Worship acceptable to God must be Biblically based. Our public worship needs to be regulated by the Word of God.
1. What we mean by public worship.
In distinction from private worship such as in Matt. 6.6, there is
social worship, the worship of God by a group of believers. In
the Old Testament we find this in connection with the
Tabernacle and Temple.
In the New Testament there is the worship of the local church
(Acts 2.42 and 4.23,24; Heb. 10.25).
2. Public worship must be provided for.
In the life of local churches worship must be central. Not all meetings of Christians will be for worship. There may be teaching meetings, fellowship meetings, business meetings, at which some worship will take place e.g. the opening and closing devotions. These however are not intended to be exclusively public worship. Such gatherings of the church as are designed solely for public worship must be provided regularly, ordinarily weekly. The “first day of the week” or Christian Lord’s Day is the appropriate day for such worship to take place (Acts 20.7; 1 Cor. 16.2; N.B. the connection with Christ’s resurrection as in John 20.1,19 and 26).
3. Public worship must be God-centred.
God meets with His people in this worship and His people
meet with Him. They are more than meeting each other. They
are consciously and deliberately assembling to meet with
God. (Exod. 29.43; Matt. 18.20).
In the Old Testament only the High Priest once every year went
into “the Holiest of all” and not without blood. Through
Christ’s glorious achievements there is access for all His
people to enter “into the holiest by the blood of Jesus”. This is
the priesthood of all believers (Heb. 9.7; 10.19-25).
We are to come to worship with this sense of privilege, to be taken up with the Being and works of God. It is good to ask ourselves periodicaly if we still exhibit this God-centredness in our assembling together. Do we remember John 4.24? In the reading and hearing of God’s Word are we mindful that God is speaking to us? In the praise and prayer are we intent on speaking to God?
Many practical aspects arise:
(a) Our Preparation for Worship.
We are coming to the greatest meeting of the week! We need to make spiritual and material preparation. How we spend
Saturday evenings may well affect us in public worship on the Lord’s Day. What of our appearance and dress? Our audience will be with One Greater than Royalty.
(b) Our Attitude during Worship.
It is not a matter of indifference if we are late, surely? Neither will our behaviour be casual or irreverent during the service. God is here. “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28.16,17). We need something of Jacob’s awe or the wonder expressed by John on the Lord’s Day in Patmos (Rev. 1.17). Where the church preserves this sense of the Presence of God even the visitor will be bound to notice something of it. 1 Cor. 14.23-25 should be read carefully in context as evidence of this.
The Directory for the Public Worship of God agreed upon by the Westminster Assembly in 1645 has this solemn introduction to the worship of a congregation:
“In all reverence and humility acknowledging the incomprehensible greatness and majesty of the Lord, (in Whose Presence they do then in a special manner appear,) and their own vileness and unworthiness to approach so near Him, with their utter inability of themselves to so great a work; and humbly beseeching Him for pardon, assistance, and acceptance, in the whole service then to be performed… ”
The God-centredness of our worship will prevent us becoming taken up with the “entertainment” of the worshippers. We are not assembling for “bright, informal, family fellowship” but for the worship of the Thrice-Holy God. Will there then be no joy? Certainly there will, of the highest level of which sinful men are capable in their present state. (Psalm 122.1). It will be found however through the worship, not in religious entertainment.
4. Public worship must be Church-based.
In all the local churches worship is to be engaged in. But there is no suggestion in the Scriptures that public worship is to be practiced without relationship to local churches.
God’s pattern is in Acts 2.41.42. His will is for believers to be gathered together in churches, and in the sphere of the local church to worship and serve God. For believers the Biblical social pattern is church based and nothing else is envisaged, let alone sanctioned. Sadly in these confused days this is not always clear.
(a) Some hold low views of the local church. They never link with a church but prefer to meet with others of like mind in meetings without church form or discipline.
(b) Some regard Unions or Societies as substitutes for the local church.
One of the dangers faced by Christian students at University or College is to regard Christian Union life as a substitute for attending a local church.
Those in (a) and (b) may be able to show profit gained in these meetings attended. Considerable satisfaction may have been obtained through them. Also it is conceded that in certain areas of the land it is difficult to discover any church not in a state of declension or even apostasy. But despite the problems there can be no alteration of the Biblical teaching. The Regulative Principle does not sanction alternatives to the local church as spheres in which God is to be worshipped in the society of other Christians. We are not to set aside the divine appointment.
May our view of the rightness and dignity of Public Worship in the Church be clear and firm and may the Lord enable us to come into His courts with gladness, there to worship Him “in the beauty of holiness.” (Psalm 96.9)
K. F. T. Matrunola