Note: These observations were delivered specifically to Providence Church (CREC). I hope they will prove helpful to you as well.
You have heard it over and over again that famous line from the Beatles: “All you need is love.” Apart from good rhythm and some great tunes, the Beatles were wrong about everything. They were certainly wrong about all we need. If I were to re-phrase that famous line, I would say that “all you need is worship.” It probably won’t be the greatest bumper sticker, but it’s the truth. You can only find “true truth” as Francis Schaeffer puts it, in the worship of God. There is no such thing as a good non-worshipping Christian. But if you ask someone what worship is you may receive a hundred different answers. Some say that worship is synonymous with music; recently I heard a well known scholarsay that worship only begins with the preaching of the Word; still some will conclude that worship is a feeling you have when you are in the presence of God. We do not want to minimize music, preaching, and the emotions of human beings in the presence of God; but these definitions miss the point. Worship is the interaction between God and His people on the Lord’s Day. It is a sacred conversation between bride and groom. The conversation is not just limited to one portion of a service, it includes the whole thing. Worship is the entire service of God.
The reason worship is so preeminent at Providence Church is because we want our members to enjoy receiving God’s gifts each Lord’s Day. In worship, we hear God’s instructions to us and we speak our thanksgiving to Him. To put it simply, “worship is divine instruction for battle.” You can be engaged in the social sciences, in every cultural and political endeavor of our day, but if you set aside the instructions and gifts God has for you on the Lord’s Day, then your labors are in vain.
Our goal is to cultivate in you and your children a holy passion for exalting the Triune God and a hunger to receive His gifts when we gather together.
The way this is expressed in our congregation is through what we call Covenant Renewal Worship. This is a biblical pattern that can be found from Genesis to Revelation. We can define Covenant Renewal Worship in many ways, but in simple terms, CRW is God’s primary way of re-fashioning and re-making you after the Image of Christ. God’s primary means of sanctifying you is through worship. In gathering with the people of God, He is strengthening and renewing His promises to us as His people. Do you want to be reminded weekly of the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ? Do you want to mature in your faith, grow in love for one another, find assurance, and be instructed in how to live the life of faith? Come and worship!
This pattern of worship is revealed to us in many ways, but primarily through the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant. God renews His covenant with us through sacrifice. You may say: “But we do not offer sacrifices anymore;” to which I say, “precisely.” God no longer takes pleasure in receiving burnt animal offerings. Now, he takes pleasure in receiving living human offerings. We are God’s living sacrifice. Paul says in Romans 12 that our reasonable service– that is our reasonable liturgy– is to “offer ourselves as living sacrifices.”
On the Lord’s Day, God Himself draws near to draw His people near. In worship God calls us, then He humbles us when we confess our sins; then He reminds us who we are in Christ; He brings us up from dirt; then He cuts us up with His two-edged sword; our consciences are pierced, we receive His instruction, we learn how to live, then He says: “I think you need some food; you’ve gone through enough. I am Your host, but beyond that I am your Father; so, I am going to give you food and drink; I am going to build you up and restore you and refresh you with my rest, and then and only then will I send you out into the world to be my faithful ambassadors and representatives.”
You see this is the image of worship: God is little by little strengthening us as His children; maturing us in His wisdom and preparing us to be the dominion oriented people we are called to be.
Biblically, let me address two issues:
First, I want to address our call into God’s presence and then the sacrificial pattern, which we model in our worship.
First, God calls us into His holy presence. We ascend through the Spirit into the holy mountain where God dwells. We are in the presence of angels and archangels. In fact, Paul says that we are seated in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). Hebrews 10 says: “…do not forsake the assemblying/gathering of ourselves together.” This is certainly a call to be in church, but the context of Hebrews 10 indicates that this is actually a call to go to heaven. Hebrews 10 is all about entering the Holy of holies in heaven; being called to enter boldly into the presence of God (10:19). The writer of Hebrews ties these ideas together. We are bold to come into God’s presence not because of anything in us, but because He calls us into His presence. This is our sacred call. We are not just coming to meet in a building; we are coming to partake of a heavenly duty. Douglas Wilson once wrote that,
“When we understand what is actually happening in a worship service, our contemporary flippancy evaporates.”
But what are we being called for? It is not uncommon for us to say that we are coming to worship to glorify God; that is true enough, but worship is a time when God serves us. The reason we need the Church and the reason we need to be here in worship every Sunday is because God is serving us with His gifts. Worship is all about God’s sovereignty; the all-powerful God calling His people to shower them with every blessing. The only thing we give God in worship is our lives. This is why worship is sacrificial. We are the living sacrifice to God. We are called because God wants to break us and put us back together in a more beautiful and mature fashion. Worship is painful because it confronts us as a sinful and needy people. God needs to cut us up and makes us new. If you want an easy worship experience, you want an experience not founded in Scriptures, because being a living sacrifice to God is not an easy calling.
We need to be reminded that we are not calling God to meet with us; God is calling us to meet with Him. “He commands us from heaven into His presence.”
The second and final observation is that worship follows a sacrificial pattern. In fact, the New Testament is full of sacrificial imagery. You will read language like “offer yourselves,” “cleansing,” “the Lamb of God,” “cutting,” “dividing,” “eating,” laying down your life,” “aroma,” “pleasing,” etc. These are all sacrificial terms. The sacrificial system is done away, but the New Testament writers pick up on the imagery, because it reflects who we are; we are a people who are willing to be put to death by God, so we can be made new by Him. Worship is a call for us to die to sin, as St. Peter says. St. Paul says in I Corinthians that he dies daily.
In the Old Covenant, the sacrifices had a particular order. You could not come up and do whatever you thought was best, rather you followed an order; it was an order that made sense of how God deals with His people.
There were three offerings that were commonly found together, and they often followed a particular order (Lev. 9; 2 Chronicles 29:20-36). There was a guilt offering (Lev. 17). Following this was the ascension offering (Lev. 16:24-25). And third was the peace offering (Deut. 12:17-19). These offerings all corresponded to something. The guilt offering made the worshiper fit to enter into the presence of God. In the second–which is the ascension offering–the worshiper ascended to God in the smoke of an offering, and the peace offering was a tangible demonstration that God had received the worshiper and was willing to share fellowship with him in a common meal. This is precisely what we do in worship. We come as God’s sacrifice into His house, we ascend into heaven like Isaiah in chapter 6 and like John in the isle of Patmos, and then we are forgiven; we are at peace with God after He forgives our sins. Everything that happens after our confession of sin is a big party. There is no more time to weep and kneel, just laughter, loud singing, and feasting.
I would like to conclude with some general observations for those considering joining Providence in March:
First, you don’t have to get all the nuances of Covenant Renewal Worship to join Providence, but you have to participate in it. There is no sense in joining a church if you do not intend to participate in its most central act. As a session, we want to encourage each one of you–young and old– to join faithfully in this heavenly activity. Worship is a culture and just like any other culture, you need to become familiar with it, study it, and embrace it.
Secondly, Covenant Renewal Worship is concerned about not only form, but content. It’s not enough to have all the form, but no content. You will notice that our entire worship service is entirely biblio-centric. It is filled with biblical passages that illustrate and exemplify what we are doing and what is happening in worship. When you join in the liturgy, you become more biblical; you become more attuned with God’s music. Worship changes you, because God’s revelation changes you.
Finally, worship is covenantal. This service is not put together to satisfy the intellects. You will be intellectually stimulated, but this service is for the little child and for the common man. We are not in church simply to hear a sermon; we are here to dialogue with God, to receive His instructions, and to be living sacrifices before Him. When I say worship is covenantal I mean it is for you and your children. We want dad, mom, son, and daughter to participate. We refuse to fall into the trap of separating children from their parents. If the kingdom of God belongs to little children, then you better believe worship belongs to them as well.
 James R. White in his Dividing Line program.
 Of course, there is a sense in which worship occurs at every moment, but primarily and biblically, worship is the corporate assembly gathering on the Lord’s Day.
 For an excellent introduction, see chapter one of my good friend Jeff Meyer’s book: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.
 Jeff Meyers, pg. 73.
 Meyers, 73.
 Douglas Wilson, A Primer on Worship and Reformation, pg. 35.
 Ibid., 36.
 Jeff Meyers, 167.
 I Peter 2:24.
 Verse 51.
 Most of this paragraph comes from Doug Wilson’s A Primer on Reformation and Worship, pg. 37.
 You can find this in Meyers’ book in a more thorough fashion.