51. The Nature of Public Worship

  1. An assembly of public worship is not merely a gathering of God’s children with each other, but is, before all else, a meeting of the triune God with His covenant people. In the covenant, God promises His chosen ones that He will dwell among them as their God and they will be His people.
    1. The triune God is present in public worship, not only by virtue of the divine omnipresence, but, much more intimately, as the faithful covenant Savior. Through Christ, God’s people have access by one Spirit to the Father.
    2. In an assembly of public worship, the triune God is not only the One to whom worship is directed, but also the One who is active in the worship of the church. Through His public ordinances, the covenant God actively works to engage His people in communion with Himself. In public worship, God communes with His people, and they with Him, in a manner which expresses the close relationships of the Father and His redeemed children, of the Son and His beloved Bride, and of the Holy Spirit and the living temple in which He dwells.
    3. Pastors and ruling elders are to endeavor to inculcate in themselves and in the congregation expectations for, attitudes concerning, and behavior during public worship which are appropriate to the glorious fact that public worship is covenantal communion between God and His people in His public ordinances.
  2. Because Christ is the Mediator of the covenant, no one draws near to God except through Him alone.
    1. God’s people enter the Most Holy Place, the heavenly sanctuary, by the redeeming blood of Jesus, by the new and living way opened for them through the curtain, that is, His flesh. They draw near through Him as their Great High Priest, who has not entered a man-made sanctuary but heaven itself, now to appear for them in God’s presence.
    2. Public worship is to be conducted in a manner that plainly expresses conscious reliance upon the mediation and merits of Jesus Christ. To this end, it is well that there be a prayer of confession of sin early in the worship service. It is fitting that the minister, as God’s ambassador, then declare an assurance of God’s grace in Christ, reminding each worshiper that he can have boldness to approach the holy God only through the mediation and merits of Jesus Christ.
  3. By the Spirit of the exalted Christ, God draws near to His people and they draw near to their God. They come by grace to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, joining innumerable angels and all the people of God in joyous and reverent communion with Him.
    1. God’s people not only are to come into His presence with a deep sense of awe at the thought of His perfect holiness and their own exceeding sinfulness, but also are to enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise for the great salvation that He has so graciously wrought for them through His only begotten Son and which He applies to them by His Holy Spirit. All are therefore to worship with sincere devotion, reverence, and expectation.
    2. Public worship is to be conducted in reliance on the gracious working of the Spirit of the exalted Christ, which alone can make anyone capable of such sincerity, reverence, devotion, awe, expectation, and joy. Hence, from its beginning to its end, public worship should be conducted in that simplicity which manifests dependence on the Spirit of Christ to bless His own ordinances.
    3. Accordingly, the whole congregation should assemble promptly, that all may be present and may join together for the entire worship service. Unless necessary, none should depart until after the benediction. All should refrain from any behavior that would distract other worshipers or detract from their communion with God.
  4. In public worship, God’s people draw near to their God unitedly as His covenant people, the body of Christ.
    1. For this reason, the covenant children should be present so far as possible, as well as adults. Out-of-service childcare programs, while permissible and in many cases a necessary good, should lead towards and promote a child’s full participation in the service as soon as possible. Because God makes His covenant with believers and their children, it is fitting for households to sit together.
    2. 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 shall esteem others better than himself.
    3. The unity and catholicity[1] of the covenant people are to be manifest in public worship. Accordingly, the service is to be conducted in a manner that enables and expects all the members of the covenant community—male and female, old and young, poor and rich, uneducated and educated, healthy and infirm, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation—to worship together.
    4. Because God’s people worship, not as an aggregation of individuals, but as a congregation of those who are members of one another in Christ, public worship is to be conducted as a corporate activity in which all the members participate as the body of Christ.
  5. The triune God assembles His covenant people for public worship in order to manifest and renew their covenant bond with Him and one another. The Holy Spirit engages them and draws them into the Father’s presence as a living sacrifice in Christ. God Himself has fellowship with them, strengthening and guiding them for life in His presence and service in His kingdom.
    1. Public worship should be conducted in a manner that reflects God’s initiative in the covenant itself, making clear that God establishes and renews His covenant with His people, assuring God’s people of those things which they so easily forget unless Christ crucified is portrayed before their eyes week after week, cultivating the expectation that God Himself meets His people in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the public ordinances, always keeping central the persons and works of the triune God.
    2. Consequently, it is well that public worship be so conducted that it is apparent that God summons His church to assemble in His presence, that He assures His people of His receiving and cleansing them through Christ the Mediator, that He consecrates them to Himself and His service by His Word, that He communes with them and gives them grace to help in time of need through His means of grace, and that He sends them out to serve with His blessing at the benediction.
  6. The triune God reveals the way of knowing and worshiping Him in His Word, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
    1. The principles of public worship must be derived from the Bible—either as they are expressly set down in Scripture or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture—and from no other source. The purpose of this directory is not contrary to that purpose, as it points us to what Scripture teaches concerning worship. Thus this directory and our confessions are standards always understood to be subordinate to the Word of God.
    2. God may not be worshiped according to human imaginations or inventions or in any way not prescribed by His Word, nor may the church require her members to participate in elements of worship that God’s Word does not require. Only when the elements of worship are those appointed in God’s Word, and the circumstances and forms of worship are consonant with God’s Word, is there true freedom to know God as He is and to worship Him as He desires to be worshiped.
  7. The end of public worship is the glory of the triune God. To that end, Christ builds His church by perfecting the saints and adding to its membership such as are being saved—all to the glory of God. To this end, it is right that non-believers participate in worship because of the natural effect of worship and preaching in calling men to faith.[2]
    1. Through public worship on the Lord’s Day, God calls His people to serve Him all the days of the week in their every activity, and enables them, whether they eat or drink or whatever they do, to do all to the glory of God.
    2. God’s people are to be led to engage in all the elements of worship with a single-minded focus on God’s glory and with a humble and dependent expectation that the exalted Lord Jesus Christ Himself will edify them and build His church through His appointed means of grace—all to the glory of God.

  1. I.e., universal or worldwide.
  2. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.

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