What is worship?
What are the essentials of Reformed worship?
For that matter, what does “Reformed worship” mean?
These are great questions! I’m grateful for the conversations surrounding this important topic. Here are a few perspectives to help shape the conversation as it continues.
To begin, worship is a verb! It’s an act of “bowing down” (Psalm 66:4; Matthew 2:11) and declaring “worth-ship.” It also means “to serve” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Romans 12:1). So often in our culture, or any culture, idolatry is a huge problem. People “worship” (bow down / serve) other gods than the true, living God. This happens whenever we place anything (a person, hobby, possession, source of security, etc) in place of God. When we gather for Christian worship, we proclaim the ultimate majesty, holiness and reign of God.
So how do we prepare for worship? What should our worship include?
Robert Webber, in his book Worship Old & New (Zondervan Publishing) puts it well:
“The primary factor in worship concerns not the structure, nor the style, but the content … Liturgical worship, charismatic worship, and every other style of worship must be judged by its content” (p.149).
Webber talks about 3 layers of worship. Worship content is the foremost consideration. Following that is the structureof worship. That is, how we engage the story of God’s saving work (i.e. the order of worship) so that we meaningfully hear and experience it. Finally, style (e.g. music genre, types of prayer, level of formality). Each congregation must create its own manner or approach which is helpful for the worshipers and expresses the character and personality of the worshiping community.
The following is a brief word on each.
Content: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever! Our foundational content in worship will not change. We respond to God’s call in worship as we remember, proclaim, celebrate, re-enact, and respond to the word and work of God. We recognize the centrality of Jesus Christ in his fulfillment of Old Testament promises; his birth, life, death, resurrection, and future return. We are a Presbyterian congregation, rooted in the Reformed faith. Our Book of Confessions and the Directory of Worship in our Book of Order (see church library) are a great help. Good reading!
“Reformed worship” emphasizes proclaiming the Gospel in word (preaching) and sacrament (Baptism and Holy Communion) with central focus on the principles of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone and scripture alone. These essentials uphold the sovereign rule, reign and redeeming purposes of God. I hope we’ll have further conversations here. Simply said, the content is Gospel!
Then structure. Our worship celebrates and enacts the works of God in history, acknowledging the Father who loves us, Jesus who redeems us and the Spirit who empowers us. We gather in God’s praise, we confess our failings, we proclaim God’s word, we celebrate the sacraments, we respond in prayers and offerings, we are blessed and sent into the world to serve. More or less, this order is our structure as we gather together.
Finally, style. This is where people often get wound up. Fortunately, it’s the least central. Organ, piano or various instruments? Robe, suit or casual dress? Bells, choir or worship team? I assure you, there are as many expressions as local congregations!
God welcomes the authentic praises, contrition, repentance, and response of the church – whether in Africa, Central America, Asia or right here at home. Multitudes of style represent the glorious diversity of God’s people! Since style is least central, we offer our best, we welcome the gifts of the people and we give thanks for elements of worship which are especially helpful in our worship encounters with God.
I’ve been privileged to experience a wide-range of styles in Christian worship throughout my life. And throughout life, I hope my worship capacity will grow. Keep in mind that early church communities had neither pipe organs nor bass guitars. They found expressions in their own local communities. One thing they did have was love, and their contagious love brought with it expansion and growth.
My strong hope and prayer is this: that we worship with a spirit of humility, hospitality, energy and joy. Let’s honor each service and one another in love!
As a worshiping community, let’s be a sign and foretaste of God’s kingdom here!