“My beloved is mine, and I am his.” Song of Solomon 2:16
Our church has recently enjoyed two weddings, and a third is scheduled within two weeks. As their minister, I ask the engaged couple to choose the Scripture for their service. Ephesians chapter 5 verses 22 to 32 has been a popular choice, as it should be! Here Paul teaches the duties and relations of the husband and the wife using the analogy of Christ, the Bridegroom to his bride, the Church. The passage teaches the roles of leadership and submission in the marriage modeled after the divine love that Christ has for his Church.
God himself is the source of all love, including the love between husband and wife. The intraTrinitarian love between the individual persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is the basis of all human relationships. From all eternity God has enjoyed this holy love within the Godhead without end and without distraction. True love is zealous for its own, as every new husband and bride surely knows. And though we celebrate marriages in public with family and friends, there comes a time when the married couple will enjoy intimacy in private, with as little distraction as possible — some call that special time the honeymoon.
The Lord Jesus Christ has betrothed himself to his bride, the Church, and by his Spirit has brought her into a spiritual fellowship with the Triune God (1 John 1:1-3). The consummation of the Lord Jesus’ marriage is planned for the end of the age. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit’s work is to take from the eternal things of Christ and bring them into the lives of believers in the here and now. The result is that every believer, and the invisible Church as a whole, experiences divine love and true spiritual intimacy with his Beloved.
As Evangelical Christians, we hold that this spiritual intimacy may be experienced at any time and in many ways by believers. We also profess that the best place and time to experience this intimacy is in the gathered church at worship on the Lord’s Day.
At Covenant Presbyterian Church, our Order of Worship is designed as an intimate spiritual conversation between God and his people, or between Christ and his beloved Church. At portions of the service God speaks to his beloved church by the mouth of an elder, as when the Scripture is read. The church then responds to her Beloved in song or in prayer, by the leading of an elder. Back and forth goes this holy conversation. The church elder is not a mediator; however, for the church needs no mediator when relating to her Lord Jesus (she already enjoys union with Jesus’ humanity in heaven in the Spirit). The church elder is merely a representative of the people to and from God. The purpose of this Order is to please God by keeping the conversation as Word-rich, and therefore as spiritually pleasing to God, as possible. After all, when expressed in faith and from a sincere heart, the language of Scripture best corresponds to the Bride’s intimate language and manner with her Bridegroom. Anything that interferes with this intimate conversation is best minimized or excluded altogether during worship (Song of Solomon 2:7).
Congregational worship that intends to offer to God what is pleasing to him must be regulated by Scripture. How else can the Bride be sure that her speech will please her Lord? And how else will the Bride discern the voice of her Beloved in the congregation except by the Scriptures (1 John 4:1)? In Reformed Churches, the rule that Scripture alone must govern this holy and intimate conversation between God and his people is called the Regulative Principle of Worship. Only Scripture is sufficient to instruct us how to please the Lord, especially at corporate worship.
Worshippers who presume to know what pleases God apart from Scripture and so offer to God whatever seems right to them demonstrate that they are not interested in a holy and intimate conversation with the Lord of the Church. In Scripture, worship of this kind is recognized as pertaining to the flesh and not to the Spirit, and is called “self-made religion”(ethelothrēskia; ref. Col 2:23)2. This kind of worship, however well-intended, displeases God. Worse, it is condemned by him. As for the Bridegroom and his Bride, they are one in Spirit (1 Cor 6:17). This means that fleshly corporate worship will only distract and annoy the Couple. From the initial Call to Worship to the concluding Benediction, nothing but “worship in Spirit and in truth” must transpire in God’s house (John 4: 22-24; Matt 21:13).
Worshippers that reverence the Lord by obediently offering him his heart’s desire at congregational worship will be blessed to receive back their own heart’s desire, namely himself, as discerned in his familiar voice, with all other saving benefits at the hand of their Beloved (Psalm 37:4)3. This supernatural experience comprises the Church’s fellowship with and in her Lord at worship. In a Scriptureregulated corporate worship, believers enjoy the greatest intimacy possible in this life with their Beloved Lord Jesus, until the fullness of the Bride is presented in heaven. In heaven, nothing will distract our communion with Christ. This is why we structure the Order of Worship as we do at Covenant Presbyterian Church.