An all too common mistake that Christians make in their thinking about public worship is to imagine that what they themselves find edifying must also be pleasing to God, as long as such worship is offered to God with sincerity and passion. The 16th century Protestant Reformed pastor and theologian, John Calvin, made a similar observation about much of what was passed off as Christian worship in his day when he said,
“I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God.”
Instead of such worship being honoring to God, Calvin candidly stated that it was “vain” and was nothing other than what the apostle condemned as “will worship” (Colossians 2:23). The question is, how could that assessment be described as fair or even charitable, after all, aren’t sincerity and zeal the most important characteristics of worship?
Without discounting the importance of heartfelt sincerity, the standard of worship expressed in Scripture prioritizes proper form above all other considerations. That is why the Reformed churches have confessed what is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship for the past several hundred years. Simply put, this principle of worship says that God may be worshiped in no other way than he has commanded in His word (Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 96). In contrast to most all of the contemporary churches, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Evangelicals, which all agree in principle that Christians are free to worship God in any way that they desire as long as it is not forbidden by Scripture, the Reformed have insisted that we may only do in worship what God expressly commands. Hardly a moment of reflection is required in order to isolate the basic difference in principle between these two contrasting views of worship. On the one hand, the Reformed maintain that Scripture teaches that the true worship of God consists only of what God has commanded in Scripture, while on the other hand, the opposite principle of worship is that the church may worship in any way not expressly forbidden by God in Scripture. In other words, one says “do only what God has commanded” and the other says “just do it unless God said not to.” Clearly, these two perspectives on worship are completely opposite in principle.
Beyond being opposite in principle, these two views are distinguished from each other in another way: one is clearly taught in Scripture and the other is not. Careful study of God’s word shows that it is impossible to find any Biblical support for the idea that God is pleased with worship which He has not commanded. Instead of teaching that the church is free to worship as it pleases, the Bible repeatedly teaches that God is properly worshiped only in accordance with divine commands (Deut. 12:28-32; Lev. 10:3; Matt. 15:7-8; Col. 2:16-23). Furthermore, Scripture records many examples of God expressly judging and condemning worship which He did not command, even though such worship was apparently offered in all sincerity (Genesis 4:1-5; Lev. 10:1-3; 1 Samuel 15:10-23; 2 Samuel 6:1-7).
Since we subscribe to this Regulative Principle of Worship, our aim is to insure that in worship practices conform to Biblical commands. The result of seeking to maintain faithfulness to God and His word is that our worship looks and feels much different than most other churches around us. In our praises, instead of using hymns and songs made by men, we use only the inspired Psalms and Songs composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit which are found in Scripture; and in the place of organs, pianos, or guitars and drums, we make melody with our hearts and mouths singing without any musical accompaniment at all (Ephesians 5:19).
Furthermore, rather than fostering a casual, entertainment oriented atmosphere which seeks to please men, we aim to cultivate an atmosphere of reverence and awe which is fitting for worship in the presence of the living God (Heb. 12:28-29). These distinct worship practices are not rooted in a desire to be intentionally different from other churches, or to carve out a market niche, or even to be traditional or “conservative” as opposed to being “contemporary;” rather, they represent a conscious effort to only do in our worship what we find commanded in Scripture. The great blessing of worshiping God in the way He prescribes in His word is that God’s people are edified, and above all, the church has the joyful confidence of knowing that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are actually glorified by its worship.