© 1994 by Rev. Robin Ross firstname.lastname@example.org
Being a Christian and a Presbyterian in Canada Today
TOPIC #5: WORSHIP
"Worship" refers to the respect, reverence, devotion, adoration, and praise which we may give to God. It is an ancient contraction of the phrase "worth-ship", used to indicate the "worth" of a person, e.g. "your worship, the Mayor."
Mankind seems to have an in-born need to worship, because man realizes that he is not self-sufficient or self-originating. In many religions around the world, people worship as an expression of reaching out toward the unknown, in a search for God. Christians, however, worship God as an expression of gratitude that God has reached out to us in the life and death of Jesus, and has made Himself known to us in the present gift of the Holy Spirit. We have experienced forgiveness and eternal life as free gifts of God, without which we would have been condemned to eternal punishment. If we fully appreciate what this means, we will be forever grateful to God, and will willingly give Him our worship and joyful praise. If we do not realize the value of God's gifts, or do not see ourselves as sinners deserving hell but receiving heaven, then our predominant motives in worship will be those of duty, habit, or obligation.
Worship is also an expression of the priority of God in our life. We may "worship" God, while our life choices show that someone or something else is a higher priority than God, which is self-condemning.
In Isaiah 29:13, God says, "these people draw near to Me with their mouths, and honour Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me". This shows how easy it is to go through the forms of worship, while failing to establish a direct link between oneself and God, whereby one may communicate directly to God one's acknowledgement of His worth. Instead, one may misdirect one's primary attention to the execution of the various rituals and procedures, and whether they were done rightly. Certainly in a worship service we have prayers, anthems, offering, sermon, hymns, etc., but participating in all these does not guarantee that one has actually worshipped God. One must establish a direct prayerful link with God very thoughtfully and deliberately, preferably in prayer just before the actual worship service begins: e.g. "Lord, what a great God You are! Thank You for sending Jesus to die for my sins and save me." The rest of the service becomes an extension of those same thoughts toward God in a direct and personal way. Our hymn book is called "The Book of Praise". When we sing hymns, do we consciously sing in praise to God, or are we just singing? There is a real difference.
In the interaction between us and God in a worship service, any or all of the following may take place: honouring God, learning about God, bringing one's concerns to God in prayer, confessing failures, expressing joy, examining one's heart in the light of God's Word, listening to God speak to one's heart, receiving assurance of God's forgiveness of one's sins, asking God to purify or to change one's life, or opening one's life to obey God in some specific area. The focus in this list is not on what the minister, or choir, or people do, but what interaction occurs between each worshipper and God. It is reasonable to expect that God will have at least one message for us during a worship service. This may come during a hymn, a prayer, an anthem, or a time of quiet meditation, just as much as through the sermon. If we come expecting God to speak, He will not disappoint us.
The leader of the service, (usually the minister), is entrusted with a great responsibility, that of standing between God and the people, not as a barrier, but as a mouthpiece. The minister sometimes speaks to God on behalf of the people (prayers), and sometimes he speaks to the people on behalf of God, (call to worship, scripture readings, sermon). He is also responsible for setting a worshipful tone or atmosphere, in which the people are encouraged to commune directly with God (hymns, prayers, doxology, and during times of quiet music or choral offerings). At any time we may speak to God in silent prayer, and at all times we should expect God to speak to us.
The answer to this question centers on the important distinction between being a participant and being a spectator. Worship is an active mental attitude toward God which demands active participation. We are so used to watching TV or listening to the radio as passive, uninvolved spectators, that it demands a great deal of concentration to make the conscious switch to an active, worshipful attitude. To illustrate the different attitudes, a worship service can be contrasted with a hockey game, where the players are the participants and the crowd are spectators. In a church worship service, the minister, organist, choir, and ushers are not performers, while everyone else simply watches. These leaders of the worship set the tone for the entire congregation to enter into an attitude of worship. The leaders of worship must worship too. Everyone must focus on God, not what is being done, and guard against allowing the inevitable mistakes and distractions trap us into forgetting to make contact with God, so that we fail to worship Him.
Special music in church is offered in praise to God. Not applauding after special music arises from the idea that we are not spectators to be entertained. Instead, the music is to encourage us to actively worship God. In many churches there has been a growing freedom to applaud, partly because of the practise of giving a "clap offering" to the Lord as an act of worship.
The experience of fellowship with God through Christ, and of fellowship with other Christians in the Communion of Saints is the unique feature of a time of corporate worship. Worship in common with fellow Christians brings greater glory to God, and adds a fullness to the Christian experience which cannot be duplicated in individual private worship (in one's closet, watching TV, or outdoors). Jesus promised His presence where groups (2 or more) are gathered in His name.
A Sacrament is a religious ceremony which is an outward and visible sign of inward spiritual grace (the power of God working inwardly). In Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, there are seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation (of baptismal vows as a believer), the eucharist (Lord's Supper), penance (forgiveness of sins, usually including a humbling act imposed by the priest), extreme unction (anointing of a dying person with oil), orders (ordination), and matrimony (marriage). In most post-Reformation churches, as ours, the number of sacraments is limited to two: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Baptism is the ritual use of water as an outward sign of inward purification in Christ (forgiveness of sins), of our adoption into God's family, of our ingrafting into Christ, and our admission into the Church. In the Presbyterian Church, a person may be baptized by sprinkling with water, by pouring water, or by immersion under water. In some other churches, only baptism by immersion is allowed. In accordance with our Lord's command in Matthew 28:19, baptism is always performed "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".
Some practises in other churches are not part of the Presbyterian ceremony, but they do explain the common misconceptions about baptism. In some churches, baptism is done as early as possible in a child's life to remove the stain of original sin. At the same time the child's Christian name is given, which explains the use of the word "christening" to describe baptism. God-parents are not a part of the Presbyterian ceremony, but if parents insist on having them, they are allowed to stand with the parents, but only as witnesses.
In believer's baptism, one is first required to confess his faith as an active, trusting relationship with Christ. In infant baptism, the parents are further required to take the following vow: "Do you promise in dependence on divine grace, to teach him the truths and duties of the Christian faith; and by prayer, precept, and example, to bring him up in the knowledge and love of Christ and of His Church?" (The word "precept" means "moral instruction".) Presbyterian law is that at least one parent must be a member of a church before a child is baptized. To properly fulfill the vow of setting a good example, the parents should also be attending church.
One of the church's biggest theological problems, and one on which denominations show more disagreement than almost any other, is baptism. This is simply because the Bible is not explicit in giving "rules" for baptism. Some churches believe that baptism should follow a personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ. This is clearly not possible for infants who cannot speak. Similarly, some churches believe that immersing is the only way to baptize, since the Greek root word means to dip, soak, plunge, or purify by washing. Why do Presbyterians baptize infants, and why by sprinkling?
First we should see what baptism signifies. Romans 6:3-5 outlines the meaning of baptism by immersion. By baptism, we are buried with Christ into His death, and then rise with Him in His resurrection. Baptism as a sign points to our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection. Water is used as the sign because it is a cleansing agent. It points to our cleansing from sin by the shed blood of Jesus. When we receive the Spirit of Jesus, as a believer, we are adopted into the family of God, ingrafted into Jesus, and made part of Christ's Body, the Church. Baptism therefore is a sign pointing to the accomplishment of all these, though baptism does not in itself do any of them. Therefore, how much water is used as the sign, influences only how dramatic the sign becomes.
In the baptism of children, the relevant commandment is in Acts 2:38-39 - "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission (forgiveness) of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children." Because the parents already believe in Jesus, they can rightfully claim the Holy Spirit and His benefits for their children in baptism, as an act of faith, because they believe this promise is to them and to their children. Two things happen here:
(1) God extends to the children the benefits of the New Covenant that have already been received by the parents. Baptism is the sign of this, as circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant with Abraham.
(2) God thus includes the children, not on their own faith, but under the faith of the parents. For an example of this "vicarious faith", (believing on behalf of another), see Mark 2:5, where Jesus heals a paralyzed man on the basis of the faith of his friends.
Two other reasons why we believe in infant baptism are:
(1) The New Testament speaks of household baptism, which may well have included infants (Acts 16:15,33; 18:8, 1 Corinthians 1:16).
(2) There is no record of controversy in church history, over the matter of infant baptism. If the early church had been opposed to it, there would have been intense controversy over its introduction.
An important point to be made is that if the baptism of infants is made on the faith of the parents, then it will be impossible for God to extend to the child anything more than what has already been received by the parents. If the parents have never received Jesus, and have their child baptized, one could justly question whether or not the child received anything. Whatever happens in baptism, happens because of the grace of God, but we should be careful neither to presume upon, nor to mock God's grace.
The Lord's Supper is the sacrament by which Christians take bread and wine and make a memorial of our Lord's death and resurrection, in hope of His soon coming ("till He comes" - 1 Corinthians 11:26). However the word "memorial" means more than just remembering His death. It also means making the death of Christ real in the present. The bread and wine become present signs pointing to the reality of Christ's body broken for us, and His blood shed for us. Yes, we are participants, not observers, as we do this in remembrance of Him, but the important thing is not what we do, but what God does. Presbyterians believe in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Lord's supper. We believe that the elements are sacramentally united with Christ, and that He is present to us by His Spirit in the Sacrament. This is based on 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 - "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread." Therefore the recommended prayer of blessing for the elements contains these vital words: "We ask You so to sanctify with Your Word and Spirit these Your own gifts of bread and wine, that the bread which we break may be to us the communion of the Body of Christ, and the cup of blessing which we bless the communion of the blood of Christ."
There are two other views of the relationship of the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ which will show what we do not believe, as Presbyterians.
(1) Roman Catholics believe that because Jesus said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood", that a spiritual transformation takes place at the tinkling of the bell, and though it looks, feels, and tastes like bread and wine, in actuality, (or in "substance"), it has become the body and blood of Jesus.
(2) Baptists, among others, believe that the elements symbolize the body and blood of Christ. Presbyterians would more likely say "signify".
At the Last Supper (the night Jesus was betrayed), Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:20). The words "testament" and "covenant" both mean an agreement, contract, or solemn pledge. The old covenant (or old testament) was an agreement that God would forgive the sins of the people through the system of blood sacrifices, outlined in the book of Leviticus. Hebrews 9:22 tells us that "without shedding of blood, there is no remission (forgiveness of sins)". However, in the new covenant (or new testament), Jesus become the perfect sacrifice, and His blood cleanses us from all sin. Jesus has done away with animal sacrifices, once and for all.
A second parallel to Old Testament practices was that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper at the time of the Passover, thus fulfilling the Passover. Jesus became the Passover Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world.
Other names for the Lord's Supper are "Holy Communion" (because in it we have fellowship or communion with our risen Lord), and the "Eucharist" (or "thanksgiving" in Greek, because we are grateful to God for what He did for us in the sacrifice of Jesus). We celebrate Holy Communion because Jesus directly commanded it: "This do in remembrance of me."
The Latin word "sacrament" meant the oath of allegiance a Roman soldier gave his emperor. Although "sacrament" does not appear in the Bible, the Church adopted the word because of the beautiful symbolism. Holy Communion is God's pledge to us, and our pledge to Him. We receive grace and spiritual food each time we partake. And in return, we pledge our oath of allegiance to Him, afresh. Part of the recommended Communion prayer reads: "We present ourselves to You, in soul and body, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice."