Why do we do what we do on Sunday?
Why do we do what we do during our corporate worship service on Sunday? Each element is a part of our worship because we believe they show honor to God in the way he wants to be honored. These aren’t just made up elements. Whether it is preaching, prayer, singing, the benediction, or the call to worship, they are all pieces in a story that is told each Sunday, with each piece either commanded or exemplified in scripture. God has determined the way in which we should approach Him. As a church we try to be faithful to what God has revealed and to how the church has interpreted that revelation for millennia.
CALL TO WORSHIP
When we are called to worship, either through a song or a scripture passage (Psalm 100), we are encouraged to shift our gaze from ourselves towards our Creator. One day in seven we are commanded to rest from our regular labors and focus on the Lord. He is our audience on Sunday as we gather. He is the One we serve. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that, and this is why we are called to come and worship. Typically the texts that are used in this part of the service remind us of why the Lord is deserving of worship and what our response should be.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
In our time of worship we have a corporate prayer of confession as well as a time of silence for each individual to repent of their sin. We do this because we are an unclean people, coming to God with unclean lips and hearts (Is. 6:5). Psalm 66:18 tells us the Lord won’t even hear our prayer if we cherish sin in our hearts. When we come to worship the Lord we must first be cleansed from sin and guilt. This restores the communication between the worshipper and the One being worshipped. Psalm 51 repeats this idea when it tells us that the sacrifices God desires are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Here again the Lord tells us to come before Him with repentance and contrition. As we confess, we trust in the work Christ has done to pay for our sins and to enable us to truly worship.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
After our corporate prayer of confession we typically receive an assurance of pardon, either from the pulpit or in the songs we sing following this prayer. It is so easy to lose faith and think our prayers go unheard and unanswered. This portion of our liturgy assures us that God does hear our confession, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin (1 Jn. 1:9), and we can stand before Him as clean children of the Kingdom (Ps. 51:17).
Singing is one of the main ways God has called us to worship Him. It is more than just an optional way to participate in the service. It is commanded in scripture, beneficial to the church, and pleasing to the ear of the Lord. As we sing we “address one another" in song (Col. 3:16) as well as lift our praises to the Lord. Singing isn’t meant to be done solely in our car on our morning commute, nor is it strictly something between us and the Lord. When we sing during the service we hear the voices of those around us, we participate in the worship of our great God, and we offer the sacrifice of praise He has asked us to give (Heb. 13:15), all of which makes our singing pleasing to His ear. If we desire to please God and worship Him in the way He wants to be worshipped, we must sing.
We believe that “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable...” (2 Tim. 3:16) The Scriptures are the very words of God. When they are read God speaks directly to us. Reading scripture shows our submission to His words and our willingness to sit under God as the One who “gives wisdom, from [whose] mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6) God also commands us to do this regularly as a part our worship. In 2 Timothy 4:13 the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus, to “...devote yourself to the public reading of scripture”. Whenever we hear scripture read or participate in a corporate reading we worship in obedience and receive from God that which is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and which always accomplishes the purposes of the Lord (Is. 55:10).
CREEDS, CONFESSIONS, & CATECHISMS
When we read creeds, confessions, and catechisms in our corporate time of worship we honor those who have preserved the doctrine of the church throughout the centuries. We also affirm our continued belief in the cornerstones of our faith. When we recite these things together we show our unity around these doctrines which clearly distinguish our faith from all other religions. The brevity of a catechism question or creed also gives us an easy way to remember the essentials of what we believe.
GIVING TITHES & OFFERINGS
Worship, in its very definition, leads our minds to the idea of service, of giving of ourselves to something else. One of the practical ways we do this is by giving of our money to the Lord. The “tithes” are the first fruits from what we have earned that are returned back to the Lord for His service. The offerings are those gifts that go above and beyond the initial tithe to support the work of the church. As we give we show our submission to God as the true owner of all things and obey His command to give (2 Cor. 9:7). We also embrace the truth of the gospel which reminds to give generously as Christ gave (2 Cor. 8:7-9), knowing that our true treasure is in heaven (Mt. 6:21).
Prayer is not only a conversation with God, but it is also the most direct way that we seek Him and His power in our lives. It is crucial that our times of gathered worship be saturated by the prayers of God’s people as we reach out to Him in love, worship and need. There are at least three reasons why we include a Pastoral Prayer in our worship services. First, it is an opportunity for a pastor to pray for those whom God has entrusted to his care as a Shepherd. When we are gathered as a family, it is a very appropriate moment for a shepherd to bring God’s people to the throne of grace and plead for them. Second, it is a chance for a pastor to lead God’s people in prayer, to pray for them in the sense of praying prayers they would or should be praying. In these moments, the pastor represents the congregation in prayer before God. And finally, these corporate times of prayer are opportunities for God’s people to learn to pray. Done appropriately, they should model not only the kinds of things we should be pray about, but the spirit and attitude of prayer itself.
Let’s start with two biblical quotes like two rails for the train to run on. First, Paul says, “how are they to hear without someone preaching?...faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:14 & 17). In another place, Paul says, “you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). We preach because God has determined to use the proclamation of His Word as the means to bring faith and life to his people. Because the Bible is preeminently His Word, it comes with His power and authority. Therefore, the preaching of Word of God is the Word of God (Bullinger). The one who preaches stands as the mouthpiece of Christ to speak His Word to His people. Calvin said, “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit… it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.” This is also why we choose expositional preaching. The message of His Word must be the message of the sermon, such that, as God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed, it is God’s Word. And by His grace, it comes with the power of His Spirit to accomplish His Will in the souls of His people.
Communion, or “The Lord’s Supper,” is a sacrament given to the church by Jesus Christ which calls us to remember his death on the cross for we who believe. It is a unique and beautiful way of preaching the gospel as the broken bread symbolizes his broken body, and the cup symbolizes his shed blood. We do this together as a church, and in doing so we are preaching the gospel to ourselves and one another as we await His return. This is a meal that has continued in the church for two thousand years, and it is a foretaste of the meal that will be eaten one day in the New Jerusalem at the wedding feast of the Lamb. (Luke 22:7-20; 1 Cor.11:17-34)
Baptism is the sign God commanded us to place on those who are part of the covenant community. God commanded Abram to place the sign of circumcision on himself and all within his house (Gen. 17), and Paul tells us that circumcision was the sign and seal of the righteousness Abram had by faith (Rom. 4:11). So we believe this sign of the promise of God’s righteousness by faith is for those of us who have professed faith in Christ and for their children (Acts 2:38-39). Having the sign of baptism doesn’t mean we are saved. We trust in the saving work of Christ alone by grace alone to bring to pass what this symbol represents. In baptism we see the great work of Christ symbolized and the sign of circumcision expressed (Col. 2:11-14) as he died for sin, was buried, and now enables us through His new life to cast off our sin and live in him, “with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
At the conclusion of our worship the pastor typically has everyone rise to receive the benediction. When our pastor pronounces this he is speaking the blessing (which is what benediction means) of the Lord into our hearts just as Aaron was commanded to do in Number 6:22-26. Often people symbolize receiving that blessing by extending their hands as you would to receive a gift. This is a picture of the blessings we receive from the Lord and it reminds us of His faithful care as we leave to worship and serve in our daily lives.