RPM, Volume 16, Number 27, June 29 to July 5, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Doctrine of the Church
Part 2
Sermon Number Twenty-seven

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.


This sermon continues our examination of the worship of the Church. Having looked at the nature of our worship, we are ready to consider the character of our worship. The character of worship is, of course, based on that which is worshiped. There is, therefore, plenty of information in the Bible about that which we worship, which is the Triune God. If we are careful about allowing God's nature and works to determine our approach to worship, we will do fine. But if we allow various influences to determine our approach to worship, we will have problems. Think about how many events we go to where our conduct will be determined, to an extent, but the event itself. That is a simple principle that can be applied to worship. In this case, we are informed by the Scriptures concerning the One we come to worship and what we learn about Him should influence our behavior.

02. The Character of Our Worship

I read an article recently in which the writer recounted some of his experiences while attending worship services in various churches. One memory that stood out, he said, was the time when the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was about to be served and the men came forward to pick up the elements for the congregation. One very large man, he said, decided that he would wear a sweater that morning—but it wasn't just any sweater. It was a bright red sweater composed of many yards of material. But the color and size were not the real problem. The problem—that which caused a big distraction to the congregaton—was what was embroidered on the sweater: large, white reindeer heads! As the man turned to walk toward the congregation with the elements in hand, the writer of the article said that all thoughts of the atonement completely vanished.

I think the closest we've ever come to a similar incident has been in the ties that some men choose to wear. I won't be more specific, but these kinds of distractions are not the most serious kind. The most serious kind are those that reveal a misunderstanding of the nature and works of God. And this is what I'm concerned with this morning—the character of our worship.

The questions we need to ask are these: How should Christian worship be distinguished? What qualities ought to be observed in worship that is based upon the self-revelation of God? Another way to approach this issue is to ask: What are the characteristics of Biblical worship?

As we look at what the Scripture has to say about God, our relationship with God, and our worship of God, there are a few essential observations to be made and these observations flow from one central notion, which is that Biblical worship is God-centered, not man-centered. God is the focus of attention and all things are done to please Him. God-centeredness is the defining quality of our worship and this is the idea that I want to explore under this third point.

The book of Psalms is, of course, filled with material that was used in the worship of God. I've chosen a few brief examples from the Psalms that deal specifically with the worship of God. These examples illustrate the God-centered characteristic of our worship:

92: 1. It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Thy name, O Most High; 2 to declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night, 3 with the ten-stringed lute, and with the harp; with resounding music upon the lyre. 4 For Thou, O LORD, hast made me glad by what Thou hast done, I will sing for joy at the works of Thy hands. 5 How great are Thy works, O LORD! Thy thoughts are very deep.
96:7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. 9 Worship the LORD in holy attire; tremble before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity." 11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all it contains; 12 let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy 13 before the LORD, for He is coming; for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness.
100:1 Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. 3 Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name. 5 For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations.
111:1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the company of the upright and in the assembly. 2 Great are the works of the LORD; they are studied by all who delight in them. 3 Splendid and majestic is His work; and His righteousness endures forever. 4 He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate.

Notice first the themes that run through these passages. These verses speak of the lovingkindness, faithfulness, magnificence, wisdom, glory, holiness, sovereignty, goodness, mercy, majesty, grace, and compassion of God. All the verses are concerned with some aspect of the character or works of God. Thoughts of God dominate these verses and they illustrate, as I said, true worship.

The God-centeredness of these passages on worship leads us to several important observations that are relevant to our worship of the Lord. First, it is apparent that ascribing all these wonderful attributes to God is the worshiper's delight. You can hear the enthusiasm in these words as they are read; you cannot help but feel the writer's eagerness to broadcast the greatness of God. The writer knows who God is and what God has done and he knows that it is his duty and pleasure to recount the character and works of the Lord. True worship, worship that fits the pattern we have here, is worship that is God-centered; it is worship that arises from the heart of the redeemed.

Second, the greatness of God is what motivates the worshiper. If there is any truth that we need to recapture in the modern church when it comes to our worship, this is it! The contemplation of who God is and what He has done in these passages drives the worshiper to such lofty expressions; these expressions move us even as we read them. God-centered worship, worship that is concerned with recounting the glory of the Triune God, enlivens the soul because such worship is a fundamentally natural declaration of the creature to his Creator; in one sense we can say that we were made to worship God.

When I was first converted, I attended a church that was home to a large number of young adults. It was no secret that many of the young men attended this church to be around the yound ladies. During my time there, which was rather brief, I noticed several marriages resulting from this situation. Going to church to find a spouse is not the worst motivation in the world for worshiping God, but it certainly is extremely weak and deceptive.

In fact, any motivation other than the nature and works of God is going to be inferior and perhaps even offensive to God. Therefore, we do need to examine carefully the Biblical motivation for worship. In our passages, as noted, the writer was moved to grand responses based on the nature and activities of God.

Third, worship that concentrates on the majesty of God produces a sense of reverence that is fitting for such an occasion. Again, we come upon another essential truth about the worship of God that is not as prevelant in the contemporary Church as it should be. Any contemplation of the majesty of God should fill us with veneration.

Take note of how respectfully the writer describes God and how solemnly he recites the Divine qualities. Worship that is offered according to this Biblical pattern will produce an awareness of God's presence in the congregation and if that awareness of the presence of God is missing, then questions have to be asked. As we sing and pray and read Scripture and hear Scripture explained and receive the sacraments, we should have a sense of God. Biblical worship is directed toward Him and if this sense of God is lacking, how can we defend ourselves? How can we maintain that our worship is appropriate if it fails to confront us with the majesty of God?

In that same article to which I referred, a minister told about the experience of having his usheres hand him notes during the worship time. The note was usually about headlights being left on in the parking lot. He said some of the ushers got upset with him because he would stop the service and make that announcement. His concern for the reverence of the service caused him to delay the announcement until the end of the worship period. By then, he admitted, the car batteries were dead, but that was better than disrupting the worship of God with words that were completely out of place and would certainly distract the people, at least momentarily.

A fourth observation to be made is that the worshiper himself occupies a subordinate position. The worshiper in these passages is the one adoring God; he is the one offering an accounting of God's character and works. No attention is focused upon the worshiper; his experiences and needs are mentioned only in connection with the glory of God. The worshiper never becomes the center of attention according to the Biblical pattern of worship; he always is seen as offering adoration and praise and thanksgiving, but never seen as receiving attention himself.

Related to this observation is the idea that our worship involves humility on our part. This quality is directly related to the idea that worship is to be God-centered. When a congregation worships the God of the Bible as He says He is to be worshiped, when their attention is focused upon His character and works, when they gather to rehearse God's act of redemption and have their standing in the Savior reaffirmed, then there will be an accompanying sense of humility. If worship is conducted according to the pattern we've been seeing, we can't help but feel humbled in the presence of our magnificent God.

Most of us have been in a number of churches in our lifetimes. Think back to those experiences. Were you humbled during the worship? Did the demeanor of the people, the attitude of those leading worship, and all other aspects of that service guide you to a position of humility before the Lord? When you hear about some of the things that are going on in churches these days, it is easy to conclude that establishing a sense of humility in the worshiper is the last thing under consideration.

The "logistics coordinator" for a church in Texas remarked that their services have a "rock-concert feel" members of the congregation are encouraged to dress casually and sip coffee from the café during the worship. You are probably not aware of one of the latest fads circulating among contemporary churches. Many are changing their start time to something odd like 11:01 AM or 11:11 AM. The reason behind this change is a desire to stand out and be distinguished from the "traditional" service.

Another trend is the employment of worship leaders. While having someone lead the worship is necessary, of course, the way churches are going about filling this position is troubling. According to one source, churches prefer worship leaders with little or no formal training in theology or music. That way, the worshp leader isn't hampered by traditional ideas and can be more effexctive when introducing changes to a congregation. These same churches also prefer to hire worship leaders from bars and coffee shops in the community. Supposedly, such people are more "in tune" with the culture and, therefore, once again, more effective.

The very latest innovations in contemporary worship include a preference for darkness, which requires covering windows with black cloth and turning off most of the lights. And there will be lots of candles. The music is becoming mellow and even mournful; the belief is that worship should be a private matter, as much as possible, and a time to contemplate the struggles of life in a subdued state of mind.

There are several other characteristics to be observed in modern church development, but the point is clear enough. This kind of worship is almost entirely man-centered and has very little to do with establishing an atmosphere in which the majesty of God overwhelms the worshiper and drives him to his knees, as it were.

Consider the vast difference between the worship described in the Psalms I read and the worship I just described. One exists for the purpose of acknowledging, thanking, honoring, and contemplating God. The other exists for the purpose of creating a comfortable encounter (literally and figuratively) for the worshiper. It is the worshiper's desires that are paramount.

The modern Church has taken significant steps—but the steps are in the wrong direction. At the heart of this issue is our understanding of the nature of God. Where that is confused, you will inevitably find disorder in worship.

In Isa. 57, the Lord describes the waywardness of His people and mentions their confidence in idols. He chastens them for trusting in false gods and for failing to remain faithful to their covenant obligations. In the midst of this condemnation, God says to them:

15 For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite."

That is a marvelous declaration from God. Again we find ourselves humbled by the Lord's words.

Later in a section that again mentions the sins of His people, God offers words of encouragement to those in the nation who had remained faithful to Him:

Thus says the LORD, "Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being," declares the LORD. "But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word." (61:1, 2)

And, in Psa. 51, we read:

16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

These verses emphasize the vast difference between God and those who worship God. He "lives forever," His name is "holy," He "dwells on a high and holy place," heaven is His throne and the earth is His footstool, and He is the Creator of all things. The conclusion reached when we read such passages is that God is supremely exalted and is worthy of the highest honor.

We are considering what observations can be made from those Psalm passages we read previously. I've identified four so far, and now, a fifth observation to be made about God-centered worship has to do with the prominent element of joy that we find in passages that describe such worship. The passages describe gladness for the worshiper and, at the same time, appropriate reverence for God.

You will recall that the Psalms speak of being "glad," of "singing for joy," of "rejoicing" before the Lord, of "shouting joyfully to the Lord" and of "singing joyfully." If we think that reverent, carefully planned worship must be, by definition, lacking in heart-felt joy, then we don't understand what worship is and we don't understand what real redeemed joy is.

The worship of God is festive; it is a reverent and holy celebration of who He is and what He has done for us. God-centered worship constantly directs our attention to God and it is the contemplation of God that produces the great joy that we read about in the book of Psalms. These passages are describing the joy of the soul, joy that finds its primary and most significant expression in the heart of the worshiper. This doesn't exclude smiles on our faces as we contemplate God; it doesn't exclude all outward manifestations of gladness, such as the raising of hands at certain times. Worship should produce tremendous joy in us, but it is joy that is reverent; it is delight created in the soul as the worshiper pays honor to God.

Thus far, I've concentrated on the character of our worship, which can be attributed to one dominant notion and that is its God-centeredness. As I conclude this point, I want to emphasize the important truth that Biblical worship is covenantal in nature. I've said that worship is prompted by the character and works of God; specifically, worship is a rehearsal of God's mighty act of redemption and a renewing of His great covenant promises to us that find their fulfillment in God's Son, Jesus Christ.

Our worship of God, therefore, is bound to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. We come to God in Him; we worship God in Him. In worship, we are commemorating what God has done for us in Christ and are proving the reality of what He has done by appearing before the Lord and enjoying His favor.


Previouisly, we considered several passages from the Psalms that illustrated the truth that worship is to be God-centered. Based on those texts, I offered five observations. In the application, I am going to identify some of the practical implications of those five points.

In the first observation, I said that God-centered worship is the worshiper's delight. People are delighted by those things that make them happy and provide comfort and security. We look forward to those activities that encourage us. That is how it should be with our worship of God. It should be a delightful activity. Therefore, I hope that you do look forward to our weekly worship. I hope this gathering is something that delights you. I hope that as your week unfolds your anticipation is growing.

We know that proper worship of God brings delight to the soul. If you are not experiencing that delight, then you need to make some adjustments. Perhaps something as simple as taking time during the week to meditate for just a short amout of time on the majesty of God would help. Perhaps Scripture reading or singing would begin to stir up that desire to be in God's presence.

The point is that there is delight in the worship of God and it is a delight that energizes us and reminds us of how blessed we are as God's redeemed people. Don't be robbed of this delight by the cares of the world. God's majesty overwhelms all concerns and lifts us up above worry, despair, and uncertainty. Having been in such a place on Sunday morning allows you to return to your normal routine with a renewed joy and desire to honor God.

Second, I said that the greatness of God is what motivates the worshiper. If we were honest about this, we all probably would have to admit that the greatness of God is not always what motivates us in worship. We sometimes are moved by our surroundings or the music or other such matters. These all have their place in the event of worship, but they should not be ends in themselves; they should be means by which we further contemplate our magnificent God. We should sing with zeal and pray with passion and listen to the Word with expectation, but we should do so only because we are singing about God and praying to God and hearing from God.

Third, I stated that God-centered worship produces a sense of reverence. The time that we are assembled for worship should be a time of order, respect, and self-control. We are in God's presence when we worship and that is not the time for talking or fidgeting or day-dreaming; it is not a time for whining to our mommas or making faces at a friend across the isle or slumping down in our seats. It may sound as if what I'm saying is directed primarily to children and that is true for the most part. But let's keep in mind that children imitate what they witness.

Worship is the time for our very best behavior, whether we are children or adults! We are in God's presence, so we should sit up straight, pay attention, and participate by singing and reading and listening. And, of course, knowing that we are coming into the presence of God during worship calls for some preparation. We should remind ourselves and our familes as the week progresses that Sunday is coming and on that day we will join with many others and assemble before our Creator.

Fourth, I said that God-centered worship requires that the worshiper take a subordinate position and exhibit humility. This is what is truly difficult for fallen creatures; we do not want to humble ourselves before anyone, even God. But there is no way to worship God rightly without acknowledging that we are creatures who owe everything to a kind Creator. Worship is a time for us to forget about ourselves, in a sense, and see ourselves as part of the wonderful body of the redeemed.

It is a time for us to honor God, not honor ourselves, a time to lift up His name and not our own. Worship should leave us with a contrite heart as we realize that we have been allowed to praise God. Worship is a holy convocation. This is, in my opinion, where much of the worship in the contemporary Church is going astray. We are told, in essence, that God is our "buddy," that He doesn't mind if we treat Him in a familiar fashion, and that He wants us to have a "good time" when we worship Him.

Where do such ideas come from? The answer is simple: low views of God produce disrepectful worship. In general, Christians today have lost the concept of God as a sovereign and holy Deity. Talk of God's power and absolute right to do as He pleases for His own glory, talk about how God controls history and is causing all things to move toward a particular end is met with bewildered looks even in the Church. We just don't think of God as awe-inspiring and all-powerful and sovereign. And, in the absence of such appropriate opinions of God, we are not forced to view ourselves by comparison.

Therefore, a low view of God, that is, a view that fails to see Him in all His glory, leads to a higher view of man than is proper and this, in turn, de-emphasizes the work of the Savior who came to rescue sinners. Regrettably, this matter is reflected in contemporary worship services where the Creator-creature distinction is minimized for fear of offending the creature! Surely our times of worship, above all times in the Christian life, should be dominated by a sense of God's majesty. Worship that emphasizes the holiness and power of God will produce humility in the worshiper.

Fifth, I mentioned that God-centered worship is joyful worship. Communion with God is heaven; our worship is a foretaste of that everlasting communion we all will enter some day. Certainly worship should make us glad, but too often, Christians want this joy, they know they should have this joy when worshiping God, but they are confused about how it is to be produced. The joy and gladness described in the book of Psalms doesn't come from "catchy" songs or entertaining anecdotes from the pulpit. This joy comes from the heart of the sinner as he contemplates the greatness of his God and the wonder of his salvation.

Besides these several observations based on the idea that worship is to be God-centered, I spoke about the role of Jesus Christ and how His atonement establishes the covenantal nature of our worship. As we conclude, therefore, I'll ask you to think about our Savior. He has done something marvelous for His people! He has freed us from the bonds of sin, He has secured our eternal safety by becoming a Substitute for us, He rose from the dead having gained victory over death and includes us in that triumph, and He sent His Spirit who indwells us, guards us, instructs us, and walks with us toward our heavenly home.

As you think about the Savior, yield your heart to Him by confessing your desire to be used by Him in the work He is doing in this fallen world. What greater privilege might we have as redeemed people than to labor with Christ as He applies His atonement to our race? You don't have to leave your homes to serve; all you have to do is live day by day in thankful obedience.





The sacrament of the Lord's Supper portrays the experience of redemption as it reminds us of Christ's work of atonement and, consequently, of our continuing interest in Him. Let us now receive the elements of the Lord's Supper as pledges from God that we are His, that He has accepted the work of His Son on our behalf, and that He will keep us and cause us to persevere to the end of our lives at which time we will be received into His glorious presence in heaven.

According to Matthew, while the disciples shared a meal with the Savior, and just before His arrest,

... Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
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