How many jokes have been made about the reformed regarding the issue of worship? I am fairly sure that I saw a Babylon Bee headline once quipping that, in a reformed congregation, motion-sensing lights might turn off during a worship service. Obviously, that is a joke about our stiffness and stillness. Some love to call us the frozen chosen.
Are they right? Are the reformed too stiff, too still, too joyless, too non-expressive? Or, is this an issue of reverence? Is this an issue of some Christians avoiding chaos and emotionalism?
In truth, I would suggest that both opposite sides in this discussion have something true to bring to the table. On the one hand, some of my dear reformed brethren are so tightly wound that they will not look or sound joyful anywhere near the worship service. They believe they are showing God proper respect, and thus are to be commended. But they also may go too far so as to give off an impression of stiffness, of an antiseptic blandness, that I do not think the Lord requires or inspires.
At the same time, we cannot assume that we know whether or not a person is participating in worship based on our perception of their emotional reaction. You cannot tell if a person is worshipping the Lord by the look on their face, or by the posture of their bodies. Stillness, reverence, awe, even sorrow over sin are proper worshipful responses.
Look at this text from Psalm 47, and take particular note of two contrasting points regarding worship.
1 Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.
Did you see it? Verse 1 says to clap and shout for joy. This is clearly a call to expressive praise. This is a call to loud celebration. But verse 2 then tells us that the reason for this praise is that God is to be feared. And we do not associate fear with the expressions of joy in verse 1.
What then should be a part of our worship? The answer is that which Scripture commands. We should be joyful. There is room for applause and loud singing for joy to the glory of God (v. 1). There is room for reverent stillness, kneeling, and trembling to the glory of God (v. 2). No, there is not room for chaos. There is not room for irreverence, foolishness, or disorder in worship. But neither is there room for a false severity that would make a person think that we are a sour people singing sour songs to a sour God.
Do not hear me telling any of us that we should be something we are not. I’m not suggesting that any reformed church fire up a smoke machine, a light show, and start singing shallow songs of happy clappy silliness. In truth, I do not find any of those things to be what the Lord has commanded. Nor do I think we need to drum up false applause after our songs because verse 1 said clap. What I think is that we should see Verse 1, if we are wired toward stiffness, as a reminder that worshipping the Lord our God is a great and joyful privilege that should bring out of us expressions of joy—not irreverent expressions or chaotic expressions, but true expressions nonetheless.
At the same time, I am also not telling those who have a more expressive bent to become somber. Yet, if your worship does not include the fear of verse 2, your worship is lacking an element that the Scripture commands and commends. Sing for joy. Rejoice that God invites you to proclaim the truth of his glory. But then tremble at that glory, remembering the depth of your sin, the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice, and the holiness of the one whose praises you sing.