When we gather together in corporate worship, we come together for the sole purpose of glorifying our great God. The way we come together is very important, and what is even more crucial is how we worship God in our churches. If we care about what the bible speaks about anything, then we should care about what it says about worship. We should care about what ways we are to worship. Especially when our Savior said Himself that we should worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).
Regulative Worship or Normative Worship?
Regulative and normative worship may not be terms you are familiar with hearing; however, you most likely attend a church that holds to one of these forms of worship. Both views differ on what considered a blueprint on corporate worship.
Regulative worship, or those who hold to it, believes Scripture gives specific guidelines on how we should conduct our worship services, and anything that is not exclusively mentioned in Scripture is being forbidden in public worship. The examples they find in Scripture are a strict code of conduit in church worship. Those who are familiar with the Belgic Confession would note from article 32, which speaks on church order and discipline, “And therefore, 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.”
This would be the view of many who hold to regulative worship, and those zealous for this view would argue anything outside of what is specifically said in Scripture is not God-honoring nor what He requires for public worship.
There are some strengths to this view we can appreciate, even if we feel differently! Regulative worship seeks to honor God and His Word above all else. The focus is God-centered worship, not man-centered. It helps eliminate the lure of worldliness and distraction and makes the Bible its consultant over popular opinion. Since the church in Colossians was warned not to incorporate “human traditions” within their services (Colossians 2:8), then it must be kept far away in the regulative view. If you happen to attend a reformed church, this is the view your church most likely holds to.
Normative worship takes a view that if it is not expressively forbidden in Scripture, it can be used for corporate worship. It holds that Biblical instructions on worship are more of a principle than a strict guideline. Many in the evangelical circles hold more to this view, but there are some who, much like their regulative counterparts, still hold to Scripture as their final authority.
What you most likely won’t see in the normative view is hymnals and voices only type of worship. This is where guitars, drums, special music, powerpoints, etc., are used. This viewpoint would point out many cultural differences can be used to glorify God since He is the God of many nations. It creates an expression of worship through art and technology and applies Scripture to the current culture. Those who hold to this would lean towards calling the regulative type of worship “cold” and in danger of having an “unnatural attitude” towards God and worship. In this view, everything we do in worship is for the glory of God and should be allowed (1 Corinthians 10:31), and freedom in Christ means more freedom to worship Him, as long as it doesn’t directly defy Scripture. This type of worship is found in modern evangelicism.
What Is Unbiblical Worship?
I believe that in determining the differences, pros, and cons with either view, we can quickly lose sight of what is considered unbiblical worship. What is the type of worship that God does not require? There are many Scriptures that give us direct commands and warnings when it comes to worshipping God. We must come in the way that He calls for because worship belongs to Him.
1. Worship is to be given unto God and God alone (Exodus 34:14, Exodus 20:1-3). When we come to worship God, all glory, honor, reverence, and attention must be directed to Him. He is the one due all the glory. Any attention off of the One we gather for is not biblical.
2. True worshippers must worship in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24). The Holy Spirit dwells within the born-again children of God. Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would lead us in all truth (John 16:1), therefore, to worship God, you must be born again of God, by grace through faith. Only then may your worship be acceptable to God.
3. The Son is exalted (1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1). Jesus must be glorified in our worship. The risen Son of God must be proclaimed for who He is, and if you are currently attending a church where the name of Christ is not being mentioned nor His wonderful works praised, then your church is denying the Son for who He is and is not following the mandate to glorify the Son, for He is to be praised.
4. Sound teaching rooted in scripture (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Many churches would rather tickle the ears of those who sit among the congregation than preach Christ and Him crucified. Sermons series on how to be a better person or the 8 steps on how to keep a better home are normal and preaching the Gospel is not. Those things are good to know, but those things do not need to be a part of the corporate worship of the church.
Certainly, these are only a few examples of what unbiblical worship can look like. Every Bible believing church must be regulated by the authority of Scripture. If not, it can no longer say it is worshipping God in truth.
What Is the Goal of Corporate Worship and How Does It Please God?
The goal of corporate worship should be a reflection of what we see in the Bible in the book of revelation (Revelation 5:7-9).
The global church gathering around the throne of God, worshipping Him for who He is and the great things He has done. A healthy congregation must read and preach the Bible (2 Timothy 4:2, 4:13), sing spiritual songs and hymns (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), pray together (Matt 21:13, 1 Thess. 5:17), and celebrate the Lord’s supper and ordinances.
The church’s function as a body, unified in the Spirit, is to accomplish God’s will here on earth, and that even comes down to worship as well. Though many people and cultures have unique needs, the prevailing law over every church should be to worship God and love His people, proclaiming His goodness and faithfulness to all who are able to hear.
Jackie Hill Perry said once, “We worship God rightly when we understand Him biblically. Right doctrine leads to true worship.” This statement is true. Whether regulative or normative, what is the motive of your church when it comes to worshipping God? What is your motive?
A heart prepared in reverence and awe is what God delights in. He favors those who fear Him (Psalm 147:10-11). Let us worship Him in fear, awe, Spirit, and in Truth.