At its root, worship is giving someone or something the honour and glory due to them, behaving toward them in the manner of which they are worthy. In an absolute sense, religious worship is giving to God the honour and glory due to his name, and of which he alone is worthy. The primary concern of Chapter 22 is the warrant for and nature of the worship of God in the new covenant in Christ Jesus. While the duty and fact of worship are established in the light of nature, the acceptable ways and means of worshipping the only living and true God are established only by the light of revelation. God has instituted in the Bible the acceptable way of worshipping him, establishing how men are to approach him. He does not desire to be worshipped according to the minds and designs of fallen men—however well intentioned—nor by the suggestions of Satan, nor under visible representations, nor by any way that he has not prescribed.
Historically, some have argued that we are free to do anything in worship not forbidden by the Bible (this is called “the normative principle”), but this opens the door to all kinds of abuses and perversions in worship. By contrast, our spiritual forefathers, jealous for the glory of God and the purity of true worship, and convinced that God has instituted in his Word the only acceptable way of worshipping him, show that we are free to worship God only in the way that he has actually commanded and required (“the regulative principle”). If two men constructed a building called Worship, one using the materials of the Word of God, but considering himself free to use other materials and to build to his own design, and the other builds to God’s design using only the materials of God’s Word, how different will those buildings look? Which would be pleasing to God? Surely the latter.
All this is not an argument for form over substance: God is not pleased with an accurate but empty shell of worship. The mind and heart and soul and strength must be engaged in the way in which God has commanded. To worship God in the way that he has prescribed is not a recipe for narrow legalism.
In paragraph two, we learn to worship the Triune God alone, carefully described in terms of his trinity and unity. We worship the Godhead, each person and the three persons in one (Mt 28:19). Nothing and no one else is the legitimate object of our religious worship (Mt 4:9-10). Two possible errors are explicitly excluded: giving to any mere creature the worship due only to the Creator; and being acceptable to God without the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim 2:5). No sinful man can come to the Holy Father without a mediator, and the only one capable of this mediation is Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Jn 14:6).
This established, and our further understanding governed by these principles, we turn to the question of prayer. God requires that all men pray (Ps 65:2; 95:1–7; 100:1–5). Acceptable prayer requires the help of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Bible, revealing what is acceptable to God in our praying and guiding us into truth. Sadly, it is possible wilfully or with wrongful ignorance to ask things contrary to God’s will. To be acceptable to God, our prayers must be made “with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance.” Fine words with flawed hearts are a bad recipe for prayer. Public prayer should be easily understood by those participating.
Paragraph four tells us, positively, to draw from God’s Word the treasury of “lawful things” upon which we should draw in prayer, both general and specific. All that is lawful falls within the boundary of legitimate prayer, even if others think it mundane or insignificant. Negatively, certain topics and subjects are excluded.
Other elements of worship, perhaps less subject to error at the time, are dealt with more summarily. Whatever variety in the expression, biblically-ordered worship always and everywhere has the same elements, which are not culturally determined, always offered through the same Lord Jesus Christ, with the same heart-attitude of the worshipper. The basic and regular elements are “the reading of the Scriptures, preaching and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord, as well as the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper.” Each must be carried out intelligently, reverently, and with faith. To these may be added, as appropriate or necessary, special seasons of humiliation and fasting, and thanksgiving.
Paragraph six addresses the place of worship. While “the light of nature and Christian prudence” suggest that – wherever possible – our places of worship should be simple, without distractions for the eye or heart, clean, light, allowing the various elements of worship to be undertaken with the greatest possible freeness and fullness in adherence to the Biblical models, the Confession reminds us here that worship is not made more or less acceptable by the place in which it is offered. God is to be and can be worshipped everywhere, so long as that worship is offered in spirit and truth (John 4.20-24), is founded upon the pure truth of God’s Word, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and is offered entirely and only through the mediation of Jesus Christ, by whom alone is any worship made acceptable to the All-holy God. The church of Jesus Christ is not a building taking up space on earth, but is composed of the blood-bought children of Jesus Christ, living stones cemented together by the shed blood of the Lamb (1Pt 2:4-10), Christ Jesus himself being the head and chief cornerstone (Eph 1:22–23; 2:19–22), believers themselves being the temple of the Holy Spirit. The gathered congregation is the place of God’s special presence. Religious worship is to be offered in private families and by individual believers, but—particularly and pre-eminently, for there all the means of grace can be embraced—the public worship of the church is to be a priority for all believers, its assemblies not to be carelessly or wilfully neglected or forsaken (Heb 10:25; Acts 2:42).
The final question, in paragraphs seven and eight, concerns the institution of a day of worship and its practice or observation. Men of God have long observed that where regard for the Lord’s day declines, vital religion declines with it. I recall being asked by a friend, “So, are you a Sabbatarian confessional Baptist?” My response was, “There is nothing else!” The 1677/89 Confession is a robustly and unashamedly Sabbatarian document in the true spirit of the new covenant in Christ Jesus. It holds to the first day of the week as the Lord’s day, the Christian Sabbath. Established in principle at creation, affirmed in the great lawgiving dependent on the redemption from Egypt, so the great day of re-creation and redemption—our Lord’s rising from the dead—was, by Christ and his church, adopted immediately as the new, divinely instituted day of worship. The apostolic church recognised and sanctioned the first day of the week as the one hallowed by Christ’s rising from the dead, and therefore the day not just best suited or most appropriate but divinely appointed to be set apart for the worship of the Triune God. The Sabbath principle is not abolished in the new covenant: it is heightened in the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s day!
In general, the first day of the week is to be set apart to God in a particular way, seeking God for his glory and enjoying a foretaste of heaven. As his blood-bought people, there are four basic principles for our use of our time and energy: we leave aside our regular weekday activities (a conscientious effort in mind and heart as well as in the body) and—following the example of God himself— give ourselves to acts of piety (private, family, and especially public worship), acts of necessity or conscience (the two examples of Scripture are eating food and caring for animals), and acts of mercy (doing good and showing care). The way to profit from, preserve and protect the Sabbath is not to revise it, to over-regulate it, or to reject it. It is to restore it to its proper, biblical place, to keep it as God intended it to be kept, on the basis he gives us for it, for the purpose for which he intended it, by the guidelines he provides for us.
The framers of the Confession are not embarrassed to declare that they are truly religious, and that true religion involves true devotion. The church of Christ should be deeply concerned for and invested in the purity, dignity, and spirituality of true worship. We are concerned for the nature of worship, the principle of worship, the object of worship, the spirit of worship, the mode and means of worship, the place of worship, and the day and times of worship, because it all revolves around the God of heaven, and is the closest to him we get on earth.
Saturday 18th September 2021