Understanding Reformed Worship (written by Pastor Rob Vandoodewaard)
You may wonder why our worship services are plain, simple, and yet structured? We worship in this predictable way because we believe that it is a pattern evident in scripture, and a pattern that has been observed by faithful churches for thousands of years.
Why an Order of Worship?
About 400 years before Christ was born, Jerusalem was conquered and Solomon’s temple was destroyed. The remnants of the nation of Israel were forced to leave their land and scattered across the world. Jewish worship moved to smaller local gatherings, called Synagogue services. In these services an order of worship, called a liturgy, was followed.
It was this type and pattern of worship that shaped the worship of the New Testament local church. As many as 40 times, the gospels speak of the Lord Jesus Christ worshipping in and teaching in Synagogues, and 19 times in Acts we read of the apostles ministering in the Synagogues. Parallels between passages such as James 2:2 and Luke 11:43 also show a link between New Testament church worship and the synagogue.
We believe that the reason the New Testament speaks relatively little about New Testament church patterns is not to give a broad license for worship styles and elements, but rather because the simple and biblical elements of synagogue liturgy were used. The elements of worship mentioned in the New Testament; being prayer, Psalm singing, offerings, and preaching, form the basis for true Christian worship. The following texts are some of those that form the boundaries of what we believe is this God honoring, simple, and timeless approach:
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” – 1 Corinthians 14:40
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;” – 1 Timothy 2:1
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” – Colossians 3:16
“… give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in [you], which was given [to you] by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery [eldership].” – 1 Timothy 4:13–14
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” – Hebrews 10:24-25
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him…” – 1 Cor.16:1–2
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them…” – Acts 20:7
Ancient writings from the first centuries of the church, even some from enemies of the church, describe and confirm the use of a liturgy in Sunday morning and evening worship that was very similar to the one we use today. These “timeless” liturgies of the ancient church included opening salutations, Psalms, reading of the Ten Commandments, prayers, opportunities to give offerings, scripture reading, preaching, and the blessing.
Understanding our Liturgy
The liturgy should be seen as a conversation between God and His people, led by the pastor yet participated in by the church. The pulpit is the centre of our Reformed worship. This is should not focus your attention on the pastor, but rather it is the pastor’s calling to focus hearts and minds on the Word of God as it is read and delivered, and to offer prayers to God for the congregation.
Contemplation – We prepare for worship with a time of quiet contemplation and prayer just prior to the service. This is a time to consider the Great and Holy God who we approach together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Silent Prayer – The Pastor will pause before going up to the pulpit for a moment of silent prayer, asking for God’s blessing on the service.
Votum – An opening pledge or vow. The pastor, on behalf of the congregation, speaks from Psalm 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” This begins our worship by expressing our complete dependence on God.
Salutation – The Pastor speaks God’s word of greeting to the congregation, “Grace, mercy, and peace be with, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior… through the work of the Holy Spirit.” This greeting is based on the greeting at the beginning of many of the books of the New Testament.
Opening Psalm – The congregation begins worship together by singing a Psalm of praise, which expresses thanks to God in response to His greeting, confirms their dependence on Him, and calls on others to join in praise and worship.
Reading of the Law – (Morning) – The Pastor reads the Ten Commandments and at times other related portions of scripture that emphasizes God’s holy demands for all people. This reminds us of our fallen nature and our need for forgiveness through the work of Jesus Christ.
Confession of Faith – (Afternoon) – We recite the Apostle’s Creed, or the Pastor reads the Nicene Creed or Athanasian Creed which all are ancient summaries of Bible truths and unchanging essential apostolic Christian doctrine (Ephesians 2:20, II Timothy 1:8a, and Jude 3b). This act of worship is intended as an expression of mind and heart agreement concerning “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
Psalm of Confession – The congregation responds to God’s law or the confession with the singing of a relevant Psalm of confession.
Scripture Reading – Scripture selections are read through which God speaks to His people. This reading will be the central theme of the service.
Congregational Prayer – The pastor leads the congregation in prayer, bringing praise to God, confessions of sin, thanksgivings, and requests before God on behalf of the church.
Offering – A collection for the ministry of the church is taken. Visitors should not feel obligated to give to this.
Preaching of the Word – The pastor teaches, explains, and applies the scripture reading. In Reformed churches we understand preaching, when properly done and consistent with the Bible, to be the God’s Word for the church. Listeners are called first to think about, examine, and apply the sermon to their hearts and minds. If you have any questions about the preaching, the pastor or others will be available after the service to discuss them with you.
Thanksgiving Prayer – The pastor leads in a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of God’s Word.
Psalm of Response – A Psalm relevant to the Bible passage is sung in response to God’s Word.
Doxology – The congregation sings a song of praise to God in response to His blessing, expressing their desire to continue in worship in all of their life as they move forward.