Puritan WorshipHow the Regulative Principle Ought to be Applied
How Did the Early Church Worship?
Most Christians don’t care to study Christian history and historical theology surrounding worship because they “feel” it takes away certain things they like in their church services. Are you interested in the historic Christian faith and its view on worship? God is to be worshiped according to His commands. God alone determines the manner in which sinners are to approach Him; and it is only accomplished through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, according to His word.
The early church worshipped in a specific manner according to God’s word. Christ and his commands are the rule by which Christians gather together for worship. We call this the Regulative Principle of Worship.
Historic Works on the Subject of Corporate Worship
- Gospel Worship, by Jeremiah Burroughs, a modernized version.
- The Christian’s Charge Never to Offend God in Worship, by John Forbes
- How to Serve God in Private and Public Worship, John Jackson
- True Worship and the Consequences of Idolatry, by John Knox
- A Christian’s True Spiritual Worship to Jesus Christ, by Stephen Charnock
- The Glory of Evangelical Worship, by John Owen
- The Simplicity of Holy Worship by John Wilson
- Vain Imaginations in the Worship of God by Samuel Willard, Jonathan Dickinson, Joshua Moodey, Nathan Stone and Jonathan Edwards
- The True Psalmody by the Reformed Ministers
- A Gospel-Ordinance Concerning the Singing of Scripture Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs by Cuthbert Sydenham
- Gospel Music: or the Singing of David’s Psalms by Nathaniel Holmes
- Singing of Psalms a Gospel Ordinance by John Cotton
- Singing of Psalms the Duty of Christians by Thomas Ford
Reformed and Puritan printed works on corporate worship can be found HERE.
Throughout the history of the church, one of the most important topics found throughout the Bible, or, for that matter, the lives of the most well-known people of God, is the nature of true worship. All Christians throughout history have striven to please God in acceptable worship. Their conversion, through the sovereign redemption in Jesus Christ, presses them to continue their sanctification in regular corporate worship, as well as daily private worship. However, both corporate worship, and some forms of private worship, have become corrupted in our day – as Jesus said, many are teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
What’s new in our age?
In our day, not similar to the church of the Reformation, or of the Puritans, we have music ministers, choirs, musical instruments, bands, solos, etc. We even find that national holidays have become part of the worship service. We see bands, concerts, special music, interpretive dance, skits and plays flooding the sanctuary. In the extreme, we find healing hours, prophetic ministries, prophesying rooms, barking in the Spirit, laughing in the Spirit, and the anti-Scriptural list goes on and on. In contrast to all this, from the time of the early church, to the recovery of the Gospel under the Reformation, to the second Reformation and the Puritan divines, even through to times surrounding Jonathan Edwards or the Princeton Theologians, there has been a general adherence to what the Bible taught concerning acceptable worship under the Regulative Principle (i.e. God alone determines the manner in which sinners are to approach Him). But what did they believe?
There is a growing need to study the doctrine of the church and the doctrine of worship. Ignorance on this subject is not bliss since God commands the gathering together of His people for the express purpose of worship (Heb. 10:25) according to His will. The Puritans knew the bible’s position on worship very well. Much of their writings were directed to this end. Worship should be reflected in the entire life of the believer as his manner of glorifying God. Without worship, men lose a sense of “Christian self.” That is why the unbeliever continues to to fill the void of his unregenerate heart with various worldly pursuits, activities, and bosom sins, because only true worship to the Creator of the Universe is meant to fill that void. They have a gnawing sense of emptiness when they neglect true worship, something God commands and requires they give, for God is the Sustainer of their being; every one of their sinful breathes testifies to God’s power in keeping them alive. Worship and the church, then, even on that base level alone, is one of the most important, if not the most important doctrine one could study.
The church is also having an identity crisis. Since they do not know their Bibles, they have lost a sense of who they are before God. See my good brother’s article on the Regulative Principle: Worship, Psalm Singing and Grape Juice here. Hopefully some, if not all of these articles, will help the church find her identity again, remembering the old paths that the church has always walked upon. Here, the people of God will remember again how to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
C. Matthew McMahon, Ph.D., Th.D.