The Pattern of WorshipAdopted by the Session, April, 2004
A church’s theology of worship will be expressed in its practice of worship. At Michiana Covenant Church, we believe that our worship participates together with the church of all ages at the heavenly throne of God (Heb 12, Rev 4-5). Therefore we have sought to follow the pattern of worship laid down in scripture and practiced throughout the history of the church.
This pattern has a simple structure that can be expressed as follows: 1) God’s people are called together to worship him; 2) we come before God on the basis of a sacrifice; 3) we hear the Word of God proclaimed; 4) we respond with our prayers and praises; 5) we partake of the covenant meal; and 6) we go forth with the blessing of the Triune God. This is not a fixed liturgy, but a common pattern consistent with every biblical worship service, and has been followed throughout most of the history of the church (see Ex 24, 2 Chr 5-7, Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7-12).
The book of Revelation portrays the entire history of redemption, from the death and resurrection of Christ until the end of the world, as a worship service (chapters 4-22). Redemptive history sets forth the pattern of our worship. Just as Christ’s sacrifice forms the entrance to the heavenly visions (chapters 4-5), so also his sacrifice is the basis for our worship. Just as the various “sevens” of Revelation proclaim the purposes of God in redemption (chapters 6-18), so also the sermon today. And just as redemptive history concludes with the marriage supper of the Lamb and the blessing of God’s people (chapters 19-22), so also our worship concludes with the covenant meal and the benediction. Worship is designed to be a microcosm of redemptive history.
1. GOD CALLS US TO WORSHIP HIM
In the Old Testament this could be accomplished by the blowing of trumpets, which assembled the people together. In Revelation 4, this includes the singing of songs of praise as the heavenly hosts gather. At MCC we have a responsive call to worship, in which the pastor reads those parts that call the people to worship God, and the people respond by giving praise and thanks to God.
2. WE ENTER GOD’S PRESENCE THROUGH THE SACRIFICE
No sinner can approach a holy God except through a sacrifice. God taught this to Israel through their sacrificial system (Ex 19-Lev 10). New Testament worship is based upon a sacrifice as well–the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Rev 5). This is why we sing a hymn of repentance, followed by a prayer of confession and declaration of pardon. Repentance is about turning the heart and mind away from our sins and toward God. As we enter worship we need to repent of our sins and flee to Christ. The declaration of pardon expresses the power of the keys of the kingdom which Christ has given to his church (Matt 18:18; John 20:23). Having been forgiven for our sins, we sing the praises of our Savior, and then, with gratitude in our hearts, offer our tithes, offerings, and firstfruits to the Lord.
3. GOD SPEAKS TO US IN HIS WORD
At the center of our worship is the reading and preaching of the Word. The reading of the Word is the foundation for the preaching of the Word. We hear a chapter from the Old Testament, and then respond by singing a Psalm, followed by the New Testament lesson. The sermon is an integral part of worship, because worship itself is supposed to remind us of who we are and where we stand in God’s redemptive plan. (See the session’s statement on “The Preaching of the Word.”)
4. WE RESPOND TO THE WORD WITH OUR PRAYERS AND PRAISES
The Congregational Prayer (or prayer of the covenant community) then applies the sermon to all of life. As the sermon has reminded us who we are, so now in prayer we ask God to remember his promises. We pray first for the rulers of nations and all people (1 Tim 2:1-2), that God would use the preaching of his Word to convert the nations (Matt 28:19-20), and then that God would bless the ministry of the church in our area as well. All matters, whether great or small, are brought to the throne of grace and are placed in their proper context (1 Ki 8:22-53). In this context we also recite the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed as the profession of our common faith, by which we declare that we do indeed believe the promises that God has given us in Jesus Christ.
5. GOD FEEDS US IN THE COVENANT MEAL
Just as the Book of the Covenant in Moses’ day was powerless without the Blood of the Covenant (Ex 24), so also the preaching of the New Covenant is powerless without the Blood of the New Covenant. In the Old Testament, the peace offering would conclude the worship service–the covenant meal to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 10:18 while talking about the Lord’s Supper. In the New Testament the worship of the early church is at times called “gathering together to break bread” (Acts 20:7), which included both the preaching of the word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Having heard with our ears of God’s promises, we now take with our hands, and eat with our mouths, the covenant meal which signifies and seals to us those same promises.
6. WE GO FORTH WITH GOD’S BLESSING
Just as God calls us to come and worship him, so also he sends us forth with his blessing. Having worshiped him in Spirit and truth at his right hand in Jesus Christ, we are now to live the whole of our lives as those who are seated with God in the heavenly places in Christ. Worship is not so much a “break” from the “real world,” but a reminder of what is truly real. Therefore the benediction sends us forth with God’s blessing to live in his service. The benediction is not a prayer or a wish, but the declaration of a redemptive-historical reality: the same blessing which God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and which Jesus Christ has inherited through his resurrection from the dead, has now come to you. You no longer live as a stranger and alien from God. You are now his child. Therefore go forth and live as his child, knowing that his blessing rests upon you.
The pattern of worship is then to become the pattern for our lives. Our weekly confession of sin is to shape the way in which we confess our sins daily to God and to those whom we have offended. Our weekly hearing of the Word of God is to show us how we ought to read and understand the Word each day. Our regular prayer life should be enriched and strengthened through our corporate prayers. Through our participation in the Lord’s Supper, our daily breaking of bread in our homes becomes a reminder of the great Wedding Supper of the Lamb. If all of life is worship, then what we do on Sunday morning should reorient us back to the true meaning of life.
POSTSCRIPT ON HYMNODY
We are convinced that if the church would recover her ancient theology of worship, most modern debates over music style would subside. Psalms and hymns should be liturgically appropriate–which means that they should fit into the pattern of worship outlined above. For this reason we regularly sing the Psalms, which were designed to be sung in the worship of the church. We also regularly sing hymns from all periods of church history as an expression of our unity with the whole body of Christ throughout all ages.