At Church of the King, we describe our worship service by the phrase “covenant renewal.” By this we do not mean that our covenant with God is temporary and might expire like a lease if we do not renew it. Our covenant with God is eternal and will never expire. But it is also living and dynamic; it is designed to grow and flourish. Just as sexual communion renews marriage, or as a meal renews the body, so also the worship of God renews our covenant relationship with Him.
A Sacrificial Pattern
In the Old Testament, there were distinct kinds of sacrifices—the guilt offering, the ascension offering (often translated as “whole burnt offering”), and the peace offering. The guilt offering was intended to address a particular sin on the part of the worshipper. The ascension offering was an offering of “entire dedication,” wherein the whole sacrificed animal ascended to God in a pillar of smoke, as a sweet-smelling aroma. In the peace offering, the worshipper and his family were privileged to partake of the offering, as a Covenant meal.
Whenever those three offerings are mentioned together in the Old Testament, they are listed in that particular order, which makes good sense. You deal with the guilt first, you dedicate all to God, and then you have communion with God. This is why our covenant renewal services follow the structure they do, absent the sacrificed animals. Jesus Christ died once for all, in order to be the fulfillment of the entire sacrificial system—He was not just the guilt offering.
So this is why our worship services, once God is invoked, contain these three elements: First, we confess our sins and receive the assurance of pardon. Second, we dedicate ourselves to God (Scripture reading, sermon, offertory, etc.) And then last, we observe the Lord’s Supper. Once that is all done, we receive the benediction and go out into a lost world that needs to hear about Jesus Christ.
All in all, there are five basic movements in covenant renewal worship:
God Calls Us
Our worship is always a response to God’s summons (Psa. 100). He takes the initiative, and we draw near only because He first invites us into His presence (Psa. 65:4). Therefore, our service begins each week with an opening salutation in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
God Cleanses Us
The moment we enter God’s presence, we recognize our need for cleansing. Otherwise, we are worshiping God with unclean hands and lips. Although the sacrifice of Christ has already made us clean (Heb. 10:14), each of us continues to sin and must be washed anew by the continual application of his blood (Jn. 13:9-10; 1 Jn. 1:7-9). For this reason, we take time to confess our sins, both individually and corporately, and to hear the promise of forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ.
God Consecrates Us
Having confessed our sins and received forgiveness from God, we are ready for greater sanctification. At this time, we are set apart and prepared to live for God by the preaching of His word (Jn. 17:17). Since we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to the Lord, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). Only then can we prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.
God Communes with Us
Just as when the covenant was renewed with Joshua (Josh. 3:7–5:12) and Josiah (2 Kgs. 23:1-23) and was sealed by a celebration of the Passover, so each week our covenant renewal worship service is sealed by a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Though many today wonder about weekly communion, the early church was in favor of the practice. According to the Bible, “the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42-46) took place, specifically, “when they came together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:20).
God Commissions Us
As the service draws to a close, God commissions us with His benediction. As Aaron raised his hands and blessed the people as he dismissed them (Num. 6:22-27), so the minister dismisses the congregation in God’s name and with God’s blessing (2 Thes. 13:14). Our job is to go back into the world, as salt and light, to spread the Gospel, disciple the nations, and advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Mt. 28:19-20).