Where is it that we go to ask these questions about the meaning of our service of worship? The ultimate place in which we must search for the meaning of our worship is in God’s calling us to live to the praise of his glory, his creating us to serve him. The apostle Paul, perhaps better than anyone else, put his finger on it when he taught that out of God’s love for us in Christ we “have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12). What this would mean, then, is that it is in the revelation of God’s will for our worship that we discover how he will have us worship him.
This revelation is found all the way through Scripture. We find it, for example, in the precepts of the Law. The Decalogue starts out with four commandments about worship. First, we are worship and serve but one God; second, our worship is to avoid idolatry; third, it is to glorify God’s name; and fourth, it is to remember God’s works of creation and redemption on the Sabbath in rest from human works. Then, as an elaboration of this basic law, there is the ceremonial law. While the church has never considered the ceremonial law to be prescriptive for her worship, it has often been studied for its insights into worship. All this liturgical law was expounded by the prophets and exemplified in the worship of Israel. The story of the golden calf and the disobedient sacrifice of Saul make clear what it is not. The prayers of Hannah, David, ad Elijah make clear what it is. Above all, we see in Jesus the fulfillment of the rites and ceremonies of the Law. Jesus taught his disciples a great deal about true worship, and he often led them in prayer. He himself was baptized at the hand of John the Baptist. He often broke bread with his disciples, and in the Upper Room he gave them instructions about how they were to continue to break bread as a sacred memorial of his death and resurrection. In the Gospel of John we are taught to worship in Spirit and in truth. The book of Acts gives us several important insights into early Christian worship. We read there of a number of baptisms, and we find a rather thorough description of a daily prayer service. We learn quite a bit from this book about the ministry of the Word in almsgiving. The apostle Paul in his epistles gives us several important passages on prayer, on the sacraments, and on preaching. Chapters 10-14 of his First Epistle to the Corinthians is a virtual treatise on worship. Scattered throughout his various epistles we find all kinds of liturgical material. The Scriptures, both the Old and the New Testaments, are very rich in teaching about worship. It is in God’s Word, in the same Word that calls us to worship, that we find the sense of that worship.
We take it as a basic principle of our inquiry, then, that it is to Scripture, first of all, that we must go when we would try to find an answer to our questions about the meaning of worship.
—Hughes Oliphant Old (died May 24. 2016), Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology: Some Thoughts on the Theology of Worship, 8-10