Public Worship

The Importance of Singing the Psalms in Worship

Faith-hope-love (Mark Jones)It should go without saying that the content of the songs that we sing in corporate worship must be biblical. In Colossians 3:16 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)

And so one of the ways that we are to let the “word of Christ dwell in us richly” is not only by “teaching and admonishing one another,” but also by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”!

Is the Word of Christ found in the songs that we sing in worship? It ought to be. (If not, we are doing each other a great disservice.) And surely one of the best ways to ensure that this is the case is to sing the Psalms. Even if you don’t hold to exclusive Psalmody (I personally do not), there is simply no good reason not to include the singing of Psalms whenever possible.

In his book, Faith. Hope. Love., Mark Jones writes,

“How many churches today regularly sing the Psalms, which are the very words of God? Some complain that so much contemporary worship is too emotional. I would argue that, in some sense, it is not emotional enough. By this I mean that much contemporary worship needs to lay aside the superficial feel-good approach in exchange for the range of emotions expressed in the Psalms that characterize the Christian life (e.g., lament, joy, thanksgiving, duress). What better way to express our love for God than to use the words he has inspired through those who have loved him?” (p.192)

Good point. The Psalms reflect a wide range of experience and emotion -the very same range of experience and emotion that we as believers are subject to in this life. The superficial happy-clappy model of worship simply does not do justice to this, and so in some sense leaves us ill-equipped to worship and serve God in all the seasons of life.

Our worship (even among Presbyterians!) ought to be more emotional, not less! And what better way to accomplish that than to incorporate the singing (not to mention the reading, praying, and preaching!) of the Psalms into our corporate worship on the Lord’s day!

 

The Shorter Catechism on the Primacy of Preaching

1710_largeThe Westminster Shorter Catechism concludes with a very helpful section dealing with the outward and ordinary means of grace (Q.88-107). The means of grace are the “ordinances” of Christ, “especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer” (Q.88). That is basically an outline of the contents of the remainder of the catechism. It deals with the Word in Q.89-90; the sacraments in Q.91-97; and prayer in Q.98-107 (which is more or less an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer).

How is the Word of God a means of grace? The Shorter Catechism says the following:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God makes 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.

The Holy Spirit working through the Word of God makes it a means of grace. That is, He makes the Word effectual for “the convincing and converting sinners” (bringing them to faith in Christ at the beginning), and of “building them up in holiness and comfort” (ongoing throughout the Christian life), “through faith” (because the Christian life is by faith from beginning to end – Romans 1:17). So in a lot of ways, that means the Word of God is central in the Christian life.

But notice that the catechism specifies that it is “especially the preaching” of the Word that the Holy Spirit makes effectual unto the salvation of sinners.  Do we have such a high view of the preaching of the Word on the Lord’s day? Do we believe that it is not just one means among many of evangelizing the lost and bringing them to repentance and faith in Christ, but actually the primary means that God uses to do so? Perhaps if we rightly understood the primacy of preaching in evangelism, we might be much more enthusiastic about inviting our friends and neighbors to church.

And what of the Christian life, and sanctification? According to the Catechism (and Scripture, of course – see 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2), the preaching of the Word takes preeminence there as well (or at least it should). Can you live the Christian life and grow in grace the way that you should apart from diligently attending upon the preaching of the Word of God? Simply put – no. Private reading and study of the Scriptures is certainly necessary and helpful, but that is no substitute for the preached Word.

The Westminster Standards on Preaching

Directory_for_Public_WorshipThe Directory for the Publick [sic] Worship of God (circa 1644) is a very helpful (even if much neglected) part of the Westminster Standards. It gives us clear instructions on nearly every aspect of the public worship of God in the church, including such things as how the Scriptures are to be read (and by whom!), the right manner of corporate prayer both before and after the sermon, the proper way to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as many other things.

Not surprisingly, it also contains a brief section outlining the right manner of preaching the word of God. These directions are as helpful as they are simple, and it would no doubt be of great benefit to the church to get back to these basics of biblical preaching.

In the Directory the Westminster divines note that the preacher ought to have three (3) primary concerns in his preaching:

First, the preacher must ensure that the matter be the truth of God. In other words, is what the preacher says truly biblical? Not just the truth, but specifically the truth of God. That is to say that the matter of the sermon must be found in the Word of God. Many things might be true enough in and of themselves, but are not really the subject matter of Scripture. A sermon simply must be true and biblical.

If what is being said in the pulpit is not the truth of God, then it really isn’t a sermon (at least not a Christian one) at all. It may be truly rousing oratory; it may be a very informative lecture; it may even be a fine motivational speech; but it is not a sermon in any meaningful sense of the word.

Second, the preacher must see to it that the truth that he preaches is contained or grounded in the specific text of Scripture that he is preaching. Sometimes preachers preach the right doctrine (see #1 above), but do so from the wrong text. In other words, the matter of the sermon must actually be the matter of the text itself. If not, how will the hearers understand how the preacher arrived at the points or conclusions that he is seeking to impress upon them?

You could say that every time a minister preaches a sermon (if he is doing so according to what the Westminster divines say here), he is not just teaching the flock what the Word of God says, but is also implicitly teaching them how to study the Word of God for themselves! What a blessing and added benefit that would be for any church!

Third, the preacher must primarily emphasize what the text itself primarily emphasizes. In other words, the preacher’s main point(s) ought to be so derived from the main point(s) of the Scripture text, that they are one and the same. And in this way the hearers are to be best edified. The central message of the sermon should be the central message of the text of Scripture. If not, can it really be said that the text itself was properly preached?

May the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of His church, grant that His ministers would preach His Word faithfully. And may they preach according to these simple rules found in the Directory – that their preaching might be biblical, that it might be based upon the text of Scripture itself, and that it might emphasize what the text itself emphasizes.

Sunday and Heaven

Ryle Practical ReligionThe public worship of the church on Sundays, in a sense, is to be something like a preview or foretaste of heaven (even if imperfectly so). After all, in worship we are spending time in communion with our God and with the people of God. What is heaven if not spending eternity in perfect communion with God and with His people in glory?

That being the case, the way we view the public worship of the church in this life reveals something about how we really view the prospect of the life to come in heaven with the Lord. So our attitude toward worship on the Lord’s day can serve as an opportunity for self-examination.  J.C. Ryle writes,

“How could that man be happy in heaven for ever [sic], who finds the Sunday a dully, gloomy, tiresome day, – who knows nothing of hearty prayer and praise, and cares nothing whether he hears truth or error from the pulpit, or scarcely listens to the sermon?” (Practical Religion, p.12)

Do we imagine that we will find eternal happiness in heaven if Sunday (one day among seven) is a drudgery to us? We either enjoy God or we do not. We either love the people of God or we do not. Do you look forward to Sundays? Do you look forward to public worship? Is it in some sense the highlight of your week? To be sure, our worship in this life is far from perfect, and so our enjoyment of it will at times be imperfect as well. But let us search our hearts, and may we ask the Lord to change our hearts and make us more and more fit for heaven.

May we learn to delight in prayer, praise, and the true preaching of the Word of God on Sundays, so that our hearts might be better prepared for eternal happiness in heaven.