The church at worship is the epicenter of our spiritual lives. I have many family members who lived through the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, and a year or so after that event I was able to visit the epicenter. It was in the hills outside Santa Cruz, in a densely forested area. The trees were lying about in a jumbled heap as though some giant child had been playing with them and left out his mess. Clearly, the epicenter is where the heart of the action is.
If the church at worship is the epicenter of our spiritual lives then it follows that our God would take a unique interest in what goes one there. He does. In fact, he has given us nonnegotiable Biblical principles to guide us as we think though what we do in worship and why we do it.
We often don’t like the idea of having to submit to laws and guidelines. Many of us never liked to color within the lines, but we must learn to balance the freedom of liberty with the faithfulness of submission. The old Westminster Confession of Faith (as well as the Baptist derivative to which I personally hold, the 1689 Baptist Confession) reflects this balance wonderfully. In the chapter on Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience, it tells us that
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, in matters of faith, or worship.
But this same document also says in its chapter on Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day that
…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 representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.
The careful reader will notice that the one section which emphasized liberty and the other which emphasizes submitting all worship to Scripture are actually completely complimentary and dependent on one another. A radically Biblical approach to worship liberates the consciences of Christians from the novel inventions of their fellow men. No mere man has the right to compel a Christian to worship in any way he cannot demonstrate as authorized by the Word of God. Holding tenaciously to Scriptural prescriptions for worship is a cure for the manifold diseases which distract and derail the church at worship.
This does not mean that God has given us an exacting prewritten schedule to follow in our Sunday morning worship service but it does mean that the principles he has ordained for us in his Word are absolutely binding, and therefore paradoxically liberating. In the next three posts, we’re going to look at three essential principles for the worship of God.
(By: Nicolas Alford)
UPDATE: Here’s a page linking to the completed series.