Why do we worship the way we do?
Thus far we have noted that our service follows the Covenant Renewal pattern found in the sacrifices of the Old Covenant: Confession of Sin, Ascension into God’s presence, and sitting down to eat the Lord’s Supper, our Peace offering — this is our sacrifice of praise. We also noted that our worship is childlike, we pray and sing and do many of the same things week after week because we want to grow up into Christ, and we come to our Father as His children.
Our worship is also patterned after the way our fathers and mothers in the faith have worshiped for centuries. There is certainly nothing automatically holy about songs or prayers or habits that are old. Sin and folly are old too. But God teaches us to honor our father and our mother. He also teaches us to remember the faithfulness of the saints of old. Proverbs says that we should not remove the ancient landmark. In other words, we should come to worship expecting a rich inheritance has been handed down from our fathers in the faith. And so, if you look at the records we have of Christian worship, you’ll find that a very distinct pattern emerges: confession of sin, reading and explaining of Scripture, and communion, interspersed with psalms and hymns and prayers is a very common pattern.
We are most certainly not chained to the past, and wherever we find that older practices are unbiblical or no longer helpful, we are free to change and improve them. Our ultimate standard is the Bible, and our worship must first and foremost be obedient to Scripture. But when we worship with the words and songs of our fathers in the faith, we are joining our voices to theirs. We are confessing that we are part of the historic, universal church – what the creed calls the “catholic” church – the whole family of God, all of those who have been baptized and trust in Jesus. Those are our people, and so we honor their memories by singing their songs, by praying their prayers. Now they are in the presence of God, and we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses.
So as we gather for worship, do not forget that we are not alone. We have come to “Mt. Zion, 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.” We are not alone. We gather to sing with them, to pray with them, to feast with them.