Ministry Vision (#4): Church and Its Worship

Summary of the sermon preached by Rev Dr K. Song on 3 September 2017 at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Peppermint Grove.
WorshipBible Readings: (OT) Psalm 29 / (NT) Hebrews 10:19-25
Main Points:
    I. Simple worship
    II. Reverent worship

This morning, the message for us is ‘Church and Its Worship.’ This is the fourth sermon in the current series of our church’s ministry vision paper. Considering our topic for today, how important is the relationship between church and its worship? The biblical answer is that worship and church, church and worship cannot be separated because church is an assembly of God worshippers, called out of the world to ‘directly serve God in worship.’ The beginning of the OT church, for example, explains this well. If you remember, in Exodus, God called Israel out of Egypt to ‘worship’ Him. So, it’s quite important as the members of God’s church to understand the nature of church expressed in ‘worship.’

Then, what is worship? In a word, worship is ‘expression of reverence and adoration of God.’ Or, worship is to give to God what He is worth. Having this in mind, I would like to point out two aspects of worship and explain them, namely, ‘simplicity’ and ‘reverence.’

Worship at St Columba’s should continue to be ‘simple’ worship. Why? Because of two reasons; one, worship requires a true heart and, two, worship depends on Jesus Christ.

Beginning with the fact that worship requires a true heart, we need to hear what v. 22 of our text passage tells us. V. 22 speaks to us, talking about worship, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” It might sound complicate, but if you pause and think about what this verse says, you’d find that this verse talks about is a matter that is simple than complicate. This verse urges us to draw near to God, with what? ‘With a TRUE heart’ which is, in other word, a ‘simple’ heart that understands the teaching of the Bible as real and not imaginary. The Apostle John explains this in Jn. 19:35, saying that he saw at Golgotha the Lord Jesus’ death on the cross and he testified it in the gospel and his testimony is ‘true’ because he says what he saw, because he talks about what is real with Jesus. The Apostle John calls it a ‘true’ witness and that’s the same word that describes a heart that is ‘true’ also. So, drawing near to God in worship requires our ‘true’ heart that reads the word of God and understands its teaching and follows its commands and guidance. That’s a worship with a true heart.

This verse continues, saying that we draw near ‘in full assurance of faith’ which is basically what the previous ‘true heart’ believes. So, ‘with a true heart in full assurance of faith’ means a simple heart that follows God’s word. The rest of v. 22 simply elaborates the same point once again, saying, “having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water,” meaning that we don’t follow our sinful human conscience or fleshly desires. The whole verse is about our drawing near to God with a simple heart that upholds the teaching of the Lord which is, in other word, our ‘simple’ worship and to God’s eyes, a pleasing aroma, borrowing the OT language.

Because of this nature of worship, biblical worship has to be Christ-centred. Why should Jesus be the centre of our worship? Because the entire Bible is about Christ and His salvation. So, understanding and following the word of God is a ‘true’ heart and that word of God explains to us Jesus the Saviour and Lord.

Who is Jesus? What is He? He’s the Messiah promised in the OT and, as promised in the OT, He came and died for the sinners the Father decided to save. He’s the One the OT church waited for long. Meanwhile, they worshipped God, having the promised Messiah right in the centre of their worship. How? In what way? By having animal sacrifices in their worship, by shedding the blood of animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins and reconciliation with the Father. With that sacrificial system, they had the promised Messiah right in the centre of their worship to God. They also had human priests and high priests who were mere sinful men like any other human, but those human priests foreshadowed Jesus the Messiah.

Whereas their worship was centred by their Saviour yet to come, we of the NT church have Jesus Christ as the centre of our worship. Knowing Him and His saving grace well and thoroughly, we draw near to God with a true heart that truly depend on Jesus in our worship. That is a ‘simple’ worship.

All the rituals of the OT worship were to direct worshippers to the coming Messiah; all those visible outward forms and orders were to make those worshippers gathered together at the tabernacle or temple understand the necessity of God’s grace and mercy in their Saviour for salvation. The same principle applies to the NT worship – we depend on Jesus our Saviour and His blood shed for the sinners in all we do in worship. That’s a ‘simple’ worship. After all, that is what vs. 19-21 of our text passage say. Please listen to what these verses say. It begins: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God.” Then, v. 22 says, “let us draw near with a true heart in a full assurance of faith.” Do you see the point? Therefore, our worship must be a simple worship with a true heart that depends on Jesus Christ alone.

This simplicity and Christ-centred worship, then, suggests a simple form or order in our worship. I’d like to say it as ‘routineness’ in our worship. This is the outcome of the two natures of biblical worship or, if you like, Reformed worship.

What I mean by ‘routineness’ in worship is that our worship should be ordinary and habitual in its form and order. Simply put, worship service order should reflect what the Bible is all about – that is, the gospel. What is gospel? It’s about God’s grace for the undeserved sinners expressed in God’s calling them, then, cleansing, reconciling or restoring, nurturing and commissioning them as God’s children in the world. This routineness in worship has been kept in the Reformed circle since the Reformation.

Think about it. If our worship to God is solely based on the word of God, if our worship depends on Christ and His saving blood, then, its order and form must be the same week after week, routine in its order and form. Being routine and ordinary and habitual, any specific element in worship will not distract any worshipper’s mind to drift away from the purpose of worship. Rather, such routineness in order and form will draw all worshippers’ hearts and minds and souls to God who along is worthy to receive their worship.

In worship with a routine order, what would be your reaction to such a worship once you get used to it? Let me tell you what would happen. You’d be so familiar with the order that your mind would not take any notice of the flow of worship service. Your mind would be almost free from the worship order. Then, what would occupy your mind and soul? The content of worship, the purpose of worship, the message from reading of and preaching from the Bible, the words that you say in singing and prayers. That’s what your mind and soul are engaged with in a worship with a routine, simple order and form. On the other hand, there’s another form of worship service that has no set order or format but changes its procession each Sunday. One day, it begins with a loud music with flash lights and another day with a quiet or no music and dark illumination in the building. One day with a dance, another day with a play, yet still another day with an evangelistic altar call. Having such an irregular order or form as the ‘style’ of worship, the minds of the attendants would surely be busy with following the procession of service and, if focusing on the content of worship is ever possible, the worshipper’s mind would surely be busy with two things – following the procession of service and integrating the order with the purpose of worship. The mind has to worship God at the same time worshipping the service itself. You can hardly say that as a worship with a ‘true’ heart or a worship that centres Jesus or reflects the gospel the entire Bible is about.

So, simplicity and Christ-centred worship suggests a worship with routine, ordinary and habitual order and form so that the worshippers may be drawn to the Lord uninterrupted. I guess many of you know C. S. Lewis, author of many books such as ‘Narnia’ for children and ‘Mere Christianity’ or ‘The Weight of Glory’ for Christians. He said a quite appropriate and weighty comment on this nature of worship, in these words: ‘a worship service works best when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it.’ He further said against any ‘novelty,’ that is, something new and attractive, in worship and explained the main idea of simplicity of Reformed worship in these words again: ‘Every novelty prevents [our focus on God in Christ in our worship]. Novelty fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. … This mad idolatry makes the service greater than God. A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant.’

So, brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, my fellow worshippers of God, simplicity must be the nature of our worship as Hebrews urges all worshippers to “draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Another word for this simplicity is ‘Christ-centred’ worship because whole Bible is about Him our dear Saviour and His saving grace.

Along with simplicity, another important point we must understand as the nature of our worship is ‘reverence.’ Reverence is what a person ought to have before God in heart and practice.

Regarding this nature of reverence, have a look at v. 23 of our text which says this: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” Why should we do so? Because, as v. 23 continues, “He who promised is faithful.” So, putting vs. 22 and 23 together, it goes like this: ‘Draw near to the Lord with a true heart and worship Him because our God is faithful, because He is the almighty, holy, righteous, all knowing, all powerful God who reaches to the very heart of all things. ‘Knowing to whom we come in worship,’ we ought to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” Simply put, we must come to worship, knowing who this God we worship is. And this is ‘reverence.’

There are some good examples in the Bible that give a perfect picture of what ‘reverence’ is. Among them, the life of the early church as depicted in Acts 9:31 is a good example. Acts 9:31 tells us how that church was: “the church … enjoyed peace, being built up and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” ‘Reverence’ is ‘the fear’ and ‘the comfort’ of the Lord.

So, reverence in worship is to regard God as the One who alone is worthy to be worshipped. Giving Him the due respect with honour and glory with awe and joy in our heart and mind and soul is reverence. Philippians 2:12 says that it is “with fear and trembling” and Ps. 65:8 describes reverence as ‘standing in awe and shouting for joy.’

Let me give you a case that is opposite to reverence to help you understand better what reverence is because quite often we understand something better and clearer by seeing an opposite case. We understand how good and blessed it was with last summer breeze when we shiver under the cold winter storm. Likewise, let me explain reverence in our worship by telling you the opposite case – that is, loss of reverence in the contemporary Christian worship and culture. Dr David F. Wells described loss of reverence as ‘weightlessness of God’ in contemporary Christian worship and culture. Dr Wells said that ‘weightlessness tells us nothing about God but everything about ourselves … [God is excluded from our reality]. The consequence of all this is that what was once transcendent in the doctrine of God has either faded or been relocated to the category of the immanent, and then this diminished God has been further reinterpreted to accommodate modern needs.’ Such ‘weightlessness’ is the opposite to ‘reverence.’ Dr Wells further explains: ‘[This weightlessness of God has] drastically changed the whole meaning of Christian faith. [It has] affected the way we view God in relation to our selves, to life, and to history. [It affects] the way we think of God’s love, His goodness, His saving intentions, what His salvation means, how He reveals Himself, how His revelation is received, why Christ was incarnate.’

As Dr Wells pointed out, when we lose reverence in our worship, we lose everything – the God who is transcendent, almighty, becomes a ‘buddy,’ then, the God who is immanent and dwells in us in His Spirit becomes a ‘genie,’ the lamp fairy.

Reverence is totally opposite to this ‘weightlessness’ of God. Reverence is the result of a true heart that worships and reverence is a direct outcome of Christ-centred worship. After all, this is the teaching of Heb. 11:6, “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow worshippers, let us keep our worship ‘simple’ and ‘Christ-centred,’ coming before Him in reverence, that is, knowing whom we worship, our great and loving God, and that in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit. ***

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