A Preface to Sunday Worship
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what gathers us. We love to celebrate God’s grace to us in his Son, and we worship him for his Spirit’s work in our lives and in the world. The Church’s adoring gaze is fixed on her Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer and Friend.
People often think of going to church like going to the theater: as an audience, passively observing the performance. But worship should be something in which the whole congregation is actively engaged. Leaders of music, prayers, and the other elements serve the Church by helping worship arise from the congregation, who should participate throughout the service.
The worshiping Church is one group—the body of Christ—rather than simply a collection of individuals. God has always chosen to be worshiped by his people corporately. This is why so many of our prayers and confessions are offered in the first person plural: “Our Father,” “We believe,” etc.
Public worship is the unique time of God meeting with his people. The whole service is a dialogue between God and the Church. There is an intentional structure to the service. It begins as God calls us to worship; we respond in praise and prayer. God calls us to confess our sins; we do so humbly. God assures us of the forgiveness we have in his Son; we praise his provision of mercy with our offerings and the doxology. God graciously speaks to us in the reading of his Word; we respond with our prayers of dependence and songs of praise. God proclaims the Gospel to us through the preaching of his Word; we respond with a common confession of faith. God assures us of his love at the Table; we respond with songs of communion. God has the last word of blessing, the benediction.
We hope our worship has a sense of historical connectedness. We want to draw from the deep well of the Church’s worship through the centuries. So we use ancient creeds and confessions, as well as time-honored hymns from various eras in Church history. The very structure of the service—or liturgy—also reflects the common pattern used consistently by the Church from the earliest recorded times until now.
Evergreen is in the Pacific Northwest, so we appreciate a particular style that might distinguish us from other places in the world. Heavenly worship, as described in the Scriptures, involves the glories of all the cultures of the earth being brought into Zion for the worship of God. We value diverse cultural expressions of the one ancient faith, and we want our worship to reflect the interaction of the Gospel with our place.
God’s Word teaches us that prayer, reading and preaching the Scriptures, singing, the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), giving offerings, taking oaths and vows, and solemn fasting are all legitimate elements of public worship. Therefore, we limit ourselves to these components in our Sunday worship. Every aspect of the order of service is consciously directed toward God as worship…
Call to Worship
God commands us to worship him. Therefore, we read the call to worship from various parts of Scripture, usually from the Psalms.
We believe it is important to sing often in worship. The first hymn comes as a response to the call to worship, and is specifically oriented towards praising the greatness of God. We also sing various Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs after our corporate prayer. During the Lord’s Supper we sing of the communion we enjoy with God through his Son.
The first prayer is the invocation, which calls upon God’s presence with us and his blessing upon the service. The “prayers of the people” are designed to help us bring our requests to God as a congregation. The prayer for illumination before the sermon recognizes our need for the Holy Spirit to help us understand and apply his truth in our lives. We pray before the Supper to give thanks and to set aside the elements to God’s special use.
Confession of Sin and Assurance of Forgiveness
In order to stand before the holy God of the universe, we must be holy ourselves; we must come with clean consciences. Therefore, early in the service we confess our sins to him. This is not meant to be a time of maudlin groveling in our sins, but rather an expectant grasping of the righteousness of Jesus graciously given to sinners like us. The assurance of pardon is the promise of the Gospel in God’s Word given by his appointed minister to the penitent.
Our giving is an acknowledgement that God is our Provider and that our ability to create wealth comes only from him. We give because he first gave us all good things in his Son. We worship and imitate our gracious Father by bringing the first of our increase to him.
God has chosen to work in the lives of his people by using his written and preached Word. Preaching was the primary activity of Jesus and the apostles. The Scripture says preaching is a “foolish” means to convince and convert people, but that God has chosen this “weak” means to ensure that we give him credit for changing lives rather than crediting the eloquence or creativity of a minister. The Gospel is the uniting reason why we are a Church, and the preaching of the Gospel ought to be a strong motivator in our coming together for worship.
Confession of Faith
We confess our common faith as we approach the Lord’s Table. We often use the Apostles’ Creed, which was formulated very early in the history of the Church—this is a good example of what all Christians profess to believe. We also will use another of the Church’s great confessions in our worship. When we use the Apostle’s Creed you should note that the phrase, “holy catholic church,” refers all who believe the Gospel, rather than to the Roman Catholic Church in particular. We understand the “descent into hell” mentioned in that creed to mean that, on the cross, Jesus suffered the wrath of God for our sins in our stead.
The Lord’s Table
Jesus instituted this meal for the spiritual nourishment of his people, to be received by faith. We don’t know how he uses this meal to strengthen and feed us, but experientially we know that he does, just as his Word promises. At the Table we remember his death for us on the cross, and we anticipate his second coming and the wedding feast of the Lamb that we are to enjoy with him then. The Supper is a time of thankfulness, rededication, reassurance and hope for the Christian. The Church invites any baptized Christian who is a member of a church that proclaims the Gospel to participate. We are also warned that God requires us to come in sincerity and truth, so we must search our hearts and repent of our sins before we come to the Table.
The benediction dismisses the worshipers in the name of the Lord, assuring those who live in faith that the power and presence of God will accompany them. This is not a prayer. Rather, the pastor is declaring the Lord’s blessing upon his people. Therefore we do not need to bow for it.