Confessionally Reformed: Worship

by | Jan 5, 2017 | Christian Herring

This is the 17th article in Christian Herring’s series “Confessionally Reformed,” where he explains what the term “Reformed” means. To see more articles in this series, follow the link here.


50. What is required in the second commandment?
The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his Word.

— Westminster Shorter Catechism


51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.

— Westminster Shorter Catechism

Natural Law

All men know there is some god. Man, being made in the image of God, has an inherent knowledge that there is a creator or deity that is apart from the world. The Scriptures are clear that while men cannot deny that there is some god by natural revelation, they cannot know the true God apart from a special revelation.

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse”

 Romans 1:19-20 (KJV)

“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”

 Acts 17:22-23 (KJV)

The way that the true God desires to be worshipped has been revealed to us by him in his word, so that we are left without excuse and without ambiguity.

Testimony From The Law

The worship that God requires from us is not determined by man, but is rooted in God’s very nature. Jesus reveals this connection between worship and God’s nature in John 4 when he says that God is seeking true worshippers that will worship him in spirit and in truth, because God is a Spirit. Since God does not change his nature (James 1:17), we must understand that the worship he requires must retain the same unchanging principles.

God’s requirements for worship are rooted in his nature, and are therefore in effect from creation. This creation ordinance is evidenced in the story of Cain and Abel. We have no specific written command concerning worship up to this point, but we see that Abel made an acceptable offering while Cain did not. When Adam and Eve sinned, God revealed that a blood sacrifice was required for them to be accepted again in his sight. Adam and Eve would have passed this message of the gospel to their children. God tells Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” in Genesis 4:7. Abel brought an acceptable offering and Cain did not.

As with many things, this proper form of worship is revealed in greater detail as we move through the Scriptures. In Exodus 20, God tells us in the second commandment that he is a “jealous God;” that is, jealous for true worship. This is why he forbids the making of graven images. He will accept no lesser substitute than what he has decreed regarding his worship. Driving the point home, he says in verse 25 of the chapter that even if Israel was to make unto him an altar, they could not make it with “hewn stone,” because once their tool was taken to it, they would profane it. We are not to try to improve upon the simplicity of worship that God gives.

Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.”

 Hebrews 8:5 (KJV)

In Leviticus 10, two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, are said to offer “strange fire” before the Lord. Offering this fire was something “which the Lord commanded them not” (verse 1), and because of this, they were killed by the Lord. In response to this, Moses tells Aaron that God says, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me” (verse 3). Anytime we come to worship God, whether it is with the corporate body, with our family, or privately in our own devotions, we are required to sanctify ourselves according to the pattern shown to us in the Scriptures, and to come before God only in the way he has told us is acceptable.

This is something that God repeats throughout the Scriptures to remind us. In Deuteronomy 12, when God is giving instruction to the Israelites for what they were to do in the promised land, he warns them to stay true to acceptable worship practices.

When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.”

 Deuteronomy 12:29-32 (KJV)

Testimony from the Gospel

We are not to add to, or diminish from, the commands God has given us for his worship. As we’ve explained, this principle of worship, being based on the unchangeable nature of God, does not change as we move into the New Testament. Paul tells the Athenians in Acts 17 that since God is so much higher than us, man is not able to worship him by the works of our hands. Paul says in Colossians 2 that incorrect or inadequate worship is defined as “will-worship;” that is, worship that is crafted from the will of man.

We must remember that the Bible of the New Testament Christian Church was the Old Testament. If worship is defined by the character of God, and in him is no shadow of change or turning, this would not change in the transition of the covenants. So, while new testament worship is much simpler than old testament worship, we must still determine what is acceptable based on the revelation of God, and echo Paul in the book of Hebrews.

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”

 Hebrews 12:28-29 (KJV)

Under the Mosaic economy, worship was carried out under the ministry of many priests, along with the animal sacrifices, the playing of instruments, and the temple furnishings, all according to the pattern shown to Moses in the mount. In the new testament, Christ fulfills these ceremonial ordinances and we are freed from Jewish rituals to come to God directly through the reading and hearing of Scripture preached, congregational singing, and remembering the Lord’s covenant in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This change of form was not up to our discretion, but explained in the New Testament, and it has become regulative for the worship of the New Testament church.

In Spirit and Truth

We must remember the most important aspect of God’s worship. Jesus says that we must worship God not only in truth according to his command, but in spirit according to faith. Without drawing near to God in true faith, the worship offered is vain.

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

 Isaiah 1:11-15 (KJV)

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

 Psalm 51:16-19 (KJV)

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

 Romans 12:1-2 (KJV)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

 Hebrews 13:15-16 (KJV)

Recommended Resources

God Regulates His Worship By His Word by Paul Barth (Purely Presbyterian)
Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith
Puritan Worship by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon (A Puritan’s Mind)

Christian Herring is a member of Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Christiansburg, VA. He is a husband and father.
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