“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” ~John 4:23-24
Worship and the Mystery of God
In examining the concept of worship, the Church of Jesus Christ can learn from Old Testament forms of worship, the New Testament patterns, and the worship of the Church over the centuries. Taking the last concept first, the following can be observed.
First, the Pastor dominates much modern-day worship. This is not a criticism but an observation. In some assemblies the Pastor is expected to lead the singing, make the announcements, read the Scriptures, preach the sermon and do much more.
Second, the congregation has become an audience. A nice program is expected that will be special, entertain, and be informative. A little involvement is given but a whole lot of watching and listening goes on. The result is a measure of self-consciousness if a hand is raised in praise or an “Amen” is said, or the desire to clap is not contained. The audience is polite as the pastor challenges individuals to live up to their human potential. In all of this, the nagging question lingers, “Did we really worship God today?”
A third observation is that in most worship services, the freedom to worship is not really the freedom of worship. Some congregations are bound to a bulletin. In most assemblies the order of worship was set in spiritual cement years ago. One of the saddest things I once heard was the Pastor apologizing for slightly changing the order of communion. Who has not sensed the sterility of sameness that characterizes so many Protestant services, Sunday after Sunday. Who needs the prompting of the Holy Spirit? We have our bulletins.
Yet a fourth thought that might have filtered across the soul is this: the mystery of God is gone. The very atmosphere seems to work against reverence. In fact, it could be argued that more than a little of the world’s influence can be felt. Consider this fact.
Once the Church was organized around the sacred seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost.
A sense of spiritual time that told the mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection unfolding throughout the year has given way to a more secular Church calendar. Robert E. Weber, a professor of theology at Wheaton College writes in his book, Worship Is A Verb, there came time when he began to have new insight into worship.
First, I began to see the primary task of the Church to be worship. If this be true than evangelism, soul-winning, missions, teaching etc. takes on a secondary role.
Second, I rediscovered that worship is source of spiritual renewal. Worship is not a time to settle the theological problems of the ages. Nor is it a time to be whipped or intimidated. It is the opportunity to meet with God and celebrate the life of Christ.
Third, worship became an active experience. “I learned that the God who spoke, speaks…The God who acted, acts.” And Mr. Weber wanted to act too. He wanted to respond to the God who was communicating to Him through the Scriptures, prayer, fellowship, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). The call should go out for a participating worship. That brings up the question as to how a congregation becomes more involved with the activity of worship. That they should be involved is indicated by a natural desire to participate. Several things can help.
First, allow the arts of worship to be expressed such as a variety of music, old and new, banners, drama, color, the symbolic use of space, readings from the public (lectern).
Second, return to the use of liturgy. Use responsive readings.
Third, kneel to pray. Kneel to receive communion. Stand for the reading of Scriptures. We kneel or stand in the presence of dignitaries. Surely the God of the universe is worthy of bodily gestures of honor.
The Primacy of Worship
Many Christians are interested in the concept of biblical worship and that is good. More than one person is concerned that so much of the worship service is dominated by the Pastor. The congregation has become an audience. Free worship is not free. A structured program rules. The mystery of God is gone.
If the Church is to be a vital living organism and not a mere organization then God’s people must see the primary task of the Church is to worship. Our right to exist is grounded in the concept of gathering to worship. Evangelism, soul-winning, missions, teaching, all this takes a secondary role. Rediscover the fact that worship is a time for spiritual renewal. We meet to celebrate the life of Christ. Be convinced that worship is to be active not passive.
To that end we turn to Luke 10:25-28 and read the text. The command comes, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” The command to love God was written in the Law as recorded in such passages as Deuteronomy 6:5 (cp. Lev. 19:18). Love is not passive. Love is active. It is creative and expressive. This is true of family love, friendship love, romantic love, and spiritual love.
Family love is demonstrated by words of praise, defending members against critics and being always there.
Friendship love is manifested by conversation, exchanging of gifts, and thoughtful deeds.
Romantic love is expressed with all the cards, candies, calls, and daydreams of delight. Time stands still in the presence of one who is beloved.
Spiritual love for God must be demonstrated in worship by soul activity and physical expressions.
Soul activity includes a boundless confidence that God really does exist. When the Church gathers there is the celebration of life.
Soul activity includes admiration for the greatness and goodness of God. Admiration for God is enhanced by remembering His works of creation, His works of deliverance, and His answer to our needs and prayers.
Soul activity is always fascinated by who and what God is in His essence. There is His omnipotence (Job 26:14), omniscience (Psa. 147:5), and omnipresence (Jer. 23:24). The Bible uses the words of common language to describe God, the eternity of God (Psa. 90:2) and His immutability (Psa. 102:26-27).
With much reflection on the various attributes of God there cannot but be a fascination with His essence. The world looks and wonders at a military man who can lead armies into battle and emerge victorious.
Finally, worship must include adoration. Boundless confidence, admiration, fascination, and adoration whereby the glories of God are rendered by way of songs, testimonies, thanksgivings, and confessions all of which involves intelligent dialogue and soul activity to include bodily or physical participation. The conclusion of the matter is that worship, properly understood is the declaration of the worth of God.
When we come to worship, we must be prepared to participate actively in that declaration which begins with soul activity.
The command comes to love God. While it is true that love cannot be commanded if feelings are appealed to, it is equally true that there is a love of willing and that may be commanded. As A.W. Tozer points out, “The love the Bible enjoins is not the love of feeling; it is the love of willing, the willed tendency of the heart.”
Let the word go forth, “True religion lies in the will, the will to worship.” That means when the Church gathers every person determines to engage the mind, will body and emotions in an active declaration of the worth of God. This done is by singing, testifying, offering words of praise, listening carefully to the preaching of the Word, kneeling, standing, passing the peace, giving an offering, serving others.
In all of this the focus of attention is not on what a person is doing but rather on the worthiness of God to be praised. Let love be acted out. Here then are four principles of worship.
Worship involves a boundless confidence that God exists.
Worship involves soul activity of admiration, fascination, and adorned by responsive adoration of our so great God.
Worship involves a basic commitment to the love of willing.
Worship is all the natural tendency of the heart to be expressed.
If congregational participation is to be widespread then God’s people must see that the primary task of the Church is to worship. God’s people must also rediscover the fact that worship is the time to celebrate the life of Christ while being convinced that worship is active not passive. Active worship includes,
a boundless confidence that God really does exist,
admiration for the greatness and goodness of God,
fascination of who and what God is in His essence,
and adoration whereby the glories of God are exalted by way
of songs, testimonies, thanksgivings, and confession of sins.
Additional study of this topic reveals that worship unfolds in four logical and normal parts as,
the Church prepares to worship.
the Church listens as God speaks.
The Church responds to God.
The Church is sent forth by the Lord of glory.
A Suggested Order of the Service
PART ONE: The Church Prepares to Worship
The question arises, “What is the best preparation?”
In some churches there is joy and laughter that fills the auditorium prior to the start of the worship hour. There is the greeting of friends, the sharing of stories and the shaking of hands.
In other church settings, value is seen in the playing of somber music that sets a mood of anticipation and reverence must like the hush that falls before a royal dignitary passes by.
Perhaps there is a balance between these two concepts. Certainly, there must be a shifting of gears, a quieting of voices, and a thoughtful time of silence and meditation. When this is done worship can then incorporate several phases.
The Opening Hymn. Those who worship first enter into the presence of God as John did in Revelation 4. There is a spirit of majesty that we encounter.
The Call to Worship is sounded. In different congregations’ specific language is used. The Divine summons calls, “Hear ye!”
The Invocation is presented after the call to worship whereby the plea for help or support is given. That God desires we call upon His is presented throughout the Scriptures in such passages as Isaiah 55:6. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.”
The Divine promise comes to encourage our hearts. Isaiah 58:9. “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry and He shall say, Here I am.” The Acknowledgment of God in some form is proper after the invocation in the form of a song, a “thanks be to God,” or the recital of a prayer.
Confession of Sin naturally follows. 1 John 1:9 demands that we confess our sins.
The Words of Forgiveness.
The focus in all of this is that people find themselves mentally and spiritually coming into the presence of God (Isa. 6:5). A sense of awe and majesty is involved.
PART TWO: God Speaks
The Word of the Lord. There is the reading of the Scriptures.
A selection from the Law
A selection from the Prophets
A selection from the Writings
A selection from the Epistles
A selection from the Acts
In the third century A.D. the reading of the Scriptures took about an hour.
The Preaching of the Word. Because God still speaks, we need to listen to what He has to say through His ministers.
PART THREE: A Response to the Lord
Once the Church has come into the God’s presence, have heard His Word, and have listened to His message, there is a natural longing to interact with Deity and to respond to Him.
One modern way to do this is through the invitation. A more traditional way is to partake of
The Table of the Lord.
There is the preparation. He took.
There is the praise. He blessed.
There is the communication of grace. He gave. And the people come to kneel and to receive.
Having come, heard, and responded to God, there is The Dismissal. God sends His people forth (2 Cor. 5:19-20). Go in peace.
PART FOUR: The Lord of Glory
In this brief review of an order of worship service several principles emerge.
Worship involves a rationale. Order brings meaning.
Order allows for variety. The freest people are those who are organized, have boundaries, and know what they are doing. Chaos breeds frustration and an overwhelming sense of fear.
With each part of the service having a definite significance proper preparation can be made.
A spiritual dimension is given to each part of the service.
One New Testament example of worship is found in Revelation 4. On the throne of glory sits Jesus Christ.
John is called into his presence (4:1).
Once there, John sees marvelous things including a rainbow (4:3), and twenty-four elders sitting in white raiment with golden crowns upon their heads (4:4).
Lightnings and thunders proceed from the throne (4:5) and before the throne is a body of water clear as crystal.
Holy angels fly day and night crying, Holy! Holy! Holy! (4:8) and they worship the Lord singing (4:11).
Come, let us worship and celebrate life.