Monday, March 27, 2006
Because of the radical typological fulfillment that occurred in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the corporate worship that was proper in the Old Covenant may actually be improper in the New Covenant. Though animal sacrifice was a required stipulation of the Law, it would be blasphemous to offer an animal sacrifice in view of the atoning efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Likewise, since the local/universal church is the true Temple of God, corporate worship cannot be confined to a geographical location. How then should the New Covenant community of faith deal with the circumstances such as architecture, furniture, and the style of music, in corporate worship? The following are broad principles that consider the global breadth of the church but are specifically applied to the North American church.
Given the delocalization corporate worship, where the church worships is not as important as how the church worships. Certainly the corporate worship of a local church is not any more acceptable because they meet in a cathedral rather than in a home, so long as they worship in spirit and in truth (as discussed above). Much thought and care should go into the design and arrangement into the space where corporate worship takes place so that it promotes participation and spiritual formation. What must be guarded against is the notion that where the church gathers is “sacred space.” This is a return to the shadows of Old Covenant worship. How can any physical space be more sacred than where the Holy Spirit dwells—in the believers themselves, corporately and individually? If a congregation decides to meet in or decides to build a “church”, the architectural design should be thought out theologically as well as pragmatically. As a result, those who are gifted artistically have opportunity to exercise their gifts.
Furniture and Art
In the same manner that “sacred space” detracts from the typological fulfillment in both Christ and his people, so our choice of furniture may also. Since the Lord’s Supper depicts the ratification of the New Covenant with all the people of God, then its location and shape should represent this important truth. Priestly vestments and clerical dress potentially obscure the priesthood of all believers. Granted, some sort of distinction between the pastoral staff/church leadership may be necessary, but it must be done so with these theological truths in mind. Even the symbolic value of the Geneva robes ought to be re-evaluated considering the largely forgotten historical context of the preacher as “scholar.” Other traditional furniture such as the pulpit, chairs for the presiding church leaders/elders, and congregational seating are largely matters of preference.
The use of art in the church (buildings) has been hotly contested since the Reformation, leaving many artists disillusioned with some protestant denominations. The Emergent church represents a movement to reclaim the arts, both ancient and contemporary, in worship. Unfortunately, the movement seems to have no organizing, biblical principle to determine the theological appropriateness of their inclusion except the centrality of beauty. During any given gathering, one might be encouraged to venerate icons, light candles, and/or experience a prayer-labyrinth. Therefore, the historical-theological scenarios behind the art and/or artistic practices must be considered when employing them in any church context. Now more than ever, a theology beauty and aesthetics is needed that takes into account the entire drama of redemptive history, the controversies of church history, and the needs of the local congregation
As mentioned in the introduction, our church-culture’s obsession with music reveals a widespread ignorance of the function of corporate worship in relation to God’s total plan and purpose for his people. Just as an overemphasis on the Word or the Table can detract from the continuity of the other parts of the service, so the current attitude of “music equals worship” actually detracts from the potential spiritual formation and edification that should take place when the church is gathered. The debate between “traditional” vs. “contemporary” is misguided and has resulted in sinful divisions, the tyranny of personal preference, and individualism. It is normally assumed that since the New Testament speaks so little about the style of corporate worship music that there is unlimited freedom. Nevertheless, whether a church chooses to adapt mainly a classical-traditional, contemporary, or blended style, the lyrics and accompaniment should serve the overall flow of the four-fold service and encourage participation. A wisely arranged blend of “old and new” music is perhaps the best decision since it keeps an eye on the past and a pulse on the present workings of the Holy Spirit. In addition, when special music and choirs are utilized, the appearance and attitude of performance should be guarded against. This also applies to all musicians. Finally, the congregation is the chief instrument of praise. Indeed, as we offer our tribute to our Redeemer King in the form of unified, vocal praise, we depict on earth the ultimate heavenly gathering when all the covenant people of God and the hosts of angels will confess:
"Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
~Revelation 7:10, 12~
 See especially Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Having answered the question “Why does the Christian Church gather for corporate worship?” we now turn to the question “How should the Christian Church gather for corporate worship?”
AN ORDER OF SERVICE FOR THE NEW COVENANT COMMUNITY
Because there is no clearly defined order of service set forth in the New Testament, we must investigate the earliest patterns of Christian worship. However, for an order of service to be biblical, it must have more than historicity in its favor; it must reflect, in substance and in form, God’s total plan and purpose for his people. Therefore, it must be covenantal. The early church reflected its Christologically-covenantal origin through a twofold focus: the ministry of the Word and the Table. In his First Apology (ca. 155 A.D.), Justin Martyr reflected this liturgy in his comments about early Christian worship:
On the day which is called Sunday, all who live in the cities or in the countryside gather together in one place. And the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as there is time. Then, when the reader has finished, the president, in a discourse, admonishes and invites the people to practice these examples of virtue. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. And, as we mentioned before, when we have finished the prayer, bread is presented, and wine with water; the president likewise offers up prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability, and the people assent by saying, Amen. The elements which have which have been “eucharistized” are distributed and received by each one; and they are sent to the absent by the deacons.” 
Over the course of time, two other formal sections were developed and added, thus making a four-fold order of corporate worship: 1. The Acts of Entrance/Gathering, 2. The Service of the Word, 3. The Service of the Table, and 4. The Acts of Dismissal.  The tendency throughout the wide span of church history has been to emphasize either the Word or the Table more than the other. For example, whereas the medieval church placed a high priority on the Eucharist, the Reformation church placed a greater emphasis on the preaching of the Word. No less a quagmire is the current state of corporate worship in evangelicalism, which has no consistently discernible liturgy and seems to have invented a new sacrament in its overemphasis on music! The varying emphases of the different traditions suggest, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that certain aspects of the corporate worship service are more important than the others. A return to a biblical, covenantal epistemology will aid in correcting both the past and present excesses and neglect brought on by human tradition, political compromise, biblical ignorance, over-reactionary measures, and individualistic experientialism. By following the simplistic movement of the four-fold pattern, Christian corporate worship best demonstrates its place in redemptive history and faithfulness to stipulations and character of the New Covenant. Precisely because a covenant is made up of equally important elements (historical prologue, stipulations, etc.), so the four-fold pattern emphasizes how the entire corporate gathering is a covenantal act of worship. Richard C. Leonard summarizes it well:
Historic Christian liturgy moves through a sequence of entrance, service of the Word, service of the Lord's Table, and dismissal. This pattern certainly reflects the general outline of Biblical covenant structure. The entrance serves as the prologue, a joyful celebration of the Lord's dominion and his acts of salvation. The service of the Word brings forth the Scriptures as the stipulations or charter defining the relationship between the great King and his servants. The service of the Lord's Table is an act of covenant affirmation, the worshipers' pledge of loyalty in the intimacy of communion and mutual participation. The dismissal is a time of benediction or blessing pronounced upon the faithful, those who keep covenant with Christ the King. 
The benefits of such a liturgy become obvious when seen in light of its consistency with the covenantal structure of biblical revelation and its denominational and cultural transferability. To better explicate how this order of service might function within a North American context, we will consider the different elements that may be applied in each movement. Appendix 1 “Order of Service Sample and Rationale” has been attached as an example of the following principles applied within the context of an entire corporate worship service.
The Acts of Entrance
Every church has its own liturgy, whether the denomination belongs to a liturgical  tradition (Roman Catholic, Anglican) or whether it belongs to the Free Church movement (Baptist, Charismatic). Therefore, how a congregation begins their service reveals many of their presuppositions for gathering. If the beginning elements of the service are mere formalities for the “important stuff” (i.e. the preaching or the Lord’s Supper), then this reveals a missed opportunity for proper worship. Some elements that may be incorporated in the Acts of Entrance include the call to worship, an opening hymn, the invocation, prayer to and/or acknowledgement of God, confession of sin, and words of encouragement. However, the declaration and realization that the community of faith has gathered out of obedience to their Redeemer-King is the most vital aspect that must be communicated and experienced. Thus, God Himself is the one who actually issues the “call to worship.” The songs chosen ought to recount God’s mighty acts of salvation and his covenant character, while the prayer of adoration and time of confession/encouragement remind the people of God that their engagement with a holy God is only made possible by the forgiveness they have received by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The constant flow of the service then becomes “revelation of/from/about God” and the “response from/by the people of God.”
The Service of the Word
The Service of the Word involves hearing the stipulations of the New Covenant read and taught. One of the benefits of using a lectionary is the large quantity of organized Scripture readings throughout the course of the year. However, the lectionary can be confining and or become a “required” element of corporate worship when it is actually only a form. On the other hand, many evangelical churches have little Scripture read (or taught!) in the average service. Therefore, the intention of the lectionary ought to be carried through by a prayerfully constructed reading of the Scriptures that complements the preaching of the Word. Many denominations include the brief response after the Scripture Reading: “This is the Word of God”—leader; followed by “Thanks be to God”—the congregation. Any songs chosen during the service of the Word ought to convey the congregation’s response to hearing the revelation of God’s Word, emulates Israel’s response to their hearing God’s Law being read at Sinai or at the Tabernacle or Temple.
The Service of the Table
As noted above, the Lord’s Supper most explicitly symbolizes the ratification of the New Covenant. Originally, the celebration of the Table involved a community meal (Acts 2:42, 46; 1 Cor 10:26; 11:21ff.) traditionally known as the “agape feast.” This is significant considering the institution of both the Sinaitic Covenant and the New Covenant involved and/or were followed by a covenant meal. As the church became more established and the celebration became more formal and elaborate, the meal was abandoned. Furthermore, many restrictions were placed on the catechumenate that made the Lord’s Supper the privilege of the “sanctified” few rather than the means of grace for the entire community.
Most non-liturgical churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper monthly. Supposedly, if the Table is celebrated too often (weekly), familiarity and a lack of significance may result. This is completely unfounded since the New Testament and early church both portray at least a weekly observance of this ordinance. Thus in order to remind the congregation of their covenantal relationship with God and each other, a weekly or bi-weekly inclusion of the service of the Table may be the best option. The distribution and reception of the elements ought to convey a mixture of somber reflection and joyous celebration, remembering both the first and second Comings of Jesus Christ. Passing the bread and the wine throughout the seated congregation appropriately communicates the priesthood of believers. The vessels and furniture need not be overly ornate, reflecting the simple beginnings of the apostolic church and avoiding the over-complication, sometimes associated with the Catholic Mass.
For the alternative week, a similar time of recounting God’s acting on behalf of his people may include opportunity for corporate thanksgiving and testimony. A time for extemporaneous prayer for and by the congregation would be most fitting. The recitation of a creed, ancient or modern, would be appropriate for both the Service of the Table or the Service of Thanksgiving and Testimony. It communicates the catholicity of the church and the communion of saints, further emphasizing the salvation of the entire community and guarding against the individualization so common in our culture today.
The Acts of Dismissal
The Acts of Dismissal remind the congregation that their corporate worship flows in and out of their life of worship and that they carry out their mission to the world as the covenant community of God. A song of commission, rather than praise or prayer, may best enforce the urgency of the movement from the “church gathered” to the “church scattered.” Lastly, when the benediction is pronounced, the congregation is comforted by God’s abiding and empowering presence as they are commissioned to extend the boundaries of the Kingdom of God in their homes, their schools, their workplaces, their local communities, or the ends of the earth.
 Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1961), 9.
 The four-fold order of service is detailed in Robert Webber, Worship is a Verb (Peabody: Hendriksen, 1992), 45-54. Also helpful is Michael Horton’s chapter “What should Our Service Look Like?” in A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 141-162. There, Horton plainly lays out the covenantal structure that is common throughout many Reformed churches and discusses the elements and circumstances (under the convictions of the Regulative Principle). Both Webber and Horton define the essential elements of corporate worship on the basis of the covenantal nature of New Testament worship.
 By “liturgy,” I simply mean an order of service that is biblically intentional and historically sensitive. Even though there is no explicit mandate in the New Testament for a particular order of service, or liturgy, there are certainly better and worse arrangements. Unless a congregation meets without any pre-planned order, that congregation has created an order of service, a liturgy that they have deemed to be the most appropriate for their congregation at a particular time. In this way, every church (and really denomination) has it’s own liturgy, except possibly the Quakers.
 Leonard, “The Biblical Covenant and Christian Worship.”
 By “liturgical,” I mean an order of service that is highly detailed in its pre-planning. Churches that are “liturgical” usually utilize an order of service that contains specific readings for both the leader of the service and the congregation. This originally was to promote the congregation’s participation in the service rather than spectatorship. In fact, “liturgy” comes from the Greek, leitourgi,a, which simply means “public service, the activities of Christian service” or put another way, “the work of the people.” Unfortunately, the liturgy of (some) liturgical churches has become entrenched and unchangeable. However, even though non-liturgical churches are less formal, their lack of a detailed, pre-planned service often results in members becoming an audience rather than participants. Because both traditions end up with some sort of order of service, both run the risk of leaders and members equating their way of “doing corporate worship” as the right way. Both traditions need leaders who understand and can explain why we do what we do in corporate worship in light of God’s total plan and purpose for his people.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Last January while I was at the Mall of America I finally found my family crest and coat of arms. Give it up for O'Leary! Like I always say, "If your're lucky enough to be Irish, then you're lucky enough!" Erin Go Bragh!
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
However, this radical language-shift does not nullify the need to meet together, but in fact it necessitates it because of our covenant stipulations to our Redeemer King and our fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God. As Peterson avers, “It may be best to speak of congregational worship as a particular expression of the total life-response that is the worship of the New Covenant.”  Indeed, 1 Cor 14 speaks the most specifically concerning the corporate worship and even lists many of the elements common to their meetings: singing of hymns, teaching, proclaiming a revelation, speaking in tongues, or giving interpretation. In addition to this, we must also include celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20-34), the prayers of and for the people, the public reading and preaching of the Scriptures, and tithes and offerings (1 Cor 16:1-4).  What is peculiar about the early Christian gatherings, however, is the central importance of edification over and against religious activity itself. The apostle Paul concludes that in the midst of doing all of these things, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26). Likewise, the Christians were not to neglect meeting together for the express purpose of encouraging one another (Heb 10:25). There need not be a divorce between worship and edification; rather, edification is one of the chief ways the church gathered can glorify God. Moreover, the gathered assembly is ultimately eschatological, pointing to that triumphant gathering before the throne of God in the new heavens and new earth: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:25). Because the Kingdom of God has only been inaugurated, the church must encourage one another to remain faithful to God in the midst of conflicting loyalties until the day of consummation at the return of Christ. Until then, our corporate worship ought to reflect the same reverence and confidence displayed by the heavenly assembly throughout the throne-room worship scenes in Revelation and so fuel our passion to live lives of faithful witness. In the first Exodus, the Israelites were delivered from the tyranny of Pharaoh by the servant of God, Moses, and eventually entered the Promised Land; in the Second Exodus, the end times’ people of God are delivered from the tyranny of the beast, and ultimately Satan, by the Servant of God, the Lamb and will stand before the very throne of God, to inherit the New Heavens and New Earth—the fulfillment of which the Promised Land was but a shadow. On that day we shall all sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb:
And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
"Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed."
ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE OF BIBLICAL, CORPORATE WORSHIP
Given the covenantal structure implicit and explicit in all of Scripture, the following “organizing principle” is suggested: Our individual and corporate worship is our tribute to God because the substitutionary, atoning death of Jesus Christ inaugurated the New Covenant of which we are made members by the grace of God. More specifically, during the communal act of engaging with God, we come together to meet with our Lord who has redeemed us, called us into covenant with himself, and commissions us to be his servant-witnesses. In doing so, we celebrate and renew our covenant obligations, reminding and exhorting one another that we are a called-out community with responsibilities to God and each other and a mission to the world.
 Carson, 39.
 Peterson, 220.
 Edmund Clowney, “Presbyterian Worship,” Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993), 117, provides the most succinct summary of what took place when the church was gathered: “As in the synagogue, corporate prayer is offered (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim 2:1; 1 Cor 14:16); Scripture is read (1 Tim 4:13; 1 The 5:27; 2 The 3:14; Col 4:15, 16; 2 Pet 3:15, 16) and expounded in preaching (1 Tim 4:13; cf. Luke 4:20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 4:2. There is a direct shift from the synagogue to the gathering of the church (Acts 18:7, 11; cf. 19:8-10). The teaching of the word is also linked with table fellowship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; cf. vv. 20, 25, 28). The songs of the new covenant people both praise God and encourage one another (Eph 5:19; Col 3:15; 1 Cor 14:15, 26; cf. 1 Tim 3:16; Rev 5:9-13; 11:17f; 15:3-4). Giving to the poor is recognized as a spiritual service to God and a Christian form of “sacrifice” (2 Cor 9:11-15; Phil 4:18; Heb 13:16). The reception and distribution of gifts is related to the office of the deacon (Acts 6:1-6; Rom 12:8, 13; cf. Rom 16:1, 2; 2 Cor 8:19-21; Acts 20:4; 1 Cor 16:1-4) and to the gathering of believers (Acts 2:42; 5:2; 1 Cor 16:2). The faith is also publicly confessed (1 Tim 6:12; 1 Pet 3:21; Heb 13:15; cf. 1 Cor 15:1-3). The people receive God’s blessing (2 Cor 13:14; Luke 24:50; cf. Num 6:22-27). The holy kiss of salutation is also commanded (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thes 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). The people respond to praise and prayer with the saying of “Amen” (1 Cor 14:16; Rev 5:14; cf. Rom 1:25; 9:5; Eph 3:21 etc). The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are explicitly provided for. (1 Cor 11:23-27; Mat 28:19-21). Confession is linked with baptism (1 Pet 3:21); and a prayer of thanksgiving with the breaking of the bread (1 Cor 11:24).”
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Sentimentality is subtle. C.S. Lewis once told a young writer: “Instead of telling us a thing is ‘terrible,’ describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was a ‘delight,’ make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (‘horrifying,’ ‘wonderful,’ ‘hideous,’ ‘exquisite’) are only saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do my job for me.’” Lewis complains that authors of gushy and sentimental words are tyrannical because they tell the readers they must feel rather than letting the subject work on them in the same way it did the author. Sentimental worship leading works in exactly the same way that Lewis describes. With typical comments—“Isn’t he just wonderful?” “Isn’t it such a blessing?”—the leader tells people how they ought to feel about God instead of telling them about God.
 Timothy J. Keller, “Reformed Worship in the
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Since covenant was such an integral component to God’s redemptive activity in the Old Testament, it is no surprise that it continues to be central to his plans and purposes in the New Testament. Just as the Exodus from
The covenant theme is embedded in Jesus’ central message of the
With respect to Christian worship, the most obvious reference to covenant in the New Testament is Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper, when he declares, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:24). The death of Christ is the sacrifice that enacts the new covenant, which now embraces not only the faithful Jew but the believing Gentile also — as, indeed, the covenant with
The blood Moses sprinkled on the Israelites at the foot of Sinai to ratify the Old Covenant prefigured Jesus’ death whereby his blood on the cross secured forgiveness for his chosen people, thus ratifying the New Covenant. More than that, Jesus’ sacrificial death did what the entire sacrificial system was incapable of accomplishing and only pointed to (Heb 10:4ff)—taking away the sins of the world. Through the person and ministry of Jesus, redemptive history crescendoed as God once again personally dwelt in the midst of his people. The veil that separated God and humanity, to preserve his holiness, was torn apart (Mar 15:58; Heb 10:20) and the Temple thus became obsolete through the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus, who being God-with us, is in fact with us until the consummation of the age (Mat 28:20; cf. 1:23)! What Old Testament worship typologically prefigured in the shadows of ritual (Heb 8:5) Jesus Christ fulfilled; he replaces all of Israel’s provisions for engaging with God: He is the Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7); the Great High Priest who offered the final sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:12); the Prophet like Moses (John 4:24); the Mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5); and even the true “Temple” (Mat 12:12).
Because there is a heightened emphasis on worship-as-a-life-orientation in the NT, Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman—“An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23)—are often interpreted as meaning internal/“spirit” and cerebral/“truth.” However, this is to miss the most important development that accounts for the continuities, as well as the discontinuities, between Old and New Covenant worship. As David Peterson puts it, “New-covenant worship is essentially the engagement with God that he has made possible through the revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and the life he has made available through the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, worship “in spirit and truth” must be God-centered, made possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit, grounded in the knowledge of and conformity to God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. For this reason, Jesus proclaimed that the geographical location of worship was a no longer a requirement of true, acceptable worship.
 Leonard, “The Biblical Covenant and Christian Worship.”
 Peterson, 100. D.A., Carson, ed., Worship by the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 37, adds, “Moreover, in [the gospel of John]—in which Jesus appears as the true vine, the true manna, the true Shepherd, the true temple, the true Son—to worship God “in spirit and in truth” is first and foremost a way of saying that we must worship God by means of Christ.”