March 07, 2022 Samuel Lindsay

Preliminaries of Worship

Preliminaries of Worship

What are we doing when we come together as the church?

Or more to the point, what do you think you're doing when you walk into the regular Sunday gathering?

Attitude affects our action!

Imagine for a moment two different students. One is looking ahead with an attitude of preparation for what comes next after study. They are excited by the challenge and engaged. This student comes to class humbly willing to learn, studies after hours to make sure they're keeping up, prepares in advance for assessments.

The other student does much of the same things, but with a completely different attitude. They come to class (but late), they study (begrudgingly), they complete their assignments (at the last minute). This student is going through the motions but is disinterested, with no vision of a fulfilling future or understanding how their present burdens are good and helpful.

The illustration of these two opposite students can serve as an example of when we come to gathered worship. We can all come together and do many of the same things, but some of us seem to enjoy and thrive in that environment and some seem to be burdened by their religious duty.

So whether you naturally engage in gathered worship or whether it is a struggle for you, I think it would be helpful to have a brief look at some of the underlying components. Many of us don't appreciate the how and why of worshipping God, and so some are unfortunately attracted to ear-scratching charismatic teachers and "me" centred churches. Some of us intrinsically know that these carnal churches are not quite right, but can't quite name what it is that we should be looking for.

Just to make it clear, I'm talking about the weekly high point of Christian churches here. The regular time of the week when everybody gets together to do the "church things" that Christ commands us including the structured "service." Most churches do this on a Sunday morning as perpetual remembrance of our Lord Jesus rising from the grave on the first day of the week. That's why many call it the "Lord's Day".

Who sets the ground rules?

The first thing to remember about our gathered worship is that God is the one who gets to say how he likes to be worshiped. Nadab & Abihu found this out the hard way - they couldn't invent new ways to worship! (see Lev 10:1–3). Lest we be so trite as to say: "this kind of thing isn't an issue for us anymore, right?" let us remember Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1–11) and these following verses from Hebrews that are both encouragement and warning:

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire' "(Heb 12:28–29).

So we come to God in worship on His terms, in the way He wants, as thankful recipients. Which leads us to the next thing....

Our Worship is Based on God's Redemption

Just as that verse from Hebrew acknowledges, we come to God in thankfulness for what he has done!

When the forefathers Abraham Isaac & Jacob worshiped God, it was on the basis of promises God gave. When Israel gathered at Saini to meet with God, it was on the basis of God's rescue out of Egypt. When they gathered at the Temple, it was on the basis of the covenant that God had given them.

When we gather each week to worship, it is on the basis of God's redemption through Jesus Christ, on the basis of the New Covenant and on the basis of promises God has made.

We come to God because He has first come to us.

We no longer come in the fear and trembling of Saini, but to the joyful Zion through our mediator Jesus!

"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 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).

Worship is For God and For Us.

God does not lack anything. There is nothing that we can add to Him to improve Him in anyway. Our worship is not for God's benefit, as if He received some kick-back or commission from our attendance and participation. Yet what we do, we do for His glory and honour. In our feeble attempts we bring Him a sacrifice of praise, and we give to Him out of the abundance of what He has given us.

"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased" (Heb 13:15–16).

Yet we must also acknowledge that our gathered worship benefits ourselves! Not because we're in it for our own pleasure, but because the by-products of coming to God are for our good (Ma 16:24–25, Ro 8:28).

So how do we benefit from gathered worship? Well we practice what are often called the Means of Grace. These are things in which God's people actively participate to receive and grow in God's grace. There are various lists of what is included as these "means." The shortest list is: Word and Sacrament. However, I find Wayne Grudem's list [1] more helpful:

     1.   Teaching of the Word

     2.   Baptism

     3.   The Lord’s Supper

     4.   Prayer for one another

     5.   Worship

     6.   Church discipline

     7.   Giving

     8.   Spiritual gifts

     9.   Fellowship

     10.   Evangelism

     11.   Personal ministry to individuals

In some sense or another, all these things can take place in our regular church worship and they all help to reveal God to us, to grow our faith, and confirm our calling.

A clear example of this is when we come to the Lord's Supper to remember and celebrate Christ's atoning work, where we are spiritually "fed" by God. It is not mystical, but it is certainly spiritual. God feeds and grows his people through his appointed means in Christ.

We come to worship to honour God and glorify Him, and in doing so we are built up as joyful recipients of God's blessings!

Beyond the Formal

Although worshiping God has always included some formal structure, it is not bound to a time between a Call to Worship and Benediction. Our whole lives are intended to be worshipful sacrifices (Ro 12:1) and so whether we are in the formal part of our meeting, or the casual fellowship after, or praying in a small group, it should all be in response to God and for building up each other! (1 Co 14:26 ) Our gathered worship includes that way you greet and encourage one another in response to the Truth we have heard. It is not limited by the clock or by our time in a particular building.

Speaking of formalities, while God has made clear the ways in which we are to worship Him, He is not interested in people just "going through the motions." Going to worship even when we're not "feeling it" is better than not going at all, but God does not ask us to fake it and pretend everything is fine. He ruthlessly lashed the Israelites for the way in which they would continue to bring their animal sacrifices while their hearts were far, far away from God (e.g. Isa 1:10–15). So if you're not "feeling it," that is the opportunity to humble yourself before God and be honest with Him. He already knows what's going on in your heart, but you owning up to it may be first step in your spiritual revival.

I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to this topic of worship! Next week I hope to continue this theme and flesh out the idea of church worship as a dialogue between God and Us.

"Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb 10:19–25).

Samuel Lindsay

[1] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 951.