In last week’s post, I briefly outlined how important stories are in shaping our desires and our behaviours. I concluded that post by saying that true Biblical, historic worship tells a story. The story of Christian worship is, of course, the story of God; it is the narrative of creation, fall, incarnation, redemption, resurrection, and re-creation.
As Christians, it needs to be this story and only this story which defines our identity, shapes our desires, and drives our purpose. However, if this story is going to counteract and subvert the false stories that we live in all week long, it will help for us to be able to understand how worship invites us to live within God’s true story.
So, while our structure of worship (i.e. our “liturgy”), varies from week to week, it is always shaped by these four essentials: Gathering, Word, Response, Sending. This basic structure of worship, known as the 4-fold order, has its source in the very first generation of the Church, is the same structure used by the first Baptists in the 1600s, and is the hallmark of true Christian worship worldwide, regardless of culture or denomination. The reason why this structure is the standard for Christian worship is because it tells the story of God.
In the Gathering, we… well, gather! But more than that, as we assemble from all of our different contexts and situations, we want to rally around who God is and what he has done. Most of the time we begin our service with a scriptural “call to worship.” So, for example, this past week (August 14, 2016) we began with Ps. 92 which calls us to “sing praise to Your name” and “sing for joy because of the works of Your hands.” This Psalm calls us to praise God as the one who created all things.
However, as we recognize who God is and what he has done, we also recognize that, because of our own rebellion, all of creation has been separated from our Creator. This brings us to the Service of the Word. During the Service of the Word we acknowledge our disobedience, proclaim that it is only through Jesus (the Word made flesh [Jn. 1:1-18]) that creation is restored, and through confession are assured of God’s mercy and grace in our lives. Being assured of our forgiveness and right standing before God through Jesus, we can come to the sermon confident that there are no sinful barriers preventing us from being taught from the Scriptures (the written word).
God’s revelation to us demands a Response; we have experienced the forgiveness of Christ, we have received instruction and a challenge from the Scriptures, so now what? In many traditions it is the Service of the Table (i.e. Communion) which provides our response. In fact, this explains why these traditions also call Communion “the Eucharist” (eucharist is the Greek word for thanksgiving). In other words, our proper response to the Service of the Word is to give thanks to God through Communion, the meal that Jesus gave us. However, at MBC, we celebrate Communion only once each month, often on the first Sunday of the month. This means that most weeks require another form of response. One way for us to do this is through the Offering. This isn’t just about giving money so that the church can pay the bills. No! This is a profound act of worship where we respond to what God has done for us. In fact, I think the sacrificial giving of our finances can also be a symbol of us offering our very selves to the service of God; just as we give our finances to God for the building up of his Kingdom, so we offer our lives to his service. And so, each week, following the sermon, we sing a song of commitment as we take the offering so that the message of personal commitment that we sing lines up with the act of commitment through the giving of our finances.
We have gathered together in praise of our God. He has revealed himself to us through the proclaimed works of Christ and teaching from the Scriptures, and we have responded through the (re)commitment of our lives to him. This brings us to the closing of the service: the Sending. Now, some people simply refer to this as a “dismissal.” I hate that word. We aren’t “dismissed” from worship. We are sent. We are commissioned. As we close our time of corporate worship it needs to launch us into the coming week where our personal worship continues through lives of obedience and mission.
So, can you see how our worship both tells and invites us to participate in God’s story?
We gather in worship of the God of creation, repent of our own destruction of that creation, are restored by the death and resurrection of Jesus, are challenged by the scriptures to live lives which are conformed into the image of Jesus, we respond to this challenge by sacrificial obedience, and are sent out in worship to proclaim that he is doing a work of re-creation in this world.
This is the Christian story.
This is the story that worship invites us into.
This is the story that needs to shape each one of us, how we think, how we feel, what we long for, who we long for… this story is everything because it is his story and he has invited us to also make it our story.