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C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
I've been thinking about, for a good year now, the "order" of worship.

The Reformed Church Service (which is very closely linked to the early church explanations of the order of worship) always has a "biblical basis" for specific elements of worship which are to be included. This is not where my question arises. Elements of worship aside...

There are some deviations in order between, say, Calvin, Knox and the DPW. (See comparisons here)

To make this all oversimplified...

Let's say that we all agree that we have a biblical precedent to preach, sing and pray in a given worship service (yes, there are more, but to keep things simple with less typing...).

Congregation 1 does the following: Prays, Sings, Prays, Preaches, Sings, Prays and then is dismissed.
Congregation 2 does the following: Prays, Preaches, Sings, Prays and then is dismissed.
Congregation 3 does the following: Sings, Prays, Sings, Preaches, Prays and then is dismissed.

All of them have the three elements (to keep it simple) in their "order of worship".

I'm finding in my reading that what the puritans called Gospel-Logic (i.e. good and necessary inference of some kind) will determine "your" order of worship.

When you consider the order (not elements), specifically warranted by the bible, do you think it is generally warranted by Gospel-Logic or by some exact biblical outline through implied biblical examples that we find in Scripture? In other words, is order (in your opinion) circumstantial? Or is there a warrant for a specific order, implied or otherwise?
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
  • Gospel logic
  • Implied biblical examples
  • Circumstance
I believe that when we consider the elements, they all have to have their place; scripture is clear on that. However, the order, I would think, is an act of circumstance. As long as all the elements are present, I don't believe one could say that there is any actual biblical precedence in the actual order of how a worship service is actually conducted.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
I think "general rules of the word" and "Christian prudence" should guide how we order our worship. So for example, we know our worship is covenantal and Christ-centered, that it should be reverent and so on, so our orders could reflect that. The whole "dialogical principle" for organizing worship can help in that regard (God speaks, we respond, etc.). The practice of having a prayer of confession and assurance of pardon is growing in OPC circles, and can also help convey the gospel focus in worship, along with a more frequent use of the Lord's Supper. But with those general principles in mind, there may still be a diversity of ways to organize the worship. I think as long as the session is clear to explain why they organize worship the way they do in light of those general rules and teachings of the word, it should be fine.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
  • Gospel logic
  • Implied biblical examples
  • Circumstance
I believe that when we consider the elements, they all have to have their place; scripture is clear on that. However, the order, I would think, is an act of circumstance. As long as all the elements are present, I don't believe one could say that there is any actual biblical precedence in the actual order of how a worship service is actually conducted.
Knowing your stance on the RPW, if the "order is circumstantial" how does that affect the RPW if I move, say, the Call to worship and the benediction?

For example....

Let's say my order of worship is the following:
  1. Scriptural Sentence and Call to Worship
  2. Confession of Sins
  3. Psalm
  4. Prayer for Illumination
  5. Scripture Reading
  6. Sermon
  7. Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
  8. Psalm
  9. Blessing (Aaronic)
If order is circumstantial (and I'm not saying it is or isn't) what If I do this:
  1. Confession of Sins
  2. Psalm
  3. Scriptural Sentence and Call to Worship
  4. Blessing (Aaronic)
  5. Prayer for Illumination
  6. Scripture Reading
  7. Sermon
  8. Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
  9. Psalm
How does this "affect" the RPW - because now I don't have anything inside the bookends of the call and benediction so to speak.

You might think that's goofy in the order (like why would you do that), but if order is circumstantial...then...is that not actually acceptable? (I would say, because I can do that).
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Order or 'liturgy' are not regulated per se; the elements are. The call and benediction are considered, in my opinion, 'prayer' or elements of prayer. I would think that some churches do not have an actual 'call' to worship, they just begin by reciting scriptures. So, the call is technically, the reading of scripture, which is an element and not a issue of order. In that the reading is regulated.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
But with those general principles in mind, there may still be a diversity of ways to organize the worship.
I'm with you on everything you said....but....diversity implies I can do what I did in my last post above and not be "scolded" for doing it, though some might think it goofy (and it is goofy on purpose - but why do I think its goofy if I have the principle of diversity to deal with?).

Is there something that tells me in Scripture not to change that "prudent" order? Or do you think it is only guided by prudence, which to me leans into danger. What if one elder or session is not as prudent as another? etc.

I'm looking to fill the gap in my mind on the "guard rails" that are needed for this. I want to say Christian Prudence, (I want to say that), but I'm looking for some historical or biblical argument to tell me what to do.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Order or 'liturgy' are not regulated per se; the elements are. The call and benediction are considered, in my opinion, 'prayer' or elements of prayer. I would think that some churches do not have an actual 'call' to worship, they just begin by reciting scriptures. So, the call is technically, the reading of scripture, which is an element and not a issue of order. In that the reading is regulated.
I'm with you on that.

Let's make the example different (still a bit goofy but on purpose). The minister in your church tells you he has a new order of worship.
  1. Call to Worship
  2. Prayer
  3. PSALM
  4. Benediction (Aaronic)
  5. PRAISE JINGLE (Something theologically correct)
  6. Sermon
  7. Confession of Sins
  8. PRAISE JINGLE (Something theologically correct)
  9. PUPPET SHOW (Some of the children participate)
  10. Scripture Reading
  11. PARADE (with flags)
  12. INTERPRETIVE DANCE
  13. Ending Prayer and Dismissal
If you move the Call to Worship and the Benediction up to the front, does that affect the RPW with those other elements now, not "bookended" by the Call and Benediction?
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
we know our worship is covenantal and Christ-centered, that it should be reverent and so on, so our orders could reflect that. The whole "dialogical principle" for organizing worship can help in that regard (God speaks, we respond, etc.).
The Reformed Churches of New Zealand (one of the most confessionally Reformed Churches in my country - they have a warm sister church relationship with the OPC) believe in the dialogical principle of worship as an important part of the regulative principle of worship. Because this is covenantal, I believe it is a theologically helpful way to structure a worship service. See their Dunedin congregation order of service and their Nelson congregation order of service
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
I'm with you on everything you said....but....diversity implies I can do what I did in my last post above and not be "scolded" for doing it, though some might think it goofy (and it is goofy on purpose - but why do I think its goofy if I have the principle of diversity to deal with?).

Is there something that tells me in Scripture not to change that "prudent" order? Or do you think it is only guided by prudence, which to me leans into danger. What if one elder or session is not as prudent as another? etc.

I'm looking to fill the gap in my mind on the "guard rails" that are needed for this. I want to say Christian Prudence, (I want to say that), but I'm looking for some historical or biblical argument to tell me what to do.
Well, there's Christian prudence but there is also the nature of corporate worship and some things "common to human actions and societies" and "the light of nature". At some point you have to say to the Church "ok, public worship has now started, and we have officially "come together"". And the same with the end; at some point there is an official close to public worship like any other public meeting. Historically, that has been done with some sort of "call" and "benediction" from God, based loosely upon parallels in Scriptural examples of worship. If you want to pronounce a call later, or a benediction sooner somewhere else in the service, that is permissible as far as elements go, but in order for it to be done in an orderly manner, you would need to explain to the congregation why you are doing it that way. And you would still need to devise some other public way of indicating corporate worship has started and closed.
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
If you move the Call to Worship and the Benediction up to the front, does that affect the RPW with those other elements now, not "bookended" by the Call and Benediction?
In that case, if u mess with the order like your example, that would be problematic. But who would do that?
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
And you would still need to devise some other public way of indicating corporate worship has started and closed.
I don't think we can escape this. In looking at Israel, and worship, for example, worship is often seen in the Tabernacle and Temple as "a whole" and it needed to be designated in that way to the people. For example, Lev. 10:1-3 shows Nadab and Abihu killed as a result of doing something "in the worship time" they should not have. There had to be some designation for that "worship time", and the people needed to know it.

I think this answer, then, is going to sit there inside that prudence bubble, with the intent that there has to be an "orderly" indication of starting and closing. Otherwise, hypothetically, if it is left as open ended, like the goofy examples above, then we don't know when things begin and end. In that way alone, it is, then, interesting to me that God places the importance of such circumstantials inside that fragile bubble of simply stating "this is the beginning" and "this is the ending." And if that is the case, and Gospel Logic and circumstantials weigh in on the "timeframe," then the RPW for corporate worship rides completely on the the call and benediction, or some form of indication that is known to the people, where God is "now" specially attending us and we him. If that is the case, then God attends on THAT time specially.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
If you move the Call to Worship and the Benediction up to the front, does that affect the RPW with those other elements now, not "bookended" by the Call and Benediction?
Dr. McMahon,
It's worth noting that many of the Dutch churches have a benediction toward the beginning of the service (as a side note, I'm convinced that the benediction is an administration of the Word of God, not a prayer).

Also, note that churches in the Scottish tradition do not have a formal call to worship. The service is opened with the singing of a Psalm.
 
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Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Tyler, I agree; the title of 'call to worship' does not necessarily have to be an literal calling of the people.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Dr. McMahon,
It's worth noting that many of the Dutch churches have a benediction toward the beginning of the service (as a side note, I'm convinced that the benediction is an application of the Word of God, not a prayer). Also, note that churches in the Scottish tradition do not have a formal call to worship. The service is opened with the singing of a Psalm.
Tyler, I was not aware the Dutch church did that. I'm not doubting you, but do you have an example of that somewhere online or at a church site? Just my curiosity...
(I was aware of the Psalm in the Scottish churches.)
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Tyler, I was not aware the Dutch church did that. I'm not doubting you, but do you have an example of that somewhere online or at a church site? Just my curiosity...
(I was aware of the Psalm in the Scottish churches.)
I'm looking for an example in the Dutch tradition. I know that this is done in the Heritage Reformed Congregations--we sometimes watch the Grad Rapids congregations' services online if we can't make it to church. I imagine that it's the same in the Netherlands Reformed (whose doctrinal standards, liturgy, and church order can be purchased here).
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
The times I visited the HRC in Grand Rapids, they always opened with Psalm 124:8, "Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth". Of course that was about 20 years ago now, so maybe that has changed since then. I believe Calvin's congregation in Geneva typically opened with the same call.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Here's the liturgy from an FRCNA congregation:
Dependence Confession and God's Greeting
Singing: Psalm 121:1
Reading: Leviticus 16
Singing: Psalm 6:1,6
Singing: Hymn 1
Singing: Hymn 59:1
Celebration of the Lord's Supper
Table 1: Heb 2:17-18; 4:14-16 (A sympathetic High Priest)
Table 2: Heb 8:1-6 (A heavenly High Priest)
Table 3: Heb 9:6-7,11-15 (A foreshadowed High Priest)
Table 4: Heb 9:24-28 (An atoning High Priest)
Table 5: Heb 13:10-16 (A worshipped High Priest)
Singing After Communion: Hymn 42:1-2,3,4,5,6
Prayer
Announcements and offering
Singing: Hymn 28:5,7
Note "God's Greeting" at the beginning of the service. That's the benediction.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Here's a URCNA church's description of their ligurgy.

Note that God's Greeting comes after the invocation. It is described in this way:
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).
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I agree there's a "logic" (or should be) to our order-of-service. But, I'm not willing to claim more for preference of what our congregation has settled upon than can be established by a persuasive argument for the good-sense and practical achievement of it.

Should an offering in the service (some people think this "vow" is no part of ordinary worship)--if you agree it belongs--come before or after the sermon? I doubt there is any method of biblical interpretation that will settle such a question.

I think a proper, official worship service begins and ends with God's Word. There's a divine summons, and divine dismissal. I think man's invocation of God is more accurately a theological response. But, I understand the internal logic of the Dutch-order.

As a point of interest: I typically make a "welcome statement" when I first take the pulpit, and extend the Apostolic greeting ("Grace, Mercy, and Peace...") to everyone present. I then bring the assembly to its feet and read out the Call to Worship in our hearing. Then I raise my arms (in a suppliant's gesture, palms up) and pray the invocation.

The closing benediction comes with hands upraised, palms toward the congregation, and put God's Triune Name upon them (2Cor.13:14) ala Num.6:27, in effect a "dry-baptism" for everyone at each gathering. In our gathering we sing a response, but this moment stands outside the service as such.

There is "logic" here, and for the parts in between. But have we perfected worship in our mannerism? I am very uncomfortable with that claim. I would rather teach that we have adopted our order in due consideration of our tradition (worship of our fathers) and the counsel of the Word. With prayer that God would redirect our willing heart, if need be.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
I agree there's a "logic" (or should be) to our order-of-service. But, I'm not willing to claim more for preference of what our congregation has settled upon than can be established by a persuasive argument for the good-sense and practical achievement of it....I would rather teach that we have adopted our order in due consideration of our tradition (worship of our fathers) and the counsel of the Word. With prayer that God would redirect our willing heart, if need be.
(I'm not disagreeing with you.) What I am more amazed at in contemplation, is that 1) God determines the manner in which sinners approach him, yet, he does this specially 2) in the midst of their own Christian prudence as to circumstantials during their defined corporate worship. Even in the way you worded what you said, it revolves around "our" due consideration, and "our" willing heart to be directed, and "our" logic in the order of worship.

That presses one to consider that the "formality" of certain actions in worship (i.e. a formal "call" to worship) is not necessarily needful in the way "Reformed Liturgies" sometimes work today. (...again, going back to Calvin, Knox and such).

But, the argument on intention (time beginning and ending) and circumstantials (order) is all about "our" discernment.

There, then, could be arguments made for "better prudence" and "more helpful" orders of worship.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
There, then, could be arguments made for "better prudence" and "more helpful" orders of worship.
We're anxious for a proper balance between free-for-all, the rejection of lessons from history we should have learned and taken to heart; balanced with ending up having so fixed a form, or a series of forms that put us back under a yoke of bondage. Is a "Prayer Book" (ala Anglicanism) too much? Our Presbyterian fathers said, "Indeed." Which is why they went with the Directory, implying a bit more freedom, yet within certain bounds.

But, agreeing with them puts a form of added responsibility back upon the church's ministry to put their mind to maintain or adjust a church's habit.
 
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