The musical portion of our Sunday morning worship service tends to be based around one or two themes - something related to the sermon text, the trials or celebrations in the life of the church, or special occasions such as Christmas and Easter. At election time, I recall there being more than the usual number of references to Psalm 2.
What our church has not done as a matter of ordinary course, is to structure our songs and readings in a manner that reflects the narrative structure of redemption, though this has, in fact, been the practice of many denominations throughout church history.
The Narrative of Redemption
What do I mean by that? In short: (1) We are called and invited to worship God, coming into his courts with praise; (2) We offer songs of adoration to our holy God; (3) This understanding of God's holiness leads us to a realization of our unholiness and to confession; (4) Then we are assured of the pardon for our sins that all who are in Christ have received; (5) Finally, we respond to this truth by offering thanks, and (6) we receive a charge to live lives of glad discipleship.
Truth Sung Deep
There are several reasons why it can be beneficial to compress the story of redemption into forty minutes of songs and readings. It shows us God's plan of salvation telescopically, not microscopically; narratively, not systematically; and implants in our and our children's hearts an understanding of the whole of the gospel, the whole of Christ, the whole of, in fact, history. And because this pattern is presented to us in song and ceremony, it resides in our hearts as something almost like second nature. “Why of course our response to God's holiness is to fall as dead men on our faces and plead for mercy,” your children say to you. “Why of course we are then pardoned from our sin. Of course we are charged to walk in the spirit of Christ as the coda of all this.” If you ask them why that is so, they may not be able to answer you any more than they can tell you why they are right-handed instead of left. For them, it couldn't be otherwise, even if they wanted it to be.
There are, naturally, several reasons not to do this every Sunday, but one of the great benefits of meeting together every week is that we can structure our Sunday services in different ways, one week emphasizing one thing, another week emphasizing another. We seek to worship God according to his Word, not according to our habit.
An Addition Not a Subtraction
With that in mind, this Sunday (and, possibly, the first Sunday of each month, going forward), we will follow this model: Invitation, Adoration, Confession, Assurance, Thanksgiving, and Charge. And we will do so with both the songs and hymns we know well and readings from the historical church that we perhaps know less well. This is not a move toward the high church or a retreat from our commitment to having vibrant, Spirit-moving, spontaneous times of praise and mutual edification. There will be no robes, no more than the usual number of “thees” and “thous”, and the prophecy mic, as always, will be open for business.