52. The Parts of Public Worship

  1. Because a service of public worship is in its essence a meeting of the triune God with His chosen people (some of whom have not yet come to faith and repentance), a worship service consists of two principal parts: those elements which are done on behalf of God (through a representative voice) and those elements which are done by the congregation (through their own or a representative voice).
    1. By His Spirit working through the ministry of the Word, God addresses His people in the call to worship, in the salutation[1] and benediction, in the reading and preaching of the Word, and in the sacraments.
    2. His people, enabled by the Holy Spirit, address God in prayer, in song, in offerings, in hearing the Word, in confession, and in receiving and partaking of the sacraments.
    3. It is advisable that these two parts be interspersed in the service.
  2. The triune God is not a passive spectator in public worship, but actively works in each element of the service of worship. Neither are the people of God to be passive spectators in public worship, but by faith are to participate actively in each element of the service of worship.
    1. Public worship should be conducted in a manner that enables and expects God’s people by faith actively to embrace the blessing of the Lord in the salutation and benediction; to pray with him who leads in prayer, so that the prayer being uttered aloud becomes their prayer, joining the one speaking to God in their behalf by saying “amen” with him at the conclusion of his prayer; to attend, in the reading of God’s Word, to what God reveals of Himself, His redeeming actions for them, and His will for their lives; to confess together with all the people the faith of the church; to heed the Word of truth as the sermon is preached and to appropriate it to their lives as God, through His servant, proclaims and applies it; to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the praise of God and the edification of one another; to offer their possessions and themselves together as a living sacrifice to the Lord.
    2. Accordingly, it is appropriate that worshipers respond with brief spoken or sung expressions of praise or affirmation such as “hallelujah” or “amen.” The former is a heartfelt declaration that the living God alone is worthy of adoration. The latter grows out of the responsibility of God’s people to affirm solemnly and earnestly the truthfulness of His Word and the permanence of His character. It is especially fitting for the congregation to join in an “amen” at such times as a response to a blessing, a Scripture reading, a psalm or hymn, a confession of faith, or a prayer. When believers sing or say “amen,” they are testifying to their wholehearted agreement with what has been spoken as being in harmony with God’s permanently valid Word.
  3. The Lord Jesus Christ has not prescribed a set order for public worship and care must be taken to oppose schismatic movements centered around men’s preferences in this matter. It may not be forgotten, however, that there is true liberty only where the rules of God’s Word are observed and the Spirit of the Lord is, so that all things are done decently and in order, and God’s people approach Him with reverence and in the beauty of holiness. While Christ has not prescribed a set order for public worship, this does not mean that it is fitting to ignore proper and scriptural patterns of worship that have been historically observed by the church, particularly in the Reformed tradition. The order of worship should be so structured that there will be a purposeful movement on the part of the congregation from one element of the service to the next. When each act of worship is full of meaning, the order of the elements will assume a coherent, edifying form.
  4. The session does well to ensure that the public worship assembly space is so arranged as to reflect and reinforce God’s initiative in drawing near to and gathering His people through the ministry of the Word and sacraments. Because the pulpit, baptismal waters, and communion table facilitate the part of worship which is performed on behalf of God, it is fitting that they be positioned so as to draw the focus of the congregation upon the Word and sacraments, and that they be easily accessible and visible to the entire congregation throughout the worship service. Because the Word is primary and the sacraments serve to seal the Word, it is fitting that the pulpit be in the position of prominence.

  1. A salutation is a greeting from the Lord, taken from the inspired greetings, like those of the Apostle Paul in his epistles. See Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2.

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