Reformed worship is distinctive because it uses only the Bible and not human traditions or human wisdom for knowing how to worship aright. That leaves Presbyterians in a difficult position, because the Bible doesn’t provide an explicit order of worship. If we are going to follow the Bible in worship, there must be some measure of creativity.
I would prefer for Presbyterians to be more uniform in their order of worship. Presbyterians, however, have been very reluctant to have a General Assembly mandate things in a top-down fashion. Even though we have the “Directory for the Public Worship of God” in The Book of Church Order, we have wanted to give congregations great leeway in how they execute the directory. I think this has hurt Presbyterians at times—when you can go into different Presbyterian churches and have a different kind of service, a different order, and yes, even a different tone as well.
But there is a seriousness that characterizes Reformed and Presbyterian worship because trying to follow God’s Word means avoiding anything that would offend God or would be objectionable. There are all sorts of examples throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, of people offending God with bad worship or false worship. Presbyterians are particularly eager not to engage in false worship, and that’s what the regulative principle tries positively to establish, but exactly what that has meant for Presbyterians has been harder to execute.
If you go to Presbyterian services in Scotland as compared to Ireland as compared to Canada as compared to present-day America, even though they all may be conservative churches, they may be following different kinds of patterns in worship, which is unlike Lutheran or Anglican churches. There you might have greater uniformity between the churches because they’re either using an Anglican prayer book or Lutheran service book. So, that uniformity is something I think Presbyterians still need to work on but with the idea of God as a consuming fire and thus the need to approach him with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28). I think this idea has characterized Christians throughout all times, but Reformed Presbyterians have made it particularly important.
Adapted from a transcript of the video.