*Update* - This article is part of a series on corporate worship which has been put together into one digital book entitled Corporate Worship: Principles & Elements of Worship at Providence Presbyterian Church, PCA (Midland, TX). It is available for free download in pdf or Kindle format here: http://providencemidland.org/resources/helpful-links (it is the second resource listed on this page).
Dear Church Family,
In the last several pastoral reflections, we have been examining the various parts of our corporate worship service. After discussing some of the foundational principles of worship and what it means to prepare for worship, last time we looked at the salutation and response (these previous reflections are available online at the link above). [By the way, the orders of worship for each service may be found on the audio page at the church website: just click on “Text: bulletin” under the specific entry.]
This week, we come to the call to worship and invocation. As we saw in our examination of the salutation and response, here is yet another illustration of the dialogical principle of worship. The Lord speaks to His people in the call to worship, and then the people (usually through a representative voice) invoke the Lord’s presence, requesting that He lead and preside over the worship service.
Ordering of the Parts in Worship
Before we examine each of these parts of the service, it might be helpful at this point, to briefly address the importance of the ordering of the various parts of the service. As was stated in our first installation in this series, there is no biblically mandated order of service; however, there are a couple of things that help inform the specific ordering of the parts.
Biblical Example: First, even though there is no biblical mandate for the ordering of the elements of the worship service, we do have some examples in the Scriptures. In 1 Chronicles 16, at the return of the Ark of the Covenant, King David offered up sacrifices to the Lord, distributed a celebratory meal to everyone of Israel, and organized the Levites to offer up songs of praise and prayers of supplication before the Lord. Likewise, many of the Psalms contain cycles of praise, lamentation, and supplication. Nehemiah 8-10 describes a covenant renewal ceremony in which many of the elements which we employ today are included: a call to worship, reading of the Law, celebration, songs and prayers of praise, prayers of confession and lamentation, response and declaration of obedience. In the New Testament, the early church devoted themselves to apostolic teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, taking up offerings, praising God, and receiving new members into their number (Acts 2:42-47).
Historical Precedent: Christian worship does not exist in an historical vacuum. The Christian church has developed religious practices that have sustained the community of God’s people throughout many generations. Traditions need to be continually assessed according to the principles of worship and the Scriptures, but ‘tradition’ is not a dirty word. As G.K. Chesterton noted, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about” (Chesterton. 1908. Orthodoxy, 45). Our worship is rooted in the history of God’s people; we learn and grow from the developments of Christian worship of our spiritual forebears.
Practicality: Of course, just because something ‘works’ well does not make it right; however, there are logical and practical reasons for the various ordering of liturgical elements. It simply makes sense that the people of God reflect upon the truths of God’s word and then confess their sins, followed by a receiving of God’s assurance of pardon and promises of forgiveness. In the specific ordering of these individual parts, the Lord initiates and the people of God respond. This is the ordering of the call to worship and invocation.
Call to Worship
In those services that have both a call to worship and an invocation, one sometimes finds that the invocation will precede the call to worship. However, when we consider that it is the Lord who engages and initiates with His people, the call to worship rightly precedes the invocation.
Like the salutation, the call to worship is a passage of Scripture (typically taken from a Psalm) in which the Lord calls and commands His people to assemble in ‘holy array’ (1 Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 29:2). That is to say, those who justified by faith, adorned with the beauty of holiness, clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27), are officially called and assembled to worship their holy God.
Unbelievers (those apart from Christ) are, of course, welcomed into the worship service; however, the corporate worship service is intended for the edification of believers. And, as believers hear the Word of God in the service and then respond in song, prayer, and confession of faith, they will bear witness to the unbelievers in their midst (1 Corinthians 14:22-23). Witness and evangelism is a natural outgrowth of the corporate worship service, but the service is primarily for the edification of those who are able to sing with thankfulness in their hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).
In our service at Providence Presbyterian Church, we usually recite the call to worship antiphonally (alternating between the worship leader and the congregation). Yet, regardless of the representative voice, it is important to remember that it is God who is speaking in the Scriptures in the call to worship.
In secular ceremonies or events, one often sees prayers described as invocations and benedictions. These are typically used as general prayers of blessing upon a people or an event. In civil or political ceremonies, the invocation or benediction has come to simply mean ‘the part where a representative of a religious body prays.’ This is a part of what is known as an element of ‘civil religion’ (or perhaps, we might call it, ‘a religious faith of the lowest common denominator that recognizes some force other than that which may be seen’).
In the liturgy of the Christian church, however, an invocation and benediction have very specific meanings, and they represent two different directions of communication. In the invocation, the congregation (through a representative voice) is calling upon the Lord, their Creator and Redeemer, asking Him to be present with them in worship. In the benediction, the communication is reversed: the Lord pronounces a blessing upon His people (using Scripture, through a representative voice), and usually by way of dismissal.
Here is a helpful definition of the prayer of invocation: “The initial prayer of the service should invoke the presence of the Triune God in the name of Christ, beseech His presence and favor, praise Him for His works and attributes, and seek the condescension and help of the Holy Spirit that the worship might be in ‘Spirit and truth’” (Johnson, Terry L., ed. 1996. Leading in Worship, 22).
Having been called by God to assemble (in the call to worship), the people respond by asking the Lord to be present, bless, and lead in the service (the prayer of invocation). For only by abiding in Christ and the enablement of the Holy Spirit, may true worshipers worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24; 14:26; 15:5).
May the Lord bless you as you prepare to worship Him well, this Sunday!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch