A Few Notes About the Worship Service
The Old Testament worship service was a particular form of covenant order. The "service" concerned the Old Testament cult with its sacrifices. See for example Numbers 8:22; 16:9; 1 Chronicles 9:13 and Ezekiel 44:11.
God wishes to dwell with His people. That is why a house is made for Him in the desert. It is called the tabernacle or "tent of meeting," (Exodus 27:21; 28:43; 29:10). Here the beauty of the Lord is seen (Psalm 27:4). Because Israel may share in God's merciful communion, the poet yearns for the courts of the Lord (Ps. 84:2).
In addition to the place of meeting, there are also fixed times for the meeting with God. On the seventh day there shall be a sacred assembly (Leviticus 23:3). The priests called the community together by sounding two silver trumpets (Numbers 10:2). It was a festive gathering (Psalm 42:5; 100:2, 4).
The sin offering stood central. On the day which the Lord had set aside for the sacred meeting, the sacrifice was doubled (Numbers 28:9, 10). The gathered congregation was shown that the communion with the Lord was founded on blood. Without the shedding of blood, there was no atonement.
The Old Testament worship service showed the two parties in the covenant meeting each other. On the basis of the blood of the atonement they communicated with one another. God called His people to this communion on the day hallowed for it, the day of meeting. God met His people in the Old Testament with the glad tidings of atonement. He put His name on Israel and blessed them (Numbers 6:27). In the temple the people saw the Lord in the service of the priests (Psalm 63:3). They heard God also in the teaching of the priests (Leviticus 10:11; Malachi 2:7). The second party of the covenant was active as well. They approached God with the incense of prayer and with songs.
In the New Testament we find the word leitourgia, from which we derive our word "liturgy." This word indicates the official position and work of Christ, wherein and whereby He had completed the Old Testament cult, because He brought the true sacrifice and now, in the true sanctuary, completes His work as highpriest (Hebrews 8:2, 6; 10:11). After Christ has fulfilled the covenant, the word becomes the word for the worship service (Acts 13:2). Altar and sacrifice fall away. The atonement has been accomplished. The shadows are fulfilled. Now there is a being assembled (1 Corinthians 5:4; James 2:2; a coming together as church, 1 Corinthians 11:18; Acts 20:7; a coming together, 1 Corinthians 11:20; 14:23; Hebrews 10:25).
The essence of the New Testament worship service is that God and His people meet each other in the assembly of the exalted Christ, on the day of Christ's exaltation, the first day of the week. Where now two or three are gathered in His name, He will be in their midst.
In the worship service the two parties of the covenant come together. God is the First. All initiatives come from Him. He calls the assembly. The parties, however, meet each other in mutual love. The congregation is, therefore, also active, they may sing and adore. It, however, is an answer-movement initiated by God, who as the First, meets His people.
Synagogue of the Jews
The synagogue was the religious centre. It probably came into existence during the exile, when Israel was separated from the temple.
On the Sabbath day the Jews went to the local synagogue (Luke 4:16). The old Jewish synagogue service concentrated itself on the following elements:
- the Sh'ma, the prayer of creed named after its first word. It is a combination of three biblical passages, Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. This confession was recited by all the people;
- the eighteen (really nineteen) berakot, a set of prayers read by the cantor and the people answered "amen";
- the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6 delivered by an authorized person, i.e. a priestly descendant;
- the reading and opening of the Scriptures. The reading consisted of two pericopes, one from the Pentateuch and one from the Prophets, directly followed by the sermon. See Luke 4:16f and Acts 13:14f.
Because the first Christians were Jews who for some time continued the practices of the temple and the synagogue, these practices had considerable influence on the formation of the Christian worship service.
The liturgy of the Christian church can be found back in the fixed components of the synagogue services. The Saviour Himself linked up with the synagogical practice of explaining the Scriptures. He also gave His disciples the mandate to preach (Matthew 10:5-7; 28:19; Mark 16:15). In the assemblies of the church of Pentecost the teaching of the apostles comes first (Acts 2:42). The celebration of the Lord's Supper, mentioned in Acts 20, is preceded by a sermon. The apostle Paul adjures Timothy: proclaim the word (2 Timothy 4:1). The reading and explanation of the Scriptures form an essential part of the worship service of the Christian church. (See also Hebrews 1:1; 1 Peter 1:25; Ephesians 4:11, 12 and Romans 10:17).
Paul commands that his letters be read in the meeting of the congregations (1 Thessalonians 5:27;Colossians 4:16). In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul urges Timothy to devote himself to "the public reading of Scripture" followed by "preaching and teaching."
In connection with the reading of Scripture, there was admonition and teaching. See the texts which urge Timothy to labour in the word and doctrine: 1 Timothy 5:17; 4:11; 6:3; 2 Timothy 4:2.
In addition to reading and preaching, prayer is mentioned (Acts 2:42; 4:29; 1 Timothy 2:1, 2; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). The congregation is involved with the prayer (Acts 4:24).
As in the synagogue, the congregation answers the prayer with "amen" (1 Corinthians 14:14-16). There were also salutation and blessing formulae; they can be found in most New Testament letters. According to Colossians 4:16, they had to be read in the meetings of the congregation. An important element was the song. The congregation is encouraged to speak in "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19).
The service of sacrifices is also mentioned (see Acts 2:42), where the fellowship is mentioned. In light of what follows in Acts, it appears that we have to think here of the work of mercy in the first place. The congregation of Corinth is urged to lay aside something every Sunday for the needy church at Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2). The sacraments also received a place in the worship service, the Lord's supper is celebrated in the assembly of the church (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7). It is also probable that baptism took place in the midst of the congregation (see e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:13).
The First Centuries
The church of the first three centuries remained faithful to the sober Apostolic worship. A few documents provide information about the liturgy in post-apostolic times. Justin Martyr writes in First Apology, c. 138 A.D.
On the day named after the sun, we hold a meeting in one place for all who live in the cities or the country nearby. The Memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the overseer gives a talk urging and, inviting us to imitate all these good examples. Then we all stand up together and send up our prayers. As said before, bread is brought and wine and water after we have finished our prayer. The overseer likewise sends up prayers and thanksgivings with all his might. The people give their consent by saying, "Amen." Now the distribution takes place, and each one receives what has been accepted with thanksgiving. Those who are absent receive their share through the table stewards deacons.
At Justin's time the worship service consisted of two parts, a word and a sacrament. After the "sermon" those that had not been baptized left the meeting. The sacrament portion began with the kiss of peace. Afterwards the bread and the cup were brought in.
Hippolytus in "The Apostolic Tradition," follows the tradition of the apostles in the matter of celebrating the Lord's Supper. After the kiss of peace "the serving brothers" (deacons) have brought the "offered gifts" to the overseer who, after thanksgiving, urges the congregation to lift up their hearts ("sursum corda"). The congregation answers and then there follows a prayer in which God is thanked for sending His Son. Also in the fourth century an important place is given to the preaching, as becomes apparent from the sermons of Chrysostom in the East and Augustine in the West.
Corruption since the Fourth Century
The fourth century represents a turning point in the liturgy. In the liturgy of Jerusalem, which came into being under bishop Cyril, the Lord's Supper stands central and the dramatic actions of the bishop representing Christ are emphasized. The Lord's Supper liturgy is very elaborate. After the washing of hands and the kiss of peace, there follows the sursum corda. Next comes a prayer of thanksgiving and the congregation sings the sanctus. The epiclesis, the prayer for the Holy Spirit, indicates that a change has taken place, for in the prayer the Father is asked to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In addition to the sin offering, Cyril continues, we offer the sacrifice of intercession, first for the living and then for the dead. After that the Lord's prayer is said and the cantor in song invites those present to participate in the "holy mystery." People must then approach, "not with outspread hands and spread finger." But make from your left hand a throne for your right hand, which will receive the King. Receive the body of Christ in the hollow of your right hand and say, "Amen." "When your eyes have been hallowed by the contact with this holy body, eat it carefully and take care that nothing is lost." Then follows "the participation in the blood of Christ" and finally the liturgy is closed with prayer.
From Jerusalem this liturgy spread to the West. Slowly but surely a shift takes place. It not only results in an overestimation of the office-bearers, but the Lord's Supper becomes the central point of the liturgy and the sacrifice of thankfulness is replaced by the sin offering. More and more in successive years, the essence of the worship, the meeting between the speaking God and the answering congregation, is lost. God speaks less and less. The pulpit is put aside. God in a mysterious mariner is only present in the sacraments. The congregation is increasingly excluded as a participating party. The two that meet each other are, God and the priest, God and the clergy and the congregation looks on, she observes the spectacle from a distance. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, when the dogma of transubstantiation had become official and the altar completely dominates, one is miles removed from the worship service of the New Testament and the ancient church of the first centuries.
Reformation: Restoration of the Worship Service
Not until the sixteenth-century Reformation are changes made. As the most important principle of the worship service, the Reformers said that it concerned not a meeting between God and the priest, but between God and His people. Over against the whispered word of the priest and the magic of the sacrament, the Reformers placed the clear and loudly spoken word of the preaching of the Gospel. The Reformation rescued the congregation from the swamp of immaturity and, as a real partner in the covenant, gave her again an active role in the liturgy.
In matters of the liturgy, especially Calvin returned to the demands of Scripture. In order to make the activities of the congregation possible, he emphasized soberness, simplicity and clarity as the primary requirements for the worship service. The congregation must be able to follow and understand each component of it. The character of the church service and the lay-out of the building are drastically altered. Yet Calvin does not want to be a destroyer, but a Reformer.
He goes back to the original intent of the worship service. Already in 1542 he says that he wishes to act in the worship service "according to the customs of the ancient church." We know the liturgies of Strasbourg and Geneva, but also of London and Frankenthal, where Dutch refugees held their meetings. There are local differences but in spite of these there is a distinct, fundamental pattern. The whole service is laid out in such a way that God and His people meet each other in reciprocal form. There are acts from God's side and from the side of the congregation. The fixed elements which can be found in all Reformed orders of service are:
- Scripture reading, preaching, administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper and blessing in which God's Word reaches out to the congregation in various ways;
- confession of guilt, profession of faith, prayer, singing and collections, in which the congregation approaches God in answer.
A New Era – the Liturgical Movement
In the period following the Reformation, a decline in liturgical matters set in which reached its lowest point in the eighteenth century. The preaching became nothing more than a means "to clarify understanding" or "to strengthen the will." The church degenerated into a people's meeting without discipline. Romanticism made its entrance. It wished to add splendour to church buildings by means of foolish, unnatural decorations. Pietistic songs took the place of the Psalms as covenant songs. Sloppiness and frivolity quenched the love for God's beautiful service.
In the middle of the nineteenth century there was a reaction against the dead forms in the church. People attempted to come to some sort of liturgical awakening. In England, John Henry Newman (1801-1890), was the driving force behind this new movement. He, however, ended up by returning to the Roman Catholic church. In France and Germany there were similar movements but regretfully there was no Reformation. The liturgical movement did not return to the heart of the worship service, the preaching of the Word. In the Roman Catholic church "the liturgical movement" was ecclesiastically channelled especially by Vatican II. With Roman Catholics, however, the worship service remained sacramental. Everything is concentrated on the sacrament, especially the Eucharist.
There is a general tendency to have a "dialogue" with the congregation from the pulpit. However, no justice is done to the proclamation of the Word. The dialogue has the character of a conversation between people rather than a Word and answer exchange between the Lord and His gathered congregation.
Scripture Reading and Preaching: Heart of the Worship
Both the element of Scripture reading and preaching form the heart of the Scriptural worship. The Word must not be played off against the "liturgy," for they do not oppose each other. In the worship service the Word stands central, for in it the Lord, as the first party of the covenant, comes to His people. The reading and preaching of God's Word are of essential importance for the continuation of the church. In the Order of Worship of 1933, Scripture reading is separated from the sermon by "the central prayer," the collection and psalm singing. As a result of this separation we reach the essential nucleus of the worship only after an extended preliminary. This separation of Scripture reading and preaching is open to severe criticism.
In the first place Scripture itself gives the example of unity of Scripture reading and preaching. Not only did the Lord Christ Himself go from Scripture reading to preaching immediately (Luke 4:17-21), but also in the days of the apostles this was the customary order (Acts 13:15, 16). Obviously the early church followed the example of the Synagogue.
In the second place the history of the early church shows that in the beginning there was a close connection between Scripture reading and preaching. In the first centuries various portions of the Scriptures were read. Although interspersed with psalm singing, they nevertheless formed a unity with the preaching. This custom was still in effect in Augustine's days. The Roman missal formally kept this basic structure. That is also the case with the Reformed liturgies from the time of the Reformation, as the orders of Micron, á Lasco, Bucer, Calvin and Farel show.
In the course of time the Dutch churches introduced certain elements between Scripture reading and preaching. They, however, belong together and may not be separated by other elements. Because both elements form the heart of the worship service, they must be brought forward in the worship service as much as possible.
In addition, more than one reading from Scripture is desirable. The reading of Scripture has always been an important cult element, as appears from Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15, 27; 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:14, 15. The Synagogue also had two Scripture readings, the law and the prophets. The early Christian church did the same, as Justin shows in his apology. It was the custom then to interrupt Scripture reading by singing.
The Law of the Lord – a Fixed Element
The reading of the Law of the Lord belongs to the fixed elements of the Reformed worship service. Lately suggestions are being made to drop the reading of the Law in favour of New Testament passages which admonish one to live a Christian lifestyle.
"Now the congregation is involuntarily under the illusion that the Sinaic covenant still holds," thus says Rev. C. Vonk. He is of the opinion that the Decalogue belongs to the old covenant and does not fit in the liturgy of the New Testament congregation.
But we must maintain the timeless validity of the Ten Commandments. They occupy a special place in the totality of God's covenant revelation. In distinction from all the other laws, they were written on two stone tablets by the Lord Himself. In distinction from all the other laws they were kept in the Ark of the Covenant.
Calvin spoke in this connection of
the eternal rules of all righteousness, prescribed to all people of all nations and all times, who wish to order their lives according to God's will.
Whenever the covenant congregation meets with her God, she needs to hear this constitution of the covenant. Therefore, the reading of the law in the worship service is a necessity. The law is also God's Word. That is why it is incorrect to sing the law. The law does not belong to the answering acts of the congregation, but to the speaking of the Lord to His people. Reading of the Decalogue in the worship service is a good thing. In it the law can function as "a source of knowledge of misery," but also as "a rule of thankfulness." That is not a matter of "or-or," but of "and-and." There is an interplay here. Rev. G. van Rongen speaks in this connection about a "circular movement."
The "Proclamation of Mercy"
The order of Middelburg 1933 does not recognize the proclamation of mercy as a separate element. This element has been and still is a disputed matter. Calvin did not include it in his order of 1542 and the Reformed in Holland decided in 1581: "Whereas the binding and unbinding of sins is sufficiently dealt with in the proclamation of the Word. It is, therefore, unnecessary to introduce a separate form." The objection is clear, a sermonette preceding the proper sermon is unnecessary. It is better to keep our liturgy as it is on this point.
Votum and Blessing
Concerning the "blessing" at the beginning of the service, it is distinguished from the blessing at the end of the service by the "dismissal."
The blessing at the beginning is actually a salutation. According to the words used, it is a normal form of salutation. The difference being that it comes from God Himself. The minister utters this greeting as plenipotentiary of Christ. It is not impossible that "mercy" is reminiscent of a Greek greeting and that "peace" is seen as the Christian version of the Jewish greeting. This salutation is already present with Hippolytus (220), albeit in a slightly altered form. It frequently opens Paul's letters, as well as Revelation 1.
It is better to speak of a "greeting of peace" where it concerns the beginning of the service. The "blessing" is better reserved for the end. In it the liturgy links up with the Old Testament worship service. When the priest had brought incense sacrifice, he came out of the holy place to bless the people who had gathered in the courtyard. The priest did not meet the people with empty hands but with blessing hands and he spoke the words found in Numbers 6:24-26. It is generally known as "the Old Testament blessing."
The Reformed liturgy, however, also goes back to the New Testament. Paul's letters, which may be viewed as addresses to the congregation, end with a blessing formula. It is, therefore, recommended to alternate "the priestly blessing" of Numbers 6 and the "apostolic blessing" of 2 Corinthians 13:13, for example. In it the Lord assures His covenant people of His covenant peace. By the mouth of His servant, He Himself blesses His people. Strengthened by it, the people can go home. They have heard God's promises in the proclamation of the Gospel and were adjured of them by the blessing. God takes leave of His people by assuring them that He will remain with them through His grace. The gesture for each can be different as well. A greeting gesture, e.g. with one hand, suits the salutation, whereas the blessing is better expressed by the use of both hands.
Holy Baptism: During the Service
The sixteenth century Reformation closely linked the sacrament to the proclamation of God's Word. While Rome made the sacrament paramount, which resulted in a sacramental service and an administration of the sacrament separately, the Reformation would have nothing to do with the administration of it outside the meeting of the congregation. The church order speaks of an administration in the public worship service. Calvin calls the sacrament an "organum secundem." That is not a secondary, lesser tool, but a second matter, added to the first by God. That is the reason why the administration of the sacrament must follow the proclamation of the Word.
In the order of Middelburg, no place is indicated for the administration of baptism. The custom is to administer baptism at the beginning of the service, i.e. before Scripture reading and preaching. In several refugee congregations from the time of the Reformation, baptism took place after the proclamation of the Word and the prayers. The provincial Synod of Dort (1574) decided that baptism should take place "between the sermon and the general prayer," i.e. after the sermon.
These decisions from the time of the Reformation are good decisions, for they make clear that the sacrament is the "second instrument." Practical consideration may not be the decisive ones. It is, therefore, desirable that holy baptism takes place after the Scripture reading and the preaching of God's Word.
The Lord's Supper: No Separate Service
The Lord's Supper is also a sacrament, also a "second instrument." As is the case with baptism, the Lord's Supper does not exist on its own. It is closely tied to the preaching of God's Word and ought to follow the sermon.
The existing order of Middelburg (1933) did not regulate the celebration of the Lord's Supper. There are differences in the manner and the place of its celebration in the churches. Here and there, the Word-Sacrament relation is faulty. That is why some thinking about it is necessary. The ancient church did not know of separate Lord's Supper services. It followed preaching and prayer and took place in connection with the collection.
This connection between Word and Sacrament has been slowly eroded. The preaching more and more disappears until it is none existent. The Reformation, however, returned to the order of the early church. Calvin writes, after speaking about the preaching, "Then the minister, after the bread and wine has been placed on the table, restates the institution of the Lord's Supper." That was the order in Strasbourg and Geneva: first the preaching, then the Lord's Supper.
Initially this order was also kept in The Netherlands. The Synod of Dort (1578) decided:
On the day of the Lord's Supper it will be beneficial that the people will be taught about the sacrament especially about its hiddenness. For that purpose a suitable text should be chosen unless the common text can be made suitable for it.
Apparently Synod was thinking of "serial preaching." The Synod of The Hague (1568) decided "that after the sermon and the general prayers, the Form for the Lord's Supper and its prayer should be read before the table." In connection with this, Article 62 of the Church Order of Dort reads that;
after the preaching and the general prayers, the Form for the Lord's Supper and its prayer shall be read.
That means that the celebration of the Lord's Supper ought to take place after the preaching in connection with the service of prayer and the collection of the gifts.
When the Lord's Supper is also celebrated in the afternoon, does this order not push aside the sermon, the special "Thanksgiving sermon?"
The Church Order does not prescribe a special sermon. Initially the Dutch churches of the Reformation opposed a special sermon after the Lord's Supper. From several Synodical decisions we learn that it was considered more meaningful to continue with the Catechism preaching in the afternoon services. The Catechism with its fifty-two Lord's Days were to be preached in one year and no exception was made for special feast days. Besides, "thanksgiving" is built into the Form for the Lord's Supper. When the form has been completely read, the celebration of the Lord's Supper is over.
In addition, if we would decide to celebrate the Lord's Supper more frequently – and there is much to be said for that – it could lead to the sacrament becoming more independent. Here too, practical consideration may not be the deciding factor. The practical problem of needing many tables has given rise to a separate Lord's Supper service. The principle of the connection between Word and Sacrament must not be surrendered for practical considerations.
Manner of Celebration
The manner in which the Lord's Supper is celebrated is a separate matter. Should we switch to a more frequent celebration, more variation in the manner of celebration ought to be considered.
The first step in this direction has been taken by the introduction of the Abbreviated Form (Book of Praise, p. 602f.). If we would go to a monthly celebration, for example, a liturgical form, simpler yet, could alternate with the existing forms. That would also prevent the strong emphasis on the ceremony of the Lord's Supper, and safeguard the preaching of the Word.
A more frequent celebration does not accommodate "sacramentalist," who assign preaching to a secondary position, but is in keeping with Christ's command in which the Word-Sacrament relation can be completely kept intact.
The Beginning of the Service
For some people the "silent prayer" is the beginning of the service. It is, however, not part of the service but belongs to the personal prayers, which ought to be said at home with the family. It is better, considering the pietistic background, not to make room for this in the service, because it is there that the people of the covenant meet. There is here no question of "abolition" because it is not part of the service.
The "handshake" at the beginning of the service shows that the minister acts with the authority of the consistory, who in turn calls the congregation together according to Christ's command. It is not a superfluous gesture, but makes clear that the leitourgos has been authorized by the consistory for his work. (The "handshake" at the end of the service functions as a confirmation, when the task has been finished.)
The votum at the beginning of the service is taken from Psalm 124:8 "Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth." A. Kuyper was of the opinion that this votum has the function of a stroke of the hammer, which opens the meeting of the gathered believers. That is incorrect. It is much more. It is a calling for help from the Lord and an expecting of all things from Him. Its use dates from the Middle Ages. As an opening phrase, this text of Psalm 124 was already used in the liturgy of Zurich in 1525. The liturgy of Strasbourg, also of 1525, has as opening phrase "In the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit." Both formulas could be used alternately.
The Place of the Prayers
Prayer is an important element of the worship service. The temple was called a house of prayer by God (Isaiah 56:7). In the Synagogue service there was a fixed place for prayer. It is typical of the New Testament congregation that they "devote themselves to ... the prayers" (Acts 2:42). The congregation places her concrete needs before the Lord, (Acts 4:24f0, makes intercessions, (Acts 12:5; 1 Timothy 2:1, 2), thanks God through Christ, (Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 14:16). The order of Middelburg includes two prayers, the prayer for all the needs of Christendom after the Scripture reading and before the sermon, and a giving of thanks after the sermon.
This order, however, deviates from the original order of the Reformation. This deviation can be explained from, among others, a certain loathing of form prayers which are considered "dead" and a hidden admiration for the "free prayer." The loathing for form prayers was fed by the Puritans and the men of the "continuing reformation." It was pietistically coloured. But in that way the Reformed pattern for the service of prayer was forgotten. That pattern was, a short prayer before the sermon, intercessions after it. This deviation from the old pattern must be seen as detrimental. Intercession after the service of the Word is in keeping with the character of prayer.
In prayer we call upon Him who first spoke to us. In prayer we link up with God's Word and refer back to it. As "fruits of the lips" prayer is the answer part in the covenant service, the service of sacrifices, see Hosea 14:3 and Hebrews 13:15. The Reformers thoughtfully placed this service of sacrifices, after the service of the Word.
An objection against this train of thought is that it is difficult for the congregation to concentrate on a long prayer after a sermon. It is a psychological objection. However, in the first place, the sermon, no matter how important and how central, is not the totality of the worship service. Furthermore, the intercessions do not have to last all that long. That is not necessary as long as the prayers in the worship service are directed and in the correct place. For example, the prayer before the sermon must be a well-aimed prayer which prays for the opening of the Word and an illumination by the Holy Spirit. A confession of sin can be attached to it. As often as the congregation meets her God, a chastening and confession of sin is suitable. The prayer before the opening of Scripture then has the following elements, confession of sins, prayer for forgiveness, prayer for renewal and prayer for illumination. The intercessions then have their place in the prayer of thanksgiving after the proclamation.
The Place of Singing
The Roman mass knows the introit, the singing before the actual service. This custom dates from very ancient times. Already in the Jerusalem liturgy of the fourth century there was singing while the congregation waited for the bishop. This singing, however, preceded the actual service. It is better to sing after the votum and the "greeting of peace." That prevents the singing of the psalm from falling outside the worship service. In addition it is desirable to maintain the psalm in its character as an answer to the greeting, also, in the spontaneous character in which the congregation responds, provided the psalm has been clearly indicated and introduced by a short intonation.
The choice of the psalm is then also important. As an answer to the greeting of peace, its choice is restricted. Traditionally it has been customary to sing a psalm and not a hymn at the beginning of the service. Not a choir or part of the congregation, but the whole congregation sings this psalm. The organ — the royal instrument — accompanies this song, and all the singing in the worship. The answer of the congregation to Scripture reading in the form of a psalm is of very ancient origin. The reading of the Law as well as the reading from the Old Testament was answered by a psalm. Traditionally the psalms, as songs of the covenant, are the answers to revelation in the law and the prophets. Of course, it is not always necessary to sing a psalm after each Scripture reading.
The confession is a different matter. It has a different character than the reading of the law. Originally the confession of faith was the act of an individual, of a person receiving baptism. Each answered the question asked at baptism or recited the whole of the confession. In the liturgy of Jerusalem, this recitation took place on the eve of Easter and afterwards the Lord's Supper was celebrated. Later the Credo served a double function in the Roman mass, as the answer of faith to the proclamation and as a gateway to the Eucharist.
When the Credo takes place in the morning service, it becomes somewhat overloaded. Much is to be said for maintaining the tradition of the confession of faith in the afternoon service. At present little justice is done to the character of the confession as a congregational act. A collective reciting of the Credo is not desirable. The best form is the singing of the unrhymed Credo.
The singing after the offertory is a separate part of the worship service. There should be no singing during the collection, a longer organ prelude introduces the singing. It demands more from the organist, who does not play to kill time, but directs his playing to the singing which is to follow. It is, however, desirable that this "longer" singing takes place after the sermon. The collection can be announced but all other announcements should, as much as possible, be kept out of the worship service.1
Concerning the "Amen" song, not only Scripture reading, but also preaching is answered by the congregation with her song as an amen. A sung "Amen" is desirable and as such the thrice repeated "Amen" of P. Chr. van Westering could function. A psalm or hymn can also function as a sung "Amen."
The final song also functions as the end of actions by the congregation or as an introduction to the administration of the sacrament (baptism or Lord's Supper), which is to follow. In this way the congregation sings at least four times.
It is not desirable to have recitatives by the minister with responsories from the congregation. That is something different than antiphonal singing, as is the case, for example, in Psalm 136. Why should such a Scriptural form of alternation not be possible in a Reformed worship service?
It is also not desirable to interrupt the preaching with an "intermission song" (tussenzang). The continuity of the proclamation of God's Word should be kept intact. Nor is it desirable to have singing before prayer as a kind of introduction to prayer. The service of prayer is of the same character as singing. Calvin equates singing and prayer. When we sing as such, the answer of the congregation to the Word of God is that much clearer.
"Calvinistic" Order of Worship
Finally we quote the order of worship (B) which Synod of Kampen has adopted, along side the order of Middelburg 1933. It is not a "new order" but goes back to the order which Calvin himself used.
For the morning service
- Reading of the Law
- Congregational song
- Public confession of sins; prayer for forgiveness, renewal, and illumination
- Reading of Holy Scripture (often followed by singing)
- Text and Ministry of the Word
- Responsive song or sung Amen
- Administration of Baptism
- Prayer of thanksgiving and intercessions
- Celebration of the Lord's Supper
- Closing Song
For the afternoon service
- Prayer for the opening of the Word
- Reading of Holy Scripture
- Ministry of the Word
- Profession of Faith
- Administration of Baptism
- Prayer of thanksgiving and intercessions
- Celebration of the Lord's Supper
The study of the liturgy is a beautiful matter. The form and order of the service is important. Routine and keeping traditions for traditions sake, can be deadly. The question: "In which way do we best honour our God," is a recurring one. The worship service is also a matter of His honour.