Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles of Practice of Biblical Worship

By John M. Frame
Phillipsburg, NJ : Presbyterian and Reformed (1996). 171 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
8.1 (Spring 1997) : 118-119

The Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, contributes a competent, all-around articulation of biblical worship obviously based on immense study. He writes with a refreshing clarity, explains scriptural concepts clearly, and shows good balance. He is also the Associate Pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido.

 Frame says in his Preface that as a Presbyterian his revised Reformed ideas permit more flexibility than those of the Puritans in applying biblical commands for worship. He achieves this, he believes, while remaining sensitive to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms (xiii). He attempts to state the main biblical principles that govern public worship, and uses Scripture copiously, believing in inerrancy (xiv). He acknowledges that the principles will fit forms of worship not in the Reformed Tradition (xv). He also tries to deal seriously with problems in Presbyterian forms that turn people off. He strives to be sensitive to Scripture, but allow freedom in possible ways worship can carry out the principles. Biblical details leave many issues of method open, so people can vary and still fulfill true worship (xvi).

Chapter 1 discusses what worship is in acknowledging the great covenant Lord, who sovereignly controls, and in experiencing His presence. The focus is so much on public worship that it will disturb some that Frame speaks of leaving worship (5). Christians never should! Later in the book he corrects that idea. Another problematic statement is to the effect that ". . . to glorify God is to praise Him" (10). Actually believers are to glorify God in all they do, and direct praise is only one facet of this. Later, Frame shows his agreement on that point: "Worship is not one segment of the Christian life among others. Worship is the entire Christian life, seen as a priestly offering to God" (11).

Chapter 2 presents an excellent, brief survey of worship in the OT, Chapter 3 in the NT. Sometimes the writer distinguishes prayer and praise (17) (actually praise is one of several aspects in prayer); at other times he recognizes that though praise is not the whole of prayer, the two are the same if one refers to praise as a part of prayer. The OT discussion moves to worship in unscheduled meetings with God, sacrifices, sabbaths, feasts, Tabernacle, Temple, worship by priests and Levites, and worship in the synagogues. The NT chapter shows that worship is Christians' sacrifice of themselves to God's will, living all of life as believer priests (30), worshiping in all things of life (34).

 "Rules for Worship" is the subject of chap. 4, while chap. 5 takes up "What to Do In Worship." As to rules, Frame shows that God's Word governs worship rightly done. The worshiper must apply it with godly wisdom, based on valid principles that align with scriptural purposes for worship. Freedom exists as to exact order in a public service, since Scripture gives no list (53). It is not apropos to list singing, then teaching, for singing should have a teaching thrust (cf. Col 3:16), prayers include teaching, and songs can contain prayer. The principles and tone of Scripture should create sensitivity for a spirit of true worship aimed at pleasing God (55). Frame believes that prophesying and speaking in tongues was a part of the public worship in the church-founding era only (57). He suggests as parts of such gathering such things as greetings, benedictions, reading Scripture, preaching/teaching, prayer, song, vows, confession of faith, sacraments, church discipline, offerings, expressions of fellowship such as the "love feast" and "holy kiss," and announcements (59- 60).

 An entire chapter (7) deals with the effect of worship on the emotions, seeing emotions as having a positive value without advocating "emotionalism." Frame reasons for a balance between intellect, will, and emotions, i.e., the whole person (78). He argues with sensible balance for authenticity in worship, whatever the setting or variation of structure (84- 85).

The author advocates infant baptism, giving his reasons (98), and has much to say about the worshipers' response to the Word in prayer. Here he includes praise, requests, confession, and thanks, but has no clear mention of the intercessory aspect, although he includes in prayer anything that is the will of God. Chapters 10-12 relate to church music. Frame's focus is that music should not be rigid but communicative in helping people to worship God. People old and young should be willing to sympathize with one another's feelings and keep in unity, both being sensitive to helping others grow. Words in music should be true to the Bible, reverent, and joyful.

The author includes, after his final chapter, an annotated bibliography of thirty-nine works on worship, then an index of Bible texts.

The book is a quality survey, stimulating in its style and comments on issues, responsibly attentive to Scripture, and flexibly fair where Scripture permits varied practice. The sub-title seems accurate, "A Refreshing Study. . . ." Other fairly recent, provocative books pastoral ministers or serious lay readers can find profitable are: D. A. Carson, ed., Worship: Adoration and Action (Baker, 1993) and David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Eerdmans, l992).