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Text Sermons


By Rev. Harry Van Dyken
© Burlington United Reformed Church, 2015

I. What Liturgy Is

Liturgy is the structure or form of that which the church of Jesus Christ does when she worships her Lord. Though the word liturgy in certain instances has a broader meaning of service than only the service of worship, we will limit ourselves in this consideration to that denotation of the word.

In a way, liturgy is synonymous with “The Order of Worship,” providing that we include in that order the forms which the church has adopted to serve her in carrying out the worship of the Lord. We are thinking of such forms as those for baptism, the Lord’s supper, profession of faith, ordination and/or installation of office-bearers, and the forms for excommunication and re-admittance. These forms all have a place in the worship service of God’s church at one time or another.

Liturgy is not certain aspects of worship which are more formal. It is not really true that the worship of some churches is more liturgical than that of others. All worship is liturgical, for all has form of one sort of another. Repeating then, liturgy is the form or structure which is given to the worship of Jehovah by His church, His churches.

II. The Importance of Liturgy

The importance of liturgy ought to be apparent to anyone, to all. However, this is not the case. One major reason fcr this is a lack of understanding of what liturgy is. Liturgy is not to be identified only with a highly-structured and formal worship. This is simply one kind of liturgy — one way of formalizing the worship of Jehovah. At the time of the Reformation, the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church had taken on so much paraphernalia, so much of trim and trappings that the Reformers reacted against it. That reaction was proper but in many instances, that reaction has gone too far. Some have insisted and still do insist that liturgy, the form of worship, ought to be free to come to its own expression, that is, that no specific form should be given to it. Because some churches have added much that is unscriptural to liturgy does not lead one correctly to the conclusion that all form and structure is wrong. Our conclusion, our answer to this question must be the answer of scripture, not the answer of reaction.

Very close to the above-mentioned forms is the form for marriage. This is a form for that in which the church of Jesus Christ has a deep interest, but which does not, properly, constitute a part of her worship service. The Reformed churches do not, as does Rome, consider marriage to be a sacrament. In presenting this fact, I realize that I may touch some tender nerve ends of those who have come to us from the Netherlands. There the churches welded a very close tie between the two. Yet, marriages did not take place in the churches of the Netherlands. What took place in “…de Huwelijken staat voor de Gemmente van Christus te bevestigen” was a sort of compensation for the fact that marriage was performed, not by the church, but by the state in its own chambers. Yet the churches of the Lord rightly take a deep interest in the marriage of her members and seek to direct it in a biblical and God-honoring path as one of the most meaningful, most influential acts which God’s children do. Because of this, the churches have also given direction in the church order and have written a marriage form. Also, because this is recognized by the governments of the nations in which our churches reside, these governments have given authority to ministers of the churches to perform marriages for the state. Because we believe the deep interest of the churches to be altogether proper, we include the forms for marriage in the scope of this paper.

If we look to the Word of God we will find, first of all in the Old Testament, that God gave very strict instructions for liturgy. Anyone who tampered with that liturgy which God had mandated suffered severe consequences. In the New Testament, the specifics of liturgy are not dictated. Because of this, a great deal of controversy has developed concerning it.

There are churches that maintain that only those elements may be included in the worship service which are specifically, commanded in the New Testament. This is not central to the tradition, the history of the Reformed churches. The reason that the Reformed churches have not followed this approach is that they are not convinced that God has so commanded in His Word. The Reformed churches have, however, sought to structure their liturgy under the direction of the Word of God, following the basic principles that are found in God’s Word.

The Church that gathers at the call of Jehovah to worship Him will certainly consider the form which such worship takes to be of the greatest importance. She will, of course, study carefully to know what form, what structure her worship must take to be pleasing to Him whom she worships. Obviously such concern will drive the church to the Word of God to search carefully for His will in His worship.

We must remember that the churches, covenantal in nature, are not a mere congregation of individuals who happen to have come to the same locale to worship. They are, by the will and work of Him who created the church, a body, the bride of Christ. For this reason, the form or structure of worship must be carefully developed and articulated by the church so that each living member of that body may meaningfully engage in every part of worship. The body must have listened very carefully to the head, Jesus Christ, also in this matter. Having listened carefully, the motion of the body in the worship of her Lord will be beautifully harmonious, with the coordination of every member of the body. This demands structured liturgy!

The importance of structured liturgy can further be seen in the necessary place of importance that will be given to the Word of God. The church is the bride of Christ who has come to worship the bridegroom, her Lord. In this worship, the bride will want to listen carefully to her Lord concerning the totality of her life and she will necessarily listen carefully to know how she must bring her adoration, her praise, her confession, her intercession to Him. Having thus listened she will, of course, give a central place to the answering Word of Jehovah in the midst of worship. The structure of liturgy is important!

III. The Setting of Liturgy

A. History

In history there has been a tension in the focus of liturgy. Liturgy is the form of worship. It is what we do when we “go to church.” Scholars, an well as the ordinary member of the church, have been asking the question, “What is ‘going to church’ for?” Is the focus of worship God-ward or man-ward?

An Anglican, E.L. Mascall has said, “...the ultimate and supreme criterion by which any liturgical form is to be judged is its adequacy to provide a means by which Christian men and women may offer adoration to almighty God. All else is secondary and, in the last resort, irrelevant.”2 Mascall conceives of the service or worship as moving only in one direction, God-ward. On the other end of the spectrum is the Lutheran W. Hahn who said, “Worship is first and foremost God’s service to us. It is an action by God, which is directed to us ...the essence of worship is to be found in the disclosure of the Word of God.” 2 Hahn sees worship as moving only in one direction, man-ward. Is the direction of worship from man to God? Or is it from God to man? Or, as the church has maintained for most of its history; both Old and New Testament, is worship dialogic?

Coming back to Mascall, does he place proper emphasis when he speaks of “Christian men and women,” rather than of the church of Jesus Christ? In asking this question we note that this study is not of private worship but of public worship, and we believe that is also what Mascall is speaking of.

In the history of the church, there has been a real tension as to the direction of worship and that tension continues in the Churches today.

A person who comes from a worship service and indicates that the service of worship has proven to be fruitless, has made clear that he believes that the service of worship should be directed to him and other people — that the direction of the worship service is from God to man. It seems one only has to mention that the church gathers to worship Jehovah to prove how wrong such a man is in his idea of worship. Yet, he has a point, though his point is in wrong context. It is true that he who comes to worship Jehovah truly, cannot go away without a blessing. It is also true that any minister who dilutes that blessing, who stands in the way of that blessing coming to God’s people, has not been a true servant of the Word but a hindrance to the Word, to say the very least.

B. The public worship of the church, the churches of Jesus Christ, is directed to Jehovah.

1. Public worship comes into being because God calls to worship.

Man cannot presume to initiate worship. Initially the call must come from God. This precedence of Jehovah in the worship situation is clearly revealed both in the Old and the New Testament. There is no basic change in the nature or in the possibility of worship as the church moves from the Old to the New Testament. Post-Calvary and post-Pentecost there is, indeed, a change in the form of the liturgy of the church’s worship.

In the Old Testament Jehovah God came into the tabernacle, into the temple to be in the midst of His people and called His people to worship Him there. The tabernacle was built under the mandate and direction of Jehovah. In the New Testament, the tabernacle, the temple is built by the Lord Himself on the cross of Calvary. At Pentecost, Jehovah God in the Spirit takes up His residence there. Pentecost is not a work of man, nor is it under the management of man, just as God coming down to dwell in between the Cherubim in the Old Testament tabernacle was not in any way the work of man. In neither case does God come to dwell with His people because He has been either invited or mandated to do so by man.

Jehovah, who comes to Hie temple, calls His people to come under the sprinkled blood. He calls them into His presence in the Old Testament, vicariously through the High Priest, in the New Testament, directly. The Lord says, “Thou shalt worship Jehovah thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:10 quoting Deuteronomy 6:13). Through His servant He extends the call, “Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6). The Psalms are filled with such calls to worship. The book of Deuteronomy constantly reminds the people that God has chosen them, not for their innate goodness, but out of His great mercy, and now they are called to obey His commandments, to worship Him according to His ordinances, at His call, and in the place which He ordains.

Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman declares, “But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be His worshippers.” (John 4:23). In Hebrews 10, after declaring that to come under the blood of Jesus is to come under the blood of an eternally effective sacrifice, the Lord says, “Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which He dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a great high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with true hearts in fullness of faith...”

Finally, we read in Revelation 14:6-7, “And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having eternal good tidings to proclaim unto them that dwell on the earth, and unto every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he saith with a great voice, Fear God, and give Him glory; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.”

Jehovah God calls to worship. This is the setting of liturgy.

2. The God who calls to worship is Jehovah, the thrice holy, majestic, almighty God. It is He who determines His liturgy.

The church of Jesus Christ may never forget who God is. She may never forget His greatness, His glory, His holiness, His majesty.

It is good to read and to be reminded again and again of passages such as Ezekiel 1, where Ezekiel describes the revelation of Jehovah. I read in verse 1, “...the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God,” and the concluding verse of the chapter, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face…” In between these two verses there is the awful and glorious revelation of God, Jehovah. The temptation is very real to quote the entire chapter, but read it.

The vision of Isaiah 6 vividly speaks of His holiness: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried to another and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, ‘Woe is me for I am undone; because I am n man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of Hosts.’”

In chapter forty the Lord cries out through Isaiah, “Who hath directed the Spirit of Jehovah, or being His counselor hath taught Him: With whom took He counsel, and who hath instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of justice, and taught Him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding: Behold the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are accounted as the small dust of the balance: behold He taketh up the isles as a very little thing, and Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before Him; they are accounted by Him as less than nothing, and vanity.” (Isaiah 40:13-17)

I have been drawing a little freely from the Old Testament to thrust to the fore what the Word of God declares about the great and glorious God, Jehovah, whom we are called to worship. We ought to consider a few passages from the New Testament also. Hebrews 12, declaring the great wonder and beauty of the New Testament revelation, New Testament church, and New Testament privileges over that of the Old Testament, closes with this, “Wherefore, receiving the kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28, 29). In Revelation 4, John sees the revelation of God on His throne. The vision is almost identical to that seen by Ezekiel. In that revelation, we hear the four living creatures who have no rest day nor night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” And this praise of the living creatures, the cherubim, induces the praise of the twenty-four elders. Representing the Old and the New Testament Church, they fall down, cast their crowns before the throne and declare, “Worthy are thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for Thou didst create all things and because of Thy will they were, and are created.” (Revelation 4:8,11).

The church of Jesus Christ, called to worship, must know that Jehovah, the God of Israel, the creator of heaven and earth, is a great and terrible God!

The great Jehovah, who calls His people to worship, is the redeemer of His people, the holy One of Israel, who calls His people to Himself.

The wonder of worship is manifested in the fact that the call to worship is a gracious call and is a loving call. The awe and fear of reverence does not obscure the tenderness, the nearness of our Father calling His children.

“I waited patiently for Jehovah; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of horrible pit, out of the miry clay; And He set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see it and fear, and shall trust in Jehovah.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

“O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before Jehovah, our maker: For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” (Psalm 95:6-7)

We noted above how Isaiah 40 declares the greatness, the incomparableness of Jehovah. We also read in this same chapter, “Comfort, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished; that her iniquity is pardoned….” The closing verses of this glorious chapter are filled with assurance for those who know the way to come to Him in worship.

Right in the midst of the declarations of the uniqueness of His power and His divinity He says, “For I, Jehovah, Thy God, will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not, I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith Jehovah, and thy Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”

Liturgy must reflect the greatness, the glory, the majesty, and the power of Jehovah. Liturgy must also reflect the wonder of the holy One of Israel, our Redeemer who says, “Draw near with boldness...”

C. It is man who is called to worship.

1. The call is not to man in general.

“No man shall see God and live.” “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (John 1:18) “No one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him.” (Matthew 11:27) There is grave danger in coming near to Jehovah! No one can draw near with unconcern, in carelessness. There is really no place in worship for the unrepentant sinner. Take note of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron: “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censor, and put fire therein and laid incense thereon and offered strange fire before Jehovah, which He had not commanded them. And there came forth fire from before Jehovah, and devoured them, and they died before Jehovah.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)

In Numbers 16, Jehovah recorded the event of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who brought their censors with incense before the Lord and they were destroyed. And the anger of the Lord also reached out to those who cooperated with them: “And fire came forth from Jehovah and devoured the two-hundred and fifty men that offered the incense.” We read further in the latter part of the chapter, “But on the morrow all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of Jehovah. And it came to pass when the congregation was assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they looked toward the tent of meeting: And behold the cloud covered it, and the glory of Jehovah appeared. And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting: and behold, the cloud covered it ... And Moses said to Aaron, Take thy censor, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense thereon, and carry it quickly unto the congre-gation and make atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from Jehovah; the plague is begun ... Now they that died by the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, besides them that died in the matter of Korah...” (Numbers 16:41ff).

We do well to consider whether or not we have made this coming-into-the-presence-of-Jehovah too matter-of-fact. We do well to consider as church of our Lord, that it is no light and easy matter to come into His presence. There is real danger there.

The worship of Jehovah by His people is not a mission situation. It is very, very special. It is the meeting of God with His redeemed people in His Son. There is, and there ought to be, a constancy of bringing God’s Word to the world, but that is not the intent of the purpose for which God calls His people to worship Him. A careful look at the stipulations of God concerning the Old Testament temple will tell us a great deal about the New Testament temple. Any comparison that might draw the conclusion that it is easier in the New Testament will run head on into Hebrews 10, “of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be worthy...” and Hebrews 12, “...for our God is a consuming fire.”

2. Who is the man who is called?

God calls those who have been redeemed by His Son to worship Him. He calls His image to declare His greatness and that image is restored in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The Word of God leaves no doubt that man is the most glorious creature of God’s creation. Psalm 6, without looking further, leaves no doubt on this score when compared with Hebrews 2.

So to say that God is calling man, is to say that the called man must have been to Calvary, must have known the redeeming work of Christ.

As we consider this, we may not fail to look at the passover. Here the angel of death was to come. Clearly only those who were covered by the blood of the passover lamb were safe when the angel came. But note also that the safekeeping was entirely a family matter. And the family arrangement is not an idea conceived by the children of Israel. It is a commandment of God! As families, we come into the presence of God. As families under the blood He calls us.ilies under the blood He calls us.

3. Man must respond.

When God calls, men must answer! When God welcomes His people in worship, His people must respond in worship. Worship is, first of all, man’s answer to God. Yet man does not dare to come, even with this answer, unless God first calls. When God calls, and when God speaks, man must have something to say. This is provided in Christ, in His holy Word. The child of God studies to know what he must say in response to his covenant God.

On the one hand, all of life is responsive to the revelation of God, either in obedience or in disobedience. On the other hand, the worship service is a special situation in which God is speaking to His children., His church and therefore, expects a believing response.

We may never forget that the worship service is the meeting of Jehovah with His redeemed people, the meeting of the bridegroom with His personally purchased and possessed bride.

IV. Worship is dialogic

A. As seen in the history of the church

Looking, first to the Old Testament, we find that God set the pattern of worship. He made Himself known in His Word, in His mighty works, and in His presence in the tabernacle and temple. He called His people to answer Him in worship. Because the final sacrifice had not yet been paid, they must, as they approached the presence of Jehovah, constantly shed the blood of sacrifices for sin.

The beginning of synagogue worship in the Old Testament time, as carried on into the New Testament time, embodied the dialogic element — God’s Word and redeemed man’s response. The history of the early New Testament church followed, in large measure, the pattern of the synagogue. This pattern remained fairly intact until the Roman Catholic Church gradually perverted it. and both eliminated in large measure the place of the Word of God and the direct response of God’s people. The Reformation brought back the centrality of the Word, the voice of God and the response of a redeemed people.

B. Directness of New Testament Worship

In the New Testament, the veil of the temple is rent. In Hebrews 10, this veil is identified with Christ’s body. We read, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which He dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near...” (Hebrews 10:19-22). It is very evident from this passage and the others that the completion of the great events of Christ’s redemption and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit introduced directness of worship in the New Testament. No longer does the congregation of Jesus Christ need an earthly priest to draw near for her. She may draw near with boldness.

C. Danger of re-introduction of the vicarious nature of Old Testament worship or the spectator role of God’s people of Roman Catholicism

Surely everyone realizes the vicarious nature of Old Testament worship and knows that the Roman Catholic Church has brought this back into the New Testament Church. Reformed churches, to be true to the Reformed, must resist this today, as it was so clearly resisted in the Reformation.

The danger of return is great as the churches look for gimmicks to make worship more interesting, more appealing to people. The church of Christ ordains men who take their place between God and congregation to speak for God and to speak for the people. He must not speak for the people in those instances of worship where they can speak meaningfully, unitedly, for themselves.

In the concrete expression of New Testament worship, this means that the prophetic office will predominate the ministerial function in worship. The minister must bring God’s message to man. In so far as possible, he must direct the congregation to bring their own response.

A real and potent danger the churches face today is the return of the vicarious and of the spectator role for the congregation in worship. The congregation may not be a spectator in worship! She, the bride of Christ, must be an active participant.

The growing practice of choir singing and of solos in the worship service is a re-introduction of the vicarious and begins again to place the congregation in the spectator role. The churches should earnestly and firmly resist any such encroachment on their direct open way to God and on their total involvement in worship. We must guard this fruit of Christ’s finished work carefully. It is precious.

Just as carefully, the church must guard the preciousness of the unity of the bride of Christ, the body of Christ in worship. The dialogue of love does and should strongly resent the vicarious element, which constitutes interference.

V. The elements of worship, their place and meaning

A. Application

We will try to be brief. We believe that we, as congregations, are in a situation, historically, in which we can and ought to take a careful look at ourself as church of Christ and at our calling. In other words, we do well as consistories to engage the congregations in a study of the principles of worship before we propose to carefully create our own congregational liturgy. Though there certainly is room for variety in the expression of the principles of worship, it is, at the same time, good that we continue to communicate concerning it.

As we look at a specific order of worship, we do so remembering the directness, the immediacy and the full congregational participation in New Testament worship.

B. Order of worship

The fact that God calls His people to worship ought to come to expression in the order of worship. God opens the worship service and closes it. At the same time, God’s people must approach worship carefully, reverently, prepared. In the Old Testament and in the history of the Reformed churches, God’s people prepared in song. Note the number of Psalms of ascents. In the Reformed churches, the songs of preparation were gradually incorporated into the worship service itself.

1. Silent Prayer:

 Note that the “Silent Prayer” is not, properly, a part of congregational worship, but a personal preparation that is done at the same time. The churches might well consider returning this to each family to be done in preparation, as they enter the place of worship.

2. Votum:

 Though there is much discussion as to its origin, meaning and purpose, we find that it serves well as a declaration by the minister from God’s Word of our complete dependence on Jehovah, our covenant God. Such a declaration can take other form, though the usual, “Our help…” is beautiful and clear.

3. Salutation:

God directs His people who have gathered in answer to His call. The Pauline greeting or that from Revelation l, is beautiful. God tells a.congregation of saved sinners, of sinning saints, that in their meeting with Him, He bestows upon them grace, mercy and peace.

4. Congregational Response:

 The congregation responds in the way she can best speak in unison: she sings. This song ought to express praise, adoration, and wonder at such a greeting from Jehovah (and, at the same time, anticipation of worship in the beauty of holiness.

5. Service of reconciliation:

 This aspect of worship has met with some controversy in Christian Reformed churches, particularly the Christian Reformed in the U.S.A. and Canada. From Calvin on, in the earlier history of the Reformed churches, it had a firm place.

a. This service is usually opened by the reading of the law in Christian Reformed churches. We may consider the order of the Heidelberg Catechism, which uses the summary to teach sin, and the full ten commandments teach the life of gratitude. The comparative forms of the service of reconciliation would be:

  1.  -summary of law
    -song of confession
    -assurance of pardon
    -song of dedication or thanksgiving & dedication
    -ten commandments as guide to godly living

  2.  -law & summary
    -song of confession
    -assurance of pardon
    -song of thanksgiving & dedication

  3.  -law & summary
    -song of confession & dedication

b. Before going further, a note concerning a tendency to remove or replace the law in Reformed churches.

  1.  The place of the law in worship is uniquely Reformed.

  2. Its place in the ark of the covenant, the place where God met His people, vicariously in the Old Testament, under the blood to accept them in worship.

  3. According to Jeremiah 31:31 as quoted in Hebrews 8 & 10, shows the transfer of this law to the hearts of God’s people.

    The law is, therefore, central to reconciled fellowship of God with His people. Many Reformed Christians sense this as they complain of the law being removed from worship. They may not be able to articulate it, but sense it deeply.
c . The confession of sin can be in song or in Scripture quotation. Song is preferable, since this is the voice of the congregation, and the principle of directness, immediacy in worship is important.

d. Assurance of pardon: John Calvin felt very strongly for a declaration of absolution, and such a declaration was embodied in the liturgy he helped structure in Strassbourg.. In 1926 and the following years, the Christian Reformed churches went through quite a struggle on this matter. A reading of the Synodical Report, Supplement XLV of 1928 is enlightening. For assurance of pardon, the Psalms have beautiful expressions.

e. Response of thanksgiving and dedication: Some have used the Apostles’ Creed here.

f. Congregational prayer: This prayer can be both in conclusion of the service of reconciliation and as the opening of the service of the Word. It can also, of course, be placed in response to the service of the Word. The congregational prayer ought to be just what the name implies. The minister, speaking the voice of the congregation to God, must seek to give voice to the adoration, the confession, the thanksgiving, the supplication of the congregation collectively and individually. This is a tremendous task!

6. The service of the Word

The service of the Word is God speaking through His servant. It is a monologue. It is true that there is an answering Psalm, hut that is never such us to interrupt the voice of God.

a. If the congregational prayer is placed after the sermon, the scripture reading and sermon should be preceded by a prayer for blessing, for illumination.

b. Reading of scripture
  1. Not scripture lessons as in some churches, for this must be in the home. It had a meaningful place before printing and before there was a literate, worshipping congregation.
  3. Be careful, however, not to limit this meaningful and important part of liturgy. It must not be merely an introduction to preaching.
c. Optional song by congregation in direct response to the reading of God’s Word, preferrably from Psalm 119.

d. Sermon:  Here God speaks through the minister to His congregation. This must be strictly monologic. There must be congregational response to the preaching of the Word in the form of intense listening to and wrestling with the sermon. A congregation that demands ease of listening is sick and needs the strong medicine of the Word.

e. Post-sermon prayer for blessing and for a responsive people.

7. Response of God’s people

a. Expressed in song related to the sermon and the expected response-in-life of God’s people.

b. Offering

c. Offertory Prayer - Preferably sung by the congregation to maintain and express the principle of directness. There are many good selections of such prayers in the Psalms.

8. Closing of service

a. The congregation prepares to leave by voicing doxology. This doxology may also, of course, include a prayer for God’s parting blessing.

b. The benediction: Jehovah speaks forth His blessing upon His people through His servant. The Aaronic blessing or the benediction which appears in Paul’s epistle serve beautifully. My personal preference is for the Aaronic blessing — beautiful beyond comparison! Yet God led Paul to other words! This, the benediction, ought to be also the dismissal of God’s worshipping people.

9. A note in appendage

Reformed churches have the custom of bowing the head and closing the eyes for the salutation and the benediction. This is good in that the attitude is worshipful. But, it is not prayer. It is expectant anticipation, on the part of the congregation, of the pronouncement of God’s blessing in welcome and in parting.  Such expectancy might well better be expressed by eyes that are open and fixed on the servant of God who will speak for God. The minister, speaking for the Lord, not praying, will then also speak with open eyes as he does when otherwise speaking for God.

Care must be exercised at all times in introducing any change in worship that the congregation both understands and appreciates the change.  It is the congregation that is worshipping!

VI. The liturgical forms

We will not spend a great amount of time or space, at present, on the matter of the forms. The Reformed churches have a wealth in forms historically. We recommend the use of the historic forms as they appear in the 1959 edition of the Psalter Hymnal.  Inclusive of the forms for Lord’s Supper, baptism, confession of faith, installation and ordination forms, disciplinary forms, prayers and form for marriage.

It is recommend, further, that the form for the Lord’s Supper, which became known as form number 2, be also used as an alternate form.  This form is basically only a language update of the original form and can, we believe, be used with profit.

VII. The second service

We need not say much here. The worshipping people of God desire to spend morning and evening with Jehovah in congregational worship. In this connection, take note of the statement of need for a second service which appears in the Liturgical Report, Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1973, Page 505ff - both enlightening and warning.

The two services are basically the same, with the confession of faith, both in creed and song, taking the place of the service of reconciliation. The creed spoken or sung in unison is preferable if it can be done beautifully, for it is the voice of the people. Sometimes the song following the creed can be the voice of God (preferrably from the Psalms) speaking in answer to confession of faith. Sometimes the song is a continuation of confession on the part of the congregation.

Consideration can be given to a response to confession of faith that is spoken by the minister for the Lord from His Word. For example, Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven,” or Romans 10:6ff, or from one of many possible Psalms, e.g. Psalm 89:15-17.

VIII. Further recommendations

A. That together we carefully consider over a period of time whether the Psalter Hymnal is the best instrument for our songs of praise.

B. That we consider the form for marriage for slight revision (e.g. statement of purpose of marriage) and its relation to church order article 70.

2 As quoted in the Agenda for Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1966, page 11.


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