We believe that the church is God’s New Covenant community called by God to worship him together as his people in the ways taught by Scripture. There are five interconnected principles that shape the Reformed understanding of corporate worship: 1) regulation, 2) understanding, 3) simplicity, 4) participation, and 5) gospel-centrality.
The Regulative Principle of Worship
Reformed Christians believe that our consciences can only be bound by God. No man, pastor or otherwise, has the authority to command us to obey from the heart. This principle of Christian freedom and God’s sovereignty has implications for corporate worship. While individuals may worship God through a variety of means in their everyday lives according to their own conscience, when we gather as the people of God, we are in a unique situation where the whole congregation is compelled to worship God in the ways the pastors lead them. Therefore Reformed Christians believe that the elements of corporate worship must be explicitly prescribed or modeled in the Bible. Scripture regulates how we may worship God as his people corporately.
This principle differs from the approach that we may worship God corporately in any way we choose so long as it is not forbidden by Scripture (sometimes called the “normative” principle). By limiting our corporate worship to that which is prescribed or modeled, Reformed Christians avoid forcing all people in the congregation to worship God according to man’s invented traditions. So Reformed Christians worship corporately through songs, Bible reading, preaching, sacraments, prayer, monetary collections, and taking vows, and they refuse to incorporate things such as drama, dance, visual depictions of Christ, and any other element not laid down in Scripture.
Because Christians know God through his word and grow as they taste the goodness of the Lord, Reformed Christians place a high priority on making sure corporate worship services foster understanding. Corporate worship, Bible translations, prayers, and songs should all be carried out in the language of the people worshipping, and every effort should be made to make the message of the gospel and the teachings of Scripture (through every element of worship) as clear as possible. Reformed Christians do not believe that anyone is served merely by being present in corporate worship or by carrying out certain actions apart from faith or understanding.
Closely related to the principle of understanding, Reformed Christians worship in ways that are simple so as to avoid distracting the congregation from the content of God's word. Instrumentation, architecture, attire, atmosphere, and written material should all serve to focus the congregation in heart and mind upon God’s word and the beauty of the gospel. Corporate worship should not be a huge production that intends to impress, emotionally overwhelm, or stir up excitement. It should be simple and focused on the worship of God through the word.
Because the church is the covenant community of God indwelt by the Spirit, Reformed Christians emphasize the participation of all the saints in worship. Corporate worship should not be a performance by some for others. The voices of the people should rise up together in prayers, confessions, and songs. Even the preaching of the word should be done among the people rather than above and beyond them. Likewise, the celebration of the Lord’s Table should be a true act of communion with God and one another.
Since the word should saturate and shape corporate worship, Reformed Christians believe that the very movement or liturgy of the service should present the gospel in its form. In other words, it is not only the content of the service explicitly taught that communicates and teaches but the flow of a service as well. Even though there are differences, Reformed Christians have a common order of service that follows a general pattern of a call to worship, adoration, confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, collection, instruction, communion, celebration, benediction, and sending. This pattern presents the good news of the gospel in content and form.
Blog Series Conclusion
When we at Trinity Church say that we are a Reformed Church, we mean to say that we are Christians who belong to a robust and comprehensive understanding of Christianity. Many people think of the Five Points of Calvinism or TULIP when they hear the word Reformed. We don’t mean less than that, but we mean much more than that. To be Reformed means that we have a particular understanding from Scripture on how salvation was secured and is applied by the Spirit, on God’s holiness and sovereignty over creation, on the Christ-centered covenantal unity of Scripture, on vocation and culture, on the Law of God, and on the church’s nature, governance, ministry, and worship. Certainly, a lot more could be said in this blog series, and there is no doubt that many people object to the beliefs we have laid out here or even this characterization of Reformed Christianity. But this is broadly what we mean when we say we are a Reformed church.