Theology of Worship

Welcome to Grace and Peace Presbyterian Church. Our worship service is an authentic version of early Christian worship which has been reformed from the later additions and accretions of the Roman Catholic Church. Given the diversity of styles of worship today, what we do is unfamiliar to many of our visitors. We offer this information (formerly a booklet) as an aid in understanding the meaning and purpose of each part of the service.

The Setting of Our Worship

The architecture and furnishings of a church building may either reinforce the church’s message or detract from it. Our church building was not designed by this congregation, but we have sought to arrange and furnish it as much as possible to “look like a church,” not a theater, bank, concert hall or retail outlet. The interior is a simple gathering of the congregation around the Pulpit, Lord’s Table, and Baptismal font which are prominent for all to observe. In the future we hope to design and build a worship space that will more perfectly express our theology of worship and accommodate more worshippers.

Worship at Grace and Peace Presbyterian Church is…

  • Recognized as an initiative of the Trinity. Both our creation and salvation are planned, initiated and accomplished by the Triune God. So church worship is first and foremost an activity of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father, in his Son and by the Holy Spirit, calls us to worship, speaks to us in his word, and the Holy Spirit enables us to respond in faith and obedience. In the worship of the church, the Holy Trinity meets with his people.
  • God-Centered. All too often worship is man-centered; that is, it is overly preoccupied with our needs, our feelings, and our aspirations. But since the primary purpose of worship is to give glory and honor to God, the most important thing that we could say about our worship is that it is God-centered. There is a time and a place to focus on people, to celebrate their character and accomplishments-a birthday party would be a good example. But what should be front and center in Christian worship is the radiant and glorious character of the Triune God and the greatness of his redemptive work on behalf of sinners.
  • Dialogical. We see worship as a marvelous dialogue between God and his people. As we move throughout the service, you will find it helpful to think of our alternating between God’s speaking to us and our speaking to God.
  • Covenantal. One of the basic ways to describe God’s relationship with his people is as a covenant, a reciprocal relationship of love and faithfulness. An example of a covenant is marriage. Just as husband and wife may grow distant from one another and stand in need of a romantic evening to renew their love and affection for one another, so in worship God reaffirms his lordship and love and calls upon us to renew our allegiance to him. Worship is, quite literally, a meeting with God in which we commune with him and draw near to him and him to us. For the same reason – because God’s covenant is with believers and their children – parents are to ensure that, so far as possible, their children are present and seated with them in worship.
  • Objective. A common mistake is to evaluate worship purely in terms of our subjective impressions and feelings. Thus, for many people, worship is good only insofar as it makes them feel good. While not wishing to discount the importance of our subjective response – indeed it is our hope that all of our being will be fully engaged in worship – we suggest that worship is first and foremost an activity, not a feeling. “What are we doing?” is a more important question than “How do we feel?”
  • Formal and Reverent. Worship that is very informal and “loose”, while making people feel at ease, has the distinct disadvantage of encouraging a light, even irreverent view of God. The Holy One of Israel, the Sovereign God is not our buddy. He is majestic and glorious, and we are to rejoice with trembling in his presence. We believe that such a view of God is best encouraged by a service characterized by form, reverence, and solemn joy. While we thus run the risk of not being “upbeat” enough for some people’s tastes, we believe that we are, week in and week out, promoting a view of God which is consistent with the magnificence of his character revealed in Scripture.
  • Corporate and Participatory. Bluntly, worship is not a spectator sport, it is not entertainment. Rather, it is an activity in which God’s people actively participate together for the glory of God. Some people seem to think that worship is a stage performance with God as the prompter, the minister as the performer, and the congregation as the audience, assembled to give their nods of approval or disapproval. Rather, the minister is the prompter, the congregation is the performer, and God is the audience, present to approve or disapprove. To this end, we are called as co-participants – not spectators – in the “drama” of the worship of God.
  • Historic and Reformed. While our ultimate authority in worship is the Word of God, we gladly stand in the tradition of the historic Christian Church and the Protestant Reformation. This link with the past bears witness to our having fellowship with the great multitude of God’s people who have gone before us and enables us to take advantage of the rich history of Christian worship. Because God has chosen to speak to us using a diversity of methods in his excellent Word – from the rich poetry of the Psalms and the structural complexity of the Historical books, to the warmth and erudition of Luke & Acts and the dense, almost midrashic logic of the Apostle Paul – we believe that excellence should characterize our words in worship. Careful thought and preparation is given to the words of hymns, prayers and other expressions used in leading the service. Most are drawn from Scripture or reflect scriptural truth. *(for a more complete discussion of our liturgical practice, see Why a Liturgical Way of Worshipping God in the Appendix)
  • Remembering the Seasons of God’s Grace. At Grace and Peace we observe the mighty acts of God’s grace by making modest use of the seasons of the Christian calendar. These seasons retell and remind us of God’s activity in history. During Advent we anticipate the Father’s sending of the Son into the world in the incarnation of Jesus. During Christmas we remember his birth. The season of Epiphany, meaning “manifestation” marks his life and ministry to all peoples. Lent marks the temptation and sufferings of Jesus, leading to his death on the cross for our sins. Easter celebrates his resurrection and appearances for forty days. Ascension remembers his return to heaven from whence he shall come again at the end of the age. Pentecost marks the gift of God the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son. Pentecost marks the complete revelation of the Triune God who eternally exists as one God in three Persons and leads to the celebration of Trinity! Lord’s Days following are marked as “after Trinity” or the season of Pentecost until the cycle begins again in Advent.

Some Thoughts on Specific Elements

  • Prayer. We believe in the value of both corporate and extemporaneous prayers. With corporate prayers, we join our voices together with wording that is well considered and rich in biblical content. With extemporaneous prayer (in which one person leads), there is opportunity for greater freedom, responding to the immediate prayer needs of God’s people.
  • The Ministry of the Word. Central to our worship is reading and preaching of the Word of God. Scripture is read at a number of places in the service; it permeates all that we do. Before the sermon, a portion of Scripture is read as basis for the sermon. The sermon seeks to be a faithful explanation and application of Scripture in light of all of God’s Word. Mostly, our pastor adopts an expository approach, preaching through entire books of the Bible. In this way, we are exposed to the whole counsel of God.
  • Christian Baptism. When a person is baptized with water in the name of the Triune God, we are recognizing that Brayden B - BaptismGod has placed that person among his people by birth or by other providence. When an infant or young child is baptized they are being marked out by God as a member of the visible church and called to confess Christ as Lord in response to his grace offered in the gospel. Infant baptism, like infant circumcision in the Old Testament era, shows the initiative of God who first makes us members of his covenant and then calls us to respond in faith. When baptism is performed for an older child or an adult not previously baptized, baptism testifies to the grace of God which has brought them to trust in Christ and call him Lord. Baptism always recognizes God’s action not our profession of faith.
  • The Lord’s Supper. In many respects, the Lord’s Supper is the high point of our service; it is where everything “comes together”. While this sacrament is a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ, it is also much more. We are spiritually nourished by Christ as we feed upon his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is also a time of solemn celebration, as we are confronted by and meditate on the profound realities of the Gospel. The Lord’s Supper (also called Holy Communion or Eucharist) is the word of God made visible and perceivable to our senses.
  • The Collection. As a response to the Lord’s mercy to us, and as a means of supporting and participating in the work of the Kingdom, we gladly give a portion of the financial resources with which God has blessed us. While we do not want you as a visitor to feel under any pressure to give, we do think it’s important for you to know why we believe in making great sacrifices, financial and otherwise, for the sake of Christ. It is because he and his Kingdom are worthy. It is with glad and grateful hearts that we give and that we offer all of our worship to the Lord.
  • The Singing of Praise. One of the great privileges we have is to sing the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. But what to sing and how to sing are often matters of disagreement among believers. Because God is the Creator of music, we believe that there are objective, knowable qualities inherent in music, and that there is real musical meaning. While we recognize that well-intentioned people throughout the ages have not always agreed on what this meaning is, or even whether it exists, we believe that God calls us to exercise dominion in this area and seek to discover and implement elements such as excellence and appropriateness when making musical choices. We want our music to convey meaning that comports with our overall worship goals. Our approach is fairly simple: we believe that a rich legacy is to be found among the Psalms (worship songs given by divine inspiration) and the great hymns of the historic Christian Church. We seek to take full advantage of this legacy in our singing. What makes a hymn great is a conspicuous focus on the character of God and the redemptive work of Christ. This means that we are not as likely to utilize material arising out of periods of church history not noted for their rich, profound, and thoughtful lyrics and musical characteristics. While we may employ some songs and hymns from such periods, the emphasis does not lie there. We seek to make use of hymns and tunes from a wide and varied range of sources, with the view of creating a rich and full expression of worship through music as practiced by the universal church throughout the ages. As the priesthood of all believers characterizes the New Covenant, in which all of God’s people offer up an acceptable sacrifice of praise, we believe that singing in public worship should be dominantly the singing of the entire congregation. When a choir sings an introit or offertory anthem, the whole congregation should participate by listening to and offering up the words and musical expressions. Choirs also assist the congregation in learning unfamiliar hymns on occasion.

Singing Praise

Conclusion

Worship is both our highest priority and greatest privilege as God’s people. We plan worship services with careful and focused attention at Grace and Peace. Our weekday schedule is relatively uncluttered. Christian growth is not something that must be pursued through retreats, camps, conferences and frenetic weekday activities. Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and disciple-making are activities that are scheduled for weekdays (and weeknights), but Christian growth is found preeminently as God has ordained, in the regular worship of the church.

See also Appendix A – Why A Liturgical Way of Worshipping God? by Michael S. Horton