By the above sub-caption we do not have in mind, first of all, the parts that constitute our formal worship. Concerning these we will have something to say after a bit; but before doing so we must mention an element of our worship that must be considered before we actually enter the house of God to participate in the songs, prayers, preaching, etc. We refer to the element of “togetherness”; unity with fellow-saints in the holy presence of God. Worship is not individualparticipation in the various steps of a prearranged program. Neither is it the gathering of an audience to listen to a lecturer or choir. But worship is the fellowship or communion of God’s people through which there is a communal participation in the means of grace. To ignore this unity is to disrupt the public worship before it begins; and this is done with great peril to our spiritual growth. Neither can the worship of the church that is characterized by party-factions, divisions, and contentions enhance the glory of God’s Name. I Corinthians 1 is pertinent here for the church is enjoined “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” No “form of worship” is good enough to promote the worship of a church that is devoid of this essential element. And for the individual saint who is not consciously enveloped in this unity of worship the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:23, 24 are instructive and necessary: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
True worship cannot be self-centered. It must be God-centered and because of this it must aim at the edification of the body of God’s Son, which is the church. Only then will formalism in worship suffer defeat and the elements of worship come to their own in the experience of the worshippers. The importance of this is well-put in the following article:
“Possibly one of the weakest links in the chain of our spiritual life is the apparent lack of concern for our fellowmen which so often characterizes our lives. Some one bas aptly remarked that while Reformed Christians are generally zealous in championing the duties listed in the first table of the law, they are frequently guilty of woeful neglect on the score of insisting with equal fervor that the duties of the second table shall be performed. In their profound awareness of the awful glory and majesty of the God of the Scriptures, they can still be grossly negligent of their personal and corporate responsibility to those who, like them, have been fashioned in God’s image.
“In so far as this is still true of us, it will have deleterious, harmful, effects for public worship. It ought not be taken amiss, therefore, that we signalize what the Scriptures say about the communion of believers in the worshipping congregation.
“The Bible teaches that besides personal and private worship there must be a large place in our lives for public worship. Here the use of the term ‘public’ may be misleading. It is apt to create the impression that the essential character of this method of praising the Lord lies in being witnessed by our fellowmen. This is not necessarily the case. Of far greater significance than its ‘public’ nature as defined above is its ‘corporate’ character.
“Especially the New Testament epistles emphasize this aspect of our worship. We are to worship the Lord together, in the full awareness that we belong together as God’s children in distinction from the people of the world, who lie in the darkness of sin and are alienated from the covenant of promise. This is the emphasis of the warning recorded in Hebrews 10:24, 25, ‘And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together; as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.’
“The necessity of thus considering one another in our public worship is self-evident to all who understand what the Bible teaches concerning the true Church.
“The Church of our Savior is a unique body in the midst of the world. All those who are called unto life eternal are gathered by the Spirit in the name of Christ through the pure preaching of the Word. To the believers this Spirit of God seals the merits of Christ and assures them individually and jointly of their everlasting inheritance. He binds them together in a spiritual brotherhood, so that they begin to manifest themselves as the temple of the Spirit, the body of Christ, the family of the Triune Covenant God.
“Moreover, this spiritual body, by virtue of the continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, is always in communion with its spiritual Head. By means of His presence it enjoys the guarantee of all the spiritual gifts and grace necessary for its own edification in love (Ephesians 4:16). Out of the infinite fulness of Christ He imparts the diversities of ministrations necessary for the welfare of the whole. Thus Paul can speak of the several gifts bestowed on the Church, but adds, ‘all these worketh the one and same Spirit, dividing to each one severally as he will’ (I Corinthians 12:11). The glory of the church is her manifest unity in the midst of an almost infinite variety of personal endowments and callings.
But this body of Christ is surrounded by foes. The world cannot understand the nature of her life any more than the glory of her message. Unbelievers laugh to scorn the attempts made by believers to live in accordance with their spiritual unity in Christ. And since they are able to point out many failings which mar our lives on this score, we must come under the chastisement of the Word and correct the blots found in our communion. Only in the measure in which this unity manifests itself will we be strong and true and victorious in our warfare against the power of sin.”
This “togetherness” in worship begins in the home with the family. The covenant of grace is established by God in the line of generations; and it is the grace of that covenant that unites parents and children, even as the same grace unites believers in worship. Parents, who themselves are believers, instruct their children in all the facets of the service of God. From their earliest years the children are taken by the parents to the house of God; and they do not have to be very old before they begin to understand that they are part of that body that is separated from the world by and unto God, that they may worship Him and show forth His praise. The foundation of that worship that takes place in the church is laid in the home. It has been said that, “The family that worships together stays together.” Not only is this adage true; but tragically the opposite is so often manifest, so that the family neglecting the unity of worship becomes divided; and this basic separation is so fundamental that it inevitably affects every relationship of life. Beautiful is the sight of families going together into the house of God and there joining with other families of like faith to worship. That oneness ought to remain manifest throughout the entire worship and parents and children ought not to scatter as soon as they have entered the sanctuary to find individual places all over the auditorium. Neither should children get the notion that when they have reached a certain age they suddenly become too “big” to worship with the family. Such an attitude, too often manifested is only a, reflection of spiritual stupidity. Let our worship be the spiritual exercise that it ought to be; and then it will be governed by spiritual principles, and not directed by notions of the flesh.
Families join together in the house of God on the sabbath. Rising in the morning they make themselves ready while singing in their hearts:
“My heart was glad to hear the welcome sound,
The call to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer.
Our feet are standing here on holy ground,
Within thy gates, O city grand and fair.”
Entering into the house of God, a prayer arises in their hearts in the form of another song. It is this:
“Arise, O Lord our God, arise
And enter now into Thy rest.
O let this house be Thy abode,
Forever with Thy presence blest.”
God’s people are a happy people; and their worship reflects this deep joy, which cannot be obstructed by the unhappy circumstances that exist in the world in the midst of which they continue their worship. .This does not mean that they are unaffected by those circumstances; but I mean here to emphasize the necessity of putting all these things aside, in order that during the solemn hour of worship we may enter into the deepest experiences of being with our God and His people and be made the recipients of His blessings.
Unto this end the service has been prepared, and the various elements have been arranged in their proper place. Because we often become accustomed to the established form of worship, we are also frequently oblivious of the significance of each element. This is not as it ought to be; for we thus expose ourselves dangerously to the evil of traditionalism. To avoid this we must not only understand each part of our worship thoroughly, but also realize the participation which we have in each part; for, strictly speaking, as we stated before, the church is not come together simply to listen, but is to worship actively in every part of the service. The church is at worship. This she must never forget, even though in some parts of her worship the minister leads, in other parts he addresses her, and in still others he acts in her behalf. Yet it is the church that actively participates in the entire service.
Now it is to be noted that in different churches there are different orders of worship. Many churches print the order of worship on the weekly bulletin. Substantially this order is the same in all of our churches, although there are minor differences to be noted. For instance, some churches begin with the Votum while others begin with the singing of “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” Some have a separate offertory, while others receive the offering during the singing of one of the Psalms. In some churches the congregation stands during the prayers and sits during the singing, while in others this is reversed. Let it also be observed that the order of worship is a thing that is subject to change and that each church must determine which order is most conducive to edification for itself. When new elements are introduced in the order of worship, we must not immediately frown upon these and assume the attitude that any change here is sin. Neither must we be so eager for changes that we become dissatisfied to retain the same order of worship for more than six months at a time. Each proposed change must be rationally considered with a view to the question, “Will it contribute to an enrichment of our worship?” Elements that do, not only may, but should be added, while those that do not should be dropped. We have not yet reached perfection in worship; and until we do, we must continue to strive to perfect also that form or order in which we serve our God in public worship.