Order of Worship – III

In the last two Sunday weeklies, I have written about the order of worship, covering such topics as preparation for worship and the elements that constitute the first part of the worship, namely (i) Call to Worship, (ii) Praise Hymn, (iii) Scripture Reading (Responsive/In Unison), (iv) Invocation & Gloria Patri, and (v) Various Hymns. In today’s article, I would continue to endeavour to explain the Scriptural reasons and relevance of the rest of the elements in the order of our worship.

Collection of Offering, Doxology & the Offertory Prayer

The Scriptural records show clearly that collection of offerings were part of the public worship of God. Consider the following examples, which are just a few among the many biblical exhortations to bring offering unto the Lord:

  • Exodus 25:2 – “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering.”
  • Exodus 35:5 – “Take ye from among you an offering unto the LORD: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the LORD; gold, and silver, and brass.”
  • 1 Chronicles 16:29 – “Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”
  • 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 – “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”

In the early church, the worshippers brought their tithes and offerings to express their thanksgiving to God (Psalm 96:8; Proverbs 3:9; 2 Corinthians 9:12), and to support the Gospel work and the poor brethren (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37; Hebrews 13:16).

The Bible teaches us to give to the Lord’s work cheerfully and generously – “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). How else can we reverentially and appropriately give for the honour and praise of our gracious and generous Lord?

Upon the collection of offering, the congregation sings the doxology and bow before the Lord for the offertory prayer. The intent of the doxology (or a thanksgiving chorus) is to both acknowledge the Lord as the Giver of all material blessings and to express our gratitude to Him. In this prayer, we thank Him for blessing us and enabling us to offer our tithes and offerings, and dedicate them humbly to His glory. “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the LORD’S house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 116:17-19).

Scripture Reading and Scripture Memorisation

As mentioned earlier, the reading of Scripture has been an integral part of the public worship of God’s people (Joshua 8:33–35; 2 Kings 23:2; Nehemiah 9:3; 1 Timothy 4:13). The Scripture portion that will be the text for the sermon will also be read ahead of the delivery of the sermon.

We are also highly encouraged to memorise the Scriptures – “Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live” (Proverbs 4:4b; cf. Psalm 119:11; Proverbs 3:1; 7:3; Deuteronomy 6:6; 11:18). This habit of memorising the Scriptures is to be inculcated in our children. Hence, to specifically encourage our children to memorise God’s Word, that they may also know the great value of retaining the Scriptures in their minds, we have included Scripture memorising as part of our worship.

Pastoral/Intercessory Prayer

The pastoral prayer has been a common element in the worship services of the Protestant churches. During this time, the pastor would arise and pray to the Lord on behalf of the congregation. During this time, he would take about 15 minutes to pray for the spiritual growth and protection, comfort and strengthening, faithfulness and fruitfulness of the people.

Unfortunately, in many churches of our time, such a prayer by the pastor for the flock is shortened to 5 minutes or less. Some have even done away with it. The long pastoral prayer provides the pastor with a weekly opportunity to not only bring the congregation before the throne of God in worship, but also to teach them to pray by example.

The apostle Paul reminded the young pastor Timothy, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8). James advised his readers in chapter 5, verse 14 to call on elders to pray for the sick. It is the duty of men whom God has appointed to lead the church (pastors/elders/preachers) to pray for the blessing of the church.

Sermon

This element of worship is of supreme importance because as the Word of God is preached by a faithful pastor or a faithful preacher, God Himself addresses the congregation with His truth and wisdom. The man whom God has placed in a congregation to feed the flock as their pastor must declare “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27b). Hence, Timothy the young pastor was exhorted to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

In the sermon, the minister of the Word must read and explain the words of the Scriptures and faithfully declare their truths and wisdom, for the glory of God and for the salvation and edification of the people who hear him. He must be mindful to rebuke, correct and instruct his hearers according to the truth of the Word, that repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ may be wrought. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

As Jesus has said, “Take heed therefore how ye hear” (Luke 8:18). The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 160) instructs us on how to hear the preaching of God’s Word with the answer to the question: “What is required of those who hear the Word preached?” — “It is required of those who hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.” (See Deuteronomy 32:46-47; Philippians 4:9; James 1:22; Luke 9:44; 1 Peter 2:1-2).

Benediction

At the end of worship, the pastor of the congregation pronounces the benediction. The word “benediction” comes from the Latin bene (which means “good”) and dicere (which means “say”). In the Scriptural context, a benediction is a pronouncement of blessing (“good words”) from God by His representative upon His people. It is the LORD’s blessing upon His people who have gathered to magnify Him in worship.

When worship ends, we go out of God’s presence into the world where we live and work by receiving the promise of God’s gracious blessings. It is spoken by the “undershepherd” whom the great Shepherd of the sheep, even the Lord Jesus Christ, has called and ordained to shepherd His flock.

In the Old Testament, the priests were commanded by God to give such a blessing to the people: “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:23-27). Likewise, Jesus at the conclusion of His earthly ministry, “lifted up his hands, and blessed them” (Luke 24:50). Towards the end of the epistles, the apostles also pronounced blessing upon those who had gathered to hear them being read in their congregations (cf. Romans 16:24-27; 1 Corinthians 16:23). Their benedictions became a pattern for the pastors to pronounce God’s blessings for His glory and for His obedient people’s spiritual welfare.