The Scriptures do not give us a .detailed liturgy that we should fcopy for our worship services. Instead, they give us a spiritual pattern that we can emulate. The Bible is thoroughly saturated with the spirit of worship. Even though we may find few precepts or direct commandments as to how it should be done, we do have clear examples and concise guidelines for the Christian.
The book of Genesis opens with the basic reason for worship: God is the Creator and we are His creatures. At the very beginning the Sabbath is given as a time for worship. Throughout the Old Testament men and women are frequently invited to "call upon the name of the Lord" (Psalm 79:6, 116:17, Jeremiah 10:25, Zephaniah 3:9). God's faithful servants built altars to the Lord. Jacob met the Lord at Bethel, "God's house" (Genesis 28:18, 1 9). He said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not" (Genesis 28:16). Moses was asked to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground (Exodus 3:5). When Aaron told the people of Israel that God was about to deliver them, "They bowed their heads and worshipped" (Exodus 4:31). When Israel passed through the Red Sea, they sang a song of praise to their God (Exodus 15).
The Lord's presence was never taken lightly. At Sinai it caused the people to tremble (Exodus I 9:1 6). The story of Uzzah illustrates the importance of recognizing what is holy (II Samuel 6:6, 7). The Old Testament sanctuary service is filled with lessons regarding respect for the holiness of our Creator.
As in Old Testament times, New Testament worship also places a high priority on reverence. In the book of Revelation, chapters 4 and 5 depict the worshippers singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty" (Revelation 4:8). In Revelation chapters 7 and 14 we see a great multitude praising God with music. ("They sung as it were a new song.") Another element in their worship is prayer. (The golden incense bowls held the prayers of the saints). There were also offerings. (The twentyfour elders cast their crowns before the throne). A scriptural message is presented as a part of the worship service. (The opening of the scroll was a revelation from God). There is nothing light, flippant or shallow in any aspect of the worship service in Old or New Testament times.
During Bible times there was a constant battle against false worship which distinguished itself in two different manners:
1. There was the worship permeated with low standards and a fascinating liturgy, filled with glitter, as in the worship of the golden calf and in Baal worship.
2. There was the other extreme which manifested itself in the cold and empty formalism into which worship had degenerated by the eighth century in Israel. This meaningless worship is described in Amos 5:21-27, as well as by the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. "Numerous ceremonies were enjoined on the people without the proper instruction" (The Desire of Ages, p. 1 57). In the New Testament Christ faced this formal and meaningless type of worship, cleansing the temple, and quoting the words of Isaiah 56:7, He declared that His Father's house should be a "House of Prayer" (Matthew 21:13).
We are warned against both of these extremes. Ellen G. White, in Testimonies to the Church, volume 5 gives us directives warning about the twin dangers that degraded true worship in Bible times. Both extremes are dangerous. In our day there seems to be a conflict between those who promote a frivolous and shallow form of emotional entertainment lacking the sense of reverence that was so apparent in Bible times, and those who have fallen into a cold and formal liturgy that has become lethargic and meaningless. We might say that God's word calls for our worship to have form, but warns us against formalism.
Norval F. Pease, in his book, And Worship Him, points out that many Biblical scholars see the most conclusive pattern for meaningful worship in the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah. A youthful prophet experiences worship in the heavenly temple. This worship is divided into four parts:
1. He saw the Lord (Isaiah 6:1). Worshippers should always be made aware of the presence of God. Every hymn, every prayer, the reading of Scripture, the offering, the sermon, all should reflect God's presence (see Prophets and Kings, pp. 48, 49). This aspect of the service includes thanksgiving and praise.
2. Confession resulted from the second phase of Isaiah's experience, when he was filled with awe and humility in the presence of the Lord. "Woe is me! for I am undone: because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5). Confession may be expressed in prayer, in song, in Scripture reading or sermon. It leads to the desire of the worshipper to pray, "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10).
3. Forgiveness is illustrated in the picture of the angel touching Isaiah's lips with a live coal and giving him the assurance, "Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged" (Isaiah 6:7). Worship should always provide burdened, frightened or discouraged sinners with the assurance of God's loving forgiveness, and a new appreciation of His grace. Every component of the divine service should provide His people with a new assurance of forgiven sins.
4. Isaiah's worship experience led to dedication and commitment. The Lord said, "Who will go for us?" Isaiah replied, "Here am I; send me" (Isaiah 6:8). The worshipper goes out from the service with a renewed willingness to go wherever his Master wants him to go, and to serve Him with a renewed dedication.
It is true that the Bible does not give us a prescribed order of service. The ritual of the Old Testament varied with time and place, ranging from the vow taken by Jacob over a lonely pile of stones to the ornate worship of Solomon's temple, indicating that there is not only one way to conduct a service. In spite of the absence of a list of precepts on the subject, we are not left without the guidelines revealed by numerous examples of worship given in God's Word.