Worship: Our Essence

Worship: Our Essence

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

The Westminster divines, in the 17th century, gave us the classic statement of man’s purpose. C. S. Lewis taught us that the two are really one: Our enjoyment of God expresses itself in giving Him glory.

To know God’s grace is to pour out our souls in adoration of Him. For 3,500 years, from the dusty trails of ancient Israel to our own time of  exploration of His heavens, the people of God have assembled to send up choruses of praise. The Psalmist wrote:

The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. (Psalm 118:14)

When we gather for worship, we ascend to the divine presence and merge our praises with those of the saints who have gone before us and joined our Lord in His eternity. The author of the book of Hebrews first describes the worship of ancient Israel for members of the New Testament church:

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”) (Hebrews 12:18-21)

He then marks the contrast with a description of the enormous privilege Christians have enjoyed since the cross of Christ:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

At the physical Mount Zion, the people of Israel agreed with one voice to serve God and to observe His covenant. The Prophet Moses then sprinkled them with the blood of oxen to seal the covenant. Our Lord Jesus has washed New Testament saints in His blood, purifying us so we can rise onto the Mount Zion of the heavenly Jerusalem to worship the living God.

Every glimpse of that assembly God gives us in His sacred text reveals a scene of grandeur and order. The Prophet Isaiah ascends and describes his experience:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

The Apostle John also got a look at the scene on high and reports in Revelation 4:2-4, 8-11:

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the
throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads . . . The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”

We in the Anglican tradition, along with the other branches of Christ’s church that extend back to the apostles, believe we are to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29) and to maintain the dignity and decorum befitting the King of kings and Lord of lords. We observe a ministry of word and sacrament, preaching each Lord’s Day from passages appointed for that day by our Book of Common Prayer and celebrating Holy Communion.

Our worship is a pageant of motion and color devoted to our Creator and Redeemer. It involves all present as we stand to sing, sit to listen and kneel to pray. In contrast to much of the contemporary church, we believe, based on what the Scriptures teach, that form matters a great deal in how we give our Lord the glory due Him.

In his commentary on Leviticus 6-7, which gives the order of worship for the priests of Israel, Old Testament scholar Gordon J. Wenham refers us to two New Testament passages to demonstrate that God has not relaxed His standards under the New Covenant. He points first to Hebrews 12:28-29:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.

And then to 1 Corinthians 14:33:

For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Wenham concludes that today, “Spontaneity and lack of preparation is equated with spirituality” when in fact, “care and attention to detail is indispensable to the conduct of divine worship. God is more important, more distinguished, worthy of more respect than any man; therefore we should follow his injunctions to the letter, if we respect him.” Amen. Ω

The Reverend Edward W. Fowler