What is Reformed Worship?
August 31, 2023, 5:00 PM

In Christian circles, when people hear the word “reformed,” it’s usually in reference to the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism,” which itself is reduced to the acronym “TULIP” (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). However, Reformed Theology is more than just the five points, but rather a recovery of biblical piety and practice within the church.

Reformed Theology is the fruit of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, which itself was a “protest” against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church of that time. Particularly when it came to the sale of indulgences. It has often been said that the “material” cause of the Reformation was on the issue of Justification, or how one is made right before a holy God. Is it by faith alone (as the Reformers insisted) or is by faith and the Roman sacramental system? Lurking behind this debate is what scholars have called the “formal” cause of the Reformation, which centered on the matter of authority. What is the final authority in the Church? Is it the Scriptures alone or is it the Scriptures and Church tradition (the decrees of councils and popes)? The Reformers held that we are justified by faith alone, and they based this on the authority of the Scriptures alone.

This reliance on the authority of Scripture alone led to more than just a reformation of theology, but of all piety and practice, including worship. When the Reformers consulted the Scriptures, they found little to no support for many of the practices that had become institutionalized within the Catholic Church. Things such as: (1) the number of sacraments (two instead of seven); (2) the centrality of the pulpit versus the altar; (3) the idea of the Lord’s Supper as a spiritual communion with the body and blood of Christ by faith versus the “bloodless” re-sacrificing of Christ each Sunday; (4) the move toward pastors & teachers and away from priests.

When it comes right down to it, Reformed Worship is worship according to the Word. The Reformers developed a principle of worship called the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). The RPW basically says that the Church is only permitted to do in worship what God explicitly commands in His Word. This is principally because God is the Creator and He is worthy of worship and worship is for the purpose of glorifying God. The Directory of Worship for The Reformed Church in the United States (DW) states “A service of public worship is not merely a gathering of God’s children with each other, but above all else a meeting of the Triune God with His chosen people.”[1]

Since public worship is a meeting of the Triune God with His chosen people, many in the Reformed camp have believed worship should take the form of a dialogue. Again, the DW says, “Since a service of public worship is in its essence a meeting of God with 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 types of elements be made to alternate as far as possible.”[2]

At Emmanuel Reformed Church, we follow this dialogical principle in our liturgy.[3] The various elements of worship[4] we use are listed below in order with a brief explanation of each one.

  • Call to Worship – Our Triune God calls us into His presence to worship. This is usually taken from one of the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 95:1-6).
  • Apostolic Greeting – After calling us to worship, God greets us and welcomes us with His grace and peace. This is usually in the form of the Apostolic Greetings we see in the NT epistles (e.g., Ephesians 1:2).
  • Invocation – The people respond as the minister, on behalf of the people, prays to God and asks for His help to worship. This is usually followed with the Gloria Patri, a song of praise to the Triune God.
  • Song of Praise – The Song of Praise is usually a psalm or a hymn that focuses on praising our God for who He is and for what He has done.
  • Reading of Holy Scripture – God continues to speak to us through His Word. This might be a reading from Holy Scripture that ties into the theme of the sermon, or it could be a responsive reading from the Psalms, or the reading of God’s Law.
  • Confession of Faith – The people respond by confessing their common faith to God stated in the form of “we believe.” The confession of faith is usually taken from one of the ecumenical creeds of the early Church, such as the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed.
  • Congregational Prayer – Sometimes called the intercessory prayer or the long prayer, the minister, again on behalf of the people, prays to God for the needs of the congregation. The people are to silently pray along with the minister. This is usually followed by a reciting of the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Song of Preparation – The Song of Preparation is a response of the people to God to prepare their hearts to receive His Word. This can be a psalm or a hymn that focuses on Christ as the One to whom the Scriptures point.
  • The Ministry of the Word – God speaks to His people through the reading and the preaching of the Word. The people are to be actively listening to the sermon as God is speaking to them through the words of His called and ordained servant.
  • Presentation of Tithes and Offerings – The people respond to the mercy and grace of God through the giving of their tithes and offerings. We do not give to God because He needs it, but because He has blessed us richly.
  • Song of Application – The people respond in song by singing the Song of Application. This song (a psalm or hymn) focuses on the salvation that we have in Christ and on all His saving benefits.
  • Benediction – The service of public worship is concluded with a word of blessing from our Triune God as He gives us His peace, and this is followed by the singing of the Doxology.

[1] The Directory of Worship for The Reformed Church in the United States: Modern English Version; 2ed (1998), p. 11.

[2] Ibid., p. 14.

[3] “Liturgy” (from the Greek word, “leitourgia”) simply means “a public service.” Every church has a liturgy.

[4] An “element of worship” are those things that must be included in any public service of worship.

Post a Comment