General Assembly Worship & Culture

General Assembly Worship & Culture

While I ordinarily prefer the old tunes over the new, this is not about a matter of style. I am not asserting General Assembly worship should only feature old hymn and psalm tunes. There is a place for new tunes, but new tunes should be introduced in a circumspect manner. TE Sean Morris recently noted regarding worship in Scotland that it was the rural churches there who were demanding new tunes for the psalter. Whether we sing old or new tunes, my concern is that General Assembly worship ought to manifest our Reformed Principles of congregational participation and covenantal dialogue with God.

In my previous article, I reflected on the public worship often offered at PCA General Assembly in contrast to my experience of public worship in local PCA congregations. Worship at the General Assemblies typically seem more like concerts with performers than Presbyterian worship services.Presbyterian worship services ought to be God’s people interacting with their Covenant Lord, as RE Brad Isbell explains about a typical PCA worship liturgy:

The dialogical pattern of God speaking by his Word and his people responding in prayer, praise, and confession is obvious.

While many General Assembly worship services may have a liturgy that reflects a dialogue, that dialogue is often eclipsed by the complexity of the forms of the worship service

Worship & Presbyterians

Worship is the most important thing we do; worship is the reason we were created. Worship is one of the three crucial markers of the true church:

This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them. (WCF 25:4)

Occasionally PCA candidates for licensure and ordination will be asked “What are the three marks of the Church,” and they will respond incorrectly with the three marks of the Belgic Confession.

1 In our Westminster Standards, the PCA confesses the three marks of the true church to be:

  • The Preaching of the Gospel
  • The Administration of the Sacraments
  • Public Worship

Since the PCA confesses public worship to be one of the three marks of a true Church, we ought earnestly strive to offer pure worship, biblical worship in all our public assemblies. And General Assembly ought to serve as a model, an exemplar of biblically ordered, confessionally faithful Reformed worship.

Worship & the Congregation

In the worship at our General Assemblies, the congregational singing is typically drowned out or emaciated. As I reflected on that assessment initially I thought perhaps that was the result of poor acoustics in the convention halls. But then I remembered the hymn and psalm singing during the assembly business is typically quite powerful as TE Larry Roff simply accompanies the Assembly on the organ.

2 The problem, it seems, is not one of acoustics; the problem is one of complexity and form.

This was also noticed by TE Kyle Brent who took to Twitter to highlight both where the Memphis Assembly did well and where there were opportunities for improvement in terms of public worship:

I’m more inclined towards traditional worship music and instrumentation but I much preferred the music and instrumentation of the second service of the #pcaga despite it being more “contemporary.” Why? It aided, and didn’t hinder, congregational singing.

Read More

Scroll to top