I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).
Worship is “service” according to the Scripture. It is not passive, no less than a servant is to be passive before his master. It is active. How many times I have heard people say worship is an experience. This misses the point. It is an act which purposefully engages the participants in adoration of the Lord. Worship is not something to sit back and enjoy. It is spiritual service, spiritual work.
Since worship is an act of showing reverence, various postures are assumed in the service. The general rule of thumb found in the Bible is: kneel to pray, sit to listen, and stand in response. Worship in the REC uses all three. Worshipers in the modern church may be tempted to ask, “Why all the getting up, sitting down, and even kneeling? Why can’t we just come in and sit down?”
First, kneeling is the most common posture in Scripture for prayer. The Apostle Paul says, “I bow my knees unto the Father” (Ephesians 3:14). He adds, “Therefore God also has highly exalted him [Christ] . . . that every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:9-10). Kneeling for prayer expresses a variety of attitudes: humility, respect, submission, thankfulness, and praise. The common position of sitting for prayer in most evangelical churches is nowhere to be found in Scripture; never do we see Abraham, David, or even Jesus sit for prayer. Instead, one finds in the Bible a different posture for a very good reason. The bodily action of bending the knees in prayer puts form to our attitudes.
Why? As Thomas Howard writes, “Our innermost attitudes cry for a shape. They long to be clothed with flesh. We can see this wherever we turn: we are happy, and our face muscles stretch into smiles; we are sad, and our tear ducts go to work; we are ashamed, and our neck muscles incline our heads forward; we are awed, and our mouths gape open; we are exasperated, and we throw up our hands; we are angry, and we clench our fists.” Prayer involves the whole person. Worship should not just be a mental act, simply listening to a sermon. Kneeling, in many ways, represents what the whole of life should be.
Second, sitting is an appropriate way of hearing the Word of God read and preached. You will notice that the Bible is read more in this type of service than in others. Many churches hardly ever read Scripture, which is a sad statement. At St. Barnabas and other congregations like it, however, the Old and New Testaments are read every Sunday along with a reading from the Psalms. In fact, the Psalms are normally read responsively, again emphasizing the active nature of worship, answering back to the Lord his own Word which is actually what man’s whole life should be.
Third, standing to respond is a way of showing respect. You will notice that every time the Word of God is read, the congregation will stand and say or sing a response of praise. These responses are usually sections of Scripture or ancient hymns called canticles. The posture of standing is also the appropriate response for our whole life. When God speaks, the Church should walk forward in Christ.
So, the physical movement in the service – standing, sitting, and kneeling – is quietly teaching God’s people important lessons. They are to respond with action when God speaks. Yet, they are not to respond in just any old way they want. They should take action according to the Scriptures. And finally, they are to take action that speaks for what the whole of life should be: submission (kneeling), listening (sitting), and walking in Christ (standing).