The Content of Evangelism & Discipleship

Content:

What is the content for disciple-making? What are we delivering, what are we sharing?

This is a very basic question to ask. By basic, I don’t mean easy, necessarily. I mean logically basic, or foundational. You’ve got to have this question answered first. Before you begin making disciples, you need to know what you are giving, what message, what content. What is the subject matter.

Another reason for this question being so important is all the different answers that are in the world today.

  1. Some say personal, life experience is what you are sharing with someone.
  2. Others say rules and behavior, to make someone conform to a certain lifestyle.
  3. Others say it is as broad as public education (anything you would learn in school is discipleship material).
  4. Some Christians imply that it is secret, or special knowledge that is transferred to disciples (in contrast to “normal” Christians).
  5. And some churches think of disciple-making more about practical than cognitive content: training, skills (like this obsession with “leadership” seminars that they seem to have).
  6. Fundamentalism has narrowed the content down to a list of “fundamentals” with a whole lot of rules about what activities you’re not allowed to do (drinking, dancing, movies, etc.).
  7. Liberalism has done away with doctrinal content and replaced it with community service, social work, and political activism.
  8. The program-driven churches see the “content” of disciple-making to be activity, or service. Kid’s programs, youth programs, fun and games, small group activities, small group Bible studies, prayer meetings, evangelistic outreaches. If you’re really growing, you’ll do things like set up the chairs The most spiritual activity of all: short-term missions trips. Sure proof that you are a mature disciple.
  9. And the individualists, who view disciple-making as purely personal and anti-institutional (apart from the local church), see the content as personal disciplines: personal prayer, personal Bible reading/study (aka “quiet time”), personal evangelism, and maybe some “fellowship” (whatever that means). Discipleship is all about teaching them these skills.

So, who is right? Well, some are more wrong than others. To find out what the content for disciple-making is, we need to look at Scripture. And many of those listed above cite Scripture (some less than others!). Of course, when it comes to justifying beliefs and practices, select parts of Scripture are not enough, but the whole breadth (tota Scriptura).

Word/Gospel

We will argue that the content for making disciples is the Word of God, in general, and the Gospel, in particular. Notice that I am not distinguishing between evangelism and discipleship; we are not separating them. The content for both is the same.

How do we think about the content of evangelism versus the content for discipleship, usually? We tend to separate the two practices, and say that the content is different for each. The Gospel is for evangelism, supposedly. And the rest of the Bible (but not the Gospel) is for discipleship. The Gospel is to get you into Christianity, then you move on from the Gospel to everything else the Bible says, for your discipleship.

Now, is this an accurate view? No.

Paul didn’t just talk about Jesus as he evangelized; he talked about creation, God’s decrees, the judgment (Acts 17:22-31). And in every letter he wrote to the churches (Christian disciples), he focused on the Gospel.

Evangelism and discipleship are not two different kinds of things. Rather, it’s the same subject matter, the same content, just in different situations or contexts; a different audience. If you’re talking to unbelievers, you are obviously evangelizing. If you are talking to believers, they are already disciples. But even there, with disciples, they still need the Gospel. We still need to be “evangelized” all through the Christian life.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is central to both evangelism and discipleship. And the whole Word of God is the subject matter for discipleship and evangelism (at least implicitly).

*Why am I starting this way? Because I detect that it is not understood here, very well. Usually, I only hear the Gospel preached when it’s specifically targeted at unbelievers. But, if there’s only “church members”, the Gospel usually is not mentioned at all. So clearly, what unbelievers need to hear and what Christians need to hear are two different things.

But they should not be separated as to different kinds of things. They are distinct, but because of context; not distinct in content.

The Gospel cannot be understood on its own. The message about Jesus Christ fits within the larger redemptive context of the whole Bible. And you see this in the sermons preached in Acts. The whole Bible is the framework, the “covenantal context” in which the Gospel is interpreted.

So, in “evangelizing” to unbelievers, they need more than just a narrow “Gospel presentation.” They need broader instruction from the rest of Scripture to make sense out of the good news.

The Gospel is the climax, the center, whole point of the Bible. The Bible leads up to it, then expounds it. Jesus said that the entire Old Testament spoke about him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-48). That means, you are not actually teaching or preaching the Bible correctly if you leave the Gospel of Jesus Christ out.

So, in “discipling” believers, in teaching or preaching to Christians, the Gospel must be central! Every sermon must include the Gospel. The Gospel is the center of Scripture, so disciples cannot be taught from Scripture properly without the Gospel. Disciples constantly need to be reminded of the grace of God provided in Jesus Christ. That’s the primary motivation for obedience, in fact. Indeed, every text is implicitly a Gospel text. If it’s telling us to do something, then it’s Law that shows us how we fall short of God’s requirements, and shows us our need for Christ’s righteousness and death. If it is a grace text, then there’s the Gospel. In short, if we are not “evangelizing” disciples, we are not discipling correctly.

It should be clear, then, that the body of content for making disciples is the Word of God, in general, and the Gospel, in particular. Your audience will change (believers or unbelievers), but the content will not. What do we use to evangelize unbelievers? The whole Word of God. What do we use to disciple Christians? The Gospel. Both are true.

This explains why we will spend so much time on doctrine in this class.

Once more, from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.1

(1) Neh 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Rom 10:14-17; 2 Tim 3:15-17

Notice how the Catechism doesn’t distinguish one part of the Word (the Gospel) for “convincing and converting”, and another part for “building them up.” It’s the whole Word of God that is made an effectual means of salvation, for the conversion of sinners and the edification of believers.

Just like Jesus said: teach the Word. And just as the Apostles did. This should shape our methodology of evangelism and discipleship.

Go back to the Great Commission: what was the second thing that the Lord Jesus command the disciples to do, to make disciples? Teach. And what did he say to teach, in order to make disciples?

“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:20)

Notice that keyword: “ALL”. Not a few things. Not as little as possible. Not a bare minimum. Not a “mere Christianity.” Everything. Jesus’ commission is not a lowest-common-denominator approach. ALL!

Disciples are to be taught to obey all the words of Christ. That means the whole Word of God. All of it is the content for disciple-making. Nothing is to be left out. Clearly, the Apostle Paul understood this, declaring that:

. . . I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house. I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.

. . . Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood, for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.

—Acts 20:20-21, 26-27

Paul did not hold anything back. He proclaimed anything profitable, and in public or private settings. He did not hold back any of God’s Word, from them. That’s why he is innocent. Everyone there has been given all the information, left without excuse. No one can point fingers at Paul, accusing him of not telling them everything that they needed to hear.

The same needs to be true of anyone engaging in making disciples. Anyone that shares God’s truth with unbelievers must hold nothing back. Anyone who shares God’s truth with believers must hold nothing back (including the Gospel).

Warnings:

  1. A Misunderstanding. Don’t misunderstand: this is not saying anything about time, or how long it will take. Don’t think this means you have to dump all of Scripture on someone every time you talk. Or if you had 20 minutes talking to an unbeliever, you should said “the whole counsel of God.” That’s not the point, here. The point is that evangelism and discipleship hasn’t been done if the whole Word of God hasn’t declared. Naturally, that should take a period of time. It’s a process. If you’ve only got 10 minutes with someone, then say what you can in 10 minutes. And pick up where you left off the next time you see that person. If, by God’s providence, you never see them again, that’s not your fault.
  2. An Excuse. Now, having said that, do not use that as an excuse to not teach the whole counsel of God. Yes, making disciples is a process. You simply cannot say everything all at one time. Though that is true, do not use that as an excuse for never declaring the whole plan of God, and for not proclaiming everything that is profitable, in public and from house to house. I heard this excuse recently. The idea was that we slowly instruct and teach, so that these people [unbelievers] learn and eventually obey the Bible. Sound good and right? Yes. But, these people have been here for years, and those who have learned the basics of Christianity are still are not obeying the basic things, and the others haven’t even learned the basics (see Heb. 5:12-14). So, the idea was correct. But I don’t believe that’s actually the intention, because I don’t see any evidence of it. It was just words, without actions. The fact that making disciples is a process can be used to justify laziness, dumbing down, “shrinking back” (contrary to Paul), and not “teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” It must be our intention to obey Christ, like Paul did. And it will be obvious over the long term if we ever did intend to declare the whole counsel of God, or just pretended to.

All that has been said obviously means that whoever is making disciples needs to know the whole breadth of Scripture. Again, ALL. That is why we will survey a lot of doctrine in this class.

Thank God that we have tools to learn the whole counsel of God for ourselves, and in turn to help us in teaching all of Christ’s words to others.

Tools: Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms.

Apostles’ Creed is a summary of the Gospel. Know that, and you know what you need to tell an unbeliever. Of course, you don’t leave them at that level, but it is a good starting point.

Voddie Baucham, on Confessions:

Christians have always been creedal/ confessional people. And these creeds and confessions have always served at least three purposes. First, confessions of faith serve to unite believers with their historical roots. This has been important since the time of the New Testament, when Paul wrote, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2: 2). Paul also admonished Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1: 13– 14). And again, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (2 Tim. 3: 14).

The urgency of passing on this “pattern of sound teaching” did not end with the apostles or the New Testament church. This is the obligation of every Christian generation, and our confessions are an expression of our acceptance of that reality. I find it both ironic and disturbing that Christians want to (1) forsake confessionalism and (2) make disciples. The result of this is a kind of remaking Christianity over and over again. It’s a bit like having a commitment to training doctors without relying on what we’ve learned through years of practicing medicine. Certainly we must not be slaves to tradition. However, it is equally wrong to ignore tradition altogether. It’s one thing to try to improve on Gray’s Anatomy; but trying to write an anatomy textbook without relying on or referring to this influential work would be ridiculous.

Second, confessions served to clarify the distinct beliefs of various groups of Christians. For example, in the foreword to the Second London Baptist Confession, the authors wrote, “For the information, and satisfaction of those, that did not thoroughly understand what our principles were, or had entertained prejudices against our Profession.” Did you catch that? There were people who, for whatever reason, misunderstood what seventeenth-century Baptists believed, and the confession was designed, at least in part, to confront and correct those misconceptions. In other words, the confession was an apologetic!

Third, confessions serve as a standard and starting point for disciple making. As a father to nine children, I confess that the idea of bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6: 4) is overwhelming. The same is true for me as a pastor. I can’t imagine having to figure out where to start and what to teach.

Again, the foreword to the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession is helpful:

And verily there is one spring and cause of the decay of Religion in our day, which we cannot but touch upon, and earnestly urge a redress of; and that is the neglect of the worship of God in Families, by those to whom the charge and conduct of them is committed. May not the gross ignorance, and instability of many; with the profaneness of others, be justly charged upon their Parents and Masters; who have not trained them up in the way wherein they ought to walk when they were young? but have neglected those frequent and solemn commands which the Lord hath laid upon them so to catechize, and instruct them, that their tender years might be seasoned with the knowledge of the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures.

Note that this is the foreword to a thirty-two-chapter minisystematic theology! The idea here is clear: We ought to use our confessions in the discipleship of our children as well as recent converts. This is a hallmark of the Reformed tradition, and we would do well to revive it.

—Baucham Jr., Voddie. Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word (Kindle Locations 1437-1464). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Appropriately, we will be using Confessions and Catechisms in this class! This will serve several purposes at once:

  1. You will be instructed by them. Surprise! You’re being discipled in “Evangelism & Discipleship” class. You will learn the doctrines that are foundational to evangelism and discipleship.
  2. You will learn the content of evangelism and discipleship, the subject matter that you need to communicate to unbelievers and believers.
  3. As an example. From experiencing this class, you will have learned how the Confessions and Catechisms can be used, and so you can use them yourself as tools for evangelism and discipleship. You have had it done to you, so now you know how to do it for others. Even if all you did was copy this class and use it, you would be doing well.

The Rest of the Class:

From now on, the class will be divided into two. We will finally be getting into Evangelism & Discipleship.

We’ll cover Evangelism, the doctrine and practice, then Discipleship, the doctrine and practice.

Now, I split the doctrine in two for pedagogical reasons. Even though, as I argued earlier, the content for both evangelism and discipleship is the whole Bible, for teaching purposes will divide it. We’ll survey the doctrine that’s more directly relevant to evangelism before talking about evangelistic methodology. Then we’ll cover the doctrine more directly relevant to discipleship, before covering discipleship in practice. Rather than cover all the doctrine, then forget half of it before getting to discipleship, will have it fresh in mind.

Some doctrine is more immediately relevant to evangelism: God’s decrees, sin, regeneration, justification and adoption, repentance and faith, Jesus and his offices as mediator.

Other doctrines are more immediately relevant to discipleship: sanctification, the church, sacraments and church discipline.

Unbelievers need to be instructed in all those biblical teachings. So do Christian disciples. But purely for teaching reasons, because I know how our memories are, we’ll divide them between evangelism and discipleship.

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Ordinary Disciple-Making

The Command: Make Disciples

If we are going to study evangelism and discipleship, then we need to be sure it’s actually an obligation. Why study it, if it’s not something required of us? Making disciples is in fact a command.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

The entire “evangelism & discipleship” course is comprehended in this text.

Notice exactly what is contained in the Great Commission. Jesus doesn’t just tell us a goal. He doesn’t just say “make disciples” and nothing else; he doesn’t give us the goal, and then leave us to decide how to achieve that goal. No. He actually tells us how. So if you want disciple-making according to Jesus, here it is. He says “make disciples.” That’s the goal. And he tells the disciples how to achieve that goal.

  • Goal: make disciples
  • How to achieve it: 1. Baptize 2. Teach everything.

How do you make disciples? Baptizing and teaching everything. That’s it! It’s doesn’t get simpler than that. And we see exactly this in the book of Acts. We see the inspired, inerrant, authoritative record of how the Apostles understood the Great Commission and their obedience to it. And it’s what Jesus said: Word and Sacrament. We see disciple-making in more detail in Acts 2:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:41-42

Peter preached the Word, and baptism followed faith and repentance. Then, they devoted themselves to more of the Word, and the other sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. This is obedience to the Great Commission.

Again, not complicated. The picture is simple. Making disciples may be hard work, but it’s not hard to understand. If disciplemaking is complicated, then it’s because we have made it that way. That’s not by Christ’s design.

What does disciple-making look like? What does obedience to the Great Commission look like? It looks like what the Apostle’s did in the book of Acts. It’s ordinary “means of grace” ministry.

To quickly apply this: if our method of making disciples doesn’t look like that [Acts 2:41-42], then we’re doing it wrong.

Hence, our Westminster Shorter Catechism asks:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.  (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 2:41-42)

Notice the proof texts! The texts we have studied. The Catechism has simply formulated what the Scripture says. This is what making disciples looks like in Scripture. It’s what Jesus commanded, it’s what the Apostles carried out.

You see, God in his Word has not just given us a mission: make disciples. He has also given us the means of making disciples; the instruments to carry out the mission. We don’t need, nor are we at liberty to, invent our own means for making disciples. As if God has left us unequipped to accomplish the mission. We are not at liberty to ignore his means in favor of “new measures.” As if we are wiser than God. “Thanks, Lord Jesus, but we have a better way.” The Lord Jesus has not just given us optional tools, but he has ordained, commanded that we use these outward and ordinary means.

*Side note: this should be really encouraging to you who are studying evangelism and discipleship. If Scripture actually prescribes something, then we are actually limited in what we need to study. The subject has been simplified, for us.

The Lord Jesus has ordained the means to make disciples. And these means are consistent with the theology of Scripture. That should make sense: God will not contradict who he is and what he has said. And so, as we look at and discuss methods of evangelism and discipleship, we must remember that they must never contradict the doctrine and practice of Scripture. That’s why our Standards formulate both doctrine and practice (such as the Shorter Catechism, above). Theology must drive methodology.

God has ordained the means of making disciples. There is a divinely established relationship between the salvation of sinners and the outward means. They are not identical (that’s Rome), but they are distinct. Meaning, God is not dependent on the means. Case in point: the thief on the cross was saved by faith, apart from baptism. They are the ordinary means, but not necessary (i.e. God is not bound by them, grace is not attached to them).

However, if you think the inward grace and the outward means are separate (like most evangelicals), obviously that will result in a different methodology. Evangelicalism has effectively replaced the ordinary means with other rituals.

[A] lack of belief in the divine nature of the Church, the ordinary means of grace, and the pastoral office, lead to the belief that these things could be safely abandoned or ignored when they don’t seem to be working. This led Finney to seek better methods in the form of specially designed meetings and methods that, in Finney’s estimation, were more effective in producing converts and advancing the Gospel. Special revival meetings and other novelties were continually needed to advance the Gospel. Because the Church has so little life and power, and no divine mandate for her traditional methods, new excitements must therefore be continually sought.

—Dahlfred, Karl . Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin (p. 109).  . Kindle Edition.

We’ll look briefly at one of these ordinary and outward means: the Word. This is the primary ordinance, which defines the others.

Again, from our Shorter Catechism:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.  (Neh 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Rom 10:14-17; 2 Tim 3:15-17)

Just like Jesus said: teach the Word. And just as the Apostles did: the Word was preached and 3,000 were convinced and converted, then they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.

What does the catechism mean by “effectual to salvation”? Effectual means it actually gives the effect, it actually achieves the result for which it’s designed: salvation. The instrument will actually work. How then, do the instruments work? How are the outward and ordinary means made effective? The Holy Spirit makes them work. See, they don’t work on their own (as Rome says). Neither does grace ordinarily come apart from them (evangelicalism). The effect comes from the work of the Spirit of God.

It’s God the Holy Spirit that makes the Word work. Without him, there will be no effect, no salvation. The Holy Spirit works by and with the Word, as our Confession says. Notice, that especially the preaching of the Word is made an effectual means of salvation. Preaching has priority over reading. Preaching happens in church, on the Lord’s Day. The vast majority of the emphasis is placed on preaching, in the New Testament. Also, it’s simply a historical fact that the public preaching of the Word has always been a part of the Christian life, while personal Bible reading has not. What percentage of believers throughout history have even possessed a personal copy of God’s Word? When was the printing press invented?

To quickly apply this: an method of discipleship that puts all the emphasis on personal Bible reading and study is not only out of touch with the Westminster Standards (following Scripture), but with church history as well.

The Holy Spirit makes the Word effective in convincing, persuading, changing the minds of the sinner. Of converting them, turning them away from sin and towards Christ. After they have been “evangelized,” the Word is continually made effective to build them up in holiness, sanctifying them. That’s the rest of the Christian life (discipleship). The Holy Spirit makes the Word of God effective as the primary means of making disciples.

That’s just a taste, as we will go more in depth later on.

Another Reformed Creed says the same thing:

In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).

Canons of Dort 1.3

If you want God-given results, you must use the God-given means. As G.I. Williamson says, “What we need, then, is not only to seek eternal life, but to seek it in the right way.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism: For Study Classes, Kindle Location 3184). As I told my high school students: seek God’s grace in God’s way.

And now to you: seek the salvation of sinners, but seek it in the right way. Offer God’s grace to sinners in God’s way. Make disciples of Jesus, and do it Jesus’ way.

As Francis Schaeffer famously said: “we must do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.”

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God’s Glory and Cultural Idols: Estate

I ran across something very relevant to our context, while finishing The Lord’s Prayer, which is the 3rd and final volume of Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

In his sermon on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6: 11), Watson first draws our attention to the order of the prayer. God’s glory comes first, before our concerns.

God’s glory is more worth than heaven, more worth than the salvation of all men’s souls. It is better that kingdoms be demolished, better men and angels be annihilated—than God lose any part of his glory! We are to prefer God’s glory before our nearest concerns. But before we prefer God’s glory to our private concerns—we must be born again. The natural man seeks his own personal interest before God’s glory.

—loc. 4278

Now, here comes the gold. As application, or “use”, of this order of the prayer, Thomas Watson says we should test ourselves: “Do we prefer God’s glory before our private concerns?” He then nails three things that I recognize as cultural idols (The Lord’s Prayer, loc. 4290). The first is reputation, the second is relations, now the third:

Estate

(3) We must prefer God’s glory before ESTATE. Gold is but shining dust. God’s glory must weigh heavier. If it comes to this—I cannot keep my place of profit, but God’s glory will be eclipsed—I must rather suffer in my estate than God’s glory should suffer. Heb 10:34.

We don’t really use the word “estate” so much. Watson is referring to wealth, profit, and not merely property. He says that a competitor for our devotion is wealth, what we can amass in this life. Is profit bad? Is wealth sinful? No, not at all. So what’s the problem? If our estate ever begins to threaten the glory of God, then that’s a problem. If God’s glory should ever suffer due to our wealth, then we are not seeking the glory of God above all things. And if God’s glory will be eclipsed due to our place of profit, we should be willing to suffer our estate for the glory of God.

Estate is a huge cultural idol. People devote their whole lives to material prosperity. That’s the end-all of life. Life-goal: estate. Isn’t it the chief end of everything else? Think about the motivation for why we prioritize so many other things in life. Why are parents told to raise kids right? So that they can succeed in life. What do we all tell students, especially in the West, is the reason to do well in school? So you can go to college. Why college? So you can get a job. Why the job? So you can make money and have a successful, comfortable life. So that eventually you can retire, and rest in your estate. All the other priorities in life are mere stepping stones to the ultimate thing: estate. Estate is the goal of life, it seems.

This cultural idol of estate has even infiltrated the church. It’s even preached from the pulpit. I have lost count of how many “sermons” I have heard on performing well in school, working hard in life, and making money. There’s no discernible difference from what the culture is saying, except for the bouncing off of Bible verses (typically ripped out of context). Congregations, children, their parents, and the elderly, all are being directed to that shining dust more than to the glory of God. At least in what’s being talked about, estate is weighing much heavier in the church.

Watson’s warning is as relevant now as it ever was. Christians have a question to ask themselves: when it comes down to a choice between financial profit or the glory of God, which will you choose? Will we prefer our profit, even though God’s glory will be compromised? It’s easy to say, “God’s glory, of course.” Well, let’s look at a specific example, to see if we have already eclipsed God’s glory.

The most obvious scenario would be remembering the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). This is the clear case example, where it comes down to estate or God’s glory. God himself has set aside a time, one whole day out of seven, for us to devote ourselves to worship. Part of that is, of course, gathering together as a church for corporate worship. The rest of the time is to be occupied with private and family worship.

And what did God say about this one whole day? “You shall do no work.” That’s why Sabbath-keeping is such a good example for what Watson is talking about. What does work produce? Estate. What does God command for Sunday? No work. So that means no attention is to be given to our estate, on that day. Estate takes a backseat. Here, God is telling us explicitly that this time is not for estate, but for something else. Not only in the Lord’s Prayer are our concerns put in their proper place, but even in God’s law our labor is limited. The pursuit of estate should not consume all the time we have. Note that the 4th Commandment actually contains the command to work for six days. Again, working and earning profit is not wrong! Not working would be wrong. But just as sinful as laziness is devotion to estate alone. The seventh day has been dedicated to the Lord God, and on it we shall do no work (the word “Sabbath” means to cease). Meaning, we cease pursuing estate and focus on worshiping God. That’s why it’s the day of holy rest. Not mere inactivity, just resting from work, but a different kind of activity: worship. Not activity for estate.

Here’s the big question: how many of us, who claim to be Christians, continue to chase estate on the Lord’s Day, when we don’t have to (meaning they are not works of necessity)? How many chase profit on that day of holy rest?

To desecrate the Sabbath, to proceed about our profit and estate on the day that he has set apart for worship and rest, is to rob God of the glory that is due him. That’s a concrete example of keeping my place of profit and eclipsing God’s glory.

Will you eclipse God’s glory and carry on your personal business on the Lord’s Day? We’ll you proceed to make a profit, to build your estate, and let God’s glory suffer? On the Christian Sabbath, Sunday, God has commanded that we glorify him through worship, the whole day. But we would rather God’s glory suffer, than suffering in our estate. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. That’s a true test of whether you prefer God’s glory above your nearest concerns, especially estate.

Preferring God’s Glory

So what would it look like to prefer God’s glory before estate? If God’s glory weighed heavier, what would we do? Examples could be multiplied. Let’s stick with keeping the Christian Sabbath holy.

Simply, it would mean not working. Not pursuing your profit on God’s holy day. Remember, he gives us six whole days for our estate. Six days. That’s for our estate. Six whole days for our normal business. But, how many days does God take for himself? One. It’s not even close to unfair. As if estate really suffers by working six days instead of seven.

Let’s get more specific. It means not making that sale, Sunday afternoon. It means not attending that work event, on Sunday. It means not scheduling your business trip, traveling for work, on Sunday. It means not taking that business call, right after church, when you haven’t even left the building yet. It certainly means not engaging in business with people at church! It also means, if you are an employer or have hired people to do a job, not having them work on Sunday. Finally, it means not even making business plans for the following week. It doesn’t just mean not actually making profit on the Christian Sabbath, it means not even talking or thinking about estate, either. That’s a tall order.

Perhaps our estate will be less than otherwise. Yet, we should rather suffer estate than God’s glory should suffer. Indeed, which is in reality more valuable? Our money, property, material prosperity? Or is it the glory of God? God’s glory is worth more than all of creation. But, our lives will indeed show which we consider to be more valuable. As Watson said, “Gold is but shining dust. God’s glory must weigh heavier.” Interestingly, the word “glory” is related to “heavy.”

If it ever comes down to taking a financial hit or compromising God’s glory, we should take the hit. There are many possible situations where that could happen. There’s that little saying, “honesty is the best policy.” No, not in this fallen world it’s not, especially if you want to get ahead in life. Estate will be less than it could be, if we did business the way the world does. But that wouldn’t give God glory, would it?

We should earnestly pray the Lord’s Prayer, being mindful of the order. May we all prefer God’s glory before estate.

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Worship is Participatory

I’ve noticed something interesting: people don’t seem to know how to “do church.” What I mean is, in Sunday morning worship service, they don’t know how to act, behave, what attitude they are to come to church with. They aren’t engaged, they are not active. Rather, I should say, they are active in all the wrong ways.

All the kids literally run around the church and talk loudly. And this continues without correction. No, they are not just “being kids.” You know how I know? Because their parents are just as distracted and just as loud in their personal conversations during all parts of the service. And the older children are playing games on their cellphones, with the volume up!

In short, hardly anyone actively participates in the public worship of God. It’s been going on for years.

How do you go that long without correction, without teaching, without training? This is, in fact, a violation of the 4th Commandment, which implicitly forbids “all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing” of the duty of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day (WLC Q/A 119).

I wonder if Roman Catholicism is the reason. In Roman Catholic worship, participation isn’t necessary, or even considered. It’s the performance of the priest that matters, regardless of the people’s lack of involvement. The priest worships, the choir sings. The people just have to physically be in the vicinity. A common sight are people gathered in the parking lot, not even mentally present in what’s going on. But they’re there! So check that off. “Check out (mentally), check off (the duty).”

Perhaps no one knows how to behave in church because they brought their Roman Catholic theology with them? Regardless if that’s the direct cause or not, we certainly need Reformation theology to be taught. Then we can lead people into Reformed worship, which is congregational and entirely participatory.

The Reformation and Participatory Worship

Contrary to Rome, the congregation must be active in the public worship of God. Attending worship is far from a passive attendance. Here’s a very brief view of the transition in worship participation because of the theology of the Protestant Reformers. The following quotes are from Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship.

In Roman Catholic worship,

Singers were those involved in church vocation (including cantors) who sang from the “choir,” a space between the congregation and the altar that was often separated from the laypeople by a screen. The congregation did not sing the Introit or any other portion of the service. (loc. 321)

This “choir”, where singing is done without participation of the whole congregation, has it’s place in the Roman Catholic context. It might sound strange that the people would not sing, but it actually fits if the worship is being done by someone else on the people’s behalf. So if that theology changes, the participation must change with it. Martin Luther made some important changes:

Luther did not want his worship to be interpreted as a propitiatory sacrifice offered to God by a priest on behalf of the people. . .

Luther understood worship as God’s gift to the people. Through the liturgy, God’s people could praise him for grace already completed in Christ’s finished work of salvation. This concept of the liturgy being God’s provision for the people to respond to grace, rather than for the priest to obtain their forgiveness, radically changed the way key worship elements were practiced. . .

Luther wanted the worship service to be a participatory experience, in keeping with his understanding of church being a community of faithful people praising God for his salvation. Two key changes resulted that are not obvious from only observing the order of the worship elements. First, the music was no longer the exclusive domain of those in sacred orders. (loc. 448-457)

So, because of Christ’s sufficient work, and consequently the complete removal of a human priesthood, worship becomes congregational. No longer is worship done on behalf of the people. It’s not a work done in their place, vicariously. All believer’s are priests, having access to the throne of grace. And that is why, for Luther, the congregation now participates in the singing! See, there is a theological reason for congregational song in corporate worship. Likewise, John Calvin made changes:

. . . commitment to the priesthood of believers is evident not only in the language Calvin used to involve the laity, but also in his encouragement of their participation in the worship service. The people sing in Calvin’s liturgy. And, as we will see, Calvin fought for their right to do so. Additionally, the people have special access to the privileges of their faith. Before he faced undesired strictures at Geneva, Calvin stood in front of the pulpit—among the people of Strasbourg—for all of the service prior to the reading and proclamation of the Word. During his ministry in Geneva, Calvin’s famous chair—common in size and style—was not used simply to carry him to the pulpit when he was feeble and old. The chair sat beneath the pulpit—among the people and on their level, as a statement of the preacher’s identification with the congregation prior to his acting as God’s representative in leading worship. (loc. 579)

That note about the chair is significant. The pastor was not a “priest” who was elevated from the people. Since all have equal access to God through the true High Priest, Jesus Christ, all are on equal footing. So, all the people join together in singing every part of the service. And John Calvin sat and stood with the people. Perhaps that is something to consider in our context, where certain special chairs are placed up and behind the pulpit, removed from the congregation. Might that contradict our theology?

The point is, with the change in theology came the necessary change in worship practice. Worship was recognized to be participatory. And this Reformation theology and participatory worship is reflected most clearly in the works of the Westminster Assembly.

The Westminster Assembly and Participatory Worship

The Directory for the Public Worship of God, under the heading “Of the Assembling of the Congregation, and their Behaviour in the Publick Worship of God,” says:

The publick worship being begun, the people are wholly to attend upon it, forbearing to read any thing, except what the minister is then reading or citing; and abstaining much more from all private whisperings, conferences, salutations, or doing reverence to any person present, or coming in; as also from all gazing, sleeping, and other indecent behaviour, which may disturb the minister or people, or hinder themselves or others in the service of God.

If any, through necessity, be hindered from being present at the beginning, they ought not, when they come into the congregation, to betake themselves to their private devotions, but reverently to compose themselves to join with the assembly in that ordinance of God which is then in hand.

During corporate worship, what should the be the focus of the people? The worship. And any who arrive late (another chronic problem) are to enter into the worship currently underway, whatever part it may be. What’s ironic is pastors and other “leaders” are just as guilty of not participating in the ordinances along with the people, until it’s “their turn.” Around here, usually it’s because they are in fact “doing reverence to any person present, or coming in.” They are entertaining some special person who happens to be visiting (and therefore keeping them from participating in worship, also), or waiting for them to arrive.

Clearly, the sole focus during corporate worship is to be the worship of God. No reading anything on your own (if only cell phones and Facebook were a thing back then . . .). It’s astonishing what people will do privately during all parts of the worship service. Forget “whisperings.” Most of the children have conversations at full volume, and are rarely corrected, even by their own parents.

All the people, the minister and the congregation, are to be worshiping God, together. And anything that disturbs or hinders the service of God needs to be corrected and avoided.

Indeed, even the parts of worship that appear passive are actually active. Like listening. Of course, that’s a common misunderstanding: talking is active, listening is passive. That’s simply untrue. Our Westminster Larger Catechism says:

Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the word preached?
A. 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.

Our Confession of Faith concisely expresses it as “conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence” (21.5).

Even for the most seemly inactive part of corporate worship, listening to preaching, we can see that’s it’s actually not. The congregation must be actively participating. It takes effort to be engaged.

The Larger Catechism also addresses the time of receiving the Lord’s Supper:

Q. 174. What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper in the time of the administration of it?
A. It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

The Directory for Worship, under the heading “Of the Singing of Psalms” says:

It is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family.

In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.

That the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a psalm book. . .

Again, participation. The congregation is to sing together, and everyone is to actually understand what they are singing, not merely a mindless recital of words. That requires thinking, and interpreting.

To summarize: worship is participatory. The singing is congregational singing. Even while listening or receiving the sacrament, the whole congregation is to be actively engaged in it. There is no place for performance or vicarious worship. That belongs back in Rome, where it came from. Reformed worship, worship based on the theology of the Protestant Reformation, is participatory.

So if we claim to be Reformed or Presbyterian, and if we subscribe to creeds such as those quoted above, then why is our corporate worship not consistently congregational? Why are so many in attendance actively disengaged, why are distractions abundant, and why do the majority of those in attendance seem to have no problem with it?

A Simple Solution

I know for a fact that we are not doomed to a situation of worship ignorance in the “Presbyterian” church. I know of another local church with a very disciplined congregation. Ironically, it’s about 50 times as large, and so has that much more potential to be unruly and chaotic! But it is not. Distraction is extremely limited. People sing together, people listen together. They are actively engaged in the worship service. They know why they are there. Do you know why they know? It’s quite simple: they were taught. The painful irony is that they aren’t Reformed or Presbyterian. Yet their participatory worship better reflects our theology better than our worship does! How embarrassing. They were simply taught what the purpose for gathering is. They were told how to behave, they were told to be engaged, and to actively listen. They were trained and measures were taken to minimize distraction. It was made explicit what the priority is. Ultimately, whose fault is it if the people don’t know what do to in corporate worship? Yes, you know the answer.

If our theology is not Roman, then neither should our worship practice be. And when we are right smack in the middle of a Roman Catholic country, we might want to point that out. Our worship practice must follow from our theology. Yet, if our worship practice is not that inherited from the Reformation, then perhaps our churches don’t believe what they claim to. Either way, Reformation is needed: a recovery of Reformation theology, and a recovery of acceptable worship.

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Q/A: Worship, Individual and Corporate

Question:

 What is “worship”? And is it different for corporate setting—church and individual, daily living?

Answer:

Excellent question, and so important. In fact, this really makes Reformed/Presbyterianism stand out.

First, let’s define worship. We “worship and glorify [God] accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him” (WLC Q/A 104). And what is the way in which we worship God? Our Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 21, “Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day” says:

1. . . . the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

First things first: the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is what he says is acceptable. So whatever worship is, it’s not our idea. It’s not what pleases us, but what pleases him. No inventions or innovations. Whatever is not prescribed is forbidden. This rule is called the “Regulative Principle of Worship.”

So, since we know that Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) is the rule for worship, how do we worship? The Confession lists the elements of worship:

3. Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue.

4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter: but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death.

5. 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 . . .

What constitutes worship? What are the essential parts of worship? Prayer, the reading, preaching, hearing of the Word, singing of psalms, and the (2) sacraments instituted by Christ. That’s worship. This is what Scripture says is worship, for the church. There’s overlap. Singing to God certainly is a form of prayer. The rest of the elements could even be categorized as the Word: read, preached, heard, sung, and made visible in the sacraments. Either way, these are what make up the ordinary worship of God.

Notice, worship is not reduced to music! In fact, music is at best an implication. Singing is clearly there. Yet, it is commonly assumed that the “music time” before the sermon is “worship.” Not so. What’s even worse is that label “praise and worship.” I was asked recently if a church had “praise and worship.” You’re probably thinking, “what a question!” However, that phrase was used to mean “contemporary” style music and songs. What a reduction! Music is not worship. The above elements are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God. Hence, the appropriate label of “worship service” to the whole of the church’s gathering on the Lord’s Day, with every stage included.

Now, if you would like an exposition of worship, read the Westminster Larger Catechism: for the Regulative Principle of Worship, read Q/A 107-110; Prayer, Q/A 178-196; the Word, Q/A 154-160 Sacraments, Q/A 161-177.

Second, where does worship take place?

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.

God is to be worshiped everywhere! Does that mean everything we do is worship? No. It says everywhere, not everything. Remember, God defines what is worship, and we already covered that. But, isn’t all of life worship? I’ve talked like that. The answer is no, if this is the sense you’re taking the term “worship.” I’ll quickly point out that this was a development in the Protestant Reformation: every vocation glorifies God. The Reformers recognized that Scripture doesn’t distinguish between “sacred” and “secular” as the Church of Rome did. The farmer can glorify God in his vocation just as much as the monk living the “separated life.” All service, in whatever sphere, is service to the Lord. All of life, all we do, we do unto the glory of God. However, a common misunderstanding is that there’s therefore no difference between corporate worship and our common affairs. That simply does not follow. Both glorify God, but they are not the same things. And Reformation theology did not say they were, either.

So, “God is to be worshiped everywhere.” What does “everywhere” mean? Privately, family, and corporately. Now, finally we come to the second part of the original question: is there a difference between individual and corporate worship? The answer is a definite yes. “More solemnly” in public assemblies (with the local church). An important note: individual, or even family worship, cannot substitute for corporate worship. The assembly of the church for worship is “not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken.” When is the time of the public assembly? That’s section 7 and 8 of this chapter in the Confession: Sunday, the Lord’s Day.

Continuing on with the difference between corporate and private worship, there are differences pertaining to the acts of worship themselves. God blesses the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word of God (WLC Q/A 155). That happens in corporate worship, not private (whereas reading occurs in both [hopefully]). Not everyone is allowed to preach the Word, either. The sacraments, baptism and Lord’s Supper, are not private acts but church ordinances, only to be administered by one called to the ministry of Word and sacrament. The church, the corporate body, must be present for the administration of the sacraments. The Lord’s Supper is not to be given “to none who are not then present in the congregation;” likewise, “Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone” (WCF 29.3-4).

So those are some things unique to corporate worship, whereas prayer, the reading and hearing of the Word, and singing of psalms can take place in family or private worship.

All things are done to the glory of God, but that’s not the same as “worship,” as defined by our standards. God has ordained specifically what “worship” is, and it’s clearly not every activity under the sun. God has ordained the acts of worship. Likewise, some of the elements of worship are exclusive to the public assembly (corporate worship).

Understand that, from the Reformed perspective, the center of gravity in the Christian life is with corporate worship. Corporate worship, the public assembly, is the most important thing you do, every week. That’s completely contrary to the typical way of thinking, today. The Western church has whole-sale acclimated to the individualistic atmosphere, so that your life as a Christian centers on your individual acts of piety: personal Bible reading, personal Bible study, personal prayer, “quiet time.” But think historically, for a minute: when was private Bible reading made possible? For the first 1,400 years of the Church, there wasn’t even a printing press. Was God not providing for the spiritual nourishment of his people? Could Christians not worship God in the most significant way? Au contraire. He was, and they could, by the outward and ordinary means: the Word, prayer, and sacraments, in corporate worship.

There is a three-layered answer to the question. First, daily living doesn’t qualify as worship, because God has specifically ordained certain acts to be acceptable worship; they are “holy” or set apart for that purpose (along with the “holy” day set apart for that purpose: Sunday). Secondly, worship can (and must!) take place everywhere: privately, family, and corporately. But, thirdly, there is a distinction between corporate worship and private or family worship. As I used to say: public worship is not the same as your private devotions. Worship is to happen corporately, in family, and personally, but they are not equal.

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Q/A: The Need for Reformation?

Question:

When you say “the need for reformation”, or any other Reformed/Presbyterian person says that, what exactly does that mean?

Answer:

Aahhh “reformation.” What I mean is renovating the church according to the Bible alone. Every dimension of the church would fall under that, obviously, including church government and especially worship. The Protestant Reformation was a reformation of worship, purging it of all the innovations of Rome and returning it to biblical simplicity. And “reformation” means not creating something brand new, but returning the church to what it was from the time of the apostles. The other four solas would be included too: faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, God’s glory alone.

In other words, returning the church to what made Protestantism “Protestant.” The irony is, the majority of “Protestantism” has moved back to Rome in many ways, especially in the doctrine of salvation and practices of worship. So, they’re not actually Protestant by conviction, but by convenience (just like Roman Catholics who are just because their parents are). Having left the doctrine that fueled the Protestant Reformation, they are not really Protestant, just non-Roman Catholic.

So in our context, Scripture quite obviously doesn’t have the final say about anything. That’s a problem at large for all Christians and churches, and they should all reform. But it is especially a problem for people/churches who claim to be Reformed/Presbyterian, because they’re saying one thing but doing another. They have Reformation theology written down and claim to uphold it, but it doesn’t make a difference on the ground. So, it’s a matter of integrity. I can respect a liberal Protestant or Roman Catholic who is honest about what they are. I have trouble respecting someone who says they’re “Reformed/Presbyterian” but acts and talks like a liberal or Roman Catholic.

Take, for example, a certain seminary of a so-called “Presbyterian” denomination, up north. I have been told that when you walk into the seminary, you see engravings of Calvin and the reformers, and you see parts of the Westminster Standards on the wall. But the teaching at the seminary is indistinguishable from the non-Reformed seminary across the street. And that is symbolic of everything we have witnessed about the “Presbyterian” churches down here.

So, “reformation” would mean churches reforming according to the Word of God. What’s added to that for these name-only Presbyterian churches is pointing out that we already have the meaning of “reformation” written down in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and need to align with it, check what we’re doing, and get rid of all the garbage that clearly contradicts what we claim to believe.
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The Double-Edge of Worship & Conscience

Here’s something I read recently that directly applies to our context:

When the elders of the church call the people of God to worship, they are necessarily and unavoidably binding the conscience of worshipers (because Christians are forbidden to forsake the worship of God). This is not a problem if the church is worshiping biblically because the elders of the church are binding consciences according to the Word of God, as they are called to do in the Great Commission. But imagine a worship service that involves something without biblical warrant . . . If a believer finds this practice objectionable, what can he or she do? Either one must not participate (which sinfully breaks a divine command to worship God with the rest of the saints assembled) or one must participate (which sinfully violates one’s conscience).

—D.G. Hart & John Muether, With Reverence and Awe pg. 84-85

Say the church adds something to worship (let’s assume the church has the marks of a true church). They do something that Christ has not commanded in his Word. Well, it’s not acceptable worship.

Here’s the dilemma, the tight spot that this puts the congregation in.

On the one hand, the church (the pastor and/or elders) has bound consciences of the congregation where Scripture has not. They are telling the congregation to worship God this way, when God himself has not said to! They are overstepping their place, which is merely to say what the Bible says (ministerial authority). But they have introduced an innovation, and something manmade is now being forced on the people. With the best and most sincere intentions, no doubt.

So what should the Christian do? Well, since God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men (WCF 20.2), then the Christian should refuse to participate. If your conscience is bound by Scripture, then you can’t contradict or add to Scripture. To participate would be to violate your conscience, and sin against God, by making men lords of the conscience.

But here comes the other side of this dilemma. God’s Word clearly commands that we assemble for corporate worship. We are not at liberty to neglect the public worship of God, with his people, on the Lord’s Day.

So, wouldn’t leaving or not going to corporate worship be sinful? Remember, this is assuming the church is actually a true church, bearing the marks of the true church. They have just innovated with worship, but have not ceased to be a true church. So, to not be there to worship on the Lord’s Day would in fact be wrong.

See the burden that is placed on the people? Either way, it’s like you can’t win. On the one hand, you are going against your conscience by participating in a practice that God has not prescribed. Yet, to not worship with the church would be sin, because God commands that we worship him with the corporate body. Now we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What’s the solution?

The only way in which a church can worship God and protect liberty of conscience is to observe the regulative principle, that is, to worship as God has commanded. Properly observed, it liberates worshipers from the tyranny of churches that impose on their people elements of public worship that have no biblical warrant. When churches engage in unbiblical practices (whether for the sake of tradition or innovation), they usurp the lordship of Christ, and automatically bind in an illegitimate fashion the consciences of believers. The sad and nearly inevitable result is the outbreak of controversy and disharmony in the church.

—Hart & Muether, pg. 85

What a responsibility the elders of the church have, then. This is merely one reason why the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) is so vital: it protects liberty of conscience.

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