PRAYER AND PRAISE IN PUBLIC WORSHIP
Having previously noted* (a) The Word of God read and preached, we consider next
(i) Prayer belongs to true worship. Gen. 4.26 tells of the beginning of public worship and is indicative of prayer. Abraham prayed Gen. 12.8; 13.4. Tabernacle and Temple service included prayer. In the New Testament notice prayer in Acts 2.42; 4.24-31;
1 Tim. 2.1f.
(ii) Our praying in worship will be to the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. Eph. 2.18; Col. 3.1 .
(iii) Our praying will include the usual elements of Adoration, Thanksgiving, Confession, Supplication and Intercession. Certain themes will continually be remembered in prayer- the glory of God, the furtherance of the gospel, the calling of the elect, the perseverance of the saints, the coming of Christ and the last things. Certain conditions will always need our prayers – the tempted, the desolate, the sorrowing, the afflicted, the persecuted, the dying. Prayer must ever be made for the Church and its ministers; for the state and its rulers.
(iv) Reverence of language and manner belong to prayer whether in private or public. We have the immense privilege of direct access to God, but must at all times recall the character of the One to whom we come. (Isa. 5.15). While we have the right to address God as “Our Father” we have also the responsibility to hallow His Name. (Matt. 6.9).
(v) Our praying will be for the living and for the yet unborn, but not for the dead. The believing dead have all they need in Christ, there is nothing we can ask for them. The unbelieving dead are in a state unalterable, there is nothing, by praying, that we can do for them.
(vi) All are to pray in public worship. Though not all will pray audibly, yet all are to engage in prayer. It is not that while one is praying others are merely waiting for him to finish. He who prays audibly is “leading” the congregation in its praying. Those responsible for the Order and Conduct of the worship will see that those men pray who are capable of this solemn duty (1 Tim. 2.8). The length of prayers needs much wisdom and discipline. Bible prayers are short, whereas some Puritan praying lasted for an hour! It will be helpful if those who pray audibly in public worship remember they are leading others and do not pray so long that few are able to keep up with them.
(vii) The Lord’s Prayer. While some repeat this in worship it is the writer’s belief that the Lord never intended His words in Matt. 6,9-13 to be so used. It is not a set form of prayer but a model or pattern for praying. We do not find the Saviour in the prayer of John 17 repeating the words of Matt. 6, but we find Him employing the pattern of these verses. While it would not necessarily be wrong to pray the Lord’s Prayer in public worship, frequent use of it could easily amount to “vain repetitions” which the Lord cautions us against in Matt. 6.
We mean by praise, singing in public worship. According to the dictionary singing is to “utter words in tuneful succession.” While praise will be associated with all parts of worship, we are specifically thinking of audible tuneful succession as in Eph. 5.19.
(i) Singing is part of true worship. In the Old Testament we have Moses singing with the children of Israel after the Deliverance at the Red Sea. Ex. 15.1f. (c.f. Rev. 15.2-4). We have a Psalm of Moses in Psalm 90. The place of singing in the Temple worship is conspicuous. (2 Chr. 5.11-14). The use of the Psalms needs no comment.
In the New Testament we have the directions in Eph. 5.19 and Col. 3.16. The early Christians followed this teaching as the observation of Pliny the Younger indicates. Writing concerning Christians in Bithynia about 112 A.D., he says, “On an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ as to a God.”
At the Reformation, singing was rediscovered as pertaining to the worship of the whole church. Luther wrote hymns;
Calvin established congregational Psalm singing. Today in churches true to Biblical and Reformation practice singing has been maintained. While some sing only Psalms and others only hymns, none the less they are united in the need to sing in the public worship of God.
(ii) “Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”. Some believe that these three titles refer to the same collection of praise, namely the Psalter. They will not sing in public worship uninspired compositions however sound in content. John Gill is prepared to concede this interpretation of Eph. 5.19 and Col. 3.16, but will not limit the singing of the church to the Psalms. He writes,
“Such hymns and spiritual songs composed by good men uninspired, may be made use of, provided care is taken that they may be agreeable to the sacred writings and to the analogy of faith.”
The writer can only state that he believes we should not omit the singing of Psalms, but that we may also sing suitable, scriptural hymns. New Testament truths carefully expressed by godly hymn-writers seem entirely consistent with the singing of a “new song” unto the Lord for His salvation.
(iii) The manner of our singing in worship. Unitedly- Moses and the children of Israel in Ex. 15.-The Lord and the disciples after the institution of the Supper in Matt. 26.30. – The directions in Eph. 5.19 and Col. 3.16. From the heart – as spiritually motivated. This does not mean “hearty” singing. It is “singing with grace in your hearts”. Graceless people may be good singers of hymns and enjoy their singing, but this is not worship “to the Lord”. Making melody- The Psalms had musical settings, but with the cessation of Jewish ceremonial religion these accompaniments no longer have relevance. The New Testament emphasis is on spiritual praise, singing that depends on experience of grace more than musical accompaniment. Some forbid any instrument along with the singing. Others employ an instrument to help the singers. This is permissible, even desirable, where difficulty is experienced with raising and sustaining a tune. Musical accompaniment beyond affording aid to the singers is to be discouraged. Charles Hodge wrote,
“Whenever the singing or music is so elaborate as to distract attention from God to itself, it is subversive of the end designed and productive of evil.”
May God enable us in public worship to sing His praise. “Praise ye the Lord; for it is good to sing praises unto our God;
for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.” (Ps. 14.1).
“Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven
Who like thee His praise should sing?” (Lyte)
K. F. T. Matrunola
* Vol. 9. No. 5. p. 169.