The Reformation’s Recovery of Biblical Worship

At a recent Pastors’ Conference I attended in California, I got to hear a teaching I would rank as in the top ten messages I’ve ever heard. It was that good!

The teaching was entitled “The Reformation’s Recovery of Biblical Worship” and taught by Pastor Travis Peterson of Providence Reformed Church in Las Vegas, NV. It was remarkable by itself – but when you realize that the speaker is completely blind, it is quite phenomenal. Travis uses a small ear piece linked to a hand operated device on the pulpit that whispers recordings of pre-arranged quotes in his ears, and he is able to cue them up for instant recall while he teaches… and he does this flawlessly. Here’s the link.

Liturgical Protestant Worship

Article: 7 Things I Love about Liturgical Protestant Worship by Silverio Gonzalez (original source here)

Sometimes the idea of “formal worship” scares people. I hope to make that less scary. The Protestant traditions include Anglicanism, Lutheranism, the Reformed, and Presbyterianism. Although these traditions have important differences, they reflect important similarities in the way they worship. I could feel more or less at home in any of these traditions, so long as they are true to their Reformation heritage. A liturgy is an order of worship in which God gives grace in the gospel and we respond in faith, hope, and love.

1. I love that liturgical Protestant worship is shaped by the Gospel.

Common in Protestant liturgies is a movement from the law of God and our repentance to the Gospel. The Gospel announces our forgiveness and justification. A good liturgy is evangelical in the best sense in that it helps move the congregation through the ordinary patterns of the Christian life. I constantly feel the weight of the week’s sins lifted as I confess my sins in a prayer together with the congregation. Then I hear the pastor preach the gospel, telling me again that my sins are forgiven because of Christ alone.

2. I love that liturgical Protestant worship has specific prayers as part of the service.

In Protestant orders of worship, there is usually a prayer of adoration, a prayer of confession of sin, a pastoral prayer for the needs of the congregation, and a prayer of thanksgiving. Sometimes some of these prayers are expressed in song; other times the entire congregation reads a written prayer. The pastor leads the congregation in these prayers that reflect our unity. Through public prayer, we bear one another’s burdens. When I hear my pastor pray for me, I feel his love for the congregation, and me in particular.

3. I love that liturgical Protestant worship includes lots of Scripture reading throughout the service.

Usually there are readings from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels. Sometimes the Psalms are sung. Protestant liturgies include a variety of arrangements and a number of Scripture readings. Hearing so much Scripture read in church is like being washed in God’s Word.

4. I love that liturgical Protestant worship includes the pastor preaching both the law and the gospel from the Bible.

A good sermon doesn’t just tell me about what happened in the past. A good sermon helps me to understand my life as a part of God’s story. A good sermon focuses on what Jesus did—and is doing—to save sinners like me. A good sermon shows me why Jesus had to die. A good sermon shows me how to respond in faith, hope, and love. Protestants preach God’s word of law to humble my proud heart and God’s gospel to show me my savior and remind me how God has promised to work in my life to save me from sin’s penalty and power.

5. I love that liturgical Protestant worship recites creeds.

If you have never been in a church that recites a creed like the Apostles’ Creed, then this is a great reason to visit. When we recite this creed, we recite something that reflects the basics of our faith. The pastor asks, “Congregation, what do you believe?” and we respond with, “I believe in God the Father Almighty….” We confess our common faith together. In this act we connect to the church past, present, and future. We are expressing the one faith that all Christians have sought to maintain for generations.

6. I love that liturgical Protestant worship sings old and new songs.

I love singing old songs, because they remind me of the different cultures and time periods in which God worked. I love singing new songs, because they remind me that the faith is still living, that Christianity is still vibrant today, and that God is still working. Singing new and old songs reminds me that God has promised to gather the nations as his people (Ps. 86:9).

7. I love that liturgical Protestant worship expresses a range of emotions.

Like the Psalms, Protestants know how to mourn, how to praise, how to ask God for our needs, and how to give thanks for what he has already given. When I come to church, I’m not forced to be happy or sad, but I get to express that weird mixture so common to Christians: joy and sorrow, praise and lament, and repentance and faith. I love that I get to express the way I actually feel, and am helped to express the ways I should feel, as I am taught to express the entire range of emotions that are part of the ordinary Christian life.

Everybody Worships

“Think of it this way: Worship is simply about value. The simplest definition I can give is this: Worship is our response to what we value most. That’s why worship is that thing we all do. It’s what we’re all about on any given day. Worship is about saying, ‘This person, this thing, this experience (this whatever) is what matters most to me . . . it’s the thing of highest value in my life.’ That ‘thing’ might be a relationship. A dream. A position. Status. Something you own. A name. A job. Some kind of pleasure. Whatever name you put on it, this ‘thing’ is what you’ve concluded in your heart is worth most to you. And whatever is worth most to you is—you guessed it—what you worship. Worship, in essence, is declaring what we value most. As a result, worship fuels our actions, becoming the driving force of all we do. And we’re not just talking about the religious crowd. The Christian. The churchgoer among us. We’re talking about everybody on planet earth. A multitude of souls proclaiming with every breath what is worthy of their affection, their attention, their allegiance. Proclaiming with every step what it is they worship.

Some of us attend the church on the corner, professing to worship the living God above all. Others, who rarely darken the church doors, would say worship isn’t a part of their lives because they aren’t ‘religious.’ But everybody has an altar. And every altar has a throne. So how do you know where and what you worship? It’s easy: You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne, and whatever, or whoever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship. Sure, not too many of us walk around saying; ‘I worship my stuff. I worship my job. I worship this pleasure. I worship her. I worship my body. I worship me!’ But the trail never lies. We may say we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than our words.”

– Lou Giglio – The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life

Entertainment and Worship

Article by Pastor Joe Thorn of Redeemer Fellowship in Saint Charles, Illinois. (original source here)

In every church and every generation of Christians, there is the potential to lose our focus on the things that are most important (Heb. 2:1). We must constantly remind ourselves and re-center our churches lest we find ourselves trusting in something other than the gospel of God and the Word of God.

One of the more dangerous drifts happening in our local churches today is within our corporate worship. In many churches there is a de-emphasis on the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments or ordinances), and a reliance on entertainment. Some try to balance the two in the name of reaching more people with the gospel, but there is an inescapable danger in overvaluing entertainment and implementing it in corporate worship.

This is not a new phenomenon. The nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.” It may not be new, but it is increasingly popular, especially in light of our entertainment-driven culture. We see this in secular songs played by worship bands to wow the crowd. It’s hard to miss the value of amusement in the comedy-full but theology-empty preaching of many pulpits. Many of us have felt it in elaborate performances for the congregation to observe, but not to participate in. For some, Sunday morning more closely resembles a variety show than an offering made to God. The danger in bringing entertainment into gathered worship lies in the aim of entertainment and its work against the aim of worship.

I am not suggesting that church should be boring or that every church should have identical worship services, as if there is only one appropriate form in which to worship the Lord. Corporate worship from church to church varies in many ways. The styles, music, and liturgies developed in particular contexts and traditions lead to different flavors in worship. The church of Jesus Christ is made up of people, and therefore congregations, from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and this means diversity from church to church. This is often a good thing, something we can celebrate, as long as the church’s worship is ordered according to the parameters of Scripture and offered by faith.

The encroachment of entertainment into our worship is not a matter of style but of substance. Entertainment is a good thing, but its purpose is the refreshment of the mind and body, not the transformation of the mind or the edification of the spirit. The danger of entertainment in worship is not about which musical instruments are permitted or what era of hymns the church should sing. The danger is found in what the church is aiming at.

Entertainment has a different aim than worship. Entertainment is something offered to people for their amusement. Yet worship has a different focus and produces a different result.

The focus of worship is God, not man, which immediately pits it against entertainment. We offer ourselves to the Lord individually and collectively on Sunday morning. The church ascribes honor to God in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of His Word. True worship is inherently God-centered and God-directed. What is done when the church is gathered is to be done according to God’s will and for His pleasure. This stands in opposition to entertainment, which is a spiritually powerless work directed at the people.

While worship is to be directed at God, it simultaneously offers much more than entertainment can ever deliver. As the church draws near to God, the Lord draws near to us, and we receive grace. Grace—regenerating grace, renewing grace, reviving grace—is offered to the congregation through the means of grace. The result of worshiping God in spirit and truth is transformation. Entertainment cannot lead to edification. Entertainment can stir the emotions, but God uses the means of grace to change our affections. Entertainment might draw a crowd or captivate a congregation, but only the means of grace will draw people to Christ and conform them to His image.

The beauty of worship is that it is infinitely more powerful than entertainment. Entertainment seeks to replicate drama and awe. But the grace of God in worship unveils the deepest drama in the world and produces authentic awe in the light of the revelation of God.

True worship may be painful one moment and joyful the next, as we encounter God’s law and gospel, confessing our sins and resting in the pardon we have in Jesus Christ. What is more dramatic than condemned sinners being forgiven by a holy God? Than slaves’ being set free by the Savior? What is more thrilling than the Son of God’s standing in the place of the ungodly to save them from God’s wrath? The church doesn’t need a performance of any kind to aid us in worship. We need the Word of God read and preached, prayed and sung, for in this we exalt and experience our triune God.

Entertainment has its place and serves a good, if earthly, purpose. Our local churches will do well to be careful of drifting toward it in an effort to draw or address the needs of sinful men and women. The Scripture is what God uses to penetrate the soul and change the heart. May we give ourselves to worship the Lord in spirit and truth, rather than mere emotion and amusement.

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Text: Ephesians 5:18-21

“There are two ways to commit idolatry: worship something other than the true God or worship the true God in the wrong way.” – Ligon Duncan. When we gather as the people of God, the aim should not be to keep as many people happy as possible but that our worship be pleasing to Him.

7 Biblical Purposes for Music

California – original source here.

The music program in the local church is vital, and it’s impact—for good or bad—on a church service is immeasurable. While some may view music as simply a form of entertainment and emotional conditioning, godly music plays a much larger role in a church.

Scripture gives at least seven purposes for Christ-honoring music. Use these principles as a gauge to evaluate the biblical soundness of your music ministry:

1. The Purpose of Worship—“And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished” (2 Chronicles 29:28).

2. The Purpose of Thanks — “Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God” (Psalm 147:7).

3. The Purpose of Rejoicing — “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm” (Psalm 98:4–5).

4. The Purpose of Consecration — “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). (Spoken in song!) “Praise ye the Lord. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1).

5. The Purpose of Edification — “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

6. The Purpose of Evangelism — “And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

7. The Purpose of Preservation of Faith — “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works” (Psalm 145:4–5).

May the music of our churches bring glory to the Lord and lift our hearts in His praise.

Elements of Reformed Worship

Text: Psalm 100

God cares about our worship and about how we worship. He does not receive all worship. Some worship is corrupt and greatly displeases Him. So what kind of worship does in fact please Him? How can we know for sure?

Worship in Word and Sacrament

Scripture indicates that we are to worship God, yet much of what passes for worship today is merely a thinly veiled attempt to entertain men. In this message, Dr. J. Ligon Duncan will explain how a biblical understanding of the basic elements of Christian worship should inform the way in which we approach God.

Is Music Worship?

Dr. John MacArthur on the theme of music and the role that it plays in the church:


“The first misconception is that music is worship. That is not true. Music is not worship. They’re not synonymous. Music is music, and and worship is worship. But, typically, you hear people today say, ‘We’re going to worship,’ and then immediately that is essentially defined by music. Music is not worship. Music is a means to express worship, but it is not worship. Worship is the heart going up toward God in gratitude and thanksgiving for all that God has done: that’s worship. Worship is acknowledging God to be who He is revealed to be in Scripture. It is acknowledging what God has done; and in particular, that He has saved us, redeemed us, given us eternal life; and it is expressing gratitude to God. There are many ways to do that; music is one of them. But music is not worship. Music is a means by which a worshiping person expresses his thanks.”

Secondly, a misconception is that music motivates worship, music induces worship. That’s not true either. That is not true. It gives expression to love; it gives expression to adoration. But the motivation for that has to come from somewhere else, not from music. Music enhances and enriches. But the motive for all of our songs is not a sound, it’s a truth.

Another misconception is that when people have trouble worshiping, music will create worship, music will create the mood for worship. Worship is not a mood experience. That needs to be said loudly and clearly. You go to many ‘churches’ and you’ll be in the dark, and there will be sensual kind of music that appeals to the flesh at one level or another; and there will be lights flashing in all kind of directions. That has nothing to do with worship; and, frankly, does the opposite of inducing worship. It simply induces a fickle feeling. It’s a false substitute for true worship. See, true worship is a permanent attitude. John 4, ‘We worship in spirit and truth.’ That’s who we are. God seeks true worshipers. We are true worshipers. Philippians 3, ‘We worship in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.’ That’s a way of life. Our way of life is gratitude to God for who He is, what He’s done, and for our salvation and all of its blessing. We don’t need a mood created by some form of music that basically shifts – in many cases shifts the mind into neutral and generates a kind of neutral, empty, vacuous feeling. That’s not creating worship. It is true, there is something that creates worship – this will shock people – it’s preaching the Word, or reading the Word, so that when you know the truth, your heart reaches forward to God to express praise and gratitude.

Another misconception is this, that non-Christians aren’t going to come to church unless we import their music. Music so dominates our culture. It is so ubiquitous that if we’re going to appeal to nonbelievers, we’ve got to change our music. We’ve got to do the kind of music that they like and somehow baptize it if we’re going to reach out evangelistically. That’s not true. Never, never in Scripture is music ever, ever stated to be used as an evangelistic technique in some direct sense. In an indirect sense, it is because we’re singing of our Savior, right, we’re singing of salvation. But we’re singing to God, not the world, and not the unbeliever. There’s no mandate for the church to make its music appeal to the sons of Satan. So music is not worship. Music does not induce or motivate worship. Music does not somehow enhance worship by certain style and mood, nor is music ever intended for the satisfaction of nonbelievers as if that’s some entry into understanding the gospel. Continue reading

Knowledge in Worship

In this excerpt from a Ligonier conference message, Alistair Begg reminds us of the importance of knowledge in worship:


“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”

We know…we know.

The Christian faith engages our minds. This is something that we ought to keep reminding ourselves of, so that we don’t allow our minds to fossilize, and that we continue to be sharpened and to make progress.

I was at a church in California just a few weeks ago now—back in August I think it was, time flies—and I went there. I had a Sunday free and I was staying with friends, and I went down to the church and I was excited because I get to go now, and I don’t have to do anything at all except do whatever they tell me to do. And so I sat there and I waited for it to begin. And it was quite fascinating actually. They had big screens, and they had a clock on the screens. And when I got in it said “5 Minutes” and I had only been in about 2 seconds, and you won’t be surprised, it said “4 Minutes, 58 Seconds.” And then it counted down, and eventually it counted down, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6…”. And just right on the moment of time, the band began…and I was waiting for David Letterman at that point. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. And then eventually the band did what it did, and then the person who was to lead the praise, his opening gambit was this, “Hey! How do y’all feel this morning?” Well that was enough for me. We could have had the benediction right there that was so good. I thought, what kind of New Testament question is that? How do y’all feel this morning?

If I told you how I feel, especially in light of the last 5 minutes, you would question whether I was even a Christian at all. So don’t ask me that question. Ask me what I know. Ask me what I know. Don’t ask me what I feel about myself. Ask me what I know about God. Ask me what I know about His Word. Ask me what I know to be of verity that can deal with my soul. That’s what I need. Don’t make me sing songs about how I feel. Don’t! These silly repetitive songs again and again, ‘I just want to praise you, lift my hands and say I love you, you are everything to me’. Goodness, at half past eight on a Sunday morning I’m barely ambulatory. I can’t start there. And you want me to say that? I just kicked the dog. I don’t even have a dog. I got in an argument with someone because they took my parking space. I spilled my coffee, I didn’t read my Bible, I’m a miserable wretch, and now you want me to start here—‘how do you feel?’ I feel rotten, that’s how I feel! What do you got for me? The answer, nothing. I got nothing for you.

That’s why you have to get yourself under the control of the Scriptures. That’s why it is what we know—the verities of the Scriptures which fuel our hearts and our emotions, and lead us on. Hence, ‘praise my soul the King of heaven, to His feet thy tribute bring. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. Who like thee His praise should sing?’

Okay, now we’ve got something to sing about, for we have been reminded of truth. You have been ransomed; you have been healed; you have been restored; you have been forgiven. You’re looking away from yourself now. You’re looking out and to Christ. And it is in this that we have something that fuels our praise.