The Beauty of Reformed Liturgy - Rev. G. VanDooren (bio)

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Taken from Clarion Vol. 29, No. 8, April 19, 1980


Recently some remarks were made on one "element" of Reformed Liturgy, i.e., the so-called "Long Prayer!' The appetite of the present writer was whetted to write more on this Liturgy as a whole. A special reason for doing this is that in all probability this matter will come on the table of the forthcoming General Synod. Liturgy is more than the "order of worship"; the Liturgical Forms, on which much work has been done in recent years, also belongs to it. Even the Church Order, of which a new concept has been presented to the churches, was in olden days considered a part of it.

Dr. C. TRIMP, in his 1978 publication Formulieren en Gebeden (Forms and Prayers), makes clear that the Synod of Dort 1618/19 deemed the "order of liturgy" so important that it decided, "The Liturgy shall be added to the public documents of the church, because by its liturgy the church presents itself to the outside world as a 're-formed' church." This in answer to those who maintain that the liturgy is a matter of the local church, and therefore need not and should not be on the Agenda of a General Synod according to (old) Article 30 of the Church Order.

Dr. Trimp himself goes even so far as to put Liturgics (the theory or science re the Order of Liturgy, etc.) as number one in his set-up of the so called ambtelijke vakken: the theological disciplines which deal with the tasks of the officebearers. He sees Liturgy as the very centre of the life of the church, in which all office-bearers, preachers, overseers, and deacons, are active according to their specific mandates.

Reformed Liturgy has a history, a background. A proper treatment of this subject takes that history into consideration.

Although it is very tempting to start with this history of the age of the Reformation, the churches and their upcoming General Synod are faced with the fact that there are two different "orders of liturgy," the one that was established in 1933 (Synod of Middelburg, The Netherlands), and the one offered as a second choice by the Synod of our sister churches in The Netherlands, Kampen 1975. Both "orders" are being practiced in our federation at the moment.

Because we are convinced that "Kampen 1975" is more in the line of the Reformation, we must first explain how it came to "Middelburg 1933."


Synod Leeuwarden 1920 felt the necessity to appoint a Committee with the mandate to study various aspects of the Liturgy, in general, and the "order of liturgy," in particular.

The situation in the Churches re this "order" was like that in the time of the Judges. "everyone did what was right in his own eyes," 21,25. More uniformity was considered desirable.

It strikes one right from the start that in this liturgical history from 1920 1933 the uniformity was stressed. There was no mention of the need to dig up from the age of the Reformation the roots and development of the order of the various elements of our liturgy. A second word that popped up time and again, in the Reports and the Synoddecisions, is "customary."

Although there was an ambitious program in the minds of some in 1920, the ultimate result of 1933 was "poor" (C. Trimp). The combination of "customary" and "uniformity" on the basis of custom stowed down that "ambiguous programto a considerable extent (according to C. Trimp once more).

There should have been a strong motivation for such an ambition, because the nineteenth century had produced nothing in this respect. Dr. A. KUYPER published his Onze Eeredienst (Our Liturgy) in 1911. He had gone back to the Reformation age. Understandably, several of his disciples wanted to apply what the "master" had taught.

This attempt becomes clear in the Report that was laid down on the table of the next Synod, Utrecht 1923. After having stated the confusion in the churches, the Committee formulated some good principles. We quote:

1. Maintain the Reformed character of the Liturgy.

2. The "new" Liturgy that we seek should not be "new," but set up in accordance with what had been established as "Reformed" in the 17th Century.

3. According to the advice of J. CALVIN, Institutes, IV, 10, 30, not too many arbitrary changes should be made; only such elements should be restored that fit within the Reformed framework.

When, after this promising start, !,he Committee sat down to draft a new" (!) liturgy, it soon became apparent that they could not shake off that "uniformity" on the basis of what is customary."

From the ten suggestions we first quote those which we deem truly Reformed (in the light of the history).

1. The reading of the Scriptures right after the Law is not defensible liturgically; it ought to be done right before the sermon.

2. After the Law must come a confession of sin [cf. our first Form of Prayer in Book of Raise, p. 475, vD]. In addition to that we should return to what J. CALVIN established in Strassbourg. There, in contrast to Geneva, he was his own man; not under the pressure of the local government.

From this Order of Strassbourg we therefore learn what was really in Calvin's mind. Thus (still the Report to Synod 1923) we should also restore the "absolution" or "proclamation of the forgiveness of confessed sins" which, after the example of Calvin, was also taken up in the Liturgy of A. LASCO in the refugeechurch in London, England, and adopted by P. DATHENUS in his first complete Liturgy of 1566.

The principle of this proposal was that, in the meeting between the LORD and His people, sins must be removed first before we can proceed any further.

A song of gratitude could then conclude this important section of Reformed Liturgy.

3. The Creed should be recited or sung (unrhymed!) by the whole congregation.

Alas, here the Reformed movement stops. Now "usage," what is "customary," and especially what is "psychologically most correct," takes over. It strikes one how, from this Report on till Synod 1933, "psychology" played a dominant role. This was to be expected by those who know to what great extent T. HOEKSTRA and J. WATERINK introduced psychology into their theological labours. Hoekstra even divided texts for sermons into three categories, namely, according to the three faculties of man: his intellect, his will, and his emotion.

Thus we now get in this Report of mixed character the following recommendations:

1. congregation sings four times; once in the middle of the sermon (psychologically desirable. . . , vD). No Amen-song after the sermon.

2. Although the existing prayers should be maintained, for psychological reasons and in agreement with present custom, instead of the brief prayer before the sermon (now the second part of the first prayer, Book of Praise, p. 476) the "prayer for all the needs of christendom" should be prayed before the sermon. This, as the reader knows, is in open conflict with the name of this prayer, "A Prayer for all the Needs of Christendom, to be used on the sabbath after the first ser mon.

3. The offertory or "collections" should be "the transition to the sermon." I must say, this is beyond my comprehension. Yes, a prayer for the opening of the Word, the opening of the preacher's mouth, and the opening of our hearts is a "proper transition to the sermon"; but according to our confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 38, the giving of Christian alms as an act of gratitude comes after the preaching. (in a later article we hope to point out how our original Reformed Liturgy was completed in Heidelberg, and published in the same year, 1563, together with the Catechism!)

The last item to be mentioned is that this Report for Synod 1923 suggested that "not everything be done by the minister"; therefore the reading of the Law and of Scripturepassage(s) should be done by an elder, just as deacons are also active.

What did Synod 1923 decide?

Right from the start, as the Acts tell us, Synod was impressed by the many objections that had come from amidst the churches against the proposals of the Report, Article 132. Thus the whole matter of the "order of service" was postponed. A new Committee was appointed, with no fewer than five professors in it, plus some doctors of theology. T. Hoekstra was to be the clerk, and thus the reporter.

It took several years; not before 1933 was the Committee ready to report to Synod. The greater part of this Report dealt with other matters, such as Hymns, etc. A brief section is dedicated to Liturgy in the narrower sense.

The main theme is (again) psychology and "what is customary." No arguments whatsoever are mentioned. No reference to the age of the Reformation is made. No grounds are adduced to what finally became the Liturgy of Middelburg 1933.

The one good element was that this Committee was of the opinion that the Covenant Law and the selected Scripturepassage(s) should be read by the minister because he is, in the gathering of the congregation, "the mouth of the LORD."

The final recommendation: uniformity is not necessary.


Our brief survey of this history of thirteen years to put an end to "everyone doing what is right in his own eyes" and to the (expressly-mentioned) "poverty" of the nineteenth century, leads to an obvious conclusion.

The years 1920 - 1933 were in various respects years of decline. A reformational impetus was lacking. What was produced reached no further than "the demands of psychology" and "custom." It seems as if the age of the Reformation did not rate any longer. Soon this would become clear in other, more-important issues which led to a split. Kampen 1975 is a (late) fruit of the Liberation in 1944.

We conclude With another quotation from C. TRIMP, p. 12, "Liturgical questions demanded the attention of the re-formed churches even before Creeds and a Catechism." It was in her re-formed Liturgy that the re-formed churches presented themselves to the world, also the world of the false church.

Rev. G. VanDooren

Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 10, May 17, 1980

The first article described the history of Reformed Liturgy in the period 1920-1975 in The Netherlands. The conclusion was that, notwithstanding attempts to "reform" the liturgy and clear up the confusion, real Reformed impetus was lacking. Synod Kampen 1975 may be considered a fruit of the Liberation of 1944 in its return to the original Liturgical Order. C. Trimp gives priority to Liturgics, not only because it encompasses all other disciplines, but also because "Public Worship" is the very centre of the life of the church and its members.


The word "liturgy" is derived from a verb that in the Old Testament (Greek translation or Septuagint) is used for serving the LORD in general. In a more special sense it describes the service in and around tabernacle and temple; the specific "service" of priests and Levites. Thus it became the obvious term for what we usually call "public worship."

We should, as we continue, keep in mind those two meanings: the general one and the more specific one. Meeting on the day of the LORD is (see first article) the occasion on which all the work of the officebearers finds its central expression. At the same time, it is the heart of congregational life and, consequently, of the life of every member of the body of Christ. This is so beautifully expressed in Psalms like 42, 84, 122, and many others. "As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for Thee, 0 God." ---Howlovely is thy dwelling place, 0 LORD of hosts! My soul longs for the courts of the LORD." "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD.' "

Although these cries of longing come to us from the old dispensation, the New Testament church does not hesitate to make full use of them. The fulfilment of the Old Testament liturgy by Christ Jesus even makes the "liturgy" richer. In Hebrews 12.12ff. we are told that we have not come to Mount Sinai (which stands in this chapter for the whole Old Testament meeting with God); "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge Who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel."

This avalanche of glorious expressions signifies the excellency of the new covenant above the old one, in order to warn Jewish believers against the temptation of going back to temple and synagogue. It also instills in our hearts the glory and holiness of meeting with the LORD on the first day of every week. In the gathering of the New Testament church, the heavenly Jerusalem is descending among us, and we are under the same roof with the angels. We are in the midst of "the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven." It cannot be stressed too strongly that in our worship meetings we are in the presence of a most-gracious, but also most-holy, God!

ROBERT G. RAYBURN starts his recently published book 0 Come, Let Us Worship (sub-title, Corporate Worship in the Evangelical Church) with these words, "The worship of God is at once the true believer's most important activity and at the same time it is one of the most tragically neglected activities in the average evangelical church today." His experience compelled him to write this book in which he elaborates in great detail on what the Scriptures teach us about meeting with the LORD our God.

Because we are presently engaged in a discussion of a "definitionof "Reformed Liturgy," this is not the place to say more about this book. It is only mentioned to stress how important and how holy our worship service is, because the lord is present among us. This should govern our attitude in church, in every detail of the order of liturgy.

Rayburn addresses himself to "evangelical" churches; churches where the salvation of the sinner by grace alone is preached on the basis of the Bible as the perfect Word of God.

However, there is the danger that the salvation of man and his experiences take the centre seat, and that no justice is done to each and every element of the liturgy: not only the preaching but also singing, prayer, confession of sins, yea, our whole attitude. Further on, each of these elements will be discussed. Also the proper order of these elements.

May it now suffice to warn ourselves and each other that such a -tragic neglect- also occurs in our Reformed churches. Does our attitude, our preparation for going to church, our behaviour during each part of the worship service, show that we are filled with awe for being in the presence of a holy God? Hebrews 12, from which we quoted, concludes with, ---Thuslet us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." Do we attend church "with a broken heart and a contrite spirit"? Is it not a specifically "Reformed" danger that for us the worship service is nearly exclusively a meeting place where we listen to, and evaluate a speech by, the man whom we pay to entertain us? Sure, Hebrews 10:25 speaks about "not neglecting to meet together-,. but it is more than that! It is meeting (with) the Lord; it is coming to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Let this, then, be the climate in which we together continue meditating on the meaning of our Reformed Liturgy.

The word "Reformed" now asks our attention. Speaking about Reformed Liturgy means for us that it has its specific character (and beauty), in distinction from other liturgies.

Although we did not plan to mention and analyse all the liturgies there are under the sun, of necessity we must mention that "our" liturgy finds itself between two "extremes" in a specific respect.

On the one hand, there is the Romanist liturgy, in which not only the "accursed idolatry" the Mass (Heid. Cat., L.D. 29) is central, but the congregation or laity is practically passive. It is not even necessary that there be a congregation present! Where the bishop or priest is, there is the church, even if he is all by himself, busy at the altar.

On the other hand, there is Independentism in its various forms, which all boil down to: a gathering of individual believers, without special office-bearers: there is only the - "congregation." Each member may contribute his input; it is a free-for-all. Especially with the enormous growth of NeoPentecostalism in our time, this kind of -meeting together" is rampant. Many people seem attracted to this form of worshipping, even people with a Reformed background. When you ask them why they turned their back upon the Reformed church, the answer usually is, "because the (Canadian) Reformed church is too 'institutionalized.' There is too little participation by the congregation. The church service is a one-man business without room for spontaneous expression of what lives in one's heart." And thus they try to find a place where there is still something of the life of the early Christian church, as they see it. Thus we find ourselves between those two extremes: with the one, only the priest is active; with the other, only the congregation.

What, then, is the specific essence and character, and form, of Reformed Liturgy?

It is "Covenantal." We all know the words of the Form for Baptism, "In all covenants there are two parts." We may add, "In all covenants there are two parties." That is not twice the same. The "parties" in this covenant are the LORD and His people. The "parts" are, on the one hand, what the LORD "contributes" to the liturgy (of which we are speaking); on the other hand, what His people "contribute."

This statement must, of course, be further qualified. In the first place, the "partners" in this covenant are not equals, and therefore their mutual "contributions" are not of the same kind or category. Although, in a certain sense, the covenant of grace is bi lateral, in that there is now a "back and forth" relationship between the LORD and us, in general, and also in the liturgy, in its origin this Covenant is bestowed upon us as a "testament," a free and sovereign gift. "Love came from one side," while we were yet enemies. The LORD took, and still takes, the initiative. Thus the covenant, in its origin, was uni-lateral, and it always remains that way. We are always on the receiving end. Even when we give to our God, we give what we have first received.

Still, in the blessed covenant-relationship there is two-way traffic. As a result, the various "elements" of Reformed liturgy can be divided into two groups, i.e., first those elements that come from the LORD, such as His blessing, His Word, etc.; secondly, those that come from us, His people, such as praise, and prayer and offerings, but most of all the sacrifice of a repentant and thankful heart. Conscious partaking in this liturgy ought to mean for us all that we are fully aware of what is going on. First, we are to be fully aware that we are in the presence of the LORD our God Who is holy. Then, we really receive His blessing; we hear Him speak to us and we respond in faith. Finally, also that we are giving our sacrifices of thanksgiving to Him, and that we sing, not just for our own pleasure, but to the glory of His Name. This, then, is Reformed Liturgy, and has to become Reformed Liturgy more and more. These articles are written to promote this.


Before closing this article, we return to some criticism that was already mentioned. Is the liturgy, as we practice it, indeed not too much a one-man business? What, exactly, is the function of the special office-bearers in the liturgy? Cannot the participation of the congregation be enhanced and strengthened? Should we not, instead of the method of preaching to which we have become accustomed, introduce some more "dialogue"? The believers are mature since Pentecost, are they not? Do we do justice to that fact? How can we get more out of a church service? Are we allowed to introduce more modern forms of expression, in the way of music, plays, drama, especially to get the young generation more interested and active Are our church services not a drag for them? Should we not open the doors a bit wider, instead of having, in fact, closed sessions: "for members only"?

In order to get the proper answer to such questions, we must first consider some more - fundamental principles; and while doing that, keep in mind the "history of redemption." We are the New Testament church; so not the first church. There was an Old Testament church, and ours is the fulfilment of that one. Therefore our liturgy is rooted in the liturgy as the LORD revealed it, in great detail, to Moses.


Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 11, May 31, 1980

The second article, having attempted to describe the unique character of Reformed liturgy as covenantal liturgy, came to the conclusion that sound biblical interpretation demands a redemptive-historical approach in the matter of liturgy. Also in this respect the New Testament must be understood in the light of the Old.

The Heavenly Pattern of Liturgy

Moses received from the LORD a very detailed description of the tabernacle, including the vessels, altars, the utensils and materials to be used, and the way these materials had to be adorned with various symbols. Of the tabernacle as well as of the temple the LORD God was the Architect! He made the plans. Every detail contained a message about the coming Saviour.

Thus we hear, Exodus 25:40, "And see that you make them [the utensils, etc.) after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain." This "pattern" was, first of all, the tabernacle as a whole: how it was to be set up; how the partitions were to be made. Let's call that the ground plan. It looked approximately like this.

In the front hall (No. 1) which was open towards the congregation, the main objects were the laver or wash-basin and the great altar on which the sacrifices were burned.

The middle part (No. 2) was accessible only by the priests. There stood the table with the show-bread and the lampstand. Right in front of the curtain that hid the Most Holy Place the altar of incense found its proper place, the incense being the symbol of the prayers sent up to the mercy seat.

In this Most Holy Place (No. 3) stood the ark, covered with the lid on which once a year blood was sprinkled by the High Priest. Only he, after many preparations, was allowed to enter there. On top of the ark was the cloud, symbolizing the presence of the LORD among His people. Therefore it was called the Mercy Seat.

The two arrows in the middle part indicate that the task of the priests, as "mediators" between the Lord and His people, was two-fold. The one aspect was to represent the LORD to His people. This was done in the blessing which they laid upon Israel, Numbers 6:24-26. They also represented the LORD when they proclaimed His ordinances.

The other half of their priestly duties was in the opposite direction. to represent the people before the LORD. This they did when they brought the sacrifices and sprinkled the blood; also when they burned the incense on the altar built for this purpose. They brought the prayers of the covenant people to their God.

This, then, was the pattern shown to Moses. From the letter to the Hebrews it becomes clear that this pattern did not stand on top of the mountain Horeb, but in heaven itself.

Yet, in the old dispensation it was a horizontal sanctuary. The mercy seat stood on this earth, on the ground.

Of the many things that could be said about this heavenly pattern only a few will be mentioned.

First, every object, every action, the sacrifices, the incense, etc., spoke of Christ Jesus. Then, it was indeed a "covenantal" pattern. There were the two "parties": the LORD and His people. There were also the two " parts": what the LORD did to and for His holy nation, as well as the response of this nation to their God, in their sacrifices and prayers. Finally, it was all "shadow," provisional and preparatory.

Exodus 25:40 is quoted in Hebrews 8:5, "they (the Old Testament priests) serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, 'See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.' "

This tent, or tabernacle, however, belongs to the past. "Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better ......." verse 6.

The whole letter to the Hebrews proclaims this excellency of the---true tent, ," verse 2, which is set up, not by man, but by God.

Jesus Christ, the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, has fulfilled all shadows, and entered the real, the heavenly, sanctuary. There He ministers as our High Priest. Yea, we have now free access to the Most Holy place. "Since then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession ...Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need," Hebrews 4:14, 16.

To say it in the terminology of this article, Jesus Christ, by His perfect sacrifice with which He entered the heavenly sanctuary, Hebrews 8, etc., has set the Old Testament horizontal tabernacle on its end! Not even only, that, but when He died God's hand tore the curtains apart; there are now no longer three partitions, divided by heavy curtains. Now the congregation is no longer kept outside the tabernacle proper. A second, simple drawing shows that the New Testament "tabernacle" is no longer horizontal but vertical.

This vertical "pattern" seems empty in comparison with the one that Moses built. No longer any altars, no golden ark in front of the pulpit in church, nor any of the other objects and utensils. But in fact it is much fuller. This "pattern" reaches through the clouds up to highest heaven, where Christ Jesus is ministering at the heavenly mercy seat (No. 1).

The broken line (No. 2) only indicates that "we do not yet see everything," Hebrews 2:8; as on Ascension day "a cloud took Him out of their sight," Acts 1:9. But Hebrews 4 told us already that we may draw near with confidence. We live under an open heaven; the curtains were torn apart.

The congregation (No. 5), although still here on earth, may in fact gather in the same "room" with Jesus Christ. His Spirit came down and filled the church. While He is our Paraklete in heaven, the Spirit is our Paraklete here on earth.

All this is glorious reality on the day of the LORD, when we as His people may meet with Him. According to His promise Christ is among us. And we have been made "to sit with Him in the heavenly places," Ephesians 2:6. All those glorious expressions which we heard in the previous article, reading from Hebrews 12, are true and real in the worship service. 'We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the city of the living God.---On the Day of Christ the heavenly Jerusalem will descend, and no temple or church building will be needed any longer on the new earth. Yet, we may know that, when the congregation gathers and calls upon the Name of the LORD, "Our help is in the Name of the LORD Who made heaven and earth," this heavenly Jerusalem descends among us and we have "come" to it or "arrived."

In this vertical sanctuary there is still but now in fulfilment - the covenantal "two-way traffic," as the two arrows indicate. There is a movement from heaven to earth, when God blesses His people, proclaims His Law, speaks His Word. There is also a movement from earth to heaven, when the congregation prays, confesses, sings, brings offerings of gratitude.

Although the minister as leader of the liturgy is no longer priest in the old sense, Jesus Christ has ordained that in this New Testament vertical liturgy certain elements should be mediated by him. He, in Christ's Name and with His authority, blesses God's people, brings the message of God's Word. But he is also the mouth of the congregation, when he brings the sacrifices of our lips, our prayers, to the mercy seat. In many churches he is also such a mouth when he recites the Creed, although this should be done by the congregation itself, as we hope to discuss later.

Thus, as long as the heavenly Jerusalem has not yet come down for good and for ever, there still is a mediating office, in two directions, just as with the priests in the tabernacle, one down (No. 4), one up (No. 3).

It now should be clear to all, that our Reformed, or covenantal, liturgy consists of several elements which must be divided into two groups. Some latin words are used for this distinction. There are elements a parte Dei (from God's part or side); they are:

1. the benedictions,

2. the Ten Words (A.M.),

3. public reading of the Scriptures,

4. proclamation of the Word.

Other elements are a parte homini, from the side of man, of the congregation, such as:

1. the votum,

2. Creed (P.M.),

3. Prayers,

4. the offertory,

5. singing the praise of the LORD.

There are, of course, also the sacraments. As will be seen later, they, and especially Holy Supper, are a "two-way" business. Also in the preaching there is, or should be, two-way traffic. Listening, "hearing the Word," is a very important activity on the part of the assembled holy nation.

Returning to the word "Reformed" in the title, we remember with gratitude that the Reformers cleansed the liturgy. Their main act in this respect was removing the altar together with "priests- and all other "old-testamentic" elements; in its place they put the pulpit in the very centre, as the place from which the "ministry of reconciliation" comes to us.

Although the picture we have drawn is still far from complete, we dare say that, in contrast to the elaborate Romanist cathedrals, the Reformed liturgy is most beautiful.

Further discussion of the various elements and their proper order will show this beauty in more detail.


Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 12, June 14, 1980

In the third instalment in this series we defended the thesis that the New Testament liturgy must be understood against the background of the Old Testament "pattern" as revealed to Moses by the LORD Himself on the mountain. According to the redemptive-historical interpretation of the Scriptures (in all their parts, not only in the socalled "historical texts"), the New Testament must be seen as the fulfillment of the Old. Regarding the liturgy in its broadest sense this means that the "horizontal" tabernacle was set on its end, when Jesus Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary. The curtains have gone; we have now free access to the mercy seat.

But the covenantal character has remained: in Reformed Liturgy there is still that two-way traffic, in which the LORD addresses His people and they address their God.

Principles of the Order of Worship

Before we can consider the various "elements" of our order of worship, we must first consider the "corporate worship" as a whole, a harmonious and beautiful whole. In the first article the history around this order was described: how, in the Dutch churches, attempts were made to restore the original and proper order. We also had to conclude that these attempts failed to the greater extent. The present writer is convinced that we must keep as closely as possible to our Liturgical Forms and our Creeds. He trusts that this stand will not meet with contradiction.

What do these official documents offer for the proper order in our meetings on the Lord's Day? There are, first, the Forms of Prayers. The first prayer, Book of Praise, pp. 475/6, bears the name, "A General Confession of Sins, and Prayer before the Sermon." As we hope to see later, this prayer is a combination of two prayers (as the word "and" indicates). Originally the service started, after the opening phrases, with a confession of sins (and some more; see later). Separated from this was a brief Prayer right before the sermon, starting with the words, "Open now the mouth of Thy servant . . . ." Conclusion: in order to "be together" with the LORD our sins must be confessed and removed first, before we may continue, so that we may dwell in gracious presence. Then comes the public reading of the Scriptures and the sermon, introduced by a brief prayer. The second prayer, pp. 476-480, is called, "A Prayer for All the Needs of Christendom, to be used on the Sabbath after the First Sermon,'' i.e., the morning sermon. The words "after the first sermon" clearly indicate its proper place in the order of worship, whatever else may be brought forward as "psychological reasons" (for which the period 1920-1933 was so well-known, (see first instalment), to put this prayer before the sermon. There is more to this than meets the eye, but also here we say: see later.

We have more prayers in our Book of Praise, such as a second,"Public Confession of Sins and Prayer before the Sermon," p. 48Off.; also Prayers before and after the explanation of the Catechism. The latter clearly put Catechism preaching in the p.m. service, in distinction from the "First Sermon" in the morning.

Thus these five prayers (in fact seven because two are "twins") set a general pattern for both services, be it, however, incomplete. The completion comes when we hold to our confession in Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 38. There we have agreed as churches that on the day of rest "we diligently attend the church of God" in obedience to the fourth commandment. The Catechism, answer 103, continues with mentioning the four "blocks" of liturgical elements in this order:

1. "to learn God's Word;

2. "to use the sacraments;

3. "to call publicly upon the Lord;

4. "to give Christian alms."

This order is not accidental, so that everyone has the right to throw them around in a pellmell fashion. FESTUS HOMMIUS, who translated and combined what Ursinus and others had written in explanations of the Catechism, stresses the order, when he speaks about the four parts as "first, second, third, fourth," in that order. It is the logical order, as we hope to see when we deal with the various elements.

Combining both official documents, prayers, and Catechism, we conclude that there should not be all kinds of things in between the public reading of the Scriptures and the sermon, like prayer (even the "long prayer" . . .), offertory, singing. Paul's advice to Timothy was, "Attend to the. public reading of scripture, to preaching,to teaching," I Timothy 4:13. 'Also that public confession of sins, with what belongs to it, should come first; that the prayers of intercession and the giving of Christian alms come after the sermon; and, of course, that the proper order also is "Word and Sacraments."

This leads, "automatically," to the order of liturgy as it was adopted by Synod Kampen 1975 of our Dutch sister churches, which good example our churches should follow.


The word "Reformed" should first be understood in its historical sense: thus it Was done since the Reformation; only then should it be understood as a plea that we - in case we do it differently - restore that original order.

What follows now is only a "skeleton"; the "meat" will come when each element is considered in some more detail. Secondly, it is the order for the A.M. service (although we plan to discuss also the second service). In the third place, the various elements are to be divided into two groups, as previously mentioned: those that come from the LORD to His people (A), and those that come, via the minister or without him, from the people and are directed to their God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit (B).


1. Opening

(B) Votum (Psalm 124:8)
(A) Benediction (1 Corinthians 1:3 or Revelation 1:4, 5)
(N.B. In many churches this is preceded by (A) Call to Worship.)
(B) Song of Praise.

2. Public Confession of Sins

(A) The Ten Words (Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5) and Summary.
(B) Public Confession of Sins (cf. First Form of Prayer).
(A) Proclamation of Forgiving Grace.
(B) Song of Thanksgiving.

3. Ministry of the Word

(B) Brief Prayer for the Opening of Scripture.
(A) Public Reading of the Scriptures.
(B) Prayer-song for a blessing.
(A) Sermon.
(B) Amen-song by congregation.

4. Administration of the Sacraments

(N.B. This part is optional [there are services without sacraments, although not in the Early Church]; it should also be noted - and explained later - that to a certain extent the sacraments belong to both groups (A) and (B).
(A) (B) Baptism, when called for.
(A) (B) the Lord's Supper "as often as you do it!'

5. Prayers and Intercessions

(B) in AM. service "for all the needs of the Christendom."
(N.B. in P.M. (B) "Prayer after the Catechism sermon.")

6 Ministry of Mercy

(B) "to give Christian aims." (N.B. In many churches:
(B) presenting our sacrifice of love to the Lord.)

7. Closing

(B) Closing Psalm or Hymn.
(A) Benediction (from Numbers 6:24-26 or 11 Corinthians 13:14).


In some following articles we plan to discuss these elements and their proper place in the liturgy in some more detail. In the process some questions will be dealt with, like, "Should we not have more participation by the congregation?"Whynot a choir?" "Who recite(s) the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Amen?" etc. It may also be beneficial to compare, now and then, our Reformed order with other liturgies and then say a word on the pros and cons. All this is done because we agree with the book reviewed in this magazine, ROBERT G. RAYBURN, 0 Come, Let Us Worship, that a better understanding of "corporate worship," as he calls it, is no luxury for those who "diligently attend the church of God." We would "get much more out of it" if we would more strongly realize that our worship is to be to the glory of God, and if all who attend church take conscious part in every single element of what is going on during the service. Going to church is more than "going to listen to a public speaker!" Much more!


Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 13, June 28, 1980


In the fourth instalment the Order of Worship was built upon what we have in our Official documents, the Prayers for public worship and the Heidelberg Catechism on the Fourth Commandment, Lord's Day 38. Now we will discuss the various elements In the order given in the previous article.


In the light of the solemn character of our meeting the LORD the opening or beginning of the service is of the greatest importance. It--setsthe tune" for all that follows. This opening is not only a votum and a blessing, plus a Psalm. While this takes place, we who attend the church of God must have prepared ourselves so that we are in the proper frame of mind. This cannot be stressed too strongly. In the previously mentioned book, 0 Come Let Us Worship, Dr. Rayburn needs more than 130 pages to make clear, from the Scriptures, what it means, and must mean for us, that we meet the LORD. And He meets us; He, the God of all the earth; He to Whom the seraphim constantly sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God Almighty," Isaiah 6.

The Reformation cleansed the church buildings of all superstition, from images, these "books of the laity," because God wants His Christians taught by the living preaching of His Word, Lord's Day 35.

The popular iconoclasm, however, went a bit farther. The simpler, the barer the church building, the better. It became a meeting place of the congregation, where people went to hear a sermon. As we experienced after the Liberation, 1944, we could have wonderful church services in barns, school rooms, even storerooms. The building as such is not that important, although one could write articles on biblical architecture.

But even the most ornate building would be an empty shell, if the congregation that fills it is not itself filled with the deepest reverence and at the same time joyful expectance: "we have drawn near to the heavenly Jerusalem." The LORD descends in our midst Only when that is our attitude, do we receive the full benefit and blessing from the "opening."

Three and Three

Traditionally we have three elements or parts in the opening of the service: the votum, the blessing or salutation, and the first Psalm or Hymn, expressing the "Come, let us worship and bow down before this God of great renown- of Psalm 95. There are, however, three more elements which we will consider.

The First Three

The service starts with a (B) element, coming from the congregation, on whose behalf the minister speaks the words of Psalm 124, "Our help is in the Name of the LORD Who made heaven and earth.---We call that the "votum" for lack of a better word.

This is quite a statement! First, we call upon the LORD, Yahweh, the God of the Patriarchs, the God Who revealed His Name to Moses at the burning bush. He is the God Who adopted us and our children in His gracious covenant. This already establishes the meeting-together as a covenantal event. Although there may (hopefully) be visitors whom we call "outsiders," they do not change the character of the meeting: the covenant people has gathered with their Covenant God.

Then, we confess Him as the Creator; that is the first article of the Apostles' Creed; and when you read Lord's Days 9 and 10 of the Catechism, you realize again what that means. He, Who created all things and still upholds them, is for His Son Jesus' sake our God and Father Who takes care of us more than any earthly father ever can, Psalm 103.

Finally, we call Him our Help: we put our lives into His hand. -Blessed is he who has the God of Jacob for his help," Psalm 146:5. We declare that our "help" is in His NAME: we are open to His revelation.

This "votum" is spoken by the minister on our behalf. There can be no objection against saying these words together. It would impress upon us that these words are not just a traditional formula which means little more than when a chairman opens the meeting with his gavel. It is much more! The reason that the "Votum" is spoken by the minister may have to be sought in the fact that this element of our liturgy stems from the so-called Latin Mass. When the clergy became more and more central, the priest had to perform all sorts of ceremonies before he could start his real work. One of these ceremonies was the confession of his personal sins and a prayer for forgiveness and cleansing. This prayer, then, began with the words, "Our help is in the name of the LORD," while one of the assistants responded by saying, "Who made heaven and earth." This is the origin of the traditional beginning of our services. Since the Reformation these words do not apply to the "clergy" any longer, but to the whole congregation.

The above is a near-literal quote from G. Van Rongen, Liturgy of God's Covenant, p. 11. The "Call to Worship," of which we have to say more in the next article, is of older, pre-romanist origin. As a matter of fact it stems from the Early Christian church.

Then comes the salutation, an (A) element, coming from the LORD as His answer to our confession expressed in the votum. Although we do not suggest it, in order to express the difference between votum and salutation, the minister could, during the votum, turn his back to the congregation, lift up his face and on behalf of the people behind him address God. Then, turning around, he faces the congregation and blesses them from the LORD. "Two-way traffic!"

The service is also closed with a blessing, usually called the benediction. This is the LORD's "farewell" at the moment we go back home, crowned with His blessing which will accompany the true believers all through the week.

The opening blessing is meant for the worship service itself. In the company of the Triune God we are assured of the grace and the love of God. We may count on that during the whole service, because it is a blessing, not a (pious) wish. It is a statement, a divine statement. That's why we favour "Grace is upon you . . . " and, likewise in the closing benediction,---the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is with you all."

Dr. Rayburn warns against "monotony." He fears that, when we always hear the same words, their meaning will escape us in the end. Although there is such a danger, we would not favour giving the minister the right to use different words every Lord's Day. In our churches two different wordings are used, from 1 Corinthians 1:3 and Revelation 1:4, 5. We would, however, like to see that there be some more variety. The Bible undoubtedly contains more blessing-formulas than just these two. Paul opened his letters every time in a different way. One may also think of Peter, who starts his first letter with the words, "May grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!"

Still, we favour the ones we use regularly, because they remind us of our adoption in the covenant, "baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." One needs only to read the first page of the Form for Baptism to realize what this blessing means.

It would take too much space even to paraphrase these blessings. They are loaded with promises; they contain all that we need for this life and for the life eternal. The blessing should always be a literal quotation from the Bible. The LORD speaks. No minister should try to emulate Him by adding all kinds of pious frills.

It stands to reason - this as a final remark - that the congregation should not close their eyes during the votum and blessing. A confession (votum) is said with open eyes, and we should see the uplifted hands of the minister, reminding us of our Lord and Saviour, Who ascended while lifting up His hands, by which He blessed the pillars of the church, the apostles.

The third element is the first Psalm. This Psalm (or Hymn) need not be selected by the minister With a view to his text. It may be related to the sermon, but, in any case, it must be a song of praise, expressing the allsurpassing glory of our God. The Psalm book contains a great number. The new Hymn section opens, on purpose, with six hymns under the heading, "We praise Thee, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"; as it also closes with--Allglory be to Thee, Most High." Bulletin and Psalm board render it unnecessary to announce this Psalm, let alone to hear it being read by the minister. Right after the blessing we sing glory to God. Our song pierces the clouds and becomes one with that of the seraphim, "Holy, holy, holy!" Our singing will please the LORD only when we can say with Paul, "1 will sing with the spirit, but 1 will sing with the mind also," 1 Corinthians 14.15. Put your mind to it, and know what you are singing!

The Second Three

There are three more elements that should be mentioned here, namely, the prayer in the consistory room, the silent prayer when the consistory has entered, and the so-called "Call to Worship."

It is a bit risky to say something negative about number one and two. Prayer is an intimate matter. Be silent! We take that risk, for the simple reason that, though these two prayers are still in use in some of our churches, they are in our opinion not what the LORD expects from us.

The prayer in the consistory room by the "shaker" ( .... ), i.e., the elder who leads the minister to the pulpit, stems, according to most "experts," from times of persecution, when all too often the service was cruelly interrupted and dispersed by the enemies. The purpose was then to ask the LORD that this might not happen. I myself have again felt that need during World War II when bombs sometimes fell close by or when people, spying for the Germans, hoped to hear something that might put the minister into the concentration camp (as happened in several cases). But, in normal circumstances, is it necessary? Iassume that every elder has prayed for his minister at home already, privately and with the family. Add the closing prayer at consistory meetings.

One's opinion on this matter is related to what one thinks of the consistory gathering separately, before the service. Our churches may, in this respect, be an exception. Why do the elders and deacons not join the congregation right away? It is also related to one's opinion of the necessity (or not) of that shaking of hands by the elder whose turn it is. Ihave heard as an explanation that, in doing so, the elder, on behalf of the consistory, gives the minister the mandate to preach, while at the end of the service his hand-shaking means that the sermon was alright.

I have never been impressed by this explanation. The mandate to preach was given once for all in the letter of call and the ordination. This does not need to be repeated every Lord's Day, even twice! Nor can that one elder, without having consulted his colleagues, right off the cuff publicly declare: "It was alright; no objections." Imagine, if he has objections, what then? Refuse the hand? There are other and better ways for that.

This usage stems from the days after the Reformation, when there were quite a number Of itinerant preachers, unknown to the congregation. Before he could ascend the pulpit, the consistory had talked with such a "preacher on-the-loose," - and then this handshaking made sense; it told the congregation, "He is alright." (That's why Church Order and Church Visitation speak about the task of the consistory to see to it that no one enters the pulpit who is not qualified.)

Now that "silent prayer," a few moments (seconds) before the minister starts with the votum. The organ fails silent; everyone bows his/her head, and prays. The remark that it is risky to say something negative about this, is repeated here. Imagine! you feel the need for privately asking the LORD for a blessing, and the consistory would forbid it! Terrible!

Therefore the first remark is, give everyone who wants to pray for himself the opportunity. Let the organ stop some moments before the consistory enters. But, having stressed time and again that the church service is a gathering of the covenant congregation, we believe that from the very moment the service starts, we should approach the LORD together, as the one body of Christ. There is ample opportunity for private prayers at home, and not only on Sunday mornings! We would rather plead for more prayers sent up during the week, when the minister is preparing his sermons. Sunday morning is a little late for that, and he needs those prayers!

Therefore, although not being a promoter of this silent prayer (while respecting everyone who feels the need for it), I suggest that from the very second the "meeting with the LORD" starts, we do all things together! Instead of that silent prayer that can mostly be counted in seconds, we should start the preparation for worshipping the LORD a bit earlier and a bit better. Not to bed too late on Saturday evening; up in time on Sunday morning have a breakfast together instead of fighting for the use of the bathroom, and a rush to find the -Sunday shoes, tie, etc., . . . ." The best preparation is to do what the Catechism adds in Lord's Day 38: "that all the days of my life 1 rest from my evil works, let the Lord work in me by His Holy Spirit, and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath."

The last item on the agenda for this article was "Call to Worship." But we got sort of carried away with the other items and have to stop. Let one question that may prepare you for the next article, be added. Did it strike you that in the meeting with the LORD, man in the "votum," has the first word? Is that right? Should not the LORD be the First, as He always was and is and will be?


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