Liturgy Series: Part 3 – The Call to Worship
We have come to "Part 3" in our liturgy series. If you missed Part 1 & Part 2 then click the hyper links in order to catch up. For those of you who have been tracking along with the series you'll notice that today is the first post on the liturgy that actually takes us inside the church building. Part 1 of this series served as an apologetic for even having this series and Part 2 looked at the broader liturgical nature of the liturgical calendar. Today we will take a closer look at what is often the first part in many church's liturgy: The Call to Worship.
While I said that this post will finally get us in the church building I did not say that we would start there. The call to worship does not begin in the church building; the call to worship begins wherever the "called out" are. Something I hope to highlight in later installments of this series (baptism & the Eucharist) is the fact that the people of God are a people who are "called out." The Greek word that is translated "church" in the New Testament is "ekklésia" which literally means "called out." The implication of this is that those people who God calls to be his people are a people who are called out of the kingdoms of this world and called into the Kingdom of God.
The "Call to Worship" serves as a weekly reminder to the people of God that they are a "called out people." In the same way that the liturgical calendar serves to shape the seasonal patterns of the people of God, so too does the Call to Worship serve to shape the weekly patterns of the people of God. But the Call to Worship does so much more. Placed within the context of a week (the weekly call to worship), our imaginations should immediately turn to the creation week. After the creation week God called man (Adam) to accomplish what theologians have called the "creational" or "cultural" mandate. In short, God called Adam to fulfill his calling to be human. Being the people of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, we are once again being called to be truly human each week we are called to worship. James K.A. Smith puts it well when he states the following in his book Desiring the Kingdom:
[The] call to worship is an echo of God’s word that called humanity into being (Gen. 1:26–27); the call of God that brought creation into existence is echoed in God’s call to worship that brings together a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And our calling as “new creatures” in Christ is a restatement of Adam and Eve’s calling: to be God’s image bearers to and for the world. (pg. 163)
Too often the sections of the Bible that speak of Christians being "called out" or not being "of the world" are interpreted as a call for Christians to be separated from the world. The reality, as Smith points out, is that Christians are being called out of the world in order to show the world what it is truly like to inhabit this world. The goal is not to escape but to inhabit the world in a new and better way, the way of Jesus.
Another point that Smith makes about the Call to Worship is that it serves as a constant reminder to the corporate nature of the people of God. Each week when the call to worship goes forth to rally the people of God they are called to a corporate gathering. Depending on the culture and society a Christian is living in, the previous week could serve an isolating time. The Call to Worship brings the believers together to respond to God's call. In a rather long quote Smith highlights the corporate and relational aspect of the Christian faith:
We are immediately reminded that worship is not a private affair; we have gathered as a people, as a congregation, and just as together we are dependent on our redeeming creator, so too are we dependent on one another. All the parts of a body are dependent upon other parts and organs in order for the individual parts (“me”) to function and flourish (1 Cor. 12:12-13). It is not only sin that makes us dependent upon others; our very finitude, as creatures, impels us to relationality because we need the gifts, talents, and resources of others. And such dependence is part of the very fiber of God’s good retain. Worship is a space of welcome because we are, at root, relational creatures called into relationship with the Creator, in order to flourish as a people who bear his image to and for the world. (pg. 169)
When Christianity is reduced to a private affair the individual members suffer. The reason is because God has made us to be finite and dependent beings. This is not a result of the fall but a built in aspect of our very being that is to be embraced. Furthermore, not only has God made us to be dependent upon Him, he has called us to be dependent on one another. John tells us that there should be no disconnect between out love for God and our love for our brother. In fact, John says that if we claim to love God but we hate our brother then we deceive ourselves (1 John 4:20).
When we are called to worship God week in and week out we are reminded that we have been called to be human in a new way, the way of Jesus. One of the clearest ways that this is evidenced is in the fact that Christians come together each week to worship together rather than remaining in their individual lives.
Food for thought.