At first glance the call to worship seems redundant. What, do we not know that we are coming together as God’s people to worship Him? Yes but at the same time we are weak and prone to stumbling. Therefore the call to worship, is a passage of scripture that is read to prepare our hearts and minds to enter into God’s presence.
Thus like the silent prayer, the call to worship reminds us, forgetful people that we are, what our priestly service to and for our God is all about. However we also need to see that in contrast to the silent prayer, the call to worship has a more objective nature. Now it is not in our own words that we ready our hearts to worship our God but in His.
This is important because we think that God wants to hear from us, that He needs our company and presence, that He awaits to embrace us with open arms if we would only come. And this is the way it is popularly presented in the church and culture alike so it is barely questioned.
But scripture tells us that He doesn’t need us: Psalm 50:12ff. For He made us, not we ourselves (Psalm 100:3) In addition scripture tells us what it is like for sinners such as us to be in the presence of a holy God: to hide from Him out of fear (Genesis 3:8-10), to be afraid even to look on Him (Exodus 3:6), to tremble at the sound of His ‘nearness’ (Exodus 19:16), to be consumed in fire if we do something He did not command (Leviticus 10:2), to fear lest even one of His commandments be broken (Deuteronomy 28:58ff), to prepare to meet the one who roars from Zion (Amos 1:1; cf. 4:12), to be silent before Him (Habakkuk 2:20), even to fear when His words come to us through just another human being (Haggai 1:12).
But we say: God no longer works in the ways of our Old Testament forebears; our God is a God of love and not of anger. Yet God bids all men to fear Him now no less than He did in the days of old. (Hebrews 12:28; Revelation 11:18; 15:4; 19:5) And He is still a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29)
Thus we rightly ask: are we really ready to meet with our God? But the more important question is: will God accept & receive us? In short, perhaps it would be better for sinners not to come. Better to stay home lest we should do something to displease Him in our worship and have to face His anger and wrath.
After all the Psalmist says:
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)
Is that not me? Like the leper I am defiled, I am unholy. (Matthew 15:18ff). How may I come? I shall not come.
And yet strangely He bids us come. (Psalm 95:6) Why? Is it that He desires to destroy us, to cast us away, that we might die? No. (Ezekiel 33:11) And yet in His justice He must cast us off, no less than a judge in a court of law today must judge and execute justice upon those who have broken the law. (Romans 3:19-20)
But the call is from our God who not only judges but saves. For He seeks His people even when they are not seeking Him (Matthew 18:12; Romans 10:20). Indeed it is our nature to wander away from God, ‘like sheep’ to go astray (Isaiah 53:6) For there are none who seek after God (Romans 3:11).
Therefore like every other element in our liturgy, the call to worship has a theological function. For in it we see who our God is and what He has done (and what He is doing). He is the one who changed us and inwardly called us to worship and glorify His name. Only through His sovereign grace did we want to come and, indeed, do come. He calls us to worship to show us that He has not left us dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1) but has used His Word through the Holy Spirit to raise us from our spiritual corruption (Ezekiel 37:1-14; cf. Ephesians 2:5; 1 Peter 1:23)
And He gives us His Son, Jesus Christ, that we might be drawn to the Father through Him. (John 6:44) The call to worship God comes with or is united to the proclamation (gospel) of the work of the Son by whom we are reconciled to our Creator and Lord. (Romans 5:10) That is we are justified by faith in Christ apart from any effort on our part. (Romans 3:24,28) Indeed only though Him may we come. (John 14:6).
And so now we will, as His special people, “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15)
At the same time we must note that the call to worship also has a public or universal aspect. It is not only the covenant people of God who are called. There is a certain invitation or better, a command for all to worship God in Zion. Thus the church must open her doors wide so that none may be forbidden to come and hear the Word of God preached and proclaimed. So the call to worship reminds us of our evangelistic purpose as well as the indiscriminate call of the gospel itself. Though not all will come all are bidden to come. (Isaiah 45:22; cf. Matthew 20:16)
“Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth.Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” (Psalm 96:1-4)
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