Why do we use the order of service that we do?
While Scripture does not give us explicit instructions for structuring our worship, it does model for us the correct sequence to follow when approaching and communing with God—along with the purpose of doing so. Because the church is the new temple of God (e.g. Eph 2:19–22; 1 Pet 2:5), her worship is a new covenant development of temple worship. The Old Testament therefore instructs us as much as the New about the key elements of worship:
- Call. God summons us to worship, both explicitly (Heb 10:25; 12:22–29) and by example (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor 11:24; Job 1:6; Lev 23). Therefore, the minister issues this summons to the congregation on behalf of God, reminding them of why we are gathering, and of the awe-inspiring fact that we are entering the heavenly court itself.
- Cleansing. Before coming into God’s presence, we must be purified (e.g., Isa 6:5–7). The sin that separates us from God must be done away with before we can be at one with him. This was the purpose of the Sin Offering that was always the first in the sequence of sacrifices under the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant, we no longer need to slaughter an animal in our stead, for Jesus has died once for all. We instead call upon him to cleanse us from sin, and to clothe us in his righteousness. Through him, we can stand before God (cf. 1 John 1:9; Zech 3:3–5).
- Consecration. After being cleansed, we are set apart and fitted for communion with God. This was the second sacrifice, in Hebrew the Ascension Offering (often translated as the burnt offering), where the slaughtered animal would carefully be cut up and arranged on the altar, then transformed into fire and smoke by burning it. This symbolized the worshiper being committed wholly to God, and incorporated into his glory-cloud (cf. Ex 13:22). Under the New Covenant, we are spiritually divided by the knife of the Word (Heb 4:11–12), and brought up to God by the fire of the Holy Spirit within us (cf. Acts 2:3; Matt 3:11). This is possible because Jesus has entered for us into the Most Holy Place where God’s glory-cloud resides (Heb 9:11–12; Lev 16:2).
- Contribution. Now the worshiper brings tribute offerings to God, consisting of the work of his hands. Under the Old Covenant, this was typically bread and wine, representing the worshiper’s contribution of his own labor to refine the resources that God had gifted him with (e.g., wheat, oil, grapes). Under the New Covenant, we bring offerings of prayers and thanksgiving.
- Communion. The pinnacle and ultimate purpose of worship is mutual participation with God. We become one spiritual body with him, represented in our sharing a meal: the common food symbolically builds up our different physical bodies into the same substance. This meal was the final sacrifice, the Peace Offering, where the worshiper would eat with the priests before God. Under the New Covenant, we enter into God’s heavenly temple to eat with him, and in the same way he enters into our church to eat with us (Rev 3:20). This meal is the Lord’s Supper, a memorial in which we are incorporated into God and he into us (1 Cor 10:16–18; 11:24–26), as we renew our covenant with him through Christ Jesus.
- Commission. In worship we enter into God’s Sabbath rest—but we do not stay there. Rather, God refreshes and equips us in order to send us out again to the weekday work he has given us: building his kingdom (Gen 1:27–28; Matt 28:18–20). At the end of the service, therefore, the minister commissions the congregation for this work on behalf of God.