Brothers and Sisters,
Since we will not be having public worship services for the next few weeks, what should you do? The temptation is to think that because you can’t go to church, you don’t do anything. We urge you to remember the fourth commandment to keep this day holy. Therefore, even if you cannot gather as a congregation, you can and should gather as a family to worship.
Some have asked if we would offer a live stream service. No, we are not planning on doing this. You may be asking, “Well, many other churches, even within our denomination, are doing it. We have the technology and regularly steam our services now. Why not stream a service, then, especially when we are not able to get to church? Yes, we stream our service, but it is only as we have a public worship service. But my convictions go against streaming a virtual service, especially since there are other resources for Bible study available.
I understand that this will be a great disappointment to many of you, however, there are a few important items to consider. The big question is: What is public worship? Is it simply singing a few songs, lifting up a prayer or two, and listening to a sermon with a group of others? That is a very prevalent understanding among Christians today. If that is all worship is, then you can certainly do that individually at home, and I hope you do. But again, you don’t need to go to church to do that.
However, the Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8 (the doctrinal statement of our denomination and church), states, “The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men…do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts…but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship.” Notice how the WCF distinguishes between “public” and “private” worship. Both are to be done, but there are differences. Both public and private worship have the elements of Bible reading, singing, and prayer. But while private worship can be done any time of the day and every day of the week public worship is a particular and holy meeting of the Lord with His assembled people on His appointed day. It is not simply getting together with one another to sing a few songs, pray, and hear a sermon, doing things we can do at home. You see, corporate worship is a special convocation; it is a covenantal meeting with God. That’s the difference! Corporate worship refers to the worship that occurs when the body, being assembled under God’s call and blessing, offers its praise and petitions with thanksgiving to God while resting in His covenantal presence. For example, when Jesus talked about the church gathering in His name, notice how He said in Matthew 18:19, “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.” Did you hear it? There is a special promise and a unique efficacy in public prayer that is not found in private prayer.
When we began live-streaming the services, we emphasized that this was for our shut-ins who could not regularly join with us. It was also a temporary thing for those who were traveling. We wanted those who were providentially absent to feel connected with their church in its worship but we never wanted to give the impression that this service is a substitute for public worship. And even though the times are unique and hard, we believe it best to maintain our conviction in this. Indeed, since the church will not be able to gather for public worship, I believe that an attempt to replace it with a live streaming service will, in the long haul, prove harmful to the integrity of our corporate worship. It is a very sad thing we cannot meet together and none of the elders are comfortable with it. It should break our hearts that we are not able to enter into the gates of the Lord with praise, even as it broke the heart of the Jews when they were exiled from the Temple. We should feel the weight of missing public worship. Live streaming can take away that sense and put us at ease saying, “Well, it may not be great but I at least I got something.”
We must flee the temptation of pragmaticism. We should take this time to bow under God’s hard providence and, in humble petition, beg Him to quickly grant us relief from the circumstance that is afflicting us so we can assemble again soon in corporate worship. May this affliction cause us to cry out with our hearts like the sons of Korah did when they were kept from the Temple and place of corporate worship: “How lovely are Your dwelling places, O LORD of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You” (Psalm 84:1-4).
During these next few Sundays, therefore, we urge you to gather as a family in private worship until we once again return to public worship. Hopefully, this will even develop into a continual habit of family devotions. Feel free to follow the pattern you have learned in our public liturgy.
Open with reading Psalm 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
Ask for God’s blessing, “Almighty God, to whom our hearts are open, our desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the gracious power of Your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You and worthily magnify Your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (From the URCNA’s Forms and Prayers)
Try singing a familiar hymn or maybe the Doxology
Read the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5)
Confess your sins: “Almighty, everlasting God and Father, we acknowledge and confess that we indeed were conceived and born in sin, and therefore, inclined to all evil and slow to do good; that we unceasingly transgress your holy commandments, and corrupt ourselves more and more. But we are sorry for this and desire Your grace and help. Therefore, have mercy upon us, most gracious and merciful God and Father, through Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Grant to us and increase in us your Holy Spirit, so that we may recognize our sin and unrighteousness from the depth of our heart, feel true contrition and grief for them, die to them completely, and please You wholly in a new, godly life. Amen” (Bucer’s Confiteor)
Read a promise of forgiveness: e.g., “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
Sing a hymn or read Psalm 138
Say a prayer of thanksgiving and intercession,
Give Thanks to God for His Fatherly care and good gifts. Praise Him for His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.
Pray for the President and all magistrates that they would govern in righteousness and grant them wisdom to care for the special needs of the day
Intercede on behalf of all people, that He would make His ways known to them, and that He would show His saving grace to all nations. (Specific prayers may be added for missions / missionaries and church plants / church planters.)
Pray for the universal church, that it may be so guided and governed by the Holy Spirit, that all Christians would grow in grace and embrace the faith in the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.
Pray for the OPC, our denomination, our Presbytery
Pray for the pastor, elders, and deacons
Pray for all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or any other way.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to give us spiritual hunger and lasting satisfaction as we read His Word.
Read a passage of Scripture, e.g., Philippians 2. There are many resources available for Bible study or listening to recorded sermons.
Sermon Audio has literally millions of sermons
MLJ Trust has over a thousand sermons of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Ligonier is offering all of their videos for free and so you have the opportunity to hear a multitude of speakers or watch various conferences
Westminster Seminary California has a number of lectures from previous conferences that I attend every year in January.
Close with prayer, Lord, again we cry out to You that you would have mercy upon us and lead us in Your most holy way. Remove our ignorance and grant us the comfort of Your Holy Spirit that we might live in faith before You, obeying Your holy Word, filled with the hope that soon You will crush Satan under our feet. May the grace of the Lord Jesus fill us and strengthen us for Your glory. Amen.
Sing or Read a psalm, e.g. Psalm 23