Dialoguing with God: The Structure of Worship

“But all things should be done decently and in order.” ~ I Corinthians 14:40

In our past two posts, we’ve begun taking a close look at the worship of our church — at what we do in worship, how we do it, and why we do what we do in the way in which we do it. This is all, once again, in an effort to encourage us to be more intentionally and actively engaged in our worship or, in the words of the Directory for Public Worship, to help us “wholly to attend upon it.”

I had intended at this point to include an article on the elements, the basic parts, of our worship; but, in God’s providence, most of that material was dealt with in a recent sermon on Deuteronomy 12:29-32. In a nutshell, the Regulative Principle of Worship outlined in that passage teaches us that we do in worship only those things that God has explicitly commanded us to do in His Word (see LCF 22.1). This means that we worship God in the New Testament age by praying, singing, giving, reading and preaching the Word, baptizing, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

But in what order should we do these things? How many prayers and hymns should there be? Where should the sermon be placed in relation to the other elements? In other words, how should we structure the various elements of our worship service?

It’s important to acknowledge up front that there is no divinely authorized “order of service” laid out for us in the Scriptures, and so there is some freedom in this matter, and different churches will arrange their worship differently. This is one of the “circumstances concerning the worship of God” which, not being directly addressed in Scripture, “are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word” (LCF 1.6). One of those “general rules of the Word” concerning worship is that it is to “be done decently and in order” (I Cor. 14:40). So we are to be thoughtful even about the order of our worship. It ought not to be random or chaotic or confused: it ought to be orderly.

As you look at the elements of worship listed above, it becomes clear that each one falls into one of two categories: it is either something that God says to or does for us, or it is something that we say to or do for God. And that is what worship is at its most fundamental level: a meeting between God and His people, an interaction, a dialogue. God speaks; we respond. In technical terms, this is called the Dialogical Principle: worship is a dialogue between God and His people.

This seems to be a natural (i.e., “ordered by the light of nature”) and logical (i.e., “ordered by . . . Christian prudence”) way to arrange the various elements of worship to ensure that it is orderly. It also has abundant Scriptural precedence, as it is ever the Scriptural pattern that God speaks to His people and they respond to Him.

Having said all of this, now think through our typical order of service and observe the dialogue:

God to Us: Call to Worship

We to God: Prayer of Invocation and Hymn

God to Us: Scripture Reading

We to God: Hymn, Pastoral Prayer, Offering, and Hymn

God to Us: Sermon Text

We to God: Prayer for Illumination

God to Us: Sermon

We to God: Closing Prayer and Hymn

God to Us: Benediction

Recognizing this simple yet profound structure will help us a long way in our effort to engage fully in our worship. Not only does it remind us why we’re doing what we’re doing and when we’re doing it, it also reminds us of the incredible significance of our worship — we are meeting with the almighty Creator of the universe Himself. He is speaking to us, and we are responding to Him. We are dialoguing with God.

~ Pastor Jason