The following post is part of our ‘Principles of Reformation’ series. For the first post in the series, please click here.
In order to make progress in a course of reformation, it is necessary to define the goal of any efforts that proceed under the Reformed banner. As Reformed believers, what is our target? What is the ultimate goal of our reformation?
Is our goal an increase in Bible knowledge and theological acumen? It must be said that many today who use the label Reformed or who discover Reformed theology find it intellectually stimulating and satisfying. For some, Reformed teaching answers basic questions and opens vistas for further intellectual exploration. This is a wonderful thing. Reformed churches have always insisted that pastors be educated and skilled in sound doctrine, and the best theologians in the Reformed tradition have tried to engage with the leading intellectual movements of their day. They do so drawing on a clear and realistic understanding of the nature of man and the sovereignty of our Creator God.
This means that Reformed theology can offer someone who is intellectually inclined much to study and talk about. At its core, though, Reformed theology is a balanced and thoughtful declaration of the teaching of Scripture. It is meant to shape lives and cultivate churches that are centered on the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a theology for life – not just the life of the mind, but the life of the whole person dedicated to God completely. This complete dedication to God is regularly expressed in the worship which God’s people render wholeheartedly to Him.
Meeting with God in Worship
Reformed theology has a high view of God. He is the sovereign Creator of all things, and He rules over His creation. This should provoke us to praise Him in a way that acknowledges His holiness. Because God is so majestic, so powerful, so great, our praise to Him ought to reflect this. The Bible says, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised” (Ps. 145:3). The ultimate goal of reformation is to glorify our great God as He is, as He deserves, and as He decrees.
Reformed worship of God should also be joyful because of our acknowledgment that salvation is a gift from God from beginning to end. When we approach God in worship, we do so because of what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. Our worship is acceptable only because of Christ’s sacrifice and because of His ministry as our Great High Priest. We can sing and speak and hear from God because of the ministry of His Holy Spirit. Life itself, and spiritual life in particular, is all a gift from God.
Since it is God who takes the initiative, this principle is reflected in the worship of Reformed churches. Traditional Reformed worship is dialogical, meaning God and the worshippers are in a kind of conversation. But the agenda for the conversation is set by God’s declarations. This is why, traditionally, Reformed worship begins with a call to worship and ends with a benediction. God gets the first word and the last word. Our singing, confession, and prayers are a response to God’s Word.
God’s Word also takes center stage in the high point of a Reformed service, which is the preaching of the Word of God. At this time, God’s people, who have gathered to worship their great God, hear from Him with clarity as an ordained minister of the gospel opens the Word of God and instructs and exhorts from it.
Some see this dialogical approach as repetitive. Indeed, many have observed that most Reformed worship services have a similar shape and feel to them. This is true, but it is worth remembering why it is true. It is not because Reformed churches are beholden to tradition. Rather, it is because they are bound by the Word of God.
The Reformed commitment to allowing God’s Word alone to govern how God is worshipped – not adding to it or subtracting from it – is vital, and it is often called the regulative principle of worship. Reformed churches are governed by the one Jesus Christ. They are worshipping the same God who revealed His will in the Bible. They see the same elements of worship when they read the Bible, and they know that they dare not add to those with their invented ideas. To commune with God, we must come on His terms, responding to what He says and submitting our will to His. Novelty is not our goal; meeting with God is.
The ultimate goal of reformation is not the amassing of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and it certainly is not the growth of churches for the sake of church growth. Rather, the ultimate goal of biblical reformation is for God’s people made and renewed in His image to meet with Him in worship on His terms, according to His revealed will. Thus, we must know God’s Word for the sake of giving Him glory. And we pursue the extension of His kingdom and the growth of His church for the sake of giving Him glory as His gathered people, worshipping under His banner of truth and love. This is our goal. Soli Deo Gloria!
This material was adapted from pages 88, 98-100 in Reformed Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2023). Material in common is reproduced here with permission from the publisher.