"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." - Acts 2:42
In the year 111 A.D., a man named Pliny was appointed the governor of what is now the shore of Northern Turkey. There were many Christians in the region, and since it was fashionable to persecute them in the first- and second-centuries Roman Empire, Pliny followed suit. But he decided to find out their crimes first. Christians were obstinate - because many of them wouldn’t deny Christ - but besides that, he found out that “Christians gathered before dawn to sing to Christ ‘as to a god,' and to join in an oath not to commit theft, adultery, or any such sins. They also used to gather for a common meal, but had discontinued this practice when the authorities had outlawed secret meetings.” (Justo Gonzalez, The History of Christianity, Vol. 1)
The Bible and other historical documents indicate that Christians have been congregating from the beginning, but why exactly do we gather for worship in the first place?
Our order of service, or “liturgy," tells the story…
The story of God’s redemption of his people begins with God himself, so our service begins with a prelude to help us “set our minds on things above”. In our liturgy, we rehearse the gospel.
The Call to Worship reminds us that God is holy and worthy to be praised. We are gathered into his presence with his word. We sing because we are commanded to (Psalm 30:4, 12; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19) and it helps to engage our minds and hearts much differently than simply speaking. We sing songs acknowledging God as the only true, holy and wise God and celebrating how he rescued us from sin and death.
The Call to Confession and Confession of Sin is the time where we pause to acknowledge that God is perfect and holy and that we are not. We openly admit the things that we have put in God’s place as idols.
After a time of Silent Confession, we receive the Assurance of Pardon, which assures us of our forgiveness from Jesus himself. Sometimes we use an Old Testament passage declaring God’s forgiveness and sometimes we use a New Testament passage which speaks specifically about Christ dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. We sing again to proclaim this truth.
The Church Life Announcements serve to help us see how God is working in our midst outside of Sunday morning. The church is the body of Christ, and as the body we have tasks outside of the worship service on Sunday. We give Tithes and Offerings to God in worship as a sign of our acknowledgement that all things are his, and we joyfully give back to God a portion of what he has blessed us with.
After hearing and thinking about the life of the church, we ask God in the Pastoral Prayer, to heal the body and be in our midst in many different ways; We ask prayer for others in good and bad circumstances around the world.
The Sermon is the proclamation of God’s word to his people from an ordained minister of the gospel. Generally speaking, the sermon encourages us by saying that Jesus is strong when we are weak, and that he is the solution to our problems and the Savior of our souls. His grace and mercy are operating in our lives and we are reminded and refreshed because of it. (Acts 10:42; 14:7)
Reading and hearing scripture, praying, singing, tithing, confessing our sins, professing our faith, hearing the forgiveness we have in Christ and partaking in the sacraments are all part of the liturgical re-telling of the gospel story that we seek to participate in each week. Our liturgy helps us do what we were made and redeemed to do in Christ: to glorify God and advance his Kingdom in worship.