Introduction to the Worship of God

Author: John Owen


The following Catechism explains the constitution and ordinances of a Christian Church, and the duties incumbent on its office-bearers and members. When it was first published, in 1667, the names of the author and of the printer were withheld, and no intimation even was given of the place in which it was printed, lest danger should be incurred by the publication of a work advocating a form of polity at variance with the ecclesiastical system which the Court was at that time striving to render, as far as possible, universal in England. Dissenting congregations were, however, springing up in different parts of the country, and for the guidance of the Independents the Catechism was particularly useful. It was so much appreciated, that in the same year in which it first appeared, a second edition, with some slight differences and emendations, was published; and hence certain discrepancies between the following version of it and the one which is given in Russell’s edition of our author’s works, printed from the first edition of the Catechism.

It came to be known as the "Independents’ Catechism," and an angry attack was made upon it, in 1669, by Benjamin Camfield, rector of Whitby, in Derbyshire, in an octavo volume of 347 pages, entitled "A Serious Examination of the Independents’ Catechism, and therein of the Chief Principles of Nonconformity to, and Separation from, the Church of England." The Catechism, in the estimation of the rector, was "the sink of all nonconforming and separating principles;" and he takes Owen to task for inconsistency in holding the Scriptures to be a sufficient rule of faith and duty. An attack conducted in this spirit only bespeaks the influence which this Catechism was beginning to exert in diffusing the principles and consolidating the interests of the denomination to which its author belonged. It was the occasion of another attack upon Owen, in the shape of a frivolous and bitter pamphlet with the title, "A Letter to a Friend concerning some of Dr. Owen’s Principles and Practices," etc., 1670. A copy of the Catechism had been sent by the "Friend" to the anonymous author of the pamphlet, who forthwith assailed Owen in a strain of pointless invective. The first charge against him is, that when vice-chancellor at Oxford, he had discountenanced some invidious distinctions in the dress of the members of the university, — "those habits and formalities by which persons of distinct qualities and degrees were distinguished in that school of learning." It was an offence, too, that "when he was brought into Westminster Hall for his witness against Mr. Dutton, he refused to kiss the book, and professed it to be against his conscience to swear with any other ceremony than with eyes and hands lifted up to heaven." The pamphlet closes with "An Independent Catechism," in which the views of our author are caricatured in a style that is intended to be witty.

Certain principles laid down in Owen’s Catechism, in regard to the ruling elder for example, are thought to bear some traces of affinity with Presbyterianism. Encouraged especially by the doctrine taught in it, that the elders, not the body of the church, are the primary subjects of office-power, Baxter wrote to Owen a long document of "theses," as the basis of a union between Independents and Presbyterians. "I am still a well-wisher to these mathematics," was his remark, when he finally returned the theses to their author; and "this," says Baxter, "was the issue of my third attempt for union with the Independents." There might be ground for supposing that, on terms suggested by the Catechism, a coalition might be effected between the two denominations; and Owen himself, in a subsequent work, indicated circumstances in which they could not have been in separation from each other without blame. Superior, however, in practical sagacity to his correspondent, he might see difficulties where Baxter saw none, or might feel that a formula of abstract theses was a waste of ingenuity, so long as the mutual confidence was lacking, which alone could affix upon the union the seal of permanence. Too often the victim of his own ardour and acumen, Baxter was prone to believe that the difficulty of adjusting the wayward eddies of human feeling and opinion into one smooth and onward current, should yield at once to the same treatment as would suffice to work a problem or frame a syllogism. The consummation for which he sincerely panted, — the outward unity of the church under one polity, — seems as yet reserved in providence to grace distant and happier times.

William H. Goold

They [believers] will receive nothing, practice nothing, own nothing in His worship, but what is of His appointment. They know that from the foundation of the world he never did allow, nor ever will, that in any thing the will of the creatures should be the measure of his honor, or the principle of his worship, either as to matter or manner. It was a witty and true sense that one gave of the Second Commandment, ’Non imago, non simulachrum prohibetur, sed, non facies titbi;’ — it is a making to ourselves, an inventing, a finding out ways of worship, or means of honoring God, not by him appointed, that is so severely forbidden. Believers know what entertainment all will-worship finds with God. "Who hath required this at your hand?" and "In vain do ye worship me, teaching for doctrines the traditions of men," is the best it meets with. I shall take leave to say what is upon my heart, and what (the Lord assisting) I shall willingly endeavor to make good against all the world, — namely, that that principle, that the church hath power to institute and appoint any thing or ceremony belonging to the worship of God, either as to matter or manner, beyond the orderly observance of such circumstances as necessarily attend such ordinances as Christ himself hath instituted, lies at the bottom of all the horrible superstition and idolatry of all the confusion, blood, persecution, and wars, that have for so long a season spread themselves over the face of the Christian world; and that it is the design of a great part of the Book of the Revelation to make a discovery of the truth.

And I doubt not but that the great controversy which God hath had with this nation for so many years, and which he hath pursued with so much anger and indignation, was upon this account, that, contrary to the glorious light of the Gospel, which shone among us, the wills and fancies of men, under the name of order, decency, and authority of the church (a chimera that none knew what it was, nor wherein the power did consist, nor in whom reside), were imposed on men in the ways and worship of God. Neither was all that pretence of glory, beauty, comeliness, and conformity, that then was pleaded, any thing more or less than what God doth so describe in the Church of Israel, Ezekiel 16:25 and forwards. Hence was the Spirit of God in prayer derided, — hence was the powerful preaching of the Gospel despised, — hence was the Sabbath-day decried, — hence was holiness stigmatized and persecuted. To what end? That Jesus Christ might be deposed from the sole power of law-making in his church, — that the true husband might be thrust aside, and adulterers of his spouse embraced, — that taskmasters might be appointed in and over his house, which he never gave to his church, Ephesians 4:11— that a ceremonious, pompous, outward show-worship, drawn from Pagan, Judaical, and Antichristian observances, might be introduced; of all which there is not one word, tittle, or iota in the whole book of God. This, then, they who hold communion with Christ are careful of, — they will admit nothing, practice nothing, in the worship of God, private or public, but what they have his warrant for. Unless it comes in his name, with "Thus saith the Lord Jesus," they will not hear an angel from heaven.

Owen on Communion with God, pp. 309, 310, fol. ed.


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Chicago: John Owen, "Preface," Introduction to the Worship of God in Introduction to the Worship of God, and Discipline of the Churches of the New Testament Original Sources, accessed February 25, 2024,

MLA: Owen, John. "Preface." Introduction to the Worship of God, in Introduction to the Worship of God, and Discipline of the Churches of the New Testament, Original Sources. 25 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Owen, J, 'Preface' in Introduction to the Worship of God. cited in 1667, Introduction to the Worship of God, and Discipline of the Churches of the New Testament. Original Sources, retrieved 25 February 2024, from