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O Come Let Us Worship ("Standard Bearer" Series) (12)

A series in The Standard Bearer on public worship penned by pastor Cory Griess of Calvary PRC in Hull, IA. The series started in Oct. of 2011 and continues.

The Covenantal Assembly (1a)

O Come Let Us Worship (Series on Reformed Public Worship)

Rev. Cory Griess (Calvary IA PRC)

The Standard Bearer, Volume 88, Number 1 (October 1, 2011)

The Covenantal Assembly (1)


O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 95:1-7a


There are few subjects in the church today more controversial than worship. People talk about "worship wars." In the same church you may have services titled "traditional," to appeal to the older crowd, and services entitled "contemporary," to appeal to the younger crowd. This reveals that the driving force in worship is often personal preferences. This is something that can be a danger also for us. 

But the preeminent danger for us in the Protestant Reformed Churches is that we not understand what we are doing in worship and why we are doing it. God does not desire that His people simply go through the motions. We must worship with understanding. We bring God no glory if we do not know what we are doing in worship, and have no desire to engage in it. And we miss out on the edifying experience of worship when we do not understand our worship. 

In that light, I begin a series of articles on the principles of Reformed and Presbyterian worship. I hope to follow that, sometime down the road, with a series applying those principles to a typical Protestant Reformed worship service. The title for the series is "O Come Let Us Worship!" taken from Psalm 95:6. There is, of course, personal worship, and there is family worship; there is the fact that all of life is to be worship; and then there is corporate worship—worship officially per-formed by the congregation. In this series we consider the latter, what God has to say, in the Scriptures, about the publiccorporate worship of His name. 

There are three main principles that will be treated in this series. The first is that public worship is a covenantal assembly meeting with the living God. The second is what is called the dialogical principle of worship. And the third is the regulative principle of worship. 

Let's begin by looking into the principle that public corporate worship is a covenantal assembly. 

Not Just Individuals, But an Assembly

Fundamental to the nature of Reformed and biblical corporate worship is that those who gather for it do so as an assembly. They are not a haphazard collection of individuals who get together in a building. They are an assembly made up of many, but who yet are one. 

They are a lawfully gathered assembly, constituted for the purpose of public worship. The local church is a body overseen by a council and consistory, representing the offices of Christ Himself. She is officially called to assemble together by this governing body, which speaks with the authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ Himself, therefore, establishes this assembly and calls her to come as one body. 

This is why most Reformed and Presbyterian churches have a "call to worship" at the beginning of the worship service. It shows that God Himself is calling and constituting an assembly through the officebearers. This is unique for Sunday worship. There is no call to worship before Bible Study or programs or lectures. The call to worship is God calling His body together into the official assembly of public worship. 

She assembles officially for worship as the body of Jesus Christ. She is a redeemed assembly. Christ has shed His blood for her. Christ has imputed to her His righteousness. And Christ has united her together. She comes therefore as an extension of who He is, just as the body is the extension of the head. Jesus is in heaven, having entered the most holy place not made with hands. There He lives before the face of God and in His human nature brings worship. Here on earth the official worship of the church is an extension of what Christ our head does before God, adoring Him in the heavenly sanctuary. When we come for public worship, we are constituted under Him as a gathering of His body, and He therefore, as our head, leads us into worship. 

The Old Testament emphasized this corporate nature of public worship. In Leviticus 23, where the people were commanded to come together for the great feasts, the phrase is repeated, "you are a holy convocation." That is, you are an assembly of the people made holy in Christ. You are officially and visibly called together as a body. The section of Psalm 95 quoted above leads us to contemplate this corporate nature of worship. Psalm 95 has been recognized as a call for the church to assemble publicly for worship throughout the entire history of the Christian church and, even before the time of Christ, in the ancient Jewish church.¹ Notice, in verses 1 and 2, how it calls us together: "O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker" (italics mine, CJG). 

In the New Testament, Hebrews 10:25 speaks of not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. That is what the worship service is, an official assembling of the body of Christ. The New Testament word for church, ekklesia, also captures this corporate idea. The word means assembly. This corporate consciousness is reflected even in our practice. The salutation is, "beloved congregation of Jesus Christ." It is not, "beloved individuals who happen to be in this building," but "beloved assembled body of which every individual is a part." 

This is important to remember in a culture where the individual and his desires are valued above the collective, and where people will forsake corporate worship because they say they can worship by themselves. We certainly come as individuals, and we bring our own personal worship on Sunday, but we do so as part of a body. This is not something we can do at home by ourselves. It is not something we can do alone with our Bibles. We are called out and called together before God. When I participate in the worship of the church, I do not stand as an individual singing, but I join my voice with the assembly of which I am a member. We come together as one. 

Called Together to Meet With God

The reason why we are officially called together as a body is to meet with our God face to face. It is a covenantal assembly, called together by God to meet with Him in fellowship. The covenant is structured fellowship with God. In corporate worship the church experiences the height of this covenantal life on earth. 

This was true of public corporate worship in the Old Testament. The tabernacle of worship was called the tent of the congregation for this very reason. Exodus 39:32: "Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation finished: and the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they." A better translation for tent of the congregation would be tent of meeting. It was where the congregation met with God. 

The temple worship was this as well. The people gathered in the courts of the temple. And God, dwelling in the Holy of Holies, upon the ark, met with the assembly in the structured fellowship of worship. 

Psalm 95:2 speaks of this covenantal aspect of worship explicitly when it calls, "O come before his presence!" The most literal translation of that would be, "Let us meet His face!" That is what worship is—the assembly meets the face of Jehovah God in a special way. 

In the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, however, there was still a distance between God and His people. Only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies before the face of God, and corporate worship could take place only in the tabernacle or temple. In the New Testament the idea that worship is meeting with God face to face becomes richer. Now there is no earthly high priest, and God will meet directly with us wherever we are assembled. Instead of meeting God in Jerusalem or in the tabernacle, now Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, "wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you." In the worship of the assembly, no matter how small or large the assembly is, we meet our God. As Calvin recognized, "After the covenant of grace has flowed to us...let us know and be fully persuaded that wherever the faithful who worship him purely and in due form according to the appointment of his Word, are assembled together to engage in the solemn acts of religious worship, he is graciously present, and presides in the midst of them."²

The Spirit works this of course. He brings us to God by giving us the desire to come to worship. He brings God to us by driving into our hearts His word that we sing, pray, read, and hear preached. The Spirit works so that we experience that. God really comes to us in the official worship of the church. This meeting with God is the experience of the covenant of grace. We do not come to church simply to talk about the covenant. We come to experience it! God with us! 

Church services are more than just hearing a sermon. The sermon is a part of the service, an essential part. But the service as a whole is, as we will see later, designed to lead us into the presence of the Almighty. Gathered together, we become the tent of meeting, the building where God condescends to meet with us. In the words of the songs that sink into our hearts, take over our thoughts, and drive our affections; in the prayers that recognize we are in His holy presence; in the gospel read and preached by which God releases overtures of love and callings for our lives—in all these, we meet with the Living God. 

If you do not experience this, it is because you do not believe it, or are distracted in the service, or do not take worship seriously enough. When we come to worship, we are seeking the presence of God. And God does condescend to come to us by His Spirit and through faith.

The Covenantal Assembly and the Antithesis

That worship is covenantal implies that it is also the fundamental expression of the antithesis. The antithesis is a God-created spiritual separation from the world and consecration to Jehovah. In public corporate worship, God is creating an antithesis. He calls us out of the world and to Himself. He says, "You are mine. Come out from among them and be ye separate." During the week we are called to live a life different from the world and in communion with God. And we seek to do that. But we are so distracted and filled with thoughts about our work, or about people, or about issues in society, that we are not captivated by Jehovah God. We are in the world, and our souls are pulled toward the things of this life. We feel ourselves tempted. Sometimes we resist temptation, other times not. Sometimes we are all-out enveloped by the world. We see that we were thinking like the world, we were acting like the world. Our minds and souls were influenced. Perhaps we were even considering making decisions that, when we think back on them after worship, were so worldly. But in worship God calls us out. That should be the experience of the service. It is relief; it is an oasis in the desert; it is a break in the battle. 

As God called Israel out of Egypt and to Himself at Sinai, so in every service He calls us out of the world and to Himself. God sends out His call, like a man to his lover, to put everything down and come apart for awhile in covenant love. It is a calling to a place of safety and spiritual security for a time as we meet with our God. It is in worship that we are set before the face of the living God, and we worship Him. It is His majesty, His glory, His gospel, His truth, that we come to adore. We ascribe to Him glory and praise and thanksgiving. It is in the worship service that we are finally set totally apart so that it is all about Him. 

During the week we have personal and family worship of course. This is important, it is lovely, and it must be meaningful and worshipful. But for most of us it is not until we get to the assembly before God's face that we really worship with all our heart and mind fixed upon Him alone. It is there that we really put everything else aside and, with God's people who are gathered there, exalt His name. It is there especially that He increases and we decrease. We say to God there, "It may have looked at times as if I did not love Thee, as if I was not consecrated to Thee. Now I repent of that and here in the public assembly I tell Thee that I love Thee more than this world." At times we have been selfish in the week. But there we can set all of self aside and simply exalt God for who He is. There we express that though the world, the devil, and our own flesh get the better of us at times, in our heart of hearts we adore Him and Him alone. That's worship. Worship is giving one's all to Him. It is humble adoration. The very word "worship" means to bow down. It is honoring Him, praising Him. It is the decrease of self, and the increase of His matchless name in our minds and hearts. And that happens as God meets with us in the covenantal assembly.

¹ Leupold, H. C. Exposition of The Psalms. 8th ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969. 675.

² Calvin, John. Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Vol. 4. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979. 122.


The Covenantal Assembly (1b)

O Come Let Us Worship (Series on Reformed Public Worship)

Rev. Cory Griess

The Standard Bearer, Volume 88, Number 4 (November 15, 2011)

The Covenantal Assembly (2)


O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 95:1-7a


Last time we explained what it means that the official worship services of the church are a meeting of the covenantal assembly before the face of the living God, and proved those points from Scripture. We said that the assembly is not merely a collection of individuals, but an officially constituted expression of the body of Christ. In worship, that congregation comes to experience the covenant of grace in the highest way possible on earth. She comes to meet with God Himself. We also discussed how public corporate worship is the highest expression of the antithesis. The body is called out of the world, and called unto God in worship. This is part of what makes worship so pleasing to Him. Everything else is left behind, and we come to adore His matchless name alone as we meet with Him face to face. 

In this article we discuss what motivates us to come out of the world to meet with this God, and we find some implications from this first principle that apply to Reformed and biblical worship.

The Motivation for Being a Part of the Covenantal Assembly

The motivation for this worship comes from knowing how glorious this God is who comes to meet with us in the covenantal assembly. Psalm 95, which, as we said last time, has always been recognized in the church as a call to worship, also provides the motivation for coming to worship. Psalm 95 presents God as both creator and redeemer, and in the Psalm these two are our motivation for coming to meet with Him in worship. 

First of all in Psalm 95 the motive is knowing God as our creator. Psalm 95:3: "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker." What motivates us personally and collectively to come to meet with God is that this God made us. He has the right to call us to meet with Him since He is the one who has given us existence. But more than that, what a wonderful gift to meet in fellowship with the God who formed us and knows us. 

This creator God is great and awesome, and His majesty draws me irresistibly into His presence. Psalm 95:3-5 carries on the thought, "For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land." This God is able! We don't worship a God we made up. We don't worship a puny God. No other supposed god is His rival. All the earth is His possession. He made it with His hands. Even the vast, remote depths of the oceans and the impenetrable rock of the mountains are not foreign to Him. This God is able to take care of His people. He is able to fulfill the promises He made to His church. 

This draws me to come and celebrate His majesty before Him. I come to His presence to adore Him for being a God who is able to accomplish His will—for being mighty, the ruler over all. I come to fellowship with such a God. He is Himself the motivation for my worship! Therefore in worship I take His attributes upon my lips in prayer and praise. I sing in response to hearing His mighty deeds. I ascribe glory to all that He is and does, for He is God. 

Second, the motivation is that this mighty God who made us is also our shepherd, who cares for us and loves us and redeems us. Psalm 95:6-7: "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand." He is a shepherd who holds His sheep in His hand. He cares for us, is attentive to us, and as verse 1 tells us, He redeems us. Verse 1 calls this Shepherd God the "rock of our salvation." When the psalmist uses that phrase, he has in the back of his mind the people of the Exodus at Rephidim, where God gave them water from the rock to save their life. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that we now drink spiritually from the rock who is Christ. God is a shepherd who has provided Christ to give us life-giving water, to save us from our sins, to shepherd us away from the death of sin and hell. 

The psalmist defines our God to us as the motive for worship. There is no greater motive for being a part of the covenantal assembly than the person and character of the God with whom we meet. We have a Shepherd God who holds us in His hand, who has sent Christ for our salvation. In Christ God guides us and cares for us every step of our lives, so that there is no fear but only rest and peace and hope. 

What confidence this brings to us as sheep! This is why I come to worship, to exalt Him for this! And to be convinced of this again—to regain this identity! For it is in worship that I am assured of this, and experience this. In this world we identify ourselves by various things. We are farmers; we are college students; we are engineers; we are blondes; we are brunettes; etc. But here in the text we are defined at the most fundamental level. In worship we know we are sheep with a Shepherd for a God. Sheep in the hands of a Shepherd God. A shepherd gives what we need: protection, love, peace, and hope. Here, the picture of the covenantal assembly becomes even richer. Not only in this assembly does God meet with us face to face, but in our adoration of His name, He takes us up into His hands and He holds us. He tells us who He is, and tells us who we are. 

"O come let us worship, because this is who God is and this is who you are," says the Psalm. Come meet Him in the covenantal assembly and adore Him, sing and pray, and give yourself over to Him in love!

The Implications of the Covenantal Assembly

That worship is a covenantal assembly where we are scooped up into the hands of our mighty Shepherd God implies at least five other principles about worship. 

First, our worship will be centered on the Word of God. For if we are to meet with God in this way it will be by His Word. It is His Word that brings us to Him. It is His Word that brings Him to us. God's Word is living and active. His Word contains God Himself in Christ. And in that Word we have the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Its truth, its power, its emotion, bring us face to face with God in worship. Thus the service takes up at every point the Word of God. God's Word is sung; God's Word is read; God's Word is proclaimed; God's Word is prayed. God's Word is the focus because in the Word we will have God with us. 

Second, the implication is that the worship service will be simple. The goal of the covenantal assembly is for us to be taken mind and soul by the Word of God and therefore into God's presence. All must shine a spotlight on God in His Word. Anything that distracts from Him must be removed, for distractions take us out of His presence. 

This is what led the Reformers to have a simple order of worship, where the content, not the accoutrements, were the spiritual power. Thus, you will find the same in Reformed worship today. There is a simplicity and sobriety about it. The liturgy is simple. There are not paintings and drawings and statues on the wall. The focus is not on the people and their individual gifts. The spotlight shines upon God with whom we meet. 

Third, when we come to the worship service with such an understanding and believing heart, the worship service will be profoundly experiential. After all, we are meeting with God Himself. This is going to be an experience! What that experience is will be determined by the state of your soul before God. If you come with sin that you will not forsake, the experience will be that you will writhe as Jehovah breathes down your neck. But if you come by grace to let go of sin and hold on to the Lord, the experience will be one of comfort and pure adoration of Jehovah God. 

Fourth, the worship service will be characterized by an attitude of joyful reverence. I put joy and reverence together in the same point because Psalm 95 puts them together. Psalm 95:1-2 calls us to bring a "joyful noise." Psalm 95:6 calls us also to bow down in reverence. In true worship, there will be this combination of joy at the fact that this Mighty Shepherd is our God, and yet a profound reverence in light of the fact that we don't deserve Him. 

We are coming to meet with the God of heaven and earth. Someone once said that if we really had any idea of who it is we meet with in public corporate worship, we would come to church in shoulder pads and helmets, and tie ourselves to the seat. After all, we are coming into the presence of sheer holiness, and we are sinful creatures of the dust. 

Knowing what worship is and knowing the God we worship will affect everything about worship. When a stranger comes into a service he ought to see that we have not come here for a show, but that we are gathered before the Holy God. 

But it will also be joyful. The verbs of verse 1 are more intense than carries over into English. It is more like, "Let us give a ringing cry unto the Lord, and raise joyful shouts!" There ought to be a joy in coming to meet the God who has saved us. How can one not be joyful coming here to celebrate grace and the God who holds us in His hands? There ought to be ringing cries of thanksgiving and praise. If we put no effort to think about the words that we are singing or praying, then there will not be any true joy. But as we are taken up by and given over to, the truths and words we are hearing and singing, there will be a profound joy experienced and manifested to others. 

Fifth, since worship is an assembly called to come and adore God, God is the audience in worship. We come to meet with God face to face, and part of that meeting is God speaking to us. But in prayer and songs of praise, God is the audience, not us. Many view these aspects of worship as though we in the pew are the audience, and the worship team is putting on a show for us. But that misses the point. What is unique about this assembly is that when the songs are being played and sung the audience is not those who are sitting in the pews. God is the audience. Worship is not for me, first of all. I end up being blessed by it in the end, but it is not about me. Worship is for the adoration of our mighty Shepherd God. 


Public corporate worship is the most important thing a Christian does. God loves the covenantal assembly. Individual praise of the glory of His grace is important. The regular praise of the glory of His grace by families at devotions is imperative. Yet, it is the worship of the covenantal assembly that God loves the most. Psalm 87:2 declares, "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob." God loved the dwellings of Jacob where each family worshiped Him in their home. But what He loved more were the gates of Zion, the body gathered before His face. 

And we ought to love those gates of Zion most as well. Is not our experience that of Luther? "At home in my house there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart, and it breaks its way through."1 

May the thought and experience of the covenantal assembly lead us to cry out with David in Psalm 84:1-2, "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." For it is in the covenantal assembly that we meet Him face to face.

1 Martin Luther, cited in Robert Rayburn, O Come Let Us Worship: Corporate Worship in the Evangelical Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 30.


The Dialogical Principle of Worship (2a)

O Come Let Us Worship (Series on Reformed Public Worship)

Rev. Cory Griess, Pastor of Calvary PRC, Hull, IA

The Standard Bearer, Volume 88, Number 8 (January 15, 2012)

The Dialogical Principle of Worship (1)


And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.

Genesis 12:7-8


Recall that in this series of articles we are to cover three great principles of public worship. In the previous two articles we saw that Scripture teaches that public corporate worship is the covenantal assembly gathered before the face of Jehovah God. In this article and the one that follows we see how that covenantal meeting is carried out, namely, as a dialogue between God and His people. God speaks, and His people respond. When we come to meet God face to face in the covenantal assembly, we do not just sit there before God. Rather, God brings us into fellowship in worship, so that there is a back and forth communication between God and His people. 

A Covenantal Principle

This principle, called the dialogical principle, arises out of the nature of the covenant of grace itself. The covenant is a bond of structured fellowship between God and His people, a fellowship where God has bound Himself to His church in sovereign grace and says to them, "I am your God and you are My people." It is a fellowship where God and His own interact with one another, where there is an actual relationship of communion and love. 

We see this covenant relationship in the record of Scripture. All of the Word of God is a history of the covenant. And as such it is the history of a dialogue—God's interaction with His church. This dialogical principle, then, is not only a principle of worship but, more broadly, it is the principle of Christianity generally. Covenant history as recorded in the Word of God is God speaking or acting, and His people responding to Him and His truth verbally and in their lives. Sometimes that response is sin and sometimes it is obedience and worship. Nonetheless, it is a history of covenantal dialogue. 

This is the covenant relationship yet today. There is communication, a dialogue between God and His people. It is impossible to have a relationship of friendship with no communication. There must be a sharing of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Therefore, covenant life is communicating life. It is that for the individual Christian in his day to day existence. The Christian reads God's Word as God's Word to him. Its promises are God speaking to him. Its commands are commands to him. The Christian prays to God in response to His Word. He speaks to God of his cares, his joys, his sorrows. He lives his days as a life of dialogue before the face of God. 

It is no wonder, then, that this becomes the way in which the special meeting of God and His people is carried out. Public worship is a covenantal assembly, and that meeting with God is carried out as the life of the covenant itself is carried out. In this meeting, God tells us we are His beloved. He speaks to us directly of His mighty acts and gracious promises. And as His people assembled we respond to Him in prayer and song and praise. This is a Reformed and biblical worship service. It has God speaking to us and His people responding to Him, so that there is an actual covenant life being lived out in the worship service. 

This dialogue is always initiated by the sovereign God. God is sovereign in all of salvation, and therefore also in the highest experience of our salvation—the dialogue of worship. It is He who calls us to worship and it is He who engages His people in this communion and fellowship. Even in worship our speaking to God is always a response to Him speaking to us. The dialogue is not between two equal parties. God is the God of heaven and earth, majestic and glorious. And we know our place, safely in His arms, yet sinful creatures of the dust before Him. 

A Principle That Speaks to the Uniqueness of Jehovah God

The fact that God calls us into this dialogue and engages us in holy conversation tells us how unique Jehovah is. There is no god like the triune God of heaven and earth. The false gods of false religions are impersonal deities. The only relationship between the false gods and their worshipers is one in which the worshiper attempts to appease the god by his worship. Worship in these religions (just think of Islam) is based upon terror. Worship is offered in order to get something, not simply to celebrate the god and his relationship with his people. The worshiper comes only on the basis of law, never on the basis of gospel. There is never peace, never assurance. There is no covenant, no dialogue, no true communion. How can there be? Part of the way "sin" is dealt with by these gods is by the payment of worship. 

But this God, the only true God, the God of heaven and earth, is a relating God of grace. He is the God who has opened the way for communion by offering His Son upon the cross, so that in Christ His people are spotless before Him and His justice is satisfied. In this way He has opened the way for a different kind of worship than is found in the natural religions of men. We don't have to come to worship to earn something with our God. We come because Christ has earned all already. We come because He loved His people so much that He took away all barriers once and for all, and opened the way for a life of relationship, faith, trust, reverential awe, and dialogue. He is a personal God, a God who communes with the people He loves, and does what it takes to open the way for that communion. 

This unique and true God we experience in the public worship of the church. We come to fellowship with Him and to adore Him and to celebrate that He is the covenant-keeping God. In worship He speaks to us of what He has done and what He is doing. And hearing His law and gospel, we are reminded of His grace, brought back into the security of the gospel, and then respond with adoration and thanksgiving. 

Scriptural Proof for the Dialogical Principle of Worship

We have said that the dialogical principle arises out of the covenant generally. Therefore when we look at worship in covenant history we would expect to find God's people carrying out this dialogue with respect to their worship. And that is in fact what we do find. The record of worship in Scripture is that of God's people responding in praise to God's speaking, or acting on behalf of His people. 

There are many instances of this, but let's look at a few key passages, restricting ourselves to the Old Testament. First, Genesis 8:15ff., which is a record of the first worship of God after the world had been destroyed by the flood. After the waters recede, God tells Noah to exit the ark. Genesis 8:15-16, "And God spake unto Noah, saying, Go forth of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee. Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee." Noah exits the ark thankful for God's mighty act in delivering him and his family. 

Noah then responds in verse 20. "And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar." Noah, with his family around him (which at this point was the church), worships Jehovah God publicly in response to the deliverance He had provided. Then God, receiving Noah's worship, Himself responds (in His heart) in the next verse, Genesis 8:21: "And the Lord smelled a sweet savor; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake." And then He responds to Noah directly in the next few verses by speaking to Noah promises and commands. This whole event is a covenantal meeting in dialogue. God acts to save Noah. Noah responds in worship. God speaks to Noah. 

Another passage that highlights this dialogue in worship is Genesis 12:7-8.¹ In this passage Abram is worshiping God with his family and his 318 servants after God brings him to Canaan. At the beginning of chapter 12 God told Abram to gather his tribe and leave his own country to go to a land God would show him. In verse 7 Abram is in the land of Canaan and there God speaks to him. "And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, 'Unto thy seed will I give this land.'" Abram immediately responds to that promise of God in the next part of verse 7: "And there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him." Here Abram is offering personal worship to God in response to God speaking to him His promises. And then in verse 8 Abram responds by gathering a public worship service. "And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord." That phrase, "called upon the name of the Lord," indicates that Abram this time held a more formal public worship with his family and servants.² Again, therefore, you have God acting and speaking., and His people responding to Him in praise. There is a principle, already in Genesis, that worship is in response to God's acting and speaking. 

Moving forward to the temple worship in Israel, II Chronicles 29:27-28 gives us an example of dialogical worship in the nation of Israel. This passage concerns a time when Israel is a kingdom, and official public corporate worship is a regular part of life. David was the one responsible for setting up the worship services of the church held in the temple, even formulating the order of worship. David, however, was never allowed to build the temple and institute temple worship; that was left to those who followed. In the passage, Hezekiah has restored Davidic temple worship to the nation. In examining the temple worship recorded, we see the dialogical principle in a way that is most instructive for us. For here, God's people are not responding to God speaking directly to them in visions or appearances. Rather, at this time in Israel's history God's people are responding to what God says and does and commands to be performed in His Word, and worship is given in response to that. In this way, Israel's worship is similar to ours today. 

II Chronicles 29:27-28:

And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.

God acted and spoke in the sacrifices He commanded in His Word, and the people began immediately to respond to what God was doing in the sacrifice with praise and worship. There is here an example of institutionalized dialogue, where God's promises are recounted in the sacrifice, and the people respond in worship. This takes place in the actual worship service of the temple. It is an embodiment of the dialogical principle in the order of worship.


The Dialogical Principle of Worship (2b)

O Come Let Us Worship (Series on Reformed Public Worship)

Rev. Cory Griess, Pastor of Calvary PRC, Hull, IA

Standard Bearer, Volume 88, Number 11 (March 1, 2012)

The Dialogical Principle of Worship (2)


Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can shew forth all his praise? Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times. Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; That I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance.

Psalm 106:1-5


In our last article we saw that public worship, which is the covenantal assembly meeting with God, is carried out as a dialogue between God and His people. We rooted this principle theologically in the covenant of grace itself, and then in the very nature of God. We then began to prove this principle from Scripture. In this article I will expound one final Old Testament text that is helpful for understanding this principle, and then in a general way show how the principle applies to a typical Protestant Reformed order of worship. The passage is Psalm 106. 

The Psalmist Teaches the Dialogical Principle of Worship

Psalm 106 and Psalm 105 are closely connected to one another. The two Psalms were written late in Israel's history and represent a reflection back on the faithfulness of God in their history in spite of the sin of His people. The psalmist recounts the history for this purpose: to call God's people to respond to God's mighty acts for His chosen in worship and praise. 

In verse 2 the psalmist looks back and calls to Israel's mind the mighty acts of God all throughout the history of the Old Testament when he says, Psalm 106:2, "Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can shew forth all his praise?" He then lists many of these mighty acts of God and the people's response to them. One of these mighty acts is the deliverance from Egypt recorded in verses 9-11: "He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness. And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left."

How did God's people respond to this deliverance? The psalmist points out that they responded dialogically in praise. Psalm 106:12: "Then believed they his words; they sang his praise." You can read Exodus 15, where on the other side of the Red Sea they wrote a song and held a worship service with two million people singing in response to what God had done: "I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously, the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea." The psalmist is pointing out the dialogical principle in history. 

However, as the psalmist continues to recount the history, things start to go downhill. And the point he is making is that they went downhill, not because God was unfaithful, but because His people forgot His mighty acts and stopped responding to them dialogically with praise. Verse 13 begins, "They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel." The great contrast in the chapter is in how Israel responds to God. After verse 12 the Israelites are found responding in a wrong way. Instead of responding to God's mighty acts with belief and song (12), they responded by lusting (14), envying (15), forgetting (21), despising (24), complaining (25), provoking (29), etc. Therefore the psalmist is compelled to cry out at the end of the Psalm, "Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to [in order to—CG] give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise." In other words, "Save us, O God, in order that we might carry out the dialogical principle again!" 

Do you see what the psalmist is doing in Psalm 106? He is teaching the Israelites the dialogical principle of worship with both a positive and negative example. He records some of God's mighty acts and the people of God responding in praise to those acts. Then he records times when they responded wrongly to His mighty acts, using these instances for a lesson. 

Both Psalm 105 and Psalm 106 end their history of Israel with the command, "Praise the Lord!" That is the nub of the psalmist's teaching here. He is saying, "Look, this is the pattern of how we are to worship. We hear God recount His mighty acts and His promises as He has revealed them in His Word, and then we praise Him in response. And now that I have recorded them in this history, praise Him in response to them as recorded! We failed at so many points in history to carry out the dialogical principle when the acts were actually happening, but now they are recorded for us, and when you hear about them in the Psalms, 'Praise the Lord!' in response." 

It is on the basis of these mighty acts of God now recorded in Scripture that the psalmist calls the people to worship in Psalm 106:1-2: "Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can shew forth all his praise?" Praise the Lord and keep praising in response to His mighty acts, every time you hear them, because that is worship, and because you will never exhaust the praise that is due to Him for them. 

We Follow the Command of the Psalmist in Our Worship

We also come to worship and hear God's mighty acts recorded in Scripture. Often we hear of the same mighty acts that the psalmist recounts in Psalm 105 and Psalm 106, and we are called to respond in the service the same way the Israelites were: "Praise the Lord!" But we have more to respond to than the Old Testament saints did. We have all the mighty acts recorded in the New Testament as well. We hear of His mighty acts in the cross and resurrection and ascension. We hear of His mighty act in sending His Holy Spirit. We hear of mighty acts that are happening right now in our lifetimes, and mighty acts that will be yet in the future. All throughout the service these mighty acts are recounted for us. We hear them in the reading of the law. We hear them especially in the reading and preaching of Scripture. We even hear them in the greeting and benedictions. 

And we must (and how can we help ourselves?) respond to them in praise. These mighty acts are mighty acts for us! They are declared on our behalf. They are declared over us in the service. We are the recipients of the promises that are grounded in those acts. We are motivated then to sing the songs and pray the prayers in the service because of the mighty acts we hear recounted to us in the assembly. 

The Dialogical Principle Embodied in Liturgy

The Reformed saw this dialogical principle in the covenant and more specifically in the worship of covenant history, and they sought to capture that dialogue in their orders of worship. And truly Reformed and Presbyterian churches carry this on today. A typical Protestant Reformed order of worship is governed by this principle. God speaks, and we respond. 

There are two types of elements in the Reformed worship service—those that come from God's side, and those that come from our side. And while there are certainly other ways to order the elements (the order is not inspired by any means), what we have in a typical Protestant Reformed order is for the most part the traditional Reformed order. When, the Lord willing, we go through each element I will expound this more, but for now let's get the overview and see how the whole service is a dialogue between God and us. 

God speaks first, calling us to worship. We respond in prayer and song. God speaks in the greeting. We respond with the votum: "Our help is in the name of Jehovah who made heaven and earth."¹ God pronounces upon us His blessing in the benediction. Then we respond in song. God speaks to us in His law, and we respond in song and prayer. God speaks to us in His Word and its exposition. We respond in prayer and song. God dismisses us with His blessing. We respond in song of praise.

We Know God Dialogues with Us Because He Really Speaks in His Word

It is important to be conscious of the fact that God speaks to us in the service. His mighty acts are recorded in the inspired Word of God. Not only has He performed them in history, but He recounts them to us in the present when He meets with us in the covenantal assembly. It is God Himself in His Word speaking to us in the greeting and benediction, the reading of the law, and the reading and preaching of Scripture, not the minister. It is His voice that speaks to our hearts. And we respond to Him as He speaks His mighty acts and their implications to us personally. Therefore, when we respond to what we hear, we respond not to the minister, not first of all to each other, but to God Himself. 

This is another reason why it is important that the Word of God be taken up in every point. Only if the greeting is God's Word; only if the benediction is a benediction of Scripture; only if the word proclaimed is an exposition of His Word, are we confident that God is truly speaking to us, and we are truly dialoguing with Him. When the Word speaks, God speaks. Then we can be confident that it is not the minister's words, nor a showman trying to manipulate us, but it is God in His word speaking to us. And therefore we respond back to Him.

An Exciting Reality

This dialogical principle ought to make worship appealing to us. We are coming actually to hear Him and respond to Him! We ought to have the desire to come and hear God Himself speak over us His acts and the salvation He has purchased for us. The psalmist certainly had this desire. In Psalm 106:4-5 the psalmist shows that he grasps this dialogical principle not only as a principle that must be carried out, but as a loving condescension of God to him personally in the church. He expresses that it is his personal desire to be in the worship of God's name and to hear God speak to him. This dialogical principle has driven him to a personal, fervent love for the unique fellowship of corporate worship. Psalm 106:4-5: "Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; That I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance." The psalmist desires to hear God speak to him personally in the service, "O visit me with thy salvation!" That is, "Be present in the service with Thy people and speak to us, and we will know Thy salvation." And he desires to respond with worship, "that I may rejoice," and "that I may glory." And he desires to rejoice and glory with the assembly. He adds, "That I may glory with thine inheritance." 

Do you say that as you come to the service? "God, visit me! Speak to me! Tell me I am Your beloved in the greeting. Tell me of Your mighty acts of salvation in the preaching of the Word. And with Thy inheritance I will respond to Thy glory." Let's come to worship in this frame of mind, brothers and sisters in Christ. Our God calls us to dialogue in the worship service. We are coming here before His face to hear Him speak of all His mighty acts, and we are coming to offer our praise and adoration and thanks to Him for all He has done, is doing, and promises to do. If we are aware of this and think about this as we come to the house of the Lord, it will make our worship much more meaningful and beautiful. God will meet with us and we will dialogue with Him in covenant love.


The Regulative Principle of Worship (3a)

O Come Let Us Worship (Series on Reformed Public Worship)

Rev. Cory Griess, pastor of Calvary PRC, Hull, IA

The Standard Bearer, Volume 88, Number 14 (April 15, 2012)

The Regulative Principle of Worship (1)


"And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." Jeremiah 7:31

What doth God require in the second command­ment?

Answer. That we in no wise represent God by im­ages, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in his word.

Heidelberg Catechism, Question 96.



When John Calvin was asked to give his opinion regarding what were the most important issues in the Reformation of the church in the sixteenth century, he said this: “If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity, a knowledge first of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained."1

So important is right worship, that to Calvin it was a more significant issue in the church even than the doctrines of salvation. This is so because salvation is a means to the end of worship. The church exists for worship. The church trains her members and their children so that there is worship. The church does mis­sions so that there might be worship where there was not worship before. Indeed, the chief end of man is to worship.

For this reason we have taken up a series on three great principles regarding the public corporate worship of the church. So far we have seen that public worship is a covenantal assembly gathered to meet with God. We have seen that God carries out that meeting as a dialogue between Himself and His people. Now we see that God is the one who in His sovereignty regu­lates what takes place in that covenantal assembly. He decides what brings Him glory and what will bring us into the experience of the covenant of grace. This is the regulative principle of worship.

The Principle

The regulative principle of worship is the principle that God in His Word tells us how to worship Him. What God commands in worship must be done, and what He does not command in worship is forbidden. This principle arises first of all out of the second com­mandment. In the first commandment God commands us whom to worship—“no other gods but Me” In the second commandment God speaks to us about how to worship Him. Exodus 20:4: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Negatively, the second commandment tells us we are not to worship Him by graven images. Israel was tempted by this. When they made the golden calf, they weren't thinking that the actual calf was their god; rather they were attempting to worship Jehovah as represented by that calf. The issue was the mode and manner of worship. The calf was not a new god; it was a new way to worship Jehovah God.

God says in the second command, “I will not be wor­shiped that way.” The Heidelberg Catechism expands the application of the principle that God speaks to how

He will be worshiped. The Heidelberg says it is not up to the imaginations of men how God will be worshiped, but rather He will be worshiped in no other way than He has commanded in His Word. He is the sovereign God and He determines how He will be worshiped.

We can state that positively as well. “Worship Me,” God is saying in the second commandment. “And worship me, the way I desire to be worshiped.” That’s the regulative principle—worship God in the way He wants; He’s the one being worshiped, after all. It’s for Him. Give Him what He desires. This is the question we are asking when we speak of the regulative principle of worship: what does God want in the worship of His name? When we come for this covenantal dialogue, what exactly does He want to take place? What are the elements of this dialogue that God requires? May we add different elements to the covenantal meeting?

When people deal with these issues concerning wor­ship, they often begin by asking the wrong question. Some begin by asking, “What will be the most appeal­ing to people? What will allow people to showcase their individual talents the best and make them feel most special? What will be the elements that are most like the culture around us? What will be the most fun for us?” Or on the other side of the coin, sometimes the first question people ask is, “What are our favorite songs from childhood? Or what have we always done?” But none of these questions address the essence of it.

The question first of all is, how does God desire to be worshiped? What does His Word say about the public worship of His name? In worship God speaks to us, and we respond in love for Him. He is the audience, not us. Therefore the question is, what does He desire from us? What will please Him? What brings Him more glory?

I’m sure no husbands reading this have done any­thing like this before, but what if it was your wife’s birthday and you came home with a present for her. You were excited for your wife to open it because it’s her birthday and you got her a present. And, of course, your wife begins to crack a smile wondering what it could be, because obviously this must be something great if you’re so excited for her to open it. And then she does open it, and it turns out to be three tickets to a Colorado Rockies baseball game. You are very excited and blurt out, “Isn’t it going to be great?! My brother and I were going to go, and that is why I had two tickets, but we bought another one, and now the three of us can go together.” Then you see the disappointment on your wife’s face. She begins to try kindly to explain to you that she does not like baseball . . . and you should have known that . . . and even if she did, with your brother there it is not really even a romantic night away. And as she patiently explains her twinge of disappointment to you she gets to the crux of the matter, “Dear, you were really thinking more about what you would want, than what I would want when you got this present. And that’s why you were excited about it. It was more for you than it was for me.”

That is, I am afraid, the way God responds to some of the public worship in His church today. God says, “If you took the time to ask the question, what do I want, instead of what do you want, you would have come with something different.” If the erring husband would have spoken with his wife and known her desires, he would have known how to give a gift that was truly for her. So too we must search God’s Word, study Him there, and ask this question: “God, what wouldst Thou desire in the worship of Thy name? God, how do You want your church to respond to the mighty acts and promises You declare to us?” Worship is for God.

A Principle for Freedom in Worship

The word “regulative” sounds frightening and imperi­alistic to people today. Nobody wants to be regulated. We like to exist without regulation. People often look at the regulative principle of worship as hampering free­dom, but that is not the case at all. In fact, it is the other way around. The Belgic Confession makes this point in Article 32. “We reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever.”2

The Confession is saying that the church should not allow human inventions and laws into the worship of the church, because that puts people under the tyranny of man’s opinion. They bind the conscience to some­thing that God has not required. And true freedom is to do the will of God. The regulative principle of worship ensures that we have the freedom to worship God the way He wants, not the particular way a teenage worship leader wants. It saves us from being subject to a worship governed by the opinions of a specific indi­vidual or group of individuals. Without the regulative principle we are all subject to whatever somebody who puts together the worship decides is best. The regula­tive principle saves us from the regulations of someone’s individual opinions, and it places us under the regula­tion of God. It is the only source of true freedom in worship to ask and allow God to answer this question, “God, what dost Thou desire?”

The Regulative principle in the Old Testament

God has not been silent in telling His church that this is a principle of worship. All throughout Scripture, this principle is clear; God commands what is to be done in the worship of His name. In the Old Testament this principle is clear. God tells Moses when he builds the tabernacle for worship that he may not build it and the furniture any way he wants, but rather, Exodus 25:40: “And look that thou make them after their pat­tern, which was shewed thee in the mount” God gave specific instructions about how the tabernacle was to be built and where it was to be placed and how the worship in that tabernacle was to be carried out.

In Deuteronomy 12:29-32 God commands Israel to worship Him according to the way He has commanded. He says to His people in that passage, I know that when you get to Canaan it is going to be a temptation for you to worship the way the pagans around you worship. So, “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God”

In other words, be prepared for your worship to go against the grain of the prevailing culture of the day. For the question in worship is not, “What is everybody else doing with respect to their gods?” Rather, as God states positively in the next verse, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” Not: “If I don't forbid it then consider it wide open.” But: “Do what I command you, and that only. Don’t add or take away from that. That’s the principle you must follow. Do what I desire, and I tell you what I desire in my Word.”

And then the text printed at the top of this article is a striking example of God giving this principle of worship. Jeremiah 7:30-34 records the Old Testament Israelites polluting the public worship of God. The Israelites were following after the pagan worship of the nations around them, even though in the passage just discussed from Deuteronomy, God had told them not to.

Horror of horrors, they were offering their children as sacrifices to God in the Valley of Hinnom, which is on the south side of Jerusalem. They were doing this, many scholars believe, as worship to the pagan gods and also as worship to Jehovah. They thought they could lump Jehovah in with all the other gods and wor­ship Him the same way the pagan gods were worshiped. They thought, if the other gods like this sort of wor­ship, surely Jehovah does too.

That such is what they were thinking is implied when God says in verse 31 that this was not in His heart. Some were saying, “I’m sure Jehovah has this in His heart. If the other gods desire it, Jehovah must as well.” In this way the worship of God was corrupted with this horrible pagan practice. The question, what does everybody else do, and what is in the hearts of the gods of the age, led them all the way actually to offering their children on altars to Jehovah.

But what is so instructive for us here is the way God responds to their worship in Jeremiah 7:31. You would expect God to say, “What are you doing, killing your own children? What are you thinking?” And certainly God does view that practice as horrific in itself and unbelievably pagan and terrible, yet God doesn’t attack the practice. He does not point to the symptom, but to the root issue here. The heart of the matter, God says in verse 31, is you have done in worship that “which I commanded not, neither came it into my heart” In other words, “This would have been prevented if you followed the regulative principle of worship! If you had delved into my Word and asked, ‘What does God command us to do in His Word? For His Word reveals to us what is in His heart regarding the worship of His name,’ then you would not have done this. As horrible as it is that you are offering your children as sacrifices, the root of the matter here is that worship is to be what I command, because what I command comes from my heart. If you were truly interested in what I desired, in what was in my heart, you never would have gone down this path. This is how you got here, you ignored the regulative principle of worship” And we are like the Israelites. Our hearts are idol factories. We ought to have a healthy fear of our idol-making capabilities, and instead turn to God’s heart as recorded in His Word regarding worship.

There are many examples, too, in the Old Testament where this principle is enforced. Nadab and Abihu, who are punished in Leviticus 10 for bringing strange fire that the Lord did not command, provide an exam­ple. Uzzah touching the ark, even when his motive was right, is another example. And there are others. God takes worship seriously and will not allow people called by His name to trifle with His holiness.

Next time we will see this principle in the New Testa­ment, and apply it to public corporate worship.

1 John Calvin, “On the Necessity of Reforming the Church,” Selected Works of John Calvin, ed. by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983), vol. 1, 126.

Three Forms of Unity, 42-43.


The Regulative Principle of Worship (3b)

O Come Let Us Worship (Series on Reformed Public Worship)

Rev. Cory Griess, Pastor of Calvary PRC, Hull, IA

The Standard Bearer, Volume 88, Number 19 (August 2012)

The Regulative Principle of Worship (2)


And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Jeremiah 7:31

What doth God require in the second commandment?
Answer. That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in His Word. - Heidelberg Catechism Question 96.


We have been engaged in a study of three great principles of public worship. The first of those principles is that public worship is a covenantal assembly gathered to meet with God. The second principle is that God car­ries out that covenantal meeting as a dialogue between Himself and His people. And last time we began an exposition of the third principle, that God is the one who determines what happens at this assembly. He has us gathered into His presence, and He is the one who tells us how to interact with Him. He is the sovereign God also of worship. This principle is called the regulative principle of worship. We explained that principle and proved it from the Old Testament, especially from the passage quoted above from Jeremiah 7. Now let’s turn our attention briefly to some New Testament proof for the principle itself and then apply the prin­ciple to public corporate worship.

The Regulative Principle in the New Testament

The regulative principle stands as God moves His people into the New Testament. Though many things about worship change from the Old Testament to the New Testament, this principle stays. Why would this fundamental principle fall away? “What does God desire in worship?” remains the question of worship in the New Testament as well. Only now it is, “God, what dost Thou desire in this New Testament era, where types and shadows have fallen away?”

The principle is specifically re-stated in the New Testa­ment. When the Pharisees were pressing their own desires on the people with respect to their life and worship of God, Jesus responded this way in Mark 7:7: “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the command­ments of men.” The Pharisees’ desires were imposed upon the people as though they were God’s, and God’s desires were brushed aside. This led to vain worship. What is needed is the commandments of God, not men, whether those commandments of men are old or new.

In Colossians 2:23 the apostle Paul calls worship ac­cording to the hearts of men, “will-worship.” There the apostle really teaches us that the issue is not whether or not you will have a regulative principle. Everyone has a regulative principle. The question is, will worship be regulated by the will of man or by the will of God? Will it be man’s will worship, or God’s will worship? That is the question.

The Application of the Regulative Principle (Elements and Circumstances)

God answers this question in the New Testament by saying to us in His Word, “There are specific elements I require in worship, and I require them to be carried out in the worship of my name.” We see God telling us this in the explicit commands regarding worship and in the example of the New Testament church. Through commands and examples in the New Testament, God tells us what the elements of worship are for the New Testament church.

There is a difference between elements and circum­stances. The elements of worship are the actual things we do. They are the what of worship: singing, praying, reading Scripture, etc. The circumstances are what attend those elements. They are the how of worship: tunes of songs, length of prayers, place and time of meeting, etc. They are not the things we do, but how we do them.

In the New Testament God tells us what the ele­ments of worship are. The regulative principle governs only the elements of worship. God leaves the circum­stances to His people’s judgment, governed nonetheless by His church’s understanding of who He is as the Holy and Majestic God.

You see this distinction between elements and cir­cumstances going back to the command given to Moses to build the tabernacle. God gave specific commands for what to build and how to use the tabernacle. But He did not give specific commands for every last detail. He gave Moses dimensions and told him what type of material to use, but did not tell him which trees to cut down, or from where to get his gold. This is the difference between elements and circumstances. God specifically ordained elements, and circumstances are not prescribed. There is no liberty regarding elements. There is some regarding circumstances.


What are these elements of New Testament worship? The worship of the church as recorded in the New Testament Scriptures, and as recorded in history up until the corruptions of Rome, was basically the worship of the Jewish synagogue modified by the truth of the com­ing of Jesus Christ. The elements in this worship were the reading and preaching of Scripture, prayer, singing, and the giving of alms. The New Testament church continued to use these elements in worship, giving us an example of what God desires in our worship in the en­tire New Testament age. We see this in Acts 2:42 where Luke records the worshiping life of the New Testament church: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Praying is an element of worship commanded by God. It is commanded not only in Acts 2:42, but also in I Timothy 2, where the apostle gives Timothy commands for the church. I Timothy 2:1: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, inter­cessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.”

The reading and exposition of Scripture is an ele­ment commanded by God. Acts 2:42 and the various commands to Timothy to preach the Word and to labor in the Word and doctrine prove this (II Tim. 4:2I Tim. 5:17).

Singing was also part of the synagogue and early church worship, and is commanded in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19.

The sacraments as instituted by Christ were added to worship. Acts 2:42 makes that plain when it speaks of “breaking of bread,” a reference to the Lord’s Supper.

Finally, the giving of alms is a commanded element of New Testament worship. We see this in I Corinthians 16:1-2, where the apostle Paul commanded that the Co­rinthian church collect alms for the Jerusalem church, and that it do so specifically on the Lord’s Day.

These are the biblically mandated elements that God desires in New Testament worship of His name. And therefore, they are the ones the Heidelberg Catechism tells us to use in Lord’s Day 38 (explaining the 4th commandment.). There the catechism says that it is my duty on the Lord’s Day to frequent the house of God, “to hear His Word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord [song and prayer¹], and contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian.”


There are also circumstances. As I said, their job is to facilitate the carrying out of the elements. God does not regulate these things specifically in His Word. That’s not to say they are not regulated. They are just not regulated specifically. God does govern the circum­stances of worship, and He does so in two ways. First, the circumstances are governed in a general way by the other principles of worship we already discussed—reverence, simplicity, etc. Second, they are governed by the fact that these circumstances are not elements, and must not become elements in worship.

Tunes of songs are not mandated by the Word of God. There is liberty here. But that does not mean there are not principles that affect what type of tunes ought to be used. The circumstances must be subject to the other principles of worship. Therefore, tunes must be reverent and simple, and they must not take attention away from the Word being sung, which is the power of the element. The tunes must not become a separate element in themselves, they are to be in the background and attend the element.

Musical accompaniment is a circumstance. It facili­tates the element of singing. There is liberty here. But yet this circumstance too is subject to the principles of God’s Word. Musical accompaniment must submit itself to the other principles of worship. It must be reverent, simple, and must not distract from the Word, which is the power. And it must not become an element of worship in itself. Musical accompaniment is there for the carrying out of the element; it is not the thing itself. Entertainment-driven worship often makes the musical accompaniment an element of worship, whether that is the intent or not. It is not there simply to facilitate the singing; it is there to be something wholly on its own. The element itself, where the Word is, is the spiri­tual power of worship. The circumstances are never to point to themselves; they must point to the elements and magnify the elements. As soon as they point to themselves, they are no longer circumstances, but ele­ments. In this way, there is liberty, yet God governs the circumstance of musical accompaniment.

We must apply the principles to the circumstances. We must recognize that there are perhaps other ways of applying these principles that are not exactly the way “we do it.” We must also recognize that there are many ways churches worship that are in direct contradiction to God’s Word and are not the desire of His heart. We must judge wisely and with biblical discernment.

Analyzing Worship

Based on what has gone before, when we analyze worship according to elements and circumstances, I submit we must ask at least these four questions.

First, what elements are in this worship? The ele­ments are commanded by God and may not be added to or taken away from worship. They are the express desire of His heart.

Second, are the circumstances (especially music) becoming elements themselves?

Third, are the elements being carried out in submis­sion to the other principles of worship—with reverence, with simplicity, recognizing the character of the God we are worshiping?

Fourth, is there a distraction from the Word in the elements, or is the Word truly the center and power, not only of the sermon, but of the service in every respect?

There may be other questions, but I believe these four arise naturally out of a biblical discussion of the regulative principle of worship.


Worship is a means by which we reflect God back to Himself. Our understanding of God will therefore shape the way we worship. Theology not only leads to doxology, it shapes doxology. Therefore when we stop asking the question, “God, what dost Thou desire in the public worship of Thy name?” it is generally because we have the deeper spiritual problem of not caring deeply about God Himself and the truths concerning Him. In other words, it is when we have no regard for truth, that we have no regard for God, and worship decays into an expression of our idolatry.

This is the way it was for Israel in Jeremiah’s day. In Jeremiah 7:28 (a number of verses before verse 31, where God appeals to the regulative principle to chas­tise His people), God says that “truth is perished, and is cut off from their mouth.” The Israelites did not care about the Word of God and discovering who God re­ally is. This led them to twist God into something they saw in the pagan gods around them. For this desecra­tion of God’s character, and therefore of the worship of His name, there was the chilling judgment recorded in Jeremiah 7:29: “the Lord hath rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath,” and the calling to “take up a lamentation for a people who had forsaken their God.” This is the reaction of God to false worship also today, and you see this judgment in that God has forsaken many parts of Western Christianity.

But for those who by grace seek to answer the ques­tion, “What is the desire of God’s heart,” in their wor­ship, and to carry out their worship according to His commandment, there is a peace and a true joy. The husband who brings home to the wife he loves a gift she truly enjoys is joyful that he has made her happy. So too those all over this planet who bring worship according to God’s Word have the confidence and the joy of knowing that they have offered worship that He has commanded and that He desired from His heart.

¹ I will argue in a future series, the Lord willing, that reciting the Apostles’ Creed in public worship is part of the biblical element of prayer and therefore is justifiably part of Reformed worship.


Called Into His Presence: The Opening Service (4a)

O Come Let us Worship

Rev. Cory Griess, pastor of Calvary PRC, HUll, IA

The Standard Bearer, Volume 89, Number 4 (November 15, 2012)

Called into His Presence: The Opening Service (1)

"Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 124:8 

"To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 1:7 


    We have studied three great biblical principles of worship so far.  The first is that public worship is a covenantal assembly gathered to meet with the living God.  From that principle we drew other principles:  public worship must be simple, centered on the Word, joyful, and reverent.  The second great principle of public worship is that this covenantal assembly is carried out as a dialogue between God and His people.  God speaks, and we respond in worship and praise.  The corporate worship service is the experience, therefore, of covenantal communion.  The third principle is that this meeting of the people of God with their God in a dialogue of the covenant is regulated by God Himself.  He tells us what elements should be in the worship of His name.  He tells us what the character of worship should be.  Worship must be after His heart.

    From now to the end of the series of articles on worship, we will go through the various aspects of biblical and Reformed worship.  We will focus mainly on the elements of worship as they are seen in Reformed worship generally, but carried out in a typical Protestant Reformed worship service specifically.

    In this article and the next, we cover what has sometimes been called “the opening service.”   It is the part of the worship service that includes the call to worship (if it is understood to be part of worship), the doxology, salutation, votum, and benediction.  This opening service is in a sense introductory.  It is not less important, but introductory.  All of it has God ushering us into His presence and we willingly coming as a body to gather before Him in covenantal love.

The Call to Worship

    The first aspect is the call to worship.  It is debated whether or not the call to worship—and silent prayer following it—are part of the actual worship service of the church.  Some would say that it is not.  I believe that it is.  In Protestant Reformed worship services that have a call to worship, and in the services of other churches that have a call to worship, there is nothing to indicate that it is separate from the actual worship service of the church.  If you asked anyone who was ignorant of the issue, I believe he would think that the service has begun with the call to worship.

    In addition, the concept of a call to worship is a right and biblical one.  In all of salvation God is the sovereign God who calls us to Himself.  It is not we who say first that we will come to Him, but He who first powerfully says, “Come to Me”(Matt. 11:28).  In the garden, after Adam and Eve fell into sin, it was not Adam who sought out God, but God who called out to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Gen. 3:9).  That is, “Come into my presence; appear before me.”  When Israel was led out of bondage in Egypt and unto the base of Mt. Sinai to worship, it was not the Israelites who took the initiative.  God did:  “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15).

    This is true also of the covenantal meeting that takes place between God and His people.

    God calls this meeting.  He irresistibly beckons us to gather before Him in public worship.  And so the Scriptures contain inspired calls to worship such as the verse that makes up the rubric of this series (Psalm 95:6), “O come, let us worship and bow down:  let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” 

    Such a call is necessary.  We must be called by God’s almighty voice to come to worship Him.  We are lost on our own.  Though worship is the chief end of man and man’s highest joy, we are so earthly minded that if not called to it we would not come.  It takes faith to see and love what is happening here in the service, and we are often weak.  Therefore we must be called to faith and called to come to assemble before our God in faith.  The call to worship that draws us into covenantal communion in the service testifies to the truth of all God’s sovereign work to draw us to Himself in the covenant of grace. 

    As God in His Word calls us, His call enlivens our faith to see and know what we are doing here before Him.  The congregation responds first in prayer.  The purpose of this silent prayer is for us personally to set our hearts aright to come into His presence.  Though we pray as individuals, silent prayer also prepares us to come as one body, spiritually united and spiritually prepared to come before God.  We are one body by the union we have with Jesus Christ, and silent prayer prepares us to come as one body conscious of that spiritual union.  We all as individuals set our hearts right to come before God, and by doing that as individuals, we come before God individually prepared all together.  Whatever we include in this prayer, therefore, part of it must be giving of thanks for God’s calling us into His presence, an expression of a need to be in His presence, a willingness to come humbly before Him, and an expression of the desire for Him to unite us together as one body before Him that we might together glorify His name. 

    We respond to His call secondly with praise to His glorious name in the opening doxology.

    Let us not sing those words without thinking, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

    Called by God to worship, we respond in praise.  But as we are called, we realize it is not just we in this congregation who are called to worship.  Immediately we are aware that this assembly of our local congregation is an expression of the grand host gathered before God.  The doxology reminds us that we join the voices of all creation, all true people of God on this earth, and all the host in heaven (Heb. 12:23). in exalting our triune God.  We are part of the grand universal body gathered before Him in adoration and praise. 


    Having called His people to Himself, as they now are assembled as one in His presence in prayer and praise, God greets us in the words of the salutation.  The salutation is one phrase—it is easy not to pay attention to it—but it is a phrase essential to God’s people and their worship.  “Beloved congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Or, “Beloved of God, called to be saints.” 

    This is God greeting His people.  God speaks these words.  The minister says them on behalf of God, but it is God’s greeting to His church.[1]  That is how we must hear the salutation too. Why would it matter if in the minister’s estimation you were beloved of God?  What matters is that in God’s estimation this is your position.  And what matters is that He is willing to tell you so. 

    In this greeting, God addresses the congregation as a whole, “Beloved congregation.”  The apostle Paul addresses the whole church at Rome with the inspired greeting of Romans 1:7:  “Beloved of God, called to be saints.”  He does that even though there may be unbelievers present.  There may be unbelievers who visit the service.  There may be a carnal element in the body.  Those unbelievers may be given attention in the service, attention as unbelievers at times.  Yet, worship is the meeting of the true covenantal assembly with God, and the congregation gathered is addressed as such.  A wheat field might have weeds in it, and you give those weeds in your field attention as weeds at times, but it is still a wheat field and is called a wheat field and treated as a wheat field. 

    Children are addressed as we bring them into worship with us.  The children of the church are part of the covenantal assembly.  They are not visitors; they are members.  They are not observers; they are participants.  God speaks to them as He speaks to the adults when He says, “Beloved congregation.”  Those who are weak are addressed along with the strong; those greatly gifted along with those less gifted.  The diverse congregation is greeted as one body, the congregation of the living God gathered before Him. 

    God calls them “beloved.”  The word “beloved” is used in the greeting because so often in the New Testament the people of God are addressed as God’s beloved.  Just read I John 3 or II Peter 2.[2]  In addition, in the inspired greeting of Romans 1:7 “beloved” is the address. 

    What a wonderful word to hear from God upon entering His presence, “You are my beloved!”  We have sins that we carry with us into the house of God.  We come here to lay them down at the foot of the cross.  Yet we wonder, does God want us here?  Sometimes we see our sins so clearly we think, “Is it really His desire that we enter into His presence?” 

    In addition, we are often troubled by what is happening in our lives or in the world.  Things are not always easy for God’s people.  We come to the service with the distress of Psalm 124 upon us.  Verse 2:  “men have risen up against us”; verse 3:  “their wrath is kindled against us”; verses 4-5:  “Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul:  then the proud waters had gone over our soul.”  The troubles that we face are sometimes that great.  It is as though the waters are about to flood over our souls and take us down.  And then we come to the house of God to meet Him, and He says to us from His Word, “Beloved!  You are the objects of my love.  Embraced.  Prized.  Valued.  Held close.”

    What is more, He does not wait to call us His beloved until after we read the law and confess our sins and pray.  But immediately when He meets with us, He greets us as His beloved, as though He can’t wait to tell us.  And He does not hold back, even though we come with sins in our hands, needing forgiveness and needing to experience reconciliation.[3]

    He declares this publicly.  He is not ashamed to have the whole world hear that He addresses us as His beloved.  He speaks of us publicly with the same word He used to speak of His only begotten son Jesus Christ. Remember what He announced publicly to the world at Jesus’ baptism:  “This is my beloved Son!”

    Likewise here, He announces to the world that we are His beloved sons and daughters by adoption, dear to Him as His only begotten is dear to Him.

    Faith believes this. Faith hears this and knows Jehovah is saying this to me as part of the body.  And faith believes this because it knows we are Jehovah’s beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ.  If I wonder, “Can I believe Him when He says ‘beloved’ at the beginning of the service?” the undoubted assurance and proof that it is true is because we are in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Even though we come with sin and need to experience reconciliation, we are objectively reconciled in the Lord Jesus.  In Him we are beloved as He is beloved. 


    In response to God’s sovereign voice in the salutation, we respond with the words of the votum.

    The word votum means “vow.”  The words are a vow expressed by the congregation to God in both prayer and praise taken from Psalm 124:8:  “Our help is in the name of Jehovah, who made heaven and earth.”

    This vow is our response to the fact that Jehovah has called us “beloved!”  We have come with our troubles both physical and spiritual, concerning which Psalm 124 itself speaks.  And God has called us “beloved.”  Now we know we are safe and are accepted in His sight.  Thus, we speak with Psalm 124 not only about our troubles, but also about the fact that the Lord is on our side (v. 2); that He has not given us as prey to their teeth (v. 6).  Therefore, we can corporately take the last words of Psalm 124:8 upon our lips, “Our help is in the name of Jehovah, who made heaven and earth.”

    When we say those words, we are saying to Him, “God, our help is not found in this world.  Whatever the trial we bear, we do not turn to the gods of this world for assistance.  We call upon Thee and turn to Thee for help, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who is in control of all.  We turn to the one who is Jehovah, the God of the covenant, who has just told us we are His beloved covenant children.  We know now that on our pilgrimage we will be safe with Thee.”  And when we say those words we are not just saying that our help is in Jehovah now—that is, for the time that we are in this service.  Rather, we are confessing and vowing that our help is always in His name.  All along life’s journey He is our strength, and He will lead us to glory.

    The congregation is speaking this to God.  This is true even though the minister is the one who says it.

    The minister functions in the worship service at times in such a way that He is used to speak God’s words to the people in this dialogue, and also at times the people’s words to God in this dialogue.  We do not always think about this with respect to the votum because it follows so quickly upon the salutation, and the minister speaks it.  Although it is acceptable that the minister speaks these words, it is my contention that it would be beneficial for the congregation to say the votum in unison rather than having the minister speak it.  It is not necessary that the minister speak this (as it is necessary for the minister to speak for the congregation in congregational prayer), and if the congregation did speak it, it would highlight the dialogue that is taking place.  One could also argue that it would do greater justice to the priesthood of all believers.[4]  Regardless, the votum is the response of the congregation, trusting in and magnifying the sovereign love of Jehovah God.


    Finally, Jehovah speaks in this opening service by pronouncing His benediction upon us.  Often the words from the benedictions of the apostle Paul in his epistles are used.  For example, Romans 1:7:  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Often the words, “through the operation of the Holy Spirit,” are added to that to make it explicitly trinitarian.  A benediction that is itself trinitarian and can be quoted directly from Scripture is the one given by the apostle John in Revelation 1:4-5, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.”

    There is another benediction or blessing at the end of the service.  This is often the benediction found in the last verse of II Corinthians, although there are others.  With this benediction God dismisses His people with His blessing as He has greeted them with His blessing.  This follows the example provided us in the inspired epistles of the apostles.  The apostles used benedictions as bookends at the beginning and ending of their epistles, and we follow that example in our worship service.  God blesses His people coming into His presence, and He blesses them as they leave His presence.  

    Again, in the benedictions God speaks.  Only now, God is not just speaking to His people, He is pronouncing a blessing upon His people.  This means God is not saying, “I hope you have grace and mercy and peace.”  Or, “This is my wish for you.”  Rather, He is setting grace and mercy and peace upon us in the benediction.  In the Old Testament, when Isaac gave Jacob the blessing that he intended to give to Esau, Esau cried out that Isaac should take back what he said to Jacob and give it to him.  Isaac responded, “I…have blessed him...and he shall be blessed” (Gen. 27:33).  Isaac could not take it back.  It could not be reversed; it was done.  So effectual was the blessing.  It was a pronouncement made upon Jacob that could not be reversed.  So too when God pronounces His blessing upon us, it is not as though God does that on a whim.  It is not just a nice wish.  This is His pronouncement for His people.  And it effects what it speaks.  We have His grace and mercy and peace with Him in Christ, and we know that because He pronounces it upon us.

    We come to the house of God needing this blessing.  We must know that God has created peace between us and Him.  Then everything in our life, even if it does not immediately make sense, can be seen through the lenses of our peace with Him and the truth that He works for our good.  Thus, we cannot help but respond with the first Psalter number in a song of praise and adoration to His name.

            In our next article we will examine the opening service as a whole, and see its function in the broader context of a Reformed order of worship. 

[1]  This may be a benefit of using the salutation “Beloved of God, called to be saints,” rather than “Beloved congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The first is a direct quote from Romans 1:7.  It is the very words of God in Scripture.

[2]  One sees the same in the Old Testament of course.  Song of Solomon provides the prime example.

[3]  Just as in the giving of the law itself in Exodus 20, God tells His people He is their God before He gives the law that leads them to repentance.  

[4]  G. VanDooren goes so far as to attribute the tradition of the minister speaking the votum to the tradition of the mass.  It is a Roman Catholic remnant according to him and must be done away with, so that the congregation might speak in unison here. VanDooren, G. The Beauty of Reformed Liturgy.  Winnipeg: Premier Publishing, 1980. 25. 


Called Into His Presence: The Opening Service (4b)

O Come Let Us Worship

Rev. Cory Griess, pastor of Calvary PRC, Hull, IA

The Standard Bearer, Volume 89, number 8 (January 15, 2013)

Called into His Presence: The Opening Service (2)


    Last time we examined the various aspects of what has sometimes been called “the opening service.”  This section of the liturgy includes the call to worship, doxology, salutation, votum, and benediction.  In this article we take a step back and see the importance of this first part of the order of worship in context, especially as we remember that worship is a covenantal assembly with Jehovah.

The Purpose of the Opening Service

    You have perhaps noticed that these aspects of the opening service are not strictly the elements of worship that are demanded by the Regulative Principle.  The reason for this is that though these aspects of the opening service are part of the worship service, they do not represent the heart of the service.  They are biblical, and they go back in Reformed worship at least to the time of Calvin.[1]  The use of the benediction in particular goes back to biblical times.[2]  But these, what I will call “minor” elements, are the opening service, not the heart of the covenantal meeting.

    However, “minor elements” does not mean “unnecessary elements.”  This opening service is necessary.  It is necessary simply by virtue of what the public corporate worship service is—the covenantal assembly meeting with Jehovah God.  The purpose of the opening service is to usher us into God’s presence.

A Formal Introduction

    We do not come into God’s presence presumptuously.  We do not come to the house of God and start speaking to Him as though we happened to bump into Him on the street.  There is a certain formality to this meeting.  He is the God of heaven and earth; we are dust creatures.  There must be a proper leading into the communion and fellowship of the meeting.[3]

    This is similar to the way one would be called to come before a king in the Middle Ages.  You would not just waltz into the throne room as though you had a right to come before the king in yourself.  You would not start speaking as though the king were any common man.  There are the proper introductions that must take place.  The king has to beckon you into his presence in the proper fashion.  Even if you were the one who wanted the meeting, you would not come into the throne room until the king called you to come in.  When the king did call you in, you would respond with an expression of humility and praise for the king’s majesty.  Then the king would greet you perhaps.  You would in turn express that you are in need of his help, and there is nowhere else you would turn for that help. He would receive you with his blessing.  And only then, after you had been ushered into his presence in this proper way, would you get into the heart of what the meeting was about.

    This is what is happening in the opening service.  God is leading us into His presence, but in such a way that we know He is God and our sovereign, and we are His creatures.  He sovereignly calls us into His presence in the call to worship.  We respond in humility and praise for His majesty in the silent prayer and doxology.  He greets us with the salutation.  In the votum we express that we are in need of His help and depend on Him for what we need.  He receives us with His blessing, assuring us of His help in the benediction.  And only after this may the heart of the meeting between God and us take place. 

A Familiar Introduction

    But not only is there a certain formality to the way God ushers us into His presence, there is also a certain familiarity.  For not only is God our Sovereign, He is our Father and Friend.  If we go back to the illustration of coming before a king in the Middle Ages, but add another element to that illustration, this becomes clear.  Assume now that this person who seeks an audience with the king is not only the king’s subject, but also the king’s son.  In this case there would still be formality, for the son is still the king’s subject.  But the formalities would be infused with love, warmth, grace, and tenderness, for this subject is also the king’s son.

   This, too, we have in the opening service.  The formal structure is there to usher us into the presence of the sovereign God properly, but that structure is filled with language that breathes love and warmth and sonship.  We are being ushered into the presence of our Father!  He calls us His beloved as He greets us.  We are not merely citizens of His country, but citizens who are also sons!  He breathes not some vague, cold, strictly formal blessing upon us, but He pronounces the blessing of His heart upon His children whom He loves.  “Grace to you and peace, my children,” He says. And we sing not only because He is sovereign, but also because He is all love towards His children in His sovereignty.  We vow that He is our help, not simply because He is King and able, but because He is Father and willing. 

Formality and Familiarity in the Covenant

    It is this wonderful combination of formality and familiarity in the opening service that makes it so perfectly covenantal.  The covenant is the relationship between God the friend-sovereign and His people the friend-servants.  It is a structured fellowship.  There must be the recognition that He is God of heaven and earth, a consuming fire in His holiness, perfectly just, so far above us.  But at the same time there must be the recognition that this God is our Father and Friend who has redeemed us and cares for us and loves us and draws us close because He loves to have us close.  

    The opening service is a biblical and precise representation of this covenant relationship as we are ushered into the presence of God.  And having thus been brought in, we engage in the main elements of worship in reverence, and also in the sweetest, closest communion and love.  Ushered in to Him in this way, we are free to participate in the main reasons for the meeting with the same formality and familiarity.  God speaks to us His law as sovereign and Father.  He absolves our sins and speaks comfortably to us in His Word, as Holy, Just, and Merciful.  And we respond with a reverent and deep filial adoration in song and prayer and giving in the heart of the service. 

The Comfort in the Opening Service

    There are two voices in the world today speaking to us about life and purpose and meaning and joy.  There is the voice of man, and there is the voice of God.  The voice of man calls out and tells the church that life and purpose and meaning and joy are found in pursuing what is temporal.  It is a voice with no authority.  It recognizes no voice from above to lead and to guide.  Ultimately this voice is the voice of Satan himself.  And as in the Garden of Eden, Satan calls the church to come join him and fellowship with him.  He uses the world to call out with lies, “come to me, for at my side there are pleasures forever more.”  But this voice has no true ultimate authority to call us, and we are fools to respond.  Though it pretends to be fatherly and pretends to offer fatherly benefits, this voice is the voice of no father and friend.

    In the opening service of public worship, a different voice calls to us.  It is a voice that calls from above.  It is the voice of God our Creator and our Savior, the voice of true authority.  The voice comes from beyond this world and this life.  It is the voice that tells us who we are, why we are here, and where we are going.  It is the voice of true Fatherhood.  It is the voice that speaks to us of what true peace is in this life.  And this voice of God calls us in the opening service into fellowship.  It tells us that in His presence we will find true purpose, meaning, and joy.

    In the opening service we come by faith, and our response to this voice is that we have no desire to be led by the voice of Satan.  God’s voice, as the voice of power and tender love, is the voice that has our attention.  And we will come to Him for fellowship and for worship.  We will come to Him, and we will leave the world behind.

            And in the opening service, being ushered into God’s presence, God tells us we are His.  He gives us to experience that in His presence is fullness of joy; at His right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16:11).

[1]  See Maxwell, William D., A History of Christian Worship, An Outline of Its Development and Forms.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1982.  112-119.

[2]  The benediction was present in synagogue worship along with the other major elements of worship.  See Edersheim, Alfred, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ.  London:  James Clark and Co. LTD., 1961.  275.  Also, the benediction may be referred to in I Timothy 2:9.   Some have said the mention of prayer with uplifted holy hands could be the benediction. 

[3]  Much like in prayer, we do not begin with the heart of the prayer until certain things are said that lead us into His presence in the right way. 


Hear Ye Him! The Reading and Preaching of Scripture in Worship (5a)

O Come Let Us Worship

Rev. Cory Griess, pastor of Calvary PRC, Hull IA

Standard Bearer, Volume 89, Number 11 (March 1, 2013)

Hear Ye Him!  The Reading and Preaching of Scripture in Worship (3)

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:  So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.

Nehemiah 8:5, 8, 12 


    We are engaged in a study of the elements of a Reformed worship service, as those elements are carried out according to the three great principles of Reformed worship.  Recall that last time we finished an exposition of the “opening service.”  We saw that God ushers us into His presence through these first aspects of the service, opening the way for the main elements of our covenantal assembly with Him.  In this article and the next we go straight to the heart of this meeting between God and His people.  We do that by examining the related elements of the reading and preaching of Scripture.  These elements of worship have God speaking most extensively and freely to us in this covenantal assembly. 

The Elements

    The reading and preaching of sacred Scripture are two separate elements of worship that normally go together in the service.  We see that in Nehemiah 8.  In verses 3-4 Ezra first reads the law.  And then Nehemiah 8:7-8 says that he and the Levites preached that word of God.  Since these elements go together they are often lumped together under one heading, as they are in the Heidelberg Catechism when Lord’s Day 38 calls them simply “the hearing of His Word.” 

    There is liberty in how often the Word is read in the service of course.  The Protestant Reformed Churches generally read the Word twice in the morning—in the reading of the law and in the reading of the Scripture that the sermon expounds.  We generally read God’s Word once in the evening in the passage the sermon expounds.  Some churches have an Old Testament and New Testament reading each service, and that is a good practice too.

    There is liberty also in length and form of the sermons, although justice must be done to the exposition and application of the text. And the clamor for shorter and simpler sermons is often indicative of spiritual weakness in the church.

Necessary Elements for Corporate Worship

    As for the elements themselves, there is no liberty.  Both the reading and preaching of Scripture must be part of public corporate worship.  The regulative principle demands the reading and preaching of Scripture in worship.  This is made explicit in II Timothy 4:1-2, where the apostle Paul commands Timothy and all preachers to preach:  “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”  And if the minister is called to preach the Word, then it is implied that that Word must be read as well.  Nonetheless, an explicit call to read Scripture in worship may be found in Colossians 4:16.  

    Besides these texts, the example of the church has always been a church that reads and preaches the Word of God in worship.  When the Christian church began to spread and establish itself, it took over the worship of the Jewish synagogue, only making some changes due to the fact that the Messiah had now come.  The apostle Paul’s mission method was to start working in the synagogue of whatever city he was in, and if the Jews believed in Christ, that synagogue would become a Christian church.  If that happened, the same basic elements of worship in that synagogue also rolled over into Christian worship, only now the content reflected the worship of the name of Jesus and His victory over the curse of the law.  If the Jewish synagogue did not wholly believe, then those who did believe would break off and start a Christian church that looked very much like the synagogue, again with basically the same elements of worship.  Therefore, in the main, the elements of worship in the synagogue were taken into the apostolic church.

    When the Reformation restored biblical worship to the church, the Reformers went back to the New Testament example and saw what the New Testament church did and what elements were used in their worship.  They then established the church’s worship essentially after that New Testament example.  As churches explicitly carrying on the Reformed tradition, we therefore have the same elements in our worship today that Acts 2:42 says were in the worship of the New Testament church.  In fact, the elements we have in Reformed worship are basically the same elements that have been in the worship services of God’s people since the time of the Babylonian captivity, when the Jewish synagogue arose.

    The chief element of synagogue worship, going all the way back to the start, was the reading and preaching of Scripture.  Indeed, one authority on the subject states that “the primary purpose of the synagogue was to enable men to hear the law read and expounded.”[1]  The ministry of the Word was at the heart of the Jewish worship service, and this remained true in New Testament worship as well.  The reading and preaching of Scripture was the primary, central element of worship and the heart of the covenantal assembly. 

    Where did the Jews learn to have the reading and preaching of Scripture primary in their synagogue worship?  Besides the fact that it was logical to do so (their whole history revolved around their response to the revelation of God), the answer is, in Nehemiah chapter 8.  Nehemiah records the history of God’s people shortly after the Babylonian captivity, when synagogue worship had recently begun.  In Nehemiah 8 the people of God held a worship service in which the entire law was read and expounded.  Ezra stood up upon a wooden pulpit (8:4) and proclaimed the Word of the Lord to the people.  This, of course, is very similar to the way we preach our modern sermons.  This practice in which Ezra read and preached to the people was carried on in the Jewish synagogue after this.  Thus, we here in 2013 can trace our element of the preaching and its primary place in worship at least all the way back to Nehemiah 8, the day Ezra got into his pulpit in the re-settled city of Jerusalem.[2] 

The Importance of These Elements

    The reading and preaching of Scripture are the heartbeat of the church.  Without them there is no church and there is no worship.  If there is to be any commitment to God and understanding of His will, there must be the ministry of the Word amongst His people.  All throughout the Old Testament one sees the truth of this. 

    Whenever there was spiritual decline in Israel, it was because people refused to have the Word of God.  Whenever there was reformation in Israel’s history, it was because the Word was brought back to its place of central importance in the people’s life and worship.  The reformation at the time of King Josiah, for example, was a reformation produced by the Word.  After years of the temple being boarded up under a time of great apostasy, Josiah tells the high priest Hilkiah to open the temple to get things ready for repair.  When he did that, the high priest found the book of Deuteronomy in the temple and had it read to the king. When the king heard the Word of the Lord, he realized how Judah had forsaken God, and he brought God’s people back to the worship of God prescribed in the Word.  He put the Word back into its central place, and that caused reformation in Judah. 

    No surprise, then, that the Reformation of the sixteenth century was a reformation produced by this element of worship.  In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church had removed the Word from its central place.  In place of the exposition of God’s Word, the Roman Catholic Church put the altar and the mass, with the result that the darkness of ignorance and evil crept over the entire continent of Europe.  The Word was brought back to its central place in the sixteenth century, and over all of Europe the church was reformed according to that Word.  The work of Luther and Calvin and the reformers was to push the altar out of the center of the church, and to replace it with the pulpit.  It was the ministry of the Word that turned the world upside down.

    The Reformed carry that conviction on, by God’s grace, in their worship of God.  The reading and preaching of Scripture is the heart of the service.  That is seen even in the way we order the furniture in the church.  The pulpit stands in the center, indicating that the essence of the covenantal meeting with Jehovah is God speaking to us in His Word.  We must have Him speak His will to us, for we are His people.

    We have said that the worship service is the covenantal meeting between God and His people, and that that meeting is carried out as a dialogue between God and us.  There are other parts of the service where God speaks—the salutation, benedictions, etc.  But it is here at this point in the service where God speaks to us fully and freely as the God of the covenant.  In the opening service God ushers us into this meeting, but He does so for this purpose, that He might speak to us intimately and substantially in His Word.

    Who would not want this to be the central and primary part of worship?  It is sad when one sees the pulpit in churches today moved off to the side to make room for the band or the choir.  That often is a sign of what is happening to the reading and preaching of Scripture.  The ministry of the Word is being pushed to the side.  It is losing its chief place, and God’s voice is not favored in worship.  This is why we come week to week, to meet with God, to hear Him apply His gospel to our souls and to give us marching orders for the week that lies ahead, and to praise Him and worship Him in response.

            Here we receive the life of God.  Here the Spirit works through the Word to fill our weary souls.  In the preaching, as in the opening service, God speaks to us as our Friend-Sovereign.  Here there is both the formality and familiarity of the covenant of grace.  There is authority and there is love.  With His Word He convicts us, He corrects us, He charges us.  With His Word He also frees us in Christ, protects us, delights in us.  He speaks as a king and a father speaks to his subjects and sons.

  Maxwell, William D., A History of Christian Worship, An Outline of Its Development and Forms (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1982), 3.  See also, Bavinck, Herman, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, 393.  Ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic, 2006),  4 vols.

  See Old, Hughes O., Guides to the Reformed Tradition:  Worship (Atlanta, GA:  John Knox Press, 1984), 59. 


Hear Ye Him! The Reading and Preaching of Scripture in Worship (5b)

O Come Let Us Worship

Rev. Cory Griess, pastor of Calvary PRC, Hull IA

Standard Bearer, Volume 89, Number 16 (May 15, 2013)

Hear Ye Him!  The Reading and Preaching of Scripture in Worship (4)

And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.  And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power:  for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

Revelation 4:2, 9-11


    In our series on Reformed worship, we have moved beyond principle to an examination of the elements of corporate worship as they are carried out according to the principles of God’s Word.  We first examined the aspects of the “opening service,” where God ushers us into His presence.  Currently, we are studying the heart of the covenantal meeting between God and His people, the reading and preaching of Scripture.  The ministry of the Word is the heart of the worship service.  Here, God speaks to us as our King and Father in the covenant of grace.  We discussed last time the necessity and importance of this aspect of the worship service.  Now we examine the carrying out of the reading and preaching of Scripture and the relationship of these elements to all worship.

The Elements Carried Out

    If the ministry of the Word is going to be God Himself speaking to us, it must be a faithful reading and faithful exposition of that Word.  Only when the Word has its say does the ministry of the Word come with the authority of God Himself to His people.  Then it is not the minister who makes exhortations; it is not the minister’s doctrine being taught; it is not the minister giving encouragement, it is God in Christ who speaks these things.

    In Nehemiah 8, Ezra and the people understood this.  That is why the message Ezra and the Levites brought to the people was not their own message, but an exposition of Scripture—the words of God.  We have in Nehemiah 8 an example of expository preaching in a public worship service.  All the people of Israel are gathered in Jerusalem; a massive crowd is there to worship the Lord. Ezra stands up and reads the law in verses 3-4.  And then, in verses 7-8, the Levites and 13 priests “caused the people to understand the law.  So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”  Ezra read a portion, and then the other men, whom you can be sure were trained by Ezra, went around through the crowds and expounded that portion of the Word.  They “gave the sense,” or explained what it meant and applied it to the people.  Then Ezra read more, and they explained that portion to the people, so that they caused the people to understand.

    This is what true preaching is and must be.  It must take a portion of God’s Word and give the sense, that is, expound it and apply it.  Therefore, the preaching must not be the minister’s own agenda, but the Word of God Himself faithfully expounded.  The minister is an exegete of Scripture.  The word “exegete” means “to lead out of.”  This is what the minister must do.  The content of the sermon is what he has led out of the Word, so that it is God in His Word speaking to the people.  At the end of the sermon the people ought to be able to say, “I now know what that passage of Scripture means and how it applies to my life.  I know what God has to say to me in that passage.”  The people ought also to understand that the preaching they heard, if it was faithful, was God’s Word coming to them, not the minister’s.

    If the ministry of the Word is to be authoritative, the sermon must come from someone who is trained and has the gifts to understand and expound the Word of God.  He must be someone who has been taught the Word of God and its principles of interpretation, as were the Levites who preached in Nehemiah 8.  He must be someone whom the church recognizes as having these abilities, and therefore someone the church calls to expound the Word.  It must be this way because the congregation needs to hear God’s voice in His Word.  The church therefore does not put someone upon the pulpit who cannot give the sense of the Word of God.

    At Jesus’ transfiguration God declared publicly, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”  When the preaching of the Word is faithful to the Word of God, God says the same thing:  “Christ is speaking, hear Him.”  That does not mean the minister turns into Jesus.  It means that the Word of God proclaimed is Christ’s Word.  The authority is not merely in the minister himself (although the man in the office should be respected for his office), it is primarily in the Word of God.  If the preaching is not faithful to the Word, God’s people not only may, but also must protest it (with a willingness to see that they might be wrong themselves and a willingness to submit to a multitude of counselors).  But when the preaching is faithful to that Word, then God says, “You are hearing Christ My Son in those words.  Hear Him, listen to Him.”

    Do you listen to Him?  Do you give Him your undivided attention?  It really comes down to a matter of trust.  Do you trust Him?  If you do not trust a person speaking to you, he can talk all he wants but you will not listen.  However, if you do trust the one speaking, but you do not listen, then you are a fool.  Who is more trustworthy to interpret your life than Christ?  Hear Him!  God in Christ is speaking to us in His Word.  Do not harden your heart against His words, but come prepared to hear Christ Himself speak to you—to receive comfort for the soul from Him, to receive correction from Him, to hear Him tell you that you are His.  Why would we sleep or daydream, when we could be hearing the words of Christ to us?  We must be actively involved in the sermon, giving our full attention to what is being said, following the argument carefully.

    In addition, as we receive the Word with our heads, we must receive it also with our hearts.  As our hearts receive the Word, we must praise God for it.  There ought to be worship happening in the hearts of the people of God as they are under the ministry of the Word.  In this way, there is a mini dialogue within the grand dialogue.  As God speaks, our minds and hearts are attentive, and we respond in our souls as we receive the Word.

The Word Produces Worship

    In God’s people the Word read and proclaimed produces worship.  Really all of worship depends upon the reading and preaching of Scripture.  First of all, all the other elements of worship depend upon the reading and preaching of Scripture being at the center of our life and worship.  How can we sing and pray to a God we do not know?  He must reveal Himself to us in His Word.  What motivation would we have to give to the Lord in the offering if He did not speak to us in His Word and declare His gospel of forgiving grace to us?  What help is the law read to us in the service, if we do not know the God who gives it?  If there is no gospel proclaimed to justify us, why would we worship at all, for the guilt of our sin would remain upon us?  Even the call to worship, the salutation, and the benediction would be meaningless were it not for the reading and proclamation of Scripture.  Who cares if we are being called to worship if we do not know the God who is calling us?  We must know Him as His Word reveals Him. 

    But when Christ speaks to us in His Word week after week, then we can respond with song and prayer from the heart.  This is what we see from Revelation 4.  In this passage, John sees a vision of heaven after the church is redeemed.  The saints are all together without sin, worshiping before the throne of God.  In this vision, John sees God upon His throne. He is glorious.  He is like a red sardius stone—a picture of His terrible wrath and justice.  He is also like a jasper stone—a picture of His righteousness and purity.  He has lightnings and thunderings and voices coming out of the throne, something that makes one think of God giving the law on Sinai—a picture again of His power and majesty and wisdom.

    John sees the 24 elders gathered about this throne.  Those 24 elders represent the whole church—the Old Testament 12 tribes of Israel, and the New Testament 12 apostles.  Every elect believer is gathered there, and all the purified creation is there too.  There are four beasts that represent all the different parts of God’s creation.  They have eyes all around their heads, and with all of them they are looking at God upon His throne.  Together they cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come!”  The church, represented by the 24 elders, worships Him as well.  Verses 10-11:  “They fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power.”

    What is recorded here is the very definition of worship.  First, the elders fall down before Him.  That indicates absolute humility before God.  When the wise men came to worship the baby Jesus, they fell down before Him.  Falling down is saying that I am nothing, and Thou art everything.  Second, the elders express their humble devotion, “Thou art worthy, O Lord.”  That is worship, recognizing the worth of God and praising Him for it.  Third, the elders lay down their crowns, saying in effect, “Thou art worthy, and we are not, and we place whatever worth we have before Thee at Thy throne.”

    But the question is, why do they fall down, and why do they lay their crowns at His feet, and why do they cry out that God is worthy?  The answer is, because they saw Him.  They saw Him in His majesty and glory, and seeing Him they knew they were nothing and He was everything.

    This is what happens in the proper preaching of God’s Word, we see God upon His throne.  In the Word, God communicates Himself to us, “This is who I am, the glorious, sovereign God.”  He declares His worth to our minds and hearts.  And in the preaching of the Word He tells us who we are, nothing before Him, yet those whom He has loved and redeemed.  O, how we need this!  How quickly we lose sight of His glory and majesty! And how quickly we lose sight of our own unworthiness!  We are self-deceivers.  We need God to tell us who we are, specks of dust in this universe.  We need God in His Word to tell us that apart from Him we are damn-worthy rebels.  But we need God in His Word to tell us that we are damn-worthy rebels who are never apart from Him.  We need to hear Him say we are a people cared for by the God of the universe, redeemed in the cross of Jesus Christ, and in Him elevated to a position of honor before God’s throne.

    It is this that makes us fall down before God and cry out, “Thou art worthy, O Lord!”  Without regular preaching in our lives, we do not want to come to church for the purpose of worship.  Without God’s Word proclaimed regularly, we do not come to church with the desire in our hearts to fall down and exalt His worth.  When we do not know Him and His plan of redemption in His Word, we come to church instead for the purpose of having it out with God.  And when we do not know ourselves properly, we come to church with “why’s” in our hearts instead of worship in our hearts.[1]  “God is going to meet with his people?  Good, because I have some questions for Him.  Why is this happening in my life?  Who does He think He is?  What is He doing with all this trouble and suffering in this world?”

    It is only when we know Him as He is in His Word, and it is only when, from His Word, we know ourselves as nothing in His sight yet redeemed by grace, that we come ready to fall down and worship.  Then the “whys” go away.  And even though we do not know all the answers, we can trust Him and simply worship, for He is God, and we are not.  We can sing to Him of His sovereignty.  We can sing to Him of appreciation for His love.  We can pray to Him, thankful that this majestic One is our Father.  And we can turn all of our questions into the statement of the elders in verse 11:  “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” 

The Believer’s Attitude

            Knowing this, what then ought to be our attitude toward the reading and preaching of the Word in the covenantal assembly?  It ought to be the attitude of the Israelites in Nehemiah 8.  First, we ought to be as attentive to it as they were.  Nehemiah 8:4:  “and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.”  Second, we ought to have a deep reverence for the Word and know the privilege it is to hear it.  Verse 5:  “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people…and when he opened it all the people stood up.”  Standing was the Old Testament saints’ way of honoring the Word of Jehovah God.  They stood as one would stand when a dignitary walks into the room.  Third, we ought to desire it with all that is in us.  Notice verse 1 of Nehemiah 8.  The people gathered as one man, “and they spake to Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses.”  They did not wait for Ezra to bring God’s Word out.  They wanted to hear what God had to say to them, so they went to Ezra and said, “Go up to that pulpit and declare to us the Word of the Lord!”  Fourth, we ought to take great joy when the Spirit works in us to hear and understand that Word with minds and hearts.  Verse 12:  “And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.”

        For this insight I am indebted to Dr. Henry Krabbendam. Krabbendam, Henry. "Worship and Preaching."  Worship in the Presence of God.  Ed. Frank J. Smith and David C. Lachman.  Fellsmere, Florida:  Reformation Media and Press, 2006. 157-177. Print.  

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