November 13: Van Horn on Westminster Doctrines

To God’s Glory : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

THE SUBJECT : The Worship Service

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : John 4:24; Exodus 15:11; I Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 95:6; Revelation 14:7.

REFERENCE TO THE STANDARDS : Confession XXI.1-8; Larger Catechism, Q. 178-185; Shorter Catechism, Q. 59 and 60.

Today the worship service is coming under increasing attack and much of it is coming from inside the church. Some leaders and many young people are calling for more involvement, more dialogue and less monologue, and more congregational participation.

Many changes have taken place in some churches. Some of these changes have taken place after pressure from those desiring change. For a time there seems to be an increase in numbers. When this is noted another church takes up the cry: “We must be more contemporary in our worship!”

To add to the problem, in many Presbyterian churches the charge is often made that the services are too cold, too formal. The argument is based many times on the need to be youth-oriented. The logic (?) is: To attract youth the service must be full of life, therefore the worship must be changed.

There are many dangers to the modern approach. To base our worship on the desire to please any one group is to ignore other groups. In addition, the desire to please man in the worship service is an invitation to disaster. This shows a contempt for purity in worship and this has always been a hallmark of the Reformed Faith.

Form is not the real problem in the worship service. Worship is the Biblical rendering to God the honor due Him. The real heart of the worship service lies in the penitent, reverent, believing heart of the worshiper as he comes to give the Lord the esteem due Him.

What should be involved in Biblical worship? On the Lord’s Day, or on any other day the people gather together for worship, the people come and should join in with the minister the attitude expressed in Rev. 4:11 — “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.”

The minister, along with the ruling elders, must be certain the worship is well-pleasing to God. What standard should be used to accomplish this purpose? Our directory of worship must be  the Word of God. Calvin held that worship should contain only what is ordained by God in His Word. He did not accept forms of worship about which the Bible is silent. (Tracts and Treatises, Vol. II, page 56).

This is difficult to achieve in this day. This means the worship service must be Christocentric. The Bible makes it plain that the believer should come to God through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). As the Head of the Church, Christ should have the preeminence in worship.

Therefore, the aim should be to point the congregation to Christ in the worship service. All things should be excluded that uplift man. In addition, the minister and congregation should come to the worship service having prepared themselves, by God’s grace, to worship. It would seem, in this sense, that Saturday evening is a very important time for the preparation for worship. It should be used as a time of preparation, rather than a time of amusement.

Each person must come to the worship service with a right attitude. Arthur W. Pink suggests these attitudes are godly fear, implicit obedience, entire resignation, and deep thankfulness and joy. Indeed, these are a good beginning to worship. They would certainly enable all to come to worship with a spiritual approach and with a desire to hear God’s Word proclaimed.

A church in Cornwall, England after World War II had a sign in it which said, “We do not really worship God until we love the things God requires!” The church was devoid of ceremonial trappings. The service was simple but included praise, confession, the reading of God’s Word. The proclamation and practical application of God’s Word was central. This enabled those worshiping to hear the sermon with a hearing ear.

Worship must be “in Spirit and in truth”. It can not be religious entertainment, no matter what form such might take. It can not be ceremonial in its emphasis. It can not be materialistic in its emphasis. It must be to the glory of God and will only reach such a standard when it is consistent with God’s Word and therefore is to His glory.

1. What is the difference between subjective and objective worship? (2 Tim. 3:16; 4: 2-4).

2. How should a worshiper enter the worship service? (Note The Directory for the Public Worship of God, composed by the Westminster Assembly).

3. Whose responsibility is it to make certain that the worship service is consistent with God’s Word? (Note Westminster Confession of Faith, XXXI, 3).

4. Are we to be worshipers first or workers first in our relationship with God? (Note Larger Catechism, Q. 160).

“To God’s Glory” was published monthly by The Shield and Sword, Centreville, AL. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor.
The above text was first published circa February 1977.


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