Christian churches worship many different ways. Worship styles usually fall along a scale of what is called low to high church. Basically the scale is a scale of how much ceremony do you have. Charismatics and house churches would be on the low end of the spectrum. Anglicans and Episcopalians are on the high end. Style of worship seems to go mostly by personal preference. Style matters because of the reciprocal relationship between worship and belief. Reciprocal means that two things affect each other. The way we worship and what we believe both affect each other.
I am convinced that all Christian worship styles that do not hold that scripture regulates worship have an ism. That is, they have an authority which they place above the word of God. For charismatics it is emotionalism. For Episcopalians it is traditionalism. For the Charismatic it is the experience that matters, so they must test all things by that standard. For the Anglican tradition wins the day. Episcopal worship has not changed much since Martin Bucer gave them their liturgical structure in the 16th century. These examples show that the authority shapes the form worship takes. The authority for these groups (tradition or emotion) trump scripture. That’s why that add things to worship which we don’t see on the pages of Scripture. What one believes shapes the way one does worship.
Protestant ought to move in a third direction. We must reject the low church / high church spectrum and look to the Bible for our worship. Our worship must be covenantal and Biblical. God’s Word regulates worship because God made covenant with us and instituted worship as he sees fit to administrate that covenant (see Leviticus 10, Matt 15:7-9, and Larger Catechism #s 107-110). If we worship in such a way, who’s to say that we’re wrong? God is in His Word. The only way to worship God Rightly is by his word.
Here, the authority shapes the form our worship takes, but the whole of our theology must come to bear on what we do. Nevertheless, not only does what we believe shape how we worship, but what we do in worship shapes the way we believe.
Let me give one example of this truth. In the early 19th century the church experienced what they called new measures of evangelism. In the context of worship services (later they become revival services) the anxious bench was introduced. The bench was the equivalent of what we now call the altar call.
The problem for Presbyterians was not with calling people to faith, but with calling people to get up from their seats and make a decision. The was wrong was because the action implied Charles Finney’s belief that one could create a situation humanly in which people would mechanistically convert and then be regenerated by the action of conversion. Thoughtful Presbyterians realized quickly that this departed from the Biblical order of salvation (regeneration and then faith, not visa versa). People were making decisions and trusting and resting in those decisions for their salvation, not in Jesus alone!
Over time making-a-decision-theology won the day because the worship services all took on this form. The way we worship shapes the way we believe, and the way we believe informs and shapes our worship. The next few weeks will show how what we believe does shape our worship, and the other way around too.