The New Testament teaches a style of worship which is reverent, simple and full of thankfulness. The high point of New Testament worship is the preaching and reading of the Scriptures, in order to elucidate the gospel of Christ. Here are seven principles necessary, if we are to be biblical in a New Testament sense and therefore in a truly Reformed approach to public worship.
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
This question and answer from the Westminster Larger Catechism is a helpful reminder for us in public worship.
"For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you" 2 Cor 1:12.
2 Cor 11:3 "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ".
It is amazing how the fallen-ness of mankind struggles with the beauty of simplicity, especially in worship. When will we learn that public worship is not according to our personal taste preferences, but according to the Lord's divine worship pattern revealed in Holy Scripture.
2. Reverence and awe
Hebrews 12:28-29 "And thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire".
3. Without distractions and gimmicks
When we observe the instructions given by Paul to Timothy the emphasis is on preaching. Nothing can replace preaching to pass on the content of the faith. How often churches seek extras to compensate for preaching, but nothing can replace Holy Spirit empowered preaching "out of the Scriptures".
4. Centred on the holy character of the Lord and the one mediator Jesus Christ
"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time", 1 Timothy 2:5-6.
5. Thankfulness in prayer
"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship" Hebrews 12:28-29.
6. Anchored in Scripture read and explained through Preaching
"And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ”, Acts 17:2-3.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:2–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
1 Timothy 4:13 "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching".
7. Led by qualified ministers who are called and qualified men meeting the biblical qualifications of elders
Titus 1:5-9 "For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it".
Perhaps you may go through my small list and think that some things are missing. What about singing you may say? Good point! Singing has its place but the NT makes very little mention about singing in the NT church. Sometimes singing is disproportionately emphasised in sections of the church. Let us keep things in balance. May we desire public worship with preaching as its high point but an approach that resonates with simplicity, reverence and awe.