For many evangelicals, liturgy is one of those Roman Catholic leftovers in a few liberal churches, while “led by the Spirit” is their pride.
“Liturgy” is not a Roman Catholic invention. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the people of God always worshiped with a liturgy. This word is derived from the Greek noun leitourgia, which was generally used for any “service to the community or state.” But it is the same word used for official acts of worship in the Septuagint (Exod. 28:35, 43; 1 Sam. 2:11, 18, 3:1) and New Testament (Luke 1:23; Acts 13:2; 2 Cor. 9:12; Phil. 2:30; Heb. 9:21, 10:11).
Scripture commands that in worship everything must be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40), i.e., intelligible and edifying to the church, and not for the purpose of entertaining and attracting the world. Because of this Scriptural teaching, the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), as well as the churches that their missionaries have planted overseas, follow the historic Reformed liturgy in our public worship.
To this end, the recently-concluded URCNA Synod in London, Ontario, Canada, has completed a report regarding forms, prayers, and principles and guidelines in the public worship of God in its congregations. Beginning with this post, I will be writing a series of articles with these liturgical forms and prayers attached. It is my utmost prayer that pastors and elders, Reformed or not, will benefit from the great care and thought that accompanied the writing of these resources, and in so doing, also convey their love for the flock that God entrusted to them.
Every Lord’s Day, our congregations follow this general liturgy for their worship services (* indicates standing if able):
ENTERING INTO WORSHIP
*Call to Worship
* God’s Salutation
*Song of Praise
CONFESSION OF SIN
Reading of the Law
Prayer of Confession
Declaration of Pardon
RESPONSE OF GRATITUDE
*Confession of Faith (Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.)
Pastoral Prayer (concluding with Lord’s Prayer)
SERVICE OF THE WORD
*Song of Preparation
*Prayer for Illumination
Prayer of Application
SERVICE OF THE SACRAMENT
The Lord’s Supper (every Lord’s Day or monthly)
LEAVING TO SERVE
*Song of Response
Our worship services follow the pattern and principles of both Old and New Testaments. First, our basis for entering into worship is that God calls us to worship him. But we can only come near to God if our sin has been removed, lest we be consumed by his wrath. In the Old Testament, the people offered animal sacrifices for their sins, while in the New, we confess our sins and pray for God’s forgiveness.
We come to knowledge of our sinfulness by hearing God’s commandments in his Word and how we continually violate them. Below, then, is a formal prayer (or a pattern of prayer) recommended for use in our Confession of Sin, read in unison by the congregation.
The General Confession of Sins (approved 9/13/05; modified 11/20/06)
Dearly loved brothers and sisters, we are called to examine ourselves in the light of God’s Law. Let us go to God in public confession:
Our Father, we are sinful and you are holy. We recognize that we have heard in your Law difficult words, knowing how often we have offended you in thought, word and deed, not only by obvious violations, but by failing to conform to its perfect commands, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. There is nothing in us that gives us reason for hope, for where we thought we were well, we are sick in soul. Where we thought we were holy, we are in truth unholy and ungrateful. Our hearts are filled with the love of the world; our minds are dark and are assailed by doubts; our wills are too often given to selfishness and our bodies to laziness and unrighteousness. By sinning against our neighbors, we have also sinned against you, in whose image they were created. In this time of silent confession we bring you our particular sins.
Our Father, although you are a holy God who cannot look upon sin, look upon Christ our Savior and forgive us for his sake. You have promised us that if we confess our sins, you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. For if we do sin, we have an Advocate before your throne, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins. Give us your pardon by your mercies, dear Father, for you have clothed us in Christ’s righteousness. We ask also that you would give us an increase of the grace of your Holy Spirit, so that we may learn the wisdom of your ways and walk in your holy paths, for your glory and the good of our neighbor. Amen.
Next, the long pastoral prayer.