The whole Word of God is, of course, applicable to every facet of the function of the church but, if we may single out the particular Word of God in I Corinthians 14 and apply it specifically to a singular ecclesiastical function, we would say that it especially applies to the worship of the church. We refer particularly to the exhortation in I Cor. 14:26, “Let all things be done unto edifying,” and again to that of I Cor. 14:40, “let all things be done decently and in good order.”
We make this claim not only because in this chapter the apostle is speaking directly of church worship but because the very nature of public worship demands that this be given special emphasis. Paul speaks of “the whole church coming together into one place.” This is to worship God. If then all that is done in and by this assembly is not carried out in an edifying, decent and orderly manner, the whole function of the church collapses. The inseparable relation between the worship of the church and all her other functions is such that if the core of the former is broken, the latter become completely futile endeavors. Thus we give to the worship of the church a place of primary importance and properly emphasize the importance of its order.
In discussing the order of worship it is not redundant to restate the character and purpose of worship. Worship is the meeting of God with His people. God comes to His people to have fellowship with them and to bless them. The church approaches God to serve and to worship Him and to extol His glory. This also means that it is the worship of God as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ and through the Spirit. From this description of worship it follows that its purpose may not be characterized as missionary or evangelistic, i.e., the saving of souls. Those that unite in public worship are the saints, that is, the people of God with their children. They gather together in one place to communally glorify God with praise and thanksgiving and joy. Each time God’s people assemble in worship there is a reverberation from the heart of the Psalm of David, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His Name together.” (Psalm 34:3) In the deepest sense of the word this is the exclusive purpose of worship. All other things are and must be subservient to this end.
It is true, of course, that there is also a secondary purpose in worship which may be defined as the building up and edifying of the saints; the strengthening and growth of the church in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. But very clearly then, this secondary purpose serves the first, since the more the people of God are strengthened in faith and grow in grace, the better equipped they are to serve and glorify God in and through all things.
From this it becomes evident that in worship there are two parts: a parte Dei and a parte populi or ecclesiae; that is, a part of God and a part of the Church. To remove all possible misunderstanding we immediately add that the second part is entirely dependent upon the first. The church can and does come to God to worship Him only when God has come to her to bless her and to fellowship with her. God is always first. He calls His people to worship and that act on His part is already the impartation of His blessing so that to this call His people respond singing:
“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, thou city grand and fair.
God’s people to Jerusalem repair
To hear His word and worship Him with praise;
The throne of justice stands eternal there,
Messiah’s throne through endless length of days.”
This point is emphasized by Dr. Volbeda when he writes as follows: “God naturally takes the initiative. This comparts with the fact of His priority. (Psalm 90:2); but it is grounded particularly in His Inscrutability and Sovereignty. Since God, agreeably to His nature as the infinite God, dwells in eternity and in an unapproachable light (Is. 5:15and I Tim. 6:16) no creature can find and investigate God of himself. . . .But God’s initiative is a prerogative that God may rightly claim no less than a human need that only he can satisfy. As the Creator and Sustainer of man and the world, God is invested with absolute, i.e., unconditional and perpetual’ sovereignty. The exercise of His Supremacy has as its natural corollary high honor and royal majesty. Corresponding to God’s sovereignty is man’s obedience and to God’s majesty man’s obeisance. It follows from God’s majesty that man may only approach to God Who drew nigh to him, if, and when, God Himself bids him come and extends His gracious welcome. Entering into God’s economic presence is a privilege conferred, not a human right recognized. This is not due to the fact of sin, but is implied in the original constitution of things.”
He then adds: “In worship the congregation meets at God’s behest, He gathers them, They meet on His day, in His House, In His Name. His Word is central to the exercises performed, the liturgete, though, too, the representative of the congregation, is nevertheless His servant. And the dominant purpose of worship as the terms worship and eeredienst imply, the praise of the glory of God and His grace. (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). In worship, as in all things, God is the First and the Last. (Is. 44:6, Rev. 1:11).”
Now this part of God in our worship is very important and we cannot stress that importance enough. We proceed then on the assumption that our readers understand this because in our future writings we are going to concern ourselves almost exclusively with man’s part in worship. This follows from the very nature of things. We are going to deal with the matters that pertain to our order of worship and, consequently, will be considering the things, which we, the worshippers, do. When then we also emphasize the importance of our various acts of worship, it is not that we equate these things with God’s part, but always the understanding is that we can and do participate in these significant things only by the grace which is given unto us.
Several preliminary matters must be considered in connection with a parte ecclesiae in public worship. Rev. H. Hoeksema makes the statement that, “in regard to public worship the form and the principles of public worship are derived freely from the Word of God.” (Liturgies, pg. 1) This is of fundamental importance. If we remember that the purpose in all that we do in our worship is to glorify God and to edify His people, we will also consciously realize the necessity of conforming our practices to the principles of His Word. Only those things that conform are conducive to this end. The Word of God then is our only standard by which our worship practices are to be evaluated.
In this connection we may also add that our worship conforms to our Church Order and our Confessions. This is not contradictory to the foregoing but harmonious inasmuch as our Church Order and Confessions are also based on God’s Word. We will not take time to demonstrate this now. However, this is important because it determines a particular perspective and unqualified usage of these things. They are designed to aid us in our worship. The Church Order, for example, must not be regarded simply as a book of legalistic rules and regulations which by some magical formulation is supposed to solve every problem in the church or bear upon every realistic situation in life, but rather, in the terms of Dr. A.H. De Graaff, professor at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, “The church’s law must at all times remain. . . . ‘an instrument of faith for the effectualization of the sole authority of Christ Jesus by His Word and Spirit.’ At no time may the church-order be applied in a formal manner, so that the legal rules begin to dominate the activity of faith and destroy the bond of love between the ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ of the ‘household of faith.’ The church order is a very sensitive instrument for the working of God’s Word and must be completely bound by the peculiar nature of the church as a community of faith-and a fellowship of believers.” (The Educational Ministry Of The Church, pg. 80, 81)
From the same source quoted earlier, we find the following statements of Rev. H. Hoeksema: “Strictly speaking, the church that is congregated participates in the entire service. It is not a service of the officiating minister’ to which the congregation merely listens, as an audience comes to listen to a lecture or to the rendering of a program. It is the whole church that worships in every part of the service. . .”
This is something for every individual worshipper to seriously consider. He goes to the house of God to actively participate in all that transpires in the worship service. Each step or element in the procedure of worship is to build him up in faith and enable him more effectively to glorify God. Though it is certainly his privilege to act in that worship, there is much more to it than this. There is the highest of all responsibilities involved here. He is confronted with a God-given task which he must accomplish and to do this he must labor more arduously than he does during the six days of the week. This is his starting point and if he fails here, his labor throughout the week will be nothing more than vanity of vanities. In the house of God he cannot idle away the time in sleep. He must exert every faculty of his being in active preparation for his calling in all of life to glorify the God of his salvation. Through active participation and fruitfulness on the part of the congregation does the ministry of the Church have far reaching effects.
Earlier we quoted Dr. De Graaff. We add here a few more statements from his book that touch upon this point. Firstly, he states that “The Church then is first of all to be conceived of as the new humanity, the people of God, or the body of Christ.” He adds that, “The Church. . .is found wherever the Christian attitude to life expresses itself in a temporal form. In its central religious sense the Church manifests itself everywhere and pervades temporal society in all its structures.” Further, “It would therefore be quite wrong to place the ‘institute’ over against or next to the church as ‘organism.’ The one body of Christ, the ‘Organism’, expresses itself both in the ‘institute’ and in the church as ‘organism,’ that is, in all the other spheres of human life. The ‘invisible’ Church as the reborn humanity or the body of Christ is one and reveals itself in the entire ‘visible’ church, in the total life and witness of the people of God, including their worship and the organization of the ecclesiastical offices and services.” Then again, “But since this re-formation of all of life can only come about through the power of the Word of God, the ‘institute’ can be ‘nothing more’ than an instrument in the service of the ‘organism.’ The ‘institute’ can onlyadminister the Word of God and the sacraments, but from this administration one may expect great things.”
Public worship in the church then must aim to prepare and equip each worshipper to lead a God-glorifying life in every sphere in this world. The “what, how, why and when” of each phase of worship must be evaluated in that perspective. Spiritual order must always have primacy over chronological order. As Dr. De Graaff wrote, “Every service of the church must be seen as an instrument of faith for the effectuation of the absolute authority of the Word of God. Through the administration of the Word and the sacraments Christ would build up His body. The special ecclesiastical offices are the gifts of His Spirit to equip God’s people for work in His service. They are to be conceived of, therefore, asministries within the fellowship of believers. Through proclamation and admonition, instruction and guidance, care and assistance, the congregation is to be built up in the faith. In this up building of the faith of the body of Christ the ministry of the church finds its inner boundary.” (pg. 82)