Our Order of Worship
The word liturgy is also used in English as meaning the form or order of public worship. All churches and services have a liturgy, an order and meaning for what they do.We read in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” The Greek word translated in this verse as service could also be translated as worship and is the basis for our word liturgy. Our entire life is to be a liturgy – an act of service and worship to the great God who has saved us. And though all of life is an act of worship, we are also called as God’s people to gather together for worship. It is the public and corporate worship of God’s people that becomes the most central and important thing we do, which then gives even greater meaning to everything else that God calls us to do.
This morning, I would like us to consider our own liturgy and to have us think more deeply about what we do and why we do it. If our corporate worship is so important, than it is equally important that we understand the what and why of our liturgy. For about 10 years we have used the liturgy or order of service found in your bulletins, but even with the familiarity of what we do, I think we sometimes don’t always think about what we do.
Our worship service is not simply the work that we do for God. But our worship together is also the work that God does for us. We can give only because we have first been given something by God. And in this sense, we are gathered for the purpose of getting something. In Psalm 100:4-5, we read “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.” Our Sunday worship then is both for the purpose of praise, giving thanks and blessing His name as well as then knowing again the goodness, mercy, truth, and blessing of our great God.
Let’s move to taking a look at our order of service printed in the bulletin.
Though it is not listed in the bulletin because it is not directly a part of the service, the prelude played together by the piano and organ is in a sense a part of our service. It is a time for quiet prayer and preparation for the service. Each week we sing and read a different Psalm, noted by the Psalms for Singing selection. This passage would be a good passage to read while preparing for the service. Also before the service officially begins, I read the announcements for the week. Though the main purpose of the announcements is to briefly share the main events for the week, the announcements do serve as a reminder that we are called in God’s presence not just as individuals but as a body.
Our service officially begins with the Call to Worship. The passage that I read generally from the psalms is not simply a good thing to do in beginning a service. The Call to Worship is a reminder that we don’t call God to come to be with us, but rather God calls us to be with Him. Through the working of the Holy Spirit we respond to God’s call on the Lord’s Day. This space we use here for worship is often called the sanctuary. This word sanctuary comes from the Latin word, sanctus, which means holy. What makes this place holy is not the furniture but rather the people assembled. As we studied from 1 Peter 2:5, “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And so while it is certainly true that God’s presence is everywhere in the universe, when God’s people are gathered for worship, we in a special way are brought into the presence of God where we receive His Word and the signs and seals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In response to God’s gracious call, we respond by first standing and then singing two hymns of praise and thanksgiving. We worship God both through our actions and the attitude of our heart. It is good then as we are able, that we all stand in response to God’s call, both young and old. Psalm 100, calls us to Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. In the OT, the children of Israel literally walked through the gates of Zion to come into the presence of God. But now we confess that wherever God’s people are gathered in the truth of God’s Word and through the working of the Holy Spirit, that the presence of God is known.
The next line in the bulletin lists the Invocation, Catechism Reading, and Memory Verse Reading. Invocation is another work coming from Latin, which means to call on something for help. This prayer, which I lead us in praying, is especially a prayer for giving praise to our triune God and asking for His help and strength in our worship. Invocation may not be the best name for this prayer. Often invocations are used before sports games or even before Congress meets for business. In our invocation, we are not asking for God to be present, but rather for His working in our lives so that we may worship Him in a pleasing and acceptable way.
This opening prayer is followed by either our reading together our confession of faith or a reading from one of the catechisms. I certainly can’t give any Scripture passage that says after you pray, you should have a reading from the Heidelberg Catechism. But our reading together of either our church confession or a reading from a catechism is part of our worship before God as we confess together the truth of His Word which has been summarized for us in these different readings. And so these readings are part of our expression of worship even as we give thanks to God that He has preserved His Word and continues to lead us in its truth.
On some Sundays we have Special Music. It is important to stress that this time is not entertainment. It is not an opportunity for those who play or sing to show how talented they are. Rather it is an opportunity for either quiet reflection of the words of the song or simply to be still and quiet before the Lord. I realize that sometimes the song that is played is not familiar to you. What do you do when you don’t know the words or even recognize the melody? My encouragement would be to use the time for silent prayer in praise of God.
The next major heading in the bulletin is that of confession of sin. Before we do this, we read together responsively our Psalm for the week. There are today many churches that given no time for confession of sin. While there is no verse that explicitly states that this must be a part of our worship, we do believe that it is right and proper that as God’s people we be confronted again with our sinfulness and also the mercy of God. It is true that Jesus has fully paid for our sin when He died on the cross. But our sins, though forgiven in Christ, are an offense before a holy God. Since God is our Father, it is appropriate that we ask for His forgiveness, because of what Christ has already done for us. We begin this time in silent prayer as we each confess our particular sins against God. I then lead in a short prayer also of confession and also thankfulness to God for the forgiveness that we have in Christ.
Our confession is followed by singing a selection from the Psalms for Singing. For a number of years we sang a selection from this book in no particular order. But for the last 5 years, we have been moving each week through one Psalm. In approximately three years, we will sing at least one selection from every Psalm. I do realize that sometimes the selection we sing may sound a bit strange. Not all the words and melodies fit each other perfectly. But I think we are growing as a church. And although we sing many songs that are not directly based on the Psalms, we do have an obligation to learn as best we can the songs that God has given to His church. This is a process that literally will take generations if not longer. I would also encourage you as families to learn the selections from our psalm hymnal.
The next part of our worship is the offering. The offering is not the fundraiser for the church or the chance for me to make a special pledge to keep the church financially afloat. Certainly as a local church we do have needs. By God’s grace, the ministries of the church have helped encourage the work that God has given us to do. But the time that we give for the offering is a part of our worship together because it is also a reminder to us each week that the Lord owns all that we have and that he calls us to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices. We may not all have something to place in the offering each week. But together as a local body we do give a tithe of what the Lord has given to us and we do present our bodies before the Lord as living sacrifices.
While the offering is passed we sing the Doxology. The word Doxology comes from a similar sounding Greek word which means a prayer. There is also a similar word which means to praise. The short song that we sing together is really a sung prayer. The words of this song were written in 1709 by Thomas Ken. The melody, one of the best-known hymn melodies, was written by Louis Bourgeois, who worked with John Calvin for a time in Geneva. We sing this short song, not simply because of its history, but rather because it is a profound but simple hymn expressing praise to our Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the heart of the faith which has been passed down to us is our belief in one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are not names that we give to God, but rather the name that God has used in revealing Himself to us.
We do from time to time also collect a special deacon’s offering. These funds are used directly here in this body to meet different needs that we have as families. And this offering is usually collected in the lobby of the church, not because it is less special, but simply for practical reasons.
The next part of our worship is a time of prayer, sometimes called the pastoral prayer or the long prayer in some churches. While in the Puritan tradition, and in even in other churches, this prayer could easily last for one hour, I do try to lead us a church in a much shorter prayer in praying for our own needs and for other concerns that we have as a body. We read in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In obedience to this command and other commands like it, we offer up to God our prayers as a church. We certainly don’t always pray in great detail for each of our concerns, but it is good that we pray as best we can for as many needs as we can. And my encouragement is that you follow and pray along as I lead in this time of prayer.
This time of prayer leads into the call to hear the reading of God’s Word. We begin this time by reading from both the Old Testament and New Testament. We do this out of tradition because we confess that both what are called the Old and New Testaments are part of the Inspired and Infallible word of God. We stand for the reading of God’s Word because it is an appropriate way to hear the Word of God.
The reading of God’s Word then directly leads into the sermon. The sermon should not be viewed as the really important thing that takes place each week. And while the sermon is the place for the public preaching of God’s Word, it is not meant to be a lecture or informational broadcast. The purpose of the sermon is to encourage, rebuke, renew, and instruct God’s people in His Word. Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The word of God which is sharper than any two-edged sword is the means that God uses to cut us up, as it were, so that we may be living sacrifices. Though the messages that I preach are placed on the internet, I certainly don’t intend to ever seek to preach for anybody but this local church where God has allowed me to serve. And so I do frequently pray in my studies that God will lead me in preaching messages for this church.
Sad to say, we have short memories. Does anyone remember the sermon from one year ago, five years ago, or ten years ago? Thankfully the value of God’s Word is not simply in being able to remember every sermon that we have heard. Hopefully we do grow in our knowledge over time. But the benefit that we receive from God’s Word and from the sermons we hear comes through the working of the Holy Spirit. We read this in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in Answer 89, “The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.” As we humbly come before the Lord, we can be confident that He will continue His faithful work in our lives. And this is also of great comfort to me as a preacher, that it is not in my responsibility to preach the most memorable of messages, but rather to seek to faithfully preach the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit in confidence that the Holy Spirit will use the Word to save and strengthen this church and those God has chosen unto salvation.
Following the sermon, our worship continues as I pray a short prayer asking for God’s blessing on His Word and then we sing a hymn of response. Our purpose in doing this is not simply because it is good to stand up and stretch after hearing a sermon, but rather we give thanks to God for His Word and for the preaching of His Word. Often I try to choose a hymn that relates to the message, but the main purpose of singing this hymn is as an expression of public thanksgiving to God.
Once a month, as has been our custom, we celebrate together the Lord’s Supper. There is much more that should and could be said concerning our eating together of this meal in remembrance of what Christ has done for us. We eat and drink together proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes again.
The final part of our service is the benediction. Before I read a passage from Scripture for the benediction, I speak a few words reminding you that God sends you now to serve Him. Before Jesus ascended into heaven we know that He gave His disciples their orders to go into all the world, teaching the nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And immediately before Jesus ascended, the last thing that He did was to bless His disciples. We read in Luke 24:50, “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” And so our service ends with a blessing that comes from the Word of Christ. This blessing is not a prayer but a declaration of God’s Word. It is then appropriate not to bow in prayer but to receive this blessing with heads lifted. We then in response sing a three-fold Amen in trust and confidence of the Lord’s blessing in our lives.
Our service is simple but meaningful, because we trust not simply in what we do, but in what God does for us each week as we gather. And by God’s grace we will grow in our obedience and appreciation for what we do each time that we are gathered as God’s people.