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What is Reformed Worship?

This post is the first in a series on corporate worship.  My goal in this series of blog posts is to help us to think in a biblical and confessional way about how we worship God on the Lord’s Day.  One reason this is important is because, as W. Robert Godfrey says, “the corporate official worship of God’s people is a crucial and essential means God has given to help us grow” (Hebrews 10:19-22).  As I reflect on the worship of God’s people, I hope that all of us will be encouraged and comforted by our Triune God, to whom belongs all praise, honor, and glory (Romans 11:36).In this series on Reformed worship, I want to show how each element of our worship service comes from Scripture.  I will proceed by looking at each part of our worship service, explaining why we do what we do in worship.  I will also demonstrate that our worship ought to be done with joy, reverence, and awe (Hebrews 12:28). 

To begin, it is important to define some important terms.  Reformed theology often makes a distinction between elements, circumstances, forms, and rubrics in worship.  Elements of worship are discreet actions in worship, including things such as preaching, confession of sins, the declaration of pardon, praise and thanksgiving in song and prayer, offerings, and the sacraments.  My series on Reformed worship will focus on the elements of our service.   

As confessional, Reformed Christians we believe that how we worship God is as important as who it is that we worship.  We hold to the regulative principle of worship, which means that in worship we only do those things required by the Word of God.  That is, the way we are to worship is explained for us in the Scriptures.  The elements of worship are those things which are necessary and always stay the same.  God has promised to us in his Word that he will save and keep his people through his ordinary, appointed means, which are the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). 

Circumstances are negotiable and are left up to our discretion, including things that change from culture to culture.  Thus, there is a difference between elements of worship, which are ordained by God and remain constant in whatever time, location, and culture we are in, and circumstances of worship.  Circumstances include the building we use for worship, the time of our worship, and the color of the carpet we choose.

Forms and rubrics in worship are also important.  The form of worship is the content of each particular element.  For example, the form is the particular passage that is preached or the song that is sung.  The rubric is how we do what we do in worship.  An example of a rubric is whether we pray and sing while standing, sitting, or kneeling.

Corporate worship is a covenant renewal ceremony.  As God’s people, we gather for public worship because we have been summoned by God.  Acts 2:42 gives us the pattern for this covenant renewal ceremony, which is God renewing his covenant of grace with his redeemed children as Christ is displayed for us in the service through his role as prophet, priest, and king.  As we gather for worship, we do so because God has chosen the Lord’s Day to be a foretaste of the heavenly Sabbath rest which we will enjoy in heaven.

In Reformed theology, we often talk about the dialogical principle.  We use this term because corporate worship is a dialogue between God and his people.  Throughout the service, God speaks to his people and acts in saving grace through Christ, and his people respond in faith and repentance, which itself is given to us by God.  God speaks in the call to worship, the greeting, the reading of the law and other Scripture, the declaration of pardon, the preaching of the Word, the Lord’s Supper, and the benediction.  God’s people respond in the prayer of invocation/praise, the singing of hymns and psalms, the prayer of confession, the prayer for illumination, the prayer of intercession, the offering, and the Apostles’ Creed.

I pray that in this study of Reformed worship we will grow in our knowledge and love of the Christ that we worship.  I also pray that we will have a better understanding of why we do what we do in corporate worship.  For more on Reformed worship see W. Robert Godfrey, Pleasing God in our Worship (Wheaton: Crossway, 1999); Michael Horton, A Better Way (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002).  See also Darryl G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe (Phillipsburg,N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2002).

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