In the first installment of this series on corporate worship, we examined some basic principles that inform worship in the Christian church. And, last time, we discussed some of the important aspects of preparing for worship – things that would help God’s people in preparing to enter His presence as a church body. This week, we will begin addressing some of the individual elements of the corporate worship service in the order in which we typically employ them at Hill Country Church (PCA). [By the way, the current order of worship for the upcoming Sunday may found on the home page of church website: just scroll down and click on “order of worship” button.]
Oversight and Conduct of Corporate Worship
Before we address the salutation and introit, however, it would be helpful to take note of who has authority and oversight of the conduct of corporate worship. First, and most importantly, Jesus Christ – as King and Head of the Church – rules over the corporate worship by His Word and Spirit (BCO 47-4). This, He does directly, by the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. And, this, He does by use of means, through the ministry of the minister and elders of the church.
In practice, this principle is manifested in two ways. First, it means that the session (the ruling body of the local church comprised of the elders) is responsible to exercise authority over the time and place of the corporate worship services of the church, as well as the specific elements and practice of worship (BCO 12-5.e). Second, it means that, under the authority and oversight of the session, the minister is responsible for the ordering and leading of the corporate worship service (BCO 50-1); he is also given discretion as to the proportion of each element in the service (BCO 50-4; 51:5). Thus far, I’ve referenced portions of our denomination’s Book of Church Order, but this principle of the delegation of authority and responsibility to ordained men in the church is reflected in the Scriptures, as well (e.g., Matthew 16:17-19; Acts 2:42; 20:28-32; 1 Corinthians 3:1-23; 1 Timothy 3:1-6; 4:11-16; 5:17-18; Titus 1:1-9).
This principle of Jesus Christ ruling the corporate worship through the representative ordained men in the church is an important one. In fact, it is one of the main Scriptural principles that distinguishes worship in confessionally Reformed churches from that of many evangelical churches. In many churches, one finds theologically untrained and unordained individuals planning and leading worship. Ministers and elders relegate their responsibility and authority to lay worship leaders. Yes, while perhaps musically gifted, lay worship leaders are not the ones to whom God has entrusted the oversight and shepherding of His people.
This has serious ramifications when we take into account one of the principles that we addressed earlier, namely that the corporate worship of the church is dialogical. In practice, this means that the elements (or parts) of each service may be divided into two categories: (1) elements which are performed on behalf of God through a representative voice; (2) those elements which are performed by the congregation through their own, or a representative, voice. As our corporate worship is dialogical (God addresses the congregation through a representative voice, and the people respond through their own, or a representative, voice), then it is of the utmost importance that the representative voice be that of one who has been called and ordained to lead and shepherd the people of God (a minister or elder of the church).
Salutation & Introit
The above principle concerning the importance of worship leadership by a man called to the ordained office of minister or elder is reflected in the first two elements of our corporate worship service at Hill Country Church (PCA). The dialogical nature of corporate worship is manifested throughout the service, but it begins with the salutation and introit.
The salutation – the first element of our corporate worship service – is a greeting from God to His people that have gathered to worship Him. Thus, it is comprised of a verse or short passage of Scripture which is spoken by God’s representative voice as a greeting and pronouncement of blessing. Sometimes the passage selected is that of an apostolic greeting from one of the New Testament epistles. Sometimes, it is a verse or two from another part of Scripture declaring God’s grace and sovereignty over His people, showing how He is worthy of our worship and praise. Many of the Scriptures that we use for the salutation at our church come from the “Opening Sentences” portion of the original 1961 edition of the Trinity Hymnal (pp x-xi), commonly referred to as “the old blue trinity hymnal.”
While we want to be careful not to prescribe a particular posture for any element of worship (at least one that is not prescribed in Scripture), it is appropriate for the congregation to reverently and attentively listen to God’s greeting in the salutation. It is a delight for God’s people to hear Him initiate the service and greet them, as His redeemed people. In our service, we ask the congregation to stand and look to the speaker in order to hear the salutation, rising as one people in preparation to be greeted by their Redeemer.
In some traditions, the introit has a technical meaning and refers to a hymn or psalm which is sung as the ministers enter at the opening of the worship service. As we use the word in our order of worship, it refers more generally to the sung congregational response to the Lord’s greeting (the salutation). Having heard the word of blessing from God, His people respond in a song. Typically, in our service, we sing the Doxology.
Sometimes an introit is sung by a choir or a specially selected group of singers; however, in an effort to emphasize the corporate nature of our worship and to limit the representative voices to those who have been ordained to the office of minister or elder, in our service the congregation typically sings God’s praise with one voice. This song does not usually change from week to week. Thus, we learn and memorize a song of praise as a congregation which may be sung by the entire congregation at any time – or in family and private worship. As a practical aside, the introit also serves as a good ‘warm-up’ for the singing voice of the church.
In describing the first two parts of our corporate worship service (the salutation and introit), we have also emphasized the dialogical nature of worship as God addresses His people through a representative voice and His people respond together with one voice. And, we have taken note of the responsibility and authority of those ordained to the office of minister and elder to lead in corporate worship as the representative voice of God in worship and sometimes the representative voice of the people.
The corporate and public worship of God’s people is unique; it is unlike any other activity in this world. Our Creator and Redeemer meets with His people, and His people meet with Him. The Triune God of the universe condescends to speak to us and raises us up that we may respond to Him in faith. What an awesome privilege it is.
May the Lord bless you as you prepare to worship Him well, this Sunday!
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch