In the previous two articles we discussed the Prelude and Musical Meditation, the Call to Worship and the Hymn of Praise or Adoration, the Prayer of Adoration, the Confession of Faith and the Confession of Sin. Now we are ready to examine the Reception of Pardoning Grace. It is appropriate after confessing and repenting of our sin to be assured of forgiveness and the peace with God that flows from it. This is usually done in the form of a different passage of Scripture being read each week that accentuates different aspects of God’s forgiveness as it is actually promised in the Word or the fruit that flows from the reception of his pardon. Having received anew his forgiveness we are ready to bring our petitions to him in the Prayers of Intercession. Because we stand as forgiven sinners, robed in the righteousness of Christ alone, we may come boldly before his Throne of Grace as the book of Hebrews says and find grace to help in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Then our gratitude for such a God and such a Gospel is tangibly expressed in our tithes and offerings followed by the Doxology extolling our triune God as the fount of all blessings. This leads to a dedicatory Prayer of Thanksgiving for his provision so that we might have the privilege to give and that he might use the tithes and offerings to glorify himself and extend his Kingdom.
Through all that has taken place to this point our hearts have been opened to hear again instruction from God through his preached Word. After the sermon God’s Word is responded to by prayer and a hymn, a Psalm or a song that reflects the theme of the sermon and provides an opportunity to either challenge one another based on the sermon or commit ourselves again to God in light of his truth.
Communion (once per month is our current pattern) follows as the supreme way God sacramentally (through Holy Signs and Seals) offers himself to us in the Gospel. God offers himself to our ears in the Word and to our other senses – sight, smell, taste, etc. in Communion. Augustine called the Lord’s Table, “the Visible Word”. In this way we share together (Communion with one another as well as with Christ) in all the riches of that Gospel feast as the people of God.
Finally we receive his blessing and peace now and forever in the Benediction as we are dismissed to serve him and love one another and a lost world that desperately needs him.
A few remarks in general are in order. It is important to see that, though the logic flow follows a similar pattern each week, the elements used should vary substantially in theme, pace, emphasis and structure in order to forestall the tendency to “the metronome factor” (rote repetition that anesthetizes the spiritual senses). We must remember as Dr. Larry Roff, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Knox Theological Seminary wrote in an article years ago, our worship must not only be “right” (faithful to the regulative principle ) it must also be “rich” (full of freshness, vitality, sincerity and passion). This means that much effort must be put into planning services that call from us the best we can offer to our Triune God in robust, content rich and heart felt praise.
Notice a couple of things in summary:
Worship involves a dialogue between God and the worshippers. And, God initiates and directs the conversation through his Word.
Worship is rooted in the Gospel in the sense that the person and redemptive work of Christ are in the center of the conversation.
There is a Gospel-centered structure to the service as seen in the conversational flow above. He makes it possible for us to approach the Father through the Spirit. Even Old Testament worship was Christ-centered as he was portrayed in the types and shadows of the sacrificial system in the ceremonial law.
Worship includes singing, but it involves several other elements such as reading and reciting of Scripture, affirmations of faith, repentance and reception of forgiveness, the sacraments, vows (not mentioned above but found in such cases as reception of members and ordination of officers), prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, rendering of tithes and offerings, etc. all of which are also vital and bring vibrancy, breadth and depth to the worship of God. These other elements are not merely preliminaries for the preaching. Indeed preaching is itself primarily an element of worship.
Corporate worship is not simply a matter of what we RECEIVE, but it is also about what we BRING. Psalm 96:8 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; BRING AN OFFERING, and come into his courts.” Biblical worship, by its very nature, is primarily about the One worshipped – not about the desires, or even the needs, of the worshipper. Actually, OUR greatest “need” is for HIM to be glorified. This brings fulfillment to those made in the image of God more than anything else can!