Why We Worship As We Do

Worshiping at All Saints Church
by Dr. Gregg Strawbridge
As our name implies, we desire continuity with the historic church. We desire worship which is informed and Reformed by the patterns of historic Christian worship. The theology which defines our approach to God is unapologetically Reformed and Protestant, according to the great Reformation confessions and catechisms (e.g., Westminster Confession of Faith, Heidelberg Catechism. See our Book of Confessions). We hold that worship is the regular means of renewing our covenantal relationship with the Triune God, through Christ and by means of Word and sacrament.

About Our Worship - Worship services can be so different from church to church. For many in evangelical churches today, the style of our services will seem positively medieval. Often worship in the Church today is informal, light, chatty, entertaining, and filled with mostly spontaneous leading by professional church staff. A few good dancing bears come in from time to time, too. Others, exposed to Pentecostal and Charasmatic worship, test the orthodoxy of worship by the emotional content of the music, aimed to lift the worshiper to an emotional plateau. Our commitment is worship which is Biblical, God-Centered, historically informed, and which strives for serious and vigorous participation from the people of God.

Biblical Worship - We desire, first of all, worship that is Biblical. Worship should be filled with Biblical content. In our services you participate in calls, responses, Psalms, hymns, songs, and prayers filled with Scripture. Our Scripture readings each week is from the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels (in the Lectionary) represent our conviction to hear the whole counsel of God. If we are led into His presence by His Word, we can be assured that our worship is focused on the One to whom all worship is due.

God-Centered Worship - We desire worship that is God-centered. That is, we desire worship which is filled with the exaltation of our great Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - not services filled with entertaining performances or that are aimed to make us feel better about ourselves.  We wish to have intelligible worship (1 Corinthians 14:24), which is driven by the Biblical vision for all peoples to know Him and give Him the glory due His name (Psalm 86:9). Moreover, our desire for God-centered worship is reflected in the typical pattern of the order of worship.

The New Testament describes what new covenant believers do in their assembly as the “liturgy” (leitourgeo/latreia) of “near-bringing” in terms of the tabernacle/temple “service” (liturgia) (Heb. 10:11/Rom. 9:4- Acts 13:2, Rom. 12:1). The basic order of sacrifice is emphasized in Lev. 9:22: “And having sacrificed the sin offering (chattat), the burnt offering (olah) and the fellowship offering (shelamim), he stepped down.” We do this now by grasping the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus by faith and by renewing covenant through these same steps on the Lord’s Day.

We are Called into His presence to Confess sin (Sin offering, 1 John 1:9) so that we Consecrate ourselves (Burnt/Ascension offering, Rom. 12:1) by committing to be obedient to the Word of God read and preached; We bring Gifts of tithes and offerings (Tribute offering); and have Communion (Peace offering, 1 Cor. 5:7). Finally, we are dismissed with a blessing wherein we are named as God’s people to live out the liturgy. This pattern of actions we may summarize as: Call, Confession, Consecration, Communion, & Commission.
  1. God Calls Us. We are called to recognize our corporate entrance into the presence of God and all His hosts (Hebrews 12:22). We seek to see God as He is, so we recite God’s Word (especially the Psalms) throughout this part of the service. By this we are reminded of our covenantal relationship to Him as His people.\
  2. God Cleanses Us. Not only do we want to see God as He is, but we want to see ourselves as we are before Him. So we confess our sins corporately. Seeing God’s holiness and our sinfulness drives us to the cross. Thus, we hear the promise of the gospel of grace, proclaimed by God’s representative, the Minister. We hear then the Declaration of Absolution, the wonderful covenant words that by trusting in Christ, we are forgiven of our sins. This is the heart of the good news of Christ’s redemptive work.
  3.  God Consecrates Us for Service. To this point we have exalted God, rehearsed the gospel’s promises, offered up our lives and fruit, now we are to focus on the Means of Grace - prayer, the Word, and the sacraments.
    • Reading and Preaching of the Word. A central aspect of our maturity in Christ is growth in our grasp of the Word of God. In our services we read a representative selection of Scripture - Old Testament, Gospels, Epistles (1 Tim. 4:13). We believe that all of God’s Word is profitable for all of God’s people (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We devote a considerable portion of time to the proclamation of the Word. It is offering our hearts and ears to God, so that later we may offer our hands and feet as living sacrifices.
    • Confession of Faith. Our identity is with the people of God and so we confess our faith using an historic creed (Apostle's or Nicene Creed). This provides for an opportunity to vigorously recite the truth of our holy faith.
    • Prayers of God’s People. Then our prayers are lifted to the Lord for the kingdom of God, our national and local leaders, missions, and our own needs (2 Timothy 2:1-2). We conclude by singing the words our Lord Jesus taught us in the Lord's Prayer to an ancient tune.
    • Offertory - We not only need to respond to God’s gracious salvation through the gospel, which we have just rehearsed, we need to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). So, our “offering” is not just about collecting money. No, it is offering our lives and the fruit of our labor as a token of our life-service in Christ’s victorious kingdom. Giving financially is a duty of God’s people (1 Cor. 9 & 2 Cor. 9), but it should be a reminder of the larger living sacrifice which is our grateful response for redemption.
  4.  God Communes with Us. We take Communion each week, since this is what the Bible teaches (Acts 20:7, 1Cor. 11:20). The Eucharist (the “thanksgiving”), is a covenant sign and seal of Christ's special presence with us. It is a consummation of our fellowship with Him. As the apostle says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (koinonia) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion (koinonia) of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). We believe that the sacraments (both baptism and communion) are covenant signs and seals and are, therefore, to be covenantally administered to all those who are "in covenant" (even children).
5. God Commissions Us to Serve. Finally, we are Commissioned to Serve. That is, we are sent from our gathering in His special presence to serve Christ in our daily vocations. We receive the benediction of God at the close of the service, "The Lord bless you. . ." This pronouncement is like the ancient practice of laying hands on a person to anoint them with the blessings which God by His grace and power grants. Having entered, acknowledged the greatness of God, our sinfulness, the promises of the gospel of Christ, the means of grace, the departing blessings of God - we are dismissed by a commission to go forth to love and serve the Lord in His kingdom.

Historically Informed Worship - We desire worship which is historically informed. This is reflected in our order of worship, the content of our worship, and our recognition of the redemptive calendar of the Church Year. We seek to use those universal patterns that our brethren through the ages have cherished because they are Biblically rooted and edify God’s people. We may use the traditional prayers and responses in our worship, such as “Thanks be to God,” or the Sursam Corda - “Lift up your hearts,” or the Sanctus - “Holy, Holy, Holy.” These are thoroughly Biblical, but also resonate with the historic Church.

Participation in Worship: Style Matters - In the places in the Bible where worship services are described (e.g., 1 Chr. 16, Rev. 4-5; 1 Cor. 14), we see that the people of God, in an orderly way, participate through responses and prayers and songs (1 Cor. 14:40, see above). The fact is that Israel used the Psalms so extensively, that many had them memorized for ready participation in synagogue prayer and temple worship. They sang together and in antiphonal responses (Psa.136). While some think that early Christian worship was unstructured, Paul exhorts the Corinthian to do exactly the opposite. "But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner" (1Cor. 14:40). The word for “properly” (euschemonos, 1 Cor. 14:40) pertains to “being a fitting or becoming manner of behavior” and the phrase “in order” (kata taxis) is literally, “according to an order.” Paul admonishes them to make sure that all they are ordering worship properly. So in our prayers and congregational participation, we find hearty Biblical support for the kind of participative, yet orderly style of our service.

The Scriptures are full of congregational prayers and directives about congregational prayer. There are basically three kinds of prayer: extemporaneous prayers, patterned prayers, and written prayers. The virtue of extemporaneous prayers is the spontaneity of expression which can capture the moment, if it is voiced well. Pastoral prayers and of men in the congregation are often patterned and studied, like the formula that Paul gives to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:1-2), following the Ten Commandments, or following the outline of Lord’s prayer. There are also written prayers. In our day written prayers are not fully appreciated, simply because they are written. It is important to remember, however, that there are written prayers in the Bible that the Lord instructs us to use, such as the Psalms and The Lord’s Prayer. We also sing prayers, whether we realize it or not: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to Thee.” Just as people don’t object to knowing the words of a sung prayer (a song that addresses God directly), we should not object to knowing the words to “said” prayers. One can join in praying, perhaps with even more heart-felt sincerity, if the words are known.

To sum, up, we wish for Lord's Day Worship at All Saints Church to be Biblical - filled with God’s Word, God-centered - focused on what God in Christ has accomplished, historically informed - using ancient Christian creeds and mindful of the redemptive calendar, and we wish to encourage full participation and expression in our worship by providing clear and prescribed responses. We fully recognize that only the Spirit of God, working according to the Word of God, can effect worship that glorifies God and restores His people. It is our prayer that our worship may be acceptable to our Holy Triune God.