No Reformed Worship, No Reformed Church

Thesis: No confessional presbyterian church will long remain confessional or presbyterian if it loses Reformed worship.

First, some definitions:

Confessional: orthodox soteriology and doctrine (doctrine of God, Christology, covenant) according to the Reformed confessions

Presbyterian: government by ordained male (per scripture) elders organized in accountable, graded courts

Reformed worship: scripturally regulated (RPW), simple, ordinary means of grace worship—a Reformed bucket to carry Reformed water.

Why will unscriptural, man-centered, culturally conditioned, over-contextualized worship undermine confessional orthodoxy? Because worship by its very form (which ought to be according to spirit—uppercase and lowercase— and truth) communicates certain things about the nature of God and man, thus theology proper and anthropology can’t help but be warped by unbiblical worship. Theology proper and biblical anthropology are the foundations of soteriology, which will also be warped by unbiblical (e.g.: revivalist or sacerdotal) worship.

Why will unscriptural, man-centered, culturally conditioned, over-contextualized worship undermine biblical, presbyterian church government? Because free-form, optional, variable worship forms suggest free-form, optional, variable ecclesial forms…or little form at all. And when worship is no longer led by ordained elders, government by ordained elders seems less plausible. Presbyterian order is not hierarchical, but neither is it excessively horizontal. Rolling it out too thin leads to its disintegration.

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Brad Isbell | “Reformed worship & presbyterian viability” | December 2nd, 2023


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  1. Wonderful article. Thanks for the link to full article. Highly recommend!

    Serious question. WCF & WDW both prescribe Psalms alone for Lord’s Day worship. It’s historically clear that was the practice of 17th-century reformed Churches in England. Following the RPW, OT & NT command & practice was exclusively Psalms (and a cappella). If the author is correct, “Thesis: No confessional presbyterian church will long remain confessional or presbyterian if it loses Reformed worship”, does it follow that non-Psalm singing Presbyterian churches aren’t fully confessional and are loosing their status a genuinely Presbyterian and Reformed?

  2. I agree. I would only add that if there is no meaningful catechesis and pastoral visitation, the decline will accelerate. Because catechesis is an indirect form of succession planning. We need to approach the confessions not just doctrinally but with also an apologetics mindset. And it should not be cold and sterile. It should come across as the faith of the living.

  3. For Brad or others who wish to chime in.

    I wonder if one could define “culturally conditioned.” The implication of the article would seem to suggest that Reformed worship is not culturally conditioned at all?

    I’d also appreciate if someone could bring clarity to the term “over contextual”? Is there a standard to measure contextualization that we can determine whether a worship service is too contextual or “over contextual”? If so, what is that standard of measurement?

    Lastly, given the picture of Calvin with a guitar (awesome picture by the way!) in the article, would it be the contention of others that the use of guitars violates Reformed worship? I think I know Dr. Clark’s answer, but I believe that most PCA churches (including the one Brad belongs to, though I am not 100% certain) employ some form of instrumentation.

  4. Coming from an “unscriptural, man-centered, culturally conditioned, over-contextualized worship” background, I am learning so much from this blog! Thank you to all who take time to share truth for hungry hearts like mine! Now if I could just find an RPC (or something similar) close to where I live! Does a directory exist?


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