How should we decide what does or does not belong in a Christian worship service?

For some Christians, the answer to this question seems painfully obvious: “God gives us freedom to worship him however we want. We should do whatever the Holy Spirit inspires us to do—after all, we don’t want to quench the Spirit!”

But what if someone wanted to worship God by bowing down to an image of him? Okay, so maybe there are some things we shouldn’t do in the name of worship, like sin. But does that mean that as long as we’re not sinning, we can worship God however we want?

Not quite. The Bible indicates that in our corporate worship, Christians should do only those things that God positively requires of us, whether by command or inference. Several lines of biblical evidence support this position:

  • Given: God alone has the right to determine how he is to be worshiped (Lev. 10:1-3; John 4:20-26; 1 Cor. 14). The second commandment forbids not only worshiping something other than the one true God, but worshiping the one true God in a way he has not commanded (Ex. 20:2-6).
  • Given: faith is a believing response to God’s revelation, and whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). Therefore, God will not accept any worship that is not a believing response to his revelation.
  • Given: the New Testament requires Christians to assemble regularly (Heb. 10:25), and Christians must not be required to submit to man-made rules and practices (Col. 2:16-23). Therefore, any church that effectively requires gathering Christians to participate in a practice that God has not positively enjoined is unlawfully binding those Christians’ consciences. In other words, because Christians’ consciences must be kept free from human requirements, no church has the right to corporately worship God in a way he has not warranted.

How then do we decide what does or does not belong in a Christian worship service? We examine the Bible to discover what God has said Christians should do when they gather. Then we do all the things God says to do and nothing more.

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(Some of this material has been adapted from Ligon Duncan’s chapter, “Does God Care How We Worship?”, in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, ed. Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W.H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan, III [Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Co., 2003], pages 20-50)

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