One of my earliest recollections of a worship service was one held under an enormous Mango tree behind our house in Bwiru, Tanzania. Yes, you read that correctly, worship under a Mango tree. The large tree with its wide spread branches provided shelter from the late morning African sun. Several rows of wooden benches lined neatly in rows faced a primitive pulpit. Looking back, I am surprised that my parents allowed it, but on one occasion I had a seat in the balcony. . . one of low laying branches. Another unique aspect of worship under a Mango tree was that my golden Rhodesian Ridgeback dog was also able to attend. No, this is not an argument for covenant animals in worship, but an example of worship conducted before the eyes of the unbelieving world. As we sang, prayed and heard the Word preached, young heard boys paused their herding, and passersby stopped and observed.
Obviously, there is a lot I liked about worshiping under the Mango. What child wouldn’t enjoy sitting on a branch with his loyal dog lying below! Nevertheless, looking back after serving as a pastor for over 30 years, what I now appreciate was the opportunity for God’s people to do transcendent worship before watching eyes, and seeing them drawn in to what was going on. It was a not revival under the Mango tree, it was God’s people gathering for worship.
Because worship is God’s people gathering to celebrate Him, it makes sense that we do it following what is given to us in Scripture. Or put another way, God is the one who gets to make the decision on how He is worshipped. If you are tempted to think that regulating worship, is narrow, outdated, or foolish, please know that buried beneath these simple requirements there awaits a precious gem of grace: a means of grace. The Reformers described it as “ordinary” realizing it is not the only way God works, but it is the normal way that He provides spiritual nourishment.
Far too often we look for God in the extraordinary, thinking that the transforming power of God is only found in the unusual, spectacular, or what stirs emotionally. On the contrary God’s normal or “outward and ordinary” way of working is “the Word, sacraments (the Lord’s supper and baptism), and prayer.” (WSC 88). This has its foundations early in the life of the New Testament church where Believers “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). Word, sacraments, fellowship, and prayer where the focus of worship and vital to God’s blessing.
The grace of saving faith that enables us to believe is the work of the Holy Spirit and ordinarily comes through the ministry of the Word.
Our faith then is strengthened by the same grace that comes only by His “Word and Spirit” as we are “enabled more and more to die unto sin and live and live unto righteousness” (WCF 10:1; 14:1; WSC 35). Sadly, the very thing needed for spiritual vitality has become so “ordinary” that it is considered boring or irrelevant! I am however absolutely convinced a worship service formed around what Scripture teaches, screams the gospel and is powerfully transformative to the believer and unbeliever alike.
In addition to Word, prayer, and sacrament, is the singing God’s people which ministers grace as we praise the Lord, call on his saving power, and encourage one another. As Jesus sings with us, (Heb. 2:12) we are drawn to him as well as one another. Here at Covenant singing is very important to us. We also believe that God centered (means of grace) worship transcends style and trends and uses the best music and a variety of instruments. We also believe what we sing should be both formative (teach) and expressive (meaningful and emotional). Therefore, our worship is neither contemporary nor traditional, but one that firmly grounds us in our Biblical Reformed heritage, yet invites and draws a diversity of cultures as well as the unchurched.