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Why Do We Have a 2nd Service?

Our family made plans to visit a friend out of town and in the planning process we told them we had church on Sunday night. They were not expecting that Christians went to church twice in a day. That turned into a conversation about the Lord’s Day and the Christian’s duty on that day. This conversation made me ask the question “What happened to the second service?” in churches? It’s no surprise that many Reformed congregations stopped having a second service long ago. It’s no wonder that many churches that do have a second service see it poorly attended compared to the morning service. I asked a pastor of a large Reformed congregation what his evening service attendance was in comparison to the morning, and he said it was an abysmal 10%. When attendance has been down that low, it is understandable why some churches would cease holding an evening service. Reformed pastors have been working on this problem of low attendance in the second service for a long time.

When the early Reformers established their liturgies and church orders, they prescribed a morning and afternoon/evening service. In the morning there was an exposition of Scripture and the second service was there was catechetical preaching. Preaching that would be aimed and centered on teaching the basics of the faith and by understanding doctrine, they would grow in an understanding of the Word. The intention was that the Christian would then receive a balanced spiritual diet. So they would be exposed to more of the Word and the day would be “book ended” by worshipping with God’s people. However, this was not popular with the members of the church. People didn’t quite know how to receive catechetical preaching and teaching first of all, but mainly they preferred to play on Sunday and didn’t care to go to church twice in a day. Eventually, some ministers decided to cease holding an evening service due to low attendance.

At the Synod of Dort (1618-19), it was decided to censure ministers who stopped holding a second public worship service. Ministers were exhorted to preach brief and understandable sermons and not to cancel the second service due to poor attendance. Even if only the minister’s family attended the service, the expectation was to have a second worship service. The second service would be the uniform practice of Reformed churches in the 1600s. The answer to what happened to the second service seems obvious; low attendance resulted in cancellation. But the next question arises and remains to be answered and explored, “Why the low attendance?” R. Scott Clark’s in, “Recovering the Reformed Confession” rightly states low attendance reflects two things. First, little appreciation of the means of grace in the life of the church and Christian and secondly, the doctrine of the Sabbath.

There is a strong consensus in Reformed churches that God works through means, and that the Sabbath looks forward to the consummation, is a day to rest from work, and for public worship. The difficulty seems to be more practical from this point of agreement. Instead of honoring God with our bodies, (1 Cor. 6:20) we pause for worship and then are consumed by the demands of culture and the secular. I hope to explore this and connected issues in coming articles. This series will be an opportunity to consider and remember why we believe what we believe and then we will know why we do what we do. Perhaps, when you have a friend surprised to hear you attend two services, you’ll be equipped to have a fruitful and challenging dialog.

What is Confirmation?

Confirmation as Universal Practice

It is helpful to think of Confirmation in the local practice, in light of the wider and historic practice of the Church. Starting with the question “Who has a right to/must take the Supper?” When the New Testament Church first began, a baptized person confessed Christ, was baptized and took the Supper. Their children would be baptized as infants and go through a period of catechism before communing. Both groups went through a rite which admitted them to the full benefits of church membership; the Lord’s Table.

This rite of Confirmation varied through the centuries but it always was in practice in one form or another. Some traditions made the rite less of a ceremony and others more of a ceremony, and some made it a sacrament. Nevertheless, Confirmation remained in various liturgies as a rite of initiation to the Lord’s Table.

What is Confirmation

The word Confirmation is used to describe the rite wherein a person is set apart for God and makes a profession/confession of faith before the congregation of their church. Confirmation generally takes place after a period of instruction by the Church. Opinions and practices differ on the years and location of instruction in relation to Baptism and Communion. Some place this period of instruction before baptism, and others after baptism. While others place it before and others after first communion. Practices are diverse in the particulars but the main acts are agreed upon (though not in this order) that a person confesses Christ, is baptized, and takes Communion.

A Reformed Perspective

How have the Reformed understood and practiced this historic rite? Two important considerations for theologians in the Reformed tradition were protecting the sacrament of Baptism and restoring the historic practice before the medieval corruptions. Calvin wished that, after a child had been sufficiently instructed in the catechism, the child would make public profession of one’s own faith. (4.19.13) This profession would be in the pure form of the ancient Church and not surrounded by ceremonial abuses of the medieval Church.

We must remember the significance of Baptism so that we do not attribute to Confirmation what belongs to Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ and made partakers with his death. It is where the judgment of God is signed and sealed for us in Christ and his Spirit is given to us. In Baptism Christian believers are saved not by works but by the washing of regeneration and God’s mercy (Tit 3:5). This is only a summary of how we should begin to understand Baptism. Yet this reality that Baptism (the visible Word) points to must be embraced by faith. When an infant is baptized the promise is ratified and our faith is strengthened in God’s promises. When the person can, they confess their faith and it is their means of accepting the promise already ratified in their baptism, not a means of grace in its own right. Therefore in the rite of Confirmation it is not proper to devalue or question the validity of our Baptism.

Staying consistent with the monergistic work of God in salvation, the Reformed said in Confirmation it is God who confirms the person. Through the Church God confirms his work in the believer. It is through the ordained officers of the church this work is confirmed

Bavinck says:

the rule of the covenant is that the church must nurture its youthful members, who were born as children of the covenant and incorporated as members by baptism, to where they can make an independent personal profession of faith and on that basis admit them to the Lord’s Supper. (4.585)

The rite of Confirmation, is the work of God through the Church. In it we see God’s faithfulness continue to the next generation. Where he continues to be God to us and our children as he promised.

We Taste Heaven Today in the Supper

Heaven is such an amazing promise in Scripture. Heaven is when the perfect is realized. It is the consummation, after the resurrection, after the great judgment of God, when all is made right. It is the new heavens and the new earth. When the space between humanity and God is removed and we are no longer estranged but brought into eternal communion with God.

Heaven is home for Christians. Heaven is where we belong. Heaven is where Jesus is enthroned. I’m not referring to heaven (lower case “h”) that is the Intermediate State where the Christian is with Christ after death. Heaven is that time and place after the Return of the King. It is that time when the Kingdom of God is fully realized, after the separation of the wheat and tares, the good fish are taken from the net, the sheep and goats are sent to their respective dwellings. When all is finally said and done. When we can enter into the Eternal Sabbath, the final rest, that is Heaven.  (more…)

What is the Divine Service?

word-and-sacramentSo what does the term “Diving Service” mean anyway? Literally it is a “Service of God”, a service where God is the actor and we are the recipients. He calls, he cleanses, he feeds, etc. He calls the church to come to him and be reminded of his goodness. It is a time of the week that is set apart by the command of God wherein the body of Christ is worshipping and being ministered to in the kingdom of God. Reformed worship is different from the contemporary evangelical scene of worship that exists in many (though not all) churches today.

In many contemporary evangelical churches, worship has taken a unique definition. It is the private expression of a person to God. The individual shows their love, respect and honor for God in their singing and their expressions. The personal has taken primacy over the corporate. In fact, it is hard to argue there is much of a corporate aspect in the evangelical scene at all. The result is that many evangelicals are convinced that instead of going to church, they can worship God from their house alone, watching/listening to a sermon on line, or even out in nature spending time alone reflecting on God. In effect they have no need for the church or her ministers. The experience of listening to Christian music in the car can be far more important and appealing than sitting under the preaching of the Word. Worship in the evangelical setting is not so much about what God is doing, it is about what we are doing. It is our work and therefore rightly labelled “man-centered”.  (more…)

Calvin and the Church of Geneva

ReformationWallGeneva2Liturgy and worship is something that always draws controversy. Bring up the discussion of liturgy and worship with two people and you will have two opinions. Include in that discussion a congregation and the conversation just became unmanageable. Sometimes members of a Reformed church will simply claim “RPW”, as if that settles the discussion. The regulative principle of worship given in WCF 21.1 and Catechism on 2nd Commandment…most notably in the Heidelberg. (more…)

Obedience Over Sacrifice

The words of God are clear and distinct, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” (1 Sam. 15:22; Matt. 15:9). Every addition to his word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere “will worship” (ethelothreeskeia) is vanity. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate.

John Calvin (2010-03-25). The Necessity of Reforming the Church (Kindle Locations 84-87).

It is a difficult thing as Calvin notes to pursuade the world that God has determined how he is to be worshipped. The problem is not our zeal but rather our obedience to God’s revealed will. Therein lies a problem when we take the opinion that we can approach God how we will rather than how he has already “willed”. Thank God for the mercy we have in Jesus. Therefore we are represented by the faithfulness of our federal head Jesus and spared the fate of Nadab and Abihu.