The other day I saw an advertisement for a certain brand of apple cider, and I learned that there are over 600 varieties of apples, each with its own characteristics that can influence the taste of cider, favorably or unfavorably. In order to get the best tasting cider one has to pay close attention to the varied qualities of the apples used.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in Christian churches, you might feel sometimes like you are choosing from a wide variety of ciders. A worship service might be sweet (enjoyable), bitter (legalistic), bitter-sweet (good sermon, bad music), bursting with flavor (exciting and exuberant), or complex (reverent). Of course, the “flavor” of any individual worship service has as much to do with the attendee’s preferences as it does the service itself. In much the same way that you might prefer Granny Smith over Fuji apples, you might have acquired a taste for a certain “flavor” of worship.
Scripture, however, does not treat worship as a matter of personal taste, but of spirit and truth (John 4:23). Even if there is room for variety, judging any particular worship service based purely on our personal preferences over-against those of others reduces worship to interactions between people, rather than seeing it as a meeting between God and his people. With this in mind, we’re going to spend some time over the next several months talking about our worship service — what we do, and why we do it — so that we can begin to see worship for what it is: God meeting with us by means of his word and sacraments, drawing attention to the worthiness of Christ our Lord and Savior, and our responding in thanksgiving and adoration.
The Call to Worship — God Invites His People to Glorify and Enjoy Him
When speaking of the Lord’s Day, puritan theologian John Owen said, “All duties proper and peculiar to this day are duties of communion with God. Everlasting, uninterrupted, immediate communion with God is heaven.” Although we often think of being in the presence of God as something that we only truly get to experience in heaven, nearly everything that is true of God’s relationship with his people in heaven is true of God’s relationship with his people today. This means that heavenly worship can happen today (Hebrews 12:22-23).
Communion with God is and always has been something that he initiates and carries out through his speech. It was the case with Adam (Genesis 1:26-28), Abraham (Genesis 12:1), Moses (Exodus 3:4; 20:1), and culminated in God speaking to his people in his living Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:14; Hebrews 1:2). The consistent pattern in Scripture is that when people try to initiate a relationship with God apart from his word, it results in idolatry and confusion, but when God initiates a relationship with his people by his word, fellowship with him is established and blossoms.
With this in mind, our worship service on Sunday mornings begins with a call to worship from Scripture. Through his word, God invites his people to glorify and enjoy him. The selected passage will always be one which draws attention to the magnificent attributes of God, the benefits he offers to his people, or the honor that is due his name, and will sometimes instruct God's people to draw near to him accordingly. Often, this passage will come from the Psalms, like Psalm 95, “Come let us worship and bow down.” As easily, it might be a New Testament scripture like 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Since worship is always responsive — God speaks to us and we return praise to him — we will often read portions of these passages aloud together.
The Benediction — God Blesses His People With His Continual Presence and Power
In a similar manner, when we conclude worship on the Lord’s Day, we go with a word of blessing from God. He is the beginning and the end, and he has the first and final word in the Call to Worship and Benediction. “Benediction” just means “good word,” or “blessing.” Although you will often see people closing their eyes during the Benediction, it is not intended to be a prayer of the people to God. Rather the Benediction recognizes God as the final gift giver. So being, the minister will often lift his hands as way of signifying that God pours his blessing out on his people. There are many benedictions in Scripture (Romans 15:13, Hebrews 13:20-21), but they all share the common sentiment of Numbers 6:24:26: “The Lord bless you and keep you…” He blesses, and we are blessed.
One could say that worship is about seeking what tastes the sweetest to us, but not in the same sense as choosing red apples over green ones. Rather, it is an invitation from God to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). To realize that we are not blessed by what we bring to God in our variety of worship, but by what he gives to us as he speaks to us in and through his word.
I hope this helps as you think about why we do what we do at JVC, and that you will have a sense of God’s presence as he meets with us every week.