Dear Church Family,
As part of our study of what it means to be a member of the church, in the adult Sunday School class we are examining what it means to support the work and worship of the church. Specifically, we are be examining what makes the worship of a Reformed church distinct – as she seeks to order her worship according God’s Word.
This idea of worshipping God as He commanded (or prescribed) for us to worship Him in Scripture, is what we refer to as the “regulative principle of worship.” That is to say, God regulates how we are to worship Him in His Word. So, our worship includes elements of worship which God commands for us to employ: reading of Scripture, preaching, hearing, singing, sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper), oaths, vows, fastings, thanksgivings, giving and receiving offerings).
A Biblical Order of Worship?
When it comes to the order in which all of these elements are employed in our worship, however, we have no mandate in Scripture. In fact, there are several very different examples of orders of worship which we find in the Bible. Therefore, in making decisions concerning the ordering of the service, we typically rely upon the general principles in the Word, theological implications, historical precedents in the church, and contextual considerations.
Two of the major principles which help to undergird our order of worship at Providence Presbyterian Church are (1) the concept of the worship service as a “covenant renewal” and (2) the concept and employment of three “phases” in worship.
At Providence Presbyterian Church, our order of worship is based on the idea that the corporate worship service is a service of “covenant renewal.” By “covenant renewal,” we do not mean covenant re-enactment as is the case in the Roman Catholic view. Rather, we mean that both God and His people interact and relate to one another based on the act of redemption which was accomplished once and for all on the cross of Calvary in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
In much the same way that the Israelites were called to renew covenant with God (e.g. Nehemiah 8-9) based on God’s previous covenants mediated through Abraham, Moses, and David, so we renew the New Covenant when we worship each week on the Lord’s Day. There are, however, some major differences. For one, we look back to the one sacrifice of Christ, as they looked forward to His coming. We no longer sacrifice animals as they did, because we have seen and celebrate the one true Sacrifice. And, since that sacrificial system has been abrogated with the coming of Christ, we worship in spirit and in truth.
There is much that could be said here, but basically, the idea of the corporate worship service of the church as “covenant renewal” means we are shaped by the form and structure of our corporate interaction with the One True God. If God’s mercies are indeed new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), we are reminded each Lord’s day of His lovingkindness and compassion. As we confess our sins and God’s covenant is renewed, we also are reminded of the call of obedience to His covenant stipulations. We are reminded that we are set apart for His holy use – in worship on the Lord’s Day, and in our lives throughout the week. This, by the way, is one of the reasons (among several) for which we partake of communion each Lord’s Day: the Lord’s Supper serves as a physical sign and seal of the renewing of the covenant.
‘Phases’ of Worship
In keeping with the regulative principle of worship and the concept of covenant renewal, our order of service follows three general phases:
(1) Isaiah: Just as Isaiah (and several other prophets) were confronted with the majesty and glory of God as they were given access to the very thrown room of heaven (Isaiah 6; Revelation 4-5), worship begins with God’s initiative and call to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise (Psalm 100). Through the call to worship, invocation, and song, God’s people are ushered from their earthly lives to spiritually enter together into God’s presence.
(2) Moses/Ezra: Just as God’s covenant people throughout redemptive history were called to remember God’s Law, confess and repent of their sins, and then be assured of their forgiveness through the mercy of God (Exodus 20; Nehemiah 8-9), the church is confronted with God’s call to holiness, their failings, their need for confession and repentance, and assurance that they are forgiven through the mercy and work of Christ.
(3) Emmaus: On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), the resurrected Christ appeared to two of the disciples. Jesus explained from the Scriptures (Moses with all the prophets) the things concerning Himself and then broke bread and dined with them. Likewise, in the preaching of the Word and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, God’s people hear from Christ and feed upon Him – they are reminded of the glorious truths of the gospel in both word and sacrament, and then sent out into the world to bear witness to their Savior.
As was said at the beginning, there is no set order of worship in Scripture; however, these ‘phases’ of worship do help to reinforce the concept of “covenant renewal.” None of these phases or elements are set in stone, but as the pastor and elders of the church plan and lead the service, these are simple guide rails which aid us in both honoring God and receiving His blessing each and every week.
Hopefully, understanding these things help us to be better worshippers. At the same time, it isn’t necessary to understand all of these principles to benefit from them. That’s the beauty of worshipping God using the elements of Scripture and in the manner which He has commanded. When we worship God from sincere and thankful hearts, in accordance with His Word, God effects the result: He receives glory and we receive blessing!
I look forward to worshipping with you, yet again, this coming Lord’s Day.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch