What would you think if you went to your church Sunday morning and a child’s life was sacrificed as part of the worship? What would you think if you went to church this Sunday and discovered that a religious sexual orgy was to take the place of the sermon?
What you should think and know is that such changes would mean that your church no longer worships the same God. The worship of any people will reflect the God they worship. If the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, then it follows that her God is God and there is no other, that her God is holy, that her God has authoritatively spoken, and that her God is one. If that is who God is, and if that is what His Church is, then it must first and foremost be expressed visibly in her worship. If the worship of the local body is not declaring that there is but one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, then she is betraying her God and denying her birthright.
It is time for the lackadaisical and man-centered churches of our culture that so easily throw about the labels “Christian” and “evangelical” to realize that their worship must conform to the character of the Trinitarian God. Any substitute is merely using the worship forms of idolatry to approach a God who will not suffer desecration.
Let’s take a moment to walk through the different aspects of the worship of our local churches and understand how each of those features should proclaim that we are a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
I love the call to worship. We are being called to be a holy people, a people coming apart from the world to worship. We are holy, set apart by baptism from the world for His service. The world does not sing the “Doxology,” the “Gloria Patri,” or the “Sanctus.” At the very beginning as we take part in, or respond to, the call to worship, we are declaring that we as the Church are a royal and holy priesthood. As His priests, we are offering our worship (every part of our worship) as a holy sacrifice to Him.
We sing the great hymns of the faith, whether they are hymns of praise, prayer, repentance, thanksgiving, or avowal. As we do so, we are proclaiming God to be the one, holy God who has spoken authoritatively, and who has baptized and ordained people from every race, tongue, and nation to be His. That means the content of our hymns matters. Sincere hearts mean nothing to God when they give utterance to thoughts and words that deny or compromise His character.
As we carefully attend to His Word, we are standing on the same foundation as the prophets and apostles. We are not apostles. We are not of a biological line descending from the apostles. We are the spiritual descendants of the apostles as we stand on their authority, the infallible and inerrant Word of the living God. As we stand and say the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, we follow in their footsteps. As we confess, we need to ask God to arouse our emotions. We are saying the very words that were on the lips of martyrs as they died, not ashamed of the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The proclamation of His Word and the creedal declarations are the plumb lines which separate His Church from the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarians.
It is wonderful when we have diversity in race and culture worshiping in the same room. However, we must remember that diversity in the same sanctuary is not the truest expression of our catholicity. The catholicity of the Church is expressed not mainly in our relationships with each other, but it is expressed in our gathering to worship the Trinitarian God who is one. All of His Church worships the same God and Father, and all are indwelt by the same Spirit, who bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, brothers of Christ, and brothers with each other. Imagine the picture that is seen from heaven each Lord’s Day when people from every race, language, and nation gather before this one God to worship. The sentence I have just written brings to our minds one passage over all others: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth (Rev. 5:9–10).’” That is the song of heaven. Our worship is a prelude and preview to that hymn sung and seen around the globe every Lord’s Day.
Dear reader, do you understand that every aspect of our worship — our worship in our local church this Sunday — should proclaim that we are a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. This is our calling, our duty, and our joy. It is not easy; it cannot be approached casually as if it did not matter. It requires study and thought, not only by those who plan the specifics of the worship, but also by the worshipers themselves. It requires teaching so that this precious heritage continues in the next generation. It requires constant attention that we might grow in our understanding of worship. Most importantly, it requires a heart filled and energized by the Holy Spirit so that we will not fall into the empty grave of dead orthodoxy.
By our worship, we are known to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.