Chapter 2. The Practice of Worship

1. The Scriptures do not prescribe a fixed order of worship, but so that  all things may be done decently and in order (I Cor. 14:40), it is desirable that  the exercises of worship be conducted in a biblical, thoughtful, dignified, and  edifying manner. The assembled congregation meets in God’s presence as His  covenant people: They confess their sins, hear His promises of forgiveness  and acceptance, and listen to the righteous requirements of His Word. The  whole is a dialogue between God and His people. The order and content of the service should reflect this dialogue that occurs on the basis of the Covenant of Grace. The following order of service is suggested, although it may be varied:

Call to Worship, and Greeting
Prayer of Adoration
Psalm
Baptism, when administered
Old Testament Reading
Psalm, or Prayer of Confession
New Testament Reading
Prayer of Intercession
Scripture Text for Sermon
Sermon
Prayer
Presentation of Tithes and Offerings
Lord’s Supper, when administered:
Words of Institution
Warning and Initation
Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
Psalm
Benediction

2. The scriptural elements of ordinary public worship are prayer, the singing of Psalms, the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word of God, the presentation of tithes and offerings, and the celebration of the sacraments. To these may be added the special ordinances of fasting, thanksgiving, taking of oaths and vows, and public covenanting. Each part of the service should be briefly explained at regular intervals in contemporary terms, so as to make its purpose clear to all present. Announcements should be made prior to or after the service and kept to a minimum so as not to intrude upon the worship of God.

3. The local session is responsible for the immediate oversight of public worship. Ordinarily the pastor takes the leadership role in planning and conducting the worship service. Ruling elders may call the congregation to worship and give the greeting, lead the congregation in prayer, introduce the Psalms to be sung, and read the Scripture. On occasion a ruling elder may preach the Word and pronounce the benediction, but he may not administer the sacraments except under extraordinary circumstances (DCG 3:I:C:4–6). On occasion a student under care may lead part of the service.

Call to Worship, Greeting, and Prayer of Adoration

4. An elder should call the congregation to worship using a suitable scriptural text such as those that declare the majesty of God’s holy name, the praise of His perfections, or the goodness of His works of creation and redemption. He should also greet God’s people, perhaps using an apostolic salutation such as “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

5. The elder should then offer a prayer of adoration. It may include the following:

a. Reverent acknowledgement of the incomprehensible greatness, goodness, and majesty of the Lord, in whose presence the congregation is gathered.

b.  Solemn confession of our unworthiness by nature to approach Him and our inability of ourselves to worship Him.

c. Humble seeking of His pardon, assistance, and acceptance in the worship service.

d. Grateful blessing of Him for the unspeakable gift of His Son Jesus, the only Savior of sinners, and the only mediator between God and man.

e. Joyful claiming of the promises to the saints of His covenant of grace.

f. Expectant seeking of His blessing upon the praise, prayer, and proclamation of the Word that day.

6. The whole congregation should assemble promptly, that all may be present and may join together for the entire worship service. As the service begins, each one should give undivided attention to the worship of God. The worshipers should refrain from any behavior that is disruptive or is a hindrance to their own faithful service to the Lord. Unless necessary, none should depart until after the benediction.

Singing of Praise

7. The New Covenant is like a marriage bond between God and His people. Their meeting each week properly brings joy and delight. So the saints sing Psalms to God.

8. The heartfelt singing of praise is an element of public worship. The Psalms of the Bible, because of positive biblical warrant, their inherent excellence, and their divine inspiration, are to be sung in the public worship of God, to the exclusion of all songs or hymns of human composition. They are to be sung without the accompaniment of instruments, since these are not authorized for New Testament worship. For the sake of unity, the Psalm versions used in the praise of God should ordinarily be those approved by the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Psalms, or portions of Psalms, should be chosen for the appropriateness of their content within a particular service of worship. If only a portion of a Psalm is sung, careful attention must be given to the larger context. Congregations should not fall into the habit of using only certain favorite Psalms, and sessions should consider a plan of singing systematically through the Book of Psalms.

9. The people of God are to sing thoughtfully, reverently, and enthusiastically, with grace in the heart. Careful attention should be paid to the music and to the leading of the precentor, that the praise might resound with a beauty reflective of the glory of God and His holiness. Those chosen to be precentors should have the marks of Christian maturity and the gifts to perform this function. They should lead the singing in a simple, orderly, and dignified manner. They should not interject interpretations or comments on the content of the Psalms sung. One of the fruits of the Reformation was the restoration of the biblical practice of congregational singing. A choir may be formed to help lead the praise, but singing must not be left to the choir. Congregational singing ought always to be the norm.

10. The Psalms have a depth of meaning and beauty that will repay the most careful study. It is vitally important that the congregation understand what is sung. Therefore, it is helpful for the elders to make brief comments on the Psalms sung. It is particularly helpful if one of the Psalms is selected for a more substantial, succinct explanation by an elder before it is sung. Attention should be given to how the Psalm reveals the work of Christ and the blessings of the New Covenant.

Prayer

11. Prayer is an element of public worship in which the saints draw near to the throne of grace. Prayer is to be offered boldly in the name of Jesus Christ, with the utmost reverence in thought, language, and manner, with the deep humility appropriate to forgiven sinners approaching the presence of the Holy God, and with the joy of children accepted by a loving father. Although led by an elder, it becomes the prayer of the whole assembly as the Lord’s people participate by giving earnest attention to the content of the prayer and adding, by an audible or inaudible “Amen,” their enthusiastic concurrence with its petitions.

12. Prayers in a worship service will include adoration, thanksgiving, confession of sin, and intercession. That portion of intercessory prayer focusing on confession of sin may be offered separately, following a reading of God’s Law and followed by an assurance of pardon.

13. The prayer of intercession should be comprehensive without being excessively prolonged. It should be carefully planned. It may include the following:

a. Adoration of the majesty of God, as the giver of life and of every good and perfect gift, and, most especially, of the gift of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners.

b. Confession of our great sinfulness, because of both original sin (the human condition by nature) and actual sin (our actual transgressions of God’s will), of the justice of God’s condemnation of sinners, and of our unworthiness of the least of His blessings.

c. Thanksgiving for the provision of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Mediator who gave His life as the atoning sacrifice for sin and for the sovereign grace by which He has sought and saved His people, and continues, by the gospel, to call all people everywhere to repent and believe in Him that they might have eternal life.

d. Requesting the work of His Spirit: to pour God’s love into our hearts, seal to us, by the Spirit of adoption, the full assurance of our pardon and reconciliation, comfort those who mourn, speak peace to the wounded and troubled spirit, and bind up the brokenhearted; to convert sinners, opening their eyes, convicting their consciences, and turning them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they also may receive forgiveness of sin, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Christ Jesus; and to sanctify us, putting to death the sin that remains in us, enlivening our souls with the life of God in Christ, and giving us grace to equip us for our life and witness before God and in the world, strength against temptations, the godly use of both blessings and trials, and perseverance in the faith throughout our lives.

e. Intercession for the spread of the gospel and the kingdom of Christ to all the nations of the world: for the conversion of Jews and Gentiles, and the hastening of the second coming of our Lord; for the flourishing of the church at home and abroad; for the relief from oppression of persecuted believers; and for civil governments, that they would rule with justice in the fear of the Lord.

f. Specific petitions for the saints and the community: for the sick and distressed; for the challenges of the coming week; and for the growth of the fellowship and the reaching of the lost.

g. Blessing the Lord for the Lord’s Day and the joy and privilege of gathering for worship; and praying for the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Word, to the end that Christ may be so formed in us, and live in us, that all our thoughts might be brought into captivity to obey Christ, and our hearts established in every good word and work forever.

14. The prayer after the sermon gives thanks to God for His goodness toward His saints, and asks that He impress the truth on the hearts of all present and accept graciously the worship that has been offered.

15. The Scriptures do not explicitly command particular postures in prayer. They do give the examples of kneeling and standing as postures that are suitable signs of reverence and devotion.

16. Congregations may pray together the Lord’s Prayer, which is not only a pattern of prayer but also a most comprehensive prayer.

Reading the Scriptures

17. The reading of the Word of God is an element of worship and a primary means appointed by God for the building up of His people. In it we acknowledge our dependence upon the Lord and our submission to Him. The reading is to be led by an elder as God’s servant. Through it God speaks directly to the congregation.

18. The reading of Scripture in worship involves the recounting of the history by which God brought His people to Himself. The giving of the Law under the Old Covenant began by recounting God’s saving of Israel: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex. 20:1-2). Likewise, under the New Covenant, God’s saving acts in Christ are proclaimed in the gospel. God in Christ has vanquished the enemies of His people: the power of sin, Satan, and the last enemy, death itself (Col. 1:13-14).

19. All the canonical books of the Old and New Testament (but none of those which are commonly called Apocrypha) shall be publicly read in the language of the people, from a sound translation, distinctly, so that everyone may hear and understand. Scripture may also be read responsively or in unison.

20. The length of the passages to be read is left to the wisdom of the elder. It is commendable to read a passage from each Testament in the service. This could be done in a consecutive manner, so as to read the whole of Scripture in the course of time. Some passages may be read more frequently, such as the Law and scriptural promises of pardon and acceptance. One of the passages may be the text for the sermon.

Preaching the Word of God

21. The preaching of the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, is central to the work of the ministry. It should be done in such a way that the workman need not be ashamed, but may save both himself and those who hear him (I Tim. 4:16). The one who ministers the Word is to prepare for the preaching by careful study of the Scriptures and prayer. He should seek the aid of the Holy Spirit that he may declare the whole counsel of God. He should read widely and keep abreast of the scholarship and the social and doctrinal issues of the times. His messages should be adapted to the congregation, both in content and delivery.

22. The sermon is an exposition and application of Scripture. The continuous exposition of a book or a section of a book is an excellent method of preaching. However, topical messages are also appropriate to address the needs of the congregation and issues of the culture. The preacher should interpret Scripture in the context of redemptive history and the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. Faithful preaching must proclaim the explicit teaching of the Bible, the Word of God written, and proclaim Christ, the Word of God incarnate.

23. The servant of Christ is to preach in this manner:

a. Diligently, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.

b. Plainly, so that all ages and abilities may understand; delivering the truth not in the enticing words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect (I Cor. 2:4; 1:17); also abstaining from an unprofitable use of unknown languages, strange phrases, and cadences of sounds or words; and sparingly citing quotations from ecclesiastical or other human writers, ancient or modern, however elegant.

c. Faithfully, for the honor of Christ and for the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people, and not for his own gain or glory; keeping nothing back that may promote these goals, giving to each what is needed, and having impartial respect to everyone, without neglecting the most lowly, or sparing the most influential, in their sins.

d. Wisely, framing all his teaching, exhortations, and especially his reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to be effective; showing all due respect to each one’s person and place, and not giving way to his personal animosities or prejudices.

e. Solemnly, as appropriate to the Word of God; avoiding any gestures, tone of voice, and expressions that would give opportunity for people to despise him and his ministry.

f. Lovingly, that the saints may see his ministry springing from a genuine zeal for the Lord and a deep desire to do them good.

g. As taught by God, and convinced in his own heart, that all that he teaches is the truth of Christ; living before the congregation as an ex-ample to them; earnestly, both in private and public, recommending his labors to the blessing of God, and watchfully looking to himself, and to the flock of which the Lord has made him an overseer. In this way, the truth will be faithfully preserved, many people will be converted to Christ and built up in the Christian faith and life, and he himself will receive many encouragements in his ministry in this life, and afterward a crown of glory in the world to come.

24. The worshipers participate in the preaching of the Word as they listen with “diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in [their] hearts, and practice it in [their] lives” (WSCQ. 90).

The Offering

25. The presentation of tithes and offerings is warranted as part of worship. We are commanded to set aside our offerings on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:1-2). God calls His people to return a portion of their substance to Him cheerfully, systematically, and as He has prospered them. The receiving of the offering may be preceded or followed by a brief prayer that joyfully gives thanks for God’s provision and commits the gifts to the work of Christ’s kingdom and the blessing of the Lord.

The Benediction

26. Public worship should be concluded with a solemn blessing upon the saints. Here are two common forms:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (II Cor. 13:14) and, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Num. 6:24–26). Scripture supplies other suitable benedictions (for example: II Thes. 3:16, Eph. 6:23–24, Heb. 13:20–21).

27. The benediction is a pronouncement, not a prayer of adjournment, and should never become a mere formality for dismissing the congregation. The bestowing of the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a high and holy privilege. The congregation should wait quietly and reverently to receive the benediction.

28. The Lord has commanded us to remember one day in seven, the Lord’s Day, and to delight in it. We are to keep the whole of the day holy, by resting from our regular and all unnecessary work, by remembering God’s works of Creation and Redemption, by anticipating our eternal rest in Christ, and by showing mercy to those in need.

29. The session should carefully consider how to lead the church in observing the day. Since the circumstances of each congregation vary, the session should carefully consider whether a second meeting should be held, and whether it should be a public worship service or some other gathering for fellowship and edification, always considering the glory of God and the good of the congregation.

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