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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.

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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.

Gospel-Remembering

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.

Undistracted Excellence

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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In this final lesson in the Worship Course, we focus on a few principles and practices undergirding corporate worship services.

In this 6-part series you’ll be equipped to:

      • Distinguish between worship in its broad and narrow sense
      • Affirm the vertical and horizontal dimensions of worship
      • Understand the role of Scripture as the only authority regarding worship practices
      • Learn how to determine worship practices not addressed in Scripture
      • Illustrate how worship includes our understanding, affections, and behavior
      • Demonstrate the importance of the means of grace and the elements of worship

This brief video (8:46) will help you understand some practical ways all worship services can be more edifying to people and honoring to God.

Preview New Course: Worship

Registration closes February 15

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Members and leaders of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China

Editor’s note: Over 100 members of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, were arrested beginning Sunday, December 9. Among those taken away were Pastor Wang Yi, senior pastor of Early Rain, and his wife, Jiang Rong. Pastor Wang Yi and his elder Timothy Li Yingquiang are still in custody, along with many others, some now in re-education centers, including students.

Wang Yi is one of China’s most prominent protestant pastors, a respected intellectual, a legal scholar, a renowned human rights advocate, and a church movement leader. His Early Rain Covenant Church is one of the best known unregistered “house” churches in China. 

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s increasing crackdown on religious freedom is escalating especially since a new set of regulations to govern religious affairs came into effect in February 2018 to increase punishments for “unofficial churches” like Early Rain. This story is being reported in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, AP NewsWorld Magazine.

All of the documents below are primary source documents written in Chinese by the persecuted church leaders at Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China as well as important documents signed by groups of Chinese church leaders.

Please pray and share with others. Thanks!

If you need a quick summary of the situation, I recommend watching the latest CNN video (link below) and reading the excellent introduction (the story and the background) written by Joe Carter from the Gospel Coalition (link below)

100 Christians Detained in China crackdown (CNN Breaking News Video 2:34)

The Story and The Background (Gospel Coalition)


Key Papers by Persecuted Chinese Church Leaders

1. Chinese Churches Appeal for Prayer and Help for Persecuted Early Rain Church(华西区会致基督众教会的代祷信)

To read the original Chinese document(中文): Click Here

To read the English translation: Click Here

To read the Japanese translation: Click Here

2. Urgent Prayer Updates Directly From Persecuted Early Rain Church in China(秋雨圣约教会紧急代祷信息)

To read the original Chinese updates(中文): Click Here

To read the English translation of updates: Click Here

3. My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience (我的声明:信仰上的抗命) – Early Rain Church Pastor and Legal Scholar, Wang Yi(王怡牧师)*

To read the original Chinese document(中文): Click Here

To read the English translation: Click Here

To read the Spanish translation: Click Here

To read the French translation: Click Here

To read the Japanese translation: Click Here

To read the Italian translation: Click Here

To read the Korean translation: Click Here

* More translations coming soon, we hope.

4. In The Face of Persecution, What Will I Do? (14 Step Plan) (面对逼迫,我会怎么做) – Early Rain Church Pastor and Legal Scholar, Wang Yi (王怡牧师)

To read the original Chinese document(中文): Click Here

To read the English translation: Click Here

5. How the Church Should Face Persecution(教会如何面对逼迫)– Early Rain Church Elder and School Headmaster Li Yingqiang(李英强长老)

To read the original Chinese document(中文): Click Here

To read the English translation: Click Here

6. Church-State Conflict: 20 Ways Persecution is God’s Way to Shepherd Us (政教冲突的属灵益处) – Pastor Wang Yi (王怡牧师)

To read the original Chinese document(中文): Click Here

To read the English translation: Click Here

7. Reaffirming Our Stance On The House Churches (95 Theses) (我们对家庭教会立场的重申 (九十五条)) – by Wang Yi and Early Rain Church Leaders

To read the original Chinese document(中文): Click Here

To read the English translation: Click Here

8. A Joint Statement by Pastors: A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith (11th edition, 458 pastors) (牧者联署:为基督信仰的声明)

To read the original Chinese document(中文): Click Here

To read the English translation: Click Here

Please share these documents with others for prayer. Thanks.


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