We are not yet ready to discuss our order of worship and to consider its various elements step by step. There are other matters pertaining to the idea and meaning of worship ‘that’ come first. It is imperative that before we try to understand what we do in our acts of worship, we realize the nature of worship itself. Without this our study cannot be meaningful. Worship must be scrutinized and carefully examined from its most profound motivation in the heart to its visible expression in the act. Only in the light of these findings will we be able to intelligently explain the things in which we actively participate in the house of God. The WHY of our worship is fully as important as the HOW, and because the former determines the latter, it must be considered first.
We may also state parenthetically here that we are not yet ready to make a comparison of the various orders of worship that are currently in use in our churches. The reason for this is that to date we have received a copy of the order of worship from only three of our churches and therefore have no certain knowledge of the order that is followed in the rest; Until we do we simply cannot offer suggestions or give any directives toward, a possible unified order of worship.
Our present purpose is to discuss religious worship. We speak of religious worship because religion and worship are two closely related things. The one is bound up in the other. We may, distinguish them by pointing out that religion is the broader concept while worship is a single aspect of it. Webster defines religion as: “1. The service and adoration of God’s a god as expressed in forms of worship. 2. One of the systems of faith and worship. 3. The profession or practice of religious beliefs; religious observances collectively; rites. 4. Devotion or fidelity; conscientiousness. 5. An awareness or conviction of the existence of a supreme being, arousing reverence, love, gratitude, the will to obey and serve, and the like; as, man only is capable of religion.” When Webster then defines the term “worship,” the important part of his definition is this: “Worship is the act of paying divine honors to a deity; religious reverence and homage.” Simply stated, worship is an act of religion. It is not an exclusive act. There are also many other acts which are religious but which cannot be characterized as worship. Worship is a very limited and particular religious act and because of its religious character we must discuss religion first.
What is your religion?
Religion is not the same as tradition. It does not consist of something that has been handed down to you through past generations, so that you are today a religious person because your ancestors also were. Neither is it something that is offered to you or even inculcated into you by the church. The church is not a religious depository. It is not true that your affiliation with some church makes you religious. Your environment, education, culture, etc. are not the origin of your religion. If that were the case you could classify all of humanity into two groups: religious and non-religious. This, however, cannot be done, for the fact is that all men are religious.
Calvin in his Institutes, Book I, Chapter 4, says that all men are born with the, “seed of religion.” This, of course, does not mean that Calvin teaches that all men are religious in the true sense of the word, that is, that all men have the ability or inclination to engage in true religion. This is evident when we, consider what Calvin has to say. We quote:
“While experience testifies that the seeds of religion are sown by God in every heart, we scarcely find one man in a hundred who cherishes what he has received, and not one in whom they grow to maturity, much less bear fruit in due season. Some perhaps grow vain in their own superstitions, while others revolt from God: with intentional wickedness; but all degenerate from the true knowledge of him. The fact is, that no genuine piety remains in the world. But, in saying that some fall into superstition through error, I would not insinuate that their ignorance excuses them from guilt; because their blindness is always connected with pride, vanity, and contumacy. Pride and vanity, are discovered, when miserable men, in seeking after God, rise not, as they ought, above their own level, but judge of him according to their carnal stupidity, and leave the proper path of investigation in pursuit of speculations as vain as they are curious. Their conceptions of him are formed, not according to the representations he gives of himself, but by the inventions of their own presumptuous imaginations. This gulf being opened, whatever course they take, they must be rushing forwards to destruction. None of their subsequent attempts for the worship or service of God can be considered as rendered to him; because they worship not him, but a figment of their own brains in his stead. This depravity Paul expressly remarks: ‘Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools’. He had before said, ‘they became vain in their imaginations’. But lest any should exculpate them, he adds that they were deservedly blinded, because, not content within the bounds of sobriety, but arrogating to themselves more than was right, they willfully darkened, and even infatuated themselves with pride, vanity, and perverseness. Whence it follows, that their folly is inexcusable, which originates not only in a vain curiosity, but in false confidence, and an immoderate desire to exceed the limits of human knowledge.”
The point and warning of Calvin here is well put. We need not point the finger at the foolish heathen as they engage in their superstitious religious exercises, bowing to four-footed beasts and creeping things, but rather cast the searching light of God’s Word upon ourselves and our practices to probe an answer to the question that counts: Is my religion true? There is a lot of religion in the world. The world is full of it. We are part of it and we cannot escape it no-matter how we try. But that is not the important thing. Of serious consequence is the answer to the question, “Why do I worship God?” And this question must be followed later with the inquiry, “How do I do that?”
In an article of The Banner of July 1, 1960, Prof. Martin Monsma makes this observation.
“We note that the liberal, modernistic churches base their services on the general aptitude in man’s heart for the worship of God. Now we do not deny that the worship of God is natural to man. But we hold that according to God’s Word the natural, unregenerate man is unable and unwilling to worship God. He is totally depraved, and in his fallen state even hinders the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Man needs to be born of the Spirit if he is to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged’ (I Corinthians 2:14). And although man was created with the aptitude for the worship of God, the, natural man uses this ability and aptitude in the wrong direction, and ultimately he makes himself guilty of self-worship—think of pantheism—, idolatry, and demon worship (Deuteronomy 32:17, I Corinthians 10:20).”
Now our present concern is not with this general religious aptitude or religious consciousness of man. Our liturgical study does not concentrate in this. Our only purpose in pointing it out is to bring out the reality that in this present world it exists along side of the true worship of God by His regenerated children. We must know that all idolatry is not outside of the sphere of the church or even nominal Christendom. It is very near to everyone of us. Its seed is planted in our natural hearts. The masses of mankind cannot be classified as “religious” and “non-religious” but the distinction must be drawn between those that “worship God in Spirit and in truth” and all the rest who indeed worship and engage in religious practices but “their god is their belly and they glory in their shame”.
What then is your religion?
The embodiment of religion is life. In all that we think and are and do, we exercise ourselves religiously. Religion is the spontaneous reaction of man to God whether in the sphere of His creation or more particularly with respect to His revelation in the Word. It is not something that is concealed in church-membership or that is confined to a series of pious activities, traditionally executed within the walls of the church each Lord’s Day. When such limitations are drawn upon the religious acts of man, the net product is an abomination that in God’s sight is more contemptible than the silly practices of the pagans and, according to His Word, He will visit it with a manifold more severe judgment. Our religion is manifest in our “eating and drinking and whatever we do” and only when all these things are done to the “glory of God” is our religion true. (I Cor. 10:31) Building a house, pushing a pencil in the office, turning out various products on an assembly line, buying and selling, all constitute religious activity and when we consider this we will also realize that we cannot gauge the genuiness of our religion by our church affiliation, our creed or our ancestry. Do not misunderstand. I do not say that these things are unimportant and have no bearing. On the contrary, we would point out that our creed is exactly determined by our religion and we will seek affiliation with the church in the world that gives truest expression to our religious conviction. Believers in Christ, who earnestly desire to glorify God in all spheres of life, will seek one another in the true communion of saints and there the church will spring to life with a dynamic witness that can be both heard and seen and that will boldly contradict the testimony of all pseudo-religion. Maybe, as Calvin suggests, it will be but one in a hundred, but that is not the important thing. What counts is that the true religion originates with God, is wrought in man by Him through regeneration, is preserved by grace and empowered by His Spirit so that all the powers of hell and the world are not able to destroy it. It is in no way contingent upon numbers, upon man, or upon institutions. It is God’s gift of grace to that people whom He has sovereignly chosen unto eternal life from before the foundations of this world.
Concerning all of this we plan to write more in our next article but let us conclude now by observing that out of this true religion proceeds worship. It is impossible to have true worship without true religion. Where religion is false and corrupted, worship will be in form and content abominable. We have earlier pointed out that worship is the meeting of God with His people as the instituted church on earth and through the medium of the offices. Now it follows that God, because of His holiness, will not meet with a people to bless them and fellowship with them when they live religiously as the world itself. The apostle Paul warns the church about coming together “unto condemnation.” Worship the Lord we must! And that worship must be “in the beauty of holiness.” Another worship there is not, and this worship must then be characterized by holiness in all our living!