The Beauty of Reformed Liturgy - Rev. G. VanDooren (bio)
Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 14, July 12, 1980
In the fifth instalment of this series we discussed the Opening Elements of the covenantal meeting of the LORD with His people. We came to the conclusion that our traditional order of liturgy starts with a word of the congregation, and wondered if that is right. Should not the LORD have the first word, because in all aspects of our redemption He takes the initiative? Thus we promised to say something about the Call to Worship.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Rev. van Rongen told us in the previous article that our "Votum" finds its origin in the worship where the priest was the centre. He prayed the words, "Our help is in the Name of the LORD . . ." as a preparation of and for himself. The Reformation abolished this and put the words into the mouth of the congregation.
Those who have the impression that we want to introduce new inventions should know that before the votum came into use, there was an older beginning of the worship service, the so-called "Call to Worship."
The minister calls the congregation to the meeting on behalf of God. "We must always remember that no one is fully ready for the high and holy experience of united corporate worship," Rayburn, p. 174. "The very best way to call to mind His worth is from His own holy and infallible Word. Actually the only way we can find out about God's worth is from God Himself," lbid, p. 175. From ancient days it has been the custom to quote for the Call to Worship words from the Psalms. The Book of Psalms is full of verses containing very specific calls to worship. No part of Scripture is better for this specific purpose. From the large number we only quote
Psalm 92:1, 2: It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning.
Psalm 100: 1, 2: Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the LORD is God!
Psalm 113.1, 2: Praise the LORD! Praise, 0 servants of the LORD, praise the Name of the LORD! Blessed be the Name of the LORD from this time forth and for evermore!
And so on .... These are the words in which the LORD welcomes His people and they sing His holy praise.
We do not expect that the churches will immediately restore this ancient opening of the service, whereby the minister could use a great variety, but always taken from the Word of God Himself. Mention of it may, however, serve the purpose that we are deeply impressed by the fact that we have come into the presence of the Most High and that our opening Psalm gives expression to this awareness.
CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS
In the order of corporate worship, given in the fourth instalment, the purpose of the second "block" of elements is to take away all obstacles between the LORD and us. Although we are His covenant people, justified by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Bible makes very clear that every time we enter into His presence, there are again sins that must be taken out of the way. One thinks of the manner in which men like Abraham, David, Isaiah, Paul, etc., approached the throne of mercy: always in deepest reverence and with a declaration of unworthiness.
Not withstanding the need for confession of sins and forgiveness through His grace, this part of the average worship service has been sorely neglected and nearly disappeared. Men like Dr. A. KUYPER have tried in vain to restore this part of worship to its proper place, and thus return to the way it was practiced by the Reformers. We have already pointed to the two prayers in the Book of Praise, pp. 475 and 480, which contain a public confession of sins (and are, incorrectly, combined with a brief prayer before the sermon, which will be explained later).
Although we wholeheartedly agree with the Catechism that the Ten Words of the Covenant belong in the third part (of gratitude) - in the worship service they have always been combined with the public confession of sins. To this "block" belong four elements, which represent the two-way traffic in the covenantal liturgy [(A) being from God; (B) coming from His people]. They are.. 1. The Ten Words; 2. Public Confession of Sins; 3. Proclamation of Forgiveness; 4. Song of Praise and Thanksgiving. On each of these we should speak briefly.
THE TEN WORDS
It stands to reason that both versions of the Ten Commandments should be read alternately, Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Our "diligently attending the church of God(Lord's Day 38) is in obedience to the fourth commandment, and it is exactly this commandment that has two different versions. Only together do they give the full meaning of the Lord's Day. Exodus 20 gives a reason for keeping the Lord's Day: His example on the seventh day; Deuteronomy 5 adds as purpose: to recall His mighty acts of redemption.
Some minor points should be mentioned. First, pros and cons have been put forward as to whether Exodus 20:1, "And God spoke all these words, saying . . ." should be read or not. Our conviction that they need not be read is based, first, on the fact that we do not find them in Deuteronomy 5; second, because, apart from the fact that God "spoke" these words the first time from Sinai, He now speaks them to us. We are not just reading an old document!
Another point is: Should the Summary, already given by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19.18, and combined by the Saviour in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 10 be read also? 'The argument against doing so usually is that we then read the Law twice. Unintentionally, this gives the impression of criticizing the Lord Jesus. On various occasions (not only Matthew 22, but also to the Rich Young Man) He deemed it necessary, after having mentioned some of the
Ten Words, to convince people of their sins and guilt by adding, "Yes, you say you kept these commandments, but what about loving your neighbour?" It is our conviction that we for the same purpose, need this reminder badly. That's why the Catechism quotes the summary, Lord's Day 2, in answer to the question, "Whence do you know your misery?" Is it enough that we do not kill our neighbour? No, when God forbids hatred and anger, He commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves," Lord's Day 40, Answer 107.
In reading the Ten Words we are nearly alone. Some churches have kept a resemblance of it by having the minister read selections from the New Testament in which one or more of the commandments are paraphrased. Although it is a must to do that in Catechism preaching on Lord's Days 3444, such a selection never gives the complete covenant law, and already for that reason we should not go in that direction. The whole Law in its negative and positive form, nothing less!
PUBLIC CONFESSION OF SINS
The combination of this "brief prayer before the sermon" with the prayer before the sermon is the result of permitting this important part of corporate worship to fall into disuse. Every minister be advised to use these two prayer forms now and then, especially when the upcoming Synod has adopted the new wording that has been prepared by the Liturgy Committee (the consistories have already received them).
Those who want more participation of the congregation, have an opportunity here to recommend that the whole congregation prays this. We have them in print.
However, we do not recommend that these forms be used every Lord's Day. That might become monotonous and then the hearts are no longer touched. We have attended churches in other countries where a brief prayer of confession is printed in the bulletin every week, so that the whole congregation can pray together with the minister., everyone confesses his/her own sinfulness before the Holy God. This is mentioned as an example of how other Christians try to do justice to this element of worship. The LORD reminded us of His holy will for us; we learn to acknowledge our sinfulness and confess it: (A) then (B). God's answer is (A:
PROCLAMATION OF FORGIVENESS AND GRACE
Lord's Day 31 rightly stresses that all preaching must be "openly witnessing to believers ... that their sins are really forgiven ... and to unbelievers that the wrath of God abides on them." When the congregation, however, in answer to God's holy Law, has confessed her guilt with a contrite spirit, she should already at that moment be firmly assured of God's willingness to forgive the believers, one and all (Lord's Day 31). The minister should use quotations from God's own Word to proclaim this divine grace. That is his mandate and authority, "Whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.-
Now that the congregation has been assured that by her confession and by God's grace everything is ---smooth"again between her and Him and thus the service can proceed on the basis of reconciliation, she cannot but answer [a (B) element] with;
A SONG OF PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING
As with every element of the service, the minister should select the song for this moment with the greatest care. Such a song, Psalm or Hymn, should give expression to our gratitude for the great gift in Christ, to our willingness and desire to obey the commandments of God with greater zeal; and, in general it should be the expression of our awareness that we depend totally and completely on the LORD's mercy. "Bless the LORD, 0 my soul, who forgives all your iniquity, who redeems your life from the pit...," Psalm 103.
With this joy in our hearts we are now looking forward "to learning God's Word," Lord's Day 38. We may "bathe" in His love!
It would be wonderful if this part of the service, as described in this article, would again (it is nothing new!) be given its due. We do not say that all this has to be repeated in the second service. These articles are, in general, speaking about the first service. If this series does not become too long, we might conclude with a discussion of the difference between the first and the second service. We have done so some years ago, but most of it may have been forgotten.
Rev. G. VANDOOREN
Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 15, July 28, 1980
The main part of Part 6 was dedicated to a plea to restore the ardent "public confession of sins" with the various parts.. the Law, prayer of confession, proclamation of pardoning grace, song of thanksgiving. We now come to the main part, the "first" in Lord's Day 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism: "to learn God's Word."
MINISTRY OF THE WORD
The third "block" of liturgical elements in the covenantal, corporate worship service circles around the sermon. One should not expect an elaborate treatment of preaching in this series. That is a topic by itself and could easily fill fifty-two articles. Be it only stated that we as Reformed believers still consider the sermon to be the most important part of the service. All other elements must serve to bring out this very heart of our meeting with the LORD in full force. Catechism Lord's Day 38 mentions this as the first purpose why we attend the church of God diligently. "Oncing" is therefore out! Would we dare to let the LORD talk to empty pews?
One may ask whether we were faithful to the priority of preaching in the previous articles, where so much stress was laid on, first, the opening elements, and second, the public profession of sins.
Our answer is not only that these two parts, as described, need not take all that much time. Our answer is rather that those who stubbornly cling to what is thought to be the old order, but which is in fact of later date, postpone the ministry of the Word unduly. They want the ---longprayer" for all the needs of christendorn before the sermon. In addition they also put the offertory before the sermon, contrary to the order of Lord's Day 38. And on top of that they put all this in between the two elements that should not be separated: the public reading of the Scriptures and the preaching.
Without arguing further about these matters (enough was said in previous articles), we now proceed to the Ministry of the Word, which consists of these components:
1. Brief prayer before the sermon (B)
2. Public Reading of the Scriptures (A) 3. A Psalm that leads to the text (B)
4. Text and Sermon (A)
5. The Amen of the Congregation (B).
This order is not "infallible." Some might prefer to put the "Brief Prayer before the Sermon" between the reading of the Scriptures and the sermon; in other words, right before the sermon. We will discuss the five parts in the order given.
BRIEF PRAYER BEFORE THE SERMON (B)
This prayer should be brief, as brief as the model given in the Book of Praise, on page 476. A second example is given on page 481. It is a prayer for the opening of the Scriptures, the opening of the mouth of the preacher, and the opening of our hearts so that the seed may fall in good soil, well prepared.
We should be excused for one additional remark. When at this (late) moment we pray to the Lord, "Open now the mouth of Thy servant . . . " we cannot mean that this servant may not have a cold, a sore throat, and is able to read literally a document that could be sent straight to the printer. We like to speak about "preparation" and "delivery" of the sermon. The former means that the preacher has worked hard and prepared himself well, which also means prayerfully. Whatever he takes along to the pulpit - an outline, some notes, or nothing at all - he has all that he has prepared at his fingertips. Now he faces the congregation; he looks into their hearts, their souls, and within this contact he "delivers" the sermon, the message. Only in this way will there be two-way traffic (more on this below). Only then will he need this prayer. I still hear elders pray before the service for "indachtigmakende genade" for the minister: that God in His grace may grant him to remember what he had prepared in his study. He wouldn't need such grace if he had every single word in front of him. A minister who, well-prepared, enters the pulpit for a free delivery, needs this prayer to the full.
PUBLIC READING OF THE SCRIPTURES (A)
In our College Library we have several volumes on preaching and "The Fine Art of Christian Worship" that deal extensively with this important part of the service; some call it "the most important part" because in this part the LORD God speaks directly to us in His own words.
Some remarks are in order. The first one is that this expression is taken from I Timothy 4.13, "Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching." The Early Church took this custom over from the synagogue, where in every service the Law was read and then the Prophets. Rev. G. Van Rongen, in his Liturgy of God's Covenant, pp. 23/4 says many worthwhile things about this (maybe) oldest part of corporate worship. First he asks, 'Why break in on the reading and preaching of God's Word by means of prayer [he must mean here the "long prayer," vD] and - even worse! - by the offerings and singing?" Then he refers to Luke 4 and Acts 13 to show how this reading of what we now call the Old Testament was right away followed by preaching. Quoting Paul more accurately, we should speak of "Public Reading of Scripture" (singular), thus stressing that God's Word, now completed with the New Testament, is one "scripture," containing the Law, the Prophets, and their fulfilment in Christ. As such it is the Covenant Word, containing the Covenant Law, the prophetic preaching to keep the Covenant, and the New Covenant that replaced the Old. Also for this reason careful attention to the public reading of Scripture fits within the context of Reformed or covenantal worship.
Although this reading of Scripture stems from Old Testament times, we do not propose to do it the same way, i.e., a continuous reading according to a one or three-year program. The minister selects the passages in harmony with his text and sermon. The rule should be at least two passages, one from the Old, one from the New Testament. In Van Zijn Schone Dienst, Rev. Van Rongen pleads for a "redemptive historical" combination of passages, meaning that the New Testament passage shows the fulfilment of the Old Testament Scripture. That's why we spoke of a "careful selection." When the text is chosen from the Old Testament, the New Testament passage could be read first, because we deem it of importance that the reading of Scripture concludes with the text. In the P. M. service at least three passages should be chosen which throw light upon the doctrine confessed in Lord's Day number such-and-such.
Careful selection is not enough. Careful preparation of public reading is also a must. Nothing is worse than hearing the minister stumble over a sentence, put the emphasis in the wrong place, making mistakes. He should read and re-read the passages in his study, maybe aloud. After all, it is God's own Word that -he is going to read solemnly and forcefully to His people! Only then - and all Bibles in the pews are open, of course! - can this part of the liturgy become impressive and a blessing to all who hear it. It will not, if the public reading of Scripture is considered as a necessary "evil"(!), be rushed through in a hurry to come to the sermon.
We have put singing of a Psalm or Hymn after the reading of Scripture, for a personal reason. When, years ago, we started with the order of liturgy as proposed in these articles, we "lost" one occasion for the congregation to sing. We think we should sing much in church. We made up for it by choosing a Psalm (like from Psalm 119, etc.) in which the congregation can express her eagerness to hear the message that now will be brought to them. It underlines the brief prayer before the sermon. Everyone is free to stick exactly to what Rev. Van Rongen wrote: no separation of reading and preaching.
TEXT AND SERMON (A) land (B)!]
The reason for mentioning the text (which was already heard during the reading of Scripture) is that the reading does not always end with the text. And even if it does, a repetition of the text, especially when the reading was followed by singing, is no luxury. everyone should have the words of the text clearly in his mind, now that the sermon starts.
It may not be superfluous to point out that a "text" is not a "verse." Sometimes it is, more often it is a passage. "Text" comes from textus, which means a woven unit, which in its turn is woven into the whole of Scripture, and then must be woven into the sermon.
It is not so easy to give a definition of a sermon. The "classic" one is -explication and application of God' S Word in the text." It sounds simple enough, but it is not really that simple. Once we tried to formulate a "complete" definition in the College; we already had a whole page full and still realized that such a long definition still did not say everything that should be said. We are not going into that "problem" now. Mentioning it is only an occasion to say that people are wrong when they assert that preaching is a "one man business" and that in this modern age we should replace it by a dialogue, a discussion between the group-leader and the group.
Preaching is not a one-man business! The counterpart of preaching is hearing. The Catechism says, Lord's Day 38, "learning." This word stresses the fact that listening to a sermon is a "verb," i.e., a work, and a difficult work at that! The minister should, as we pointed out, strive for a "free delivery" in which there is room for eye, for heart-contact. Then he will experience a feedback from the pew. One who smiles at this, should be careful! Preaching is more than an endeavour of the preacher. The Word is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. No one but the Holy Spirit works faith (as the Catechism teaches repeatedly) by the preaching of the Word; not just by the Word. Thus the church building has been rightly called the workshop of the Holy Spirit. We have asked Him not only to open the mouth of His servant but also to open our hearts. This working of the Spirit establishes the rapport between pulpit and pew. The minister does not "shoot" his sermon against a wall: he speaks to open, responding hearts.
For that reason the "preaching event" can be called an (A) element mixed with a (B) element. It is an activity not only of the minister but also of the congregation. That is not my invention. The Lord Himself says so. "the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers," Hebrews 4:2. The KJV has the literal translation, "not being mixed with faith . . . ." That is the reason for speaking of the "preaching event." It is a mixture of the message and faith in the message. In and during the preaching the Covenant God and His people enjoy the most intimate fellowship of the Covenant.
THE AMEN OF THE CONGREGATION (B)
Without this "Amen" the Ministry of the Word is not complete. It has been said previously that we, Reformed preachers, are nearly the only ones who conclude their sermon with "Amen." In several churches the congregation says it in unison. That must be a terrific experience for the preacher! He delivered his sermon with all the energy and power he could utilize, and there, as the sound of many waters, comes back to him the "Amen" of the people to whom he was allowed to address the message of his Sender.
We do not do that. Why not? Previously we quoted some texts, where the Bible clearly tells us, "and all the people said, 'Amen!"' Well, if we think this suggestion is shocking or strange, then in any case the Amen should come from the congregation by her Amen-song, preferably right after the Amen of the minister, without announcement or reading of the song. It stands to reason that - again - this Psalm or Hymn should be chosen with the utmost care, so that it indeed is an answer to that specific sermon. If all the people fully engage in this "preaching event," the beauty of our corporate worship will overwhelm us. God is in our midst!
Rev. G. VANDOOREN
Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 16, Aug 09, 1980
Part 7 dealt with the "thirdblock" of the classic Order of Reformed Liturgy: the five components of the -preaching event. "This is the central and most-important part of our corporate worship. We hope, therefore, that the stress on congregational participation and activity during this part will not be forgotten. The logical order is now to proceed from the Word to the Sacraments, the -fourth block."
"WORD AND SACRAMENTS"
The Reformed Creeds often use this expression, and always in this order. You will never read -Sacraments and Word." Although these articles do not discuss the doctrine as expressed in the various elements of our liturgy but only the liturgical aspect, we may be granted the one remark that the order ---Wordand Sacraments" is not used to depreciate the Sacraments as being "less important." This sentiment is not completely absent among us. 'We can do without the sacraments, but not without the preaching." Thus one is wiser than God "who ordained the sacraments for us, taking account of our weakness and infirmities," Article 33 of the Belgic Confession.
The basis for this order, 'Words and Sacraments," is simply that the Sacraments are given "to seal unto us His promises." If that is the case, then one must first hear those promises! It is not uncommon to hear that the preaching is for the ear, the sacrament for the eye (as well as for the taste c.a..): audible and visible word.
MINISTRATION OF HOLY BAPTISM
The following liturgical aspects should be mentioned.
1. First of all, in the Sacraments we have - again - a combination of both elements of Reformed liturgy: the LORD is acting (A); the congregation is also active (B).
Parents bring their children to baptism; they (again) make profession of their faith and accept the responsibilities for a godly upbringing of their seed. However, not only those particular parents, but the whole congregation is to be active. Baptism is administered for, among other things, "the edification of the church" (Form). Thus everyone should read along with the minister, or at least listen intently to the beautiful Form, and pray along in both prayers. No one should say, not even think, "Again a baptism; the service will last ten more minutes at least
2. Sticking to the proper order, a baptism should come after the preaching of God's promises. In the case of the baptism of an adult that is no problem. To my knowledge that is always (alas, not "often") done after the sermon. In the case of infant-baptism one hears the objection that it may be difficult to keep the baby quiet that long. If you have the baptism at the beginning of the service, mother and baby can always leave if the latter becomes restless, starts crying (babycrying should not compete with preaching!). Besides that, the mother may not be able to sit that long. Apart from the fact that the original Form speaks of the father only, because in earlier times Article 56 of the Church Order was kept faithfully: "as soon as possible," i.e., the first Day of the LORD after the birth - apart from that, there is an easy solution. The baby can be kept in the nursery (where a loudspeaker should enable one to follow the sermon), and brought in when the time for baptism has come.
3. Having mentioned this, and referring to Article 56 of the Church Order, we could elaborate on the fact that old baptism - registers prove that our forefathers brought their babies to baptism the first service after birth. Nowadays, however, nearly all children are born in a hospital, and the staff will not permit a father to take his child out of the nursery for the purpose of baptism and then bring it back. Modern treatment of the mother has made it possible for her to be "up again- much sooner than her sisters in the past. The result is that usually Article 56 of the Church Order can be kept with both parents present at the baptism of their newborn child. Even then, the father presents the child to baptism.
4. One more item: Should the minister stay with the parents at the font when the faithfulness of our Covenant God is praised in song? Or rather: Should the parents stay there, in front of the congregation, during the singing? Many favour this, to say the least, but to us this is more a matter of emotion than of common sense. The congregation does not "sing to" the child but to the LORD. The parents step forward only for the act of baptism; then they return into the congregation, and all together sing the LORD's praise.
We conclude with the hope that in the churches the baptismal font may be kept as busy as in former generations!
ADMINISTRATION OF HOLY SUPPER.
1. We repeat: also this element belongs to (A) and (B) both. The LORD is the Host; He seals His promises to us. But the congregation is certainly also active. This element has rightly been used as an argument against "child-communion." In favour of this it has been said that they also receive the first sacrament. We even confess that "both redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, the Author of faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to them no less than to adults," Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 74. Yes, that is fully true; but in baptism God takes the initiative; He is first and the baby is passive ("although our children do not understand these things," Form for Baptism). In Holy Supper, however, man takes an active part, performs an act of profession, comes and eats and drinks and remembers. Little children can not yet do that.
2. The question may be asked whether - although we by far do not follow the example of the ancient church as to the frequency of suppercelebrating - too much stress has been and is being laid on the---fringes" of the Lord's Supper. The question may also be asked, -Whence comes this?" In addition to three weeks of Catechism preaching on the Holy Supper, Lord's Days 28, 29, 30, we have (or: had) a "preparatory sermonfollowed by "the week of preparation." Then, on the Supper Sunday again a sermonette plus a long Form and after that (as I remember from my youth) an evening service of "nabetrachting".. looking at the Supper in retrospect. This sermon dealt not only with what we had tasted and enjoyed at the supper table, but contained a serious word for those who had not come to the table for all kinds of reasons. It all came close to Pietism, treating the supper as a very extraordinary event for which one had to prepare in a very special way, examining and analysing himself, whether there were the marks of the true believer, and so forth. If we celebrated the supper six times a year, that would amount to twelve plus three (Catechism sermons), that is at least fifteen Sundays per year, close to one third of the yearly preaching program. On the Supper Sundays, then, no Catechism preaching, in conflict with Article 68 of the Church Order. And far too much attention for what a communicant member might or might not feel in all those weeks. This whole development is far from classic-Reformed, and even farther from the apostolic age.
Because we strongly favour a greater frequency of the Supper, we suggest that all those "fringes," or most of them, be cut away. This brings us to some more liturgical questions.
3. Supper-celebration, when taking place at tables in a large congregation, is time consuming. I myself have for years ministered at eight to eleven tables in a row; the maximum was in Utrecht: thirteen tables. The main problem is not time-consumption (although that is important: there can be no preaching in such a situation), but the repetition (some say, "the vain repetition") of the words of the institution. Is that right? Our churches form an exception to what is seen all around us: the minister sits in front of the congregation, together with some officebearers. People stay in their pews, the bread and the wine are brought to them by office-bearers, and then they all eat at the same moment, and drink at the same moment. To those who rightaway stick up their feathers, I would say, "Do you not know that this has been practised in several good old Dutch Gereformeerde churches for ages, especially in the northern provinces?"
4. PROS AND CONS.
Celebration at tables has as a "pro" that we have to rise, go forward and sit down at the table. That is an act, an act of obedience. Instead of many small cups we drink from a large cup (although there are four such cups going around). That expresses unity (as many grains ground together). The "con" is that, by the four, five, six, or more tables, which become necessary with the size of the congregation, that unity is broken again. As to the other method, common on this continent, but not unknown in Reformed churches of the past and present, here indeed the wine is poured into individual cups. However, try to picture in your mind the strong stress on unity: after the minister has, visible to everyone, broken the bread, while using the words of the institution, all members get a piece of bread, and, when they hear the words, "Take eat, do this in remembrance of me," they all eat at the same moment. Similarly with the wine: all drink together. In a small congregation, where all can sit at one table, that is no problem. But there are not only (very) small congregations. If we would do it the way just described, the whole celebration would not take more than 15 to 20 minutes.
5. SOME BENEFITS.
This method does not take away much from preaching time. That's the first reason why we should favour it. Then it makes a more frequent celebration, e.g., once a month, easier to realize. Further, every good sermon in the style of Catechism, Lord's Day 31 (opening and closing of the kingdom), is a preparatory sermon, and thus we do not need special "preparatory sermons."
Also, we should try to get rid of a "continuation of the supper" in the afternoon or evening service. Often there are only five, seven, nine, or a few more coming to the table, and they get the "remaining morsels"; a piece of the Form, a shortened prayer, and then, of course, bread and wine. It is a bit "individual," maybe "individualistic."
Mind you, when I say we should try to get rid of this, I do not mean that it is not worth the trouble or the time to sit at the table with five or seven brothers, but mostly sisters. I once flew to Aruba and to South America to administer the sacrament to four, to five believers. But I suggest that we do our utmost, by means of baby-sitting and the like, to get all communicant members to the morning service (or, for that matter, evening service, if we want to stick to "avondmaal," "Nachtmahl," "supper"). We would "kill two birds with one stone" by not only realizing the "one wine, one bread" idea, but also by correcting older and younger couples who stay home in the morning ("it is only supper and show up in the afternoon.)
6. THE FORMS.
The consistories have received concepts of two Forms for the Supper. They are shorter than the present one, although nothing essential has been left out. On the contrary, an important element is added that is hard to find in the present Form: "until He comes." Holy Supper is as much a looking forward to Christ's return as a remembrance of what He did for us in the past. The eschatological element should never be lacking: the LORD is at hand! Shortly after the Reformation the followers of the reformers had to be indoctrinated in the scriptural teaching of the sacraments, and to be brainwashed of romanist superstitions. Therefore such long answers in the Catechism and such long Forms. The desire expressed in past years to shorten some Forms had a double, positive motive: make more room for preaching and make room for more frequent celebration of the Supper. These motives are to be complimented.
It bears repeating: take full part in everything. Listen intently to the teaching of the Form, which is, in fact, ministry of the Word. Look at the minister when he breaks the bread and pours the wine. Concentrate on your eating and drinking: "as surely as . . . ." And let Synod 1980 adopt the suggestion of the Liturgy Committee (the Faculty of the College) that the congregation together recites the Creed and prays the Lord's Prayer, as was the intention of the Reformers.
Rev. G. VANDOOREN
Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 17, Aug 23, 1980
Part 8 dealt with the Sacraments as coming after the preaching, being God's seals on His promises to us. Several suggestions were made to promote unity expressed in the supper, and to make a more frequent celebration possible without taking away from the ministry of the Word as the centre of the covenantal liturgy. This instalment deals with two -blocks -of liturgical elements, the ministry of intercession and the ministry of mercy. A final article is planned for the closing of the service and for some additional considerations of the liturgy in general.
THE MINISTRY OF INTERCESSION
We need not repeat our plea for a return to the order of prayers as established in our Book of Praise. Enough has been said about that, we assume.
The official title in the Book of Praise is A Prayer for All the Needs of Christendom, to be Used on the Sabbath after the First Sermon. This prayer is certainly not the first prayer of the service. We spoke of the prayer of confession of sins, and of the brief prayer before the sermon, just as the Book of Praise does. These prayers, however, have a limited purpose and scope. The word "ALL" in the above title tells us that much more is at stake in what Lord's Day 38 of the Catechism mentions as the third main part of corporate worship: after the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, "to call publicly on the Name of the LORD."
The LORD has spoken to us. His Word has laid bare not just our personal needs but those of "Christendom." The contents of this Prayer in the Book of Praise proves that also the intercession for governments, etc., finds a proper place under this heading. This is according to Article 36 of the Confession of Faith; because the magistrates have "to protect the sacred ministry," the church has --to supplicate for them in their prayers." Both Paul and Peter have given clear instructions. "First of all, then, 1 urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and for all who are in high positions .... This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour" (1 Tim. 21-3; cf. also 1 Peter 2:13-17). In other words, the congregation, praying through the mouth of the minister, has to entertain a world-wide attention and interest. If the church does not pray for the world, who else will?
This prayer of intercession, of which we have an example in our Book of Praise, contains a long list, too much to mention all items. Following the sermon, it is natural that the minister first refers to the message just proclaimed, and asks the LORD that we may be not only hearers but also doers. But from there on we present "all the needs of Christendom" to the throne of grace. Even then, in order to create a desirable variety in the wording of the prayers of intercession, the minister would do wise to stay within the "climate" of the text. That is not always possible, but the attempt should be made. The contents of our prayers come from the Scriptures; we ask for what has been promised and commanded. To mention only one example; we should not leave it to others to pray for our nation in this time of growing conflict between the Federal Government and the provinces. Much wisdom is needed to seek the welfare of all above that of some. The Lord, Who commanded us to pray for these causes, has at the same time promised that He will listen to them. Our prayers are not in vain!
PREPARATION FOR PRAYER
According to the Dutch rhyming of Psalm 32, David prayed "na ernstig overleg," after having seriously considered by himself what he was going to pray. All prayer needs preparation, if we only keep in mind what praying is: to ask the attention of the Holy One of Israel.
Congregational prayer needs preparation too. It may be that a person, who must be the mouth of many and who brings "all needs" to God's attention, prepares an outline, a list of things he will have to ask. There is nothing wrong with that. The model in the Book of Praise can be of great help, but there are specific needs everytime. This does not mean that every time equal attention must be given to every single "need." This prayer of intercession must not only be up to date but may also be selective, although there are certain items, such as the propagation of the Gospel, that may never be forgotten. This prayer is the "sacrifice of our lips," an offering of thanksgiving for the privilege that we may approach the mercy-seat.
Some have suggested that this "long prayer" be interrupted now and then by an "Amen," either by the minister or by the congregation, to express that it really is a collection of many "intercessions." The four words quoted from Paul are all in the plural. We once heard such a prayer, and it made a deep impression. We only mention this to stress that minister and congregation go through these intercessions from step to step. The minister (in his study) prays God for wisdom that he may be able to pray in such a manner that the congregation can participate from step to step. Only by concentration of all spiritual energy will this long prayer become meaningful.
Some have "clocked" the minister, and woe to him if he exceeded the limit of ten minutes! Shame on such, who believe in a Saviour who spent whole nights in prayer, and who want to be spiritual posterity of the Early Church, which according to Acts spent its energy in praying.
A secondary benefit of our sacrifice of prayers and intercessions is that it may serve as a teaching model for the membership, specifically for heads of families who have to lead their families in family worship.
One more remark: In special cases, like joy or grief, should the minister mention names in his prayer, also if the person(s) concerned did not request the intercession by the congregation? Prof. Dr. T. HOEKSTRA gave his students the advice not to do so, and not only for the reason that the minister might mention the one case and forget the other. If members feel the need for special congregational intercession, they should say so!
This is a good rule, but it should not be an iron rule. There are always situations, e.g., a serious accident on Saturday that throws the whole family into confusion; everyone knows about it. How could the minister keep silent about it, even if the request was not made!
On the other hand, the congregation should be educated in this matter (as in many others). If they appreciate the value of congregational prayer, the least they can do is ask for it.
PRAYER IN THE SECOND SERVICE.
It stands to reason that this long prayer need not be repeated in the second service. The Form models in our Book of Praise also give an example of how to pray before and after the Catechism sermon. The stress is then on growth in sound doctrine, especially in our young members. But, after the first day, the week lies ahead, with its daily labours, dangers, temptations, etc. It seems to be fitting that the final prayer on the Lord's Day looks ahead and asks for divine guidance.
THE MINISTRY OF MERCY
In accordance with Lord's Day 38 of the Catechism, which mentions as the fourth purpose of diligently attending the church of God, "to give Christian aims," we call this part of the liturgy the "ministry of mercy.---There are, however, other, biblical names. Hebrews 13:16 calls them sacrifices. Romans 15:17 of - --ministering-(in Greek: liturgy). 11 Corinthians 9:12 has yet another expression: the administration of service, diakona. These words make clear that the "offering" is first of all a sacrifice of gratitude to God. We give back to Him from what He first gave us. The texts quoted clearly state that this is pleasing to Him. They also tell us that in this ministry we serve, because we love, the neighbour: diakonia.
Of the many questions that arise in relation to this part of the liturgy we mention some.
1. The manner of collecting our sacrifices. Bags or open plates? There are pros and cons for both. Simply to quote that "your left hand may not know what your right hand does," does not solve everything. Early Christians laid their gifts, at the feet of the apostles: everyone could see them. Then, because our heart is more deceitfull than anything: the one who gives little may prefer a bag (as though God's eyes cannot penetrate a bag!)., the one who gives much might prefer an open plate, in order to be seen by man; the Bible calls them Pharisees. In the final analysis it does not matter what we use, if only deep inside we are conscious of the fact that the Lord expects a sacrifice! For the widow it was one small coin, for the rich $100 might even be too little.
One thing should be stressed: the collecting should not be done in such a manner that it takes much time. More bags or plates, and/or some brethren helping the deacons, so that in a couple of minutes the matter is completed.
2. For what? The Catechism speaks only of "giving Christian aims," i.e., of providing the deacons with sufficient means to fulfil their mandate satisfactorily. The apostle Paul spent much of his time on such collecting on an international basis, 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2, etc. That seems to exclude second, even third collections, for mission, even for debtredemption and other specific causes. The ideal is that the church budget include all these needs, for mission, evangelism, Bible translation and distribution. Each member drops his share in an envelope into the box.
At the same time the world has become a village. The crying needs from underdeveloped countries crying in our ears may not be forgotten. We must do well to all men; also this is, according to Scripture, pleasing to God. It should please us too. The conclusion, then, is that our sacrifices are of such a measure, that deacons (in whatever way this may be organized) have sufficient means to feed the hungry, alleviate the many wounds, and save the lives of those starving to death.
3. More than just collecting? In many churches the offertory is introduced by a Scripture-quotation, and concluded with a prayer of dedication. It cannot be denied that such a "frame" around the offeratory drives home the awareness that a dime or quarter will not do as a "sacrifice" that we dedicate, present, to our God. We would not dare. (N.B. We are not criticizing large families who attend church with six to nine members, and thus must provide each child with "something for the collection").
Talking about the family, there is great educational value in the custom that on Sunday mornings Father tells his children what the offertory is for, and that the money they get for the offertory is a reasonable share of Dad's income. Equally, the children may know what voluntary contributions are put aside for the "maintenance of the ministry" (Lord's Day 38 again; it is called "first" and should therefore not be identified with what is mentioned last, "Christian alms"). Children should thus be taught about the firstfruits which belong to God.
Coming back to that "frame" around the offertory: although we recognize the value, we do not deem it necessary to multiply our prayers. This also may become a custom which in a short time is hardly heard any longer. We see no objection against giving it a place in the regular "long prayer." When we pray for the needy and hungry, the persecuted and suffering, it should come out spontaneously that we also pray for a willing heart to share the wealth we have (in comparison with millions) with those who have "too little to live and too much to die." A study of 11 Corinthians 7-9 would bring to light that there is a circle of "charis," which means grace, as well as sharing, as well as gratitude. God gave His grace to us. We share in "grace" with the needy and suffering. Then their thanksgiving (the same word!) climbs to God's throne. Where there is an awareness of this circle of grace, there will be no problem with the ministry of mercy. It will abound, and we will abound in grace and gratitude.
P.S. For very specific, extraordinary causes a collection after the service at the door can always be organized.
Rev. G. VANDOOREN
Continued in Clarion Vol. 29, No. 18, Sept. 6, 1980
The conclusion of the covenantal liturgy or "worth-ship" should not be,"finished," "period," but instead form a climax in which the climax of the sermon is actualized and underlined. The two final elements, closing song (a "B") and benediction (an "A") offer full opportunity for this.
The minister selects a Psalm or Hymn in which our worshipping the holy and gracious God is expressed to the full. As already indicated, the contents of this song should be related to the main message of the text. Personally, 1 often choose a New Testament "Psalm or Hymn or Spiritual Song," cf. Ephesians 5:15-20 and Colossians 3:12-17. Our praise to God lifts up our hearts to Him. Now we can face life and the world again. This closing song sings of the destruction of Christ's enemies as well as of His victory and our being "more than conquerors in Him, Romans 8.
The organist (whose name and function has not been mentioned yet) has prepared us for this final song by the prelude which he played during the offertory.
The service started with a blessing or salutation which "covers" the whole service.' The closing benediction 11 covers" our whole life till the next Lord's Day and is no less than the divine assertion and promise that His blessing and peace and grace and fellowship will accompany us through all our days. It is more than a pious wish or a bang with the gavel: the meeting is finished. All the elements of the whole liturgy now come to a head and are summarized in the solemn words of Numbers 6:24-26 and 11 Corinthians 13:14. It would be an insult to the LORD if we, during this benediction, already prepare to leave, start putting on our coat, or fumble for the cigarette for which our lungs cry. Eyes and ears and hearts and minds should be wide open to "drink in" every single word of it.
In Enschede 1 had for years a group of deafmute people on Saturday afternoons, to bring them the message, to sing and pray with them (don't ask how!). Some of them did not attend church regularly ("we can't understand a word"); others were very faithful. One "said" once to me: "I read for myself what is announced on the board, and, if it were only for receiving the benediction, that makes my churchgoing worthwhile!" Some, with good ears and vocal cords, sometimes complain, "I got nothing out of it" ("it" being the whole worship service). What a terrible thing to say!
The LORD sends us away, loaded with His blessing. Unbelievably wonderful. That makes the worship "the greatest show (?) in town."
Some empty spots have still to be filled up, in order to complete our simple elaboration of the glory of divine "worth-ship."
1. THE "FRAME" OF THE WORSHIP
With "frame" we mean here that, considering the character of corporate worship, our whole life is centred around it. We have already spoken of a fitting preparation for attending the church of God. But what happens after the service? If a preacher, who spent all his energy in preaching the divine message, would join the crowd on the parking place, he would be reminded of the warning of our Saviour that we must be on guard that the birds do not pick up the seed that was sown. Seldom would he see little groups, heads together, discussing and sharing what they just received.
This is an evil under the sun. The men of Beroea, having heard Paul, went home and searched the Scriptures to see whether these things were true; and they were true! Even when a social hour is held, the talk seldom centres around the sermon and the coffee-drinkers seldom centre around the preacher to ask him about his sermon.
Well, then, there is the home. The families return home. What then? Does the father (and mother) ask his children about the sermon, and answer their questions if they have any?
We must train ourselves to "multiply the sermon" by meditation, discussion, and Witnessing for the Lord. How many still think of it on Monday? Should not the prayer of that minister of my youth be heard, "Father, grant that Thy children may get through to Saturday on the strength of the bread of life which they received today"?
PROPHESYING FROM THE ORGAN BENCH
Dr. K. Schilder used these words with reference to the wellknown organist Jan Zwart. He did not hesitate to speak of the prophetical task of the organist. This does not mean that the organist should have an over-riding influence during the service. His task is a humble, a serving, one. Yet, it is an important one. He may enhance the whole service by his preludes and postludes and especially by accompanying the congregation. He can also do damage to it, by faulty playing or by pulling out all stops and deafening the eardrums. His choice of music may betray that he has no clue of what is going on. His excuse may be that he is taken for granted most of the time. Never did the minister talk with him. Information on what is to be sung and preached comes at the last moment, so that he cannot prepare himself for it. For correction of such a situation the minister should take the initiative because he is responsible for the course of the service. Consistories should not neglect the organist either, but enable him to improve his art and his music library. Money should, if necessary, also be invested in providing for organists for the future. Talents should be encouraged. The whole congregation will reap the benefits of such wisdom.
3. SPECIAL OCCASIONS
We did not speak of specific elements which according to Confession and Church Order belong to the worship service. We mention ordination of office-bearers, discipline and excommunication, also re-admission.
As to the place in the order of the liturgy. ordination usually takes place after the sermon, also for the reason that the preacher may deem it fitting to deliver a special sermon, dealing with the special offices in the church. Announcements of discipline and actual excommunication may take place before or after the first prayer, i.e. of public profession of sins. God is acting in those events, and thus they belong within the context of covenantal worship.
Closely related to sub 3 are the announcements. Which ones? And where do we place them? The overall principle should be that we limit the announcements to a minimum. Article 30 of the Church Order may have some bearing on this: "only ecclesiastical matters." Society secretaries sometimes "forget" to send in their information for the bulletin. Educationally speaking, the best way might be to refuse to make up for their neglect by announcement from the pulpit. But .... Well, such announcements should then be made before the service starts. Not after; that would be too much of an anti-climax. Nearly every church has a weekly bulletin. That is the place for all such information. Even meetings organized by the consistory can be published in the bulletin. People can read, can they not? And if they have but a little interest in church matters, they will do so. Helping the lazy ones makes them only more lazy. But decisive is that such announcements do not belong in the covenantal "back-and forth" of the liturgy.
With approbation by the congregation of appointed office-bearers, of attestations, and of receiving into the communion of saints it is a different matter. Such announcements might find their proper place before the offertory, except when they concern "guests" to the holy supper; that should be done before the communion starts. There is no strict rule; there should be some freedom for a minister to find the proper moment for banns and similar announcements.
As to attestations, incoming and outgoing, I would speak a word for a less formal way of doing things. Why not welcome a newly arrived family with some Christian words, even ask them to rise so that everyone knows who they are; why not wish a departing family Godspeed to their new home and home-church? Is that not a matter of course within the communion of saints?
5. MORE PARTICIPATION?
We conclude this series with this question. It was already asked at the start, but the answer was postponed in the hope that the discussion of Reformed Liturgy would be the answer. You know the question, the desire; the accusation that our services are too much a "one-man show."
Our answer to such accusation is that each church-goer should intensively participate in every part. In the singing, of course. Sing with heart and mouth! Know what you are singing and rejoice in it, It may happen that the greatest comfort, the strongest edification, will be your share just by having sung certain psalms and hymns. Tears may have filled your eyes; be not ashamed of them! Then, pray with the minister because he prays on behalf of you and for you. And listen, listen, listen! When the bread of life is distributed, you have to chew it, to digest it, to let it become part of you. Hearing the Word in the right manner is not much easier than preaching it! If there is such a participating attitude, no need will be felt for more participation.
The only use for a choir I would see is in supporting congregational singing. From my youth I remember that choirs trained themselves mostly in good Psalm-singing, and you could notice that in church! Now, with several new tunes, a choir could perform some diakonia or service here. It would not even be necessary to sit together as a choir in church. Spread throughout the congregation, their support will be noticeable.
I myself (this is personal) see some opportunities for more participation in the second service, where the Catechism is preached. Notwithstanding denial, I maintain that there is a difference between the first and the second sermon. In the first sermon (the expression is, again, from the Book of Praise!) the minister can say, "Thus says the LORD". - and then announce his theme. In the second sermon he will, of course, also be able to say that, but he will, according to the style of the Catechism, often introduce his theme by, "thus we confess in accordance with the Scriptures. . . ."
I do not defend a "more informal" p.m. service, but 1 do see a possibility that the service be introduced by more singing; by asking the congregation what they would like to sing.
I do not see occasion for discussion of the Catechism teaching in the public service. That can be done during a social hour, as some smaller congregations regularly have it. And, of course, there is always free access to the minister.
Finally, an elder or some other member could be asked to lead in closing prayer. But not all elders are such "leaders" as depicted in The Elders' Handbook, by Berkhoff & De Koster, 1979.
These remarks may blow up some dust. Okay then, let's not get excited about these persona( ideas, but let's all get excited about the beauty of Reformed Liturgy.
To come back to that "free access to the minister," a wise minister (and do we not readily accept that they all are?) will be happy to hear reactions; to get suggestions, requests, to further elaborate in a future sermon on a doctrinal matter that was not fully understood. He will be thankful for requests and wishes regarding texts, singing, praying. He is "a servant of servants" and he needs all the loving support he can get to better conduct the aweinspiring covenantal communion with our God and Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, in the church of God, in the courts of the LORD of hosts.
Rev. G. VANDOOREN