53. The Oversight and Conduct of Public Worship

  1. Public worship is Christian, not only when the worshipers consciously recognize that Christ is the Mediator by whom alone they can come unto God, but also when they honor the exalted Christ as the living and only Head of the church, who rules over public worship.
    1. He rules over public worship by His Word and Spirit, not only directly, but also through the ministry of officers in their ruling, serving, teaching, and leading His church.
    2. The exalted Christ thus applies Himself and His benefits to the elect through His Spirit working in human hearts by and with His Word, especially in its public reading, its preaching, its sealing by the sacraments, and as it is received in faith by prayer.
  2. For this reason:
    1. The session is responsible to give immediate oversight to the conduct of public worship in the local church.
    2. Public worship is ordinarily to be led by those who have been ordained to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in the administration of His Word and sacraments. The pastor of the church is ordinarily responsible to plan (or oversee the planning of) and lead public worship.
    3. Men who have been licensed by a presbytery to preach the Gospel may plan and conduct worship as probationers in order that the churches may form a better judgment respecting the fitness of those by whom they are to be instructed and governed. They may not, however, pronounce the salutation or the benediction or administer the sacraments.
    4. When the session deems it fitting, ruling elders and other approved men may lead the congregation in prayer, read the Scriptures to the congregation, lead unison or antiphonal readings of Scripture by the congregation, lead congregational singing, or, on occasion, exhort the congregation as part of public worship. They may not, however, pronounce the salutation or the benediction, or administer the sacraments.
    5. On occasion, with the approval of the session and under the close supervision of a minister, exceptions may be made for other men (even the young), and especially those being prepared for the Gospel ministry in Christ’s church who are either members of the congregation governed by that session or are ministerial interns under that session. They may not, however, pronounce the salutation or the benediction or administer the sacraments.
    6. The session may choose to delegate leadership of the musical portions of the service to unordained, godly men gifted for that work, serving under the oversight of the pastor.
    7. No others should take such leadership in overseeing or conducting public worship.
    8. There are times when it is appropriate for women to participate vocally in a worship service without it being a violation of Scripture’s command for women to remain silent.[1] Women should be encouraged to sing, to share prayer requests, to give testimonies of God’s faithfulness, and to pray.
    9. Only church officers should distribute the elements of the Lord’s Supper because this activity involves the exercise of pastoral authority over the congregation and is a picture of our heavenly Father’s provision of fathers to feed His flock.

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:34.


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