The “Call to Worship” is the first formal element of our service of worship at Emmanuel. But what does it mean? And what is it for?
There's a great deal of very helpful reflection on this question in a little book by Robert I. Vasholz entitled Calls to Worship (Christian Focus, 2008). Among the highlights is the Foreword by Bryan Chapell, which contains so many helpful insights that I was sorely tempted to copy the whole thing out here. But since I thought the publishers might (rightly) object, I took the liberty of paraphrasing and editing and expanding a few of the most striking moments below.
(All credit to Dr Chapell for anything that's good, and all blame to me, please, for anything misleading or wrong.)
"The first point to notice is that God calls us to worship him. We do not invite him to be present; he invites us.
"Because the call to worship is always from God, we are reminded that he always takes the initiative, while we respond. This is a profound truth not only for our salvation, but also for our worship of the One who calls us.
"The call to worship is not simply a perfunctory greeting, a way of saying “Hi!” at the start of the service. Rather, the Minister speaks on God’s behalf to invite the congregation to join the heavenly host worshipping the Living God around his throne.
"The call to worship is also an invitation to respond to God’s revelation. By using the words of Scripture in the call to worship, the Minister is urging the congregation to respond to God’s own disclosure of his character and purposes. And by responding with Scriptural words and phrases, the congregation is voicing their acceptance of, and obedience to, the word of God.
"This reflects the vital principle that we don’t approach God on our own terms, but rather on the terms that he has established. When God speaks, it is our obligation and privilege to respond appropriately in praise, prayer, repentance, and so on.
"The call to worship also reflects the fact that God is pleased when we worship him. God wants us to worship him – otherwise why would he invite us to do so? What a remarkable privilege this is: even as we are brought face to face with our sins during the confession near the start of the service, we are reminded that God has already invited us, sinners though we are, to draw near and worship him."