with hymns of praise (Book of Worship, Chapter 3-3). The Lord's supper is not an added element of worship that we make special. It is already special because God has promised to accompany its regular lawful administration with the reality promised Â– Christ and all his benefits, by the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit (Horton, p.159).
Reading and Hearing of Scripture:
The Book of Worship (EPC) tells us that Scriptures are for the sure establishment of the Church, as well as its comfort. It protects the church from corruption of man, the malice of Satan, and the world. Because Jesus Christ is the supreme Word of God, scripture must be heard to know Him...just as faith is the sole instrument of justification, so too faith comes by hearing the Word of God. The unity of Word and Scripture is well attested in Scripture (Book of Worship, Chapters 2-5). We consider law to comprise everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God's will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether in the Old Testament or the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love of God in Jesus Christ (Horton, p.66). Scripture is to be central in any service. It is the basis upon which God reveals himself to us that we in turn might give Him homage and service acceptable to God which is our spiritual service of worship. Text from both Old and New Testaments will be used (Book of Worship, Chapters 2-5).
From Scripture directly we learn that public attention was given to the reading of Scripture. Christ read Scripture in the synagogue (Luke (4:16-21). Many of the New Testament epistles were written to be read in the public assembly of the churches (I Timothy 4:13, I Thessalonians 5:27, Colossians 4:16). Scripture is to be approached as a vital communication from God to His people providing the rule of faith and life (Book of Worship, Chapter 2-5). May He bless our reading of His Holy Word.
Preaching is a means of Grace and when delivered to God's people, opens the Word of God in such a way that the hearer can respond with clear understanding and simple faith (Book of Worship, Chapters 2-6, I Timothy 4:6). The Holy Spirit alone is the effectual cause in the work of preaching the Word (Horton, p. 156). All Scripture used in preaching will be interpreted by Scripture itself. As a means of Grace it threatens in the law and promises the redemptive good news of the Gospel. It is an announcement of something accomplished by God and God alone (Horton, p. 156). The preacher will be provided sufficient time for study, meditation and prayer to prepare. His life should exemplify what is preached. As worshipers we have a solemn duty to be open and receptive which would be facilitated by prayer for the preacher during the week (Book of Worship, Chapters 2-6).
The whole congregation is the true choir singing praises and giving glory to God. Emphasis should be given to the content of the music, that all might sing with discernment so that the Lord will dwell in us richly. Music is not an end in itself but is used for the praise and glory of God . . . care should be taken in selecting music so that the transcendent (all powerful) and incarnate (intimate) aspects of God are celebrated. The instruments that compliment the worship of God are permitted as approved by the pastor and session (Book of Worship, Chapters 2-8).
Scriptures reveal that music was a vital part of Old Testament worship (Psalm 96). Christ authorized New Testament music by singing at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30). Many of the New Testament descriptions of worship site encouragement of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). Care is to be taken that all music draws attention to the triune God. Continuity of Word, preaching and music will have a priority of importance in choosing music under the guidance of the minister who is responsible for the order of worship. Those involved in the ministry of music must conduct themselves so as not to be a barrier to worship (Book of Worship, Chapters 2-8).
The minister ordinarily has the duty to lead the people in prayer during times of worship, although from time to time others may be invited to do so. As the minister prays the people are being represented before God. All prayers should be offered silently from the hearts of those who listen. It is to be offered in the name of Jesus. Prayer should be offered in a language common to all. Those leading in prayer need not be limited to fixed forms of prayer. Prayer includes adoration, confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, petition, dedication and the communion of saints (prayers of gratitude for those who have witnessed a good confession and gone to be with the Lord) (Book of Worship, Chapters 2-8). Prayers of intercession will be shared during the communion ceremony and at other selected times as chosen by those planning worship under the minister's guidance (Acts 17:31, Luke 24:46, 47). It is always appropriate for the prayers of the people to include the Lord's Prayer, given to believers by Christ as a model (Matthew 6:9-13).
The New Testament gives many examples of believers meeting for corporate prayer (Acts 2:24, 42). The Father is often addressed through the Son and with the aid of the Holy Spirit. When worshipers are able to enter into corporate prayer it makes it an offering to the Lord for the whole church. A vocal "Amen" at the end of prayer signifies consent (Book of Worship, Chapters 2-8).
When God's people meet in his presence and in the fellowship of one another, the time comes to say farewell. The Aaronic blessing in the Old Testament (Numbers 6:22-27) and the closing to letters of the New Testament are Biblical warrants for this element in worship. In the benediction God is given the last word. God addresses His people and His word is grace. God's name is placed on His people who leave corporate worship to scatter and worship Him in all they do and say throughout the week. The minister as God's representative pronounces the benediction. The covenant people leave with the assurance that God is on their side and that they stand under His blessing rather than His wrath (Horton, p.160).
From the beginning of the Church, the assembly of God's people has included a collection or an offering of thanksgiving. This too is an act of worship to God in response to who He is and what He has done. After we have heard the Word with understanding and partaken of the Lord's supper we should be so affected by God's love that we respond to our brothers and sisters in need (Acts 2:42-47), the financial well being of our church, and the furtherance of the Gospel in missions. The offering is not an awkward interruption in the worship service, but the proper time to acknowledge that God is the giver of every good gift and His people are but stewards of His grace. We are privileged to join in honoring the Lord with our substance and the first fruits of all our increase (Engle, p.81).
Christians enter into union with Christ through baptism. The baptism of John was unto repentance. The baptism of Jesus ushers in the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5, Galatians 3:27). It unites us to Christ's death and resurrection. We are also united into the church as we share one Baptism. Christians are baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The use of water in baptism connects to Israel's passage through the Red Sea, Noah's salvation in the ark, and Israel’s crossing the River Jordan to enter the Holy Land. At ECC we will honor both emersion and sprinkling as God honors ones salvation with the awakening of His Spirit through the symbol of water. We believe the efficacy of baptism is dependent on God’s grace. We consider it a “sign and seal” on the entrance of one into the communion of saints (Ryken, Chapter 3).
Creeds are brief authoritative statements of Scripture used for confessions of faith. Paul charged Timothy to make his good confession in the presence of many witnesses just as Jesus made the good confession while testifying before Pilate (I Timothy 6:12-13). The New Testament confessions center on the affirmation that “Jesus is Lord” (Engle, p.81) (Romans 10:9,10; I Corinthians 15:3-5; Philippians 2:6-11). They are statements based on scripture that lead the worshiper to focus on God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit and He alone. They are reminders of the centrality of God in worship.
III. IMPLEMENTATION OF ECC’S WORSHIP SERVICE:
What a blessing it has been to study about worship this year! We have been challenged, stretched and energized. We have wrestled with truths expressed in Scriptures, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Book of Worship and other current literature. The more we have learned the more we want to know! God has pruned us, shaken us and refined us in the process. My prayer is that you will be blessed, encouraged and challenged as well to continue to study with us as we pursue God’s best for ECC.
Our Past History:
From the beginning, ECC has had a diverse and eclectic worship service. Our musical style has encompassed a wide spectrum. We have made an effort to provide a blend of traditional with the more contemporary. We have had beautiful choir numbers and hymns as well as praise songs. We have also had a variety of preaching styles. Some have been conversational and more casual; while others are more formal. We have been blessed with missionary speakers and “pastors-in-training” as well as seminary trained laymen who have presented God’s truth from a variety of perspectives.
In our post modern age, variety and diversity are praiseworthy. However, it would be easy for us to be blown around by every new style of worship as we seek to keep up with the quickly changing trends. I believe it is essential that we discover scriptural principles to give us a foundation and an anchor as we seek to worship God in a way that pleases Him.
Foundational Truths for Worship:
In the process of my study, I discovered these foundational truths:
- We are created by God to worship Him.
- God has specific ways He wants us to worship Him.
- Worshiping God is our highest and most glorious purpose.
- Worship is a daily experience as we “offer our bodies” and our lives as living sacrifices to God moment by moment during the week (Romans 12:1-2).
- Sunday morning is all about God. It is a time to come together as His corporate Body to honor Him; learn more about Him; to worship Him and proclaim Him as LORD of all!
- We worship God as Holy, All-Powerful, Transcendent and far above us. We worship Him as Loving Father, merciful, compassionate, and always with us. Therefore, our attitude in worship is one of awe, reverence and great joy.
The style of worship we have experienced the last few months is beginning to reflect the foundations we have discovered. In the past we have called our style, “blended.” I prefer to say our services are “balanced.”
I see three main components in a balanced service:
- Our worship must be established and guided by Scripture and as stated in the regulatory Principle of the Westminster Confession.
- We will be incorporating elements of our Reformed faith to bring more strength and vitality to our services.
- I see us incorporating historical elements from our heritage with the best of the present to bring an intergenerational worship style that minister to the heart and to the mind while giving glory and honor to God.
This type of God-honoring service will feed the mind and delight the heart as we worship together in reverence, awe and with great joy. This kind of worship draws others of like mind and heart. We will want to bring our friends, both believers and non-believers to share with us what God is doing in our midst.
We have already been incorporating these elements in our services. Our music has been showing more of a balance between rich hymns of the faith and God-centered contemporary praise songs. The worship leaders have creatively used creeds, Scripture, The Lord’s Prayer, and responsive readings. We have had confessions of sins and assurances of pardon. These elements have been implemented in a way that considers our current church culture. When some people see these things as part of a service, they fear we will be drawn into dead ritualism of the past. I want to assure you, that is the furthest thing from my mind. We have no reason to be afraid!
When we are responding authentically to the wonderful God we love and serve, our worship will be delightful, satisfying and alive. It will encourage us and stimulate us to grow and mature as we seek to truly know God and live in His Presence.
In worship, our desire is to glorify and honor God. Our worship includes: the attentive reading of the Word; sound biblical preaching; hearing the Word of God with understanding and applying it in faith; praising Him in songs; praying with thanksgiving in our hearts; offering our tithes and our lives to Him; and proper administration of the sacraments.
Engle, Paul E., Discovering the Fullness of Worship, Suwanee, Georgia: Great Commission Publications, Inc., 1991.
Evangelical Presbyterian Church , The Book of Order, The Book of Worship, Livonia, Michigan: Office of the General Assembly, 1987.
Gerstner, John H., Douglas F. Kelly, Philip Rollinson, A Guide and Commentary to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Signal Mountain, Tennessee: Summertown Co., Inc., 1992
Hart, D.G., John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing Co., 2002.
Horton, Michael, A Better Way, Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Co., 2002.
Kinneer, Jack, Worship According to the Word, Echo Hills Study Center, http://www.echohills.wso.net/ no date.
Ryken, Philip Graham, Communion of Saints, P and R Publishing, 2001.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Westminster Assembly (1643-1652).