Order in Worship
By Angel Manuel Rodríguez
QUESTION: What about a biblical order of worship? What is correct, and how and when should it be done?
Public worship requires some kind of order. Through the performance of specific rites worshipers express their love and gratitude to their Creator and Redeemer. I cannot provide a specific sequence of religious acts to be performed during worship, but I can list some of the main elements and their meaning. Whatever takes place during the worship hour should be biblically grounded.
1. We Worship God: When we gather to worship we must bring with us the clear conviction that we have come to worship God. Anything that distracts us from that should be set aside as unworthy. In fact, whenever God is displaced and humans take “center stage,” the result is idolatry. When the Israelites were tempted to follow idols the Lord asked, “To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?” (Isa. 46:5, NIV). He seemed to say, “Explore the universe and find someone like Me. If you find a being like Me, then worship him.” But He immediately added: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (verse 9).
2. We Pray: Prayer is one of the most sublime acts of private and col-lective worship, through which we come into contact with our Lord. The physical postures we assume as we pray are meaningful, and we should think about them when we worship. When kneeling we surrender our lives to God. We voluntarily go down to the dust from which we were created, acknowledging that our lives belong to God, and hoping He will return it to us enriched with His blessings. Sometimes we pray standing up. This was the posture of those who approached the king seeking an audience (see Esther 5:2). When we stand to pray we are collectively standing before our King in a private audience. At other times we pray sitting down. This is the posture of a student or a child who sits in order to be guided or instructed by the Lord, to be enabled to serve Him (cf. 2 Kings 4:38; Eze. 8:1; 2 Sam. 7:18). Through prayer we express to God our gratitude for blessings received and request strength to overcome new challenges and temptations.
3. We Sing: Our singing addresses God, not the congregation. The congregation appropriates the message of the song and offers it to God as if it were its own. The hymn should not be about “me” or “us,” but about the One we worship. Through it we express our feelings, needs, love, and praises to God for His bountiful blessings. Congregational singing is a ritual act through which the unity of the church is expressed collectively as members lift their voices to praise the Lord in one spirit, one faith, and one purpose. The oneness of the church and its union with the risen Lord come to expression in a unique way through congregational singing. It binds us together by expressing common religious feeling and faith that shape our identity and allow us to join the singing of the heavenly family (cf. Ps. 148).
4. We Give: The expression of our gratitude to God reaches a particular climax during the collection of tithe and offerings. The offertory reaffirms our covenant relationship with the Lord. Through our tithe and offerings we acknowledge that He blessed us during the week, that He is our Lord, and that all we have is His. Our offerings indicate that our love for Him flows freely from a grateful heart.
5. We Proclaim the Word: It is from the center of the platform that the Word is proclaimed every Sabbath. Worship is centered in the self-revelation of God through the Scripture. It is a rational act because the divine speaking is intelligible. We come to learn from the Word, to be encouraged by it, to be instructed for Christian service, to be disciplined, and to rejoice in the good news of salvation through Christ. This places a heavy responsibility on those who preach, as well as on those who listen. The purpose of the sermon is not to create confusion or address theological controversies, but to allow the congregation to hear the message from the Lord through the Scriptures. That’s when we approach the Lord with open hearts in humility and submissiveness.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.