Book Review: Let Us Worship God, by Derek Thomas
Thomas, Derek W.H. Let Us Worship God: Why We Worship the Way We Do. Ligonier Ministries, 2021. 165 pages.
Some of the best melons in the world grow in northern Afghanistan. When our family lived there, we loved to devour those long, yellow capsules of sugary goodness. At one point, I brought a pocketful of melon seeds with us on a trip back to Michigan, curious what might happen if I were to plant them there. The melons that eventually emerged looked different than the ones overseas. The seeds were the same, but the different soil altered the shape and color.
Though Derek Thomas himself doesn’t employ this metaphor in his book Let Us Worship God, the idea may help readers from non-Presbyterian church traditions get a sense for what Thomas says and why.
Thomas, senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, originally intended to teach the lessons from this book to his own local congregation. Explaining why they worship as they do, he aims “to provide theological and scriptural support for the liturgical aspects” of their corporate worship (1-2).
Thomas essentially does three things.
First, he reviews the basic elements of his church’s services—elements with which virtually any evangelical Christian would agree. Those elements are like seeds. He discusses who worships (the local church), when they worship (the Lord’s Day), what to include in worship (the liturgy), how God speaks to the church (the Bible), what the church gives (the offering), how the church speaks to God (the prayers and songs), how the church affirms its core beliefs (the creeds), how the church visualizes the gospel (the sacraments/ordinances), and how the minister closes the service (the benediction).
Second, Thomas shows how those elements are perceived and practiced within his Presbyterian context. That environment, like different soil in which the seeds are planted, to some extent changes the shape of the elements—the fruit—that emerge within it. Here’s where readers with credo-baptistic and congregational convictions will have plenty of opportunities to write comments in the margins.
Third, Thomas emphasizes the crucial importance of the regulative principle. Far from resembling a restaurant menu, whereby local churches are free to pick and choose components of corporate worship as they please, worship “is to be founded on specific directives of Scripture,” so that “nothing ought to be introduced into gathered worship unless there is a specific warrant” for it in the Bible (32). Corporate worship is to be shaped by and filled with God’s Word.
If we zoom in more closely on the Presbyterian context—the soil—in which Thomas serves, of particular note is how he defines the local church. According to Thomas, it is the visible assembly “of all those who profess to be Christians. Paedobaptists include children in this definition” (5). Participation in a local church marked by biblical preaching, the sacraments, and church discipline is not optional for the Christian but part and parcel of being in Christ and a key way God makes us more like Christ. Despite those emphases, Thomas does not address church membership or church discipline in any substantial way.
In a characteristically vigorous Presbyterian style, Thomas argues for the essential equivalence of the Old Testament Sabbath and the New Testament Lord’s Day. He seeks to walk a middle path between legalism and antinomianism. We are to love the Lord’s Day and appreciate all God designs to do in us, among us, and through us as we honor it appropriately.
Thomas roots the act of baptizing in the Great Commission. He writes, “The New Testament does not envisage unbaptized Christians” (107). As to the question of baptism’s proper subjects, Thomas observes that no explicit text of Scripture says infants are to be baptized. He relies more on conceptual than textual argumentation in his endorsement of infant baptism, emphasizing continuity over discontinuity between the old and new covenants. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with common Presbyterian arguments. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, Thomas follows Calvin. The Spirit ministers to us in the Supper while we look backward (at the atoning cross), upward (where Christ is now), forward (until Christ returns), and around (at fellow members). This insight is memorable.
One of the most surprisingly helpful parts of the book is the chapter on the benediction. The benediction is not a prayer, he explains, but a new covenant pronouncement of “God’s sovereign initiative and determination to bring us safely home” (134).
Let Us Worship God is worth the read. You’ll learn about various aspects of corporate worship, which in turn will help you to appreciate the massive common ground enjoyed by paedo-baptists and credo-baptists in the broadly Reformed tradition. Though there may be disagreements, we all have much to learn from a godly, experienced minister like Derek Thomas.