Philosophy of Worship

The philosophy, planning and leading of all corporate worship at McIlwain Presbyterian Church is guided by three fundamental principles.  Much as a three-legged stool must have all three legs present to serve its function, these principles are so important to Christian worship that one can say that it is not possible to have worship with any one of them missing. 

Worship is about God. 

The first two of the 10 commandments establish the obvious focus of true worship (Exodus 20:3-4).  In worship we are to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (Psalm 96:7, 8).  This means that the “audience” in worship is God, not the congregation; for that reason the goal of worship is not to seek to move people emotionally but to seek to give God worthy praise for who he is and what he does in redeeming his people.  However, it is a wonderful reality of God’s goodness to us that, when he is faithfully praised he reminds us that he, the high and exalted God, enthrones himself upon the praise of his people (Psalm 22:3)—and blesses us with his presence in ways that are powerful and deeply moving. 

Scripture regulates worship.  

We must turn to the Scriptures alone to discover not only the character of God but also the nature of reverent, acceptable worship (Hebrews 12:28).  We cannot simply assume that whatever pleases us also pleases God, and Scripture records the repeated tragedies of those who made this assumption.  Jesus said in John 4:23 and 24 that true worship comes from true knowledge of God—the only source of which is God’s Word.  

Since this is true, it follows that the regulative function of Scripture establishes a principle that transcends mere cultural expressions.  In other words, the regulative principle will not allow for the canonization of either a particular style of music or expression of liturgy.  God’s people have therefore had tremendous biblical freedom to express their praise to God within their own time and culture. 

Worship is for believers.  

The act of worshiping this God who has made a covenant with particular people throughout history is reserved for those who belong to him by that same covenant.  Peter tells us that God saves sinners so that he may be worshiped

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  Jesus himself establishes as the fundamental criterion for worship that the worshiper do so “in Spirit”—that is, that the worshiper be born of the Spirit (John 4:23, 24; see also Philippians 3:3) and, consequently, led by the Spirit in the truth of God’s Word in order to worship in spirit and truth.  

Christian worship, therefore, is the eager privilege of those who have submitted to Christ in repentance and faith and are being transformed into his likeness by his grace to ascribe to their redeeming God the “honor due his name” (Psalm 96:7, 8).

This doesn’t mean that unbelievers, whom are surely almost always present in any worship service, cannot be engaged.  Because all of the above is true, faithful worship will always relate a majesty, power and beauty that is focused on Christ and driven by the grace of the Gospel.  God uses such worship to reach the heart of unbelievers by a true display of both his wrath against sin and his mercy for sinners in Jesus Christ, calling them to repent, believe and, “with yonder sacred throng” fall at his feet, “join the everlasting song and crown him Lord of all!”

For more about worship and evangelism visit Planning and Leading Worship.