Reformed Worship

A Guide To The Worship Service At Community Baptist Church

If you are new to Community Baptist Church, you may have noticed that our worship style is different from many churches. This difference is not without purpose. We are very intentional about how we worship God. This guide is meant to explain the meaning of what we are doing and why.

Our worship service is based upon what we believe rather than on our preferences or cultural fads. Our desire is to conform our worship service to God's revealed will. The Bible affirms that God is active as He dwells in the midst of His people. While we come to worship Him with our prayers and praise, He serves us by richly bestowing all His blessings upon us for the sake of Jesus Christ both by the Holy Spirit and His Word.

Worship Is Covenantal

God always relates to mankind in terms of a covenant. There are covenants of various kinds in the Bible, but at the heart of them is God's promise to meet with His people and to dwell with them.

The garden of Eden, which was God's garden, was not primarily a place for man to live but a place to be in fellowship with God (Ezekiel 28:13, 16; Genesis 3:8). There, God first established the crown of man's existence in face-to-face communion with Him. The grounds for such personal communion between God and man was a covenant of works that demanded perfect obedience (Genesis 2:16-17; Hosea 6:7). Since Adam failed to keep the conditions of that covenant, he, along with all mankind, was cast out from the place of communion with God and came under His condemnation (Romans 5:12-19; Isaiah 24:5-6). But God promised to provide a means for sinful mankind to once again have genuine fellowship with Him (Genesis 3:15; I John 1:3-4). This promise, fully realized is called the New Covenant, which is a covenant of grace (Jeremiah 31:31-34, I Corinthians 11:25).

Therefore, the elements of our worship service are based upon the biblical patterns of God's covenant of grace that was ratified in the blood of Jesus Christ. What makes the covenant of grace unique is that it is founded upon a promise God makes and fulfills. Because of this, we know that God meets with us, not according to what we have done, but because of what He has done in Christ, who makes us fit to draw near to His throne of grace in the heavenlies (Hebrews 10:19-25, 12:18-24).

Worship Is Regulated by the Bible

Zeal, size, and expense do not of themselves make worship acceptable to God. In the wilderness, Aaron had a very large congregation that generously gave gold for their offerings, and their fervent singing could be heard from far away. God hated their worship and was set to destroy them until Moses interceded (Exodus 32). God did not accept Israel's worship because it was not according to His revealed will.

Our intentions alone never guarantee God's approval of our worship. The first murder in the Bible was over God's disapproval of Cain's worship. While both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to God, He only received Abel's offering. The sons of Aaron did not fare better than Cain when they offered up incense that God had not required; fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them (Leviticus 10:1-5). Jesus tells us that even sincere worship may be "vain" if it is not according to God's commands (Matthew 15:1-9). God told Israel that their worship was to be guided only by His Word, and they were to be careful neither to add nor take away from it (Deuteronomy 12:32). Jesus tells us in John 4:23-24 that those who desire to worship God must do so in spirit and truth.

Worship Elements

Believing God knows best what is pleasing to Him, it is our intention to include as elements of our worship service only those things for which there is a clear biblical mandate. These elements are: reading the Scriptures; preaching and hearing the Word of God; singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; praying; baptizing; participating in communion; and confessing our faith and our sins.

Worship is by Word and Spirit

Biblical worship requires both the Bible and the Holy Spirit. The Bible is alive and performs its work in those who believe it to be the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; I Thessalonians 2:13). Therefore, we read, sing, and preach from the Bible. We make as much use of the Bible as we can, but we also need the Holy Spirit in our worship. The Spirit of God bears witness to Christ, is the Lord and Giver of life, convicts us of sin, and reveals to us the mind of God recorded in the Scriptures (John 15:26, 16:8-11, John 3:3-8; I Corinthians 2:6-15).

With this in mind, the reading, singing, and preaching of God's Word are central to our worship service. However, it is always our prayer that the Holy Spirit will attend both the preaching and the hearing of God's Word. It is in the Bible alone that we learn of God's will for our lives and His plan for our salvation. It is the Spirit of God alone who works new life and faith in us in the hearing of God's Word (Romans 10:17; Ephesians 2:8; John 3:3-8).

Worship is with Law and Gospel

Sadly, many people feel guilty and depressed over things that God has never said were wrong. Equally lamentable, many people feel pretty good about their lives even though they are doing the very things that God hates. God's law alone can define sin. Therefore, we read from God's law so that we might know His will for our lives and recognize how we have broken His commandments.

Christianity is not primarily about becoming better people who live better lives. Christianity is first of all about being reconciled to God so that we may enjoy His presence without the fear of condemnation. Therefore, we silently confess our sins, believing that God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse from all unrighteousness for the sake of Christ (I John 1:9).

Both God's law and His gospel are foundational to our worship service. God's law contains everything that God requires of us. The gospel contains everything God has promised us. God has promised to work in us everything that the law requires through the perfect obedience, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the gospel.

Worship is with Word and Sacrament

The Christian religion is not just for the soul, nor are humans merely brains. Rather, Christianity is for the whole person. God knows we are tactile people with strong emotions and a tendency to doubt. For these reasons, God has attached two signs to His gospel promises for the strengthening of our faith: baptism and communion. As signs, baptism, and communion are nothing in themselves, having no power of their own. The grace they communicate is that which is promised in the gospel and received by faith. Both baptism and communion, rightly understood, are pictures of what God promises us in the gospel.

Therefore, we value our time together as a congregation, participating in the preaching of God's Word, and sharing in the blessings of baptism and communion. It is in hearing the invisible Word of God preached and participating in the visible Word of God in baptism and communion that God builds us up in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Worship is with Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

One of the unique elements of our worship is the frequent singing of the Psalms. The Psalter is an important part of our worship for several reasons. First, God commands that we do so (Ephesians 5:18-21; Colossians 3:16, Psalm 47:7). That alone is sufficient reason to make them a regular part of our worship service. But additionally, the Psalms contain inspired and canonical words of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when we sing the Psalms, we know that the words and themes are pleasing to God. Because the Psalms are Scripture, they are the living Word of God through which He leads us to Christ and transforms our lives by faith (Hebrews 4:12; I Thessalonians 2:13; II Timothy 3:15-17). Also, Jesus and the New Testament writers taught that the Psalms were about Christ (Luke 24:27, 44-45). As a result, they contain rich insights into the life, prayers, emotions, and thoughts of Jesus Christ as He speaks to His Heavenly Father because they are a revelation of Him. Therefore, there is no non-canonical music more Christ-centered, Christ-exalting, Christ-revealing than the book of Psalms. What could be more pleasing to God than singing back to Him His own songs of praise given by the Holy Spirit for revealing Christ to us in His true humanity and true divine glory?

Worship is Dialogical

Our "dialogical" form of worship comes from the belief that God is among His people speaking to them, and they are responding to Him with prayers and songs of thanksgiving. God calls us to draw into His presence (Psalm 100; Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-25, 12:22-24). This is a real drawing near to Him. He speaks to us in His Word and listens to us in our prayers, confessions, and praises. Each part of our worship service contributes to His speaking and our responding to the promise of the New Covenant. God calls us to worship Him, and we respond with our praise and confession of faith. God speaks His law to us, and we respond by confessing our sin. God declares us forgiven of all our sins for the sake of Christ alone and we respond with our songs of thanksgiving. God declares His Word to us, and we respond in asking for divine illumination. He reveals His truth to us, and we respond with praise.

Worship is Built on God's Means of Grace

The gospel is God's promise that He saves us from our sin and will conform us to the the image of His beloved Son (Romans 8:28-30). God accomplishes this by a work of His sovereign grace. This promise of God's saving and sanctifying grace is expressed in the context of His covenantal people. Because of this, there is an inherent priority upon the public means of grace expressed in corporate worship. God's ordinary means of grace used in family worship and in private devotion find their ultimate meaning and power as an extension of our corporate worship, not as their replacement. It is vital to our Christian growth, then, to participate regularly in corporate Lord's Day worship.

Worship is Trinitarian

Isaiah writes in chapter 46:9 "For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me." Only the one true God is both eternal and spirit, but there is yet another special mark that distinguishes Him from idols: Trinity. There is but one God who exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, same in substance and equal in power and glory. Unless we grasp God in terms of Trinity, then as John Calvin wrote, "...only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our minds, to the exclusion of the true God."

Thus, our worship is designed to be outwardly Trinitarian in our confession of faith, in the songs that we sing, and in how we offer our prayers. We desire all the members of the Godhead to be glorified and praised.

Worship and the Congregational "Amen!"

"Amen" may be the least understood word in the Bible. "Amen" functions in a variety of ways; one such use is the believers' response of faith to God's covenantal promises. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham "believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." The word "believed" could be translated as “Amen.”. "Amen" is also used as the name of Christ in Revelation 3:14.

An essential use of "Amen" in Scripture is the congregation's response to God's faithfulness to keep His covenantal promises. When used in this manner, it is typically a congregational response in unison as in "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, 'Amen.' Praise the LORD!"

Our expectation is that the whole congregation is involved in the covenantal worship of God. One way for the congregation to express its covenantal involvement is by the corporate "Amen!" in response to songs, scripture readings, and prayers in the worship service. Reportedly, Jerome said visitors to the early church congregations were often frightened at the "Amen" because it had the "sound of thunder" when said by worshipers who understood its meaning.