Posts Tagged 'Theology'

A Look at Liturgy: The Beginning of Worship

Today’s post is an extended quote from pp. 90, 91 of the Report of the Liturgical Committee in the Psalter Hymnal Supplement.  Here the committee presents an excellent and thorough explanation of the attitude that should characterize the opening of a Reformed worship service.

How any meeting begins is settled, generally, by the character or office of the participants.  God Himself defines the nature of this meeting.  He graciously calls His people into His presence, welcomes them into His fellowship, speaks His Word to them and listens to their words.  Two things about God and His call to worship stamp the character of our weekly meeting with Him.

The Psalter Hymnal SupplementHe is the Holy One.  However close He tabernacles with us in the Incarnation, the Word, and the sacraments, He remains the God who is Holy.  He is the Awful One.  Sinners neither stroll nor storm into the Holy Mountain; they come tremblingly, by royal invitation.  The response to the Holy One is awe, wonder, fear and trembling.  We begin our meeting with Him, if we begin it fittingly, with a liturgical act with betrays that we know we are meeting with the Holy One of Israel.

He is the Holy One who has come to us in redemptive intimacy.  He did something; He entered a covenant with us, made us His covenant partner.  He divided the waters.  He came down “for us sinners and our salvation.”  He destroyed the power of the Devil.  He opened up the gateway into His Kingdom for us.  “He Arose!”  And His Christ “dwells in us.”  He has given us something to celebrate; the fact of Easter defines our meeting with God as truly as does His holiness.  Therefore the liturgy ought to reflect jubilation—the beginning ought to suggest something of its excitement, its festivity.  Entering worship on a Lord’s Day morning is an anticipation of entering the “new creation.”  And we ought to show it.

The fact of salvation defines the opening; but the character of the Holy One still qualifies it.  We meet God in jubilation; but the God we meet is still the Holy One.

–MRK

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A Look at Liturgy: Definitions

College Hill Reformed Presbyterian Church

College Hill Reformed Presbyterian Church before an evening worship service

Attending a college located almost 300 miles from the nearest United Reformed congregation has allowed me to acquire the hint of an outsider’s view of how our churches worship.  Sometimes I’m able to stop by one of the URC’s in Pennsylvania or New Jersey on the way to or from Geneva, but for most of the school year I attend worship at the College Hill Reformed Presbyterian Church on campus.  For someone relatively oblivious of worship practices outside our own federation, this sojourn has proved to be eye-opening.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) is closely related to the URCNA in background and theology, and its worship services exhibit the same basic structure and sequence: praise, confession, prayer, and preaching.  However, some of the particulars at College Hill are noticeably different.  Psalms are sung exclusively, instruments are not used, the service does not open with the familiar line “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” and the Ten Commandments are not regularly read.

It may seem like an obvious question, but why do different churches worship in different ways?  Which differences really “matter”?  Which distinctions are merely a product of history and tradition (such as the unique Dutch Reformed votum “Our help is in the name of the Lord”), and which arise from convictions about the nature of worship (such as the Reformed Presbyterians’ exclusive psalmody)?  Specific to the United Reformed Churches in North America, why do we worship as we do?  Are there areas in which we should improve our liturgy, and if so, how?

In the next few blog posts I’d like to explore some of these questions along with you.  It’s a study that will require delving into theology, ecclesiology, and history.  If you’re interested, I ask that you bear with my limited knowledge on this subject—I’m just beginning to seriously investigate it myself—and feel free to contribute your own thoughts.

The Psalter Hymnal SupplementAs a relatively simple introduction to the history of worship in the Dutch Reformed tradition, I’ll be referring often to material from the Psalter Hymnal Supplement published by the Christian Reformed Church in 1974.  The Psalter Hymnal Supplement contains a set of sixty-three songs commissioned by the CRC to “supplement” the contents of the blue (1959) Psalter Hymnal.  In addition, it includes the provisional translation of the Heidelberg Catechism that would later appear in the 1976 reprint of the Psalter Hymnal, and—most pertinent to our discussions—the report of the CRC’s Liturgical Committee to the synod of 1968.  While the Psalter Hymnal Supplement’s ideology of worship may raise some questions, and although it has ceased to be of much practical use to our churches (I dug this copy out from a musty corner of my church’s library), it continues to hold significant value for its historical insight.

Before such a discussion can even begin, we need to define our terms.  What is “liturgy”?  What, for that matter, is “worship”?  As the Liturgical Committee describes it, liturgy is “those acts done by the church in its solemn assembly with God” (Supplement p. 69).  Worship, though it can be applied in some sense to every waking moment of the Christian’s life, refers specifically to “a meeting between a Person and persons” (p. 74), that is, God’s meeting with his covenant people.  In other words, liturgy is the sequence of events that take place in our churches’ services; worship is the dialogue we are there to partake in.

Moreover, before any historical or practical arguments for particular worship practices can be made, we must emphasize two principles foundational to any faithful discussion of liturgy: the regulative principle of worship and the dialogical nature of worship.  The regulative principle of worship, a key tenet of the Protestant Reformation, is expressed succinctly in the Heidelberg Catechism’s treatment of the second commandment: we are not to “worship [God] in any other way than he has commanded in his Word” (Lord’s Day 35, Q&A 96).  (Presbyterian friends, see Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XXI, Article 1.)  The dialogical nature of worship refers to the pattern of worship exemplified throughout Scripture: God speaks, and his people respond.

These two principles set limits on what can and cannot be incorporated into the church’s worship practices.  We live in a culture which prizes above all things freshness and novelty, and our own sinful hearts, “idol factories” as Calvin so aptly described them, love to devise not only wrong things to worship but wrong ways to worship.  The Catechism leaves us without excuse: in worship, as in all things, “we shouldn’t try to be wiser than God” (Q&A 98).

For DiscussionHaving laid this groundwork, we can go on to discuss the particulars of the Dutch Reformed tradition of worship in our next post.  For now, what is your church’s typical order of worship?  How are the various elements rooted in Scripture, and how do they represent an ongoing conversation between the Lord and his worshipers?

May the Lord guide us into the right actions and attitudes for worshiping him.

–MRK


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