Reformed Worship Explained
The weekly public worship service is the most important activity in the Christian life. Here, God meets with his people. He speaks to us in his Word and sacraments, and we respond in prayer, confession, and song. He stoops down to feed our souls, strengthen our faith, and build us up as the body of Christ. We come ready to hear, ready to receive, and ready to please him.
Nowadays, worship services are often more about pleasing ourselves than pleasing God. It has become common for worship services to focus on entertaining the audience, looking more like rock concerts and motivational seminars, rather than the holy worship of the triune God. But the Bible commands us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12.28-29).
At Christ URC, you won’t find the latest big thing in evangelical worship. There are no rock bands, special effects, or hip pastors telling flippant stories. Instead you will find reverent and joyful worship of the living God, biblical liturgy, and Christ proclaimed from all the Scriptures.
What is a Liturgy?
The word “liturgy” simply refers to the order of worship in a public service. Every church has some form of liturgy. The liturgy you experience at Christ URC has historical precedent: each part can be found in the liturgies from the historic Christian church, especially those of the sixteenth century Reformation and the early church fathers.
More importantly, our liturgy fully conforms to the Word of God, and is carefully designed to lead us in a dialog with our Creator and Redeemer. It is a dialog in which God speaks to his people through his Word and sacraments, and we respond in our prayer, confession, and singing.
God enters into this dialog with his people every week in public worship in order to renew his covenant of grace with us. Below is a brief explanation of each part of our liturgy.
Call to Worship
The service begins with the Triune God calling us with his Word to worship him with reverence and awe. A text, often a Psalm, is read as a summons to the people of God: “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!” (Ps 95.6). He calls us to worship him and receive from his open hand the good gifts he provides for our souls.
Having heard God’s call to worship him, we respond in prayer. As the covenant people of God, rise to our feet and invoke (call upon) the name of God, confessing that “our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps 124.8).
This is God’s response to his people invoking his name. He announces his grace and peace to all who come to him through Jesus Christ. As God’s appointed ambassador, the minister raises his hands and announces God’s blessing from his Word: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1.7).
Song of Praise
Having heard God’s blessing, we respond by lifting up our voices to him and singing a psalm or biblical hymn. As we are commanded, “Come into his presence with singing!” (Ps 100.2). The words we sing to the Lord are carefully chosen, as the content of each song must conform to Scripture, and should provide us with a deeper understanding of God.
Reading of the Law
God tells us his will for our lives in his law, that is, the commands of Scripture. God’s law tells us clearly how we are to live and what God expects of us. It also reveals God’s holiness as well as our sinfulness, for “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Rom 7.7).
Confession of Sin
Having heard God speak to us in his law, we are driven to confess our sins. First, we do this publicly and corporately, confessing to God as a people, “against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51.4). Then, we do this silently, confessing our own individual sins.
Declaration of Pardon
Having confessed our sins to God, we hear the joyful announcement of his promise that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1.9). As Christ’s ambassador, the minister declares pardon to all who trust in Christ and repent of their sins.
Confession of Faith
We confess together the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, or a section of the Heidelberg Catechism. We do this not only to be instructed in the Christian faith, but also as a prayer to God in which we declare that we stand united in the truth he has revealed: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph 4.5-6). The creeds and confessions beautifully summarize that revealed truth.
The minister prays on behalf of the congregation, bringing “the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb 13.15), as well as intercession for the church and world. This is concluded with the congregation praying together the Lord’s Prayer.
We respond to God’s grace with our monetary giving, which is for the advancement of the gospel in the world and the making of disciples. We do this as an act of worship, knowing that “each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9.7).
Song of Preparation
We sing in preparation for the meal God is about to give us for our souls in the preaching of his Word. We sing another psalm or hymn, essentially saying to the Lord, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119.105).
Prayer for Illumination
We call upon the Lord again, this time asking him to “give [us] the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of [our] hearts enlightened, that [we] may know what is the hope to which he has called [us], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph 1.17-19).
Having asked God to open our ears and hearts to receive his Word, we listen to him speak as his Word is read. This too – “the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4.13) – is an act of worship.
God continues to speak as his Word is explained and proclaimed. As the apostle Paul told pastor Timothy: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4.2-4). The minister gives a faithful exposition of the text, which ultimately calls us to repentance of sin and faith in Christ.
Having heard from our covenant God in his Word, we now join him in a covenant meal. As the preached Word promised us God’s favor in Christ, so also our heavenly Father adds this visible conformation of his unchangeable promise. We partake together to commune with and participate in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 10.16).
Song of Response
Having heard the word of Christ and participated in the body and blood of Christ, we “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly,” by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual sons, with thanksgiving in our hearts to God” (Col 3.16).
In the worship service, the triune God gets the first word and the final word. And both are announcements of his grace. With uplifted hands, the minister blesses the people of God from the Word of God, which is available to all who receive it through faith: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13.14).