What is Reformed Worship?

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We may answer that question in two ways: prescriptively and descriptively. A prescriptive answer offers essential connections between Reformed theology and Reformed worship. It highlights values from our theology that shape our worship, values like divine sovereignty, salvation by grace, and the third use of the Law.

A descriptive answer assumes that Reformed worship is worship by Reformed people. Now I can already hear the sarcastic remarks from those in the proverbial “ivory tower” questioning the validity of this approach. “Doesn’t this option assume that self-identified Reformed people are truly Reformed?”

In actually, the descriptive approach assumes that and more. It assumes that the local church is the people of God, the body of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit. It assumes that God is at work through the Word and Spirit. It assumes that worship practices represent the fruit of this divine work among God’s people. The descriptive approach rests on these biblical assumptions.

Why this talk about prescriptive and descriptive approaches to Reformed worship?

Recently, while researching worship practices in the first half of the twentieth century, I ran into a mid-twentieth century “Order of Worship” (pictured above). It was pasted inside the front cover a “red” Psalter Hymnal once used by the First Christian Reformed Church of Cicero, Illinois. The “red” edition was published in 1934 and is noteworthy for its inclusion of hymns.

My discovery offers a portrait of Reformed worship in Cicero, Illinois during the first half of the twentieth century.  Here are a few observations but, perhaps, you would add one or more.

“Audience” rather than Congregation?
“Psalter Number” rather than “Psalter Hymnal”
Morning and Evening Services

My discovery prompted additional research which sheds more light on Reformed worship in Cicero, IL. The Cicero order of worship differs slightly from the option provided by the Synod of 1930 (Acts of Synod 1930, 187). In that synod’s model the scripture lesson (or reading) reading precedes the sermon and the offering precedes the scripture lesson. In addition, Synod 1930 suggested that the offering be followed by an offertory prayer.

Noticeable by its absence is a “Confession of Sin or Penitential Psalm” (or both) as prescribed by the 1928 Synod. The inclusion of that element in the order of worship prompted a lengthy (Is there any other kind for CR folk?) debate. The 1930 Synod rescinded this element as obligatory. The Order of Worship lets us know where First Cicero sided in the debate.

Of course, the order doesn’t tell the entire story. Knowing what we know about worship by Christian Reformed folk we can safely assume that the service lasted about sixty minutes and that over half that time was given to the sermon. 

What is Reformed worship?

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I prefer Dutch Reformed theology but not our "wing it" liturgy. With the old Lutheran, Episcopal, even Catholic liturgies the very words have been vetted for 100 or more years. I know what the words and the thoughts behind them mean. Having a new prayer or responsive whatever each Sunday I don't say the words because the meanings are theologically fuzzy. This past Sunday AM the congregation was to say a prayer which, to me, was semi-Pelagian. I was to ask God for assistance in my life so that I may have quid pro quo "pie in the sky, by and by."