Saturday, January 23, 2010

Our Liturgy - 4 (Jubilee Bulletin)

Why two worship services?

I had mentioned that questions about our liturgy are welcome. I will try to answer them at the point that makes most sense in the flow of the articles. E.g., if you ask a question about the final blessing, it may well be in the final article–but I will get to it!

One of you asked me to address this question: “Why do we have two church services every Sunday?” Great question! Our church order even speaks about, in Article 52, Book of Praise, p. 670. There we read:
The consistory shall call the congregation together for worship twice on the Lord's Day. The consistory shall ensure that, as a rule, once every Sunday the doctrine of God's Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is proclaimed.
There are two reasons why we have two worship services. The first reason has to do with sanctifying the whole day to the worship of God; the second reason has to do with the special character of each service.

Sunday is called “the Lord’s day.” One way in which the church has historically kept the Lord’s day is by making it a day of worship by gathering together in the morning and again in the afternoon or evening. In that way the day is better embraced by worship than if we gathered together just once. There is no command to gather twice; rather, there is a command to worship corporately the first day of the week, and a good way to do that is by spreading the worship throughout the day.

I have been told that in some African churches, the congregation comes together only once, but then they worship for hours on end. A missionary to Africa told me that you won’t get the people to come twice, but once they are there, they gladly stay all day worshiping, being taught, and fellowshipping. That sounds good too. People of different cultures work out the command to worship, learn, and fellowship in different ways.

The second reason has to do with the unique quality of the afternoon service. Typically, a section of the Heidelberg Catechism is explained in the afternoon. Shortly after the catechism was written, in 1563, it’s usefulness as a tool for teaching the congregations was discovered. For centuries now Reformed churches have been using this little book of comfort to teach and encourage the congregation. As you may remember, the Heidelberg Catechism is structured around the explanations of the Apostles’ Creed, the Word and sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. Although not exclusively so in either case, the AM sermon has more the character of proclamation while the PM sermon has more a teaching quality. In the AM sermon the minister digs deep into one text of scripture while in the PM sermon, the minister teaches more broadly a topic (e.g., Word and Sacraments, this afternoon) and shows expansively what the scriptures teach about that particular doctrine. Perhaps we can say it that way: While the AM sermon goes deep the PM sermon is broad.

As we faithfully attend both services, we get a balanced meal of deep textual preaching and broad doctrinal instruction. Both are needed. Regular “catechism preaching” is one of the great strengths of the Reformed church. By going time and again through the catechism, the congregation is firmly anchored to the sure doctrines of the Word of God.

Long live two worship services!