08 February 2009


As Red put a new pot of coffee on the fire, he saw that Mary and the kids were outside. Sally and Mary were building a snow man and Thomas was hard at work on a snow fort. Quickly pulling on his boots and coat, Red joined them.

Two hours later, snowy and tired, they tromped back into the house. Mary took the tuna casserole from the oven and the family sat down to supper. It was not until after the kids were bathed, prayers were said, and he and Mary had their evening devotional time that Red was able to return to his study.

If we are “to oversee the worship of the congregation in accordance with the Book of Worship,” what are the standards applicable to the task? What is required of each member to ensure that our worship of God is in accord with the Book of Worship?

The Book of Worship gives clear guidance about our worship together.

Only God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to receive such worship. Such worship shall include the reverent and attentive reading of the Scriptures, the sound preaching and conscientious hearing of the Word, and singing of psalms and hymns, the proper administration and right receiving of the sacraments, and prayer with thanksgiving. . . .

It is incumbent upon all Christians to gather on the Lord’s Day for worship that it might be kept holy unto the Lord. Affairs should be so arranged and influence so used that no one will be kept unnecessarily from worshiping God or observing the day in an appropriate manner.

No Christian should come to the Lord’s Day unprepared. . . . Thoughts should not be concerned with worldly activities, but should focus on the things of the Lord. Plans should be made to participate in public and private worship. . . . All should be present at the appointed hour, unite in all the parts of the worship, and depart only when the benediction has been pronounced. . . .

Many of us have lost sight of the basic understanding about worship: our common worship must always be focused on God, not on our own likes and dislikes, Red thought. We are present to worship Him, not to be worshiped or entertained!

The session’s duty of oversight the congregation’s worship, when coupled with its duty to monitor the spiritual conduct of the members becomes clearer when we consider the order of common worship. The people of God are no longer bound by rigid rules and regulations for worship. The Reformation was spawned by the immersion of the Roman Catholic Church in man-made rules and rituals that had no Biblical basis or support. We must not let new rules that satisfy individual preferences take on a similar patina of law.

The people are to remember to do all things decently and in order that all may participate and God may be glorified. For the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, this means no particular church is required to follow any predetermined or rigid form of worship. However, it also means that worship should be conducted in such a way that persons are not hindered in their worship and that it not be an offense to God.

The public worship of God is not to be carelessly or willfully neglected or forsaken.

The insistence of some that a particular “style” of music or a particular order of worship must be followed as a precondition for their participation is a sign of inappropriate spiritual conduct that must be the subject to appropriate discipline by the session. Worship is not a matter of style—it is a matter of disciplined hearts and minds offering to God that which is His due.

Red shook his head. That means that if an elder hears a member say he or she will attend Sunday services only when a particular form of music or a particular order of worship is employed, the elder or the session must exercise Godly discipline to correct that defect in the member. I wonder if we are up to that task?

The Pastor, while advised to consult with the Church Session, has the duty and responsibility to determine the order, sequence, elements, and proportion of the service that each shall have in public worship. . . . All who come to worship should actively participate. The worship should be so designed that there is common participation when all share in the various elements of praise to God. Participation by various members of the particular congregation is encouraged to demonstrate that worship is a privilege of all and not relegated to a select few.

Thus, the pastor and session must ensure that the common worship of the congregation meets the needs of all members. No particular person or group of people has a veto with respect to the common worship of congregation. Those who take a “my way or the highway” approach must be the subject of Biblical discipline.

But that is not all, Red thought. Next, we have to consider the Word of God in Worship.

The ordinary worship of God always includes the reverent and attentive reading of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are for the sure establishment of the Church, as well as its comfort, and protects it from the corruption of the flesh, the malice of Satan and the world. Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is to be the rule of faith and life for all Christians. Reading of the Word should be done with a sense of awe and reverence. The choice of passages and their length to be read from Scripture belongs to the Pastor. Worship should be conducted in such a way that persons are not hindered in their worship.

When the Word is read, we have a duty to consider those who are less familiar with Scripture in order to aid them in maturing in their knowledge of the Bible.

We also have to consider the sound preaching of the Word.

The ordinary worship of God always includes the sound preaching and conscientious hearing of the Word in obedience to God. Such preaching should always open the Word of God in such a way that the hearer can respond with clear understanding and simple faith. In dealing with matters in which there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, the Preacher is to remember that the only infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself.

The sermon should be related to the particular congregation and the individuals within it. It should address the real issues of that community of faith and should include practical application to life. It should be framed in such terms that all present can understand. . . .

Since the reading of Scriptures requires attentiveness and the sermon conscientious hearing, the worshipers have a duty also. As God speaks through the Word as it is read and preached, cutting hearts, giving guidance in the Christian life, building up in the faith, the worshiper has a solemn duty to be open and receptive to God’s revelation. Even as the Preacher is to make proper preparation, so the worshiper is to be prepared in every way to hear and respond. While all of the elements of public worship are important and should not be neglected, no worship is complete without the reading and preaching of the Word. For this reason, the Pastor and Church Session should be careful to protect the pulpit in each particular church that the Word be truly preached. No person should be permitted to preach to a particular church without the invitation of the Pastor and the Church Session, or the Church Session if there is no Pastor.

The sound preaching of the Word is an essential part of worship. Attempts to limit the pastor to a particular amount of time for his or her sermon are improper. If the Word can be properly preached in ten minutes this Sunday, fine. But addressing the real issues of congregation and providing practical application to life may take longer. In that case, the congregation owes God and his spokesman a solemn duty to be open and receptive to God’s revelation.

Whew! At least we are spared some of this—Pastor Rex preaches from the Word. I wish my sister and her church paid closer attention to sound preaching. Her story-telling pastor who is “so entertaining” is doing no service to himself or his congregation.

And then there is the issue of music in Worship.
Red groaned. I sometimes wish I was a Quaker!

Singing of psalms with grace in the heart is a necessary and indispensable part of the common worship of the people of God. The whole congregation is the true choir singing praises and giving glory to God. For this reason, corporate singing is not to be neglected. . . .

Music is not an end in itself, but should serve the whole purpose of giving glory and praise to God. Where there is a choir auxiliary to the congregation, it should be remembered that it is representing the whole congregation before God and is not performing for the people. . . Those who participate in a choir inevitably represent a special calling in the life of a congregation and should exhibit a gracious Christian life that brings honor to God. Participants in the choir should . . . conduct themselves in such a way that their lives will not be a barrier or hindrance to those who worship.

The Minister is responsible for the order for worship, for leading the service, and for determining the parts of worship along with the emphasis given to each. The Minister has final authority over all, including the music. Where there is a music director or other such person working in music, that person shall always consult with the Minister concerning the music or worship.

. . . The words of hymns should be appropriate and reflect Reformed theology. It is appropriate to include contemporary hymns that are in keeping with the life of the particular congregation. . . . . The use of various musical instruments in worship is appropriate unless disapproved by the Church Session.

Music is not an end in itself. And yet, in congregation after congregation, the most conflict and dissension centers around music. “What songs will we sing?” “Who will choose the songs?” "What style—traditional or contemporary—will we use?”

And cliques can develop. Worship ministry teams or choirs may attempt to usurp the pastor’s authority to select the musical portion of the worship service. All of which are indicia of a breakdown in discipline.

How often to we hear choir members or praise bands speak in terms of their performance for the congregation—as if the congregation is an audience?

Red sighed. The concept that the choir or praise band is to entertain or perform for the congregation is antithetical to the true role of music and musicians in worship. They are to lead the people in a part of the worship of God. There is another area in which the session must exercise oversight and discipline, he thought.

Many a choir has a tendency to assume responsibilities and authority that it does not have. The session needs to be on the lookout for such thinking and nip it in the bud.

The next issue is prayer in Worship. Fortunately, we seem to have that down pretty well. But what about the offerings of the people of God?

The acknowledgment that God is the Author of every good gift and that His people are but stewards of His grace should find expression in the offerings of the congregation. In returning to God a proper stewardship of His gifts, the congregation is to be reminded that they are also held accountable not only for a proper stewardship, but for the use of all they have and are. The giving of the people of God in response to His goodness and love should find expression in three principal areas.

Many folks today assume that they fulfill their duty to make offerings to God by writing a check. They forget that the first duty of the Christian is to offer self to God, heart, mind, body, and soul. Each service may properly include a time for rededication or for commitment. Only after so doing are their tithes and offerings a visible expression of their commitment as believers to the extension of the Gospel, the work of ministry, and the support of the Church of Jesus Christ. And they also need to know that God desires that each Christian respond to His call to service in ministry to others.

That, too, is part of the duty of the session to educate the congregation.

Red stretched. “OK,” he said to himself. “As elders, we need to understand the true nature of worship so that we can use it to measure the spiritual health of the congregation. Where, as here, there are obvious signs of a lack of spiritual health, we must exhibit the moral courage to exercise discipline to bring the body back to the path of faith that God desires us to walk.”

“I’ve had enough for one day. I’ll be glad to be back to school tomorrow. I need to let some of this sink in.”

Sooooo. After a long day, Red has made a start. What else can he discern? What other factions can he upset? Tune in tomorrow for the further Adventures of Graying Presbyterian Church.

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