Worship wars rage all across the US. Even in a single denomination, one church existing just a few miles from another church of the same faith might have entirely different worship styles, or let's just say it...different theologies of worship.
Is there a "right" way to worship or should we simply trust that the intentions of our heart will be adequate before the Lord?
There are a couple of places that come to mind in the Bible where we can see some directions for worship. Admitedly they are brief but the content is thick.
The first occured when Jesus was speaking to the woman from Samaria or as she is often called, the woman at the well. She was asking questions on worship because the Samaritans worshipped in a different place than the Jews. She wondered who was right. Jesus responded that genuine worship isn't a matter of place, it is a matter of condition. We must worship in "Spirit and truth." It is humerous to me that many take "spirit" in the same way as we hear cheerleaders encourage us to get loud for our team and so many think that genuine worship is essentially "getting loud for Jesus!" Rather, Jesus was teaching that genuine worship is spiritual worship and that only those who are in union with him by the Holy Spirit will be offering acceptable worship. Our first principle in worship is that it is authentic when believers endwelled by the Holy Spirit offer their worship to God in Christ.
The second aspect is that it must be according to Truth. Here is where Presbyterians excell! We know all about a good Bible study seeking answers and Truth. Jesus was telling her that the way of worship can't be found in the imaginations of men or the trends of society but that they are established by God in eternity and revealed in His Word. Eli's sons discovered this when they had the bright idea of adding a little ensence to the fire during their priestly duties. They were struck dead by God for irreverence. This is summed under the category of the Regulative Principle of Worship. That is a principle that expects the patterns of worship found in the scriptures to be carried forward into the Church making the adjustment for those aspects fulfilled in Christ such as the sacrifices of animals.
Turning over to Hebrews we find a couple of other features of Worship that are essential. We are told we must worship with Reverence and Awe...because our God is a consuming fire! Obviously this reminds us of Eli's sons who were consumed by fire for their creativity in worship. Reverence is the feeling of being beneath or less than something/someone when it is the appropriate feeling to have. In Christian theology we can say it is the Creator/Creature distinction. In other words, He is God and we are creatures. That is more than saying "He is God and we are not." The issue isn't that we aren't God, that much is obvious. It is that we are something entirely different. We are creatures. He is spirit and has existed in all eternity. We are made of dirt and our bodies can't do anything but return to dirt. He is omnipotent, all knowing, all seeing, and everywhere present. We are local, usually running late and would forget our names if we didn't have it on our drivers license. We must LEARN to be in awe of God. We must LEARN to be reverent. These dispositions and habits of the mind are difficult and take time to cultivate through education, meditation, and experience. We are educated by the study of God's Word, we meditate by taking time for personal reflection, and we gain experience (this brings us back to our subject) in worship.
Worship is critical...let me say again, worship is CRITICAL in cultivating the virtue of reverence. Where else will we learn it except when we are coming into the presence of God in the sanctuary of the House ofGod with the people of God who together are formed into the body of Christ?
What does this worship look like. We could look at the Tabernacle and the temple flow of worship and draw great parallels but since this is getting a bit long, allow me a different tact.
The outline for Evangelism Explosion is
I think we can see a basic flow that reflects a solid liturgy in that outline. Granted, the outline wasn't crafted to teach a liturgy of worship but since worship is the Gospel presented in dramatic form, the outline is pretty close to being a basic liturgical model for worship.
First we consider God, his perfect righteousness and transcendance. Like Isaiah when he entered the Temple in Isaiah 6, we are overwhelmed with a view of God as worship begins. That is captured as best we can in the opening of worship. We begin with themes in song and prayer that lift up the mighty acts and person of God. He is high above all and perfect in his being.
Secondly, we are reminded that while God is awesome...we aren't. That leads us to confess that we are poor sinners, wretched and undeserving to be in the presence of God.
The First and Second are the God and Man portions. That leads to the third, Grace.
After we confess our sins, we are given the scriptural assurance of our pardon in Christ. We are promised that on account of Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are accepted in his presence.
The fourth is the ministry of the Lord who is the Word of God. That Word is once for all delivered in the Scriptures so that we might know the mind of God as the Spirit of Christ, i.e., the Holy Spririt, has delievered it to us through the Apostles. In other words, this is where we read the Bible and preach the sermon.
Finally, our faith is renewed, and we receive the blessing of the benediction to go out and serve.
That's it in a nutshell. The service of worship is the Gospel presented in dramatic form. Just as taking a text message in the middle of giving a prayer would disrupt the entire prayer, we must be careful of what we consider injecting into the flow of worship lest it show that we are more distracted than focused on the act of worship we have begun.
Pastor Michael Cannon is a native of Spartanburg, SC. Married to Bevalie in 1983, Michael has served as a Chaplain on both active duty and in the Army Reserves...