Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Part 3 -- The maintenance of divine worship

There are many passages in Scripture that describe aspects of the worship of God, but not much in the way of a comprehensive list. One of my favorite passages is in Micah:

Mic 6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

Mic 6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Mic 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. -- NIV

Micah, speaking for the Lord, clearly states that the Lord is more concerned with what is in our hearts and the way we follow His law than he is with the outward trappings of worship. Does this mean that we don’t need to worship God in a corporate way? Not at all. God requires our worship and devotion, but all the offerings we make, all the prayers we say, all the hymns we sing, and so forth mean little if we fail to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

We Presbyterians, who love decency and order, describe what should take place in worship in Chapter II of The Directory for Worship:

  • Prayer
  • Scripture read and proclaimed
  • Baptism
  • The Lord’s Supper
  • Self Offering
  • Relating to each other and the world

This list is a pretty good distillation of what corporate worship should consist, and with the exception of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, could characterize personal, family, and small group worship experiences.

In the second of the Great Ends (shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship) I did not dwell much on fellowship, but the last of the main elements of worship as defined in the Directory for Worship seems to cover that nicely. In fact, corporate worship should also provide shelter and nurture to the family of faith, although the second great end should not be limited to the Sunday worship service.

Presbyterians leave the responsibility for providing worship to the pastor, with the concurrence of the session. The pastor has sole responsibility for the choice of scripture, preparing and preaching the sermon, the prayers during the service, the choice of music, and whether or not to use art, drama, or dance during the service. (Book of Order W-1.4005) All other aspects of worship, including the approval of the sacraments, rest with the session.

The one thing the pastor and session have little control over is the most important aspect of worship – what is in the hearts of the worshippers. The challenge is to order worship so it nurtures an individual and corporate sense of justice, mercy, and humbleness in the presence of the Lord.

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