Normative vs. Regulative.
The confessional standards of Presbyterianism commit us to the Regulative Principle of Worship – only that which is commanded is permitted in worship. This contrasts with the Normative Principle of Worship found in Anglicanism and Lutheranism, that anything not explicitly forbidden is thereby permitted in worship.
In this last week I have been reading the excellent short study by D G Hart, “With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship”.
One passage that struck me was his discussion of the suggestion that in addition to the Godward aspect of worship, good worship also contains a horizontal or manward direction :
“Good worship, some maintain, should contain both of these features, blending the vertical Godward elements with the horizontal “edifying” elements.
But the principal of covenantal or dialogical worship, following biblical patterns of worship, challenges this distinction by insisting that all worship is vertical. It is a holy transaction or conversation between God and his people. It is not a conversation among god’s people. When we greet our neighbours in the next pew or when we listen to testimonies, we are not worshipping God. As edifying as these activities may be, and as encouraging as they are in the appropriate setting, corporate worship is a time when the dialog goes back and forth between God and his people. It is a time – and one of the rare times during our busy weeks – when we need to hear that God is faithful and continues to be our God, and when we reaffirm our vows to be his faithful people.” (Page 96)
Do we still accept the Regulative Principle? It is easy to think that our adjustments to worship enhance it and our experience. Hart notes that these additions to worship may be, indeed often are, edifying and encouraging in a different context. For example, welcoming visitors before worship or speaking to them after worship should be encouraged as a Christian responsibility. However, to break the flow of worship in order to chat to a neighbour is inappropriate. Similarly church notices are important, but they can be given before worship begins rather than during worship as a sort of advertising break.
Sometimes the time before worship begins can be a bit of a rabble. This is before the call to worship, so technically the day to day gossip is not violating worship but it does hinder preparation for worship.
“It is very important that we take time to prepare our hearts to worship God before we set foot in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. God made this clear amid the awesome circumstances of the giving of the law in Exodus 19. God called the people to prepare to come into His presence, or near His presence, but not actually onto the mountain where He would speak to Moses. “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’” (Ex. 19:10–11). God wanted the people of Israel, before they came near to Him, to get ready to come near to Him, to prepare themselves for an encounter with Him.
Our church service begins at 10:30 a.m. At 10:20, we turn the lights down and begin the prelude. This is the signal for our people to begin preparing for worship. By contrast, God gave Israel two days to prepare.” ( R C Sproul, Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow)
So do greet visitors warmly before the service and continue the conversations after worship, but like a football player warming up for a game, take the last five minutes before worship to calm your soul and consider the awesome and glorious privilege of entering into God’s presence. Prepare your heart for the blessing of worship.