Worship Etiquette

Dear Church Family,

I once visited a church in which there was a section in the bulletin called “Worship Etiquette.” Some of the items listed in this section included these helpful suggestions: “Please do not use vacant seats for personal items. Electronic devices should be turned off at all times. Food and beverages are prohibited in the sanctuary.” All good suggestions.

This idea concerning “Worship Etiquette” got me to thinking about the ‘feel’ or ‘style’ which is present during our corporate worship service. Of course, all of life is worship (Romans 12:1), and there is certainly a different feel or style which is part of our personal devotional lives or our family worship times. With this understanding, as well as the truth that New Testament worship is to be done ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23-24), we might get the sense that anything goes in corporate worship.

Yet, when we gather together as the people of God for corporate worship something different is happening: we are gathering together in the assembly of God’s people in order to worship God the Father, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord (2 Corinthians 13:14; Hebrews 10:23-25; 12:22-24). As these texts instruct us, we gather together to glorify God and to edify one another. There’s a difference between gathering together to worship the Triune God and getting together to share a meal, have a committee meeting, watch a movie, or cheer for the home team.

So, how do we exhibit a ‘feel’ and a ‘style’ in our corporate worship service which glorifies God, as well as encourages one another? I believe the answer comes together in what might be called ‘familial reverence.’ Let’s take the second word first.

Reverence

We exhibit reverence in our worship when, with hearts that have been humbled and changed by God, we recognize His lordship and sovereignty over all creation, especially our lives. This reverence is manifested in our worship forms (the liturgy of the service), but also through an attitude of what the Scripture calls ‘sober-mindedness.’ We show our reverence for God when we come in humility, recognizing His utter holiness.

We also exhibit reverence in our worship when we respect each of our fellow worshippers. When we remember that each one who is gathered in worship is precious in God’s sight because they have been bought with the price of His Son’s own blood, we can’t help but treat one another differently.

There was a movie that came out 1999 called “Blast from the Past.” The story begins in 1962 when a married couple with their young son flee into a bomb shelter. They believe that there has been a nuclear war, so they stay underground for thirty-five years. Finally, they decide to send their son out into the world to see what has become of it. (Sort of like Noah’s dove, except in this case, there really wasn’t a cataclysmic, world-destroying event.)

Adam, their son, emerges from the bomb shelter to find a world that has been changed, but not as he had expected. Right away, Adam befriends two young, hip people, Troy and Eve. After only five days of friendship, Troy and Eve realize that there is something weird about Adam:

Eve says, “Why does he have such perfect table manners?”

“You know, I asked him about that,” responds Troy. “He said, good manners are just a way of showing other people we have respect for them. See, I didn't know that. I thought it was just a way of acting all superior. Oh and you know what else he told me?”

“What?”

“He thinks I'm a gentleman and you're a lady.”

“Well, consider the source! I don't even know what a lady is.”

“I know, I mean I thought a ‘gentleman’ was somebody that owned horses. But it turns out, his short and simple definition of a lady or a gentleman is someone who always tries to make sure the people around him or her are as comfortable as possible.”

Good manners in worship can be used to act ‘all superior.’ But, the truth of the matter is that worship etiquette is a way in which we show our respect for the One whom we have come to worship, as well as for our fellow worshippers – primarily because, in Christ, God has made each one of us royalty.

Familial

This brings us to our first word: “familial.” We don’t gather together as a bunch of strangers or foreigners in God’s house. We gather together as fellow citizens with the saints, members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19). This means that for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we may now boldly “approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own” (Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be”). As a loving Father, God is please to accept us and our worship through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).

Because those who are in Christ are all God’s children, this also means that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. When we gather together for worship, we enter into God’s throne room, but we also enter into God’s living room. We are in the presence of our King and our Father.

As Paul commends us, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:16-17). We are co-heirs with Christ, and thus, co-heirs with one another. Therefore, when we assemble, each one brings his or her worship to God, for the edification of our fellow heirs (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Grasping Both Extremes

What I am trying to describe is a simultaneous grasping of both extremes in our corporate worship: humbling ourselves before our Holy God Who has condescended to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, while at the same time showing respect to our fellow worshippers who are co-heirs of grace. These principles guide all that we do in our lives, and especially in our worship. It impacts and informs how we respond to God in our worship service, as well as how we treat one another in His family.

When we gather together for worship, it is a glorious privilege. Let us do so with reverence as God’s family.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch