54. Elements of Ordinary Public Worship—From God to the People
The Call to Worship
God having summoned His people to assemble in His presence to worship Him on the Lord’s Day, there ought to be a call to the congregation, in God’s own words, to worship Him. He who performs this element serves as God’s representative voice; accordingly, it ordinarily should be performed by a minister of the Word.
It is fitting that the congregation respond to the call to worship in words of Scripture, or with singing, or with prayer, or with all of these.
The Public Reading of God’s Word
Because the hearing of God’s Word is a means of grace, the public reading of the Holy Scriptures is an essential element of public worship. He who performs this serves as God’s representative voice. Thus, it ordinarily should be performed by a minister of the Word. Through this reading, God speaks directly to the congregation in His own words. For this reason, readers other than the pastor should ordinarily refrain from interspersing the reading of God’s Word with human comments. He should use an accurate, faithful translation in the language of the people. In English, translations such as the NASB95, NKJV, and KJV fulfill these requirements. Modern translations that pander to the corruptions of the day, such as minimizing or removing the male semantic meaning components of God’s words, are forbidden. The minister should read clearly and with understanding, and the congregation should attend to the reading with the deepest reverence.
It is desirable that portions from both the Old and the New Testaments be read each Lord’s Day. It is also well that the law of God be read frequently.
The public reading of the Scriptures to the congregation is to be distinguished from the unison or antiphonal reading of certain portions of Scripture by the minister and the congregation together. In the former, God addresses His people; in the latter, God’s people address their God, expressing in the words of Scripture their own contrition, adoration, gratitude, and other holy sentiments. The Psalms of Scripture are especially appropriate for this purpose.
The Preaching of God’s Word
The preaching of the Word, the power of God unto salvation, is of central importance in the public worship of God. It is therefore a matter of supreme importance that the minister preach only the Word of God, not the wisdom of man, and that he handle the Word of God correctly, always setting forth Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith. In the sermon, God addresses the congregation by the mouth of His servant, and through His Spirit opens the ears of His people.
The preacher shall prepare each sermon prayerfully and diligently. He must take pains to expound a particular text of Scripture, bringing in other texts as applicable, carefully explaining the meaning, and diligently applying the particular text(s) for the salvation and edification of his hearers. He should take care in preaching that his exposition and application of the Scriptures be clear and simple, having regard to the capacity of the hearers, in demonstration of the Spirit and power, with fervor and zeal, and that he not divorce Christian duty from Christian faith. The preacher must, as Christ’s ambassador, seek to build up the saints in the most holy faith and beseech the unconverted to be reconciled to God. Nothing is more necessary than that the Gospel of salvation by grace be proclaimed without any adulteration or compromise, in order that the hearers may learn to rely for salvation only on the grace of God in Christ, to the exclusion of their own works or character, ascribing all glory to God alone for their salvation. The preacher is to instruct his hearers in the whole counsel of God, exhort the congregation to more perfect obedience to Christ, and warn them of the sins and dangers that are around them and within them. A preacher fails to perform his task as a God-appointed watchman on Zion’s walls when he neglects to warn the congregation of prevalent soul-destroying teachings by enemies of the Gospel.
The session is to give diligence that no person enter the pulpit concerning whose soundness in doctrine and life, or knowledge of Scripture, there is reasonable doubt.
No person shall be invited to preach in any of the churches under our care without the consent of the Session, unless sent by the Presbytery.
The sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as visible signs and seals of the Word of the covenant, are important elements of public worship. They represent Christ and His benefits, confirm His people’s participation in Him, visibly mark off from the world those who belong to His church, and solemnly bind them to covenant faith and loyalty.
Because the sacraments are ordinances of Christ for the benefit of the visible church, they are to be administered only under the oversight of the government of the church. Moreover, in ordinary circumstances they are properly administered only in a gathering of the congregation for the public worship of God, baptism being a sacrament whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and the Lord’s Supper signifying and sealing the communion of believers with Christ and with each other as members of His mystical body.
Although the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the piety or intention of the person administering them, they are not to be administered by any private person, but only a minister of the Word. Because the sacraments were given from Christ through the apostles to the church, and ministers are “stewards of the mysteries of God” in Christ’s church, no other is permitted to take this honor to himself.
The salutation and the benediction are blessings pronounced in God’s name and in His own words. Accordingly, they are properly used only in a gathering of Christ’s church and by a minister of the Word.
A salutation is the greeting from God to His people who have gathered to worship Him. It is fittingly pronounced immediately before or after the call to worship. Words of salutation from Scripture may be used, such as the opening greeting from one of the New Testament epistles, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
A benediction is the pronouncement of God’s blessing upon His people at the conclusion of the worship service. Words of benediction taken from Scripture are to be used. The high priestly benediction, “The LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace,” or the Trinitarian apostolic benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all,” are distinctly appropriate. If, however, the minister deems another benediction taken from Scripture more fitting for a particular occasion, he may use it.