This is Part 4 of a four-part blog on the Liturgy at Emmaus. Last week, we looked at the Corporate and Private Confession, the Assurance of Pardon and the Song of Thanksgiving. This week we conclude our study by turning our attention to the Sermon, Communion, the final Song of Response and the Benediction.
Since the bulk of our time gathered is actually spent here, I hardly think it’s necessary to elaborate extensively on the purpose and centrality of the preaching event. I do think it’s important, however, to point out that the sermon is not just an act of worship for the preacher, it is an active demonstration of worship from the congregation as well. We are not merely passively listening while the pastor worships in front of us, we are actively submitting ourselves to the Word preached, and as such, are performing an act of worship. In this event, the pastor is reading, preaching and teaching the Scriptures, and in the act, he is standing as an ambassador of God, stewarding his message for his church. This means that to the degree the pastor is faithfully expositing the text, and to the degree he is faithfully communicating God’s will and God’s heart with his explanations and exhortations, God is speaking through him. As such, a tremendous amount of humility and reverence is required by the pastor (can you imagine a weightier responsibility than heralding God’s Word? There isn’t one!), but also by the congregation.
Communion is one of the clearest acts of obedience a Christian can participate in (1 Cor. 11:23-26, Matt. 26:26-28), and is one of two central signs a Christian can identify with as a Christian (baptism being the other). Communion is also a potent reenactment of the gospel; every broken piece of bread testifies to the broken body of Jesus, and every drop from the cup testifies to the shed blood of Jesus, and every person who consumes the bread and drink is a testimony to the saving work that Jesus accomplished at the cross.
So the essential elements of communion visually demonstrate the gospel, but also, the corporate act of communion depicts what the gospel does—namely, it creates the Church. Every time we take communion as an entire body, we are uniting ourselves around the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. Such a unifying act is a proclamation of what God has done in Christ; it declares, “This is what Christ’s body was broken for, this what Christ’s costly blood purchased; it purchased a Church.” Try to keep this in mind when you take communion next week. Often we’re tempted to make communion an ultra-personal time of introspection, but it’s a command that can only be carried out by a corporate body. You can’t take communion by yourself. So rather than going introspective, try to look up, and take note at what communion represents: each of those people who tear and dip and consume are trophies of God’s grace—each having his or her own distinct story—and they all collectively make a masterfully crafted mosaic. Often you will find individuals who may have nothing in common to speak of, save Jesus Christ, taking communion side-by-side, thereby testifying to the divine engineering; only God could build the Church, and when we take communion, we testify of this.
Lastly, when we take communion as a body, we are not only looking back at what Christ has done on the cross, and we are not only looking to the present at the Church God is building, we are also looking forward to heaven. This world, as it now stands, is not our home. We are looking forward to our heavenly homeland. Yet every local Church is like a heavenly embassy; gathering together on Sunday morning rightly feels a little bit like coming home. Yet such a gathering is marked with a hint of longing. We long for the day when our communion with one another isn’t merely a weekly visit on a heavenly embassy which exists in an alien country. Right now we gather weekly, but in that day we will worship in the presence of God forever. Right now we offer prayers and thanksgiving and intercession, and all of our rejoicing is co-opted with sorrow, but in that day King Jesus will wipe away every tear. Right now we eat (sometimes) stale bread and drink store-bought grape juice, but in that day we will celebrate the massive, cosmic, wedding feast of the Lamb! Communion aids us in this worshipful longing, in which we simultaneously enjoy God for what he has done, and look longingly and confidently for what God has promised to do.
Song of Response
The song of response is again, a logical step. Remember in my second post, I explained how worship is comprised of revelation and response. At this point of the service, we have just finished basking in the revelation of several Scripture readings, Scripture-filled songs, an exposition and proclamation of Scripture, and the visual proclamation of Scripture’s central message (the gospel, as seen in the act of taking communion); in other words, we are fat from gorging ourselves on revelation. Response, at this point, is almost demanded by our souls! So, in this last song, we gladly oblige that impulse.
In this last element, we conclude our services with an act of at least prayer and teaching (and often, if the benediction is directly from Scripture, we also fulfill the command for public Scripture reading). The benediction is both a challenge to obey the Word that has just been preached, and a petition to God for blessing in that endeavor. In the benediction, we ask for the grace of God to pursue godliness in in the coming week.
At Emmaus, we believe that the central message of the entire Bible is the Gospel. Thus, if we are truly subscribing to the Regulative Principle (the principle that insists on only including only that which Scripture commands for corporate worship) we will not only ensure that our services consist of prayer, song, reading Scripture, teaching/preaching Scripture and the ordinances (communion and baptism), if we are truly subscribing the Regulative Principle, we will do all of these things with a distinct emphasis on the centrality of the Gospel—a Gospel-tone will permeate; such an emphasis is what biblical fidelity looks like.
Thus, as you may have even noticed already, our liturgy loosely mirrors the gospel itself!
- Creation—in the beginning, God (call to worship)
- Fall—enter sin and its devastating effects (confession)
- Redemption—Christ comes, nailing sin to the cross and burying it in the grave! (assurance of pardon)
- Restoration—Christ is making all things new (song of thanksgiving/sermon)
- Consummation—we eagerly await the return of our Lord (communion)
In all of this, we want every person who participates in our liturgy to walk away deeply impressed by Jesus. This is why we say every week, “We want you to leave this place more in love with Jesus than when you walked in.” Those comments are simply cheap platitudes, they are the heartbeat of our Church, and the proof is in the why and how of our corporate worship.
This is Part 3 of a four-part blog on the Liturgy at Emmaus. Last week we looked at the Call to Worship, the Song of Praise, the Scripture Reading and the Songs of Response. This week we will look at Corporate and Private Confession, the Assurance of Pardon and the Song of Response.
Simply put, we confess corporately for at least three primary reasons:
(1) after reading about, and singing about, the glorious, holy, Triune God, and all that he has accomplished in the gospel, we are compelled to confess our sins. The gospel works itself out in our lives, and as we meditate on what God has done in Christ to interrupt our sin and rebellion and helpless, to die the death we should have died, and to bring us into his Father’s family as brothers and sisters, one of the works of the gospel is ongoing repentance. There is a contrast between who God is and who we are, and with the clearest view of that contrast—with a full awareness of the fact that we often persist in faithlessness despite God’s unshakable faithfulness—we repent. However, this kind of repentance isn’t a shame-filled, guilt-ridden kind which leaves groveling criminals trembling for fear of what the judge’s verdict might be, but a hopeful and genuinely sorrowful kind of repentance, which leaves a child humbly heart-broken over the fact that he has disobeyed his father.
(2) the whole of a Christian’s life is marked by continued repentance. We want for our corporate gatherings to, in a way, be a microcosm of the Christian life. Confessing and repenting corporately is a way for us to set a precedence and an expectation for what we do as a Church. We are teaching one another what kind of people we are—namely, that we are a confessing people; a people who bear their sins to one another and to God; a people who do not hide their sin but rather search for it, bring it out into clear daylight, and execute it in public; a people who never despise weakness and neediness on the one hand, and who never minimize the sinfulness of sin on the other. In confessing corporately, not only are we praying corporately (one of the necessary biblical mandates you will recall from a previous post), we are teaching each other what to do with sin—i.e., we shamelessly bring it to Jesus, the only one who can actually deal with it.
And (3) when we corporately confess our sins to God, with one mind and heart, we are owning the fact that we are not the hero of the story. Don’t miss the counterintuitive irony about the situation: after three songs of singing with hands in the air, bellowing with loud triumphant-sounding voices, we decide to corporately admit our failures and our neediness, and confess our sins to God. Our community is an oxymoron. It is an army of soldiers who fight by dying. We proudly come together to sing about how weak and desperate we are. With boldness and shameless enthusiasm, we are united by our utter allegiance to—and dependence upon—a King who conquers by being conquered. This is the folly of the cross, the power of God unto salvation, and it is helpful to be reminded of this fact week after week. Corporate confession is thus a corporate exercise in humility.
After we confess our sins corporately, we allow for such an act to set in and do the work on us at the individual level. This extended period of private, silent meditation is intended to be a period of unearthing. Week after week, we come together as a people who have been battered and bruised by sin (be it sins we see, sins committed against us, or sins we commit ourselves), and this period of the service is an opportunity—within the context of corporate worship—to do business with God. I fully expect that through the course of the preceding liturgical elements (call to worship, Scripture reading, corporate songs, corporate confession), God has been at work convicting his people and revealing idols. Because of this, it is important that we have the opportunity to respond to such conviction and revelation. So in private confession, we do just that.
Assurance of Pardon
The assurance of pardon is even more important than the confession itself, for it is the outright promise that those in Christ have a rock-solid justification. Despite the subjective reality of what we may be feeling when we confess our sins, the assurance of pardon reminds us that an objective reality has been holding us secure throughout—if we are in Christ, we are forgiven. In this way, the person who is leading the liturgy is speaking as an ambassador of Christ to administer priestly comfort and peace, and it is not presumptuous either, for the entire declaration is predicated not on the speaker, but on Christ and his atoning work. In this way, the assurance of pardon fits both under the command to read the Scripture, but also to teach/preach the Scripture; the speaker not only reads the text, he goes on to apply its various implications to the believers present (“your sins are forgiven through Christ!”).
Recently, I had a member ask me why we typically don’t give any warning with the assurance of pardon. “When you start reading Scripture, I’m not really sure what the procedure is,” he said, “like, are we still praying or not?” The abruptness of the assurance of pardon is, as you might expect, intentional. Why do we not say “amen” before administering the assurance of pardon? Simply this: we want for you to be interrupted by grace. We want for the very first thing you hear, almost in a disruptive sort of way, to be God’s gracious words of assurance for those who have been united to Christ by faith. This is, in and of itself, an opportunity for us to demonstrate the gospel once more; God did not wait for us to clean ourselves up and make ourselves presentable before taking it upon himself to redeem us, rather he came while we were still weak and enemies. Likewise, I have no intention of waiting to administer the assurance of pardon until after the congregation has divulged all of its sins to God. I want the congregation to hear the grace of God drowning out their sins like a bear-horn while their confessions are still on their lips. This why the assurance of pardon will often include something like, “those sins that you have just confessed, are already forgiven in Christ. They have been nailed to the cross and buried in the grave, and you are one with the resurrected Christ!”
Song of Thanksgiving
Does anything make more sense than this? I mean honestly, when we’ve just been interrupted with such grace—when we’ve had such a declaration of God’s kindness showered upon us as a people—singing a song of thanksgiving is just about the most logical thing we could do. So this song is typically one of the most explicitly gospel-rich songs we sing.
Next week we will continue our exploration of Emmaus’ liturgy by looking at the Sermon, Communion, the final Song of Response, and the Benediction.
This is Part 2 of a four-part blog on the Liturgy at Emmaus. Last week, I wrote a piece in which I developed our rationale, as a Church, for the primary elements of our corporate worship service. In this article, we’ll begin dissect each element in our actual liturgy.
Having looked at the governing principle behind our corporate worship services last week, I now want to shift our focus to address each of the particular elements in our weekly service. If you’ve spent any time at Emmaus, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that there’s a very predictable routine we go through every week. All of our services begin and end the exact same way, and there are a handful of things we do that are never absent. This routine is what we mean when we say liturgy, and every element matters. In reality, even “non-liturgical” Churches have liturgies—more times than not, it’s merely a liturgy that is absent-mindedly adopted. Opening song. Announcements. Greet your “neighbor.” Pass the bucket for tithe offerings. Two more songs. Sermon. Response song.
At Emmaus, we don’t want to do anything absent-mindedly; we want to have an explicitly biblical, gospel-drenched reason for everything that we do. In fact, when Pastor Josh, Pastor Ronni and Pastor Kevin were originally crafting the liturgical structure of our services, long before we began to even worship on a regular basis, they were pushed back to the drawing board on several occasions for the same resounding impulse: we need more gospel.
So at present, our services follow the following liturgical format:
• Call to Worship
• Song of Praise
• Scripture Reading
• Songs of Response
• Corporate Confession
• Private Confession
• Assurance of Pardon
• Song of Thanksgiving
• Song of Response
Below, I’ve broken down each element of our liturgy to explain we repeat such an activity week by week, and how it is intended to adorn the gospel.
Call to Worship
This is what begins our service. Of course, we often arrive before the call to worship to enjoy the company of one another, and on most weeks one of our pastors will make announcements, but the formal service doesn’t start until the call to worship. Why do we start this way? Because worship is essentially comprised of two elements: revelation and response. Worship is the act of responding to that which has been revealed. So if we truly gather together with the intention of worshiping our Triune God, we need see Him first! This is why the call to worship is always a Scripture reading. God has revealed himself through his Word, and if we intend to see Him—so that we can respond appropriately—we must look there.
The call to worship is also an act of mutual upbuilding. We are calling ourselves, and each other, to fix our eyes on God to see how glorious he is! It’s us saying to one another, “God is glorious and worthy of praise! Look at him! Isn’t he glorious and worthy of praise?! Yes! He is glorious and worthy of praise, so let’s praise him for his glory!” This is why the person leading in the call to worship will begin the call as an address to the congregation, and then the congregation will join the call as an address to the congregation and to God. We are starting with God, and unifying our voices around him in such a way that we are corporately affirming his worth to be the center of our attention.
So in the call to worship, we are simultaneously declaring to God that we consider Him worthy of the praise we are about to ascribe to Him, and we are asking for him to “incline [our hearts] to [his] testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” (Psalm 119:36). The call to worship is intrinsically a de-centering act; we are communicating from the outset that our gathering is about ascribing worth to God, not merely pleasing ourselves.
Song of Praise
After a call to worship, how could we not respond with a song of praise? This song is typically a song that intentionally focuses on the bigness of God. We are praising him for one of his divine attributes; his holiness, his power to create the cosmos or deliver his people, his unfathomable love, etc. It is a massive, unimaginably glorious God we have just been called to worship, so we gladly do just that. I’m tempted to go off into a tangent here about reverence, but I’ll simply say this: there is a reason why we rage against “glibness” in our services. You will find zero vanity in our songs. Joy? Yes. Exuberance? Absolutely. Cheesiness, presumption, or triviality? God forbid it! Why? Because we are worshiping God. If our songs aren’t marked by a palpable gravity, we may not be worshipping God. He has told us that acceptable worship in his sight is packaged in “reverence and awe,” (Heb. 12:28-29) so we dare not offer him anything less.
Again, this is supposed to be a central element for the gathered Church, so we want to do it often. Why read an extended package here, after the first song and before the second? Simply this: we want for Scripture to actually, functionally direct our service. It would be easy to read a passage of Scripture at the beginning, take credit for having a “biblically-based” service, and then run off and do whatever we please with the remainder of our time. But that’s not what we want. Rather, we want to sandwich our Scripture-filled songs with Scripture readings, Scriptural preaching and Scriptural obeying. In other words, we read right here in the service to indicate that Scripture isn’t merely the foundation of our service, it comprises the content of our service.
Song(s) of Response
Again, after we’ve read about this glorious God and what he has done, we are compelled to express his worth through song, so we’ll typically sing two more songs here. These songs may be songs of praise, thanksgiving, lamentation, or just meditations on the gospel. In any case, we want for all of our services to be marked by bloody songs that adorn Jesus, and this is often a great place to embody such a commitment.
Next week we will continue our exploration of Emmaus’ liturgy by looking at Corporate and Private Confession, Assurance of Pardon, and the Song of Thanksgiving.
This is Part 1 of a four-part blog on the Liturgy at Emmaus. This article will consist of our rationale, as a Church, for the primary elements of our corporate worship service, and Parts 2 through 4 will dissect each element in our actual liturgy.
In a recent sermon that Pastor Josh preached on Leviticus, I was reminded afresh why we worship the way that we do here at Emmaus. In this sermon, Josh summarized the story of Nadab and Abihu in chapter 10—the story of Aaron’s two sons who tried to worship God in an unauthorized way and were immediately struck dead for their presumptuous thinking. How arrogant is was for them to think that they were entitled to innovate ways of approaching God distinct from the meticulous prescription God had graciously given. “I told you how I desire to be worshipped,” God was saying, “if you truly desire to express your love and adoration for me in worship, you would simply obey my commands.” In this story we are given a stark picture of the holiness of God—we dare not approach him flippantly by any means other than those which he has provided.
What, you may be asking, does this have to do with how we conduct our worship gatherings at Emmaus? Could Sam really be saying that if we were to change the way we order our services, fire would come down from heaven and consume the Church? No, I am not saying that at all. In fact, the most relevant application of this story for 21st century Christians has to do not with our corporate gatherings, but with the exclusivity of Christ. This story tells us that God provides the means for communing with him, and a healthy fear of his holiness ought to compel us to stick to those means. In Leviticus 10, the means were the preceding (and proceeding) instructions for animal blood-sacrifices and ritualistic cleansings. Today, the means is the blood-sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:19-25). The primary application, therefore, is this: don’t you dare try to commune with God by virtue of anything but the blood of Jesus Christ—if you try to predicate your intimacy with this God on anything but the blood of the Lamb (your works, your sincerity, your piety, etc.), you are committing the same sin as Nadab and Abihu.
This is why we exhort one another so often to come to Christ with empty hands; to self-justify your hearing before God with your own works is not only foolish (you could never do enough to justify a hearing before such a holy God), it’s also blasphemous. It’s tantamount to saying that what you offer is better than (or improves upon) the blood of Jesus.
However, there is a secondary application to this story, which goes along with the first. At the very least, Leviticus 10 tells us that God cares about how people worship him. This is why we, as a church, generally identify with what theologians call the “Regulative Principle” of worship. This simply means that we want for Scripture to regulate not just the who of corporate worship, but the how of corporate worship. And by “regulate,” I don’t simply mean, “define what’s off limits.” Rather, I’m saying that Scripture has told us what Christians are to do when they gather together to worship, and as a principle, we are committed to doing only what Scripture commands.
And what does Scripture command for New Testament believers to do corporately? We are commanded to:
- Read the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13)
- Teach/Preach the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13, 2 Tim. 4:1-2)
- Pray (1 Tim. 2:1, Acts 2:42, 4:23-31)
- Sing (Col. 3:12-17)
- Participate in Communion/Baptism (1 Cor. 11:23-34, Acts 2:38, Matt. 28:19)
That’s it. That’s what we should be doing when we gather together corporately. Our liturgy should not include anything that doesn’t fit comfortably inside those five corporate commands. And by “comfortably,” I mean that we shouldn’t try to squeeze movie clips, dance routines, or that guy who throws paint on a canvas to depict what looks like nothing at all until he flips it right-side-up to reveal he was actually painting a very Caucasian Jesus, into the category of “teaching/preaching Scripture.” There’s not a single quote from The Office, for example, that could ever be followed up with “thus sayeth the Lord!”; a clip of The Office would be totally out of step with the purpose of the corporate worship gathering
Now, some churches may venture outside of these five elements that the New Testament explicitly commands. They may even do so without shifting from the gospel as their central point of emphasis. Should such churches anticipate facing a similar fate as Nadab and Abihu? I don’t think so. But I do think they are wrong not to subscribe to the Regulative Principle for three reasons.
This Is God’s Church
The Regulative Principle fosters a corporate understanding that a particular congregation belongs to God, while the alternative fosters a corporate understanding that a particular congregation belongs to the congregation (or, more often, the leadership of the congregation). God purchased the church with his own blood, and has subsequently placed her under the stewardship of elders (Acts 20:28). This means that church leaders cannot do with their flocks as they please, they do not own their churches. Emmaus does not belong to our pastors, she belongs to Jesus Christ. The regulative principle establishes an impulse among our Church leaders to ask, “What would the owner of this Church like for us to do?” I do not think the same could be said of the alternative principle, which merely looks to Scripture for prohibitions and then leaves the church to operate according to the whims of popular opinion or the fleeting charisma of personalities.
God’s Church Is Governed By God’s Word
The Regulative Principle reinforces the conviction that Christians live their lives positively directed by the Word of God, rather than merely guarded by the prohibitions of God’s Word. The alternative principle, in my estimation, inherently reinforces the natural sinful perspective that Christianity can be defined by what people are not allowed to do, and that life is ultimately to be governed according the autonomous whims of the individual. Conversely, the Regulative Principle is an object lesson in and of itself, teaching that Scripture does not merely set boundaries for how Christians should not live, but also directs Christians positively for how they should live. In other words, the Regulative Principle aids in the command to “let the word of Christ dwell richly in [the corporate midst].” (Colossians 1:16)
God Cares about How We Worship
The regulative principle assumes that God actually cares about how he is worshiped. Though our means of approaching God (the shed blood of Jesus) and Nadab and Abihu’s means of approaching God (the Levitical priestly offerings) are different, the God we are worshiping is one and the same, and thus the manner in which we worship him should be the same (i.e., with reverence and special attention to what he has said about proper worship). Further, Leviticus tells us what kind of God he is. He is a gracious God who provides what he requires (a means), and he is a holy God who cares about how he is worshiped.
On the cusp of the New Covenant’s arrival, Jesus informs the Samaritan woman at the well, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23) Notice, he does not say that the Father is seeking worshipers who worship him “however they see fit.” We want to look to the Word of God to see what Christ means when he says “in truth.” If we begin with self, and then merely look to Scripture for approval or disapproval, we do not cast the appropriate shroud of suspicion on the preferences of sinners—even if we are sinners who are saved by grace.
For these reasons, we have structured our service to hang only on that which Scripture commands. Next week, we’ll carefully dissect each element of our liturgy and explore the various purposes of our liturgical format.
Behold Our God
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery
Come and See
Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Before the Throne of God Above
Call to Worship
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. – Psalm 95:1-7a
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. – Psalm 38:1-4
Assurance of Pardon
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39
Emmaus, may the LORD bless you as you behold the Lamb of God this week. May you be filled with inexpressible joy as you bear witness to him is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing—the Lamb who was slain to take away the sin of the world. May you be transfixed by his beauty, for your joy and the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.