The Fundamental Question – Some Choruses, a Pep-talk, and an Offering, part 20 of 20

Theologians call the gathering of the church in heaven “triumphant” and the gathering of the church on earth “militant”—the label indicating her state; the congregation in heaven rests, the congregation on earth works. The division is descriptive but it can also confuse; leading some to think that our earthly worship is distinct, even separate from the worship of heaven. But there is only one church and when we worship down here, we really are joining a worship service already in progress up there.

Let’s develop this further. Jonathan Edwards said long ago: “Let it be considered that the church on earth is the same society with those saints who are praising God in heaven. There is not one church of Christ in heaven and another here upon earth.”1 There is only one but the congregation in heaven started its service long before; the angels beginning to worship and sing when the “Call to Worship” went forth the first day of creation. The heavenly congregation grows each time God transfers a saint’s membership from here to there. But we must not forget; it is our Sunday morning worship that joins theirs.

This isn’t some esoteric conversation. It has implications. The congregation meeting around the Throne has in attendance the patriarchs, prophets, saints, and angels. They see God face to face. When a few highly favored from earth’s congregation viewed heavens, as Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and John (Revelation 1) did, they collapse as though dead. There must be some pretty reverent worshiping going on in heaven’s church—and it’s been going on for some time.

Why then the need for this generation of believers to be so driven to change or contemporize worship down here? Shouldn’t change start at the top—literally? There is so little appreciation or attachment to the past. The World War II generation is called the “greatest generation”; we come across as thinking we are the “smartest and most spiritually mature generation.” We’ve become the worship leader and not the worship follower; and when it comes to worship, following is better. We are to follow the Bible and it generally is a good idea to follow the church and the saints who preceded us; diverting course only with biblical warrant.

When I began writing on this topic last October, I had envisioned a three or four-part post—certainly not twenty. Toes have been stepped on but not on purpose. It’s just that change seems to be the church’s new default mode—a lot of “That’s sounds great, let’s try it this Sunday” going on whereas biblical wisdom and discernment says otherwise.

We have been given worship instructions—instructions followed for centuries. But for the past generation, new ones are being written every few years. Where is it headed? I wonder if at some point the church will have its “Ezra moment”—Nehemiah 8 and 9 reporting that after hearing God’s Word, God’s people weep and confessed their failure to worship God as He had instructed (9:3). Afterward, they went back to the basics. Is it time for us to do the same?

Word and Sacrament ministry isn’t flashy or edgy, but it is weighty and substantive; and most importantly, it is prescribed. In an age where pop culture has invaded the church, its fingerprints all over Sunday morning’s “choruses, pep-talk, and offering”; isn’t it time to take a prayerful step back and ask again the most fundamental question: “How does God want to be worshiped?”

Pastor Rich Hamlin
March 24, 2011


1 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (London: Paternsoter-Row, 1839), 916.

1 comment

  1. And that prescription is making me well in soul. I was taken with the Liturgy when we began attending ERC. I was being taught how to worship God in Church, even though I’ve been going to Church for over 30 years. It required focus, but Sunday by Sunday, month by month, the Means of Grace was ministering to my soul.

    Recently, while recovering from pneumonia, Chris Nyland made a CD of the entire Service. As I listened, the Call to Worship called; the prayers were being said in current time; the hymns were timeless and complemented the service; the sermon taught God’s Word; the Table was a reminder of what happened at the Cross and the Marriage Supper to come.

    I was comforted by the familiarity, and fed by the content. Christ ministers to the Body by the Means of Grace, which is practiced at our Church. Thank you, Rich and the leadership, for being faithful to true worship. It never grows old. No matter where I am personally, it feeds me, so that I can go another week. After the Benediction, I often say, “I know I’ve been to Church!”

    Eileen Adkins

“Amending the Soil” Christian Education Conference

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