The Worship of God

More articles in this collection from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.

The Worship of God

by Michael Marzan-Esher

There are many aspects of this subject which tend to be overlooked today both in the sphere of the church and of the home. Is God's Word governing our practice wherever and whenever we draw near to God? Congregations, families and individual believers should have nothing to fear from a rigorous application of the Regulative Principle to their worship: after all, the effect would only be to return us all to the original pattern Christ set for His New Testament church. Might not this greatly help to promote the unity of the Lord's people?

We are grateful to Mr. Marzan-Esher for his contribution to our pages, including a helpful bibliography: we pray that we would all seriously consider what reformation may be required of us by the Lord.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 9, January-March 1998.

D EAR reader, as we approach this most important and vital of subjects all too briefly it is well to ponder some texts in the book of Deuteronomy. "For the LORD thy God (is) a consuming fire, (even) a jealous God." (4:24). "Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name." (10:20). "Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them." (11:16). "The secret (things belong) unto the LORD our God: but those (things which are) revealed (belong) unto us and to our children for ever, that (we) may do all the words of this law" (29:29), which we may reasonably apply to the closed canon of Scripture.

We see then from the inspired Word that God is holy and all glorious. We are to live in obedience to His Word alone in fear and trembling. We can only cleave to God through the Lord Jesus Christ but our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked through indwelling sin and the promptings of the evil one.

Now, are rivers of waters running down our eyes because the law of God (Psa. 119:136) is so neglected in worship? Where the Lord has been pleased to grant a measure of truth to churches and individual believers are we being jealous and graciously evangelistic for God's glory?

Throughout the professing visible church the standard for worship is not the sufficiency of Scripture but every man doing what is right is his own eyes (Judg. 21:25). Or to return to Deuteronomy chapter 29 in the middle of verse 19: "I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart."

As an example of the need for worship to comply with Scripture observe the biblical view of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter

"The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men."

Now look at this recent quote from an influential "calvinistic baptist" magazine, in an article detailing a model constitution for new congregations:

"Women shall be permitted to pray audibly in Prayer Meetings, but not to contribute in worship meetings or to teach, excepting in children's ministry or the teaching of other women. Worship shall be formal in character and led by the Pastor or other Officer. Reverent psalm versions and post-biblical hymns shall be sung in worship accompanied by either piano or organ but not both, but so-called choruses, except those forming part of traditional hymns, shall not be used in adult worship." (Sword & Trowel, 1997, No.4, p.21.)

The phrase "post-biblical hymns" fundamentally denies the sufficiency of Scripture.

To know God's will we must ever look to Scripture (Isa. 8:20) and rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Will we come in humble faith trembling at God's word (Isa. 66:2) or are we too cavalier and expert at theological Houdini gymnastics? Preaching is the most important part of worship but can we not agree with Amos that there is a famine in both seeking out and hearing the word of the Lord (Amos 8:11-12)? Surely one reason is that, contrary to the crystal-clear teaching of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12, women have become predators in many pulpits throughout the land.

Prayer is another part of worship and in public the biblical posture is standing - which is quite contrary to the normal sitting position in most churches today. Also, if the Most High is sought in prayer at conferences and other meetings obedience to God requires us to stand. Do we? Kneeling, of course, is most appropriate for family and individual prayer time. Henry Bazeley1 is well worth reading on this matter.

Another part of worship is the worshipper himself or herself. Noticeable is the lack of obedience to Scriptural precepts. If the Holy Spirit has seen fit to inspire Paul to write half a chapter (1 Corinthians 11) on the subject of hair length and head coverings then it is for our instruction. Again in Deuteronomy 22:5 we note the required differences between male and female.

The Lord's Day is another neglected part of worship. Whilst antinomianism already abounds in the church a very simple additional reason is the naming of the day "Sunday". Then the Christian Sabbath is like the other six days of the week. God no longer has propriety in and suzerainty over the day. Using public transport to go to church is not right; neither is buying the Sunday newspapers. McCheyne's tract2 makes for sound reading. Now the world knows nothing of the Christian Sabbath but come "Easter" and "Christmas" many churches could well be full. However these church holidays are unwarranted in Scripture as an excellent study by Schneider and Reed3 will show. Oh, how careful we must be in our worship!

Finally we come to the participatory congregational worship in song and praise. The biblical parameters are a cappella exclusive psalmody. Anything else is will worship (Col. 2:23) [or as one modern formal equivalence translation puts it - "self-made religion".] The worship practices in churches may range from the sober, sedate, exclusive hymnody of some to the enthusiastic, aerobic, "charismatic" type worship of others, but the Word of God says it is with a zeal not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2). It is somewhat strange that those who hold to biblical soteriology - that the triune Jehovah alone saves sinners (Psa. 3:8, Jon. 2:9) - will allow their worship to be of free-will. Salvation is exclusive and so is worship! The psalms alone are the unifying hymn book of the church both in Old and New dispensations. All are Messianic if we could but see. I urge you, dear reader, to obtain and study material by Beaton4, Begg5, Blaikie6, Bushell7, George8 and Reed9 on this subject. They are all very good and will, with the Lord's help, open our understanding and lead to necessary repentance.

The Lord Jesus Christ has a controversy with His people because they have changed the ordinance (Isa. 24:5). Is this a reason why we live in a day of small things? Dare we say that the angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), rather than the Holy Spirit, is usurping control in our worship in our generation, for how can we possibly believe that Christ will join with us as His redeemed people in singing praise to the Father (Heb. 2:12) in anything but the psalms?

The psalm version we use is "adiaphoron" or indifferent but from the nearly 120 complete English Language psalters listed by Henry Glass10 between 1549 and 1885 only the 1650 Scottish Psalter is in current use. Several additional versions are in use today throughout the English speaking world but what is important is accuracy of translation and as Dr. Mikre-Sellassie11 has convincingly shown Scripture distinguishes between singular and plural pronouns. Therefore a psalter which does is preferable to one that does not. It may be added that popular modern translations of the Bible have undoubtedly been responsible for the way in which we address the Most High and it is not good.

The book of Numbers chapter 11 verses 1 & 2 can teach us something vital. We are complaining people, for we are preferring our worship to what God requires: we must surely be grieving the Holy Spirit; but the people cried to Moses and God's anger was quenched. Likewise our only hope is to plead the merits of the Saviour and to implore Him in His mercy to yet hasten a day when the doctrine of worship will no longer be divisive but uniting all the Lord's people, and we will be of one mind (2 Cor. 13:11). Oh! for a teachable spirit! Also, because worship must be in Spirit and truth (John 4:24) do we know whom we have believed (2 Tim. 1:12)? Is Christ the altogether lovely one, the chiefest among ten thousand, my beloved and my friend (Song of Solomon) and precious (1 Pet. 2:7)? Then alone will we be able to sing the new song (Psa. 40:3, 96:1) with grace in our hearts (Col. 3:16). Soli Deo gloria!

All nations whom thou mad'st shall come
and worship rev'rently
Before thy face: and they, O Lord,
thy name shall glorify.
- Scottish Metrical Psalm 86:9.


1. Henry Bazeley, Standing at Prayer (tract).

2. Robert Murray McCheyne, I Love the Lord's Day (tract).

3. Michael Schneider & Kevin Reed, Christmas: A Biblical Critique, 1993, 64pp.

4. Donald Beaton, Instrumental Music in the New Testament Church (tract).

5. James Begg, Anarchy in Worship, (1875), reprint n.d., 48pp.

6. Alexander Blaikie, A Catechism on Praise, reprint 1997, 24pp.

7. Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion, 2nd edition, 1993, 240pp.

8. R.J. George, The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God (tract).

9. Kevin Reed, Biblical Worship, 1995, 80pp.

(While the above items may be obtained from any good bookshop it is known that all of them are presently obtainable [D.V.] from the Free Presbyterian Church Bookroom. )

10. Glass, Henry. The Story of the Psalters. London, (1888), AMS reprint 1972, pp.57-60.

11. Mikre-Sellassie, Ammanuel. Problems in translating pronouns from English Versions. The Bible Translator, Vol.39, No.2, April 1988, pp.230-237.