Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 22 ~ Worship and the Sabbath

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Worship on God’s terms

This rather lengthy chapter of the Confession (comparatively speaking) begins with the firm statement that God demands that he be worshipped on his own terms:

The light of nature shows that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. (pg. 92)

This is of course something which is explicitly stated in Scripture.  For example, Moses reiterates this to the nation of Israel on the border of the Promised Land.  He commands:

When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not enquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.  Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. (Deut. 12:29-32)

There are then four ‘terms’ of worship which are asserted.

God alone is to be worshipped

The Confession forbids the worship of angels, saints, or any other creatures.  It also denies the praying to others, and praying for the dead.  It is God alone who is to be worshipped; and the triune God at that ‘God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ (pg. 92).  Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, makes the very same point during his temptation by Satan.  Satan 1689 - Finalencourages Jesus to fall down and worship him, to which Jesus responds ‘Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”’ (Mt. 4:9-10).  Therefore, for God to be worshipped on his own terms demands that he alone be worshipped.

Prayer through Jesus

The Confession also offers some practical and pastoral counsel on prayer and its exercise.  According to the Confession it is one part of natural worship which is to be made in the name of the Son and with the aid of the Spirit (the Confession points to Jn. 14:13-14 and Rom. 8:26 in defence of these statements).  It then very helpfully urges us to pray ‘with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love and perseverance’ (pg. 93).  Somewhat controversially it adds ‘and when with others, in a known tongue’, and yet this seems to me to be in complete agreement with Paul when he writes to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 14:13-19).  Again, for God to be worshipped on his own terms demands that prayer be offered through Jesus.

Corporate Gatherings

The Confession does not state in so many words that it is speaking of corporate gatherings of God’s people at this point and yet in what it describes it can hardly be speaking of anything other!

The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord’s supper, are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear (pg. 93-94).

It would appear that this is exactly what the early church partook in as they also met (Acts 2:42).  For God to be worshipped on his own terms demands that his people meet together for corporate worship.

No Longer tied to one place

The final term that the Confession is keen to note is that the worship of God is no longer tied to one particular place.  This is of course based on Jesus’ words in John 4; neither on this or that mountain will we worship God, but rather we will worship Him in Spirit and Truth (vv. 21-24).  The Confession then applies this beneficially to the joy of worshipping God with one’s family in private, or indeed by one’s self.  Yet it also warns that this is not a replacement for the corporate gathering which we mentioned above.  To worship God on his own terms means he can be worshipped anywhere at anytime.

The Sabbath

Within the Confession the worship of God is also tied tightly to the institution of the Sabbath.  It is noted that until Christ’s resurrection the holy day onto the Lord was the Sabbath, and that from the resurrection of Christ it is now the Lord’s Day (or Sunday).  It proceeds to argue:

The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (pg. 95-96)

While I am still in the midst of developing my own understanding of the institution of the Sabbath, its development into the Lord’s Day and the biblical theological concept of Sabbath rest, it seems to me slightly erroneous to demand a day on which particular Old Covenant rules are to be observed in New Covenant worship.  In particular I think of Jesus’ statements about the Sabbath (Mt. 12:1-8), and the author of the Hebrews arguing that our new covenant Sabbath rest is future (Heb. 3:7-4:13).  Even so, this does not negate that there should be a day set aside to worship with God’s people – and what better day of the week than the one on which Jesus rose again from the dead!

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