Q/A: Worship, Individual and Corporate


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


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.

Share the love

Two Models of Christian Education

In his book Gospel & Wisdom, Graeme Goldsworthy makes a helpful comparison of two Christian education models:

In our twentieth-century western culture we can see at least two models of comprehensive Christian education in day schools. A more traditional model emerged when church and state were much more closely aligned than they are today. The curriculum mirrored the view of reality held by a society which was largely thought of as Christian. With the gradual secularizing of society and the breakdown of Christian values, the educational curriculum of many institutions simply followed the same process of secularization. A school chaplain and weekly religious instruction were all that marked the school out as Christian. The chaplain did his bit according to his convictions to try to inject a bit of Christianity into the pupil’s thinking. Meanwhile, a largely secular staff taught subjects from the same humanist perspectives as those which came to be established in state run schools. The traditional church-linked schools of today frequently exhibit this pattern. Such schools are often Christian in name only and in their being to some degree controlled by denominational synods or assemblies. There is no overall Christian view of reality underpinning their education processes.

A relatively new phenomenon is the independent Christian school often organized on the ‘parent-controlled’ principle. This is a deliberate move by Christians to break the stranglehold on education of a secular humanist state. Two distinct issues are involved. One is the right of Christian parents to control the education of their children. The other is the importance of a distinctly Christian view of reality. Some Christian schools have successfully established a measure of parental control within the limits of a state imposed standard, but find the development of a curriculum which embraces the whole of education within a Christian framework a much more difficult matter. Christian educators are being forced to ask whether being Christian affects in any marked way the approach we should adopt to teaching science, language, the humanities and mathematics. It is recognized that making Bible knowledge a full compulsory subject, teaching creation as an alternative model of origins to evolution, and using the Bible as a reading text, does not necessarily make the curriculum Christian. But what, after all, is a Christian approach to mathematics, or to the study of Japanese or Indonesian? The task is not so much to make these subjects somehow religious in themselves, as to find their relationship to an integrated Christian interpretation of the world and of our place in it. I suggest that the wisdom literature of the Bible has something to teach us here.

—Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy pg. 480-482

When the closeness of church and state that gave rise to model #1 no longer exists, I think that model needs to go.

Goldsworthy’s observation, made in 1987, is still true today: church-linked schools follow this pattern. They willingly go with the flow of society into secularization. Indeed, they are expected to conform. The distinction between “Christian school” and state school blurs to nothing. You wouldn’t know they were Christian apart from the school’s name (possibly) or the church in the nearby vicinity. They do not fight to maintain Christian theology as the basis for education, nor do they intentionally integrate the subjects into a comprehensive Christian perspective. As a result, what they learn in the school proceeds from an antithetical basis to what they learn at church or home, leading to a dichotomized life.

Christians should know better. They should know that requiring a “religion” class where they learn the Bible is not enough. It does not make the education philosophy, the curriculum, or the school Christian. Who is going to ask the all important question: what is the foundation? I actually don’t know if there are any model #2 schools in this country, schools that are independent and controlled by Christian parents. It is in fact the responsibility of Christian parents to educate their children in a fundamentally religious way. However, that requires an understanding of the covenantal basis for education. Considering how covenant (Reformed) theology is doing in this country, that’s doubtful. Apart from that, I’m not sure how Christians could recognize and embrace the God-given right to determine their children’s education, and then ensure a truly Christian education.

Share the love

Condensed Apologetics

Perhaps the most common apologetics question that I see: where do I start? What’s the introductory book or resource to begin learning apologetics?

Here’s a way to get started. That is, if you don’t want to tackle the massive apologetics track.

This is a condensed apologetics track. It’s complete, covering the whole apologetic approach, yet brief. This track is made up of a short book, several articles, and a film. It’s almost everything I used as curriculum to teach apologetics over a semester’s time.

Now, despite somewhat of a resurgence in apologetic interest, there is still quite a bit of anti-apologetics sentiment. If you first need help dealing with that, then read the series on objections to apologetics.


Read Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word by Voddie Baucham. It’s an excellent introduction to presuppositional, or Van Tilian, apologetics. And because it’s recently written, the application to present issues is very clear. If you want an introduction to whet your appetite for the book, watch him.

You’ll read the creeds in the book, but you should also follow his suggestion about confessions and catechisms. Get the creeds, confessions, and catechisms on mobile in the “Christian Creeds and Reformed Confessions” app for iOs and Android.


Secondly, read several articles by Greg Bahnsen. Many of them are included in the book Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, so you’ll pretty much be reading half of that for free (provided by Covenant Media Foundation). The ones I have selected below are related to what Baucham is saying in his book, providing reinforcement.

You could finish Expository Apologetics, then read all the Bahnsen articles after, if you prefer. But I threaded them together for harmony, to be read simultaneously. Here’s the order to read the Bahnsen articles, with the corresponding Expository Apologetics chapters in parentheses:

  1. Ready to Reason” (then read the introduction and chapter 1)
  2. The Heart of the Matter: Knowing and Believing” (then read chapters 2-4)
  3. Answering Objections” and “The Encounter of Jerusalem with Athens” (then read chapters 5-8). Related to chapter 5: “Why Creeds?” You could also read “Gentleness and Respect” and “Action/Attraction Distinction
  4. Tools of Apologetics” and “Apologetics in Practice” (then read chapter 9 and the Appendix)
  5. Then, my articles “What Hath Apologetics to do with Discipleship?” and “Rules of Engagement
  6. Evidential Apologetics: the Right Way“, “The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection“, and “The Problem of Evil” (for further study on the problem of evil, see resources by John Frame).
  7. Lastly, “Presuppositional Reasoning with False Faiths


Finally, as the sweet finish, watch “How to Answer the Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith,” featuring Sye Ten Bruggencate. This will tie everything together. You’ll see what this all looks like on the street. As you watch, try to notice similarities with the reading. Recall the principles that are at work in the background. Also, give attention to the manner demonstrated.

And that’s it! Reading and watching. Do all that, and you’ll have an excellent start to vindicating the Christian worldview.

If you want to continue, check out the massive apologetics track.

Share the love

Top 10 Posts of 2016

Here are the 10 most read posts from last year, with the dates (month/day)

  1. What hath Apologetics to do with Discipleship? (2/6)
  2. The Problem of Evil with John Frame (2/17)
  3. Voddie Baucham Lectures on Apologetics at DTS (1/31)
  4. Objections to Apologetics: It’s not nice. (3/30)
  5. Another Cup of Coffee (1/20)
  6. Skills of Apologetics: Listening (4/30)
  7. Understanding Cornelius Van Til (2/13)
  8. The Bible Tells Me So (9/13)
  9. “Papa Jesus” Debate (12/26)
  10. Man Will Necessarily Have a God (5/13)
Share the love

Should Education be Religious?

Yes or no?

Foundations of Christian Education coverThe Word of God also indicates very explicitly that the education which the parents are in duty bound to provide for their children must be fundamentally religious. If fact, its emphasis is so exclusively on religious training that it almost seems as if it regarded this as the whole of education.

This finds its explanation in the fact that Scripture deals primarily with the religious and moral needs of man, that it regards religion as the most fundamental, the most basic thing in the life of man, and that it would not consider any education as sound and satisfactory that was not permeated with the spirit of religion.

—Louis Berkhof, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 29-30

And as Cornelius Van Til says, there’s no neutrality. Yes, even in education. As Greg Bahnsen told plenty of high school students, referring to the myth of neutrality they would encounter in the academic world: they’re not, and you shouldn’t be. Those who claim to be neutral and that you should be too, they actually are not neutral. And you, Christian, should not be because you claim the name of Christ. We should not attempt neutrality because of what God has said in Scripture.

So for those who answer that education should not be religious, that’s actually impossible. Every human being knows God, being made in God’s image. All people are without excuse, because God has made himself known to them.

Therefore, “secular” or irreligious schools are in fact not truly so. They, and everyone in them, like everyone else, are unavoidably religious.

The question “should education be religious?” is already assuming something: that education can be neutral. That neutrality is a possibility. But it’s not. The claim of Christ is comprehensive, total. To then claim that he can be excluded from anything, even education, is to not be neutral but actually against Christianity.

Religiously neutral education? To rephrase Greg Bahnsen’s line: it’s not, and it shouldn’t be.

The question is not whether education should be religious. The fundamental question is which religion. And at bottom, there are only two choices: belief or unbelief. Christianity, or anti-Christianity.

Share the love

The Bible Tells Me So

All the Andy Stanley stuff (so far) in one place. This is for me as much as anyone else. Instead of tracking down each resources in this conversation each time I want to review, here they are, easy to find. This conversation isn’t over, so as developments continue, I’ll continue to add them to this post.

Why do I care? Why should you?

Because, this shows how foundational your view of Scripture is. And, how your theology will determine your apologetic. The way Christians treat the Scriptures is no joke. It’s a serious thing.

What is the church? What is apologetics? What’s the relationship between the church and the Bible? An unbiblical theology of the nature of God results in a sub-biblical apologetic, then that decays the highest view of Scripture, as James White says. These things go together.

That’s why this discussion, with the excellent criticism, is so important. James White’s evaluation of this issue on the Dividing Line is the main event, here. As James White points out in the 9/19 episode of the Dividing Line, this Andy Stanley thing provides the opportunity to talk about the intersection of so many things. Non-Reformed theology joins with a man-centered apologetic, together with “mere-Christianity.” It all comes together to form the weird things Stanley says on stage.

When someone with a global platform, talking to 32,000 people, says if the Old Testament vanished it wouldn’t undermine Christianity, there must be a response. “Liberal garbage,” says James White (How Theology Determines Apologetics, and So Much More, 2:01:01). I agree.

I think this post is appropriate first, regarding publicly addressing public error. Fittingly, it’s actually in response to flak the author received about critiquing Andy Stanley!

Read: Matthew 18 and the Universal Church

Andy Stanley has positioned himself to the far left in recent days regarding his approach to Scripture and his position on other key Christian doctrines.

—Josh Buice

Now, a bit of background. This issue isn’t coming out of the blue, just now. It’s merely the latest. Read: Andy Stanley’s Problem with the Bible

Finally, “The Dividing Line” with James White. Regarding the interview of Andy Stanley by Russell Moore at a conference and the sermon of Andy Stanley’s that started this whole thing, James White shows both, and critiques them point by point.

Here are the Dividing Line episodes, in order:

Then, James White actually went through with his idea, and preached “Unashamed of Inerrancy” at his church (Part 1, and Part 2).

Continuing with the Dividing Line:

Read this excellent article by David Prince, written the day after:

Andy Stanley’s Statements about the Bible are not Cutting Edge—They’re Old Liberalism

Now, the last episode of the Dividing Line, where James White examines Andy Stanley’s follow up, clarifying sermon. Also, the contrast of Frank Turek’s and James White’s response to the problem of evil is especially helpful.

“Liberal garbage,” says James White. I agree.

Dr. Frank Turek’s wrote an article in response which came out the same day as the last episode of the Diving Line:

Why Andy Stanley is Right About the Foundation of Christianity and How to Defend It

James White’s short comment about that article, on Facebook:


That’s it, for now.

Update! James White reviews Dr. Turek’s article (above) in his first session of “Apologetics in the Sight of God” cruise:

On board the Celebrity Infinity as James R. White teaches the group.

Posted by Rich Pierce on Monday, September 12, 2016


Update: 9/19

“Finally the fuller portion of Russell Moore’s interview with Andy Stanley where Andy reads a letter from a lady who now considers herself to be “a part of” Stanley’s church. The lady is an atheist.”

Update: 9/20

Michael J. Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, joins the conversation!

To put it differently, a person doesn’t have to believe in the truth of the Bible to be saved, but the Bible has to be true for them to be saved.

Read: Is the Bible Foundational to Christianity? Engaging with Andy Stanley

James White put out another episode of the Dividing Line, and actually mentions Michael Kruger’s article: “We’re saying the same things.” The part related to Andy Stanley begins at 22:55, “back to the Russell Moore/Andy Stanley discussion, once again noting fundamental issues of ecclesiology and Scriptural authority lying at the root of the topic.”

Update: 9/22

Update: 9/26

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an essay on this issue:

This is an apologetic disaster and would leave Christians with no authoritative Scripture. Instead, we would be dependent upon historians (among others) to tell us what parts of both testaments we can still believe.

Those parts will inevitably grow fewer and fewer. This is what must happen when the total trustworthiness, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible is subverted.

We are back with Friedrich Schleiermacher, trying to convince the “de-converted” of his day that Christianity can be retained as an intellectually defensible morality and spirituality without its central truth claims and doctrines.

Andy Stanley is no Friedrich Schleiermacher, but the path he charts for the church is a road to abject disaster.

—”For the Bible Tells Me So: Biblical Authority Denied … Again

This essay is also be a reminder of why church history is important. If we are not students of church history, then we’ll be surprised that the church has been down this road before.

Share the love

Connecting Covenant to Education

Foundations of Christian Education coverIf theology drives methodology, and it does, then the particulars of Reformed theology must drive methodology. This is as true in theological method as it is with apologetics.

It must also be true of Christian education. What’s the Reformed foundation for Christian education?

If you are a Christian educator, what foundation do you stand on?

The fact is that in our struggle for Christian schools the doctrine of the covenant was always the great presupposition.

—Louis Berkhof, “Covenant: The Covenant of Grace and its Significance for Christian Education” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 66

Louis Berkhof points out that in the battle between the Modernists (theological Liberals) and the Fundamentalists in his day, serious-minded Christians naturally sided with the Fundamentalists since they believed the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. Yet, there was something to be desired. You see, they were Premillennialists (Dispensationalists). They denied that the covenant made with Abraham extends to us and our children, sealed by baptism. As he eloquently puts it, “Experience has already taught us that those who come under the spell of Premillennialism finally lose their covenant conception and turn to the position of the Baptists” (Ibid.).

Lose that, and you lose the “great presupposition” for Christian schools.

Why should Christian parents provide a Christian education for their children?

. . . the children of Christian parents should be religiously educated in view of the fact they they are covenant children, and that, when they were brought to baptism, their parents promised to provide such an education for them.

—pg. 66

Here’s where Reformed theology must be applied consistently. To flux or waiver on the theology will lead to a faulty method. Remove the foundations, and the building will come tumbling down. Theology must always be the basis for whatever you’re doing. And if you are reformed (adhering to covenant theology), then you should know the covenantal basis for Christian education. If your theology is Reformed, then your education should be Christian.

Sounding very much like Cornelius Van Til, Berkhof emphasizes Reformed theology’s relationship to Christian education. Specifically, the covenant of grace.

In what way does the covenant relation involve the duty to give the children of the covenant a truly Christian education? There are especially three lines of thought that suggest themselves here.

—pg. 76

Berkhof’s three lines of thought are “Adoption and the Honor of God”, “The Promises of the Covenant”, and “The Requirements of the Covenant.”

Regarding adoption:

Can we really suggest in all seriousness that in a world such as we are living in Christian education in the home, in the church, and in the Sunday school is quite adequate? . . . Let us ever be mindful of the fact that the King’s children must have a royal education.

—pg. 77

Regarding covenant children as heirs to the covenant promises:

Many children of God are even today living in spiritual poverty, though they are rich in Christ and heirs of the world, because they have not been taught to see the greatness and splendor of their spiritual heritage. . . . we must employ all the means at our command to unfold before their very eyes the treasures of divine grace of which they are heirs in Christ Jesus.

—pg. 79

Then finally,

God requires of covenant children that they believe in Jesus Christ unto salvation and that they turn from sin to holiness, i.e., follow the highway of sanctification through life. It is a very comprehensive requirement, the nature of which ought to be well understood. Hence the need of Christian education. . . .

The life of the covenant child should ever increasingly become a true inflection of the life of Christ that is born within the heart. Nothing short of the perfect life is its grand ideal.

Now surely it needs no argument that children of whom such great, such spiritual, such heavenly things are required must be educated in the fear of the Lord. Christian education is one of the means which God is pleased to use for working faith in the heart of the child, for calling an incipient faith into action, and for guiding the first faltering steps of faith.

—pg. 80-81

The essay is excellent. It’s important that we be aware or conscious of the fact that theology needs to drive the way we do things. There’s a why before a how. We need to be conscious of what that theological foundation is. Theology must determine our approach to education. And our approach to education must be intentionally aligned with our theology.

If you are in any way involved in Christian education (that pretty much includes every believer), then I hope this read helps.

Covenant – The Covenant of Grace and Its Significance for Christian Education Louis Berkhof

Share the love