Thursday, January 21, 2016

Can We Worship as We Please? Where Did Jesus Institute His Worship?

Given the detailed instructions for how to approach God in the old covenant, it is inconceivable that we are free to worship as we please under the new covenant.  Yet that seems to be the attitude of many when it comes to the corporate worship of Christ's people today.  

But where did Jesus give us instructions for worship?  There is only one place where Jesus gives us a command that institutes ritual, and that is at his last supper.  In Luke 22:19 we read, "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'"  In these words our Lord instituted table fellowship as the pattern for worship.  By instituting the Supper, Jesus also gave us preaching and teaching, for nowhere does Jesus' table fellowship occur apart from his teaching.  Thus, the early church followed the pattern of Word and meal, and the Christian worship service has always had two parts: the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of the table.(1)   

Also important in these words of institution of our Lord is the allusion to the Sabbath command.  "Do this in remembrance of me," hearkens back to the fourth commandment:  "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."  The Sabbath was a day for both rest and worship.  Thus, Jesus is instituting his weekly worship of Word and meal as we remember him, not the day, on the new day of his resurrection, which we now call the Lord's Day.

Jesus' institution of table fellowship for the church is a wonderful truth because it means that Jesus is not absent from us, but present for us every time we gather!  Jesus is powerfully present to teach us through his Word and give us his healing life through his bread and wine.  Jesus is present to serve and minister(2)  to his people with his gifts each time we gather in his name on his day.

The Christian worship service is radically Christ-centered because Jesus is the true minister  in our midst.  The example of Mary and Martha shows us that we must let Jesus be Lord by allowing him to serve us.  Mary's posture, sitting at Jesus' feet, attentive and receptive to her Lord's teaching and life, is the pattern for all of Jesus' church.  Before we would serve Him and others, he must serve us.  Will we let him serve us or do we prefer the busyness of our own serving?(3)

1)  Terry Johnson in his book, Worshipping With Calvin, rightly says that "Worship . . . is ministry" (p. 13).  Yes, worship is more specifically Jesus' ministry to his people and those gathered.

2)  A better term than worship service is the phrase Divine Service, because it better describes the main thing that is happening in corporate worship.  Jesus Christ is ministering to us through Word and meal.  The main thing is the Lord's service to us, not our service to him.  Do we serve and worship him when we gather?  Yes.  But our service is always a response to his.

3)  Is it just me that feels our worship services are often very busy, so that we are distracted from the main thing---the one thing needed?

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