The Primacy & Importance of Worship
God alone is worthy of worship and delights in His own glory and so creates, seeks, saves, and commands His people to worship Him. Though believers’ entire lives are to be characterized by spiritual service of worship, God is present and blesses His people in a special way in corporate worship. Our greatest duty and delight is in worshiping the triune God in the beauty of holiness (1 Chron. 16:29; Ps. 29:2; 96:9). We agree with Jonathan Cruse, who asserts, “Worship is the most important thing you will ever do. Period. … The most important thing you will do every week, no matter what your week looks like, will be to come to worship on Sunday.” 1
The word “liturgy” literally means “work of the people” and refers to a congregation’s custom of public worship; that is, how a congregation regularly worships God. Whether a church describes itself as liturgical, traditional, contemporary, blended, or something else, every church has a liturgy. Cruse observes,
There is no such thing as a nonliturgical church. Everyone has a liturgy. If your church worships, you follow a liturgy. There is no church where the people do not come together to perform some kind of work or service. … If a church claims to be liturgical, or perhaps even highly liturgical, this simply means they have thought about their order of worship and care about the elements therein much more. But in the proper sense of the term, no church is more liturgical than any other.
What’s important to recognize, though, is that the way a liturgy is shaped will determine how we are shaped. … Worship is a very formative thing. … We must then ask the question, Is the worship that we participate in on a regular basis––the worship that we habituate––forming us in the right ways, for the right reasons, into the right people? 2
A biblical liturgy manifests God’s saving work among His people. It demonstrates that God’s people are His treasured possession, called and separated from the world to be assembled in His presence before the holy of holies. Our liturgy is designed to reflect historic, classical worship in the Reformed tradition. We strive for decency, order, and excellence in every part of our liturgy to reflect God’s beauty, holiness, and majesty. Though Scripture does not prescribe a specific liturgy, it reveals its content and shape, which includes reading and preaching of God’s Word; prayer; psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; confession; offerings; sacraments; and the benediction. These elements are patterned after the Covenant of Grace, in which God initiates worship, reveals His will, and graciously works through His Word. God’s people accordingly respond by humbly, reverently, and boldly calling upon Him in faith, and joyfully offering to Him thanksgiving and praise. Again, we concur with Cruse when he writes,
There should be a “gospel logic” to what goes on in our services: adoring God’s greatness; confessing our sinfulness; hearing of forgiveness in Christ; and being built up into Christ through preaching, prayer, and sacraments. This is God’s goal: that through worship we be reminded over and over again of the work that He does for us in the gospel … [for], while it’s true that the word liturgy refers to the work of the people, the primary work of worship is done by God Himself. 3
Reformed Worship as Word-Centered
The Protestant Reformers gave considerable attention to the issue of public worship. According to Sinclair Ferguson,
They [the Reformers] well understood that the rediscovery of the gospel and the reformation of worship were two sides of the same coin, because sung praise, confessions of sin and confessions of Faith, prayer, and the reading and preaching of Scripture are but various aspects of the one ministry of the Word. For that reason, the Reformers regarded the liturgies that framed the Church’s worship as being an important aspect of the application of Scripture. An order of service could not therefore simply be thrown together casually. It might belong to the adiaphora [matters not specifically addressed in Scripture]; but “things indifferent” are never treated with indifference to the general teaching of Scripture. 4
Since worship is of utmost importance, it must be protected by ordained ministers entrusted to guard the Gospel, lead worship, and train those under their care to offer acceptable worship in spirit and truth. We adhere to the principle of sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone). God commands to be worshiped according to His revealed will alone, not according to personal preferences and cultural fads. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (22.1) states,
The acceptable way to worship the true God is instituted by him,1 and it is delimited by his own revealed will. Thus, he may not be worshiped according to human imagination or inventions or the suggestions of Satan, nor through any visible representations, nor in any other way that is not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.21Deuteronomy 12:32. 2Exodus 20: 4-6
The very content of God’s Word also should hold a prominent place within virtually every liturgical element. The elements or activities of our worship are built around the Bible: the word is read, preached, sung, prayed, and displayed (in the sacraments). The pulpit is raised and at the center of the chancel in order to communicate the centrality and importance of the Word of God.
Ordinary Means of Grace
In The 1695 Baptist Catechism Q. 93, we read:
Q. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and prayer; all which means are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
God sovereignly establishes and increases faith through His ordained means, often called ordinary means of grace, which are vital for believers’ spiritual nourishment and growth. God’s people are therefore commanded to participate regularly in Lord’s Day corporate worship, in dependence upon God’s Spirit Who applies Christ’s benefits through His Word and sacraments. We therefore practice systematic expository preaching of God’s Word, recognize spoken and sung prayer as the chief means of gratitude and praise to God, and administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the 3rd Sunday morning of every month. As such, we are a church governed by the ordinary means of grace. Although various ministries and fellowship opportunities certainly exist within our church community, we are not a program-driven church but an ordinary-means of-grace-driven church.
1Jonathan Landry Cruse, What Happens When We Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020), 15.
2 Ibid., 30.
3 Ibid., 65.
4 Sinclair B. Ferguson, forward to Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, eds. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey (Greensboro, N.C.: New Growth, 2018), xv-xvi. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith addresses adiaphora in 1.6.