Pattern of Creation, Pattern of Worship

When God creates the world, the Bible tells us that he does so by speaking and/or singing it into existence (Ps. 33:6; Heb. 11:3). He creates it by his Word and Spirit (Gen 1:2-3). And the initial creation sequence follows a specific pattern: God lays-hold of something, he divides it, transforms it, unifies it, and judges it, declaring it “good” (or, in the case of Adam’s loneliness, “not good”).

To see how this works we can look at the very early verses of Genesis 1: God takes the formless void; He divides the Light from the Dark; He transforms it, calling one part “Day” and the other part “Night”; He unifies it, making Day and Night a single cycle of time; and then judges or evaluates it—He looks and sees that it is good (Gen. 1:2-5).

This pattern continues in the days of creation. It is how God builds.

We see it again, applied to the body of Adam in Genesis 2: It is not good that Adam is alone, so God decides to glorify the creation by giving Adam a Helper (Gen. 2:18). To do so God takes Adam and puts him into a deep sleep, a death-like state; He then divides Adam, taking a portion of his side (Gen 2:21). He transforms that division by building Eve from the “rib”; and then reunifies the creation—Man and Woman are intended to be “one flesh” (Gen 2:22). The work is evaluated and judged, Adam joins with God in declaring the majesty of His handiwork (Gen. 2:23).

We can follow this pattern throughout God’s covenantal history with Israel: continually in the Story God lays hold of His people; He divides them, taking them into the Flood or into Egypt or into Exile or giving them into the hand of Philistia and Midian; under the crucible of that division, God transforms His People, leading them “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18), from stone altars to a bronze altar, and from a Tent to a Temple. He also is faithful to reunite them after each transformative rescue. At the end of each season of Israel’s life God’s works and deeds are judged as right and good: Miriam leads the people with a tambourine (Ex. 15:20-22), Moses sings the song of the covenant (Deut. 32:1-47), Samuel raises his Ebenezer (1 Sam. 7:12), David dances mightily (2 Sam. 6:14-23), and so on.

If this is the pattern of creation, if this pattern runs with the grain of the cosmos, then it can be a helpful pattern by which to make sense of our own little works of creation. We are made in His Image, the way we make looks like the way He makes. Let me take my wife as an example:

Rachel ascends to the kitchen and lays her hand to undressed produce in our cupboards. Then she divides them, cutting onion, portioning shoyu and brown sugar, grating ginger, driving the caidao into the joints of the chicken. Then in a careful sequence, with all the artful habit of a Levite, she transforms these things by fire. The chicken is browned, the ginger charred, the onion sauteed, the shoyu and brown sugar reduced to a simmering syrup. In the end she unifies them in a single meal: it is now something more, something other, than the mere sum of its parts. She brings it to the table and, though we have no tambourine at the coast or raised rock outside of Beth-Shemesh, we judge, weigh, and evaluate it: “mmmmm, this is very good” and “brah broke da mouth.”

Here's the point: it should seem strange to us if our worship, if the worship of the Church on the Lord’s Day, departs from the pattern of Creation. If the pattern of our worship of the Lord of Creation runs against the grain of Creation, perhaps we need to reflect on why that is so. What is called “liturgy” is not a fancy word for high-churchmen. Liturgy names the pattern of worship by which the people of God render to Him true and laudable praisethe pattern by which we, the priesthood of all believers, participate in the renewal of all things for the glory of God.

Every church has a liturgy, a pattern of worship. The suggestion here is that, at minimum, the pattern of our worship should follow the pattern of creation. The liturgies of the historic reformers thought (and, often enough, fought) a lot about this. In general we can think of a basic pattern of worship on the Lord’s Day which draws its life from the pattern of Scripture in the following outline:

  1.     Laying-hold of: Worship should begin with the sound of Scripture calling us to worship, laying ahold of us as persons, and ordering us according to the Word of God. God welcomes us into His House and gathers us into the work of the Spirit.
  2.     Dividing: Worship cuts us up. The Word of God is a blade which divides bone and marrow (Heb. 4:12). We are pierced by the Gospel like the crowds at Pentecost (Acts 2:37), the fallow ground of the heart is ploughed (Hos. 10:12), and we are called to the glad Gospel act of confessing our sins and hearing the Good News that God forgives sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).
  3.     Transforming: The Word of God and the Spirit of God also transform us. We are not like what we once were (1 Cor. 6:11). We are those who “have been with the Lord” (Acts 4:13). We are renewed inwardly (2 Cor. 4:16). The praises of the people of Yahweh ring-out and incorporate me in the sound of the Lord’s Victory (Ps. 118:15). We also bring to the Lord the gifts of our hands: tithes and offerings, art and music, song and teaching, ourselves and our families. We give unto the Lord what He has given us and find them, like ourselves, transformed in the process.
  4.     Unifying/Glorifying: Christian worship culminates in the Dominical Sacraments, in Baptism and Holy Communionthe New Birth and the New Meal the Lord gave us and told us, explicitly, to do until He comes again (Matthew 28:19-20; Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:26). In both of these we are unified. We are unified with Christ, having died and been raised with Him (Col. 2:20; 3:1-3), we share in His life; we fellowship in His sufferings, and share in His Resurrection (Phil. 3:10). And we are also unified with each other being “one in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17) and “one body with many members” (1 Cor. 12:12-27). This is New Testament theology par excellence: Having shared one loaf (1 Cor. 10:17) and one baptism (Eph. 4:5), we share one Lord (Eph. 4:6), who is the head of the Church (Col. 1:18).
  5.     Evaluating/Judging: Worship should conclude with the sound of rejoicing, which is the right evaluation of all that God has done. The Father, through his Son, has found us “good” and we who have been with him, have declared him “good” as well. We have tasted and have seen the goodness of the Lord (Ps. 34:8). We leave the worship of the Lord’s Day “rejoicing in the power of the Spirit” (Rom. 15:13), and sent-out into the world (to our homes and neighborhoods and schools) proclaiming all that the Lord has done for us (Mk. 5:19).

When the wisemen come to adore the baby Jesus and present him with gifts, I do not think that Mary or Joseph ask category questions about the regulative or normative principle in worship. Nor do I think they pondered how to make the moment as culturally-sensitive as possible. I think they recognized in the pattern of that worship the pattern of the Lord of all Creation who, at that moment, sat enthroned upon the lap of his mother, ruling over the lords of the East. Let us follow their example, and allow our worship to be conformed to the Lord of Creation.