One of the challenges faced by pastors is the organization of public prayer. I have long used a document for myself, Regular Items for Thanksgiving and Intercessory Prayer. This document has all the regular things which should be remembered in public prayer on the Lord’s Day — at least the ones I could think of (with the help of my elders). They are organized into eight groups. The idea is to pray through one group each Lord’s Day. I typically do this in the second prayer in the PM service. Using a system like this helps prevent lengthy “around the world” prayers, as well as the neglect of certain matters. I’m sharing it as a MS Word file so other pastors can modify it for their own purposes.
Category Archives: Reformed Worship
The Christian Reformed Churches of Australia held their synod from May 6 to 11 in Melbourne. For those unaware, the CRCA is not the antipodean equivalent of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA), although they do have ecumenical relations. The CRCA was formed through post-war Dutch immigration and today consists of over 50 congregations throughout Australia. Besides the CRCNA, and unlike them, the CRCA also has ecumenical relations with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (“ecumenical fellowship”) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Last year, the CRCA also joined the International Conference of Reformed Churches.
A few items of interest from this recent synod:
In the area of ecumenical relations, the CRCA synod decided to suspend their relationships with two sister churches in South Africa. The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa and the Netherdutch Reformed Church of South Africa have both made synodical decisions compromising the biblical view of homosexuality. If there is no repentance in these South African churches by 2021, the next CRCA synod will terminate these relationships.
Until recently the CRCA Church Order stated in article 56: “The sessions shall see to it that the congregations assemble for public worship twice each Sunday unless valid reasons make this impractical.” A proposal to change this was discussed and approved. The CRCA Church Order now reads: “The sessions shall see to it that the congregations assemble for public worship at least once a Sunday.” This effectively makes two worship services optional in the CRCA.
Finally, there was a noteworthy discussion regarding children at the Lord’s Supper. According to the official Short Minutes a proposal was tabled to allow children access to the Lord’s table “on the basis of their covenantal membership and exercising an age and ability appropriate understanding of God’s grace and how it applies to them.” After extensive discussion, a committee was appointed “to review previous synodical, theological, and exegetical studies, to consult with churches in ecclesiastical fellowship, consider whether the practice is a confessional matter, and to clarify other theological issues and practical implications.” This committee has been mandated to report to the next synod in 2021.
Of course, other matters were discussed as well, and you can read a longer summary of them all here.
In Reformed churches it’s normal to hear the Ten Commandments read during the morning worship service. This is a historic practice going back to the Reformation. Yet, sadly, there are churches claiming to be Reformed that have dropped this practice. There are individuals in Reformed churches which still do it who question why it continues to be done in their churches. They look at it as unnecessary, repetitive, or creating an unhealthy sense of guilt and maybe even shame. Some also object to it because, they say, it adds a legalistic flavour to our worship. So why still read the Ten Commandments?
Let’s start from the way the Scriptures teach Christians to regard the law of God. Think of Psalm 119:97, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” That is not just a statement of how that one Psalmist felt — rather, it’s a vision for how all believers should regard God’s law. It’s a vision that was perfectly fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, and to be fulfilled in all the disciples united to him in true faith. Similar sentiments are expressed elsewhere in Psalm 119: “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119 teaches believers to have a positive attitude towards God’s law — to love it and, as part of God’s Word, to treat it with respect. So, from that perspective, what problem could a Christian have with hearing God’s Law read to him or her on a weekly basis? If we were meditating on it regularly throughout the week because we love it so much, why would we object to hearing it in the holy presence of our God on Sunday morning?
We could approach this also from the angle of the function of the law in our worship. While it does remind us of the way of thankful living, its primary purpose is to remind us of our need for God’s grace at the beginning of our worship. Its primary purpose is to create a sense of humility in sinful people appearing before a holy God. It prepares us to confess our sins to our Father and seek forgiveness from him through Jesus Christ. In this regard, we ought to look at the law as our friend. It is there in our worship to help in the renewal of our relationship with our Father through his Son. It helps us to identify our sins and weaknesses, so that we would always be humble before our God. Here you can think of what the Holy Spirit says in Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” That passage originally refers to human friends, but the principle still applies here. The best of friends will sometimes hurt you for your good. Similarly, the law is our friend as it exposes our sin and misery and drives us to Christ. How can we be negative towards something God gives us for our good?
I want to leave you with two important points to conclude.
First, we ought always to remember that our public worship service is a meeting with the thrice-holy God. This is the God who left Isaiah awe-struck with fear in Isaiah 6. Sometimes I fear that many Reformed people don’t see that God is present in our worship in a way that he isn’t present elsewhere. If we could perceive the full reality of what that means, would we be glib and casual about coming into God’s presence? Would we not welcome a reminder from him to be appropriately humble?
Second, we ought always to remember how prone we are to minimize, rationalize, deny, and forget our sinfulness. Every Christian is a sinner who still, to varying degrees, has the remnants of a sinful nature. We would rather be told “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace (Jer. 6:14). We would rather have prophets prophesying smooth things (Isa.30:10). We would rather not have the bad news which makes the good news so great, and in so doing, we begin to lose sight of the grandeur of the gospel and the Saviour it proclaims. The law of God is like a mirror giving us our weekly reality check as we begin our worship. It gives that ever-needful reminder that, even as Christians, we are in constant need of God’s mercy in the Redeemer. How could that not be a good and helpful thing?
For several years, the Canadian Reformed Churches were working with the United Reformed Churches to produce a joint song book. Progress was slow, but steady. However, eventually the URC abandoned the joint venture with the CanRC and later decided to work with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church instead. The OPC and URC are now on the verge of releasing the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. Apparently it’s supposed to be available around the beginning of May.
The CanRC have been watching these developments closely. At Classis Pacific East of February 22, 2018, the Aldergrove church presented a proposal to adopt the psalms and hymns of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. It was presented as a proposal for synod, with the hopes that classis would adopt it and forward it on via the next Regional Synod West. According to the press release, Classis Pacific East did what Aldergrove asked. So the proposal is going to the next Regional Synod West.
A similar proposal was floated in the east last year. A Classis Central Ontario brought a proposal to Regional Synod East of November 8, 2017. However, Regional Synod East was not convinced. We’ll see what West will do later in the year.
These are developments for the Australian Free Reformed Churches to watch too. As I mentioned earlier in the week, we have a Synod coming up with weighty decisions to make about our song book. We’ll be debating whether to add the 19 new hymns from the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise. Meanwhile, the CanRCs have moved on to debate whether to add dozens more.
Five hundred years! Today is the day we mark a half millennia since God brought Reformation to his church. Over these five centuries, Reformed biblical theology has spread far and wide. Its influence has infiltrated into various cultures and sub-cultures around the globe. For this, we ought to praise God and vigorously.
One of the surprising sub-cultures where Reformation theology has found a home today is American hip-hop. One of the leading voices in this development is Shai Linne. In the spoken word intro to his album Lyrical Theology Part 2: Doxology, Shai makes this astute observation: “If you have theology without doxology, you just have cold dead orthodoxy…If you have doxology without theology, you actually have idolatry.” He’s right.
Theology (the study of who God is and what he’s done) should lead us right to doxology (proper praise for God). The two belong together and must never be separated. So when we consider the Reformation, we’re not doing it right if we’re not ending up on our knees in adoration for God. There are all sorts of reasons why remembering the Reformation should bring us to worship — the chief being the recovery of the biblical gospel. Without that gain, everything else is meaningless. Praise God that he peeled away the ignorance, brought back the Bible, and brought widespread gospel preaching back to his church!
Let me mention three other reasons why we ought to be praising God today for the Reformation.
The Recovery of Certainty and Assurance
When many medieval Christians went to church, they were immediately confronted with an image of Christ. It was not an image of Christ as Saviour, but as the coming Judge of heaven and earth. The medieval church wanted to put the fear of Jesus into its members. You were always supposed to be afraid and wondering whether you would be good enough for him. You would never know the answer to that question until after you died. For the average believer, the prospect of purgatory always loomed. You could not be sure that you would go to God’s blessed presence the moment you died, because most likely you wouldn’t. What a horrible distortion of the Christian faith!
The Reformation brought back the Bible’s message of justification. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are declared right by God. The Judge is now your Father. As his beloved child, you need not fear judgment. When you die, because of God’s verdict in your justification, you can be absolutely 100% certain that you will be going to his blessed presence. As one Reformation catechism put, “Our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life” (Heidelberg Catechism QA 42). Praise God that we are not left wobbly and doubting! Praise God for the Reformation’s recovery of gospel certainty!
The Restoration of the Voice of God’s People in Worship
Prior to the Reformation, when you went to mass you mainly went as a spectator. Almost everything was done by someone else, mainly the priest and his assistants. Congregation members were typically passive participants. Since much of the service was in Latin, it could not be otherwise. The idea of congregational singing was known, but not widely practiced.
With the Reformation, this began to change dramatically. Christian worship becomes a more active affair for congregation members. They are not only to watch or listen, but also to participate and particularly in song. One of John Calvin’s priorities was the preparation of a metrical Psalter in the language of the people. This was because he understood that the congregation should be lifting up its voice in worship. In Reformed churches today, this continues to be the practice. We emphasize congregational singing, the priesthood of all believers melodiously lifting up the Name of God. We don’t go to church to listen to a choir sing or listen to soloists, but to lift up our own voices in praise to God. This is as it should be. Let’s praise God that we can praise him each Lord’s Day from our own hearts with our own tongues and lips!
The Humanity of the Reformers and their Example
When we look closely at the men whom God used to recover the gospel in the Reformation, one of the striking things is that they were just, well…men. They were not super saints. They had warts and blemishes. For example, Luther famously ran off his mouth and was known for saying some things a bit strongly, if not strangely — and even sometimes wrongly. Yet through their weaknesses, the power of God was made strong. God amazingly worked through weak and sinful men to bring something about that’s still having a ripple effect to this day.
They were people with families. When they faced death or martyrdom, they wrote like regular people because that’s what they were. If you haven’t already, you need to read the powerful last letter of Guido de Brès to his wife. See if you can read that without praising God for the example of this Reformation pastor. I read that letter and I can’t help but doxologize. God worked steadfast faithfulness in his servants and it was not in vain. The gospel for which de Brès died outlived him and spread far beyond his little corner of the world. God worked through them, through their humanity, and he left examples for us to follow.
There are many more reasons why we can be praising God today as we remember the Reformation. Along with the recovery of the gospel as number one, those three above certainly rank up there for me. They lead me to this:
Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him…
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!