“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

Psalm 96:9

The principal function of the worship of the church is indisputably the ministry of the Word of God. Prayers, offerings, singing, and whatever else may be properly included as acts of worship must be considered as subordinate to that primary function. In fact, a careful analysis of the whole structure of our worship will disclose that all these other relevant functions of worship are actually fruits of the ministry of the Word. In the measure that the ministry of the Word accomplishes its positive or redemptive purpose in the individual can there be prayer, singing and offerings made as true acts of worship. It is characteristic of the modern church service to crowd into it all kinds of incidental practices and to crowd out the preaching of the Gospel. This is demonstrably contrary to the principles of the Reformation and is but one of many evidences of the apostasy and decline of the church. Always we must insist upon and maintain the primacy of the preaching in worship.As one author put it, “In worship the word of Christ, His Gospel, His prophetic testimony, is central, pivotal and dominant. In that Word inscripturate the Logos incarnate reveals the Father whom we worship, teaches us true self-knowledge and discovers to us His own mediatorial identity. That Word of Christ is the light that is the indispensable condition of approach to God and fellowship with Him. Hence no worship is truly deserving of the name in which the administration of the Word is lacking, or even denied spiritual primacy.” 

Before we can then understand the various functions in our order of worship and see how these individually relate to the whole, it is of paramount importance that we consider the function of the ministry of the Word, It is, of course, true that the ultimate aim of the ministry is the glorification of God, the Almighty Creator of the universe and the Sovereign Redeemer of His people. His whole counsel as revealed to us in the Scriptures must be preached in order that we, through such preaching, may behold the beauty and glory of His Being and Works. However, the question remains concerning the manner in which this is accomplished. In attempting to shed some light on this important matter, we would first point out that preaching the Word is not the same as lecturing on some theological or religious subject. Going to church to worship does not consist in spending a couple of hours a week listening to a verbal dissertation of the catechism or a given text of the Bible. Perhaps even more than we realize or are willing to admit, we in practice regard it that way. Our life is divisible into two main categories, the secular and the spiritual. Because we are earthly, we are preoccupied most of the time with non-spiritual or earthly things. We do not consider this occupation to be sinful, but it is of necessity laid upon us. However, being religious creatures and, more particularly, saints in Christ, we need some diversification, and so on the Sabbath we lay aside these secular activities and devote ourselves to spiritual matters. The result is that we go to church, listen to a sermon or two, and perhaps even conclude that it was very nice and instructive, but the day is soon over, and with it we lay these things aside and return again to our secular preoccupation. 

Although there is a considerable amount of truth in the following quotation, it seems to lend itself to this same basic error. We quote, “Life today is in danger of becoming thoroughly secular; the tremendous speed at which mind and matter move; the monopoly upon our interest and attention which the many and marvelous inventions of our age and day are calculated to exercise; the preoccupation of the human mind with the things of matter at a time when the natural sciences far outrun the sciences of the spirit in popular appeal; land the intensely humanistic spirit that has entrenched itself in public opinion, in a word, the manifest and dominant situation today renders it imperatively necessary, indeed, to habituate ourselves to pause in the mad rush of modern life, to compose our spirits in the midst of prevailing turmoil and to transcend the world in which we live as we fix our mind meditatively, devotionally, upon God and dwell upon His greatness, goodness and glory.” 

A fundamental element of truth is lacking here. This becomes very evident when the author adds to the above quote the following sentence: “This should be done, notably, when the set season of worship approaches.” Worship is considered to be a “momentary” thing. Gathering in God’s house consists of a “set time” in which we “compose our spirits in the midst of prevailing turmoil and transcend the world in which we live as we fix our mind meditatively, devotionally, upon God and dwell upon His greatness, goodness and. glory.” Clearly the implication is that we do not do this and do not have to do this as we are carried along by this present world during the six days of each week. The sabbath becomes a sort of spiritual: oasis and the aim of the preaching of the word is then to give us a bit of “spiritual science” to off-set the over dosage of “natural science” which unavoidably we imbibe every day. The glory of God does not come to visible expression through preaching in this way, as is abundantly evident in the church today. There is something vital that is lacking. 

The preaching of the Word through the instituted church is directed primarily to the saints that are in Christ Jesus. It is certainly true that this preaching is also a savor of death unto death in the unbeliever and disobedient but this aspect of the preaching is not our present concern. Positively the’ preaching is directed to the people of God and aims to re-direct their entire life to His service in obedience to the heavenly calling. The Gospel of Christ, according to Romans 1:16, “IS the POWER OF GOD unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” By the power of that Word a new creation is formed, the body of Christ which is the church. Dr. Ridderbos said, “Jesus, as the Messiah, as the Son of Man and the Servant of the Lord, is the great Representative of the people of God. What He creates is not a new religion or a new morality, but a new people of God, a New Covenant, the ecclesia of the Messiah. Christ is the second Adam; the church is the new mankind and is as such the body of which Christ is the head. Belonging to Christ means belongings to-this body.” 

“The Church,” according to Dr. A. Kuyper, “is not a new creation, but the re-constitution of mankind in Jesus Christ. And as such, as the new humanity, the Church comes to expression everywhere. The believers, united in their common faith, constitute a people, a community. They do not only function as such within and as members of the institutional church, but they are the people of God and the body of Christ, which must necessarily come to expression in all the activities of the community of believers and not only in their church life. Wherever there are people of God, there the Church is to be found. Dr. Kuyper was constantly aware of the danger and the far-reaching consequences of limiting the ecclesia to the institutional church. Over against this tendency he posed the radical unity of life and the absolute kingship of Jesus Christ over all of creation. Christ’s rule in the hearts of His people must come to expression in all that they do in every area of life. 

We cite all of this to establish the point that the worship of the church, centering in the preaching of the Word and the administering of the sacraments, must serve to give direction from the Word of God to the whole life of the worshippers. There is a unity of believers, a communion of saints, that must come to manifestation not simply in the gathering together in worship on the Lord’s Day but in every sphere, phase and facet of life in this world. They are called of God to live and to work together, not as the world, but as a distinctive and peculiar people. And the preaching of the Word must give forceful and proper directive to the realization and the way of realization of this calling exactly because when this life of the church comes to manifestation, God will be glorified in it. It is certainly true that when this comes to pass, the unbelieving and ungodly world is going to manifest its hatred of that life, for this is unavoidable. As long as the members of the church will conform to the world’s way of life six days and will do no more than isolate themselves in worship on the seventh day, the world will be content to leave them pretty much alone. But if the Word preached on that seventh day directs us to a communal life as believers that involves world fight, we will need the encouragement of I Peter 4:12-16, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed: but let him glorify God on this behalf.” 

We see then how this all relates to our worship. When we go to church we do not do this to be entertained, to listen to a few stories containing humorous moral lessons, to listen to trained choirs, or in some way to placate a god of superstition. Neither is the motivation of our worship the mere hearing of well formulated expositions of the various doctrines of the Christian faith. We worship in order that under the lively preaching of God’s Word we may be directed to live in harmony with our calling as saints to the glory of the God of our salvation. The desire to seek that way moves us in the spirit of worship to go up to the house of God. It is as we sing, “They come to learn the will of God.” All the various functions of our worship must be conducive to that end, and in this the preaching is central. Furthermore, if then we speak of an “order of worship,” the important thing is not the chronological arrangement of the various functions of worship but rather the inclusion in worship only of those practices that are contributory to that end and the exclusion of all else. And, of course, that necessitates exclusion of all preaching that explicitly or implicitly, fails to proclaim the absolute sovereignty of Jesus Christ over all of life and, therefore, demands the re-direction of all living in His service and to His praise. 

We conclude this article by pointing out briefly how this is all demonstrated by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4. Firstly, he calls the saints to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called.” He then shows that they are a united body to which has been given the gifts of the Spirit. To that body is given the ministry of the Word “for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Hence, under that ministry the saints are not to be “as children tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” They are not to walk “as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind. . . . .” but they are to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Then, from verse 25 ff. he tells us specifically how this is to be done, concluding the fourth chapter with these words: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

When worship then fails to realize these fruits in a re-directed, God-glorifying life, it too, belongs to the things that are characterized by “Vanity of vanities and vexation of spirit.”