Guidelines of Worship

The concept the confessional worship creates an unfamiliar category that challenges the better known ideas of contemporary or traditional. Practically speaking, what is called contemporary or traditional can be very subjective depending on time and place. As such, confessional worship offers a corrective which transcends both categories. The following thoughts may begin to help point us towards what that really means:

  • Worship is the work of the Church—all other ministry flows out of right worship.
  • Worship is coming before the throne of God and joining in worship with the Church visible and invisible.
  • Worship instills joy, rest, and peace. It is restorative and preparation for Godly living.
  • Worship is an efficacious tool in the process of sanctification.
  • Worship is an antidote to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
  • There is no substitute for corporate worship in the Christian life.
  • Worship is about what God requires, not what we like or prefer.

Because worship consists of the above elements, our attitude and posture in leading worship should consist of the following:

  • Worship is not performance.
  • The role of leading and facilitating worship is for the purpose of encouraging the congregation in worship, not to worship “at” them.
  • Arrangements and songs should be chosen that are ecclesiastically appropriate—what is appropriate in other venues may not be appropriate for corporate. worship.
  • The criteria for what is ecclesiastically appropriate refers to text, music, the combination text and music, arrangements, and execution.
  • As leaders, we should be growing and stretching in worship even as the congregation is called to grow and stretch in the knowledge of God.
  • Worship should be accessible yet excellent.
  • As musicians, we should be growing in skill and depth—musically and theologically.
  • Craftsmanship is a biblical concept; originality is a humanist concept.
  • How we play and lead should be different than how we play and sing at a recital, coffeehouse, or concert.
  • God is the standard of beauty and excellence—our worship should seek after biblical excellence and objective beauty, goodness, and truth.

God has placed us here in this time and place for a purpose, and our corporate worship should reflect that reality within the context of redemptive history. We are reformational, not revolutionary. We are confessional, not traditional or modern. In order to be truly contemporary, “with the time,” we must understand our place in the lineage of the Church—which necessitates an understanding of what has gone on before. We should appreciate and utilize the wisdom and artistic excellence of the past without worshipping the forms; we should seek to create new work, without divorcing ourselves from our history.

As we relate and communicate to the culture around us, we must use great wisdom to discern that which are “the patterns and customs of this world,” as opposed to those things that are biblically permissible. Instead of falling to the least common denominator, we should be accessible to our culture, yet excellent. Without creating artificial barriers to the Gospel, we should, however, move from the milk of the Gospel to solid food.

As we seek to follow the guidelines above, the distinctive aesthetic of worship calls us to pursue the beauty of Christ and to make Him known. Consider beauty in worship in the following ways:

  • Beauty is an attribute of God and is therefore a theological issue. God is the standard of beauty as well as its source; therefore, there is an objective standard for what is beautiful. Aesthetics is the study of beauty and the ability to apprehend it. From a theological perspective, the Word of God is the rule by which we make aesthetic judgments. God speaks to the role of artists in the description He gives of the artists for the tabernacle: filled with the Spirit, ability, intelligence, knowledge, craftsmanship, and able to teach others. Good art and music should be the product of these types of characteristics.
  • Beauty is best understood in its relationship and balance to goodness and truth—otherwise it can be trite, transient, trendy, temporary, deceptive, insubstantial, or gimmicky. There is a significance and weight to true beauty.

The very fact that something is beautiful is an apologetic of the Gospel and of the realities of truth and goodness. All beauty is God’s beauty. In addition, beauty can be a winsome adornment, and it can be a challenging stumbling block. Beauty can also open the heart to that inexpressible sense of the transcendence of God that causes great desire for the Truth.

Greg Wilbur