Elements of Worship
To educate and assist you in your worship of the living God, here are some brief explanations of some of the components of a worship service you will experience at Oak Hills on Sunday mornings.
Call to Worship
What is the call to worship? The call to worship is a call for God’s people to gather together, not just in the presence of one another, but in the presence of God.
The ancient Israelites (and Jews today) used as their call to worship the S’hema (which is Hebrew for “Hear!”), taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
A call to worship is a call for the people of God to take to heart that the Lord is in our midst as we worship together. It is a call to regard the service as more than a collection of singing, speaking, listening and giving—for it is more than that. It is a call to meet with God.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard said about the magnitude of worship, “It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews.” What she is getting at is that it is no small thing to enter the presence of God—the One who separated the water from the land and who breathed life into the nostrils of the man Adam, whom He had just made from the dust!
And yet here is the beauty of the call to worship; God promises He will meet us. Jesus tells us in Matt 18:20 “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." The Psalmists spoke over and over again of the Lord’s presence as they worshipped together.
Many churches throughout history have regarded the call to worship as such a vital part of their corporate time together that people would arrive early to quiet their hearts before the Lord in preparation for the invitation to worship Him corporately. We invite you to do the same. The call to worship is an invitation into the worship of the living God, and we do well to reflect upon and pray over the implications of this. God wants to meet with us in our worship, and He has invited us to come, promising His presence will fill the place. Crash helmets and signal flares indeed!!!
When Christians gather in worship, the Creator of the Universe promises that His presence is there with them. What an amazing truth! Jesus reminds us that “when two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt. 18:20) What, then, is unique about gathering on Sunday mornings for corporate worship?
Reflects the Past
In the Old Testament, God’s people gathered as one to listen to God speak, and express solidarity with one another as His people. (see Ex 19; Joshua 24; Neh 8) For the early church, at times this was even a daily occurrence. (Acts 2:42-47) Gathering together before God was an expression of their need for instruction from God’s word and their devotion to God. In the New Testament, the role of worshipers encouraging one another becomes more clear. (Heb 10:24-25
Guides the Present
Gathering together each Sunday also serves to remind us weekly of the truths of God and the ongoing power of the Gospel for our salvation. We all eat, sleep, work, and recreate in a world that does not acknowledge God as Creator and Redeemer. We need to be reminded of God’s love for us, and of His working in our lives to conform us more and more to the image of His Son. Gathering with other believers weekly gives us the chance to be re-oriented toward these truths and encourage one another in “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12-13)
Points to the Future
While it would be impossible for any one church to even vaguely resemble the congregation that will be gathered in eternity, our corporate worship on Sunday mornings unites people from different families, backgrounds, and even tongues and nations to remind us of God’s worldwide purpose of grace and the reality that awaits us in eternity. The promise of God to meet with us in corporate worship directs our gaze to the end of time, when we will be in God’s presence for eternity. (Rev. 21:1-5)
How is giving an act of worship? Our Book of Church Order helps us understand:
The Worship of God by Offerings:
The Holy Scriptures (Malachi 3, 2 Cor 8:8-9) teach that God is the owner of all persons and all things and that we are but stewards of both life and possessions; that God’s ownership and our stewardship should be acknowledged; that this acknowledgement should take the form, in part, of giving at least a tithe of our income and other offerings to the work of the Lord through the Church of Jesus Christ, thus worshiping the Lord with our possessions; and that the remainder should be used as is becoming of the Christian’s life. It is both a privilege and a duty, plainly enjoined in the Bible, to make regular, weekly, systematic and proportionate offerings… as an exercise of grace and an act of worship…
As we give, the Gospel is proclaimed to us in two very powerful ways. First, we are shown the unconditional generosity of God as presented to us in Christ His Son—freely given for those who had done nothing to merit His coming. And second, we are taught. The God who has given us so much in His Son has, in that gift, taught us that we are to be intentional in our giving—to give to those in need, to give to further the proclamation of the Gospel which offers the only hope of salvation, to give to the orphan and widow, the physically and spiritually oppressed, the undeserving, the ones who will never thank us.
Oak Hills is committed to a high level of intentionality and accountability concerning the use of resources provided for this church. The passion of Oak Hills is to know and make known the astonishing grace of God—to the poor and oppressed, to the orphan and widow, to the thankful and thankless—because of the great love of God which has been shown through the gift of His Son.
Gordon MacDonald wrote these words about giving: “If there is some kind of return, appreciation, or result, so be it. We are permitted to delight in such a moment. But this is not why we give. We give because God gave. We give as God gave. And we give as generously as God gave. And that requires great maturity and obedience on our part.”
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our thoughts. He knows our words before we utter them. Yet, He wants us to bring our anxieties to Him. He desires that we ask Him to act in situations over which He is already in sovereign control. Even more amazingly, He chooses to move and work in response to our prayers. Throughout Scripture the prayers of individuals and communities affect historical events. As an old pastor used to say, God grants us the “dignity of causality” – He involves us in His work in our world by using our prayers to act. By praying together in a worship service, we are responding to God’s work in our lives through the dialogue of the worship service and asking Him to continue to move in this world.
Praying together in a worship service is a community expression of our need for God to be at work in our lives and in our world. We are not only admitting to ourselves, but also to one another, that on our own we are not enough to face all that is before us in life. Our resources are limited and our understanding is often weak. Through prayer we are confessing our shortcomings, individual and corporate, and that we stand in need of God’s mercy in our lives. The result is that we are vulnerable before one another, even as we stand open before God, and He binds our hearts and minds together in one purpose as we seek His face.
The other key aspect of corporate prayer is that it allows us to bear testimony to one another. As we pray, we communicate our requests with other believers who can join us in praying for those things. The public nature of a worship service calls us to be aware of what is going on in one another’s lives and to pursue each other through relationships. As God answers our prayers, it is our responsibility to share those answers with the community, that we might declare together God’s faithfulness. Our faith cannot be limited to our own private experience of it—we are called to proclaim God’s faithfulness in the assembly of God’s people, that we all might know Him more fully.
Reading of the Word
Whenever we read Scripture, we are encountering the very words of God Himself. “Thus saith the Lord . . .” the prophet would declare as he spoke to God’s people. Sometimes the people listened. Sometimes they passed by, pretending not to hear. But the hearts of those who did hear were rent asunder as they recognized their own sinfulness in the light of God’s perfect word. And they would be comforted by the promises of grace that flowed from that same word. By His Spirit, God continues to do that very thing in our lives through that same word.
God’s word grants us what nothing else can. Through it God declares His faithfulness to His people—a faithfulness that will never change its mind, nor ever be removed by shallow emotion. He has spoken His promises to His people, and committed these promises to writing. He has given us a public record of what He has said. He has preserved it so that we might keep it before us, read it again and again, and strive to understand it more clearly.
Reading Scripture in our services places everything else we do in perspective. It reminds us that we are all in a position of needing God to speak. The various people involved in leading the service know that the focus of worship is the triune God. Much thought, time, and effort goes into preparing for every aspect of Sunday worship, and yet if God were not to speak, such preparation would be made in vain. We need Him to reveal Himself to us, and remind us of His grace. Through the word He does this, and so much more.
What a promise from our LORD—that His word will not be hindered in accomplishing what He desires. Nothing will stand in its way: not our short attention spans, not our sometimes poor understanding of it, and not even sermons we may struggle to follow. He declares that none of our weak efforts and distractions can stand in the way of His purposes in transforming our lives. By the presence of the Scriptures in the service, we embrace His promises, acknowledge our weakness, and live by faith in the Giver of the word.
God has given His word that we might know Him. It is His desire to bless us though the reading and hearing of it. There is ultimately only one thing the enemy wants, and that is for us not to know God. The Lord who obligated Himself to reveal His redemptive plan through His word is the One who has preserved the purity of it as well. Why? Because He longs for us to know Him truly, to taste redemption fully, and to be in face-to-face intimacy with Him forever.
Each Sunday morning at Oak Hills a sermon is preached. Why? Because as John Stott writes, “Preaching is indispensable to Christianity. Without preaching a necessary part of its authenticity has been lost. For Christianity is, in its very essence, a religion of the Word of God. No attempt to understand Christianity can succeed which overlooks or denies the truth that the living God has taken the initiative to reveal Himself savingly to fallen humanity; or that His self-revelation has been given by the most straight-forward means of communication known to us, namely by a word and words; or that He calls upon those who have heard His word to speak it to others.”
Preaching is the God-ordained activity in which the text of Scripture and the context of our lives come together. Scripture is and always shall be two things—alive and relevant. So when the word of God is preached, it is a living word that has application for our lives here and now.
Some applications of preaching are specific instructions and commands concerning how to live the Christ-like life: the preacher will say, “Because such and such is true, we must respond in this way…” This is the application of specific instruction. Other applications of Scripture are formative instructions: the preacher expounds the word of God so as to show the nature and character of God in a way that sharpens the lens through which we see Him and His world. God wants us to k
now Him, and one of the key ways He reveals Himself is through the preaching of His word.
The Lord’s Supper
Communion as a Sacrament
We believe there are two sacraments Jesus instituted for his Church to participate in together. Sacraments are ordinances instituted by Christ that have inherent significance and are perpetual, designed to instruct, signify and seal the believers who receive them in faith. Sacraments are a real means of Grace, conveying the promises of God and the presence of Christ. This means of grace does not come from the elements themselves, but from God, whose signs they are.
Communion as a Sign
Communion is a sign of the Lord's death (1 Cor. 11), seen through His broken body & shed blood, and it is a sign of the believers’ participation in Him (John 6.53). It is a sign of our need to be nourished by Him and of our union with one another as recipients of His grace and forgiveness.
Communion as a Seal
Communion is a seal testifying of God’s enduring promises. When we partake of the elements, we see the seal of the love of Christ who died for us and of the assurance of His promises being fulfilled in and for us. We are reminded that salvation has been purchased for us and Christ’s righteousness is forever credited to our account. We testify of our profession of faith in and allegiance to Christ when we take the bread and cup together as the Body of Christ.
Communion as a Ritual
Many are skeptical of anything classified as a ritual. But there is a difference between a ritual and being ritualistic. Being ritualistic describes going through the motions of something without thought of the significance behind it.
Communion is a ritual—one instituted by Christ Himself. God-ordained rituals are to be joyfully and soberly partaken. Communion is a non-verbal form of communication, but it is never meant to be taken apart from the instruction of God’s word. Indeed, it confirms that very word, testifying to our salvation in Christ.
What is a benediction and why do we have one at the end of each worship service? Benediction is a word that has as its root “bene” meaning good and “diction” meaning word. It is a pronouncement of God’s good word over His people. It follows the instruction the Lord gave the priests of Israel in Numbers 6:22-27:
“’The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.’”
This benediction contains an affirmation and reminder of Leviticus 26:12, where the Lord tells His people, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” The Lord promises to bind Himself to His people, and He has been instructing His people, since the time they began meeting together as congregations, to go with His blessing—the promise of His ever-present faithfulness, love and devotion to His people. He wants us to have this before us each time we come together.
Doesn’t this clearly tell us that He knows what is in our hearts—that we are as the hymn writer said, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
His benediction is the reminder and promise that though we are so easily prone to forget Him, He indeed loves us with a love that will not let us go. Our God wants us to know this about Him! And He wants us to have this before us often—the knowledge and encouragement that He is faithful, and that we bear His name.
What a blessing, especially in our busy, fast-paced world, that the Lord would want the last thing we hear during times of worship to be the reminder that He is faithful, that His love covers a multitude of sin, and that there is nothing that would cause Him to turn His face from us. His love endures, and He wants us to know it—and this is why there is a benediction—a pronouncement of God’s “good word” at the end of the worship service. It is the “amen” of our worship as a congregation.