Order of Worship: How was It Created?


Recently in an article in the “Wall Street Journal” an article made a distinction in a  political setting between what we believe  (orthodoxy) and what we practice (orthopraxy).  It seems to me that it is possible to believe exactly the same thing but to have a different “practice” of implementation.  I experienced that distinction recently in dialogue through e-mail with our “Social Justice Office.”  I believe that both of us have the same belief system.  Not only from a strictly doctrinal position but also what we should do.  However how we accomplish what we do may well be different.  I, for example, am not fond of government doing things like welfare, education, etc.  I believe those areas can better be accomplished through federal grants to nonprofit organizations.  The individual in the Social Justice Office was asking us to lobby our representatives not to cut federal assistance for “Food Stamps.”  We, however, both agreed that we needed to be concerned with the welfare of those who are poverty-stricken.   I think this kind of give and take happens regularly in government.  Having the same concern with different solutions happens in many areas of life.

It happens in the church as well.  I think what binds the Christian Reformed Church together as a denomination is not so much what we do as compared to what we believe.  Over the years of our existence our confessions have not changed much (if at all).  However, how we practice what we believe as changed.  One area that has changed significantly is our worship services.  When I graduated Seminary in the early 70’s every order of worship in the churches was almost exactly the same. Part of our Practical Theology training was a history of liturgy in the church.  Most of the orders of worship we studied included a “Call to Worship”, God’s Greeting, Confession and Words of Assurance, Pastoral/Congregational Prayer, Offering, Sermon, Benediction with songs in appropriate places.  Recently worshipping in three different CRC’s, one out of three churches even came close to following the order of worship just listed.  Despite those differences in worship, I believe that each of those churches still abided by the same confession.  So I wonder is it alright for the churches to have that much diversity in worship as long as they continue to confess the same confessions?  I also wonder who instigated the changes in worship, elders, pastors, church growth seminars, etc..  As I read through the Church Order, elders are responsible for the order of worship and the songs that are sung.  Is that happening in our churches today?  How much time in the elders’ meetings is spent on reviewing the content of the order of worship, of what we do, and why we do it?  Do we know prior to each worship service what songs have been approved by the elders?                                                                                           

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Hi Al.  As a music/worship director of a church, in my case the elders are more concerend about visiting and congreational care than worship matters.  I agree they should have a more "hands on" approach to worship regarding content and theology.  However, I feel that most elders that serve in today's churches don't have much theology education to know what is a good liturgy content that is reformed and what is not.  They know what they like by what they hear on the radio, etc. but sometimes I have a hard time thinking that they would know how to discern what is theologically reformed or not.  Personally, I am discouraged at our own worship directors for not knowing as well.  If we all spent more time on what is reformed worship vs. a "copy" of what everyone else does we might have a more unifed and united denomination.  As a worship director, I initially put the service together and I include things like the Heidelberg Catechism, Apostles' Creed, the Law, as appropriate to the service.  I use multiple resources published by Faith Alive and others as well.  But the ultimate decision is left up to me and the pastor to be theologically responsible for our worship service.

Appreciate your comments.  I would suggest as leaders in the church we need to give reasons for why we have the order of worship we do.  Elders in the past were more active than they are today and not sure why that is the case.

Hi Al:  Thanks for this post and helping us to think about the order of worship. I demur a bit however at some of your thinking and I’m uncomfortable with your statement that “…what binds the Christian Reformed Church together as a denomination is not so much what we do as compared to what we believe.”  I suggest both of them are essential, as are both wings of an airplane.  But while you point to two entities – what we believe and how we worship (the one very important, the other apparently not,  in your thinking), I suggest there is a third and in-between entity in the process – the principles derived from our beliefs that must shape our worship.  It is possible to believe all the right things but still worship in an illegitimate and unbiblical manner. We ought not to buy into the “so long as we all believe the same thing it doesn’t matter  how we worship”. That can be as dangerous as “if we all believe the same thing we’ll all worship in exactly the same way.” Proper belief ought to lead to firm principles to be implemented in our worship life. In addition, let’s be aware of a culture around us that is pleased to teach us a kind of “worship” that follows some pretty unbiblical principles. So: shared beliefs, and basic principles, shaping a healthy and biblical diversity of worship.

Howard Vanderwell

I agree, Howard, there are perimeters.  But as a confessional church "what we believe" does come first.  As I mentioned in my illustration with the Social Justice Office of the denomination, we disagree how we should carry out what we believe to a certain extent, but both of our solutions are based on what we believe in common.  I will be doing further posts on the elements of worship and question why some churches have abandon them all together.  I think we would agree that churches in our denomination have taking liberties with "how we worship".  Recently I was in three different churches with three completely different styles of worship.  The question have is if we believe the same thing, how do those "differences in worship style" reflect that same belief?

I don't know the wording in Church Order, but isn't the principle that elders are responsible to ensure that worship is properly conducted. In most churches today that will include appoointment of worship leaders and similar, which most consistories probably do, and holding them accountable, which I suspect many do not. I agree with Al that most elders lack the theological, liturgical (and, I'd add, musical) training to design worship services. It has been my experience that when elders do plan services directly, there is a risk of being formulaic and overly rigid. On the other hand when they don't supervise and hold worship leaders accountable, the risk is looseness, theological weakness and musical populism (whether that is contemporary or traditional in nature).

Has the CRCNA created any training materials for elders specifically related to worship that will help equip them (us - I just became an elder, though have been for many years a worship leader) to carry out their responsibilites with insight while allowing specialists the freedom to deploy their gifts in God's service? If not, this would be a great asset.

Thanks for the constructive comments and a good idea to supply training materials for the elders that would include a history of Reformed liturgy.