The Nature of Public Worship
From the Directory of Worship for the RCUS, 1998
THE LORD’S DAY
Since the end of the creation week, God has commanded that one day in seven be set aside as a day of rest and worship (Gen. 2:4). In New Testament times the Lord’s Day, which commemorates the resurrection of Christ, has become the weekly day of rest which is to be kept holy in accordance with the Fourth Commandment (Heb. 4:9), and is to be dedicated to God’s glory by the gathering of His people in public worship. Such public worship services held each Lord’s Day and on other occasions at the call of the Consistory are official church gatherings at which all of God’s children are required to be in attendance unless providentially hindered (Heb. 10:25).
REGULATED BY SCRIPTURE
Since the Word of God itself restricts God’s people only to such practices in worship which his Word specifically sanctions (Deut. 12:30-32; John 4:23-24), the principles of the public worship of God must not be derived from any other source than the Bible, nor may they depart from its teaching.
MEETING WITH THE TRIUNE GOD
A service of public worship is not merely a gathering of God’s children with each other, but above all else a meeting of the Triune God with His chosen people. God is present in public worship not only by virtue of the divine omnipresence but, much more intimately, as the faithful covenant Savior (see Heb. 12:18-25). The Lord Jesus Christ said: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt. 18: 20).
THE PURPOSE OF WORSHIP
The purpose of public worship is the glory of God. Therefore His people should engage in all the elements of worship with their eyes focused on His glory. The goals of public worship are the building of Christ’s Church by the edification of the saints and the addition to its membership of those who are being saved — all to the glory of God. Through public worship on the Lord’s Day, Christians should learn to serve God all the days of the week in all their activities, remembering, whether they eat or drink or whatever they do, to do all to the glory of God.
Public worship is rightly said to be divine because God is its beginning and its end. It is of Him and through Him and unto Him.
CHRIST IS CENTRAL
Public worship is Christian when the worshippers recognize that Christ is the only Mediator through Whom they come to God, when they honor Christ as the great Head of the Church Who rules over public worship, and when their worship is an expression of their faith in Christ and of their love for Him.
IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
Public worship must be performed in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Therefore externalism and hypocrisy stand condemned. The forms of public worship have value only when they serve to express the inner reverence of the worshipper and his sincere devotion to the true and living God. Only those whose hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit are capable of such reverence and devotion.
LIBERTY AND FORMS OF WORSHIP
The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship but, in the interest of life and power in worship, has given His Church a large measure of liberty in using the elements of worship sanctioned by Scripture. It may not be forgotten, however, that there is true liberty only where the rules of God’s Word are observed and the Spirit of the Lord is. All things must be done decently and in order, and God’s people should serve Him with reverence and in the beauty of holiness. From its beginning to its end, a service of public worship should be characterized by the simplicity which is an evidence of sincerity, and by the beauty and dignity which are manifestations of holiness.
THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS
Public worship differs from private worship because in public worship God is served by the saints united as His covenant people, the Body of Christ. For this reason, covenant children as well as adults should be present as far as possible. For the same reason, no favoritism may be shown to any who attend, nor may any member of the church presume to exalt himself above others as though he were more spiritual, but each one must esteem others better than himself.
THE FEAR OF GOD
It is necessary for God’s people to come into His presence with a deep sense of awe at the thought of His perfect holiness and their own great sinfulness. They are to enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise for the great salvation which He has so graciously provided for them through His only begotten Son, and has applied to them by the Holy Spirit.