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Why we gather

Mike Cosper » Worship Church Church Leadership Planning Culture

Worship is about remembering God’s story in the past, present, and future.

A corporate gathering is a dialogue between God’s people and God’s word, a chance to remember the story they’re a part of, renew their commitments, and be sent once again into his world. Here are four rhythms that illustrate this dialogue during worship gatherings:

 

Experience the Gospel

Remembering the Story

Actions in liturgy

"God is holy" Creation Adoration
"We are sinners" Fall Confession and/or lament
"Jesus saves us" Redemption Assurance, the peace prayers of thanksgiving, and petition instruction
"Jesus sends us" Consumation Communion commitment/charge blessing

 

This is the heart of the church’s liturgy, a word that has gathered a lot of buzz, much of which I think is unhelpful. “Liturgy” gets spoken in tense whispers, held out as sort of mystical code, a way to ensure transcendence or to root us to tradition. But frankly, these are all horrible reasons to embrace liturgy.

These traditions were formed out of a pastoral desire to see the church shaped by the gospel, immersing them in the story every week, enabling the body to remember who God is, what he’s done in Christ, and what he promises about our future.

Worship is remembering

If there’s one thing that’s clear about the people of God, it’s this: we are a forgetful bunch. Adam and Eve forgot God even in the midst of Paradise. The patriarchs forgot him as they drank, whored, and lied their way toward their destinies. Israel forgot him as soon as the mud from the passage through the Red Sea dried upon their sandals. We forget again and again.

That’s why one of the most oft-repeated commands in the Bible can be summed up with one word: remember. Over and over, to the patriarchs, to Israel, and to the church, we’re told, “Remember.” Even the Ten Commandments are prefaced by a reminder: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”

“Remember your story,” God says. “Remember what I did. Now hear my commands.”

Connecting past, present, and future

When God calls us to remember, he connects us to past and future in a single thought. We’re connected to an entire legacy of faith, stretching from the garden to the New Jerusalem, and connecting us to his people throughout that history. God’s promises are rooted in our heritage of faith and anticipate their fulfillment, and that anticipation is a powerful gift for those who are suffering, struggling, and stumbling along their way.

Remembrance is at the heart of New Testament worship. Where before God’s people gathered primarily to be with God at the Temple, we now gather primarily to be with God’s people and to remember him. We gather to let his word dwell richly among us (Col. 3:16). We gather to encourage one another as “the Day” approaches (Heb. 10:25). And we gather, as theologian David Peterson says in Engaging with God, to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) —a command more about shared, congregational confession of the gospel than bold confrontation between two people (as the first is commonly treated).

Telling the story

If you look at almost any long-standing church tradition, you’ll see that their gatherings had just this intention—the gathering itself tells a story. It begins with God gathering his people, to which the people respond with praise and adoration. Seeing God in the Scriptures almost always results in a cry for mercy, and so the church responds to their own praise with a cry of confession or a lament over the sin in the world. To this, the Scriptures reply with an assurance that, in Christ, our sins are forgiven. We are nurtured by his word, and sent again out on mission. 

 


 

For more on the gospel and worship, check out Mike Cosper's new book, Rhythmns of Grace.


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