What is Reformed Worship?
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.
The Bible commands us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 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 16th 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 dialogue with our Creator and Redeemer. It is a dialogue in which God speaks to His people through His Word and Sacraments, and we respond in prayer, confession, and song.
God enters into this dialogue with His people every week in corporate public worship in order to renew His covenant of grace with us.
Below is a brief explanation of each part of our liturgy.
God Lifts Us Into His Presence
God Calls Us 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.
We Praise God in Song
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.
Confession of Dependence
Having heard God’s call to worship Him, we respond in prayer. As the covenant people of God, we 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).
God Greets Us
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).
God Renews His Baptismal Promise
God Calls us to Confession
We come into the presence of a holy God as sinners, and so we hear God's judgment against our sins as well as His gracious call to confess our sins and repent of them: 'Return, backsliding Israel,' says the LORD; 'I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,' says the LORD; 'I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God" (Jer 3.12-13).
We Confess Our Sins
Having heard the judgment and call of God's Word, we are driven to confess our sins. 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).
God Absolves Us of Our Sins
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.
We Give Thanks to God in Song
In gratitude, we rejoice in song that God has forgiven us all our sins in Christ: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil” (Zeph 3.14-15).
God Speaks His Law to Us
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).
We Respond to God's Law in Song
In His holy law, God has given His people a rule of gratitude, and so we sing of the goodness of God’s Law out of joy and thankfulness that He gives His Spirit to work in us a desire to live in obedience to that law: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it” (Psalm 119.33-35).
God Speaks His Covenant Word
We Draw Near in Prayer
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).
God Speaks in the Reading of Scripture
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 Speaks in the Preaching of Scripture
God continues to speak as His Word is explained and proclaimed. As the apostle Paul told 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.
We Confess Our 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.
We Respond to the Preaching in Song
Having heard the word of Christ, we “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly,” by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thanksgiving in our hearts to God” (Col 3.16).
Prayer of Intercession
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 Worship God with Our Tithes and Offerings
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).
God Seals His Covenant With The Supper
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).
God Sends Us Forth With His Blessing
God Calls us to Service
Having been nourished by God’s Word and having participated in the body and blood of Christ in God’s covenant meal, God calls His people to serve Him and to serve one another in the week to come: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3.12-17).
We Go Forth in Gratitude
We sing for joy that God in Christ has completed the work He determined to do from the beginning and that in worship He has renewed His covenant with us by Word and Sacrament through the power of the Holy Spirit. We go forth in thankfulness with the full knowledge and assurance that as God’s own special treasure, we now live on the other side of judgment in Christ and, by the work of His Spirit, we have been "made heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him."
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 Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." (Num 6.24-26)
We sing our praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our Triune God, who alone is worthy of all praise.