Summary: This message is an explanation of our Order of Worship.
Three weeks ago I began a short series of messages on the subject of worship.
In my first message I said that all of life is worship. Last week I explained some principles that govern our public worship service. Today, I would like to conclude our series with a study on the practices of public worship. Specifically, I would like to explain our Order of Worship to you.
I must confess that I approach this message with some reluctance. It is much more of a lecture (or even, an explanation!) than a sermon. However, the Session and I believe that it would be helpful for us to have an overview of our Order of Worship.
Because of the nature of today’s message, I will not be expounding a text of Scripture. However, let me simply read a text of Scripture as a backdrop. Let’s read Psalm 95:6-7:
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. (Psalm 95:6-7)
The way in which God draws us into his presence is demonstrated in the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Without going into a long and detailed explanation, let me simply say that our Order of Worship corresponds to the three steps in the sacrifice of the animals (Leviticus 1:1-17). In the sacrifice of an animal there were three steps: (1) cleansing, (2) consecration, and (3) communion.
First, each animal sacrifice was always prepared for the sacrifice by cleansing. This corresponds, naturally, to cleansing.
Second, each animal sacrifice was killed, skinned, cut up and arranged on the altar. This corresponds to consecration.
And third, each animal sacrifice was burnt. The smoke ascended into God’s presence as food, and was sometimes eaten by the worshipper. This corresponds to communion.
This is the sacrificial pathway that every animal, or worshipper, experienced as God brought him near to himself.
The movement of the worship service corresponds then to the way in which God draws us into his presence. The Bible reveals how God graciously draws redeemed sinners into his loving fellowship and this sacrificial way or “order” by which God draws us near and renews his covenant with us informs us of the Order of Worship on the Lord’s Day.
This is also the “gospel order.” It is the historical pattern that churches throughout the centuries have used to order their worship of God.
With that in mind, let me explain our Order of Worship.
I. Before the Service Begins
First, let’s examine what takes place before the service begins.
When the Prelude begins, that is the signal to take our seats, quiet our children, stop all conversations, and engage in silent prayer and preparation.
Announcements are before the Call to Worship (or, perhaps, after the Benediction) because they have nothing to do with public worship. Announcements are important, but they have no proper place in a biblical Order of Worship.
C. Mission Statement Moment
After the Announcements we will often have a Mission Statement Moment. This is an opportunity for some ministry to give much more detailed information to the congregation.
D. Preparation for Worship
After the Mission Statement Moment, there is focused Preparation for Worship. The Striking of the Hour follows, which alerts worshippers to prepare for the Call to Worship.
II. The Order of Worship
Now we come to the Order of Worship itself. The heart of the Order of Worship is based on the three steps in the sacrifices in the Old Testament (cleansing, consecration and communion).
If we add the call to worship at the beginning and the commissioning by God at the end, we have the following five-fold Order of Worship:
• God Calls Us to Worship Him
• God Cleanses Us from Our Sin
• God Consecrates Us by His Word
• God Communes with Us at the Lord’s Table
• God Commissions Us to Service
A. God Calls Us to Worship Him
1. Call to Worship
God himself calls us to worship. He summons us to assemble. We don’t decide to gather together and then ask him to be present. This is the Lord’s Day. He commands us from heaven to enter into his presence, and we respond in obedience as the Spirit effectually enables us. The pastor, as God’s representative, utilizes some portion of God’s Word that contains a clear call to worship, authoritatively calls the congregation into God’s presence.
2. Opening Song
The Opening Song is the first response to God’s words and actions in the worship service. The entire service moves forward as God speaks and the congregation responds. It is a dialogue between God and his people. God calls and we respond. God speaks and we listen. God gives and we receive. God acts and we thank him. This dialogical pattern is found throughout the Bible when people find themselves in God’s presence (Isaiah 6:1-13; Jeremiah 1:4-8; Revelation 4-5). It is the biblical way to approach God in worship. So, here, at the beginning of the service, the Lord calls us to worship him and we respond in praise, which is usually a song.