During the Reformation, John Calvin saw a need to help the church rehearse gospel rhythms when it gathered for worship. His liturgy, or order of worship, followed three movements—a cycle of adoration, a cycle of renewal, and a cycle of commitment.
When you think about explaining a worship service to kids, you might say something like this: “First, we sing. Then, we listen to the sermon.” But most worship gatherings involve more than music and preaching. When the church gathers, we follow a rhythm—or liturgy—of call and response. It’s like a big game of follow the leader. First, we hear God speak through his Word, and then we move in response to him.
Maybe you’ve noticed this rhythmic back and forth in your own church’s gatherings. First, you hear God’s Word call to you—perhaps in what we describe literally as the “call to worship” but then also in words of blessing or assurance and finally in the sermon’s words of instruction. Then, after you hear from God’s Word, you respond by lifting your voice in song, greeting others, giving, or by shouting “Amen!” We repeat this back and forth every week when we come to church, just as Christians have for hundreds of years.
Our “follow the leader” pattern of worship is built on two truths:
First, Worship Must Be Biblical
This is what Reformed theologians throughout history have called the regulative principle of worship—the principle that all we do in worship should follow what we see prescribed and described in the Scriptures. In several places in the Bible, we find vivid warnings about what happens when God’s people—in their pride—disregard God’s instructions for worship. You might think of Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire (Lev. 10), Eli’s sons taking advantage of the congregation by stealing the choicest portions of their sacrifices (1 Sam. 2:12–36), or Ananias and Saphira lying to the apostles about their gift for the poor (Acts 5:1–11).
We find another such warning in the chronicler’s account of sixteen-year-old king Uzziah. Now Uzziah was a good king who feared God and did what was right in his sight (26:1–5). As a result, Uzziah had success against his enemies (vv. 6–8). Israel was strengthened (vv. 9, 11–15), and the nation prospered (v. 10). “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall” (v. 16). Arrogantly, the king took it upon himself to enter the temple to burn incense on the altar as if he’d been commissioned as a priest in addition to being the king. The priests confronted Uzziah, but he responded to them with raging anger (vv. 17–19). So God afflicted Uzziah with leprosy until the day he died (v. 20).