WHY WE WORSHIP AS WE DO
Worshiping at All Saints’ Presbyterian Church
Dr. Gregg Strawbridge, Pastor
All Saints’ Presbyterian Church
As our name implies, we desire continuity with the historic church. Though many evangelicals are rootless and willing to recreate the wheels of worship every week, we desire worship which is informed and Reformed by the patterns of historic Christian worship. The theology which defines our approach to God is unapologetically Reformed and Protestant, according to the great Reformation confessions and catechisms (e.g., Westminster Confession of Faith, Heidelberg Catechism). It is our conviction that worship should include Word and Sacrament. We hold that worship is the regular means of renewing our covenantal relationship with our Lord God, through Christ.
About Our Worship
Worship services can be so different from church to church. What about the worship services of All Saints’ Presbyterian Church? Perhaps you would like to know our basic commitments and why we worship the way we do. For many in evangelical churches today, the style of our services will seem quite different. Many are quite comfortable in services which are informal, light, chatty, entertaining, and filled with mostly spontaneous leading by professional church staff. Others, exposed to Pentecostal and Charasmatic worship, long for vibrant praise music which lifts up the worshiper to an emotional plateau. If this has been your experience, we welcome you and ask for your sincere consideration of why we worship the way we do. We desire worship which is biblical, God-Centered, historically informed, and which strive for serious and vigorous participation from the people of God. In a word our worship is a renewal of our covenant relationship with God.
We desire, first of all, worship that is Biblical. Worship should be filled with Biblical content. In our services you participate in a calls, responses, Psalms, and prayers filled with Scripture. Our Scripture reading from the Old Testament, Gospels, and Epistles is represent our conviction of hear the whole counsel of God. If we are led into His presence by His Word, we can be assured that our worship is focused on the One to whom all worship due.
We desire worship that is God-centered. That is, we desire worship which is filled with the exaltation of our great Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; not services filled with entertaining performances or to make us feel better about ourselves. To be sure, there are many churches with noble motives, seeking to reach unchurched people with evangelism-driven worship. Sometimes this is in the form of “seeker-driven worship” and “revivalistic worship.” But we desire, rather, Worship-Driven Evangelism! Missions exists because worship doesn’t. So we wish to have intelligible worship (1 Corinthians 14:24), which is driven by the Biblical vision for all peoples to know Him and give Him the glory due His name (Psalm 86:9). Moreover, our desire for God-centered worship is reflected in the typical pattern of the order of worship.
1. We are Called to Worship. We are called to recognize our corporate entrance into the presence of God and all His hosts (Hebrews 12:22). We seek to see God as He is, so we recite God’s Word (especially the Psalms) throughout this part of the service. By this we are reminded of our covenantal relationship to Him as His people.
2. We Confess Our Sins. Not only do we want to see God as He is, but we want to see ourselves as we are before Him. So we confess our sins corporately. This is done by a prescribed prayer that permits all of God’s people to fully participate. Seeing God’s holiness and our sinfulness drives us to the cross. Thus, we hear the promise of the gospel of grace, proclaimed by God’s representative, the Minister. We hear then the Declaration of Absolution, the wonderful covenant words that by trusting in Christ, we are forgiven of our sins. This is the heart of good news of Christ’s redemptive work.
3. Consecration through the Means of Grace. To this point we have exalted God, rehearsed the gospel’s promises, offered up our lives and fruit, now we are to focus the Means of Grace, prayer, word, and sacrament.
a. Confession of Faith. Our identity is with the people of God and so we confess our faith using an historic creed and catechism. This provides for an opportunity to vigorously recite the truth of our holy faith.
b. Prayers of God’s People. Then our prayers are lifted to the Lord for the kingdom of God, our national and local leaders, missions, and our own needs. Paul gives instruction to young pastor Timothy about this: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
c. Reading and Preaching of the Word. A central aspect of our maturity in Christ is growth in our grasp of the Word of God. In our services we read a representative selection of Scripture, Old Testament, Gospels, Epistles (1 Tim. 4:13). We believe that all of God’s Word is profitable for all of God’s people (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We devote a considerable portion of time to the proclamation of the Word. Our main diet of preaching consists in the exposition of books of the Bible. This was known in the time of the Reformation as the lectio continuo approach. Through this kind of preaching, the Reformers recovered the centrality of Scripture, which is the alone final authority for life and faith. It would be a serious error to bypass all that is prior to the sermon as just “preliminaries.” It is just as serious of a sin to sit back and enjoy a nice lecture, while all the time, planning your lunch and afternoon fun in the sun. The historic Westminster Confession of Faith (written in the 1640s in London) encourages both the “reading of Scriptures with godly fear” and “the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence.” We are called to listen to the preached Word this way, the conscionable hearing of the Word. This is still worship. It is offering our hearts and ears to God, so that later we may offer our hands and feet.
d. The Sacraments, baptism and communion, are also part of the means of grace. Baptism is the sign and seal of the justifying work of Christ and is the official admission of a person to the Church. Communion or the Eucharist (the “thanksgiving”) is a signifying seal of the sanctifying work of Christ for us. It is a consummation of our fellowship with Him. As the apostle says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (koinonia) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion (koinonia) of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). We believe that the sacraments are covenant signs and seals and are therefore to be covenantally administered. Just as all the covenant household received covenant signs in the Old Testament (circumcision, passover, sacrificial meals, etc.), we see this pattern continuing in the New Testament. For example, of the nine individuals who are identified to have been baptized in the New Testament, five also have their households baptized. Because, “the promise is to you and your children” (Acts 2:39). Communion should also be received by all those baptized, even children, since all that are baptized are in the body of Christ. “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” - thus those in the body of Christ should be those that partake of the bread which represents our participation in Christ (1 Cor. 10:17).
4. We not only need to respond to God’s gracious salvation through the gospel, which we have just rehearsed, we need to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). So, our “offering” is not just about collecting money. No, it is offering our lives and the fruit of our labor as a token of our life-service in Christ’s victorious kingdom. Giving financially is a duty of God’s people (1 Cor. 9 & 2 Cor. 9), but it should be a reminder of the larger living sacrifice which is our grateful response for redemption. While we must operate the ministries of the church through such funds, it is advancing the great work of Christ in His kingdom through the obedience of giving and an opportunity to reflect on our availability for service in Christ’s kingdom.. So, the focus of our offertory prayer is often the expansion of the gospel into all the world (Matthew 28:19-20).
5. Finally, we are Commissioned to Serve. That is, we are sent from our gathering in His special presence to serve Christ in our daily vocations. We receive the benediction of God at the close of the service, "The Lord bless you. . ." This pronouncement is like the ancient practice of laying hands on a person to anoint them with the blessings which God by His grace and power grants. Having entered, acknowledged the greatness of God, our sinfulness, the promises of the gospel of Christ, the means of grace, the departing blessings of God – we are dismissed by a commission to go forth to love and serve the Lord in His kingdom.
Historically Informed Worship
We desire worship which is historically informed. This is reflected in our order of worship, the content of our worship, and our recognition of the redemptive calendar of the Church year. We seek to use those universal patterns that our brethren through the ages have cherished because they are biblically rooted and edify God’s people. For example, in our services we will recite and read from ancient creeds, confessions, and catechisms, like the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Heidelberg Catechism. We may use the traditional prayers and responses in our worship, such as “Thanks be to God,” or the Sursam Corda - “Lift up your hearts,” or the Sanctus - “Holy, Holy, Holy.” These are thoroughly biblical, but also resonate with the historic church.
Participation in Worship: Style Matters
In the places in the Bible where worship services are described (e.g., 1 Chr. 16, Rev. 4-5; 1 Cor. 14), we see that the people of God, in a decent and orderly way, participation through responses and prayers and songs (1 Cor. 14:40, see above). The fact is that Israel used the Psalms so extensively, that many had them memorized for ready participation in synagogue prayer and temple worship. They sang together and in antiphonal responses (Psa.136). So it is that when we come to pray and worship together, we must participate in a somewhat prescribed way, rather than in an “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” manner. In fact, the word for “decently” (euschemonos, 1 Cor. 14:40) pertains to “being a fitting or becoming manner of behavior” and the phrase “in order” (kata taxis) is literally, “according to an order.” Paul admonishes the charasmatics of Corinth to make sure that all they are doing in worship is in a becoming manner, according to an order. So in our prayers and congregational participation, we find hearty biblical support for the kind of participative, yet orderly style of our service.
The Scriptures are full of congregational prayers and directives about congregational prayer. There are basically three kinds of prayer: extemporaneous prayers, patterned prayers, and written prayers. The virtue of extemporaneous prayers is the spontaneity of expression which can capture the moment, if it is voiced well. Pastoral prayers and of men in the congregation are often patterned and studied, like the formula that Paul gives to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:1-2), following the Ten Commandments, or following the outline of Lord’s prayer. There are also written prayers. In our day written prayers are not fully appreciated, simply because they are written. It is important to remember, however, that there are written prayers in the Bible that the Lord instructs us to use, such as the Psalms and The Lord’s Prayer. We also sing prayers, whether we realize it or not: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to Thee.” Just as people don’t object to knowing the words of a sung prayer (a song that addresses God directly), we should not object to knowing the words to “said” prayers. One can join in praying, perhaps with even more heart-felt sincerity, if the words are known.
To sum, up, we wish for worship at All Saints’ Presbyterian Church to be biblical - filled with God’s Word, God-centered - focused on what God in Christ has accomplished, historically informed - using ancient Christian creeds and mindful of the redemptive calendar, and we wish to encourage full participation and expression in our worship by providing clear and prescribed responses. We fully recognized that only the Spirit of God, working according to the Word of God, can effect worship glorifies God and restores His people. It is our prayer that our worship may be acceptable to our Holy Triune God.