Any conversation on the Sunday worship of God’s people tends to be emotionally loaded because it is usually our first instinct to think in terms of subjective preference rather than objective truth. This can make any conversation about worship heated. This is why worship wars have happened, are still happening, and will most likely always happen until Jesus returns.
But there is a question that can calm down our wars. D.A. Carson instructs us to ask this when thinking about worship: “We should not begin by asking whether or not we enjoy worship, but by asking ‘what is it that God expects of us?'” This question can be clarifying because it brings us back to the center, back to the foundations of worship. Carson’s question is really just his version of an age-old principle the Church has used in crafting the worship of God’s people – the regulative principle. This principle is this: we’re to worship God the way God intends us to worship Him, not in any way we want to. This is very simple to say, but in practice it can be hard to implement.
Carson’s question rings true again. When discussing the worship of God’s people what does God expect of us when we gather in His name to worship Him? Are we free to do whatever we like? Or has God left us guidelines to follow, or practices to employ? The answer is Biblically clear. The Bible gives us a list of practices that must be present in our worship, and going beyond this list is dangerous because it means we wander outside God’s intentions in His worship. This list is: the Preaching of the Word, the Reading of the Word, Prayer, Singing, Sacraments, and Simplicity.
These things in practice can look very different based on the size and culture of the congregation, but all of them must be present for our worship to be Biblical. There are also helpful guidelines to aid us in implementing the above list in faithful and helpful ways for God’s people. Worship must be God-centered, Christ-centered, Word-centered, consecration, whole-hearted, and reverent.
These two lists taken together along with Carson’s question can do much to aid us in planning the worship of God’s people for the glory of God and the good of God’s people.