To our liturgical study belongs all of those things that are included in our public worship. Some, we wrote in our previous article, want to exclude from this study the sermon or the preaching. The argument for this is twofold. First of all this objection points to the fact that the sermon and preaching belong to another theological science called Homiletics, and the second argument is that the sermon is non-prescriptive, that is, free according to its form. The preacher is not bound in his preaching by a liturgical form. He does not prepare his sermon, get ecclesiastical approval on its form and contents, and then read it to the congregation. He freely prepares his sermon and delivers it in his own language and style. 

A few things may be said in refutation to this and in defense of retaining the sermon as a part of our liturgical study. It may be said that the preaching is a very fundamental, if not the most vital part of our worship. It is the very core of the meeting of God and His people. This does not mean that we are going to merge homiletics and liturgies, nor that we are going to deal with the various homiletic questions and problems in this rubric. This is not at all necessary and we can very well consider the sermon in relation to our worship without doing this. Furthermore, if there were validity in the first objection mentioned above, the same would have to apply to several other aspects of our worship. For example, our prayers in worship would be excluded because they are treated in another science known as Euchetics or Euchelogy. Our singing could not be considered as this would be treated under Psalmody. And as far as the second argument goes, we must remember that when the minister leads the congregation in prayer, he is also free with respect to his phraseology, language, style and content of the prayers offered. What is, however, more important is that this freedom is really very limited. It is strictly a limited, literary freedom. For the rest the preacher in leading the congregation is fenced in on every side. He is bound to the Scriptures as his source-book; he is bound to preach from texts of greater or lesser range; he must honor the standards of his church and is expected to construct his sermons according to a definite technique, etc. 

Thus, in our present study we are going to include all that transpires in the meeting of public worship. Later on we hope to discuss the various elements of this worship, but for the present we must concentrate on its character. We remember then, as we wrote the last time, that Rev. Hoeksema defined public worship as “the meeting of God with His people. God comes to His people to have fellowship with them and to bless them. The church approaches God to serve and to worship Him and to extol His glory.” From this it is evident that two parts may be distinguished in the act of worship, “a parte Dei” (God’s part) and “a parte ecclesiae.” (Church’s part) In the former God comes to His people to bless them and in the latter, His people approach Him to worship Him. 

What then belongs to that worship? To answer this is to delve into the material of our liturgical study. But to do this we must also bear in mind constantly that the nature of public worship is not missionary or evangelistic, the purpose of which is the saving of souls. Our liturgical practices will naturally be greatly affected if we hold to this conception of worship. We remember that the souls that unite in public worship are the saints, that is, the people of God with their children, and their purpose in gathering together is not to be saved but to unite in public service to glorify God with thanksgiving and joy in an orderly manner D Subordinate to this chief purpose is the building up and edifying of the saints, the strengthening and growth of God’s people in the knowledge of the truth and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That which then is to be introduced into the liturgical practices must be conducive to serving that purpose, and only that which accomplishes this can properly belong to our worship. Worship practices of the past as well as the present must be studied with this in mind. The aim of liturgical practices is not to make an external, emotional impression; to cater to the desires of the flesh; to amuse or entertain, but emphatically to make a lasting spiritual impression and to strengthen faith. We can only say that we have been to the house of God to worship when we have poured out our hearts in praise and thanksgiving unto Him and have received spiritual education. What takes place in worship then must serve to help us attain this objective. 

One more thing must be added yet to our concept of liturgies. We have in mind that doctrine is vitally effect upon the latter. Furthermore, during the last twenty centuries the fundamental divergencies that have broken up the quondam unity of the church are doctrinal, for as Calvin says: “Doctrine is the soul of the church.” It follows from the fundamental character of doctrine that the differences arising in this field must affect the Polity and Government and Liturgy of the church materially. The simple fact is that one worships as he believes, and what he believes is unavoidably going to have a bearing upon how he worships. This simple deduction is historically demonstrated as that without going into particulars and without making any detailed applications we may say that in general history has produced two types of generically different worship patterns. These are:

(1) The hierarchical-ritualistic type represented by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches which are cooperatively the Christian churches of antiquity; and 

(2) The Protestant-Biblical type, represented by the churches of the Reformation. 

Naturally among the latter lies our primary interest. Then it is to be noted that also among the churches of the Reformation there is again a large measure of liturgical diversity. Lutheran and Reformed churches, though both principally non-ritualistic, are not equally true to this fundamental position. The Reformed Churches, speaking generally, were more consistently reformatory in respect to the doctrine, polity and worship than the Lutheran Churches. Then too, the Anglican Church, though doctrinally protestant, historically and confessionally is virtually, though not consistently ritualistic. And we should not overlook the Romanizing tendencies in the Protestant Churches of our present time. 

With a view to this situation it is necessary to qualify Liturgies as Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed, analogously to the qualification of doctrine and Polity. As a matter of fact there is no such thing as a simply Christian Church,institutionally speaking, The Christian Church one has in mind is affiliated with, serves, studies, is necessarily either the one church or the other, but never the non-existent undivided Christian Church. Likewise there is no Homiletics, Dogmatics, Polity and particularly Liturgies in general. Liturgies is the science of public worship, but a particular study in Liturgies is either Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican or Reformed. It need not be added that the Liturgics which we are interested in have to do with the Reformed Churches and, more particularly, the Protestant Reformed Churches. In this we neither imply nor express that we are not interested in the public worship of other churches or that this does not deserve some of our attention. It must be observed that certain aspects of the worship of many Christian churches have a great deal in common and that a discussion of Reformed public worship will prove to be elucidatory of much in the public worship of other churches. In discussing the distinctive features of Reformed worship it is but natural to refer to the worship of other churches for the purpose of illustration and contrast. And lastly, in the history of Reformed Liturgies the background and parallel liturgical movements must of necessity be sketched. In this way, though indeed incidentally, Reformed Liturgies cannot fail to acquaint the reader to a considerable extent with the Liturgies of non-Reformed Churches. 


In sketching the history of liturgies we will divide the period of the last twenty centuries into several parts. Although interested mainly in Reformed Liturgics, our starting point will not be the Reformation, but we will go back to the beginning of the Dispensation, considering that the pre-reformation history of Liturgics is, in a sense, common property and may be viewed as introductory to Reformed Liturgies. Concerning the Ancient Church it may be observed that although history was made, it was but scantly recorded. Dogmas were formulated, but the History of Dogma was not written. Similarly Church Polity was construed, but not scientifically discussed. And, of course, Public Worship was engaged in and developed, but Liturgies in any real sense was not cultivated. There were, it is true, beginnings of theological study by Chrysostom in the last part of the 4th century, and Gregory the Great at the close of the 6th century. These men interested themselves in the study of Public Worship but even their work in this field was rudimentary. It is a far cry from their works to a Liturgics of modern times. 

The very early worship of the Christian Church is somewhat described in the following quotation from Schaff’s Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge:

The first Christians, being members of the Jewish Church, followed naturally the Jewish manner of worship. The services to which they were accustomed were those of the temple and of the synagogue. The temple service was elaborate, and was for the purpose of worship; the synagogue service was simple and was for the purpose of instruction. The temple contributed to liturgical development the tradition of a noble service, in a stately building, with vested clergy, with prayers accompanied by the symbol of Incense, with praises sung from the book of psalms, with an altar, and with the varied interests and significance of an ordered sequence of feasts and fasts. The fact, however, that the temple was in Jerusalem, and that it was destroyed and its services ended forever in 70 A.D., gave its liturgical precedents a minor part in the making of the primitive Christian devotions. These were patterned mainly upon those of the synagogue. The synagogue was a plain building, having a platform at the further end. On the platform were sears for church officials, and in the midst was a pulpit. Over the pulpit hung an ever-burning lamp, and back of the pulpit, behind a curtain against the wall, was a chest containing the rolls of the sacred books. The ordinary service began with the Shema, a habitual, dally devotion, like the Lord’s Prayer, consisting of three passages of Scripture,

Deut. 6:4-9, 11:13-21Num. 15:37-41.

After this came the Shemonethcesreh, or eighteen benedictions, each with a recurring phrase or refrain, followed by an Amen as a congregational response. This was succeeded by the first lesson, taken from the Law, read in seven parts by seven readers, each pronouncing a few verses, the verses being translated into Aramaic, with explanation, comment, and application. The second lesson was a single reading from the Prophets, translated and explained as before (Cf.

Luke 4:16

sqq.). With a collection for the poor, and a benediction, perhaps with some singing of psalms, the service ended.