Serving God through our Services

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Since I had a mid-term this morning, I didn’t get a chance to post this last night. After our last discussion on what worship actually is, let’s take some time to discuss the corporate worship service — how to plan worship “sets” and services.

Biblical Times

While the Old Testament is filled with examples of of corporate singing, the Tabernacle and Temple and its sacrificial cultus were central to the corporate worship life of the Jews. Since Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Tabernacle, Temple, High Priest and sacrifices themselves, it is no wonder why the New Testament never prescribes to us a set order of elements to include in corporate worship gatherings. While Scripture does command that all Christians should pray, sing praises to God, read the Word and preach the Word, share in the Lord’s Supper and be baptized, nowhere in the New Testament do we find a liturgy or order of when certain these things should be done.Just as Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4, new covenant worship is to be done in spirit and truth:

21 Jesus said to her, ???Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.???(John 4:21-24)

So it matters not where we worship, but that we respond spiritually (i.e. to His Spirit) to the truthful revelation of who God is and what He has done for us in His Son, Jesus Christ.How then has the church followed Christ’s command in corporate worship over the millenniums?

The Early Church

From the 1st and 2nd century, we find recorded examples of what the early church did in their corporate worship gatherings — worship services were “liturgical” containing 2 essential parts: the Service of the Word, and Service of the Table. Here’s what it included:

Service of the Word???
Scripture readings (OT prophets, letters of Paul), 1 Tim. 4:13, Col.4:16???
Homily (sermon), Acts 20:7???
A Confession of Faith (possibly at the time of baptism), 1 Tim. 6:23, Acts 8:37???
Singing ( of various types), Col. 3:16???
Prayers, Acts 2:42, 1 Tim. 2:1-2???
Congregational Amen, 1 Cor. 14:16???
Collection (alms), 1 Cor. 16:1-2???
Physical Action, 1 Tim. 2:8Service of the Table???
Thanksgiving (Gk. eucharista), Luke 22: 19-20???
Remembrance (Gk. anamnesis), 1 Cor. 11: 25???
The Anticipation of Christ???s Return, 1 Cor. 11: 26???
Intercession (following Christ???s example in the Upper Room), John 17: 1, 9???
The Kiss of Peace (a Jewish practice continued by early Christians), Rom 16:16

Later on, the Roman Catholic Church (and other Orthodox churches) followed a 2 part liturgy also, but somewhat different: it contained The Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.) which was always the same, and followed by The Proper (the part that changes with the Liturgical calendar.)

Reformation Worship

In the Reformation, the Reformers mainly disagreed upon if and how the Roman Catholic (liturgical) heritage be continued. Simply put, Luther – recovered the congregational singing, Calvin restricted it (to accappella singing of Psalms in unison, without instruments) and Zwingli denied it. As Tim Keller noted in the fourth chapter of Worship By The Book, Calvin’s service also contained the Service of the Word and Service of the Table, with a foundational rhythm/flow of the liturgy by way of Gospel reenactment — reception and response. His service contained 3 cycles of this rhythmic flow: Isaianic cycle, Mosaic cycle, and Emmaus cycle. As already noted, Zwingli’s liturgy contained no music at all, for Zwingli believed all ceremonies were pagan and was convinced that faith came through Holy Spirit alone apart from ‘external’ means.

Post-Reformation

After the Reformation, the Antiliturgical Movement shifted toward personal experience, where they considered Baptism and Lord???s Supper as mere symbols, not acts of saving grace. They saw traditional worship rituals as idols, preferring improvised prayers from the heart instead of having set forms.Thereafter, Pedagogical worship swung the pendulum back towards Scripture, and stressed the need for understanding God???s Word. Services were 3-4 hours long, and emphasized expository preaching, thus requiring highly trained clergy who used the original languages and employed a strong theology. They practiced of quarterly communion and rejected the use of ???ceremony??? in worship unless it was prescribed in the New Testament. Similarly, American Puritan worship of the early 17th century celebrated the Lord???s Supper monthly or bimonthly and had congregants attending both a long morning and afternoon service.This was followed by Evangelistic worship of Pietism (which was against dead orthodoxy, and stressed conversion), the Moravians (best known for contribution to hymnody). The Wesleys and Finneys of this era shifted daily worship from church building to homes, conducted field preaching, and preferring informal worship more than ordered worship. Most significant to this era is of course, the advent of the “invitation” and the altar call which called for the introduction of the “mourner???s bench” at the front-side of churches to allow Christians to come up and mourn over their sins during services.

Today’s Worship

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In recent times, Robert Webber proposed a blended model of worship which he called Convergence or Ancient-Future worship, a 4 part post-modern liturgy that is being used by many Emerging-type churches. It deliberately incorporates into the worship the “ancient” elements, but with an additional Entrance and Dismissal phase:

  • Service of the Word
  • Acts of Entrance
  • The Acts of Dismissal (Table)
  • Service of Thanksgiving

Still, many churches today still follow either one or a combination of these service structures:

  • The Variety Model – ???A Christian Variety Show???
  • Thematic Model ??? Service developed on a single theme
  • Traditional/Liturgical ??? Alternation ??? revelation and response

How does your church structure your worship services? Is it similar to one of the models mentioned? Whatever the case may be, we must always remember to keep our corporate worship gatherings God-centered, Word-centered, Christ-centered, and Trinitarian. We must consider what Scripture prescribes, what the historic tradition of our church has employed, and the cultural context of the community we serve. When we consult these 3 things, our services should well be on their way towards serving God honorably and edifying those attending effectively.

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