The Power of Serious Congregational Worship

Why Congregational Singing Matters Today More than Ever

Our worship is to be whole-souled and heartfelt. The outward expression of emotion must never be confused, one way or another, with the real state of the heart — but true Christian worship emanates from the heart, and is characterized by the whole range of godly affections and sanctified emotional responses of the soul to the truth and glory of the living God.

He Will Hold Me Fast

All of our musicians should support, encourage, and enable the song of the people. So worship is rooted in our deepest desires, and reflects those deep desires outwardly. We seek to learn from the church through the ages as it has sought to offer God-centered, Biblical worship. That is, it points to and confirms a gracious promise of God to his people. You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance.

It is our desire that corporate worship at First Presbyterian Church will be characterized by true heart-worship of the living God, according to His word, that is reverent, substantial and joyful. We are not interested in emotional manipulation by either suppressing or producing certain outward effects , but rather aim to promote an environment in which the congregation naturally responds to God in expressions of godly reverence and joy.

We need a mediator, a stand-between, a reconciler, an advocate who will represent us before God and make us acceptable to God. In the Old Testament, human priests symbolically fulfilled this function, but Jesus Christ is the only real mediator for the people of God.

It is he who has paid the penalty for our sins and opened the way to God. Through him, and him alone, we can approach God with confidence. We believe that it is importantthat we worship corporately, for God has made us for his worship and for community with other worshipers. Corporate worship is not evangelism, nor is it even mutually edifying fellowship. It is a family meeting with God, it is the covenant community engaging with God, gathering with his people to seek the face of God, to glorify and enjoy him, to hear his word, to revel in the glory of union and communion with him, to respond to his word, to render praise back to him, to give unto him the glory due his name.

The New Testament makes clear that the congregation of Christians, this family, this body, this community, is the place where God is especially present in this world. The place of new covenant worship is no longer inextricably tied to a geographical location and a physical structure but to a gathered people. This makes corporate worship extremely important. As we have noted already worship is not evangelism even though many churches confuse them. Nevertheless, evangelism is one important by-product of true worship. Consequently, we are always mindful that not all those who attend our worship services are believers.

We welcome them, speak in language they can understand, preach the Gospel clearly and boldly, and pray, as did Paul, that they experience the presence of the living God and find the way of salvation in our public worship. The congregation delights in God because he is God. Jonathan Edwards put it this way: They rejoice over all that Christ has done for them, but that is not the deepest root of their joy.

Or to put Christ in His rightful place—it means that we are going hard after all that God is for us in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Worship is both active and passive, in this sense: At First Presbyterian Church, then, we want the congregation to appreciate that Christian worship is both something that we do and something that is enabled by God.

And that Christian worship is both something that we give to God and in which God showers his favors and presence upon us.

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Christians who approach it rightly will find that public worship is not only the most important thing they do, but also the happiest and most fulfilling thing they do, as God pours out upon them His blessings — which are abundant, substantial, lasting, and deeply satisfying. If we believe, with the majority of Christians in all ages and with the Westminster Divines! And such is not without biblical precedent or justification. Consequently, regular and faithful congregational Sunday morning and evening worship even in a culture where the latter, especially, is disappearing is a major emphasis here at First Church.

We have now reviewed the principles and elements that guide our practice of public worship, and some of the qualities we aspire to. The biblical principles of worship, however, do not produce a cookie-cutter pattern for the order and parts of worship.

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There is room for diversity and flexibility within the biblical norms. And so, though there is a flow and logic to the order and parts of our worship services, from beginning to end, there is also some variety in the way we arrange and express them, to the order in which we arrange those parts, and to the amount of time devoted to any particular part in a particular service. The typical parts of our worship service are as follows.

We try to make the most of our important verbal announcements to the congregation about ten minutes before the service begins in order not to distract from the flow and focus of worship. The presiding minister also makes preparatory remarks to help the congregation as it makes ready for corporate worship. This instrumental piece, usually played by the organist or an ensemble, provides a contemplative backdrop for our personal preparation for worship. It also serves as a musical dividing point between the profane and the sacred, separating the hour to come from the rest of our week as wholly given over to the corporate praise of the Lord.

Our choir usually prepares us for worship with a musical introit.

This short piece, usually drawn directly from Scripture or reflective of a biblical truth, ushers us into the service proper and is designed to evoke from our hearts a spirit and response of praise. He always comes toward his people first, in grace. Our worship is a reflexive and deliberate response to his gracious call. This is how it is in the Bible. Our worship is enabled by his prior grace to us and is a reflexive response to his gracious call. God Himself is to be the sole focus of our worship and we never run an erand to His throne without fetching a blessing for ourselves.

The ministers who lead in prayer during worship here at First Presbyterian seek to fill their prayers with Scripture and assist the congregational prayer to God by praying from the heart to the Lord. We do not write out prayers and read them, or simply re-use set forms, nor is our public prayer without forethought. We practice studied prayer.

We usually outline our prayer beforehand and then pray by memory and heart. The Twenty-third psalm in the beautiful and still well-known King James Version is among the first things children memorize in our Sunday School and so even our youngest will be able to join in this scriptural acknowledgment of who God is and what he has done for us. The Prayer of Illumination is usually offered immediately prior to the reading of Scripture before the sermon.

The Power of Congregational Singing

It acknowledges the authority of both the word of God read and preached, and asks the Holy Spirit to help us to understand and receive that word. Our congregational singing at First Presbyterian Church is rooted in the rich, historic hymnody of the Christian church. The texts we sing are all soundly in accord with Scripture. They are old and new. Some stretch back three and a half thousand years as when we sing some rendition of Psalm 90, the psalm of Moses, dating from the second millennium B.

This is as it should be. We should neither turn our backs on the great congregational hymns of the church, nor fail to seek out the best of current hymnody. When choosing hymns, psalms and songs, the ministers ask these kinds of questions: Is the hymn-text biblical and substantive? Does the hymn-text relate to the theme of the service or the context in which it is being sung?

Is the tune well-known, well-sung and well-liked by our congregation, as well as singable for those who don't know it? Does the tune suit the mood of the hymn-text, as well as the context of the service in which it is being sung? How many times have we sung the hymn recently? At virtually every morning service, a minister reads a substantial section of Scripture. We generally read consecutively though Bible books. If the sermon is based on the New Testament, we usually choose the reading from the Old, and vice versa. Christians are greeted in the name of our common Lord.

Non-Christians are greeted as friends whom we trust will sense the warmth and genuineness of our reception. By the way, we try to present most of our announcements prior to the service in order to avoid interrupting the focus and flow of our worship of God with distractions that take our minds away from our central purpose: Part of our worship to God is our giving our own material and financial resources for the support of the ministry of the church. We do that at every worship service in presenting to God His tithe that portion of our total income which He says must be given back to Him for the use of His church and our offerings that portion of our total income, beyond the tithe , which we give, in joy and gratitude for His grace to us, for His glory, and the sustenance of ministry.

An Anthem is a musical composition sung by the choir. It is addressed to God on behalf of the congregation by way of adoration, confession, thanksgiving or supplication , or to the congregation on behalf of God by way of Scripture exhortations, promises, commands and comforts , or from one part of the congregation to the other by way of mutual edification and exhortation to praise, trust and obedience. The text of an anthem is usually derived from a passage of Scripture.

The Glorious Inefficiency of Prayer

When the anthem is sung at the time of the presentation of tithes and offerings it is often called an offertory. Generally though not exclusively , we preach straight through Bible books. Our regular approach to preaching at First Presbyterian is to read, explain and apply Scripture as we work consecutively through books of the Bible. Rather than permitting the preacher to talk about his favorite hobby-horses Sunday after Sunday or to avoid difficult topics, this pattern forces the preacher to pay attention to every part of the word of God.

The text determines the topic, not the preacher. Our preaching aims for both evangelism and discipleship. As James Durham has said: My traditional evening benediction is based upon Ephesians 6: Proximately, it points to the day of our departure from this life, and ultimately to the day of the coming of the new heavens and the new earth, and thus is a prayer for God's grace upon believers to persevere to the very end of mortal life and in anticipation of their entrance into the blessedness in which there is no sorrow or tears.

This instrumental piece, usually played by the organist after the service has been concluded by the benediction and after any choral or congregational response has been sung, provides a contemplative backdrop for our personal reflection on the service and sermon. Some people begin to exit the sanctuary during the postlude, others quietly pray and still others begin to speak of the things of the Lord to their friends.

The Beauty of Congregational Worship | For The Church

Baptism is a sign of a covenant promise of God to his people, directly instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, in which Jesus has directed that water is to be applied, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to represent to us and assure us of the glorious realities of union with Christ, forgiveness of sins by his blood, regeneration by his Holy Spirit; our adoption, and our hope of resurrection to everlasting life.

At First Presbyterian Church, we baptize the children of believers, as well as adult professing believers who have not been previously baptized, in accordance with Scripture. Infant baptisms are generally scheduled six times a year on the last or second-to-last Sunday of every other month. Adult baptisms are scheduled as needed, and are typically administered on Sunday evenings. Baptism is a new covenant sign. That is, it points to and confirms the gracious saving promise of God to his people and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

It is to be administered to believers and their children, as can be seen from Genesis 17, Matthew 28, Colossians 2, 1 Corinthians 7 and Acts What prevents me from being baptized? He reached out to us, when we could not reach out to him.

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It is thus a perfect picture of sovereign, saving grace. We, of course, also baptize adult believers who have never before been baptized. In this way they are recognized as disciples of Jesus Christ through the means of baptism and confession of faith see Acts 2: The Larger Catechism says: In it, we feed on Christ, by faith.

You may be interested to know that the members and descendants of one family have been preparing the elements for the service for a century and a half now. The Ruling Elders of our church assist in the distribution of the elements of the Supper as a visible manifestation of their pastoral care of the flock.

Rather, wait, think, pray, repent, and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Young people, who have answered the five questions of church membership and thus have become communicant members of First Presbyterian Church or the equivalent at some other Gospel-believing church are invited to the table. The biblical teaching on the nature of the sacraments may be epitomized as follows: In them, we see with our eyes the promise of God.

Indeed, in the sacraments we see, smell, touch and taste the word. In the public reading and preaching of Scripture, God addresses our mind and conscience through the hearing. That is, it points to and confirms a gracious promise of God to His people. Another way of saying it is that a sacrament is an action designed by God to sign symbolize and seal ratify a covenantal reality, accomplished by the power and grace of God, the significance of which has been communicated by the word of God, and the reality of which is received or entered into only by faith. The sacraments are by nature supplemental to and confirmatory of the promises held out in the word, and the grace conveyed by them is the same grace held out via the means of preaching.

The sacraments are efficacious for the elect and the elect only, since their benefits are sanctificational and received by faith. The believer does not corporeally partake of Christ in the Supper. Christ is not elementally, spatially, or locally present in the Supper in any way. There is no change or conversion of the elements in the Supper.

The believer does indeed receive Christ in the Supper, but not by the mouth, rather by faith. Our congregation regularly confesses our common faith, that is, we publicly state what we believe to be true about God and reality, including the Christian life and salvation. Two phrases in this ancient creed often confuse some Christians.

The first command shows us a Lord who alone is God. The second witnesses to a God who is sovereign even in the way we relate to Him since there He teaches us that we may neither think about Him nor worship Him according to our own humanly initiated categories and designs, but must rather know Him and glorify Him on His own terms and by His own revelation. The third and fourth words reveal a God not to be trifled with and whose Lordship is to be paramount in our life and worship as the third command requires that we not treat His reputation lightly, nor claim to be His without actually, practically acknowledging Him as Lord, so the fourth command reminds us that we are to celebrate that Lordship.

The fifth through the ninth commands teach us that the one true God takes life, sex and marriage, property, and truth very seriously. And the tenth command discloses a God of providence, who will not tolerate covetousness because it is a denial of His providence. We hope this will encourage even these younger children actively to participate in and look forward to corporate worship, as well as help provide a good model or pattern for family devotions.

Only four components need be present for well-rounded family worship: There are a number of great resources for family worship. At that time, they make public their profession of faith and their commitment to this local body of believers. They are presented to the congregation and openly confess their trust in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior of sinners, as he is offered in the Gospel. Listen closely to the five questions of membership.

They beautifully summarize key points of Christian faith and discipleship. And be sure to welcome these brothers and sisters, heartily. Matthew Henry once said: Preparing for Public Worship. If you were told that you were to be given the privilege of having a personal audience with the President of the United States, you would prepare for it ahead of time. All of our musicians should support, encourage, and enable the song of the people.

Rediscover the joy and simplicity of singing with little or no musical accompaniment. As worship leaders, we must consistently remind ourselves that our musicianship, creative musical arrangements, or multi-sensory experiences are not the goal. Humbly guiding our people to actively participate is our calling. In his preface to his hymnal Select Hymns: They are just as applicable today as they were the day they were written.

Sing praises to God, sing praises! There have been several occasions when I have stopped singing in order to listen. On almost all of those occasions, the sound of our church family singing brought me to tears. Not because they are great polished individual singers, but because we sing corporately to a great God. As their shepherd, I know that the men and women around me are singing to God while they are struggling in their marriages, fighting cancer, and feeling the uncertainty of job loss.

Our worship does not only have a vertical aspect as we lift our voices to God, it has a horizontal aspect as we sing for one another. I believe this is what Paul had in mind when he admonished the Ephesians;. In this sense, we might even say the loudest sound in a room should be the congregation. In Christ, we are one body.