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Principles of True Worship

Old, Worship Reformed According to ScriptureIn his book Worship Reformed According to Scripture, Hughes Oliphant Old orients Christian worship toward the right end using the proper means. This is a significant undertaking indeed, because sadly, it is not the reigning mentality:

Some people today justify worship for any number of other reasons. We are told that we should worship because it brings us happiness. Sometimes worship does make us happy, but not always. We are told that we should worship because it will give us a sense of self-fulfillment. Surely worship does fulfill the purpose of our existence, but we do not worship because it brings us self-fulfillment. We are often told that we should worship in order to build family solidarity: “The family that prays together stays together.” The high priests of the Canaanite fertility religions said much the same thing. All kinds of politicians have insisted on participation in various religious rites in order to develop national unity or ethnic identity. Queen Elizabeth I was not the first or the last who tried to consolidate her realm by insisting that the worship be in some way English. One can always find medicine men and gurus who advocate religious rites for the sake of good health, financial success, or peace of mind. True worship, however, is distinguished from all of these in that it serves, above all else, the praise of God’s glory (p. 2).

What a refreshing statement. If, for example, you randomly selected a church from the telephone book (ok, maybe Google Maps or even Yelp?), who knows what practices you’d find to be part of its worship service. Old provides several principles that undergird Reformed worship.

First, worship must be according to Scripture. Scripture is the norming norm. It’s our ultimate standard, and therefore, Scripture and Scripture alone can tell us how to worship. Worship practices cannot be determined by empiricism, pragmatism, or even the cultural norms. God has given to us his instructions regarding worship.

Second, worship must be in the name of Christ. We worship through the access accomplished by Christ. Worshiping in his name also means that we worship through his agency—not on our own. This emphasizes our union with Christ. Our fundamental identity is in Christ, and therefore, rue worship is in and through Christ. It is also in the body of Christ.

Third, worship is more than human work. Granted, human work is involved, but more fundamentally right worship is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who has united us to Christ by faith. He is the one who incorporates us into Christ’s mystical body. The Spirit even cries out when we pray (Rom 8:15–27). He touches every aspect of God-honoring worship. Everything that we do in worship must be done in Spirit and in truth for without him our worship is in vain. But with the ministry of the Spirit, we may attain to pure worship through his work of sanctification.

These aren’t revolutionary principles. If we would take the time to think critically about worship, I’m sure many of us would come to the same conclusions. But does that mean they’re any less worthy of meditation? As we prepare to worship with God’s people each Lord’s Day, we all would do well to consider how true worship—above all else—serves the praise of God’s glory.


On Key

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