We do not have in our churches a denominationally accepted Order of Worship. Each church is at liberty to arrange the elements of worship in an order that is most conducive to the edification of the particular church. However, although there may be some slight variations here and there, we believe that all of our churches follow an order similar to that found on the weekly bulletin of the First Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That order of worship is the following:
*Doxology—”Praise God. . .”
*Votum and Benediction
Reading of the Law (or Creed)
*Doxology—Psalter No. 196
*—denotes Congregation Standing
There are many elements in this order of worship that are worthy of more careful and elaborate attention than we are able to give to them now. Several separate articles could be written about such matters as the congregational singing, the offertory, the prayers and sermon, etc. But our purpose for the present is to only briefly comment on each of these elements in order then to proceed to discuss some of our liturgical forms. Perhaps when we have finished this we can return to the order of worship and discuss the essential elements of it in detail. For the present, then, this must wait; but we do want to emphasize that each step we take in our worship is a significant one; and only in the measure that we consciously realize this can we appreciate the real beauty of the service of God. Although it is true that there are parts of the service in which the minister leads, others in which he addresses the congregation, still others in which he acts, it must not be forgotten that it is the church that is congregated and that actively participates in the entire service. The church is at worship!
We then think there is something particularly lovely about the entire congregation beginning the service by singing, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.” Undersigned can remember that in his childhood days this was not then practice in the church. This song was then used only as a concluding doxology; but then an innovation was introduced, and another doxology was put in its place and this one was moved to the beginning of the order of worship. How appropriate this is! The church begins by acknowledging that the Triune God is the author of every blessing. There is no source of blessing apart from Him. Let Him, therefore, be praised; and let all creation join with the church of Jesus Christ to tell that praise. Let heaven and earth join in sweet accord to tell the wondrous praise of the Lord. On this note all true worship of God begins and ends: for the object of worship is not man but GOD! Ascribe to Him the glory, honor, and praise that is due. And this is what the church commences to do with her introductory song of praise. After the singing this aim is not to be forgotten, but is to follow through and underline each step as the worship progresses. That is worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
This attitude of worship is then immediately and consciously reflected in the votum. We have found that many worshippers are not aware of de meaning of this term. Perhaps this is because it is a Latin term. At any rate, it refers to the promise, vow, confession, or acknowledgement that is made by the church before the benediction is spoken. In the votum God is again acknowledged as the all-sufficient one, and confession is made of the complete inability of the church to worship acceptably. She stands constantly in need of divine help, for without the blessings of which she sang in her opening song, all of her worship will only be a pretence and lacking in all verity. The church in the confession of her votum is consciously stricken with the veracity of Jesus’ words recorded in John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.” How imperative it is that this be felt: for in our worship we do not approach God to enrich Him, to bring something to Him Who is eternally the infinitely perfect One; but rather we, empty and nothing in ourselves, come to Him to be filled out of the store of His goodness.
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Such are the words of this vow. They are taken from Psalm 124:8 and that, too, in a context that reverberates with the thoughts we have attempted to express. It is the Psalm from which we sing:
“Now Israel may say that in troth
If that the Lord had not our right maintained,
If that the Lord had not with us remained,
When cruel men against us rose to strive,
We surely had been swallowed up alive.
“Blest be the Lord Who made us not their prey;
As from the snare a bird escapeth free,
Their net is rent and so escaped are we;
Our only help is in Jehovah’s Name,
Who made the earth and all the heavenly frame.”
To this confession the church may well respond, “Amen and Amen!”
Upon this follows the speaking of the benediction by the minister of the Word. The choice of benediction is optional, although generally the one borrowed from the New Testament Epistles is used; which is: “Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord, through the operation of the Holy Spirit.” Bearing in mind that the real significance of this benediction is to be found in the fact that Christ Jesus Himself, through the office of the ministry of the Word, pronounces and bestows these blessings upon His saints, we will hasten our steps ‘unto the house of God, lest we arrive late at the service and fail to come under its pronouncement. Though essentially the same in meaning, the benediction from Revelation 1:4, 5 is not infrequently used for variation. It reads: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.”
Of significance is it that both these benedictions commence with the word “Grace.” Concerning it so much can be written, but let it suffice to note that grace is the implication of all spiritual blessings. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” There is a multifarious dispensation of grace to God’s people answering every need, and they who possess grace lack nothing. It is the grace of God that brings salvation. Yet there is added to the benediction “mercy and peace.” Although these two are also implicit in grace, their separate mention is not without purpose. Mercy views the goodness of God from that aspect of His faithful and compassionate desire to deliver His people from their present afflictions. It is that spiritual gift that enables His suffering saints to be assured of His presence in the midst of their tribulations. Only then can they bear up under the burden and await patiently the day of deliverance. From Sabbath to Sabbath they need mercy as they struggle along and battle their way through the desert of sin. And peace is the grace of God from the viewpoint of the experience of the child of God in the midst of hostility and oppression. This peace is not the peace that the world speaks of and strives so vainly to realize; but it is the peace of reconciliation through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, resulting in our perfect justification, so that the enmity of our mind is subdued and there is a beautiful harmony between our hearts and God. It surpasses our understanding. It cannot be described but must be experienced; and that experience the saints receive as Christ, through the office of the ministry, speaks to them: “My peace I give unto you!”
The pronouncement of the benediction is not an uncertain wish. It is even more than a prayer, a request or desire. Christ Himself unquestionably bestows these blessings upon His people as they gather for worship in the House of God. There is a hidden, spiritual power here that commences the flow of all spiritual blessings, which God sovereignly bestows through the means of grace which He has instituted m His church. In this consciousness the church can sing:
“Within Thy temple’s sacred courts
With loving and adoring thought
We contemplate Thy grace, O God,
And all Thy deeds with mercy fraught.”
(Psalter No. 132)
Following the benediction the congregation breaks forth in singing. Singing is an important part of worship, for it is in this element of the service that the congregation particularly expresses itself in an active way. This does not mean that the congregation is not active in other parts of the worship; but we only point out that in the singing this activity is expressed. From both the viewpoint of form and content this subject of music may be profitably considered. And then we not only realize that there are more facets to this aspect of our worship than we can consider at present, but that also many of these facets are highly controversial. Consider, for example, the place of musical instruments, choirs, song-leaders, special song services, etc., in our worship. Later perhaps we can devote some space to this phase of worship but as one author expressed his thoughts on the subject when he wrote:
“Looking at these questions, it is evident that this subject is among the most controversial in the churches today. One hardly knows where to begin, knowing full well that a word miss-said or misunderstood will stir up a hornet’s nest of antagonism. It becomes even harder, when one’s musical knowledge is rather limited and mediocre. However, if these articles stimulate our leaders in the fields of both liturgies and music to a thorough discussion of the matters at hand, they will be eminently worth-while. Also here our aim must be to develop Reformed worship to its highest possible level, looking not first of all to what other denominations do, but striving rather to offer up worship to God in sincerity and truth, as the expression of the principles we hold dear.”
Let us make a joyful noise unto the Lord; serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing; enter His courts with praise (Psalm 100). For then will our worship be. “in the” beauty of holiness.”