PUBLIC WORSHIP AND THE WORD OF GOD
We have already shown that public worship must be governed by the principles of God-Centredness, Order and oversight. These are plainly advanced in the Scriptures. Our intention now is to state briefly the parts of worship, naming, and explaining them, also seeking to set out the responsibilities of worshippers toward them.
The parts of the ordinary worship of God are:
a) The word of God read and preached.
c) The singing of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”.
d) The Ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
We define public worship as “the coming together of the church on the Lord’s Day for a pre-arranged season of Scripture reading, preaching, prayer and praise, together with the ordinances; Baptism when necessary and the Lord’s Supper at such intervals as the church deems appropriate. All these parts will be under the oversight of the elders. This
public worship is the God-intended and God-centred principal activity of the church and is not to be added to or subtracted from by any ideas of men however persuasively they may be argued, since Holy Scripture alone must regulate that worship of which God approves.
In these lines we shall take up the Word of God in worship, but first seek to answer a question often asked:
Is there not a place in public worship for sharing experiences and encouraging one another in the Christian life?
The answer is definitely. No! There is no place for the sharing of experiences and testimonies in the public worship of the church. Having said this however we must go on to indicate that if the question were whether or not there was a place for exhortation in the corporate life of the church, the answer would be emphatically. Yes! Clearly the New Testament Churches had their times of fellowship and conference. John 20.19; Acts 1.13,14; Acts 2.42 and 44; Acts 4.23; Acts 5.42; Acts 6.2; Acts 12.5f; Acts 14.26,27; 1 Thess. 5.11 and 14;
The sharing of experience belongs to the life of believers. It will be provided for in the everyday opportunities they have of meeting together. Godly autobiographies show this was ever the pattern in past generations. “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard it. . .” (Mal. 3.16). The church history of our own land also affords many examples of meetings appointed for exhortation, such as the Experience Meetings in Wales and the Fellowship Meetings and Praying Societies in other areas. Yet the corporate worship of the churches will be distinct from all these. There the only emphasis is to be the worship of God as He has revealed in His Word.
We precede now to
(a) The Word of God read and preached.
(i) What has to be provided.
By the Scriptures we mean the 66 Books of the Old and New Testament. These are characterised by Inspiration, Infallibility and Authority. (2 Tim. 3.16).
There is liberty as to the portions selected and as to the length of the readings. Usually there will be some connection with the preaching, but the value of the systematic reading of all the Bible should not be overlooked. (See the recommendation of this practice to ministers in the “Directory for the Public Worship of God” agreed upon by the Westminster Assembly 1645).
The reading should be taken by those involved in the ministry of the Word since preparation is important. (Neh.8.8;
cts 6.4.). The standard of the reading of God’s Word in worship needs to be high. The “Directory for the Public Worship of God” states that the reading shall be “out of the best allowed translation, distinctly that all may hear and understand.” It is desirable that the hearers should follow the reading in their own Bibles.
Preaching of the Word
We cannot here elaborate such a large subject but confine ourselves to observing that the responsibility for preaching rests with those whom God has equipped and called to this holy work, and whose suitability and call have been recognised by the Church.
The Message of the Preaching will be the Message of the word of God, especially the proclamation of the gospel of the grace of God. (Hag. 1.13; 1 Cor. 1.17,18; 2.2.) The teaching of doctrine and practice must not be neglected. (Matt. 28.20; Acts 20.20 and 27.). The Manner of the Preaching is solemnly declared in the Westminster Larger Catechism. Question 159 “How is the word of God to be preached by those who are called thereunto?”
“They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers;
zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of His people;
sincerely, aiming at His glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.” (2 Tim. 4.2; Titus 2.1; 1 Cor. 2.4; 2 Cor. 2.17; 4.2; 1 Tim. 4.16).
(ii) How it is to be used.
God speaks to the worshippers through His Word, They are to be more than just hearers, passively listening. God is not worshipped in the Word where there is mere attendance. We are not blessed by simply listening to the Bible read or preached! We repudiate a mechanical, almost sacramentalist view of preaching that suggests blessing comes merely by being present. (Lk. 8.18; Jas. 1.22.). Worship is a spiritual exercise and there must be that evidence of dependence upon the Holy Spirit:
1. in recognition that God is speaking (Isa. 66.2).
2. in felt need of illumination by the Holy Spirit (Ps. 119.18).
3. in seeking grace to do God’s will through the Word revealed (Ps. 119.33.34.).
4. in concentration of mind, resisting distractions whether from within or without.
Such hearing of the preached word is summarised again in the Larger Catechism, in section 160:
“It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer;
examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer* of it; hide it in their hearts, and bnng forth the fruit of it in their lives.” (1 Pet. 2.1; Acts 17.11,12).
K. F. T. Matrunola
* talk together.