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In this final chapter, our focus is on a few principles and practices undergirding corporate worship services. This list is far from comprehensive. Rather, it’s meant to explain some practical ways all worship services can be more edifying to people and honoring to God.
Sabbath Rhythm in Worship
To worship the one true God (1st Commandment) in a true way (2nd Commandment) that brings honor to his name (3rd Commandment), we must remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy (4th commandment).
To keep the Sabbath Day holy means to set the day aside “for the Lord.” We set the day aside from all other ordinary days by stopping our work so we can focus more on God in worship as the source of all blessing in life. This weekly rhythm of the Sabbath Day helps us keep remembering and worshipping God as our creator and redeemer. (Exod 20:11, Deut 5:15, Exod 31:13)
The 4th Commandment instructs us to not only rest on one day but also to work for six days. However, this doesn’t mean these six days are to be without worship. From Genesis 1 onward, humans have the task of bringing honor and glory to God in worship through carrying out his will on the earth in service.
So, our corporate worship services on the Lord’s Day should inspire and instruct our personal worship in all of life during the rest of the week. Likewise, our personal worship in all areas of life, on Monday through Saturday, should inspire and culminate in our corporate worship on the Lord’s Day.
God builds this sabbath rhythm of corporate and private worship into his created order for his glory and for our good (Isa 58:13-14). To gather with God’s people to worship on the Lord’s Day is both our solemn duty and joyful privilege.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is at the center of biblical worship. It’s an announcement about something God has done in history. It’s the good news that the Father’s creation, ruined by the Fall, is being redeemed by Christ and restored by the Spirit into the kingdom of God.
Therefore, the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done is at the heart of God-honoring worship. What separates Christianity from all other religions is that God has revealed in Scripture not only who he is, his personal attributes, but also what he does, his acts in history.
Author James White says, “For Christianity, the ultimate meaning of life is revealed not by universal and timeless statements but by concrete acts of God.”
Just as God meant for the Exodus event to be central in Israel’s worship in the Old Testament, so God means for the events surrounding the person and work of Jesus Christ to be central in our worship today.
Israel’s worship celebrated their deliverance from captivity under an evil ruler in Egypt and how God brought them out of slavery and led them through the desert into the promised land. As this story is re-told and re-lived again and again in Hebrew worship, the people of Israel find purpose and power to live out this story in their personal lives.
In the Christ event we see the fulfillment of the Exodus event. Jesus is the Lamb of God prefigured in the Passover. Through his blood we are delivered from our slavery to sin so we can one day enter the Promised Land of eternal life with God in a new heavens and new earth.
As this story is re-told and re-lived again and again in Christian worship, we find purpose and power to align our life purpose with God’s.
Means of Grace
At the center of God-honoring worship is the ordinary means of grace given to us in prayer, the preaching of the Word, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
By his Holy Spirit, God uses common things in worship like human speech, water, bread, and wine to do a work of grace in our hearts as we draw near to Christ in faith.
The grace we receive by the Holy Spirit through baptism and the Lord’s Supper is the same grace we receive through prayer and the preaching of the Word. But unlike prayer and preaching, the sacraments use our sight, taste, touch, and smell to enhance our experience of the gospel as we feed spiritually on Christ by faith.
The Apostle Paul presents the Lord’s Supper to us as a multi-sensory preaching of the gospel to God’s people: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). However, the Lord’s Supper is not an end in itself. Instead, it is to be administered alongside the preaching of the Word.
In the early church, preaching and the Lord’s Supper went hand in hand. In Acts 2:42 we see that the first Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread (Lord’s Supper), and prayer.
Liturgy and Order
Christian liturgy is a pattern used in corporate worship. Although people usually refer to more traditional worship as liturgical, every worship service, including the most non-traditional, follows some kind of pattern.
In the Old Testament, God gave Israel a calendar of dates during which they celebrated God’s great acts of redemption and salvation. For example, the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. God also gave Israel the Psalms as their inspired hymnal.
New Testament worship practices came from the Jewish synagogue liturgies that had a particular pattern, including memorized prayers. Early church Christians prayed “the prayers” recited by the Jews (Acts 2:42), gathered on the first day of the week for the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7), took up financial collections for the poor (1 Cor 16:2), and sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19, Phil 2:6-11, 1 Tim 3:16 ).
Some people draw on worship patterns from encounters people had with God in the Old Testament (Isaiah 6) and Israel’s covenant renewal ceremonies. Examples include praise, confession, assurance of pardon, Scripture reading, proclamation of the Word, sacraments, and benediction.
It can also be helpful to draw patterns from our spiritual ancestors in church history who used the Ten Commandments, creeds, confessions, catechisms, responsive readings, etc. in worship.
But, we must always be cautious against absolutizing historic patterns–doing exactly the same thing every week in exactly the same order, and charging people with being unbiblical merely for suggesting something different.
We are to use liturgical elements in worship with excellence to help people focus on God. When the Apostle Paul gives instructions about worship liturgy to the church at Corinth, he writes, “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).
For example, if people can’t hear or understand the language spoken or sung, or the instruments used are out of tune, or those leading worship continue making mistakes, the focus in worship will not be on God.
Likewise, if a vocalist sings like a professional on a concert stage to a small gathering, musicians show off their musical talent, or those leading worship are so dressed up (or down) they draw attention to themselves, the focus in worship will also not be on God.
The goal is undistracted excellence, so whatever we do in worship we do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
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