Theology of Worship

Worship is covenant renewal, a meeting between God and his people as we draw near to him before his throne in heaven. The word “covenant” simply refers to God’s relationship with his people by which he gives us his promises and calls us to respond in faith. In worship, God renews that relationship with us.

This means that worship is not, first of all, about what we do. In worship, God ministers to us as his assembled church: he calls us into his presence, declares to us the gospel of Jesus Christ, nourishes us with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Then, in response to what he has promised and done, the Lord calls us to respond in faith, together, as a congregation: in prayer, in song, in receiving his Word and sacraments.

A Conversation with God

Because worship is covenant renewal, it is a dialogue, a conversation, between God and his people. This is reflected in the structure of our order of worship, grounded in the ancient traditions of the church: God speaks, and we respond. God calls us to worship, we burst forth into song. God calls us to confession, and we confess our sins to him. God assures us of forgiveness, and we sing a psalm of joy and festivity.

This means that worship is not a performance. It is not a concert. And it shouldn’t feel like one. We in the congregation are not mere observers. We are participants in a glorious heavenly activity, a meeting – a covenant conversation – between God and his people.

Gathering Together

When we draw near to God, we also draw together – and that is an essential part of what we do in worship. Everything we do in worship is something we do together. When God greets us as we enter his presence, we respond together – men, women, and children of all ages – with a vigorous “amen!” We sing the psalms and great hymns of the church together. And by together we mean that we include everyone. Our children remain with us as part of the assembly for the whole service, addressed by all of God’s Word as part of his covenant people.

When worship concludes, we give expression to our community by feasting and fellowshipping together. We are a family, and so we act like one – greetings and hugs, tears and laughter – as we sit down together in the church and enjoy the fellowship we have in Christ. As the Lord’s Day continues, we feast and celebrate in each other’s homes – and if you are visiting with us, we’ll make sure you have opportunity to join us. In all of these ways, we enjoy the fruit of what we do in worship – drawing near to God together.

Experiencing the Future Now

Worship is a taste of heaven on earth. Worship is a taste of the future now. If we are meeting with God (as Hebrews 10 teaches us), and if we are meeting together (as Hebrews 12 teaches us), then we are experiencing nothing less than a taste and sample of what we will be doing for eternity in the new creation. This is the great wisdom of the historic liturgies of the church as they cultivate in us a sense of doing something glorious, something transcendent, something heavenly, something different from anything we experience at any other time. That is the eager expectation that drives us as we enter God’s presence for worship, that he gives us, through his Word and through the sacraments, a taste of heaven on earth.

The Old Paths

Our practices in worship are ancient and living. We reject the obsession of modern American culture with the new, the modern, the commercial and disposable. The music we sing sounds nothing like what we hear on the radio. The words that are spoken have nothing in common with the self-help shelves at the nearest bookstore. The tone of worship is the exact opposite of the concert hall. We joyfully embrace the old paths of God’s people throughout the ages: singing the psalms, confessing our sin, hearing God’s Word, celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

We embrace those paths, not because they are old, but because they are given by God, because they are embraced by the church throughout the ages, because they are the means – the tool or instrument – that God uses to minister to us. Worship is lively and nourishing, not because we make it so, but because the Holy Spirit is at work as we embrace the old paths he has given to us.