Tag Archives: Reformed worship

Pastoral Q & A: Why Still Read the Ten Commandments?

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?


Is Your Worship Reformed?

Reformed Church Service

Some years ago, I sat through a worship service of a neighbouring church that wasn’t Reformed.  What struck me most was where the emphasis fell in their worship.  The proceeedings began with music.  A band was on stage with singers.  They sang several praise and worship-type songs.  Eventually, the worship leader said, “Now that the worship is over, our pastor is going to come up and give his message.”  The “message” was rather anti-climactic following the emotional “worship experience.”  The focus at this church seemed clear enough.

One of the distinctives of Reformed churches is the doctrine of the means of grace.  This doctrine, when conscientiously maintained, also makes Reformed worship distinctive.  You can tell you’re at a Reformed church when the doctrine of the means of grace is taken seriously and applied to the church’s worship.  The focus in a Reformed worship service is on the ministry of the Word and sacraments.  Let’s look at how these things work as means of grace and why they need to remain our focus.

The first means of grace is the reading and preaching of the Word of God.  Scripture is opened, read, and expounded.  The law of God is applied to the congregation.  The congregation is made aware of its sin and misery.  That has the dual purpose of making us humble in the presence of a holy God and then also driving us to the cross of Jesus Christ.  This application of the law takes place with the reading of the Ten Commandments, but also through the reading and preaching of other Scriptures.  The gospel is also applied to comfort the congregation.  God’s people are encouraged with the promises of his love and salvation in Jesus.  This takes place in many Reformed churches with the Assurance of Pardon, but then of course also through the reading and proclamation of God’s Word.  Finally, the will of God as expressed in his law is also brought to bear on a thankful congregation.  We are taught God’s good will for our lives and shown how to demonstrate our love for this gracious God who has so deeply loved us.  This too happens through the reading and preaching of Scripture.

Scripture is a means of grace because this is how God plans to bless his people when he meets with them.  His intent is to bless them through his Word.  Through his Word, the voice of the Good Shepherd is heard.  It’s heard as he rebukes, as he comforts, and as he instructs.  When done faithfully, we do not not merely hear a human voice when a minister preaches.  Faithful preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God — “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as it what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess. 2:13).

The other means of grace is the administration of the sacraments.  Reformed churches administer the sacraments of baptism and Lord’s Supper, following the command of Christ and his apostles.  Baptism is administered as the sacrament of initiation.  Through baptism, we are publicly admitted into God’s covenant and church.  Through baptism, we are given the sign and seal of God’s covenant promises.  God is demonstrating a gracious stance towards those who receive baptism.  However, at each baptism, the entire congregation is encouraged with God’s grace.  We are all visually reminded of how our gracious God first approached us and took us for his own.  You see, baptism not only speaks to those directly involved in the baptism (the one being baptized, the parents), but the entire congregation!

The Lord’s Supper is administered as the sacrament of nutrition.  It is common for many to view the Lord’s Supper merely as a memorial, akin to placing flowers on the grave of a departed loved one.  The Reformed view includes a memorial aspect, but it is far richer.  At this sacrament, Jesus Christ is truly present in his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit.  He is present to bless believers who partake of the bread and wine in faith.  He will refresh and nourish them, strengthening their faith.  Through the Lord’s Supper, we are truly fed by our Saviour himself.

The sacraments are means of grace because this too is how God wants to bless his people as they meet with him.  He wants to continue giving them the opposite of what they deserve in view of their continuing sinfulness.  He claims these sinful people for his own and he nurtures them with spiritual food and drink.  Moreover, our gracious God knows that the Word is often received with weakness.  Hearing alone is difficult for us as sinful creatures.  So, in his grace, he adds these two multi-sensory sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Now why are these means of grace at the center of a Reformed worship service?  Why are these things the focus and emphasis?  It goes back to the covenant of grace.  The covenant is a relationship between God and his people.  Who stands in the center of this relationship?  Not me or you.  No, Jesus Christ stands in the center as the Mediator of the covenant.  He is the one who “greases the wheels” of this relationship.  If a worship service is reflective of this covenant relationship, shouldn’t Christ and his ministry stand central?  Shouldn’t the focus be on Christ as he ministers to us with the Word and sacraments, as he “greases the wheels”?  There is a distinctly Reformed logic to our focus on the means of grace and it has everything to do with the covenant of grace.

Yes, of course, there is still a place for our response in prayer and song.  The covenant relationship is two-sided and God expects that his people will respond to him.  By virtue of the covenant, there must be a back and forth in our worship services.  That’s not an issue.  No one has ever said that prayer and song should be done away with in Reformed worship.  The question is:  where is our focus?  What is at the center?  What is the main attraction in a Reformed worship service?  The distinctly Reformed answer, drawn from Scripture, has always been:  the means of grace, Word and sacrament ministry.  With an emphasis on Word and sacrament ministry, the means of grace, your worship will be Reformed — which is to say, biblical.