Lausanne Free Church "believing all things written"

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How should we worship?


Some people are surprised when they first start attending the church that the services are not more ‘lively’. They may think:

Where is the music group?

Why do you only sing hymns?

Why not have some drama to liven things up?

Why is the worship so formal?

To answer these points means that we need to go to the heart of what worship is. Lausanne Free Church is a Bible-believing church. This means that everything we do (including the conduct of worship) is determined by the Bible and the Bible alone. In this article we seek to show what the Bible teaches and in doing so we will answer the questions raised above.

Our first duty

Our first duty as human beings is to glorify and worship God. Is it for man to decide how to worship God? No, surely it is for God to say how we should worship him. Therefore worship must only be in a way and form that God directs (this is called the regulatory principle). One Biblical scholar puts it this way: “Worship must therefore only include that which is either expressly commanded in scripture or may be deduced from scripture by good and necessary means.”

What is worship?

Worship means to “attribute worth to an object”. Worship is not defined in the Bible but its meaning can be determined from the terms employed and the context of the passages. In the New Testament the most common word is ‘proskuneo’ which means to revere and is from two Greek words meaning ‘kiss towards’. Another word often used - ‘sebomai’ - is derived from a word meaning fear or revere. In the Old Testament the most common word is ‘sahah’ meaning to prostrate oneself or bow down. From this we can see that worship means above all to revere, bow down, or show deference. This should immediately tell us much about the ‘feel’ of a worship service. Respect and reverence should be the prevailing mood.

How should we worship?

The Bible also tells us how we should worship God. In summary worship should be in spirit, in truth and with words. It should be directed towards God, mediated through the Lord Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It must also be done with reverence, decently and in order. We will look at these seven principles in turn.

  1. In spirit and truth

When Jesus was asked about worship he gave a clear message: “But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” John 4 v. 23. This is a most important principle. ‘In spirit’ means in the inward being. ‘In truth’ means based on the revelation of the Word: the Lord Jesus. Real worship is in the realm of the spiritual not the physical. God is concerned with the state of our heart rather than the position of our hands. Acceptable worship is from the heart.

  1. With words

In Revelation 4 and 5 we have a beautiful picture of the worship of God. Please take time to read these two short chapters now. You will notice that the worship given by heavenly beings and the saved again and again involved words: "… fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 'You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, honour and power…'" (Revelation 4 v.v. 10-11), "Then I looked, and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…” (Revelation 5 v.v. 11-12)

It is vital that we grasp this point. Worship is with words. Worship is not words and music. Music assists, but the rational mind is the seat of worship. It is perfectly possible to engage in God-glorifying worship without any musical instruments. Music does have a place, but music is not worship. Musical accompaniment helps us to make a joyful and harmonious noise to the Lord, but is not essential.

Some have sought to use Psalms 149 and 150 as a reason to have many musical instruments in a worship service. However a careful reading of these passages will show that they are not talking about formal worship (see for instance 149 v. 5 ‘sing aloud on their beds’ - does that mean we can have beds in our worship?!). The number of instruments used in Old Testament worship was strictly controlled (only four kinds were allowed - see 1 Chronicles 15 v.v. 15-16). How many instruments do we need to help us sing in tune?

  1. Directed towards God

Review again Revelation 4 and 5. You will note the consistent emphasis is that worship is objective. It is directed towards God and His glory and not us and our needs. It is what we give to God not what he gives to us. Note the focus: "You are worthy, O Lord" (Rev 4 v. 11), "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain" (Rev 5 v. 12), "Blessing and honour and power be to Him who sits on the throne" (Rev 5 v. 13). Worship can only be a response; a response to who God is and what He has done. We do not earn God’s favour by our worship. This brings us to our fourth point.

  1. Mediated through the Lord Jesus Christ

Worship is only accepted by God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus. The Old Testament points to this fact again and again with the emphasis on the need for blood to be shed during acts of worship. The first act of worship accepted by God involved the death of an animal (Genesis 4 v.v. 3-5). In the New Testament the types and shadows disappear and the work of the Lord Jesus is gloriously revealed: " Therefore brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us … let us now draw near" (Hebrews 10 v.v. 19-20).

  1. Empowered by the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the wonderful Helper to us in our worship. "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father" Ephesians 2 v.18. The Holy Spirit enlivens our worship by bringing to mind all that the Lord has done for us, by giving us understanding of the Bible and by talking our feeble prayers, giving them deeper meaning and presenting them before the throne of God.

  1. With reverence

The writer to the Hebrews emphasises this point: "…let us have grace, by which we may serve (or render homage to) God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12 v. 28). As has already been said, our worship must be reverent in its style and format. Although it is our inmost thoughts that matter, there is no doubt that our outward actions should in some sense reflect our inward thoughts. That is why so often we read in the Bible of worshippers bowing down in worship.

  1. Decently and in order

Paul gives us these important principles in 1 Corinthians 14 when discussing worship: "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace… Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14 v.v. 33,40). The word ‘not confusion’ is the negative of ‘to place down’ or appoint. Paul is saying that worship should be planned. The word ‘peace’ refers not to silence but of peace as opposed to war. In other words there should be harmony in our worship. ‘Decently’ means well formed, proper or balanced, while ‘in order’ means in fixed array, as in an army. In summary Paul is telling us that worship should be planned, organised, with a pattern, not disorganised and haphazard. This is one of the proof texts for the way our services are led.

What are the elements of worship?

Based on what we have already said, a worship service must only contain those elements that the Bible allows:

Speaking/singing God’s praise (Revelation 4 and 5)

Reading God’s Word (1 Timothy 4 v. 13)

Praying (1 Timothy 2)

Preaching God’s Word (2 Timothy 4 v. 1 and Acts 20 v. 7)

The Lords Supper (Acts 20 v. 7)

Baptisms and collections also certainly took place on the Lord’s day in the apostles times (Acts 2 v. 41 & 1 Corinthians 16 v. 2).

Conclusion

Worship is not a performance or a display of the talents of musicians. Rather it is the heartfelt response of a saved people, grateful for all the kindness and goodness of God.

Only God has the right to say how he wants to be worshipped. He has told us how - in the Bible. The question therefore should not be ‘Is the worship lively?’ but ‘Is the worship biblical?’

Acknowledgement: Many thoughts and arguments outlined in the article are based on those found in a book by Dr. Peter Masters called Worship in the Melting Pot. We would recommend this book to those who wish to investigate this subject further. It is published by The Wakeman Trust.

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