We have written the following guide to our liturgy to help visitors understand why we do what we do in our Sunday service. There are three basic principles reflected in our liturgy:
- First, we worship according to God’s command in Scripture.
- Second, our worship is a dialogue between God and man, initiated by God.
- Third, the three marks of a Reformed Church — word, sacrament, and discipline — are crucially conveyed to God’s people in public worship (Belgic Confession, Article 29)
A note that for those following our service online: While we may and shall worship God privately at home, public worship is uniquely commanded for God’s people, and it requires the local gathering of God’s people. We live stream our service to sustain God’s people when they are providentially prohibited from attending a local service and to give new visitors a sense of how and why we worship. We hope and pray that learning about our liturgy on this page will draw you to worship with us publicly when possible.
The Call to Worship
God himself calls and gathers his church together to worship him. We begin every worship service by reading a Scripture — most often a Psalm — through which we hear his voice summoning us into his presence.
We respond to God’s call by calling upon him in prayer to be present with us in our worship. At Christ Reformed we often use the following call and response rubric:
The Lord is near to all who call upon his name!
Call upon him while he is near!
The dialogue continues when God greets us with the apostolic blessing of grace and peace. This greeting reflects both the risen Christ’s first greeting to the disciples (John 20:19), and the most common apostolic greeting in the New Testament (Romans 1:7, 1 Peter 1:2).
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ in the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit
God loves music and song, so much so, that an entire book of the Bible was given to us as an inspired songbook. This book is by far the most frequently quoted book of Scripture in the New Testament. In the Psalter God commands us to sing (cf. Psalm 100:1 – 2 and many other places) to celebrate all that is good, true, and beautiful, but mostly his works of deliverance.
In the New Testament this command is repeated in Ephesians 5:18 – 21, where song is given to us as a key way to be filled with the spirit. We express our unity as a church when we submit to one another, and harmonize our hearts and voices with common praise sung to God.
That’s why we love congregational singing at Christ Reformed, not as an entertainment experience, but as praise. We often sing from God’s inspired songbook, the Psalter, but also sing faithfully crafted hymns as well.
The Lord’s Prayer
Public worship tangibly expresses one of the key attributes of the church, our unity in the Spirit. One of the first recorded descriptions of the New Testament church’s worship bears witness to common prayers said by all, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). “The prayers” here strongly suggests a formal liturgy of prayer. While Christ taught us the Lord’s prayer as a model of how to pray (see Matthew 6:9 – 13 and Heidelberg Catechism 118), we also use this inspired prayer as a common element in our service.
The Reading of God’s Law
Our dialogue with God continues with us hearing from his own lips the perfect standard of his holiness. When we draw near to him we must recognize his consuming holiness. This Law passage can come from the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) or from any one of a number of New Testament passages (Mark 7, Romans 13). The forgiveness of sins is one of the cardinal blessings of gathered worship. It is one thing to tell yourself God forgives you, it is quite another to have God’s representative stand up in public and proclaim that repentant sinners are absolved of their sins for the sake of Christ’s merit.
Some people reject the reading of God’s law as a negative practice. We believe that our abiding sin blinds us to our faults; we therefore regularly need the corrective light of God’s word to know and confess our sins rightly, and receive the pardon that only penitent sinners can have.
The General Confession
At Christ Reformed, we employ both a corporate prayer of confession, and a silent prayer of personal confession. Our corporate prayer helps direct our lazy hearts to thoroughly root out sins. This traditional prayer comes to us from our approved book of Forms and Prayers.
Time of Silent Confession & Prayer for Pardon
We aren’t forgiven our sins because we recite a formula. We are forgiven our sins because we respond to the gospel by individually turning to God, confessing our guilt, and seeking his pardon.
Hymn of Confession
Note that while the Psalter is titled in Hebrew “The Book of Praises,” the majority of its songs are songs of confession and lament. They are music in the minor key, crying out to God for deliverance from our own sin and our fallen world and broken relationships.
Sadly, in our prosperous and happy go lucky age, we don’t often enjoy singing sad songs. God’s word teaches us the value of this music, as it points our eyes to Christ and to our need for deliverance. Singing these psalms and songs points us to the whole range of the Christian life.
Having confessed our sin, God’s formal emissary stands up like a Judge in a court of law and declares, “Not guilty!” This is the gospel announcement that gives new life, nourishes our souls, and fuels the Christian life of grateful obedience.
Brothers and sisters, you have heard the Law and have confessed your sins to Almighty God. Do you believe that Jesus Christ, by his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, has atoned for your sins and satisfied the wrath of God toward you?
In the name of Christ and by the authority of his Word I declare to you that your sins are forgiven and you are not under the condemnation of God.
Confession of Faith — The Apostles’ or Nicene Creed
The dialogue continues as forgiven saints join their voices together to claim as their own the triune name into which they have been baptized. To be baptized into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit means to place your trust and confidence in the triune God’s work of creation, redemption, and preservation. Confessing this name and these works through the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed further expresses our unity as a church in one Spirit, not only with saints alive today but with saints living in dead over two millennia of Christian history.
We continue our response to God’s gospel forgiveness by boldly entering into his holy throne room through the merits of Christ and casting ourselves upon his Fatherly care and provision. In our pastoral prayer, we call upon God for the needs of the world, the church universal, and our local members.
Old Testament Lesson
Each week we read from both Testaments, affirming the unity of the Scriptures and the centrality of Christ to all of God’s word. This expresses the biblical pattern of promise and fulfillment. This unity is expressed as well in the prayers we offer as a congregation after each of our readings:
Our Father, we have heard wonderful things out of thy Word. We praise you for revealing Christ by promise and shadow in these pages. Help us to understand these words, for thy name’s sake. Amen.
The Gloria Patri is a traditional song that unites us again to the saints through the ages in declaring the stated purpose of our worship and God’s word — to bring glory to the triune name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.
New Testament Lesson
One of the first lessons taught by the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus was that all Scripture bears witness to him. We confess that the New Testament announcement of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to his people. Thus it is only when we read the Bible as God’s story of His saving work that we truly understand the significance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is reflected in our corporate prayer after the New Testament reading as well.
Our Father, we have heard wonderful things out of thy Word. We praise you for revealing Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and ask you to give us your Spirit so that we may understand the fullness of your truth. Amen.
The central element of divine discourse in the service is the preached word. The sermon is not man’s words about God, a human meditation or thought or reflection. The sermon is God’s words spoken to us. The preacher’s task is to get out of the way and be a faithful messenger in service of the King. The Reformed faith confesses that “The preached word of God is the very word of God.” It is God’s word in a more powerful way than scripture that is personally read or studied, for it is proclaimed and applied to us as Good News for sinners.
Hymn of Response
The “new song” is the song that is sung in response to God’s mighty works of deliverance, recounting these saving acts and sealing them in the memories and hearts of his people (Psalm 98:1, Revelation 5:9). We were created, like the heavens themselves were, to sing of the mighty handiwork of our maker and redeemer, and corporate song is a fulfillment of that human purpose.
We believe that word and sacrament are two marks of a true church (along with discipline), and we ordinarily put both of these marks at the center of our public worship each week. The Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal which seals the promises that have been proclaimed in the word to a particular people of faith. John Calvin called it a “visible word.”
We call this sacrament “The Lord’s Supper” to remind us that our Lord is the active party here, feeding and nourishing his people with a tangible sign and seal of his promises to us. The Supper is not about something subjectively happening in our hearts, it is about a gift objectively given from heaven in the body and blood of Christ.
Acts 2:44 tells us that “all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Setting aside offerings to the Lord on the first day of the week is not about giving God a mere token of thanks. It is an offering of our first fruits, reflecting that all our lives are given to him in loving service. It is the response of gratitude that flows from the work of the new creation begun in us. This response also expresses our unity, as we support the mission and members of the church.
In closing, God’s people once again join their voices together to seal the unified purpose of their gathered worship: to bring praise and glory to the triune God.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise him, all creatures here below; praise him above, ye heav’nly host; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
A “benediction” is literally a “speaking well,” or a blessing. God grants his final blessing to us. We are sent out into the world to be the witnesses of God’s grace, love, and spirit working in us. We have been recreated by worship, and given a new, higher purpose to fulfill in all our earthly labors. Soli Deo gloria!
We depart singing. Our worship of God begins in our assembled praises, but it goes out with us into the world as salt and light.