The Antecedent To Worship

We all agree there should be truth in worship. But shouldn’t worship also be in truth? There’s a big difference between having truth in worship and worshipping in truth. Having truth in worship means you got some Bible in there. But worshiping in truth means the whole thing is by the Book. So the Bible commands us to worship acceptably (Heb 12). When the Bible commands acceptably, the Bible means the Bible. Where else would the Bible appeal the command than itself?

And there is order in Hebrews 12’s exposition of worship. We are called to offer “acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Acceptable means worship accordingly. Reverence and awe means formality. Consuming fire means you should smell the charred remains of Nadab and Abihu in the smoke and tremble before your God asking only one question, “Has God commanded this worship?”

God has not commanded entertainment with the amp turned up to eleven. Worship should not be improvised or extemporized by what feels right. In biblical worship, God takes center stage, speaks, and then we respond. It’s greater than our time, above culture, and actually valuable because it’s not of this world. Worship is eternal, long-planed, and organized before the foundations of the earth. And the church has called its way in worship “liturgy.”

We are not liturgical because we like “old-fashioned” as in one hundred years ago but “old-fashioned” as in 2,000 and 5,000 years ago. We are liturgical because of Scripture. Liturgy is biblical because the Bible is liturgical.
Take 2 Samuel 7 for example. It is liturgical. God spoke first and then David responded.

2 Samuel 7:18: Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”

The narrator reminds us that David was king, which is important in light of the fact that he sat before the Lord. This sitting was sacramental. He sat before the ark. The king was in the holy of holies, which according to the Torah was a no-no. Only priests were able to sit here. But David had already played a priest when he led the liturgical procession of the ark back to Israel, when he wore the ephod, the priestly robe, and conducted the ceremony. Now he sits in the priestly place. He was a king-priest. This was a worship service.

In 2 Samuel 7:1–17, Yahweh made a covenant with David. Yahweh declared his grace to David. Yahweh proclaimed his promises to David. Yahweh preached the gospel to David. And we get to see David’s response. We get to see how a man after God’s own heart responds in worship. And his movements, responses, are invaluable for liturgical instruction.
As soon as I say liturgical instruction, the Enlightenment rolls its eyes as it mutters under its breath “dead orthodoxy.” We know better now. We know that worship began casually in the prayer closet doing our own thing. The Dark Ages muddied worship with its dull rites. I learned well in seminary to never trust the enlightenment’s reading of history or Scripture (HT Dr. Scott Clark). History proves that Jesus practiced a liturgical tradition. And the early church followed that tradition. We also know you cannot escape liturgy or its rites. You can only invent your own, even if it’s casual and careless. Then yours is the liturgy of casual and careless, which is hardly reverent or awe-inspiring, much less decent or in order.

David’s liturgical instruction begins with humility. He approached God on his knees, “Who am I, O Lord?” Liturgy must place us humbly before our God. David began with a confession of unworthiness, helplessness, and nothingness. He wasn’t self-loathing. It’s liturgical. We must come before the Lord, and begin worship, with heads bowed in humble reverence and awe.

The liturgy must direct our attention to the Holy, Holy, Holy. It does so by directing attention away from us. We do have a place in worship, but notice with David that he doesn’t really say much about himself other than, “who am I to deserve all this?” David’s liturgical gaze was set above. We must follow!

2 Samuel 7:19: And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God!

The small thing was God’s salvation. This was David’s gratitude. Worship is God’s act of grace and our response of gratitude. David acknowledged that he was helpless by focusing on God’s deliverance. He knew God was with him, provided for him, redeemed, and blessed him. Because God said so and he experienced it. The liturgy must show us how we are delivered from all our sins and misery. The liturgy must follow the drama of salvation. So the liturgy must flow from law to gospel. We come into his courts with thanksgiving and we must see the greatness of our sins and misery. We then confess our sins. Then we hear how we are set free from all our sins and misery in the absolution. And the result is gratitude, just like David’s.

2 Samuel 7:22: Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

I prefer a liturgy structured: gospel, law, gospel. To begin and end with the gospel secures me in my only comfort in life and in death. Just like David’s liturgy.

2 Samuel 7:23–24: And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God.

In worship, David repeated God’s promises. He prayed with God’s very own Word. He spoke the gospel back to God. The logic of David’s liturgical instruction is the Word of God.

Perhaps liturgy is nothing but an exposition of Scripture. Perhaps the liturgy is not even the fulfillment of worship. It’s the antecedent that allows us to see our need. The liturgy is the ordering of our praise according to God’s Word. The liturgy is the ordering of our praise according to God’s Word. So that we enter through the liturgy to Mount Zion. It’s the antecedent that allows us to see our Deliverer. Every movement of the liturgy must lead us to Christ so that we might be baptized by the pure water of the Word. The antecedent to worship is the liturgy for it allows the Word to precede and proceed without the opinion or commandments of man. A biblical liturgy keeps worship in the domain of sola scriptura.

2 Samuel 7 was a covenant ceremony. God made a covenant with David. And through the preaching of the Word, God renews that covenant every Lord’s Day with us. Worship is a covenant renewal service. So the Word is proclaimed that God’s name might be hallowed by us. The Word is preached that his kingdom will come. When the Word is properly proclaimed, death is swallowed up in Christ’s victory and we have new life, no more condemnation, no more separation, only love! We love because he first loved us. A proper liturgy allows us to receive the greatest performance ever—the blood that speaks a better Word than the blood of Abel. Here’s my application, turn the gospel up to eleven every Lord’s Day. And for that, you will need a proper biblical liturgy.

© Jared Beaird. All Rights Reserved.

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  • Jared Beaird
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    Rev. Jared W. Beaird is the pastor Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Missoula, MT. He was baptized in the Southern Baptist church, served in the US Marine Corps, and attended Moody Bible Institute where he learned, wrestled with, and succumbed to the doctrines of grace. Later he earned his MDiv from Westminster Seminary California. He is married to Liz, and together with their three children they enjoy the delights of the Pacific Northwest.

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3 comments

  1. Fantastic post, Dr. Clark. This one deserves to be printed off, framed, and mounted on the wall. Far too many times, what is said, AND ESPECIALLY SUNG, inside the church building is targeted toward a Jesus that lives around the block and is someone’s boyfriend or even their slightly-effeminate lover. Plus, as an added benefit, this post somewhat touches up against the whole Particular Baptist unscripted and improvised worship style – where the only consistent semblance of order is the precision present in publicly assigning who should bring what to each week’s potluck.

    From the very, very beginning of time, God seemed to be working to bring order to chaos and where might that be more important than in worship? Liturgical worship allows for not only repeating God’s own words back to him but also some of the elements of his very nature.

  2. Speaking of the liturgy or order of service, I grew up in confessional Lutheran churches where the order of service always placed the Lord’s Supper AFTER the various parts of the liturgy were spoken, hymns sung, the creed was recited, AND after the sermon was preached. What I am seeing in “evangelical” congregations is the singing of various hymns, then the distribution of the communion elements, various announcements, and then the sermon. I’ve always felt that Lord’s Supper is more appropriately placed after a sermon preached on law and gospel so the worshiper had a correct understanding of where he/she belongs in relation to God. Is this an order of service that should be practiced in all congregations? Or does it make a difference?

    • The ancient Christian practice was to administer the Lord’s Supper after the administration of the Word. Indeed, catechumens and others were excluded from that part of the service. The Reformed practice has always been to administer communion after the liturgy of the Word.

      That the evangelicals are goofing around with the holy sacraments should surprise no one.

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