I belong to a church that makes a public statement about what worship is. It does this by means of a document called the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).
Ministers and Elders of our church each make vows saying that they agree with that document and promise to assert, maintain and defend its propositions. They own it as a profession of their faith. The WFC begins with an extensive chapter on the Word of God. There it says that the Bible is God’s complete and alone verbal revelation to his human creatures. The Bible alone is authoritative and normative for God’s people in faith and practice. The Bible alone tells us how we must be saved and how we should respond to that salvation. God himself is the one who teaches us, by his word and Holy Spirit.
In addition to the vow to assert, maintain and defend the teaching of the WFC, ministers and elders of my church are asked whether they hold to the form of purity of worship as practised by this church. They must answer yes to be admitted to the office of teaching or ruling elder. They are free to say ‘no’ if they do not hold to it, but they would have to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in a different Christian Church if they did say ‘no’. Now, it seems to me that the promise is not simply to fall into line with whatever churches are presently doing, that is, to do whatever churches at large do for worship, but rather it is another deliberate reference to what the church publicly states to be its idea of purity of worship in the WCF.
In short, public worship (doing church) is what God has said it is to be in his word.
If this is not true in the minds of other christians, it ought at least be true for ministers and elders of my church.
The confession says this: “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scriptures.” WCF 21:1
This is a statement about the content of worship. Incidental matters like time, place, building design, seating comfort, and the tunes used for singing are to be decided by the local group using common sense (WCF 1:6), but the content of worship is to be received from the statements of the Bible. In short, what is prescribed (written down in the Bible) is to be done, but what is not prescribed is not to be done in public worship.
Now the WCF gives us some guidance regarding this matter. It states that the ordinary parts of public worship are: “[Prayer (WCF 21:4) and] the reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching and conscionable [intelligent; conscientious] hearing of the word, … singing of psalms with grace in the heart, [and] the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ.” (WCF 21:5)
This is a recognition that worship is God’s thing. He has given it to us for our benefit. Bible worship directs us to our God and his great salvation as revealed in his word. By it the Holy Spirit draws people to trust the Lord Jesus Christ and serve our Creator and saviour. I hope to say of few more things about the Bible and matters of worship in days to come.