Music and the Order of the
Thoughts on the choice of appropriate hymns and other aspects of the Sabbath Worship Service . . .
Imagine you were king of a country and had undertaken to benefit the citizens of your realm at great personal expense, thus giving them a longer, more pleasant life. Suppose you were returning after a long absence and your subjects planned a large gathering to present you with a beautiful gift of appreciation for your many kindnesses. How would you react if the gift were nonchalantly presented to you by a couple of citizens without any particular words of thanks while those gathered simply sat with vacant stares seemingly uninterested in what was happening? Might you be more impressed if everyone rose with smiles and sang with animation in your honor while the gift was being presented to you?
Whatever happened to the congregation singing the doxology after the offertory when their gifts are being presented following the offering? Why have so many Adventist churches dispensed with that effective means of worship? If not the "Old Hundredth," why not a verse from a hymn which says what needs to be said?
Have you ever wondered why a hymn such as Bringing in the Sheaves or What a Friend We Have in Jesus is designated as a hymn of praise on Sabbath morning? Our hymnal lists hymns which are hymns of praise and there are others which could be so classified. If, as the psalmist declared, we are to come into His courts with praise, why not open our worship services in churches with a dignified high hymn of praise? In churches I have been involved with recently we have a list and cycle them so that worship is opened properly with a variety of real praise hymns.
Have you ever attended a church where worship began nicely with a prelude, introit, invocation and opening hymn, only to have the focus suddenly changed by announcements, church business, personal ministries and greetings and, in some instances, an invitation to the congregation to wish everyone a "happy Sabbath" with a hand shake? Would it not be better for all of this to happen before worship begins so that the focus is on God and worship is not interrupted? Church musicians can play a part in implementing this sort of reform.
A small church I once attended taught me something very beautiful about worship. After the organ prelude, as the introit began and the elders entered to kneel, the congregation knelt and sang the introit. This was then followed by the invocation. Beginning worship this way was special, following the admonition of the psalms to come and kneel before the Lord, our Maker. In our church we kneel as the elders enter and sing the second verse of Schubert's Holy, Holy, Holy. It seems fitting, since the angels veil their faces before God's throne and cry continuously, "Holy, Holy, Holy."
Seventh-day Adventists profess to be a people of the Word. Yet, so many times in some of our churches the scripture reading is short, one or two verses. I think we need to encourage a responsive reading in the service which relates to the theme of the sermon or the season, or expresses praise. Responsive readings can be done in a variety of ways with good readers placed strategically in the congregation, for example, reading antiphonally with great expression.
Have you ever noticed that the person responsible for the prayer of intercession Sabbath morning sometimes has less to say than did the person who prayed the invocation? While long prayers are always out of order, those who are asked to pray should be given some guidance about what that prayer should encompass. Perhaps a sample prayer to study (no more than three minutes in length) that includes confession, adoration, praise, thanksgiving and intercession for local and world needs would be helpful.
The confession should come first in worship and is best included in the invocation, but that's hard to dictate. So, admitting to God that we've failed to rise to His standards even with the best of intents and claiming His forgiveness and the covering of Christ's righteousness should be part of the longer corporate prayer. The following is an order of worship that I feel can add dignity and reverence to worship:
Announcements, greetings, business, etc.
Introit (elders and congregation kneel and sing)
Invocation (still kneeling)
Call to Praise (very short psalm or 2-4 verses of one)
Hymn of Praise
Responsive Reading (may be praise or sermon theme)
Musical Number (anthem, solo, duet, etc.)
Call for Offering, Offertory/Doxology
Prayer for dedication of offering
Intercessory Prayer (kneeling, sung response after)
Hymn of Meditation (sung seated)
Sermon (scripture used included)
Hymn of Benediction
Quiet Interlude (elders recess)
Martha Ford resides in New York State, where she is a church musician in the Troy Adventist church. She has nursing and music degrees from Atlantic Union College.
These comments were printed as a Personal View in the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of Notes, a publication of the International Adventist Musicians Association.