Chapter 1: The Dynamics of Christian Worship

1.1 Christian worship

1.1.1     An Introduction

The core of worship is God acting to give God's life to humankind and to bring humankind to partake of that life. Christian worship involves God's self-revelation and human response enabled by God. At the centre of both is Jesus Christ who reveals God to us and through whom we make our response.

1.1.2     God's initiative and human response

i. God discloses and communicates God's own being to humankind. In doing this God takes the initiative in creation and covenant, in nurturing and transforming, in calling to repentance and in offering forgiveness.

ii. God addresses people through Jesus Christ and stirs people to respond. In Jesus Christ, God entered fully into the human condition in an act of self-revelation, redemption, and forgiveness. Entering the brokenness of the world, God in Jesus Christ atoned for sin and restored human life. By so entering the created world God affirmed time and space, matter and human life as instruments for knowing and praising their Creator.

iii. The Spirit of God brings people to an awareness of God and God's grace and claim upon their lives. The Spirit moves them to respond by calling upon God, by remembering and proclaiming God's acts of self-revelation in word and deed, and by committing their lives to God's reign in the world.

iv. Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honour, glory and power to the triune God. In worship the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they respond to God's claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, people are transformed and renewed. In worship the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God's service in the world.

1.1.3 Jesus Christ

i. Complete human response

Jesus of Nazareth offered the complete human response to God and revealed the form and purpose of life. Jesus' life discloses the character of authentic Christian worship.

ii. The living God in common life

Jesus Christ is the living God present in common life. The One who is proclaimed in the witness of faith is

a. the Word of God spoken in creation.
b. the Word of God promising and commanding throughout covenant history,
c. the Word of God

i. who became flesh and dwelt among us,
ii. who was crucified and raised in power,
iii. who will return in triumph to judge and reign.

1.1.4 Jesus Christ in word and sacrament

Scripture - the written witness to the Word, preaching - the spoken witness to the Word, and the Sacraments - the enacted and sealed witness to the Word, all bear testimony to Jesus Christ, the living Word. Through Scripture, proclamation, and Sacraments, God in Christ is present by the Holy Spirit acting to transform, empower, and sustain human lives. In Christian worship the people of God

i. hear the Word proclaimed,
ii. receive the Word enacted in Sacrament,
iii. discover the Word in the world, and
iv. are sent to follow the Word into the world.

1.1.5 Response

i. Christian response to God in community

From the beginning God created women and men for community and called a people into covenant. Jesus called, commissioned, and promised to be present to a people gathered in his name. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, orders, and empowers the new community of the covenant. To each member, the Spirit gives gifts for building up the body of Christ and for equipping it for the work of ministry. A Christian's personal response to God is as part of the community of the people of God, the body of Christ, the fellowship of the Spirit.

ii. Response in worship and service

The people of God respond with words and deeds of praise and thanksgiving in acts of prayer, proclamation, remembrance, and offering. In the name of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian community worships and serves God

a. in shared experiences of life,
b. in personal discipleship and devotion,
c. in ministry to each other, and
d. in common ministry in the world.

All these are celebrated and focussed in the act of common worship.

1.2 The language of worship

1.2.1 The language of response to God

God brings all things into being by the Word. God offers the Word of grace, and people respond to that divine initiative through the language of worship. In humility, they call God by name, invoke God's presence, speak with God in prayer, and stand before God in silence and contemplation. They bow before God, lift hands and voices in praise, sing, make music, and dance. Heart, soul, strength, and mind, with one accord, join in the language, drama, simplicity and ritual of worship.

1.2.2 Symbolic language

When people respond to God and communicate to each other their experiences of God, they use symbolic means, for God transcends creation and cannot be reduced to anything within it. No human symbols are adequate to comprehend the fullness of God, and none is identical to the reality of God. Yet the symbols human beings use can be adequate for understanding, sharing, and responding to God's gracious activity in the world since God has chosen to communicate in ways people can understand.

i. through the created order,

ii. in the events of covenant history, and

iii. most fully in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

Symbols spoken or acted are authentic and appropriate for Christian worship to the extent that they are faithful to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

1.2.3     Old Testament Symbols

As the people of God worshipped the Holy One, they used symbols out of human experience, speaking of God as creator, covenant-maker, liberator, judge, redeemer, shepherd, comforter, sovereign, begetter, bearer. From the world of nature they ascribed to God the character of rock, well-spring, fire, eagle, hen, lion, or light. Their worship was also filled with the language of symbolic action: fasting and feasting, rejoicing and wailing, marching and resting, dancing and clapping hands, purifying and dedicating, circumcising and anointing, burnt offerings and sin offerings, making music and singing to the Lord.

1.2.4 New Testament symbols

i. Gospel Symbols

Jesus used Old Testament symbols and images to speak to and about God. He participated in the symbolic actions of Israel's worship. In many cases, he personalised and gave new depth to the familiar symbols for God, especially as in his intimate use of Abba, Father. He spoke of himself in terms of many Old Testament symbols and intensified their meanings. He brought new meaning to current religious practices like almsgiving, baptism, and breaking bread. In daily life, Jesus took ordinary acts of human compassion - healing the sick, feeding the hungry, washing feet - and used them as ways of revealing God.

ii. Christ the focus of new symbols

As the Risen Christ, Jesus became the focus of new symbols. The New Testament writers often used Old Testament symbolic language for the new reality as they sought to communicate the good news, describing Christ as the second Adam and as the Lamb of God. They used new symbolic language appropriate to their culture as well: the eternal Word, the firstborn of all creation, our peace who has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. In hymns and other forms of praise Jesus Christ was glorified as the one who reveals all that God is to the world.

1.2.5 Authentic and Appropriate Language

The Church in every culture through the ages has used and adapted biblical symbols, images, stories, and words in worship. The historical and cultural use of language is authentic when it reflects the biblical witness to God in Jesus Christ. Language is appropriate when a worshipping community can claim it as its own when offering praise and thanksgiving to God. Appropriate language by its nature

a. is more expressive than rationalistic,

b. builds up and persuades as well as informs and describes,

c. creates ardour as well as order,

d. is the utterance of the whole community of faith as well as the devotion of individuals.

The Church is free to be innovative in seeking appropriate language for worship.

i. Inclusive Language

Since the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is a family of peoples united in Jesus Christ, appropriate language for its worship should display the rich variety of these peoples. In worship that is faithful to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the forms, actions, languages, and settings of worship will include the expression of diverse cultures represented in the worshipping communities in the Church and affirm emerging needs and identities of believers.

ii. Diverse Language

The Church shall strive in its worship to use language about God which is intentionally as diverse and varied as the Bible and our theological traditions. The Church is committed to using language in such a way that all members of the community of faith may recognise themselves to be included, addressed, and equally cherished before God. Seeking to bear witness to the whole world, the Church shall use language which is faithful to biblical truth and which does not exclude people because of gender, colour, or other circumstance in life.

1.3 Time, Space, and Matter

1.3.1     Time

i. Sabbath, Lord's Day

Christians may worship at any time, for all time has been hallowed by God. The covenant community worshipped daily. In the Old Testament the Sabbath was understood as a day totally set aside and offered to the Lord. In the New Testament, believers observed the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, as the time when the people of the new covenant gathered to worship God in Jesus Christ. They came to speak of this as the Lord's Day.

From earliest times, the Church has gathered on the Lord's Day for the proclamation and exposition of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments. The Reformed tradition has emphasised the importance of the Lord's Day as a time for hearing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments in the expectation of encountering the risen Lord, and for responding in prayer and service.

ii. Daily Worship

In Israel's worship, daily hours were set aside for sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Even after the loss of the Temple, morning, noon, and evening were established times for prayer. Jesus set aside regular times for prayer, and the believing community gathered daily for prayer in the Temple, in an upper room, and in their homes. New Testament writers exhorted the Church to pray without ceasing. Through the ages, the Church has maintained special hours for daily prayer, historically known as the daily office.

The Reformed tradition adapted the pattern of the daily office, to provide an occasion not only for prayer but also for the public reading and expounding of Scripture. One modern adaptation of this is the pattern of daily prayer in family and personal devotion, which are encouraged as a part of the regular discipline of the Christian life.

iii. Church Year

In the Old Testament, people observed seasons of fasting and feasting as occasions for festival worship of God. Jesus kept these festivals. For the Church in the New Testament, the festivals were transformed in meaning and purpose by Jesus' life and teaching, his death and resurrection, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return give meaning to the seasons which order the annual rhythm of worship and guide the selection of lessons to be read and proclaimed in the life of the Church.

1.3.2      Space

i. Old Testament

Christians may worship in any place for God is present in all space. The Old Testament tells us God met with people in many different places. Yet particular locations became recognised as places where people had special encounters with God, so they arranged space in such a way as to remember and enhance that meeting. Whether the stone altars of the patriarchs, the Tent of Meeting for the wandering people of God, the Temple of the Kingdom in Jerusalem, or the house-synagogue worship of the Dispersion, each place was ordered to invite and express God's presence.

ii. Jesus

Jesus' life reflects the covenant community's understanding of places of worship. He regularly worshipped in the synagogue and in the Temple, in the wilderness and on the hillsides of Galilee. Jesus especially disclaimed the notion that God could be confined in any one place.

iii. Early Church

Because the identifying reality of Christian worship was neither the place nor the space but the presence of God, the early Christians could worship in the Temple, in synagogues, in homes, in catacombs, and in prisons. Wherever Christ was present among them in the interpretation of the Word and the breaking of the bread, that space was hallowed. Yet the Church began to set aside special places for gathering in the presence of the Risen Christ and responding in praise and service. When the Church gathers, it is not the particular place, but the presence of the risen Lord in the midst of the community which marks the reality of worship.

iv. Arrangement of Space

When a place is set aside for worship it should facilitate accessibility and ease of gathering, should generate a sense of community, and should open people to reverence before God. It should include a place for the reading of Scripture and the preaching and exposition of the Word. It should provide for the celebration and proper administration of the Sacraments, with a font or pool for Baptism and a table suitable for the people's celebration of the Lord's Supper. The arrangement of space should visibly express the integral relation between Word and Sacrament and their centrality in Christian worship.

1.3.3     Matter

i. Old Testament

God brought into being the material universe and saw that it was good. The covenant community understood that the material world reflects the glory of God. They also came to see that material realities can be used for expressing suitable praise and thanksgiving to God. Ark, showbread, woven and embroidered linen, basins, oil, lights, musical instruments, grain, fruit, and animals all became expressions of the community's worship of God. The prophets warned, however, against offering the material as a substitute for offering the self to God.

ii. Jesus

In Christ the Word became flesh, and God hallowed human reality. Jesus presented himself as a living sacrifice. In his ministry, he used common things like nets, fish, baskets, jars, ointment, clay, towel and basin, water, bread, and wine. Working in and through these material things, he blessed and healed people, reconciled and bound them into community, and exhibited the grace, power, and presence of the Kingdom of God.

iii. Sacraments

The early Church, following Jesus, took three primary material elements of life:

water, bread, and wine -

to become basic symbols of God's self-giving and of the response of offering life to God as Jesus had offered his life. Being washed with the water of Baptism, Christians signified the receiving of new life in Christ and the presentation of their bodies to be living sacrifices to God. Eating bread and drinking wine Christians received the sustaining presence of Christ, remembered God's covenant promise, and pledged their obedience anew.

The Reformed tradition understands Baptism and the Lord's Supper to be Sacraments, instituted by God and commended by Christ. Sacraments are signs of the real presence and power of Christ, symbols of God's action. Through the Sacraments, God seals believers in redemption, renews their identity as the people of God, and marks them for service.

iv Use of Material in Worship

The Church acknowledges that the lives of Christians and all they have belong to the Creator and are to be offered to God in worship. As sign and symbol of this self-offering, the people of God present their creations and material possessions to God. The richness of colour, texture, form, sound, and motion is brought into the act of worship.

The Reformed heritage calls upon people to bring to worship material offerings which in their simplicity of form and function direct attention to what God has done and to the claim that God makes upon human life. The people of God respond through creative expressions in architecture, furnishings, vestments, music, drama, language, and movement. When these artistic creations awaken us to God's presence, they are appropriate for worship. They are inappropriate when they call attention to themselves, or are present for their beauty as an end in itself. Artistic expressions should evoke, edify, enhance, and expand worshippers' consciousness of the reality and grace of God.

v. Conclusion

All time, all space, all matter are created by God and have been hallowed by Jesus Christ. Christian worship, at particular times, in special places, with the use of God's material gifts, should lead the Church into the life of the world to participate in God's purpose to redeem time, to sanctify space, and to transform material reality for the glory of God.

1.4 Responsibility and Accountability for Worship

1.4.1     Introduction

In worship, the Church is to remember both its liberty in Christ and the biblical command to do all things in an orderly way. While Christian worship need not follow prescribed forms, careless or disorderly worship is both an offence to God and a stumbling block to the people. Those responsible for worship are to be guided by the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, the historical experience of the Church universal, the Reformed tradition, the subordinate standards of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, the needs and particular circumstances of the worshipping community as well as the provisions of the Book of Order and this Directory.

1.4.2     Review and Oversight

To ensure that these guiding principles are being followed, the Presbytery at the time of visitation, should discuss with the Session or Parish Council the quality of worship, the standards governing it, and the fruit it is bearing in the life of God's people as they proclaim the gospel and communicate its joy and justice.

1.4.3     Who May Participate and Lead in Worship

In Jesus Christ, the Church is a royal priesthood in which worship is the work of everyone. The people of God are called to participate in the common ministry of worship. No one shall be excluded from participation or leadership in public worship in the Lord's house on the grounds of race, colour, class, age, gender, or disability. Some by gifts and training may be called to particular acts of leadership in worship. It is appropriate to encourage all who have these abilities to assist in leading worship. It is appropriate for people to work cooperatively in preparing services of worship using liturgy groups or preaching teams.

1.4.4     Session/Parish Council

In a parish, the Session/Parish Council is to provide for worship and shall encourage the people to participate fully and regularly in it. The Session/Parish Council shall make provision for the regular

i. preaching of the Word,

ii. celebration of the Sacraments,

iii. corporate prayer, and

iv. offering of praise to God in song.

The Session/Parish Council has authority and responsibility

v. to oversee all public worship in the life of the parish, and

vi. to determine occasions, days, times, and places for worship.

It is responsible

vii. for the space where worship is conducted, including its arrangement and furnishings,

viii. for the use of special appointments such as flowers, candles, banners, and other objects of art,

ix. for the overall programme of music and other arts in the church,

x. for those who lead worship through music, drama, dance, and other arts.

xi. for the selection of hymnals, song books, service books, Bibles, and other materials for the use of the congregation in public worship in consultation with the minister and musicians.

It is appropriate that in the ongoing task of reforming worship, ministers and Sessions/Parish Councils work together, consulting regularly.

1.4.5     The Minister

The minister has certain responsibilities which are not subject to the authority of the Session/Parish Council. The minister is responsible for the actual conduct of worship and in a particular service of worship for:

i. the selection of Scripture lessons to be read,

ii. the preparation and preaching of the sermon or exposition of the Word,

iii. the prayers offered on behalf of the people and those prepared for the use of the people in worship,

iv. the music to be sung or offered,

v. the use of drama, dance, and other art forms.

The minister may confer with a worship committee, the Session/Parish Council, or others in planning services of worship. Where there is a choir director or other musical leader, the minister and that person will confer to ensure that anthems and other musical offerings are appropriate for the particular service. The Session/Parish Council should see that these conferences take place appropriately and on a regular basis.

The sequence and proportion of the elements of worship are the responsibility of the minister who should consult with the Session/Parish Council.

1.4.6 Session/Parish Council Responsibility for Education

In the exercise of its responsibility to encourage the participation of its people in worship, the Session/Parish Council should provide for education in Christian worship by means appropriate to the age, interests, and circumstances of the members of the congregation. It shall also provide for the regular study of this directory in the education of church office bearers.

1.4.7 Accountability to Presbytery

In fulfilling their responsibilities for worship, ministers and Sessions/Parish Councils are accountable to Presbytery.

1.4.8 Presbytery Responsibility for Education

In the exercise of their responsibility to provide encouragement, guidance, and resources in worship to member churches, Presbyteries should arrange appropriate educational events.