The point of regulated worship in the Old Testament, or more accurately under the Old Covenant, is straightforward enough, as we saw in the last post, such that no real objection should arise. However, when we arrive at the New Testament, specifically through the earthly ministry of Christ, we often lose sight of God’s prior emphasis on worship. I would like to suggest two reasons why it is commonly held that God has no longer prescribed His worship, that God no longer regulates worship by His word.
First, it could be because we see in Christ the fulfillment of the priesthood, sacrifices, temple, etc. and the shift of emphasis from the external to the internal that we lose sight of the fact that God is still very much interested in how He is to be worshiped and He is still very much against the notion of syncretism or false worship. Second, because of the perception that we are no longer under law, but under grace in the New Covenant, then by implication, regulated worship by the Word of God has somehow ceased as well. The common belief is that prescribed worship was tied to law, whereas freedom of conscience is ascribed to grace. The problem with this is that God’s Word is both law and grace, grace and truth we might say. He is still the same God who commands proper worship from His people.
Before we offer a general look at some New Testament passages and principles, let’s get our feet under us with some definitions. First, we need to define worship. The words commonly used in Scripture refer to a posture of bowing down. Frequently, worship involves this literal bowing down or prostrating oneself before God, but perhaps more importantly is the “bowing down” that takes place in the heart. This worship flows from a heart of recognition of Who God is and What He has done, simply put it is a response and the external response should match the internal response and vice versa. This response can take any number of expressions from praise to obedience. It can be the submission of one’s will to God, perhaps evidenced through an act of obedience, prayer or a particular service to others or expression of love. It can be eliciting a vocal reaction such as a song or words or a physical reaction as in the previously mentioned bowing before God. All of which has a compounding effect of further worship, i.e. admiration, affections, and praise towards God, in other words a drawing near to Him. In keeping with this very general description, worship ALWAYS begins with God, either who He is or what He has done. This is the proper order. And this is what we will need to examine in the next post.
Technically, all of this can simply be called doxology. In one aspect, all of life is worship, meaning the life of the believer that consistently submits themselves to God, offering Him praise, obedience, action, reverence, etc. However, on the other hand, there seems to be something else pointed out in Scripture, something less general and more specific, namely that worship which takes place with other believers. Conventionally, we’ve come to hear this referred to as corporate worship and it has had a host of definitions and applications, which have inevitably led to worship wars, particularly in the last few decades. This brings us to a second definition, The Regulative Principle of Worship.
This corporate worship, or worship that takes place within the context of believer’s fellowship with one another, has historically been recognized as being regulated by God’s Word, just as worship was commanded under the Old Covenant. It is a rather recent notion that worship is a matter of preference, tradition, or simply trying to do our best. Contrary to this modern philosophy, and drawn from Scripture rather than from human invention, is the the Regulative Principle of Worship. While the origin of the phrase is uncertain, it’s substance has been recognized throughout the history of Christianity. Notable formulations have come post-Reformation, with John Calvin (contra Martin Luther), John Owen, and more specifically the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the Savoy Declaration (1658), and the Second London Baptist Confession (1689). Essentially, this principle states that corporate worship is regulated by God’s Word and that only those things which are commanded or given as an example are allowed in worship. The 1689 is representative
The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and does good to all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might.1 But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself,2 and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.31689 2nd London Baptist Confession, Chapter 22
Having seen the worship of God prescribed in the Old Testament and now having seen some common objections, as well as defining our terms for worship and a principle which expresses God’s continued regulation of His worship, in the next post we will turn our attention more fully to the New Testament in order to see what God has to say regarding worship under the New Covenant.