Four-Fold Pattern of Worship
An explanation on four-fold worship and its place in history.
The Christian Church has included four words, Gathering, Word, Table or Response, and Sending, in her worship throughout its history. The earliest believers were Jews. Even after their conversion they continued to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath (Saturday) to study God’s Word. They supplemented this with worship services on Sunday that celebrated Christ’s resurrection with the Lord’s Supper. When the beliefs of these early Christians put them at odds with local Jewish authorities, Christian believers combined these two basic liturgical gestures—Word and Table—into one service on Sundays. By the 3rd century the Christian Church had added gathering and sending elements to the Word and Table to establish the basic four-fold worship service we continue to use today. Granted, the pendulum has swung throughout the history of the Church, with the Table overshadowing all other elements in the Medieval Roman Catholic church and the sermon taking precedence in many Protestant traditions, but overall Christian worship continues to center on Gathering, Word, Table, and Sending.
These four movements provide a balanced diet that nourishes a healthy Christian life. Let’s look at the way the four movements of the liturgy provide a context for the way we live:
Gathering: God calls us. We see this most strikingly in baptism, in which we are grafted into the family of God. In the same way that God calls us, we extend God’s invitation to others. We invite those who don’t know God to join us in worship. We encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to remain faithful in gathering. We create an inviting atmosphere for people at all stages of faith and from all walks of life.
Word: Christ calls us to live transformed lives. We gather around the Word of God during worship, in Christian education, in small groups and individually. We open ourselves to the Word to be renewed by our great Teacher. Some exercise gifts of teaching and preaching, but we all grow in our ability to become hearers and doers of the words.
Table: The Holy Spirit unites us with the Trinity and with each other. We have a visible reminder of this when we gather around the Lord’s Table each week. We also experience this when we fellowship with each other and when we commune with God in prayer and meditation. But intimacy with God is not something to keep for ourselves; we always seek to broaden the circle to include those who are new to our church or outside the church walls.
Sending: The Church is Christ’s partner in earthly ministry. We don’t exist to build earthly or even spiritual wealth for ourselves. Instead, we exit the walls of the church looking for ways to serve both the spiritual and material needs of the world.
The rhythms of worship are also the soundtrack of a holistic Christian life. May God use your worship to shape us into faithful disciples.