Order of Worship – I

Churches, like the Roman Catholic, Coptic, Anglican (which are mostly Episcopalian) churches, have adopted in their public worship certain forms, rituals and liturgy which are not warranted by the Word of God. Reformers and Puritans have rejected such forms of worship as unbiblical and unacceptable in the light of God’s Word. Sadly, today, many of the modern Presbyterian, Baptist and other congregational churches, being influenced by the Charismatics, adopt in their public worship many unbiblical and secular activities and programmes.

All the elements of a public worship ought to be fully focused upon the One whom we worship. The forms and elements of our worship services must direct our minds to the Almighty. The public worship entirely must be, first and foremost, in accordance to His will and for His honour, glory and pleasure. How we worship and whom we worship are integrally and inseparably bound. Even the music and instruments that are used in the public worship must not distract us from being drawn to God. Considerable care must be given to how the worship service is conducted, as defined by the Word of God. The content and order of worship must equip the worshippers to offer biblical worship to God. Only the truths set forth in Scripture by the Holy Spirit can guide us to offer an acceptable worship to God (John 4:24; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). As the apostle Peter said, we “are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Undoubtedly, all of Christians’ lives and activities ought to be regulated by the Scriptures, whether by express commandment, prohibition, general principle, or godly example (Psalm 19:7-11; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:13-16; 2 Timothy 3:10). Even so, Christians’ public worship should also be regulated by the Scriptures. John Calvin, the great theologian of the Reformed faith said, “God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his Word” (“The Necessity of Reforming the Church”).

True, the Scriptures do not provide us with a set of “worship order”. However, that does not necessarily mean that we can include any element in the liturgy or order of worship as we deem fit. We have many warnings in the Holy Scriptures against offering what pleases man as a form of public worship to God. Examples of God’s rejection of Cain’s offering (Genesis 4:3-8), the divine prohibitions codified in the first and second commandments with regard to worship (Exodus 20:2-6), the divine wrath against the worship of the golden molten calf (Exodus 32), the destruction of Nadab and Abihu who offered “strange fire” to God (Leviticus 10), God’s rejection of Saul’s claim of offering of a sacrifice that was not required by God, saying, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22), Jesus’ rejection of Pharisaic worship which honoured the “tradition of the elders” (Matthew 15:1-14), the apostolic warning against the “will worship” (ethelothreskia) in Colossae (Colossians 2:23), all of these and more recorded in the Scriptures warn of God’s utter contempt for elements of worship that are not sanctioned by His Word.

Hence, there has been a great necessity for proper study of the sound theology of worship in the Scriptures. It is such a theological contemplation that led the Reformed, Presbyterian churches to follow a doctrinally sound order of worship. Reformed and Presbyterian order of worship that we follow today in Gethsemane B-P Church is based on the truths that God has revealed in the Scriptures, so that we may not worship Him according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the propositions of Satan. Our “Order of Worship” consists of the following: (i) Preparation for Worship, (ii) Call to Worship, (iii) Praise and Thanksgiving Hymn, (iv) Invocation, (v) Scripture Reading, (vi) Hymns of Confession / Assurance, (vii) Collection of Tithes and Offerings, with Doxology and Thanksgiving Prayer, (viii) Hymn for Mutual Edification, (ix) Pastoral Prayer, (x) Sermon, (xi) Baptism / Lord’s Supper, (xii) Closing Hymn and Prayer, (xiii) Benediction. These elements in the “Order of Worship” are warranted by the Holy Scriptures, and hence constitute an acceptable way of worshipping the true God, instituted and prescribedby Himself in His Word. Their biblical warrant is briefly mentioned below.

Preparation to Worship

Our preparation to worship God on the Lord’s Day does not begin 10 or 5 minutes before the service. From Monday to Sunday we must prepare to be at the church for worship, for the Lord said, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). He does not want us to forget even for a second that we are to worship Him on the appointed day. So, He made it a moral duty of all His people to congregate and worship Him. He commanded that we keep the day of worship “holy” (which means “separated unto God”). In other words, we must separate the day unto Him for His praise, honour and glory. This is every believer’s duty, not just the pastor’s (or preacher’s) and the worship leader’s (elder’s and deacon’s) duty. Not to sanctify the day of worship in our minds and prepare to worship Him is a great sin, just like idolatry (cf. Isaiah 58:13).

The LORD’s words through Moses – “Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:10-11) – instruct us how important it is for us to come to His presence for worship with great preparation of heart, mind and body. For this special occasion, God gave Israel two days to prepare. It is recorded in Exodus 19:14 that Moses went down from God’s presence to the people and sanctified them. The people obeyed and prepared themselves for worship.

We too must prepare by sanctifying ourselves by reading God’s Word, remembering the greatness of our God, repenting of our sins, renewing our trust in Him and consecrating ourselves in prayer to worship and serve Him with sincerity and holiness.

How have you been coming to worship God? Come early to church with prepared and sanctified hearts. Be seated 10 minutes before worship begins and quieten your hearts. Avoid talking with others in the sanctuary. Look at the bulletin and ponder on “A Word on Worship” (the brief exhortation on worship) for a couple of minutes. Then go over the “Order of Worship” and pray for the Spirit’s preparation of all those who are ministering during the worship service. If time permits, consider the hymns and Scripture passages that will be used.

(More on “Order of Worship” next Lord’s Day …)