A dear friend took my wife and me to dinner last week. We went to an expensive restaurant that served a fabulous meal. But that is not why he chose it. Rather, it was a place particularly suited for conversation. There was no loud music blaring, no televisions with ESPN highlights and scrolling baseball scores. Undisturbed, we dined and talked for nearly five hours, and it was a delightful time.
Reflecting later on the experience, I was struck by how the conditions for fine dining can differ so much from our expectations for public worship. My own congregation promotes its worship as simple, avoiding the worship bands, big screens, and other common features of many churches today. But any pride that I may be tempted to feel is dispelled when I read how the Westminster Assembly, in its Directory for Public Worship, prescribed the proper way to approach worship:
The people are wholly to attend upon [worship], forbearing to read anything, except what the minister is then reading or citing; and abstaining much more from all private whisperings, conferences, salutations, or doing reverence to any person present, or coming in; as also from all gazing, sleeping, and other indecent behavior, which may disturb the minister or people, or hinder themselves or others in the service of God.
Whispering, gazing, sleeping—if I am honest, I must plead guilty to these and other “indecent behaviors” that hinder my worship and disturb others. The Westminster Larger Catechism reinforces a demand for reverent attention in worship. Pew sitters are to
attend upon [the Word read and preached] with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives. (Q&A 160)
An unattainably high bar, we are liable to think. But the Westminster divines wanted us to understand that it is largely through public worship that God meets with His people. These standards serve to deliver God’s promise that the Word and the sacraments are effectual to the elect for salvation. Reformed worship is about guarding the pulpit and fencing the table. The Westminster Assembly goes even further and asks, How are we to eliminate the distractions that beset us in worship?
For one, we might rethink the logic of “seeker-sensitive worship.” We should be concerned about visitors in our worship, but our concern for them should not prompt us to maximize their comfort and pleasure over the worship of God.