Public Worship at Glencullen Baptist Church
By Pastor Phillip Cavin
I have given a lot of thought to worship over the years, its essence, manner and even order. There is a controversy today over worship in the evangelical church; books have been written engaging in what has come to be known as “The Worship Wars.” Worship is important and is central to the life of the church, the Bible says:
“We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Peter 2: 9)
From time to time I receive inquiries, some from people outside the congregation and some from members, relating to the way we worship at Glencullen. It is very tempting to simply respond by saying “we have a preference for what is called traditional worship” (some hear old fashioned), “as opposed to contemporary worship” (some hear relevant and with it). However, is that really a good answer? Are we just old fashioned? Do we simply want to be out of step? I think not! First of all, preference by the congregation or the pastor should never be the criteria for worship. In addition, old practices and comfortable ways may not be the best either, tradition can be wrong. The fact is, the way we worship is a reflection of what we really believe. My old boss use to say to me, “What you believe, you do and practice; everything else is simply religious talk.” There is a vital and relational union between how a church worships and what they believe to be true. We believe the Bible! It’s our starting and finishing point for all of faith and practice. Our confession states it this way:
“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience…The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in Holy Scripture…” London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689, Chapter 1
Therefore, in order to be true to our beliefs and principles, whatever manner of worship we practice it must be Biblical in its content, style and order, or else what we confess is only religious talk. In other words, our worship must be regulated by the Word of God, which we confess to believe. Many evangelical and even reformed churches are taking unwarranted liberty in content, style and order of worship. Of course good people who believe in Sola Scriptura can disagree on some of the details relating to corporate worship, and the purpose of this article is not to debate those things, but to point out that we at Glencullen believe we are not at liberty to do what we want so long as it is not sinful or in violation of a Biblical imperative. In addition, we are not at liberty to simply be pragmatic in worship as to its content, style and order so as to be attractive to the unbelieving world. We believe we are conscience bound to only do in worship those things commanded by Christ the head of His church in His Word. Our confession says:
“…the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Him, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.” London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689, Chapter 22
Worship at Glencullen is to be regulated by the Word of God; therefore, our worship will be Trinitarian. That is to say our worship, to be Biblically regulated, must be directed toward God the Father, offered in the name of the Son our faithful mediator, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus commanded us to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28: 19). We are taught in Ephesians 2: 18 that “through Jesus Christ, the Son, we have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Robert Letham wrote in an article published in Evangelical Times, entitled “The Church at Worship”,
“The Trinity is absolutely central to what we are as Christians—to baptism, prayer, evangelism and everything else. It should therefore lie at the very heart of Christian worship.” How sad that some so called Christians today don’t even believe an orthodox, Biblical view of the Triune God is essential to faith, it is no wonder their worship is so worldly and unbiblical, they have a false God. In John’s Gospel, chapter 4, Jesus taught a woman who had a relevant question about worship; “that the Father seeks worshippers who worship in Spirit and in truth.” Jesus is the truth of God. Worship must be sincere and in objective truth and full of, yes, the reverential fear of God. The fear of the Lord is the ABC’s of wisdom. And since worship is to be in truth it must not only be in accordance with but full of the Word of God, which is truth. That is why we pay careful attention to its reading and preaching. The Bible is central to our worship. We cannot separate doctrinal truth from worship. That certainly means we are to be circumspect and discerning over the use of the songs we sing. In other words, the words must be helpful, instructive and most of all glorifying to God, and all of that means they must be doctrinally correct and held up to the light of Scripture. Moreover, whatever music is used (Some good people do not use music as a matter of conscience. We use the piano) it must not be at the center. Rather it must be a help to our singing words that are true in praise to our Triune God.
We believe also in grace (God’s propensity to give, John 3: 16, Ephesians 2: 8, 9). And God’s grace always comes first. In other words it is God Himself who graciously and vitally engages His people. “Herein is love not that we loved God, but that He first loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love because He first loved us.” (I John 4: 10, 19). We worship God for who He is and for what He has done for us sinners in Christ; He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We really believe that! Therefore, our worship is initiated by God’s call to worship. In the bulletin from week to week you will find prior to our call to worship, a brief time for greeting and pertinent announcements. Then there is the call to worship, which precedes our act of corporate worship, or our response in singing and prayer. To quote Robert Letham:
“The amazing thing—worth pondering at length—is that when the church gathers to worship our Triune God, He is the first one there! He has ordained and established the worship of His church and His Spirit draws us together to meet Him.” [A side comment, it is sad how pastors and church leaders are quick today to adopt new ways and means in worship with little thought as to what the Bible teaches.]
So through the human voice of the minister or pastor, God the Father graciously calls us to worship Him, through His only Son, in the power and enablement of the Holy Spirit. And as God’s people humbly, reverentially and yes boldly respond they do so in confidence that their worship is pleasing to God, and will be accepted. God’s people then over flowing with gratitude, a sense of need and holy expectation of hearing God’s own word, will respond in sincere, joyful and truthful praise.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us and we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him: bless His name!” (Psalm 100: 1, 2)
And when God graciously calls His sheep to worship they have every good reason to expect to be fed, in fact it will be their desire,
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you your selves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 2: 2‐5)
So in Biblically regulated worship we look to God’s Word, first as it is carefully, thoughtfully and seriously read and then proclaimed accurately in the preaching. The church has a mission on earth and the primary purpose of its existence and the context in which all its work is to be carried out is worship of our Triune God. May we give our worship the thoughtful careful attention it is due.
Regarding Public Prayer
Last week I posted an article about "Public Worship At Glencullen" focusing upon the necessity that there be alignment between what we believe to be true and how we worship. Prayer is a vital part of worship; in fact it is the very lifeline of the believer and the church. There are various types of prayer, private, family, corporate and under corporate prayer there are prayer meetings in general such as we have on Wednesday and prayer meetings specific like when we meet to pray for the Lord's blessing on the worship as some of the men do Sunday morning and the ladies on Sunday afternoon. These meetings for prayer are vital to the spiritual health of the church and the success of the Gospel among us; we pray that they would grow in the number attending and in spiritual depth. We believe that the Lord instructs his church that in the public gatherings of Christ's Church (I am referring now to those general prayer meetings like on Wednesday evenings) that the men will lead out in prayer. I am recommending an article by Maurice Roberts, which appeared in Banner Truth Magazine, entitled "Leading In Public Prayer" in the hopes it may be a help to the dear men that God has blessed us with at Glencullen. May God continue to bless us richly out of His rich abundance in Christ and may we grow in our devotion to him.
Regarding Reading Scripture
In my last article concerning the public worship of God at Glencullen I pointed out the centrality of the Scriptures to all that we do. They are not only regulative as to how we are to live out our faith in Jesus Christ in the world and with one another but they are regulative to direct our worship as to its content, manner and order. Moreover, because we believe the testimony of Scripture concerning itself to be central in the life of the church at work and worship it should not be surprising then to read Paul’s clear Apostolic admonition to Pastor Timothy in I Timothy 4: 13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation to teaching.” The word devote (ESV) or attendance (KJV) means to give close attention; it implies thought and effort in and toward a thing. Therefore it means, not only to think about something but to take it up in practice with discipline and care. So Timothy is to give very careful attention, devote himself to the work of the ministry. Note the Apostle Paul focuses upon three vital aspects of public Gospel ministry to be carried out in the church, which Timothy is to give Himself to in thought and effort: reading, exhortation, and teaching. Often in our churches (Reformed Baptist) there is proper attention given to exhortation and teaching but sometimes reading is not thought to be as important, however the New Testament places a great deal of importance on the public serious reading of Scripture. Geoffrey Wilson commented:
“First there is the public reading of the Scripture, a practice taken over from the synagogue Luke 4: 16, 17; Acts 15: 21; 2 Corinthians 3: 14). Apostolic letters were also read to the congregations; and we see in this tacit recognition of their inspiration and authority the origin of the New Testament canon (Colossians 4: 16; 1 Thessalonians 5: 27; 2 Peter 3: 15, 16; Revelation 1: 3).” ‐ The Pastoral Epistles, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1982, pg. 67.
Therefore, by the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostles, and the clear instruction given to Timothy at Ephesus we dare not take lightly the place and importance of the reading of God’s Word in the public worship of His people on the Lord’s Day. That is why when I read the Scriptures I often will give instruction prior to beginning that we should give careful attention to the reading of God’s Word. We are bound by holy example and Christian imperative! I hope that our practice is never viewed as simply “rote religion” or “meaningless ritual of habit.” The Bible is in fact God breathed, every word is given graciously by God and has been providentially preserved for us, to the end that we may know who God is, what He is like and His only Son Jesus, and to know these things is eternal life. In addition, we read the Bible seriously in our public worship so that we know God’s will for us. In other words, in the public worship of God’s people at Glencullen we are convinced that God speaks to us in His Word. What an incredible blessing and kindness of His grace to us who certainly not deserve it. My prayer is that the reality of these things grip our minds and hearts in such a way that we can’t wait for the Lord’s Day in order to hear His Word not only taught and preached but carefully and soberly read. May God fill us up with holy anticipation week by week to hear the Word of God. As instruction is given to pay careful attention to the reading, may we all say; “yes and amen this is the truth of God to us.” Moreover may God in kindness always bless us with pastors who will give proper attention of focus and effort to the public reading of Holy Scripture, and may we all be quick to pray and ask God’s blessing upon such spiritual discipline.