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
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
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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:
- -summary of law
-song of confession
-assurance of pardon
-song of dedication or thanksgiving & dedication
-ten commandments as guide to godly living
- -law & summary
-song of confession
-assurance of pardon
-song of thanksgiving & dedication
- -law & summary
-song of confession & dedication
b. Before going further, a note concerning a tendency to remove or replace the
law in Reformed churches.
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.
- The place of the law in worship is uniquely Reformed.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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
b. Reading of scripture
c. Optional song by congregation in direct response to the reading of God’s
Word, preferrably from Psalm 119.
- 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,
- Be careful, however, not to limit this meaningful and important part of
liturgy. It must not be merely an introduction to preaching.
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
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
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
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.