We assemble here week after week to worship God in the name of Christ in the power of the Spirit. This is what we do. But it is also important for us to understand what we are doing, and why we are doing it. Otherwise we will drift into a mindless routine—which is quite different from a Spirit-led routine.
And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving (Col. 2:4-7).
Summary of the Text
In verse 4, Paul warns against the seductive power of a certain kind of religious approach, the kind that always fails to approach Christ. Even though Paul was not present with the Colossians (v. 5), he was with them in spirit. He rejoiced as he beheld their order (the word is taxis), and the rock-solid nature of their faith in Jesus Christ. This word taxis is a military term, and should be understood as a kind of regimentation. But note that this order was both disciplined and alive. It was not an orderly row of gravestones, but rather it was the order of a military troop, arms at the ready. Taking in other Scripture passages, it was more than such order that pleased Paul, but it was certainly not less than this.
Paul then urged the Colossians to walk in Christ Jesus in just the same way they had received Him initially (v. 6), which was of course by grace through faith. As they did so, they would be rooted and built up in the Christian faith, in just the way they had been taught. The overflow of this, when it is happening, is an abundance of gratitude. As with all things of this nature, we measure whether or not it is happening by the fruit. So remember the importance of a grateful heart.
That said, why do we do what we do?
The Structure of Our Worship
Consider first the broad outline of our worship service. We find five basic elements here. Take a look at your bulletin as we consider this. Notice that the first and last elements are the Call to Worship and the Commissioning. These are the book-ends of our service. The church is the called out gathering. The word for church (ekklesia) means “called out.” So at the start of the service, we call you out of the world and into the church, and at the end of the service we send you out again. You are sent out with a blessing and a task.
So the first invites us in from the world to assemble before the Lord to worship Him. The last sends us out into the world in order to function as ambassadors of Christ and of His gospel. If we have learned rightly, when we are being sent out into the world, we are letting the clutch out. Worship is the engine, but we have to let the clutch out.
Then there are the central three elements of our worship.
Confession of Sin—we wipe our feet at the door. We wash our hands for dinner.
Consecration—we offer ourselves up to God as living sacrifices.
Communion—we sit down for table fellowship with our God.
These follow a basic biblical pattern of sacrifice. In the worship of the older covenant, God commonly required three kinds of sacrifices together. Whenever they are mentioned together, they come in this order—a very natural order if you think about it. First was the guilt offering (confession of sin: Lev. 17), then there is the ascension or burnt offering (consecration: Lev. 16:24-25), and then comes the peace offering (communion: Dt. 12:17-19). We see this overall pattern in Lev. 9 and 2 Chron. 29:20-36.
Our name for the worship that deliberately and self-consciously follows this basic pattern is covenant renewal worship. This is not because the covenant was going to expire, like a lease. That is not why renew it. It is an everlasting covenant. But it is also organic and alive, and needs to be nourished and fed.
Filling the Structure In
We find in various places of Scripture that certain particular practices are called for in New Covenant worship. So one of the things we therefore do is look at the nature of those practices and decide where they would best fit within this general structure. For example, the Bible requires the public reading of Scripture in worship (1 Tim. 4:13). So where do we put that? It seems to fit best under Consecration. The Bible commands us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). Where do we place the different kinds of songs? We would put penitential songs at the time of confession, for example. We are commanded to have preaching (1 Tim. 4:2). Where does that go? In doing this, we are seeking to be obedient to the general structure while arranging our worship intelligently.
Posture and Demeanor
A very common temptation among the Reformed is to over-engineer the intellectual aspects of our faith. Reason and systematics have their necessary place, but that is not every place. Reformed people need to be reminded that they have bodies, and that these too are involved in worship. This is why we lift up holy hands in the Doxology (1 Tim. 2:8), and why we kneel in confession (Ps. 95:6). We stand during the Scripture reading in order to show deep respect for God’s Word (Neh. 8:5). Our overall demeanor is to be solemnity mixed with gladness. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1). This is best described with a word from Middle English—solempne. Think of it as a combination of very serious and very glad, like a wedding.
A Conversation Between God and His People
Worship is a time of meeting. During this time, God speaks to the people through His ordained representatives (as in the Scripture reading, assurance of pardon, or the sermon). During this time, the people also speak to God, either through their appointed representatives (as in the prayers of petition), or all together with one voice (as with a hymn or psalm, or the creed). We should therefore learn how to think of the worship service as a large conversation, with a direction and a theme, and not as a disparate collection of random spiritual artifacts, crammed into a shoe box.
In the Call to Worship: God says, “Come, meet with Me now.” We say, “First, let us praise Your majesty.” Having done so, God warns us through the Exhortation not to approach Him with unclean hearts. We respond by Confession. God responds by declaring that we have Assurance of Pardon. This is a conversation in which you all are called to actively participate. And so on, through the rest of the service. As you do, you are following the most important conversation in the world, which is the conversation between God and His people.
Worship is Warfare
One other thing. And last, we return to the passage in Colossians. The order we are cultivating here is not the order of porcelain figurines in a china hutch, neatly arranged on a shelf. The order we are pursuing is alive and disciplined, the order of a well-trained military unit. And why? Because every Lord’s Day we go into battle. But as God’s people we fight on earth from the high ground of heaven. There will be more on this next week when we consider the point of our worship.
All About Jesus
In the meantime, whether we are considering the regimented array of our forces, or the reason for the war, never forget that everything is all about Jesus, all the time. He is the crucified one, He is the risen one, and He is the ruling one. And make sure you consider these things by faith, such that they include you and your family.