What is Worship in the

Reformed Church in the United States?

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I. The Nature of Public Worship


Since the Word of God itself restricts God's people only to such practices in worship which his Word specifically commands (Deut. 12:30; John 4:23,24), the principles of the public worship of God must not be derived from any other source than the Bible nor may they depart there from.


A service of public worship is not merely a gathering of God's children with each other but before all else a meeting of the Triune God with his chosen people. God is present in public worship not only by virtue of the divine omnipresence but, much more intimately, as the faithful covenant Savior. The Lord Jesus Christ said: ``Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them'' (Matt. 18:20).


The end of public worship is the glory of God. His people should always engage in all its several parts with an eye single to his glory. Public worship has as its aim the building of Christ's Church by the perfecting of the saints and the addition to its membership of such as are being saved--all to the glory of God. Through public worship on the Lord's day Christians should learn to serve God all the days of the week in their every activity, remembering, whether they eat or drink or whatever they do, to do all to the glory of God.


Public worship is rightly said to be divine because God is its beginning and its end. It is of him and through him and unto him.


Public worship is Christian when the worshippers recognize Christ is the Mediator by whom alone they can come to God, when they honor Christ as the great Head of the Church, who rules over public worship, and when their worship is an expression of their faith in Christ and of their love for him.


Public worship must be performed in spirit and in truth. Externalism and hypocrisy stand condemned. The forms of public worship have value only when they serve to express the inner reverence of the worshipper and his sincere devotion to the true and living God. And only those whose hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit are capable of such reverence and devotion.


The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship but, in the interest of life and power in worship, has given his church a large measure of liberty in this matter. It may not be forgotten, however, that there is true liberty only where the rules of God's Word are observed and the Spirit of the Lord is; that all things may be done decently and in order, and that God's people should serve him with reverence and in the beauty of holiness. From its beginning to its end a service of public worship should be characterized by that simplicity which is an evidence of sincerity and by that beauty and dignity which are a manifestation of holiness.


Public worship differs from private worship in that in public worship God is served by the saints unitedly as his covenant people, the Body of Christ. For this reason the covenant children should be present so far as possible as well as adults. For the same reason no favoritism may be shown to any who attend. Nor may any member of the church presume to exalt himself above others as though he were more spiritual, but each shall esteem others better than himself.


It behooves God's people not only to come into his presence with a deep sense of awe at the thought of his perfect holiness and their own exceeding sinfulness, but also to enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise for the great salvation which he has so graciously wrought for them through his only begotten Son and applied to them by the Holy Spirit.


II. The Scriptural Elements of Public Worship


1. As a service of public worship is in its essence a meeting of God and his people, the parts of the service are of two kinds: those which are performed on behalf of God, and those which are performed by the congregation. In the former the worshippers are receptive, in the latter they are active. It is reasonable that these two elements be made to alternate as far as possible.


2. The public reading of the Holy Scriptures is performed by the minister as God's servant. Through it God speaks most directly to the congregation, even more directly than through the interpretation of Holy Writ in the sermon. For this reason the minister does well to refrain from interspersing the reading of God's Word with human comments, and the congregation should attend to the reading with deepest reverence.


The reading of the Scriptures by the minister is to be distinguished from the responsive reading of certain portions of the Scripture by the minister and the congregation. In the former God addresses his people; in the latter God's people give expression to their contrition, adoration, gratitude and other holy sentiments. Scripture that is especially appropriate for responsive reading should be chosen.


3. In the sermon God addresses the congregation by the mouth of his servant. It is a matter of supreme importance that the minister preach only the Word of God, not the wisdom of man, that he declare the whole counsel of God, and that he handle aright the Word of truth. To these ends the sermon must be prepared with the utmost care. Let the consistory give diligence that no person enter the pulpit concerning whose doctrinal soundness or knowledge of Scripture there is reasonable doubt. A text may not be used merely to introduce a sermon but must be painstakingly expounded. In the sermon the minister should explain the Word of God for the instruction of his hearers and then apply it for their exhortation.


Care should be taken in preaching that Christian duty be not divorced from Christian truth. That minister fails to perform his task as a God-appointed watchman on Zion's walls who neglects to warn the congregation of prevalent soul-destroying teachings by enemies of the gospel.  The minister should seek to perfect the saints by building them up in the most holy faith and in Christ's stead should beseech the unconverted that they be reconciled to God. Nothing is more necessary than that the gospel of salvation by grace be proclaimed without any adulteration or compromise, in order that the unsaved may rely for salvation on the grace of God only, to the exclusion of their own works or character, and that the saints may ascribe glory for their salvation to God alone.


4. It is proper that the minister at the beginning of the service extend a welcome in God's name to the congregation by the use of the apostolic salutation ``Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.'' At the conclusion of the service the minister shall pronounce in God's name either the high priestly benediction, ``The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace,'' or the apostolic benediction, ``The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.'' If, however, the minister deems another scriptural benediction more fitting for a particular occasion, he may use it. The salutation and benediction, as pronounced in God's name, are properly used only by an ordained minister and in a gathering of Christ's church.


5. It is altogether fitting that, before the service, each person in the congregation engage in silent prayer. In public prayer the minister is the voice of the congregation. He should pray in such a way that the whole assembly of god's people may pray with him, and the members of the congregation not only are bound to listen as he prays but should themselves pray in their hearts. To these ends it is desirable that the minister prepare himself for public prayers by previous meditation. Early in the service he shall offer a brief invocation, humbly imploring for the congregation and himself the guidance of the Holy Spirit in worship. At some point before the sermon there shall be a comprehensive prayer comprising adoration of God's perfections, thanksgiving for his mercies, confession of sins, supplication for the pardon of sins through the blood of the atonement and for renewal by the Holy Spirit, intercession for the poor, the sick, the dying, the mourning, the persecuted, the erring, the rising generation, the aged, the churches of the denomination, Christian missions at home and abroad, Christian education and other Christian activities, the Church universal, the civil rulers, the community, human society in general or whatever causes may be particularly worthy. Public prayer must be offered with deep humility and holy reverence and be free from vain repetition or display of words.


6. As it is the aim of public worship to glorify God, prayer and praise should predominate in congregational singing. Let every member of the church take part in this act of worship. It should be performed not merely with the lips but with the spirit and the understanding. Since the metrical versions of the Psalms are based upon the Word of God, they ought to be used frequently in public worship. Great care must be taken that all the materials of song are in perfect accord with the teaching of Holy Scripture. Let the tunes as well as the words be dignified and elevated. The stately rhythm of the chorals is especially appropriate for public worship. No person shall take a special part in the musical service unless he is a Christian and adorns his profession with a godly walk.


7. The bringing of offerings into God's house is a solemn act of thanksgiving to almighty God. It is the duty of the minister to cultivate the grace of biblical giving in the members of the church by reminding them of the Scriptural admonition that every one should give as the Lord has prospered him, of the assurance of Scripture that God's loves a cheerful giver, and of the blessed example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, became poor in order that poor sinners through his poverty might become rich. The consistory shall take care that the offerings of the congregation are used only for the maintenance of public worship, the preaching of the gospel throughout the world, and other Christian objects. If a member of the church designates his gift to a particular cause, the consistory shall respect his wish unless it is convinced that the specified cause is unworthy, in which case the gift shall be returned to the donor.


(From the Directory of Worship of the Reformed Church in the U. S.)   Return to Menu