THE WORSHIP SERVICE
BY KENNETH W. OSBECK
It has become a custom in evangelical churches for the Sunday morning service to be considered the worship service with the evening service given an evangelistic emphasis. This order may be changed in some instances depending upon local circumstances. For example, if it is felt that more non-Christians are attending the morning service, the church’s leadership may feel inclined to give this service more evangelistic emphasis and make the evening service a worship service for Christians. Regardless of the hour chosen for the services, the Christian church has a twofold function to perform: That of leading and instructing believers in their worship of God and that of witnessing to those who are unsaved. Neither responsibility should be neglected. It must be admitted, however, that in many of our evangelical churches our desire to see people reached with the gospel message has resulted in almost every church service being an evangelistic type of service. There is real danger that Christians in such churches receive little instruction in the Word of God for a growth in grace and in the “graces” for their individual lives.
Since an evangelical church has no prescribed order of worship as in the more liturgical churches, it becomes the responsibility of each local pastor and music director to prepare a spiritual and mature order of activities for each worship service. However, before any Christian leader can properly plan such a service, he must have a clear and positive understanding of the meaning and importance of worship. The word “worship” is a contraction of an old expression in the English language, “woerth-scipe,” denoting the ascription of reverence to an object of superlative worth. A more theological definition of worship is given as follows: “An act by a redeemed man, the creature, toward God, his Creator, whereby his will, intellect and emotions gratefully respond to the revelation of God’s person expressed in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit illuminates God’s written Word to his heart.” The act of worship, then, implies communion and fellowship: The eternal, infinite God deigning yet desiring communion with man; and finite man in turn capable of approaching and fellowshipping with Almighty God.
The portion of Scripture that presents the most complete teaching of the New Testament principles of worship is found in the fourth chapter of the gospel of John. Here the Lord confronted a lowly woman from Sychar of Samaria with the most important issues of life: First, an invitation to find the “living waters” that alone could provide eternal satisfaction for her longing heart; then, following the woman’s salvation experience, the Lord taught her the meaning of worship. The result was that “many of the Samaritans of that city believed on Him for the saying of the woman, which testified, ‘He told me all that ever I did.'” This, then, is always God’s divine pattern for any individual: salvation, worship, service.
I. OLD TESTAMENT WORSHIP
To understand the full import of the lesson about worship that Christ taught the woman of Sychar, it is necessary to review some of the important principles and traditions of the Jewish religion, the direct ancestor of Christianity.
The worship of Jehovah for the Israelites was always associated with a particular place and had a special ritual. After traveling through the wilderness for some months, the Israelites were given the laws of God, tables engraved with the Ten Commandments. In order to keep these tables safe, God directed Moses to take an ark of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold within and without. There were gold rings at each corner, through which went long poles of acacia wood covered with gold for carrying purposes. The lid of the ark was of solid gold and was called the mercy seat. At each end were cherubims of gold facing one another, as their wings came out over the mercy seat like a tent. God made a covenant with the children of Israel and said: “And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25:22). Thus, the ark and the mercy seat constituted the place of worship where God and man could meet together and enjoy sweet communion with each other.
The first building in which Israel worshiped was a tent called the Tabernacle. This “tent of meeting” was built as a result of God’s direct command: “Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). God gave Moses specific instructions for the construction of this building. It had to face east, was to be 45 feet long, 15 feet wide, 15 feet high, and constructed of particular linen curtains, skins, boards and other materials. Every detail for the arrangement of the interior of the Tabernacle was also specifically prescribed. This included the placement of the shewbread, the candlestick, the brazen altar, the altar of incense and the laver.
With the capture of Jerusalem under David and the permanent establishment of the Tabernacle in that city, the worship ritual became increasingly important. With the building of the first temple under Solomon, David’s son, and still later the building of the second temple following the Babylonian captivity, the worship service continued to be an extremely elaborate and ritualistic affair.
II. NEW TESTAMENT WORSHIP
The type of worship that Christ taught the woman from Sychar, therefore, was a startling new concept of worship for the people of her day. It was a worship based on personal sincerity and simplicity rather than on tradition and ritual. Since God is a Spirit, He must be worshiped by the corresponding faculty in man. Worship as taught by Christ had to be a personal soul expression, an inward attitude rather than a physical or tangible act. In the Old Testament man’s worship was commanded by God. In the New Testament man worships because he desires to fulfill the Father’s will. In the Old Testament man could only approach God through the prescribed rituals of the Temple. In the New Testament an individual’s relationship to God is immediate and personal.
In the Biblical account of the woman at the well there are other theological implications that are basic tenets of the evangelical position. First, there is the truth of the priesthood of the individual believer. Every believer, whether he be clergy or laity, is in the same status before God (I Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6). The fact that this new concept was revealed to a lowly Samaritan woman rather than to the religious leaders in the Temple and synagogues gives evidence of this. Further, we are taught that our worship is not associated with or limited to a particular place or ritual, but rather that each believer is the temple of God (I Corinthians 3:16). Moreover, the only sacrifices that God requires today are the spiritual sacrifices of each believer (Romans 12:1).
The realization of these New Testament truths had a stimulating effect upon the early Christians. Despite the opposition and suppression of their worship by Roman soldiers, nothing could stop their witness for Christ. Everywhere they were known for their joy and steadfastness. Acts 2:42 reveals that the infant church after Pentecost “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
With the legalizing of Christianity under Constantine the Great in 313 A.D., the simple organization of the apostolic church gradually developed into a complex system of liturgy and ritual. The clergy were no longer the servants or representatives of the people but held a mediatorial position as the channels through which divine grace was transmitted to the faithful. By the seventh century the ritual of the Mass as practiced in Roman Catholic churches today was established. The twelfth century saw a further decline in the individual’s participation in worship as congregational singing was for the most part discontinued. The meaningless ritualism and lack of individual participation in worship were among the factors that led to the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Martin Luther strongly contended that the service belonged to the people and that worship should be the grateful response from every believer’s heart. The use of the Latin language was discontinued by Luther and congregational singing was once again restored to its rightful place in the worship of God.
III. CORPORATE WORSHIP
Not only should worship be practiced daily in each believer’s private devotional life, but as Christians we are commanded to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24, 25). This group or corporate worship has the promise of the Lord that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
The term “liturgy” is commonly associated with group worship. This word comes from two Greek words, leitos, which means “public,” and ergon, which means “service.” The evangelical use of this word implies simply the order of service or the arrangement of the various items that are employed in any public service. This, then, distinguishes a liturgy from a ritual since a ritual is set and unvaried, while an order of service for an evangelical church can be arranged in any number of ways. For the evangelical, the term “worship” when applied to corporate worship is an all inclusive term including all of the activities in a service such as: expressions of praise in song, Scripture readings, prayers, the offering, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching and instruction from the Word of God.
There are varying degrees of emphasis on liturgy in churches today. There are those in the highly liturgical churches who believe that their liturgy is divinely inspired and that those who are faithful in sharing this means of grace eventually will receive their just reward. There are other church groups that place a great deal of emphasis upon the aesthetic and cultural factors associated with worship. The main objective of these churches is to achieve the “beauty of holiness.” Such items as church architecture, furnishings and the general formality of the service all become of paramount importance. There are other churches that emphasize the psychological benefits that come to an individual as a result of a worship experience. These churches teach that as an individual comes under the calm and tranquilizing influence of the worship service, he in turn will be able to live a worthier life. There are other churches that are strongly reactionary and opposed to any form or liturgy in their worship, believing that a service should be completely spontaneous since this is the only way the Holy Spirit can lead and direct.
The evangelical concept of worship differs from all of these views. The evangelical believes that a liturgy must be flexible so that it can be adapted to each local situation and best meet the spiritual needs of a particular group of people. Further, the evangelical believes that beauty and dignity have their place as aids to worship but should never become the objects of worship. Surely, however, the building dedicated for the worship of God should be at least as clean, attractive and appropriate for its purpose as the house we desire for our daily living. The evangelical also believes that there is personal benefit to those who attend church, but he qualifies this by saying that only those who know God through a personal faith in Jesus Christ can worship properly and thus know the true peace of God in their lives. Finally, the evangelical, too, keenly desires spiritual reality and meaning in every item of the service but believes this can be accomplished in an appropriate and mature manner. He is convinced that the Holy Spirit can lead one in the preparation of a service as well as He can inspire in a spontaneous manner.
There need be no undue emphasis or fear of such terms as “form,” “dignity,” or “reverence” as applied to a worship service. It is well, however, to distinguish clearly between “form” and “formalism” when discussing a liturgy for a worship service. “Formalism” implies pretense, deadness, ritual and pageantry. This was the type of worship for which Christ strongly rebuked the Pharisees (Matthew 15:8, 9). “Form” simply implies an act or behavior that is appropriate for a particular situation. For example, even in the matter of. one’s own dress, there is appropriate clothing for various types of activities. Certainly one would not dress for participation in some sports event in the same way he would for a formal occasion. However, it would be possible to be dressed appropriately for an occasion and yet arrive physically unfit for participation. Appropriateness with reality, then, is form; pretense and deadness are the characteristics of formalism and ritual. This is a danger against which every evangelical leader must constantly guard.
Worship flourishes best in the atmosphere of freedom. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17). Freedom of Spirit, however, does not mean haphazardness, irregularity and fanatical confusion. While worship is spiritual and not formal, the spiritual worship of any assembly will naturally assume some outward form, since it is impossible to have any group activity without that group being agreed as to a way of doing things together. It is through an appropriate form that unity of thought, feeling and purpose are best secured. It should be pointed out that in a simple or informal service a type of formalism can develop that is just as deadly as the most complicated ritualistic service. The trouble, then, does not necessarily lie with the form, but with those who use it.
The New Testament does not give any definite or specific instructions as to a proper form for a worship service. There are, however, certain general principles that can be learned from several portions of Scripture. Foremost is the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the church of Corinth to do all things decently and in order (I Corinthians 14:26, 33, 40). He further contended for reality in every spiritual activity, rebuking the wrong use- of such gifts as prophesying and speaking in tongues. He stated that he would rather speak a few words with clarity than to utter much that was unintelligible. The Apostle Paul also implied in his instructions to Timothy a conduct that was appropriate for an individual when the church of the living God, any group of believers, assembled for worship: “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15).
IV. THE APPROACH TO WORSHIP
An individual’s general attitude of worship is largely determined by his concept of the Godhead he is worshiping. If one realizes the true attributes of God the Father–His being, character and works, he will approach Him with the proper recognition of His worth. If, however, God is no bigger than an individual’s personal needs and experiences, the approach to God will be more self-centered and less worshipful. This is much like the relationship of a child to his parents. Until a child reaches maturity, his main devotion to his parents is primarily in terms of what they can and will do for him. Later, however, he begins to see his parents in a new way. He recognizes qualities in his parents that make him appreciate them simply for what they are themselves. Spiritual maturity, too, requires this kind of recognition of God. It is for this reason that every worship service should include the singing of hymns and expressions of praise solely in worship and adoration of God for who and what He is. This is generally spoken of as the objective approach to worship.
A leader of a worship service must not only lead his people into the presence of God the Father and thereby develop in them a realization of the greatness of God, but he must also quicken in them an awareness and appreciation of their personal salvation, since the Christian revelation of God is only fully realized in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. This is what gives worship warmth and vitality. This is generally spoken of as the subjective approach to worship.
It is also necessary to recognize the ministry of God the Holy Spirit in our worship. When there is an absence of the Holy Spirit and His illumination of the Word of God in individual hearts, formalism and meaningless action result.
Each person of the Trinity, then, is worthy of our adoration and praise: the
Father as the object of our worship; the work of Christ as the basis of our approach to God; and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in illuminating and motivating our worship.
A right approach to worship by each worshiper should naturally result in proper decorum in a worship service. This would mean that a worship service should be characterized by such attitudes as reverence, sincerity, humility and dignity. Such actions as whispering, lack of attentiveness, reading of Sunday school papers and gum chewing should have no place in a worship service. A service should be filled with inspiration, praise and thanksgiving. Congregational singing should always be the chief expression of a group’s praise of God. There should be a restful, meditative atmosphere, where people can hear God’s “still small whisper.” There should be an attitude of eagerness to receive instruction from God’s Word. Finally, the service should be challenging. The climax of a service should be the subjecting of the human will to the divine will. Every service of worship should give opportunity for such a response on the part of the people to all they have thought, heard and learned of God. A worship service should stimulate and motivate worthier discipleship and more dynamic crusading for Christ in each believer in his own areas of activity and influence.
V. SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVING A WORSHIP SERVICE
It has well been said that proper attitudes are better “caught” than “taught.” It is especially important, therefore, that any leader who attempts to lead others in a proper attitude of worship must first set a good example before his people. A leader’s manner should be warm and sincere, yet mature and dignified. He should treat the group as participants rather than as mere spectators. It has been suggested that a leader’s manner in bringing his people into the presence of God should be that of introducing one respected friend to another such friend. Leaders who display careless or gaudy dress, undignified speech, foolishness, flippancy or haughtiness, will definitely hinder a proper worshipful attitude in a group. Not only must a leader set the proper example, but there are times when it may be necessary to deal more directly with conduct that is unbecoming in the worship of God. This can be done by devoting a message to the subject of worship or by having reminders in the bulletin or the foyer of the church. A tactful way of handling this problem is to bring a series of short children’s talks as part of a regular service, dealing with the subject of “How We Behave Ourselves in Church.” In this way children learn these ideals early in life, and the older members of the congregation as well can learn and relearn these lessons in a way that does not seem directly pointed at them.
There are several basic truths regarding a proper attitude for worship that a leader should try to teach a congregation. First, worship requires preparation. This spiritual preparation should begin in the home before the family arrives in church. Upon arriving in church there should be the further preparation of silently asking God’s blessing upon the service. In other words, a spiritual attitude of worship cannot be turned off and on like a faucet. Further, believers must be taught that a proper attitude of worship requires willful concentration and self-discipline while in the service so that nothing is allowed to distract from their worship of God. It has become increasingly true in many of our evangelical churches that an attitude of going to church simply to hear the preacher or the music–to be entertained–has developed rather than a spiritual attitude of sincerely desiring to worship God. Then, Christians should be taught that they should be active participants rather than mere spectators during each activity of the service. This means that they should share wholeheartedly in the singing, enjoying and appropriating the truths of the songs they sing. They should be made to realize that even when listening to the Scripture readings, pastoral prayers, special music, message, etc., they can be sharing Vicariously in these activities as well. The offering, too, is an act of worship. People should be taught that the offering is not merely collecting enough money to meet the financial obligations of the church. In a far deeper sense the material gifts should be a symbol of one’s spiritual attitude–that of love, devotion and commitment to Christ. This entire matter of definite and genuine participation on the part of the congregation is one of the basic principles of evangelical worship.
A leader of a worship service should strive to keep a proper balance between the objective and subjective approaches to worship. Both are needed. Generally, most leaders think of the service as being objective until the time of the Scripture reading, after which the service gradually becomes more subjective. There must also be a proper balance between having enough routine in a service to give stability and enough variety to give interest. The result of stability and habit alone is mechanical repetition while too much variety soon develops into mere entertainment. A service should, in addition, have unity. This does not mean that an entire service must be built around a common theme such as the message, since the service has different moods and varied emphases which must appeal to many different individuals with diverse ages, needs, temperaments and backgrounds. Rather, the unity in a service is sometimes compared to the playing of a symphony with its contrasting sections, themes and moods, but all contributing to one total impression. A service also demands movement. Feelings and emotions, like a stream of water, are powerful only as they keep moving. Finally, a service must give evidence of preparation and thought even to minute details. An audience does not like to be part of a service when it senses a leader’s insecurity and disorganization.
There is no one way to arrange the various items for a worship service. However, many leaders recommend Isaiah’s vision of God and his call to service as recorded in the sixth chapter of Isaiah as the ideal order for a worship service. From this Biblical account, Ilion T. Jones in his book, A Historical Approach to Evangelical Worship, suggests the following list as the basic needs of worshipers to be satisfied by the service:
1. Vision of God: adoration, sense of His presence
2. Confession: humility, penitence, contrition, repentance
3. Forgiveness: relief, release, cleansing, assurance of pardon
4. Thanksgiving and praise
5. Joy: comfort, exaltation and exultation
6. Fellowship: sense of common or corporate bonds
7. Instruction: illumination, insight
8. Dedication: sacrifice, offering
9. Call: ethical demands, inspiration, stimulation to action
Most worship services begin with an organ prelude. If an organ or a capable organist is not available, it is suggested that a church use good organ recordings for this purpose. A worthy, devotional prelude is most important to a worship service since it provides a meditative atmosphere as people arrive, thus establishing the proper mood and attitude for the entire service. A call to worship by either the choir or pastor, or often both, is usually the next item. There are a number of suitable hymns or responses that a choir can use for this choral call to worship or “Introit” as it is sometimes known. A pastor can use portions of any number of various Scriptures that are appropriate, with the Psalms offering perhaps the greatest treasury of such verses. Other possibilities for the call to worship by the pastor include the use of sacred verse or portions of hymns. It is advisable for a pastor to make a collection of suitable materials for this purpose. After the call to worship there is usually some group singing, such as the Doxology, Gloria Patri, or an opening hymn. Other activities such as the invocation, special music, responsive readings, Scripture readings, pastoral prayer, choir responses, offering, more congregational singing, message, closing hymn, benediction and postlude are included in most worship services. The closing benediction is generally given from one Of the following: II Cor. 13:14; Eph. 3:20,21; Num. 6:24-26.
In many churches other items of worship are included, such as processional and recessionals, both Old and New Testament Scripture lessons, organ interludes, the Lord’s Prayer, silent prayer, the reading of the Law (The Decalogue), an affirmation of faith such as the Apostle’s Creed. However, it should be emphasized again that elaborateness is not the goal in worship. In fact, it should be cautioned that church history has proven that usually the decline of real fervor and spiritual force in the church is preceded by a craving for elaborate ritual and pageantry. The goal of an evangelical church must always be that of realizing spiritual reality in every item in the service so that hearts are properly prepared for the ministry from God’s Holy Word. A simple form of service in a small rural church, then, can be just as worshipful as any other.
Since in worship services considerable time is concerned with musical activities, it is vitally important for every church music director to give prayerful consideration to these matters of worship. He must work in close cooperation with his pastor in planning an effective service for his congregation. It is generally agreed by Christian leaders that there is no better medium for expressing group worship than congregational singing The choice and use of the congregational songs, then, becomes as serious a matter as the choice of the sermon topic. The following suggestions are offered:
1. Use three congregational songs before the message.
2. The opening song should be a hymn, objective in content–the praise of God, His majesty, etc. The use of the personal pronouns should not be emphasized. Rather, the emphasis should be upon God. The melody, harmony and rhythm of the song should also be worshipful. This hymn should be one that is generally familiar to the congregation. Example–“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”
3. The second song can be more subjective in content, one that extols the redemptive work of Christ, or speaks of devotion and love to the Saviour. Example–“My Jesus, I Love Thee.”
4. The congregational song before the message should be one that prepares hearts for the spoken word–asking the Holy Spirit’s illumination, etc. Example–“Holy Ghost, With Light Divine.”
5. The congregational song after the message should be one that reinforces the truths of the message and challenges believers to appropriate the truths they have learned. Example–“Take the Name of Jesus With You.”
6. Songs should be Biblically sound as well as singable for a congregation. Often songs that are excellent for choirs and smaller groups do not lend themselves to congregational use.
7. The music as well as the words must be considered when choosing songs. Special consideration must be given to the melody and rhythm of a song. A tune should reinforce the spirit and emotional meanings of the words. It should correspond with the words by having the same accents and stresses as the words. The most important words should be the longest notes, highest pitches, etc. Rhythms, too, must correspond with the spiritual emphasis of the words. Rhythms that are syncopated, lilting and secular in connotation have no place in the worship of God.
The choir should take an active role in the leadership of a worship service rather than only provide a special number. This practice can easily degenerate into mere entertainment for the congregation. Individually, choir members must be impressed with the fact that they are to be leaders of the service–leaders of congregational singing, responsive readings, etc. The use of appropriate choir responses throughout the service–the call to worship, pastoral prayer, offertory and closing responses–can add a great deal to the spirit of worship in a service. The evangelical principles of simplicity with spiritual reality can be applied here as well. For example, in the well-known hymn, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” there is the refrain:
“Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day be wholly shine.”
This response can be just as effective in maintaining an attitude of prayer after a pastoral prayer as a more complicated and liturgical response. There are numerous other short hymns or refrains from longer hymns that can be used for this purpose. As previously mentioned, there are a number of suitable hymns that can be used for the choral call to worship. All of these choir responses should be varied often so that they do not become mechanical and routine. The words of a response must always be meaningful, pertinent and generally familiar.
In closing, the importance of such matters as proper room temperature and ventilation should also be mentioned. Attractively printed bulletins are also helpful. These should be complete in their information so that verbal announcements are kept to an absolute minimum. It is also important that there be, a plentiful supply of hymnals for everyone. Good ushering, too, plays an important role in the success of group worship. Ushers should be instructed in such matters as:
1. The importance of a cordial greeting to everyone.
2. An awareness of visitors–making them feel welcomed, etc.
3. The proper procedures for directing people to their seats.
4. The matter of seating late-comers at the proper time. Fitting them into the service by informing them of the song being sung, etc.
It is recommended that each usher be given a copy of the booklet How to Usher by Parrott, published by the Zondervan Publishing House.
From Genesis through Revelation worship occupies a central place in the life of God’s people. There is coming a day when our earthly worship will culminate in the true worship of the “lamb that was slain from before the foundations of the world.” The theme of worship is dominant throughout the Book of Revelation as it speaks of the future glories for each believer in the unceasing enjoyment of heaven (Revelation 7:9-17). We should prepare now for that eternal worship by learning the significance of the lesson Christ taught the woman of Sychar, that of worshiping God in spirit and truth.
1. Discuss the meaning of worship. Show how this applies to both personal and corporate worship.
2. Discuss the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament concepts of worship.
3. Discuss the differences between the evangelical concept of worship and concepts held by other groups.
4. Discuss the difference between the objective and the subjective approach in worship.
5. Prepare what you would consider an ideal order of service for a worship service, showing the songs, activities, details to be indicated in the bulletin, etc.
1. A Historical Approach to Evangelical Worship by Ilion T. Jones. Published by Abingdon Press.
2. An Outline of Christian Worship by Maxwell. Published by Oxford University Press.
3. Music and Worship in the Church by Lovelace and Rice. Published by Abingdon Press.
4. The Endless Song: Music and Worship in the Church by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications.
5. The Fine Art of Public Worship by Blackwood. Abingdon-Cokesbury Press.
6. The Public Worship of God by Henry Sloane Coffin. Pub” fished by Westminster Press.
7. The Way of Worship by Brenner. Published by MacMillan Press.
8. Worship by Evelyn Underhill. Published by Harpers.
9. Worship in the Churches by McNutt. Published by Judson Press.
10. Worship–the Christian’s Highest Occupation by Gibbs. Published by Walterick Printing Co.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY KREGEL PUBLICATIONS, 1961, PAGES 177-189. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.