Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Principles of Worship: Covenantal Worship

This is the third post in a series of five, looking at principles of Christian worship in a Reformed and Presbyterian understanding of Scripture. The third principle is the covenantal principle of worship. If the regulative principle explained why we worship as we do and the Sabbath principle explained when we ought to gather for corporate worship, then the covenantal principle explains what worship is.

We see in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20, 33 that the Lord’s Supper is a basic part of Lord’s Day worship – they gathered to eat the Lord’s Supper. This is not to say that the Supper is central, but that is not incidental - it helps us understand what kind of thing the Lord's Day worship is. And it teaches us is that our worship service is a covenant ceremony – a ceremony that revolves around God’s covenant relationship with us. That is to say our Lord’s Day worship is more like a wedding ceremony than it is a family reunion, concert, or school lecture.

The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal, recalling other covenant ceremonies like Passover and the worship service in Exodus 24 with its words “this is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28, see Exod. 24:8). Thus, our Lord’s Day worship is a ceremony where God confirms His covenant to us and we renew our grateful acceptance of, and dedication to, this covenant relationship with Him.
“The triune God assembles his covenant people for public worship in order to manifest and renew their covenant bond with him and one another.” (OPC Directory for Worship I.B.5)
A covenantal pattern of worship that we find in Scripture consists of the five “c’s” of worship: call to worship, cleansing, consecration, communion, and commissioning with a blessing (OPC DW I.B.5.b). In each of these, God graciously initiates and we respond in faith. God initiates worship – He condescends to us and blesses us by grace. We do not merit His favor. But His blessing is intended to further a relationship – it is designed to provoke our response. A covenant relationship is a two-sided thing. Thus, covenantal worship is "dialogical," participatory, shaped by call and response. We find the pattern when God’s people meet with Him in Scripture, such as in Exodus 24:1-11, Isaiah 6, and Nehemiah 9:3.

Consider Exodus 24:1-11 as an example of God's initiative and our response in these five "c's."

Call to worship (24:1-2): God initiates by saying "Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship..." (Ex. 24:1). He calls them to approach and worship.
Cleansing (24:3-6): Next, God speaks with His word as Moses reads all the words and rules of the Lord, and the people respond by committing themselves to these words (Ex. 24:3). The sins of the people are confessed and covered by shedding the blood of sacrificial animals (Ex. 24:4-6).
Consecration (24:5, 7): Some of these sacrifices are burnt, showing their consecration to the Lord as the smoke ascends to Him. Some of the sacrifices, the peace offerings, are kept for later. Then Moses reads God’s word again, and again the people respond by committing themselves to those words, by pledging their allegiance. In essence, they say, “Amen!”
Communion and Commissioning with a Blessing (24:8-11): The blood of the covenant is applied to the people and they (in this case through their representatives) see the God of Israel and live, drinking and eating the peace offering in His presence, enjoying fellowship and peace with Him.

So our Lord’s Day worship is a covenant ceremony with a certain logic to it, revolving around our relationship with God. The fact that it is a covenant ceremony makes it distinct from serving God in all of life, although it is connected to all of life. It claims and commits all of life. In it we confess the sins of our life and gives thanks for the blessings of our life. It must be connected with faithfulness in the rest of life. It equips us and directs us for our daily life. Our spiritual worship (Rom. 12:1) is to present our bodies as living sacrifices in worship and then to live out this commitment the rest of the week.

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