We had always intended to comment at an opportune time on an item which appeared in News of our Churches, now several months ago. But sometimes opportune times do not come: one has to make them.
The announcement referred to concerned a change in the Order of Worship by the Loveland Consistory and Congregation—a change which we deem to be highly commendable and worthy of imitation by our other congregations. In the worship service of Loveland the entire congregation recites the Apostles’ Creed instead of silently “speaking in their hearts” while the minister recites it.
As we see it, there is no reason why other congregations should not initiate this change; and there are, in fact, reasons why they could and should initiate it.
Let me explain my viewpoint.
First of all, we are not interested in change for the sake of change, especially not when it concerns liturgical practice. This is in the air nowadays; and there is a large measure of superficial, if not downright bad, innovation in some churches—it would seem, merely for the sake of innovation, and perhaps partly to satisfy an unholy clamor for removing the old landmarks. For this we do not care, and we warn against it. That sort of change is as addictive as dope; and the more you get of it the more you want. Besides, it is not governed by sound principles of public worship. Yet, I sometimes think that in our fear of bad change we tend to be afraid of all change, the good included. And if there are good and sound reasons for change, both principal and practical reasons, there surely is no reason to be afraid of change.
In the second place, it ought to be noted that as to itsidea the reciting of the Apostles’ Creed is one of those elements in our worship in which the minister leads, but in which the congregation also participates. It is not intended to be an element of the worship in which the minister speaks and the congregation listens. Rather, when the minister gives expression to this Confession, the congregation is supposed to do so with him. This is the reason why some of our ministers will introduce the Creed with an expression like, “Let us make confession of our faith, speaking in our hearts,” or, “Let each one say in his heart. . . .”
In the third place, however, the proper idea of confession is exactly that of speaking with the mouth, not merely speaking in our hearts. To confess is “to say the same thing with someone else.” Moreover, this is a Biblical idea. We confess with our mouths that which we believe with our hearts. Thus you find it literally, for example, in Romans 10:9, 10: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” This is the current idea of confessing in Scripture.
Moreover, this is even the idea of the Apostles’ Creed as it is found in our Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper. There we read in the Prayer: “Strengthen us also by this Holy Supper in the catholic undoubted Christian faith, whereof we make confession with our mouths and hearts, saying. . . .” It always has struck me as a bit incongruous when as minister I have had to administer the sacrament according to this Form, that at this point in the prayer this fine statement is followed by silence on the part of the congregation. In fact, I have sometimes wondered what a stranger would think—or even do—if he came from a congregation which was accustomed to reciting the Creed. He might be embarrassed to discover that only he and the minister were reciting the confession.
In the fourth place, it is certainly possible, practically speaking, for the congregation to take part orally in this element of worship. I have witnessed this frequently in other churches. True, it is not equally successful everywhere. Sometimes the congregation merely mumbles rather indistinctly. But it can be done successfully. I would suggest that with a little good leadership on the part of the minister and a little cooperative effort on the part of the congregation success can be achieved. The minister must lead with a clear voice. He must speak loudly enough to be heard and to lead, but not so loudly as to drown out the members of the congregation. And he must recite at an even, unhurried pace. As far as the congregation is concerned, my first suggestion is that they should recite the Creed standing. Not only is this respectful, but it is also good from a practical point of view. Just as one can sing better when he stands up and is psychologically inclined to be more alert and “perky” in his singing, so he can also speak better. It has been my observation in churches where the Creed is recited by the congregation that when they were seated, they were more inclined to mumble through it; and when they were standing, they were more inclined to recite it clearly and attentively. And it would certainly not be difficult to follow this practice: following the order of worship in use in most of our churches, the congregation would merely have to remain standing after the first song. My second suggestion is that the congregation must cooperatively follow the lead of the minister, and not act as a group of individuals trying to outdo either the minister or one another. And my third suggestion is a very simple one, but basic: when you make confession with your mouth, do so as one who believes with the heart!
I suppose some objections could be raised. There are always some who are against change, probably for the sake of being “against.” This does not mean anything. Others might object that reciting of the Creed would become an empty habit. But that is a danger now also—perhaps more so when the congregation takes no active part. Public worship must, of course, never be empty habit, but always a matter of the heart. Others might object that this is a difficult thing to accomplish in our larger congregations. But this, of course, is a matter of judgment. Personally, I do not think any of our congregations is prohibitively large. At least, I would not be afraid to try it in any of our churches—given, of course, consistorial approval and also the opportunity to instruct the congregation.
Think about it.
Personally, I think Loveland furnished a good example. And my answer to the question above this editorial is: “Yes, indeed; why not?”
While I am on the subject of public worship, let me broach another aspect of it.
I wish that some consistories would take the initiative in restoring the Votum (“Our help is in the name of Jehovah, Who made heaven and earth.”) to its proper place in the service.
That proper place is the beginning of the service. And I mean the very beginning.
Especially in congregations which have introduced a doxology at the beginning of the service, the Votum has been deprived of its place. I suppose this happened rather naturally. If there is an opening of doxology, it is but natural that the organist moves from the prelude to the cue for the doxology, at which cue the congregation stands. The result is, however, that the organist (who is not an officebearer) in effect begins the service. This in itself is not correct. But my main point is that the Votum, both as to its idea and its content, is supposed to mark the beginning of the service. To change this would, of course, take “a little getting used to.” But it would be proper; and it would add to the dignity and solemnity of the service. The procedure would then be as follows:
1) After the minister and consistory have taken their places, the organist would stop playing.
2) Then the minister would stand and declare the Votum (incidentally, without the address, “Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ.” The latter belongs properly with the Salutation, not with the Votum.
3) Then the organist would give the cue, and the congregation would stand and sing the doxology.
4) Then the minister would pronounce the Salutation, or opening blessing: “Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, Grace, mercy, and peace,” etc.
5) Thereupon the first selection from the Psalter would be announced.
Think about this too.