Truths about Christian Worship
“The triune God assembles his covenant people for public worship in order to manifest and renew their covenant bond with him and one another. The Holy Spirit engages them and draws them into the Father’s presence as a living sacrifice in Christ. God himself has fellowship with them, strengthening and guiding them for life in his presence and service in his kingdom.” (The Directory for the Public Worship of God, 2011 Edition, I,B.5., p. 127)
Recently for our adult Christian Education Class we have been studying contemporary issues in worship. Thus far we have been focusing on the purpose and the principles of public worship. Some of the things that we have been, or will be, considering about corporate Christian worship include the following:
(1) Christian worship is to be God-centered.
God’s glory, not our needs and desires, is the chief end and goal of public worship. The church’s main concern in public worship should not be catering to the “felt needs” of attendees, but seeking to glorify God in all the elements of worship. It is as God is most glorified that His covenant people are most edified.
(2) Christian worship is Covenantal.
In the covenant of grace God promises to be God to us believers and to our children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39; etc.). In public worship God reaffirms His covenant mercies to us in Christ. In the salutation and call to worship God summons and invites us as His covenant people into His special presence before His throne of grace (Heb. 4:14-16). By word and sacrament God speaks afresh His grace to us in Christ and confirms our participation in this covenant bond. In the Word – read, preached and sacramentally sealed – He reaffirms His covenant love for us in Christ, and we respond to His Word with confession of sin, prayer and praise. In the benediction our Triune God declares His blessing upon us through His ordained servant, the Minister. Thus Christian worship involves covenant renewal.
(3) Christian worship is Trinitarian.
We have been baptized into the Name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Because of our baptism we bear the Name of the Holy Trinity before the world. Our baptism into the Name of the Holy Trinity reminds us that we are saved only because the Father has unconditionally elected us in Christ, the Son has effectually redeemed us by His blood, and the Holy Spirit has sovereignly regenerated us by the Word. We are a trinitarian people who sacramentally bear the Trinitarian Name. God’s Word also reminds us that, as we are a trinitarian people (those who bear the Name of the Holy Trinity), our worship is to be Trinitarian. Scripture summons us believers to come to the Father by faith in and through the mediation of the Son, and in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. The trinitarian focus of public worship should be evident in every service of Christian worship.
(4) Christian worship is Dialogical.
“Because a service of public worship is in its essence a meeting of the triune God with his chosen people, a worship service consists of two principal parts: those elements which are performed on behalf of God (through a representative voice) and those elements which are performed by the congregation (through their own or a representative voice).” (pp. 128-129 in The Directory for the Public Worship of God, 2011 Edition, I,C.1.). In public worship God speaks to us by the Word and Sacraments, through the representative voice of His ordained servant, and the congregation responds in prayer, praise and confession. Corporate Christian worship is a dialogue between God and His covenant people.
(5) Christian worship is Liturgical.
If Christian worship is dialogical, then it cannot help but also be liturgical. “Liturgy” simply refers to the ordering of the elements of worship. To say that Christian worship is “liturgical” does not necessarily mean that it must use an elaborate liturgy or book of written prayers. Even the most informal churches have a “liturgy” in the sense of having a basic structure or order of service. But Christian worship is to be “liturgical” in the sense that the elements of worship are to be carried out “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40, ESV). Our God is a God of order, and He is not honored by chaos, confusion or liturgical anarchy in the corporate assembly.
(7) Christian worship is Supernatural.
Scripture teaches that when God’s people come before Him in corporate worship, by faith and through the Holy Spirit they actually ascend into the realm of heaven. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24, ESV) While God is present everywhere by virtue of His omnipresence, God is present in a special way when the church assembles together for worship. Whether we realize it or not, supernatural stuff is going on during a faithful Christian worship service! Jesus Christ is literally present, by His Word and Spirit. Though we cannot see them, angels are also present with us in the public assembly (1 Cor. 11:10; Heb. 12:22). God through Christ comes to us in order to feed us by the word and sacrament. By faith we receive His grace anew, and are strengthened for our ongoing pilgrimage of discipleship, as we journey on that narrow road that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). Public worship is thus a foretaste of heaven. Anyone who would find such worship “boring” either does not really understand or believe the supernatural stuff that is actually taking place in a simple service of corporate Christian worship.
Our “chief end” as God’s image-bearers is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (Shorter Catechism # 1). One of the most important ways that we do this is by assembling with God’s people for worship on the Lord’s Day. Given the importance of public worship, let us heed the exhortation of the author of Hebrews: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day* approaching.” (Heb. 10:25, NIV)
*The “Day” referred to in this passage is the Day of judgment.