Worship According to Scripture Alone

Scott Aniol

holy bible

Today when most Christians think about the Reformation, they think of it in terms of a recovery of important biblical doctrine, and that is certainly true. The sixteenth and seventeenth century Reformers stood firm against the erroneous teaching of the Church of Rome and championed critical biblical doctrines we often summarize in the Five Solas.

‌But what many Christians fail to recognize today is the emphasis the Reformers placed on the application of these biblical doctrines. And indeed, many today, even those who consider themselves Reformed, often divorce theology from practice. But we must remember that all of these men who we associate with the Reformation were pastors, and the theology that they so masterfully taught was only to serve the church.

‌The Reformers fervently taught how the biblical doctrines they recovered were to be necessarily applied to all areas of church life and individual life. In fact, Reformation is incomplete if it is not manifest in the church’s practice. And perhaps the greatest area of practical reform emphasized by these men as the necessary application of sound doctrine was the reform of worship.

‌Many Christians today may be surprised at how much importance the Reformers placed on the corporate worship of God’s people. In fact, in a significant way, the Reformation was at its heart a Reformation of biblical worship.

‌A striking example of this is John Calvin’s 1543 treatise to Emperor Charles the V explaining why the Reformation was necessary called “On the Necessity of Reforming the Church.” Now, if you were going to write to the emperor to explain why Reformation was necessary, what would you list as most important? Calvin said that there are two principle things upon which Christianity stands and from which flow the whole substance of Christianity: “first, the mode in which God is duly worshiped; and second, the source from which salvation is to be obtained.”

‌Remarkably, in listing what he believed to be the most important aspects of biblical Christianity, Calvin listed worship first and salvation second. For Calvin, salvation is important, but salvation is ultimately a means toward the end of rightly worshiping God. In his Institutes, Calvin stated, “Surely the first foundation of righteousness is the worship of God.” And in contrast, “There is nothing more perilous to our salvation than a preposterous and perverse worship of God.”

‌You see, the Reformers rightly believed that Reformation of theology alone is insufficient; true biblical Reformation will be manifest in our practice of worship. And therefore, all of the significant biblical doctrines recovered in the Reformation find their fullest expression in the public worship of God’s people.

All of the significant biblical doctrines recovered in the Reformation find their fullest expression in the public worship of God’s people.

‌Do Not Refuse Him Who Is Speaking

‌We see this clearly in the book of Hebrews, which was written to an audience that was forsaking critical doctrine about the nature of salvation in Christ that was leading them toward erroneous worship. The whole climax of the book is in 12:28–29 where the author urges them to worship God acceptably as the fullest expression of the important doctrines he develops in the book, doctrines we could easily file under the headings of the Five Solas of the Reformation.

First, I want you to notice the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in our text. Notice the command to offer to God acceptable worship. This, of course, implies that there is such a thing as unacceptable worship. If there is such a thing as acceptable worship, then upon what standard do we determine what worship is acceptable to God? Look back up at verse 25.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.

‌Acceptable worship, the author is arguing, is that which conforms to what God has spoken. Do not reject the Word of the Lord, he says, but rather, let us offer to God acceptable worship that conforms to what God has spoken.

‌In other words, acceptable worship must be regulated by Scripture alone.

Acceptable worship must be regulated by Scripture alone.

‌This is why the Reformers believed that worship regulated by the Word was the most significant expression of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. John Knox said, “All worshiping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without his own express commandment is idolatry.”

‌This is what Scripture teaches. God created Adam and commanded him to worship acceptably according to his commands. God did not just create his people and then leave them to determine the best way to worship him. No, God spoke his Law to his people to clearly articulate how he wants to be worshiped.

‌In Deuteronomy 12, in the context of giving God’s people “the statues and rules” concerning their worship, he says in verse 32: ‌

Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.

The only acceptable worship is that which he himself has commanded. Anything not commanded in Scripture for worship is forbidden.

Now some might claim that this strict biblical regulation of worship is just an Old Testament requirement. We now live in an age of grace, they may argue, so we have freedom to go beyond what God has commanded.

But on the contrary, the book of Hebrews stresses the fact that as recipients of the new covenant, we must be careful to pay attention to what we have heard (2:1), we must listen to his voice and not harden our hearts (4:7), we must submit our worship to the living and active Word of God (4:12).

We must see that we do not refuse him who is speaking (12:25), and the author explicitly stresses the continuity of this point between the Old Covenant—when God warned them on earth—and the New Covenant—when God warns us from heaven.

We cannot say that we fully affirm Sola Scriptura unless our worship is regulated by the Word of God alone.

God commanded his people at Mt. Sinai to watch themselves carefully and be sure to worship exactly as he has spoken, “for the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut 4:24). And he says to us in Hebrews 12:28-29, ‌

Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

At many times and in many ways, God has spoken, what God has spoken as been inscripturated in the written Word of God, and therefore our worship must be fundamentally regulated by what God has spoken in his inspired Word.

And so this is why Reformers such as Bucer, Calvin, Knox, and then later English Puritans and Separatists, including seventeenth century Particular Baptists, articulated what we have come to refer to as the regulative principle of worship. Both the Westminster Confession and the Second London Baptist Confession unequivocally state,

But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture. (22:1)

‌We cannot say that we fully affirm Sola Scriptura unless our worship is regulated by the Word of God alone.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Author holy bible

Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. In addition to his role with G3, Scott is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at www.scottaniol.com. Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.