Weak is the effort of my heart
And cold my warmest thoughts
But when I see Thee as Thou art
I’ll praise Thee as I ought
If you recall last month’s letter the issue was about worship, true worship. Jesus taught that true worship is always in spirit and in truth. Spirit, in part, is a heart and will in lockstep with God’s heart and will. Truth is, in part, a mind that corresponds with the mind of God.
The issue before us now is about the content of our worship. What are the ingredients of true worship? We in the Reformed tradition, which includes Presbyterians, hold to (what is historically called) the “regulative principle” of worship. The regulative principle states that corporate worship is to be founded upon, or “regulated” by specific directions from Scripture. Just as a delicious “chocolate pie” is regulated by the contents of a recipe, likewise true worship is regulated by the content of Scripture! What does this mean? First, in part, it means we cannot worship God any old way we please. In Leviticus, chapter 10, Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire” unto the Lord in worship. This unauthorized worship cost Aaron’s sons their lives. I remember in seminary when a professor shared a story about a friend of his who was a minister. He shared with us that his friend would preach from the newspaper and current events instead of preaching from the Bible. Instead of current events serving as illustrations to better understand and apply the Bible, he reversed it: that is, the Bible was used as an excuse to talk about current events. So we must be careful when we introduce elements like this in our worship. It is dangerous to our souls!
A second thing the regulative principle does for us is that it frees the church. What I mean is that there is much freedom and wiggle room in our worship; case in point is style of worship. Traditional versus contemporary songs are examples of “matters of indifference,” known in biblical theology as “adiaphora.” Each culture and age has its own unique way to express adoration and praise to God. I am told by church historians that the traditional hymns of the 18th and 19th centuries we sing today were “contemporary” in their day, meaning the music to the hymns was the music of the day. There is nothing sacred about the style of music we sing; what is sacred is the object of our songs of praise!
So what are the ingredients of true worship based upon the regulative principle? In 1 Tim. 4:13, Paul directs the church’s worship with reading the Bible; in 1 Tim. 4:2 worship is directed with preaching the Bible. The same goes for singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19), and prayer guided by the Bible (Matt 21:13) and the two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both formed and informed by the Bible (Matt 28:19; Acts 2:28-39; Col. 2:11-12). So reading the Bible, preaching the Bible, singing based upon the Bible, prayer based upon the Bible, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper which are from the Bible—all of these are some of the essential ingredients that make up true worship.
In short, the content of true worship is formed and informed by Scripture. Why? It is because Scripture is God’s self-revelation or disclosure of Himself. The Bible is the only place where God reveals Himself as He truly is. Science and philosophy dimly reveal God as He truly is. It is dim because such knowledge is very general compared to Scripture. We can know through philosophy and good science that God exists. This is why the beauty and grandeur and awe of creation arouse within us a sense of praise!! But such worship pales in comparison to what takes place on the Lord’s Day during Sunday morning worship. Why? It is because it is only through Scripture (the sacred history of redemption) that we know that God not only exists, but God saves miserable sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone! When we are confronted by such a good and great God in His self-revelation to us, then (as the poetry of the hymn says) you and I, in spite of our cold sinfulness, are able to be lifted up in worship, to “… see Thee as Thou art [and in turn to] … praise Thee as I ought.”
In conclusion, there is a well-known saying that goes “to know me is to love me.” The object of our songs of praise is God! True worship is a heart enraptured by God. But our hearts cannot be enraptured by God until our minds are captivated by Scripture. Our hearts are enlarged by the renewing of our minds by God’s Word! My heart enlarges as my mind grasps more and more of His grace to me! In humility, as I think less of myself, I am able to think more of God. And I am able to think more of God as I think more about God as He reveals Himself to me and to you In the Bible. That is true worship! Anything less is not! So, may we praise God as we ought!!
Soli Deo Gloria