[This was originally posted on the Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nashville blog on 2 September 2011]
For many joining us in worship on Sunday morning the form can be a bit unusual. I know I wasn’t raised worshiping God according to this order of worship, and at first it can be confusing. I was reminded of this when my own parents, being of perfectly sound mind, worshiped with us one Sunday and expressed some confusion afterward about “what comes next” in the order of worship. With that in mind, I would like to take my next few opportunities on the blog to explain some of the basic principles that guide our worship.
Although there are some theological foundations we will have to address in the next couple of articles, one of the most helpful points that can be made about our worship is that it is a conversation, or a dialogue. We refer to this as the dialogical principle. It is quite simple: God speaks and we respond. In each part of the service this is the nature of that element of worship. The service begins with God speaking in the call to worship and ends with God speaking in the Benediction, His “good word” or blessing on His people as they go out. He also speaks to us in the sacrament of baptism, in the reading of the Word and the call to confession of sin as well as in the assurance of pardon, the call for the tithe and offering, the preaching of the Word, and the sacrament of the Lord’s Table. We respond throughout in song, in prayer, in thoughtful engagement with the reading and preaching of the Word, in confession of sin and of faith, in obediently bringing our children to the font for baptism and in joyfully being brought to the table for the Supper.
What is God saying in His half of the conversation? Out of His grace toward us in Christ, He gives us commands and declares the promises of the gospel. In each exchange in the dialogue we are taught, reminded of and encouraged by some element of gospel truth. It is the part of the ordained ministers of the Word to speak the part of God in worship. This is why it is so essential for us as pastors to find our “lines” in Scripture. Our authority is derived ultimately from the Word of God alone. In this way you will notice that our worship is drenched in the Word of God. You hear it in every element from the Call to Worship to the Benediction.
His People Respond
And what is our response to the Gospel? We respond in faith with praise! We proclaim throughout, in all our responses, that He is great and worthy to be praised. That He has declared the truth about us. That we love and adore Him and are in need of all that He provides. That He is faithful and that we trust Him. We celebrate our Savior and the great salvation He has accomplished for His people. And we seek to do this with biblical language, following the examples provided by worshipers throughout the Scripture. And we do it predominantly in unison, because we are the one people of God.
What This Means
It is for this reason that we seek to arrive at worship on time, prepared to hear our gracious God call us to worship so that we may respond in joy. It is also for this reason that we remain to the end, coveting the blessing which our Lord bestows upon us in the benediction. Understanding that we are in dialogue with our Savior and Lord also informs the manner in which we respond, allowing the knowledge of God to fill our worship with reverence and awe, deep respect, humility, and joy.