June 5, 2013
vi. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the Gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshipped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calls thereunto.
It is an interesting question as to whether or not there is such a thing as "holy space" in the New Testament. The Confession asserts clearly that there is no significance to place, or direction (e.g., Rome and Laudian Anglicanism prayed in an easterly direction). God can be worshiped everywhere and anywhere, provided it be in spirit and truth. Here, the Confession introduces the concept of personal (private) worship and family worship - a regular and disciplined aspect of seventeenth century puritan life. In particular, the regular gatherings of corporate worship are viewed as essential (in light of the doctrine of Sabbath in the next sections of the Confession).
Of interest are the words: "more solemnly in public assemblies." David Clarkson, contemporary of John Bunyan and successor to John Owen's congregation following the latter's death, published Public Worship Preferred before Private (based on Psalm 87:2) suggesting among other things that the Lord is more glorified, is more present, and manifests himself more clearly in public rather than private worship. In addition, he suggested that there are greater promises that attach to public worship. In a time that largely views public worship as utilitarian and optional, this view is widely contested today.
Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is minister of preaching and teaching at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.