Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
Nomology: Lesson 4b – The Elements of Regulated Worship Part 2
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000, 2011, 2013
Westminster Confession of Faith XXI (continued)
The Reading and Preaching of God’s Word
The Singing of Psalms
Due Administration and Receiving of the Sacraments
Other Elements of Proper Worship
Religious Oaths and Vows
Confessions of Faith
Solemn Fastings and Thanksgivings
The Gathering of God’s Tithe and Our Offerings
The Places of Worship
Part B – the Elements of Regulated Worship (continued)
Westminster Confession of Faith 21:5
V. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.
The Reading and Preaching of God’s Word
While some elements of worship are the response of the people to the revealed glories of God, the inspired word presents the revelation that produces that response. Since all we do in worship is consequential to what God has made known, his word ought to be central in biblical worship. We must hear and understand God’s word before we can reasonably respond in praise and thanksgiving.
There are two ways in which the confession specifies that God’s word is to be directly incorporated into our worship. It is both to be read and explained to the people.
The church of the Middle Ages had drifted into rituals which replaced the centrality of the word. Symbolically that loss was represented by a screen that was erected to separate the people from the work of the Priests. It was called the rood screen. The word rood comes from the crucifix, an image of Christ being sacrificed, which was suspended on a wooden or metal screen between the chancel area where the altar was placed, and the congregation. It represented the re-sacrificing of Christ by Priests as the ritual needed to intervene between the simple believers and their eternal hope. When the ritual became central, the pulpit was moved to the side of the sanctuary and the sermon was reduced to a brief homily or devotional lesson.
In the Reformation churches the rood screen was removed and the pulpit brought back to the center and made the most prominent feature of the place of worship. The sermon was expanded into an exposition of Scripture. Between the people and the minister a Bible was usually placed. It was often laid on the table which was formerly used to represent the altar where in the mass Christ was re-crucified.
The centrality of God’s word has always been a mark of a true church. It was central in the worship of the Tabernacle and Temple. There the inspired Psalms were used regularly in worship and the Lord’s works and promises were declared to all the people (1 Chronicles 16).
In the time of the kings there was the revival under Josiah when his men found one of the scrolls of God’s law in the temple. It was restored it to its place as their guide in worship (2 Kings 22).
In the time of Ezra the book of God’s law was read to the people, once more restoring it as the guide to true worship and daily living (Nehemiah 8).
Jesus expound the word when he came to the Synagogue on the Sabbath in Luke 4:16-21. We are told that it was his custom to be in regular attendance at Synagogue worship. The Elders at times invited him to participate in the ministry of the word. The scroll was handed to him. He read and expounded upon its meaning.
After the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostles repeatedly reasoned with the Jews from the Scriptures in the Synagogues as they took the gospel to the places to which God led them.
Maxwell comments in his book An Outline of Christian Worship (pages 2,3):
“From the beginning the reading and exposition of the Holy Scriptures in a setting of praise and prayer has been one of the essential elements in Christian worship. This is a direct inheritance from the Jewish Synagogue” … “The primary purpose of the Synagogue was to enable men to hear the Law read and expounded. The central act in its worship, therefore, was the reading of the Law, first in Hebrew, then in the common tongue accompanied by an exposition.”
Paul made it clear that this was to be the central part of worship in the church when he wrote in 1 Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”
It is only by centering on the faithful teaching and hearing of the word of God that all the rest of our worship, and all of what we do outside of worship, can be known to honor our Lord. The word specifies the right manner and objects of prayer. It defines the right administration of the sacraments. It is the foundation of our confessions. All elements of what pleases our Heavenly Father can be known only through the revealed word.
It is right and necessary for every individual to read and study the word of God on his own when he is able to do so. It is the duty and right of heads of homes to lead their families in the regular and daily study of the Scriptures. The expounding of God’s word in called public worship is the duty and responsibility of the Elders, those called of God and set aside to the ministry of the word.
The Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 158-159 summarize this principle as follows:
Question 158: By whom is the Word of God to be preached?
Answer: The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.
Question 159: How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
Answer: They that are called to labor in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.
It was implicit in the command given to Israel about including the reading of God’s word in worship, that those doing the reading were to be the ordained worship leaders, the Priests (Deuteronomy 31:11-13). As those divinely called to be shepherds, they were responsible for the faithful instruction of the covenant people. The prophet Ezekiel delivered God’s warnings of judgment to the Elders of the nation. They were held to account for the ignorance and lack of a holy standard among the average citizens, the sheep (Ezekiel 34). God’s calling of the ordained leaders includes granting to them the authority and responsibility of declaring the word accurately and faithfully.
It was the Priest Ezra, not just a skilled public reader, who delivered the word to the people after their return from captivity (Nehemiah 8).
Even the heathen nations were told by the Prophets to come to Israel for instruction in the word of God. They were not simply told to seek God on their own.
As the apostles founded new synagogues of Christians they ordained Elders in every city. These men were held responsible for the spiritual growth and instruction of the church. They were to teach the people about the word of God’s grace just as the Apostle had done. (Acts 20:32).
When Paul wrote to Timothy he made it clear where the authority and responsibility of preaching and teaching was placed. The ability to administer the word was among the special qualifications set for those who were to serve as Elders in the churches. They must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). Timothy was to consider this when he trained others to enter into the ministry of the word.
2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”
Timothy was to consider this calling as a gift from God to be managed wisely and responsibly.
1 Timothy 4:13-14, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed upon you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.”
2 Timothy 4:2. “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
This implies a tested ability (a confirmed divine calling) for those who dare to administer the word to the people. Even Elders are not always faithful and therefore must be held accountable to one another. This is one of the things about which Jesus warned the Pharisees and Sadducees (ex. Mt 22:29-32).
There is a clear danger when those not properly instructed, tested, and ordained are allowed to teach the people. They tend to be judged by their popularity and speaking skills, rather than by their faithfulness to the true understanding of the Bible. What is enjoyable and draws people in becomes the test of preaching rather than its adherence to the careful and responsible exposition and application of what God has said.
1 Timothy 1:6-7, “For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”
2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires;”
This same responsibility goes beyond just formal preaching. There is interpretation of the Bible whenever it is used. When we read a passage, some degree of judgment decided which passage to read, and which translation to use. The attitude projected by the reader can influence how the words are taken. This is one of the reasons why the trained and ordained Elders were the ones held accountable for the effective teaching of the Scriptures in the church.
PCA scholar Louis DeBoer (once an editor of the American Presbyterian Press) writes this referring to the reading of Scripture during times of called public worship,
“Who may read the Scriptures? In our antinomian age that probably seems like a ridiculous question. What could possibly be wrong with reading the Scriptures? But that was the doctrine of Cain. He too thought what could possibly be wrong with bringing a sacrifice. That was also the doctrine of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who rebelled against Moses and Aaron and intruded into the priesthood. It was also part of the arrogant apostasy of later Kings of Israel and Judah such as Jeroboam and Uzziah.”
The authority to teach in the public worship, and to set men aside to proclaim the word of God is no light matter that a layperson can appropriate for himself.
Hebrews 5:4-6, “And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee'; just as He says also in another passage, ‘Thou art a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.’ “
Dr. Henry Krabbendam (a graduate of the Theologische Hoogeschool Kampen in Holland, and ThD from Westminster Theological Seminary, OPC Elder, teacher at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Covenant College) wrote,
“Preaching is (1) the authoritative, purposeful and timely communication of God’s truth as deposited in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; (2) based upon a thorough contextual and textual study and in the form of a carefully structured message; (3) through the personality of human instruments, commissioned by God, as a gift of Christ, anointed by the Spirit, molded by the Word and committed to prayer; (4) the gospel of and the keys to the kingdom with discriminating, applicatory and healing power with a view to regeneration, justification and sanctification; (5) through the minds, to the hearts and into the lives of any and all audiences, sinners and saints, men and women, old and young and presented in a well articulated, imaginative and persuasive fashion; and (6) all of these things in dependence upon, for the sake of and to the praise of the Triune God.”
Those who listen to the word during worship:
There is also a serious duty which rests upon those who listen to the word of God as it is read and preached. The Westminster Confession of Faith ties listening and preaching together when it says that godly worship must include, “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence …” (WCF 21-5),\
The Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 160 asks,
What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
Answer: It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine: What they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.
This means that the attender at worship must not listen casually but be diligent, expecting a blessing from God in the word as a means of grace. He must follow along attentively and strive to take in the sense of it. He must come prepared, physically rested and with Bible in hand. He must seek the meaning with prayer remembering that it is God alone who gives the understanding. As the word is proclaimed and explained it should be examined as that which authoritatively judges what is true and right in our lives.
This truth of God is to be received not just for information and not just for its emotional effect. It is to be accepted in faith, trusting it as that which must be believed, in love submitting to the mercy of God in giving it to us, in meekness humbling us all before its every challenge and command, with readiness of mind open and pliable to its teachings, and as the very word of God not merely as the words of man.
Once delivered to us, the word of God must be meditated upon, not quickly forgotten as we go our way. We must confer of it. That is, we must inquire of it what it says to us. We must hide it in our hearts in order that its truths, promises, and principles will be remembered. We must also bring forth fruit from that life-giving word so that our lives are conforming more and more to the perfect standard of God.
The Word of God is a great blessing in our worship. By it we can know what is true about God and what He requires of us. It is a great privilege to be entrusted with the word of God’s love and the revelation of his covenant and character. We must be able to say with the Psalmist,
Psalm 1:2, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”
Psalm 119:97, “O How Love I Thy Law…”
The Singing in Worship
The Scriptures clearly teach that song is a proper element of worship. There are several problems we must answer in obeying this mandate. We must define what a song is, and determine what boundaries are set by Scripture for its use in called times of worship. There are several components of song. They include the lyrics, the melody (and often harmonies), and rhythm. To use song we must also have some kind of musical arrangement determined by the way each component is employed and what vehicles will be used to supply each component.
God instituted song in worship in the time of King David. The occasion of the formal institution of song in public worship was the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The account is given in 1 Chronicles 15 and 16.
The chief interest of this occasion was to correct Israel’s past errors of disobedience relating to the treatment of the Ark. This time it was brought back to Jerusalem in a manner prescribed by God and therefore pleasing to him. Song was among the things done to honor the Lord. David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites and told them to appoint from among their relatives singers and instrumentalists to raise sounds of joy to accompany the ark.
1 Chronicles 15:16, “Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.”
It is helpful to note that those presenting the music before the people were all of the Priestly family of Levi. They were not there to entertain the people or to heighten their sense of emotional enrichment. They were to express Israel’s joy toward God in the blessing of the returned ark. They acted within the authority given to them to represent the people before God, and God before the people.
It is beyond the scope of this study to explore the details of this fascinating account. The specifics of the events, the actual lyrics used, and the instruments employed are worth the student’s extended study. One must keep in mind that the accompaniment used does not relate to our modern instruments. They have to do with very ancient devices producing sounds unlike those familiar to us in either our Western or Eastern cultures.
It is also helpful to see that the Levites who lead in the music were not the only ones involved in its use. David and the people appear to have been involved in the sounds of joy presented to the Lord.
1 Chronicles 15:27-28, “Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers. David also wore an ephod of linen. Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres.”
Upon the arrival of the ark in Jerusalem, sacrifices were made, David pronounced a blessing upon the people, food was distributed, and some of the Levites were appointed to lead the people in thankful praise to God. One of the elements was the use of song.
1 Chronicles 16:5-6, “Asaph the chief, and second to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, with musical instruments, harps, lyres; also Asaph played loud-sounding cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests blew trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God.”
The lyrics used in 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 are the same as those preserved for us in the Book of Psalms, chapters 96, 105, and 106.
The use of song in worship continued as a regular practice in Israel after that occasion.
1 Chronicles 16:37 So he left Asaph and his relatives there before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to minister before the ark continually, as every day’s work required;
The use of songs as a part of worship continued in the New Testament. It is mentioned on special occasions where individuals responded to God’s work as he revealed it to them as the program of covenantal redemption unfolded. Mary responded with the Magnificat which is recorded in Luke 1:46-55. Zechariah responded with his Benedictus in Luke 1:68-79. The Angels presented the Gloria in Excelsis in Luke 2:14 although that may or may not have been a song. Simeon responded to God’s revealed blessing in the Nunc Dimittis of Luke 2:29-32. The names of those songs are taken from the first words in the Latin translation of the New Testament.
Singing continued to be a part of worship occasions. For example, our Lord and his disciples sang a song before they departed from the observance of Passover when Jesus laid the foundation for the New Testament form of that Sacrament on the night before he was crucified.
The Purpose of Songs in Worship
As with all the elements of proper worship the object toward which it is directed is God. His glory is the prime objective. We conclude then that no parts of worship should be directed toward mood setting for the people, or for enhancement of the appeal of worship to unbelievers. Those who advertise musical performances to attract people to attend for personal pleasure or entertainment have clearly violated a basic principle of biblical worship.
The various themes of worship in Scripture set the boundaries limiting what all songs in worship should include. Our songs declare the nature of God, his attributes, his mercies, his judgments and his works. Songs may also express our humble thankfulness, joy, praise and repentance.
Questions Relating to Songs in Worship
Since the musical elements of worship songs are not preserved in Scripture, we do not have inspired examples of melody, harmony, or rhythms. The meter of some of the Psalms show us little of how the actual musical elements would have sounded in the Tabernacle in the time of King David. We know that some instruments were used at that time and that various groups of voices appear to have combined in some ways. How these compare with the use of instruments and arrangements familiar to us in our modern cultures remains an issue of discussion among Bible scholars.
One of the most controversial issues has to do with the use of songs other than the inspired Psalms in worship. The resolution of this matter is far beyond the scope of this study. In 1946 and 1947, the 13th and 14th General Assemblies of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) received a report from a study committee on this subject. The majority report defended the inclusion of songs beyond only the Psalms, while a minority report (written by Dr. John Murray) defended exclusive Psalm singing.
Another issue has to do with who does the singing. Few argue against the joining of the congregation in singing. The main controversy today centers around the leadership of song in worship. Again, the scope of this issue is beyond what this syllabus intends to cover. It relates to the whole matter of leadership in the regular worship services of the church.
The OPC articles also deal with some helpful issues relating to the scope of the Regulative Principle in laying out what belongs in worship. It reminds us of the important but sometimes hard to define distinction between elements of worship and the circumstances required in their implementation. The use of songs in worship is an issue that often presses our understanding of the Scriptures in the practical application of the Regulative Principle. The following quotation from one of those articles gives us a well deserved word of caution:
“Admittedly, a gray area emerges here; it is not always possible to distinguish cleanly between the material and formal in worship, between the elemental and the merely circumstantial. This accounts, at least in part, for the fact that issues of worship were among the most controverted at the Westminster Assembly, and that the Assembly did not undertake, as a few of its members initially desired, a thorough revision of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. They produced a directory, rather than a fixed, prescribed liturgy. In so doing, although some continued to hold that a established liturgy of prayers was permissible, even preferable, it wisely adopted a kind of middle ground between the more strictly regulated liturgical approach of earlier Reformed worship in Scotland, Geneva and elsewhere on the continent, and some Puritan Independents who were opposed even to a directory. A clear and firm commitment to the notion of the regulative principle enabled them to achieve this balance.”
Due Administration and Receiving of the Sacraments
The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper will be discussed more fully in our notes on chapters 27, 28 and 29 of the Confession. The important point here is that both Sacraments are properly included in the convocational worship of the church. The Lord’s Supper is in one aspect a communion of the covenant body with Christ the Bridegroom. Baptism is the placing of the covenant sign and seal of membership in the body of Christ upon the recipient. Neither retains these important representations if done outside the solemn calling together of the body of believers in the specially manifest presence of God.
The Sacraments ought not to be administered in private or family worship for reasons that will be expanded upon in chapters 27 through 29. Aside from the covenant community aspect, the Elders presiding as a Session ought to have direct oversight over how these elements are to be administered. Also, the removal from and admission to the sacraments is clearly placed under the authority of the ordained Elders in Scripture.
Other Elements of Proper Worship
The Confession adds a general statement that other elements are also properly part of regulated worship.
Larger Catechism, question 108, adds more specificity to that list.
Answer: The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
Therefore regulated worship also may at times include the following elements:
Religious Oaths and Vows
Oaths and vows will be covered in specific detail in chapter 22 of the confession. For our purpose here we should understand that an oath is a solemn promise we make to another person or group of persons which is sealed by calling upon God as witness and submitting to his judgment if the promises or pledge are not kept faithfully. A vow is a solemn promise made directly to God.
When having to do with membership in or leadership of the covenant community, a solemn oath or vow is a proper element for corporate worship. These promises are in a sense worship by their very nature. They affirm and call upon God’s justice, power and sovereignty as it relates to the gathered covenant body of the church.
Included in such oaths and vows would be the promises made at baptism and membership in the church. In these, faithfulness is promised to the whole of the body of Christ locally and to its officers as shepherds over their lives. The oaths and vows said in the ordination and installation of Elders and Deacons are properly a part of worship for this same reason.
Marriage is constituted before God in the form of a solemn oath and vow made before God and men. It creates a new structure in the covenant community as a new family is joined together. This therefore makes it also a proper element of corporate worship. Though it is commonly done on occasions other than the regular Sabbath worship, a proper marriage ceremony begins with a calling upon God and ends with a Benediction. It includes prayers and the expounding of God’s word done by a properly ordained minister.
The modern secular and romantic notions of marriage disconnect it from the covenant structure and therefore ignore its importance as a solemn promise before God. The elements of worship are therefore often left out of marriage ceremonies in favor of more romantic elements inserted by man. It is the conviction of this author that only proper elements of Christian worship should be permitted within the time between the calling upon God and the final benediction. Minimally, the service should include prayer, some exposition of or exhortation from God’s Word, and the reciting of the oaths and vows relating to the marriage union. Other elements may be added before and after the called marriage ceremony. All elements of the marriage service should be approved by the minister as overseer of worship, This would include the wording of the oaths made between the partners and the vows they make before God.
Confessions of Faith
The central idea of confession is our affirmation before the church, and in the sight of God, of belief and submission to the nature and works of God as revealed in his word. In Scripture there are examples of confessions of faith. They may be a simple affirming of basic truths such as the oneness of God (Deuteronomy 6:4) or of the Lordship of Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:3). Or they may be a more expanded confession as in Romans 1:3-4, 4:24-25, 8:34, 10:9-10, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Peter 3:18-22 and those in other places.
Today we often use the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicean Creed to publicly affirm our submission to God as revealed in Scripture. This confession of his name and nature by our lips is not limited to the convocational worship of God in the church, but ought to be continually offered as praise to God (Hebrews 13:15) in our private devotion and in our families.
The creeds accomplish much more than the affirming of our faith before God. They also instruct us with careful summaries assembled by the Councils of the Elders of the ancient church and tested by scrutiny over the ages in comparison with Scripture for their faithfulness to its teachings. They clarify truths that might otherwise remain unclear. They help us teach our children and new believers to remember the basic nature and work of God. They also testify publicly what God has made known to us about himself.
Solemn Fastings and Thanksgivings
In special times of blessing and need, the church has at times fasted as a covenant body reflecting a practice taught in Scripture. While this is not to be a regular part of every called time of worship, there are biblical grounds that support the use of occasional fasts and thanksgivings as called by the church and charged upon the congregation. These should not become outward displays of piety or regular obligations. Such abuses were rebuked by Jesus Christ and rejected by the Reformers in the light of Scriptural warnings.
Thanksgiving ought to be a part of every element of worship. As we hear God’s word, pray, or sing his praises, the response of the redeemed heart is gratitude for what is heard and for the grace that enables us to understand it. Special prayers and special services of thanksgiving are well attested by Scriptural example. Clearly by its very nature thanksgiving to God for his wonder and grace is the heart of worship itself.
The Gathering of God’s Tithe and Our Offerings
There are two parts to the collections taken during the public worship of the Church; the tithe and the offering. The tithe is a fixed ten percent of whatever we earn. It is evidenced in the earliest chapters of the Book of Genesis predating the establishment if Israel as God’s Covenant People. It is mentioned without abrogation in the New Testament. It is given thankfully as a testimony that God is the one who enables us to labor and who causes our work to prosper. It is his portion and is not to be withheld or redirected to other charities or agencies than the church. To do so is to steal from God (Malachi 3:8). The offering is our free gift of thanks to the Lord as he prospers us beyond the meeting of our basic needs. There is no fixed percentage for the thank offering in this post-levitical era. The amount is left to the giver. Both the tithe and the offering are to be given to God and to his kingdom through the church according to the principles the Scriptures command.
Contrary to the perverted ideas of our modern age, the offering is not a tip we give the pastor for a good sermon, or dues paid for membership in the church. It is not a version of fund raising or simply to meet budgetary demands and keep the lights on and air-conditioner working. It is not given to entice God to bless us. Giving should be the thankful response of humble believers to the provisions of our Sovereign God, and is therefore to be treated as an act of worship.
Under the Old Testament priestly system the tithes and offerings were to be brought to the Priests who acted as Elders of Israel to provide for and to oversee the worship, to counsel and discipline the members, and to care for the needy in the covenant community. The admonition of Malachai 3:10 to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, reminds us that the tithe is to be distributed and used under the authority of God’s church. It is not to be managed by the individual giver.
In the New Testament this same principle continues with no change except that the temple services and priestly work were completed in Christ. The day of worship was set by the Apostles to the first day of the week based upon the Roman calendar that was in use at the time. Therefore we see the worshipers instructed to bring God’s tithes and their offerings to the Sabbath worship of the church (1 Corinthians 16:1,2 and 2 Corinthians 8-9).
The word benediction means “good speaking”. It is a blessing pronounced on behalf of God upon his covenant people by duly appointed ministers. The classic passage that summarizes this duty is found in the Aaronic Blessing of Numbers 6:22-27.
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, “Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.” So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.’ “
The Lord says that this is a real pronouncement given with his authority and promise. It is not just a mere ritual exercise or a wish for blessing. It is effectual because God has given it as a means by which he shall truly bless the people.
The blessing was to be given by those ordained as agents of God to shepherd his people. In the period of the patriarchs the heads of households were the authorized Elders over the people. They, as mediators of God’s covenant with their families, spoke words of promise to their children and their children’s children. The head of the home was not just the husband, but the elder head of the entire extended family which was not ended as the children married, but was extended. This is illustrated in the blessing of Isaac upon Jacob and Esau in Genesis 27. The words of the family elder were seen as binding by virtue of God’s authority behind them.
In the Levitical period God centered spiritual leadership over the entire family of Israel in the Priests of the order of Aaron. They were commanded to pronounce the benediction upon the people of God.
In the time of the earthly ministry of Jesus, he also blessed his people when leaving them as to his special presence. At his ascending into heaven he lifted his hands and blessed them as recorded in Luke 24:50-53.
In the Apostolic era, Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews spoke blessings from God upon their readers. Their words are often used by pastors today in Benedictions to close the worship service. (See 2 Corinthians 13:14, Philippians 4:7, 1 Peter 5:14 and Hebrews 13:20-21.)
The teachings of the New Testament affirm that continuing authority in the ordained Elders of the church, particularly those trained in the word as Pastors, to continue to administer this blessing.
The Benediction is particularly fitting as the people leave corporate Sabbath worship where God’s special presence is manifest. Paul Engle, in his book “Discovering the Fullness of Worship” defines the Benediction by saying it is “a farewell blessing in which God’s name is placed upon his people who leave corporate worship …” (Romans 12:1, Colossians 3:17).
The blessing should be received by the worshipers with a full expectation of God’s blessing, reflective of their faith in his promise given in his word.
The Places of Worship
Westminster Confession of Faith 21:6
Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.
There was a time when God centralized corporate worship in certain places. In the era that followed the finishing of the work of Christ in his atonement on the Cross, all the symbolisms of having just one place for the congregation to worship as a body of believers have been fulfilled and no longer apply.
In John 4 Jesus made it clear that the time of the Temple worship was ending. God no longer required his people to worship him in the one place on earth he had designated. Certainly the places invented by those in rebellion against the Temple during the time of the Kings and Prophets were never sanctioned in God’s law.
In contrast, Christian worship is to be characterized as being done “in spirit and in truth”. (For a review of the ending of the Levitical laws regarding persons, places and seasons of worship see the Confession chapters 7 and 19.) In our period of God’s redemptive history we do not need to report to any special place to engage in any of the elements of worship.
The church buildings of our era provide a convenient place for us to meet together on the Sabbath and at other times without having to travel to Jerusalem, or to meet outdoors or in private homes when we are gathered as a congregation. The essence of worship is not in the place, but in the hearts of believers. At the call of the Elders, the people assemble solemnly at designated times, particularly on every Sabbath, to honor God in the ways he has prescribed.
Individuals may pray and honor the Lord in any place. Families may and ought to worship daily wherever they are assembled.
The transition to this greater liberty of worship is not a matter of us arbitrarily selecting which parts of Scripture continue today, and which elements no longer apply. We have the clear teaching of our Lord in his earthly ministry and the expounding of that teaching in the letters of the New Testament. These show us how the basic principles adhere to all called worship times. They give us the fundamentals of what pleases God in our worship.
Discussion Suggestion: Go over the 4th chapter of the Gospel of John which records the lesson of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well.
[Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.]