Definition of Public Worship

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scottmaciver

Puritan Board Sophomore
This may be a fairly straight forward question but how ought we to define public worship? Is it simply a worship meeting held in public or are there particular elements that ought to be in place before it is legitimately considered as public worship?

The reason I'm asking is that there has been a conference held in one of the churches in our neck of the woods over the weekend. Some folk would consider it as public worship whereas others would not.

Any thoughts?
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
If it's to do with psalms/hymns and/or musical instruments, the question of public versus private worship is related to the regulative principle of worship, uniformity of worship and liberty of conscience.

In order to preserve liberty of conscience and uniformity of worship, the Westminster Divines, and Scottish Church of that time permitted only those materials of praise for which they had a high warrant from Scripture i.e. unaccompanied Psalms at the public stated services.

This means that liberty of conscience and uniformity of public worship are preserved. No-one can complain that their conscience is being trod on because they are ordinarily obliged to attend the stated services and also obliged to sing something they disapprove of biblically, or even just don't like.

On the other hand, those who do not believe that it is a sin to sing a hymn/certain hymns, can be free - if they are persuaded before God that it is not morally wrong - to sing hymns at other times. Dr John Kennedy of Dingwall sang hymns at home, and the 1673 Preface to the Scottish Metrical Psalter signed by e.g. Thomas Manton, John Owen and Thomas Watson, mentions "spiritual songs of mere human composure" as having "their use".

The Preface to the Scottish Psalter

So if any meetings are not the stated public services, people should decide for themselves before God and their conscience, whether to attend or not. Some people will eschew anything but the unaccompanied Psalms in all and any circumstances, while others won't.

See also Westminster and Worship Examined: A Review of Nick Needham

Notice that although the Scottish Church approved the Psalms of David only for public worship, they commissioned Zachary Boyd to prepare a metrical version of the other Scripture Songs, presumably for other use, such as in the home.
 

scottmaciver

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks Richard. The conference was exclusive psalmody without musical instruments so the question isn't specifically related to the form of worship, rather to the the definition of public worship in general.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Did the conference recognize itself as a gathering of a church (not just of individual Christians from perhaps different churches); was there a call to worship? If the answer is no to both; then it is difficult to see any justification to argue attending the conference could legitimately take the place of public worship, like if attending a different church while traveling. Some conferences held and hosted by individual churches may encompass the public worship services on a Lord's day; that would be different.
 

scottmaciver

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks Chris, the conference is not run by a particular denomination but by laymen from various denominations, neither was the conference run on the Lord's day. On the basis of what you're saying, are you suggesting that the conference would require to be run by a church with a call to worship in order to be considered as public worship?

Some suggested that it would require a call to worship and a benediction to be considered as public worship. In response I have heard others say that their Lord's Day services couldn't then be considered as public worship, as they don't fit that criteria, i.e. the minister who is not in the practice of concluding the service with the benediction.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I don't know how you determine otherwise; the church has to be called to public services (else how to determine Heb. 10:25) and dismissed whether by a benediction or not.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Another thing to consider is that just because Christians gather together as individuals into a group and do something does not make it public worship; it has to be a gathering of the church. If the conference is a volountary gathering without a formal call to order; it may having singing, preaching, teaching and other things that make up the ordinance of worship; but it is not the public worship of the church.
 

Scottish Lass

Puritan Board Doctor
Chris, how would you define the times during presbytery, GA, etc.? Our Synod has what we call opening worship with all elements present other than it being on the Lord's Day. We are of the same denomination, but not the same church.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I would suspect any court of a Presbyterian church that has a worship time or like NT Presbytery PCA, a worship service the night before, has a call to worship. So I would not think there was any issue that you had public worship going on.
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
Scott, you say it is a mixed organisation of laymen meeting to hear a particular preacher.
The fact that they are from various denominations shows that there is a standing division,
which in itself places a question mark on the authenticity of the public act of worship. There
has to be "one mind," for unity of purpose and worship. The marks of a church are also absent
to regularise the gathering. There are so many extraneous activities that are usurping the biblical
mandate of a local church, that tend to weaken the understanding amongst Christians of the beauty and
glory of the local expression of the body of Christ.
 
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