Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29
The word “liturgy” simply refers to the order of worship in a public service. Every church has some form of liturgy. The liturgy which you will experience at Reformed Church Tshwane has historical precedent: each part can be found in the liturgies from the historic Christian church, especially those of the sixteenth century Reformation and the early church fathers.
More importantly, our liturgy fully conforms to the Word of God, and is carefully designed to lead us in a dialogue with our Creator and Redeemer. It is a dialogue in which God speaks to his people through his Word and sacraments, and we respond in our prayer, confession, and singing.
God enters into this dialogue with his people every week in public worship in order to renew his covenant of grace with us. Below is a brief explanation of each part of our liturgy.
INTROIT (service of encounter): The meeting service, otherwise designated as the ‘introit’, describes what takes place at the beginning of a church’s gathering on a Sunday. The word Introit, is from the Latin denoting ‘going in’, and all the elements in the Introit are aligned with this idea.
Votum – The Votum is a public declaration of the nature of the church’s gathering as congregants are reminded therein that they have gathered together as those who belong to God and therefore we are encouraged to especially focus our hearts and minds on God.
Salutation – This is God’s response to his people invoking his name. He announces his grace and peace to all who come to him through Jesus Christ. As God’s appointed ambassador, the minister raises his hands and announces God’s blessing from his Word: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1.7).
Psalm of praise – As a response to God’s salutatory blessing/in firm assurance of God’s presence and goodwill, we respond by lifting up our voices to him and singing a psalm or biblical hymn. As we are commanded, “Come into his presence with singing!” (Ps 100.2). The words we sing to the Lord are carefully chosen, as the content of each song must conform to Scripture, and should provide us with a deeper understanding of God.
Confession of faith – We confess our faith together normally from the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed. We do this in order to publicly declare our new identity as one body united in the truth that God has revealed in his Word: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6). Our creeds and confessions beautifully summarise God’s revealed truth.
SUPPLICATION (service of humbling and reconciliation): The service of humiliation and reconciliation is an essential part of the church’s gathering on a Sunday. This part of the liturgy is meant to emphasise the fact that as a church, we come as sinners to a Saviour, and not as righteous people to claim a reward.
Announcement of God’s Law – God tells us his will for our lives in his law, that is, the commands of Scripture. God’s law tells us clearly how we are to live and what God expects of us. It also reveals God’s holiness as well as our sinfulness, for “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Rom 7.7). Since the church is the covenant community of God, we listen to the summary of God’s law as found in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 at least once on each Lord’s Day.
Confession of sin – Having heard God speak to us in his law, we are driven to confess our sins. First, we do this publicly and corporately, confessing to God as a people, “against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51.4). Sometimes we confess our sins by means of a psalm or private prayer. Most of the time our minister will lead us in a prayer of confession.
Assurance of pardon – Having confessed our sins to God, we hear the joyful announcement of his promise that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:0). Normally, the minister of the Word will read a passage of Scripture that testifies to assurance of forgiveness that those who trust in Jesus Christ can have.
WORD (service of the ministry of the Word): The service of the Word emphasises the central place that God’s Word has in the life of the church.
Song of preparation – We sing in preparation for the preaching of the Word. We sing another psalm or hymn, essentially saying to the Lord, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119.105).
Prayer of illumination – God the Holy Spirit effects and reinforces faith through God’s Word. As people our minds and hearts are darkened by sin, and we need God the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds so that we will accept the truth of God’s Word and that it will bear fruit in our lives. The prayer of illumination shows our total dependence on God the Holy Spirit as the one who inspires and interprets God’s Word. During this prayer we ask that as we read and listen to God’s Word, God will speak to us and help us to accept, appropriate, obey and propagate God’s Word.
Reading of Scripture – Having asked God to open our ears and hearts to receive his Word, we listen to him speak as his Word is read.
Sermon – God continues to speak as his Word is explained and proclaimed. As the apostle Paul told pastor Timothy: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4). The minister of the Word will explain the passage of Scripture that has been read and apply it to us today. He will also show us how the passage of Scripture testifies to Jesus Christ. Preaching emphasises the fact that God’s people have come together to listen to God’s Word, and that God’s Word stands over and above God’s people. As listeners, we are responsible for listening actively and attentively as God’s Word is preached.
Sacraments – On occasion, we will make use of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Since sacraments are signs and seals of the promises of the gospel that need to be explained by God’s Word, we always make use of sacraments only after the preaching of the Word of God.
RESPONSORIA (service of response): The service of response is the response of the congregation to all the preceding activities that have taken place (the introit, humiliation and reconciliation and service of the Word).
Prayer of response – In response to the preaching of God’s Word, the minister will lead us in an appropriate prayer by which we ask God to help us trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation and live holy lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Offering of gratitude – The giving of alms forms part of the service of response, as it shows our gratitude to the service of the Word and God’s provision in general. We respond to God’s grace with our monetary giving, which is for the advancement of the gospel in the world and the making of disciples. We do this as an act of worship, knowing that “each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9.7).
Psalm of response – Having heard the word of Christ we “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly,” by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thanksgiving in our hearts to God” (Col 3.16).
Benediction – In the worship service, God gets the final word. With uplifted hands, the minister blesses the people of God from the Word of God, sending them into the world with full assurance of God’s blessing and favour: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13.14).