Category Archives: Reformed Worship

Worship, Unity, and Your Bible

Late last week our church leadership took the unprecedented step of suspending worship services.  Our initial plan was to do this for two Sundays and then reassess.  However, in the meantime, the Australian government has ordered the closure of places of worship (along with other public gatherings).  So it seems that we may be “in exile” for a while, possibly even up to six months.

While we’re sad about not being able to gather together, our congregation still has the opportunity to hear God’s Word.  We have the technology to live-stream (our church’s YouTube channel) and we’re thankful for that.  Last Sunday, I gave two messages at the times we would normally gather for worship in the morning and afternoon.  Many of our members were able to use that, and even some from outside our congregation.

We’ve been careful not to say that these live-streams are “worship services.”  They’re not.  They’re a poor substitute for what we normally do on Sundays.  Nothing compares to gathering together in person in the presence of God.  Because it’s not a worship service, I don’t stand on the pulpit.  We don’t have the call to worship, salutation, reading of the law, assurance of pardon, or benediction.  We do encourage our members to sing wherever they’re gathered and with whomever they’re gathered – even to sing by themselves if need be.  I supply them with suggested songs.  We also encourage them to pray together, and prayer points are supplied to that end.  We all pray for the day when these measures are history and we can return to our normal public worship.

Related to the foregoing, different churches have adopted different measures.  Some of those decisions may need to be revised in the coming days.  Whatever the case may be, we ought to remember that “Satan loves to fish in troubled waters” (adapting from Thomas Watson).  We’re in troubled waters and Satan wants to divide and conquer.  He wants Christians to be at each other’s throats.  Satan wants us to be biting and devouring one another – it serves his cause.  I respect the fact that there are other consistories who have taken a different approach to my church’s.  I might not agree that their approach is the best, but there’s no need for me to publicly or privately criticize them.  Let’s just respect one another and do what we can to strengthen the unity of God’s people in this trying time.

Finally, more than ever, believers need to be serious about their personal Bible reading.  You may not be able to go to public worship.  You might not be able to attend Bible study.  But you can still read and study your Bible at home by yourself.  There’s no obstacle to doing that.  If there’s ever a time when we all need regular spiritual encouragement from God’s Word, it’s now.  If you’re not already using a Bible reading plan, let me encourage you to do so (lots of options here).  Don’t worry that you’re starting late in the year — just start where you are and carry on.  Satan would love to use this crisis to drive you away from God.  Resist him.  Instead, let this crisis be a means through which God draws you closer to himself.  That means making use of whatever’s available – and the main thing that’s still available is the Bible.  Read it.  It’ll be a source of strength to get you through this.


Aiming to Please — Table of Contents

This new book (published by The Study) should be out soon.  These are the chapter titles:

Introduction

Part 1 — Principles

Chapter 1 – Setting the Stage:  The Covenant of Grace

Chapter 2 – Calling the Shots: The Reformed Principle of Worship

Chapter 3 – Organizing the Elements: Covenantal Structure and Logic

Part 2 — Ordinary Elements

Chapter 4 – The Introductory Elements

Chapter 5 – A Psalm-Singing Church

Chapter 6 – The Law, Confession of Sin, Assurance of Pardon

Chapter 7 – Preaching

Chapter 8 – Congregational Prayer

Chapter 9 – The Offertory

Chapter 10 – The Closing Elements

Part 3 – Other Elements, Questions, Issues

Chapter 11 – The Sacrament of Baptism

Chapter 12 – The Sacrament of Lord’s Supper

Chapter 13 – The Second Service and Catechism Preaching

Chapter 14 – Profession of Faith

Chapter 15 – Circumstances

Chapter 16 – Musical Accompaniment

Chapter 17 – Days of Commemoration

Chapter 18 – Reformed Worship and Mission

Part 4 — Conclusion

Chapter 19 – Nine Distinctives of Reformed Worship

Appendices

Appendix 1 – Liturgical Helps

Appendix 2 – Regular Items for Thanksgiving and Intercessory Prayer

Appendix 3 – Supervised Lord’s Supper Celebration Policy

Appendix 4 – Psalm and Hymn Selections Related to the Heidelberg Catechism

Appendix 5 – Psalm and Hymn Selections Related to Days of Commemoration


Coming Soon: Aiming to Please

This new book on worship should be available soon from The Study.  Here are some of the questions the book will address:

  • What difference does covenant theology make for Reformed worship?
  • Do we hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship?
  • What do our confessions say about worship?
  • Do our children belong in the worship service?
  • When and how does the worship service begin?
  • Can someone other than a minister say “you” with the salutation and benediction?
  • Why do we read the Ten Commandments every Sunday?
  • Is there a biblical warrant for singing hymns?
  • Can we sing all the psalms?
  • Should we sing whole psalms or just selected stanzas?
  • Should we pray with uplifted hands?
  • Should the congregation say the votum?
  • Does the pastor lift one hand or two for the salutation?
  • Should the congregation say the “Amen”?
  • Does a sermon need to use words?
  • Can a woman lead in the reading of Scripture in the worship service?
  • Why do we have collection bags?
  • How can we do the offertory in an increasingly cash-less society?
  • Do we need to read the liturgical forms exactly as written?
  • If my neighbour becomes a Christian, can I baptize him in my swimming pool?
  • With baptism, should the sprinkling be done once or three times?
  • Should baptism be done before or after the sermon?
  • How often ought we to celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
  • Should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at tables or in the pew?
  • Why do we have a supervised Lord’s Supper?
  • Do you need an attestation from a sister church to attend the Lord’s Supper as a guest?
  • Can we use non-alcoholic wine or grape juice for the Lord’s Supper?
  • Can we administer the Lord’s Supper to shut-ins?
  • Why do we worship twice on the Lord’s Day?
  • Is catechism preaching biblical?
  • What is the best way to do catechism preaching?
  • Does church architecture matter?
  • Should the elders sit at the front?
  • Can we use a projector in worship?
  • Doesn’t the Regulative Principle of Worship forbid instruments in worship?
  • Is the organist “a prophet on the organ bench”?
  • Should accompanists receive an honorarium?
  • What about drums in our musical accompaniment?
  • Doesn’t the Regulative Principle of Worship forbid holy days like Christmas?
  • Can we celebrate Christ’s birth on a day other than December 25th?
  • Should we have liturgical seasons of Advent or Lent?
  • Does it make sense to have offerings in a church plant or other mission setting?

How to Benefit from the Lord’s Supper

Before a recent Lord’s Supper celebration in my church, I took the opportunity to give a little extra teaching on how Christians can and should benefit from this sacrament.  Here are my notes:

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Before I read the Form, I just want to provide some extra instruction for a moment on how to benefit from the Lord’s Supper.  Have you ever gone to the Lord’s Supper and then walked away from it and wondered, “What was that all about?  What was I supposed to gain from it?”  Have you ever wondered, “What’s supposed to happen to me at the Lord’s Supper?”

Well, the Lord’s Supper is a sacrament designed to strengthen our faith.  It’s easy to think that this is something out of our hands.  We go and sit at the table, and then we just wait and see what happens.  It’s like we’re waiting for a spiritual bolt of lightning to hit us and recharge our spiritual battery.  It might happen and it might not, but it’s out of our hands.  But nothing happens.  We eat the bread, we drink the wine, but nothing changes.  We don’t feel anything.  Our faith isn’t strengthened.

Loved ones, we have to remember how this sacrament works.  It doesn’t work like magic.  It’s not like we’re just passive participants waiting for God to do his thing with us to strengthen our faith.  No, we’re meant to be actively involved.  You have to come to the table with your heart and mind engaged.  When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19) he meant for us to be conscientious about what we’re doing.  If you’re going to benefit from the Lord’s Supper, you have to be thinking about what’s happening.  Otherwise it’s just an empty ritual.  And an empty ritual has no benefit – quite the opposite!

Let me make that concrete and practical for you.  Watch me as I break the bread.  That’s an important part of the sacrament.  I’m really breaking that bread, and so Christ’s body was really broken to pay for your sins.  When the bread comes to you, take it in your hand and look at it for a moment.  It’s real.  So Christ’s body that bore your sins is real.  That body was really nailed to the cross for you.  Taste it.  Feel it in your mouth.  It’s real:  tell yourself, this is how real the gospel is.  Do the same thing with the wine.  Watch me as I pour the wine into the cup.  I’m really pouring real wine.  That’s how real the blood of Christ was that was poured out for your sins.  When you take the cup, look at it; smell it if you want.  Think about it.  It’s real – so Christ had a real crown of thorns pushed into his head and it produced real blood.  When you drink the wine, tell yourself:  this is real wine and the blood of Christ that poured from his hands, feet and side is just as real.  That real blood secured my salvation.  It’s all true, it’s all real.

Loved ones, that’s how your faith will be strengthened this morning.  See the real elements of bread and wine and through them, see how the gospel is real.


Pastoral Q & A: Is Catechism Preaching Biblical?

Reformed churches have historically practiced catechism preaching, typically in the afternoon or evening service.  This practice dates back to the Reformation.  However, in today’s milieu the practice is under threat.  Some Reformed churches have long abandoned catechism preaching while others are heading in that direction.  Sadly, even in churches that maintain it (like the Canadian Reformed and Free Reformed of Australia), there are members who not only question it, but actively repudiate it.

One of the chief objections often raised against catechism preaching is that it isn’t preaching on the Word of God.  Instead, churches doing this are preaching on a human document.  In so doing they’re actually repudiating the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura.  The infallible Bible alone should be our “text,” and yet Reformed churches are preaching on a fallible Catechism.

Such an objection arises either from a caricature of catechism preaching or a misunderstanding of it.  The caricature portrays a Reformed pastor who dryly exegetes the Catechism, perhaps even referring at length to the original German vocabulary and grammar, but who fails to open the Bible or even mention the Bible.  In this caricature, the Catechism has indeed replaced the Bible.  I say this is a caricature because I’ve never once encountered this type of “catechism preaching,” nor have I heard of it anecdotally.  I doubt it exists.  If it does, may it soon become extinct.

The common misunderstanding relates to the notion of what biblical preaching is.  Nowhere does the Bible indicate that preaching must be on one isolated text, a verse or perhaps a series of verses.  There’s no reason to conclude that preaching can’t exposit or explain the doctrine found in a number of Bible passages.  In expository preaching, the preacher focusses on one isolated passage (naturally taking context into account as well) of Scripture.  In catechism preaching, the preacher teaches the “whole counsel of God” on a doctrine while taking the whole Bible into account.  If there ever is such a thing, catechism preaching that doesn’t work with the Scriptures is not worthy of the name “preaching,” and it isn’t biblical.   However, done properly it too is the preaching of the Word of God.

In a lecture several years ago at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, I heard Dr. Jason Van Vliet suggest we think of the relationship between regular Bible-text preaching and catechism preaching in terms of nouns, verbs, and adverbs:

The nouns are the same — if done properly, in both instances our subject material is the Word of God.

The verbs are the same — if done properly, in both instances we are preaching the Word of God.

The adverbs are different — in the first instance we are preaching from a single text of Scripture (in what I would call an expository manner); in the second instance we are preaching catechetically from a broader range of God’s revelation in Scripture.

When things are put in this manner, no one should have a difficulty in agreeing that catechism preaching can and should be biblical preaching.

Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”  Lack of knowledge, including knowledge of the doctrines of Scripture, is destructive.  Catechism preaching aims to build up God’s people in their knowledge of what his Word teaches.  Catechism preaching is constructive — and so why wouldn’t any Reformed believer cherish it?

(Adapted from chapter 13 of my forthcoming book Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship)