The Divine Service of Covenant Renewal?
We refer to our Worship Service as “The Divine Service” because this reminds us of what Christian worship is all about. Above all else we are called together in order for God to serve us. That may sound odd or even a bit self-centered at first. We believe that is because too often today people are taught that worship is primarily (if not exclusively) something that we do for God.
This is only partly true and unfortunately it misses the most important part. We are called into the Lord’s presence and by faith we receive His good gifts. The Lord gives, and by faith we receive. We are given His forgiveness, His Word, His sacramental nourishment, His blessing as we depart (also called the “Benediction”), etc. Only after God acts first do we respond with grateful thanksgiving and praise. In other words, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The classical and historic Christian phrase “The Divine Service” preserves this important truth.
Our worship service is also described as a “Covenant Renewal.” This is to remind us that our relationship with God in Jesus Christ is covenantal. Thus, the phrase “covenant renewal” reminds us that God calls us into his presence on the Lord’s Day to reaffirm his love to us in Christ Jesus. As sinners, we enter God’s presence by faith, claiming not our own righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.
The phrase “Covenant Renewal” also teaches us that worship is not merely a time to remember what God has already done for us, but that in and through our worship, God is presently at work shaping and maturing us in Christ through forgiveness, instruction and nourishment.
Finally, since the Biblical idea of “covenant” ultimately describes the perfect interpersonal relations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, “Covenant Renewal” worship is robustly Trinitarian. For in worship we enter into the Father’s presence, in union with His Son Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our Liturgy Explained (Order of Worship)
God Calls Us to Worship Him
God Graciously Renews Us in Christ
God Instructs Us With His Word
God Meets and Feeds Us at His Table
God Blesses us and Sends Us Out
QUESTION: Why does the minister wear a robe?
ANSWER: Clothing & Calling: The Christian Church has historically robed its ministers. The robe, among other things, helps emphasize the office of the pastor and de-emphasize the personality of the man in the pulpit. The pastor is not the church’s CEO. He is not a businessman. Why should he be expected to dress like one? The minister’s robe reminds us of our duty to submit to the office, not the man, during worship. It also serves to remind the minister of the responsibilities for the office he bears. Interestingly, the removal of specific ministerial clothing is a rather recent event; coinciding with the rise of an “anti-authority” spirit in American popular culture in the 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s.
In the Bible, clothing and calling are often connected; a person’s calling or office – together with whatever authority is connected with the office – is often visually symbolized by the clothing the man wears (Lev. 8:1-36; Rev. 1:13; 4:4). This is still true in many professions we see every day. Whether it’s doctors, nurses, police officers, or even auto mechanics, numerous professions continue to “robe” themselves in clothing that publicly identifies their profession.
Symbolic Role: The teaching elder who leads the worship plays a symbolic role during the worship. When he leads the congregation in prayer before God, he symbolizes Christ leading the church in prayer before the Father. When he reads and preaches the Word, he symbolizes Christ, the husband, speaking to his bride. The robe is not meant to set him above the congregation, but to set him apart from them because of his unique office as pastor during the Lord’s Day worship service.
The robe helps remind the congregation that when the minister is preaching they are not to receive the sermon as “pious advice from good ol’ Tony or Nathan,” but to recognize the living voice of Christ given through the “gravelly” voice of the minister. The same principle holds true when the minister declares God’s forgiveness of sins, when he passes the bread and cup, and when he gives the benediction – symbolically, Christ himself is doing these things to you and for you.
(adapted from an essay by Rev. Jeff Meyers)
QUESTION: Why do we use written prayers and responsive readings?
ANSWER: Pre-composed prayers are Biblical. The historic church got the idea from the Bible, particularly the Psalms and the book of Revelation. The Old Testament is filled with examples of how the saints used set forms of prayer and confession. These kinds of prayers are a very valuable aid to worship. We don’t “naturally” know how to pray. Pre-composed prayers help train our minds to pray biblically. Good prayers (usually ones saturated with Biblical language) guide and assist us in composing our own prayers.
Prayers sung or said in unison manifest the unity of the church in prayer. We all pray together as the body of Christ, not just as a bunch of individuals.
Printed prayers ensure congregational participation. Worship is not something you come to watch, its something in which you participate.
Occasionally you might hear someone object to the use of pre-composed prayers because they can become “rote” or perhaps because they might “bind the conscience” of the believer. While it certainly is true that a pre-composed prayer could become rote or monotonous, they don’t have to be. Simply because something can be abused, isn’t in and of itself an argument for doing away with its proper use. While we don’t always use the same prayers each and every Lord’s Day, familiarity with certain prayers and readings (confessions of sin, creeds, Lord’s Prayer, etc.) especially assist the very young and very old among us in worship. Moreover, if the use of pre-composed prayers “binds the conscience” of the worshiper then so does any leading in prayer by another or even the singing of hymns, which usually are after all, simply pre-composed prayers set to music.
Responsive readings are Biblical. The historic Christian church as well as the church in the Old Testament worshiped using responsive, dialogue forms of speech and song. The parallel style found in nearly every Psalm existed for its responsive use in worship.
Through responsive readings the “conversational” nature of worship is reinforced. We respond to our Lord who is not silent, but speaks to His church through His Word.
Finally, through responsive readings we remain faithful to God’s Word, which teaches us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (Col. 3:16)
QUESTION: How often do you have communion and why?
ANSWER: While the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper has not been common in Protestant churches in the United States, many Reformed churches are beginning to move back to this practice. As elders of Redeemer, we believe it to be a biblical and preferred practice for the following reasons:
- THE PRACTICE OF THE FIRST CENTURY CHURCH. Although we don’t have any clear-cut command, the New Testament evidence does seem to point in the direction of regular, if not weekly communion, especially if one understands “the breaking of bread” to be a reference to the Lord’s Supper. (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-20; cf. 14:26) Please see some of the biblical reasoning on the back of this page
- EVIDENCE FROM CHURCH HISTORY. There are very clear and early (second century) allusions to the practice in the Didache and Justin Martyr’s The First Apology. While the history of the Church does not have the authority of God’s Word, it at least ought to interest us that the Christian community observed this practice, apparently without much discussion, so shortly after the time of the Apostles.
- CONSISTENCY WITH OUR USE OF OTHER ELEMENTS OF WORSHIP. Why should the Lord’s Supper be the only regular element of worship, which does not find a place in each Lord’s Day worship service? To be consistent, any argument against weekly communion would be an equally valid argument against weekly hymn singing, weekly preaching, prayer, offerings, etc…
- BRINGING US BACK TO BASICS. Regardless of the sermon text or topic, the congregation is always brought back to the fundamentals: the death and resurrection of Christ.
- APPEAL TO THE WHOLE MAN. Since the Lord’s Supper is the only element of worship that appeals to all five senses, its weekly observance helps to prevent an “intellectualizing” of the worship service. In a real sense, communion is like receiving a hug from God.
- OPPORTUNITY FOR COVENANT RENEWAL. The Lord’s Supper is the ideal means of meditating on God’s Word and renewing our faith and repentance so that we may serve the Lord in the upcoming week.
- PROVIDING ASSURANCE, PERSONALIZING THE GOSPEL. Every week we receive tangible and visible assurance that Christ died for me.
- IDENTIFICATION WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD. This Sacrament stresses the corporate dimension of the Church, thereby promoting unity and the restoration of broken relationships. Don’t we need this every week?
- CHURCH DISCIPLINE. One of the stages of discipline in many Reformed churches is suspension from the Lord’s Table. One of the purposes of this is to make the unrepentant sinner aware of his sin that he might be restored. But how effective can this be if the Lord’s Supper is not celebrated frequently? Even once a month would not seem to constitute effective suspension.
- NATURAL PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL TO UNBELIEVERS. By setting forth so plainly the work of Christ on the cross, and especially by fencing the table, any unbelievers present are called to faith and repentance. Weekly communion thus provides a natural and regular opportunity to present the claims of Christ to visitors. In a way, it is the Reformed “altar call”.
- SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT. Since the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, through faith it provides us with what we need to grow in grace. Thus, the frequent partaking of the bread and the cup for our spiritual nourishment is as necessary as the frequent partaking of food for our physical nourishment.
- REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. One of the problems with an infrequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper is that it tends to produce unrealistically high expectations as to what should “happen.” People expect something magical and exciting to happen at quarterly communion, but are often disappointed; they go away wondering what they’re missing and why they’re missing it. By celebrating the Lord’s Supper each week our expectations become realistically high; we look forward to and enjoy it much as we do prayer, preaching, singing, etc…
The following statement will appear in our bulletin:
The Lord’s Supper is observed every Lord’s Day as the climax of our worship service. We invite to the Lord’s Table all those who are baptized disciples of Jesus Christ, under the authority of Christ and His body, the Church. By eating the bread and drinking the cup with us as a visitor, you are acknowledging to our church that you are in covenant with God. You also acknowledge that you are a sinner, without hope except in the sovereign mercy of God, and that you are trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. If you have any doubts about your participation, please speak to one of the pastors or one of the elders after the service.
Some of the biblical reasoning behind weekly communion:
In his letter to the Corinthians, the subtext of Paul’s instructions on the proper celebration of communion is the assumption that the church observes the Supper when it gets together. That this is the subtext of the passage requires some careful attention to the passage and how Paul describes what the Corinthians are doing. What Paul seems to do is to write of gathering for church and gathering to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as though to say one is to say the other. That is, Paul interchanges phrases speaking of the church and communion as though they were speaking of the same thing.
1 Cor. 11:17-34 (ESV) But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.  For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,  for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.  When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.  For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.  So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—  if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Each description of the purpose for which the Corinthians “come together” refers to the same object — the gathering together of the church for worship. So close is the identification between coming together for church and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, that Paul calls the coming together for worship the coming together “to eat.” And he chastizes the church at Corinth, rebuking them because when they do come together, so corrupt is their practice, that “it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” The implication being, of course, that one of the main points of meeting together is, in fact, to eat the Lord’s supper: to say one is to mean the other.
Elsewhere Luke uses a phrase implying the same interchangability of purpose. In describing a gathering at Troas, Luke writes that “on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” (Acts 20.7). The reference to “breaking bread” would seem to be a reference to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Mt 26.26, 1 Co 11.24, Acts 2.41-42 46).
Note, then, how Luke describes the purpose of the Sunday meeting: they were “gathered together to break bread.” Of course other events were also present — Paul preached a lengthy sermon at the service. Yet the noted purpose of the church gathering together here is to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Just as Paul used phrases interchangeably in his letter to the Corinthians, so Luke seems to use the same phrases: To say that the Church gathers together on Sunday for a service is to say that the church gathers together to celebrate the Supper.
The same suggestion appears present in earlier passages in Acts, when Luke records the practice in the first days of the Church: “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. … [A]nd they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart…” (Acts 2.42,45-46).