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Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
- Psalm 95:6

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
- Hebrews 12:28

What is worship? It is gathering together as a community and putting God at the center. What is Reformed or Presbyterian worship in particular? In today’s world, what is our tradition’s understandings of worship and its importance to the congregation? Is that Baptist hymn or that Catholic rite or that Lutheran phrasing of the Lord’s Prayer or that Pentecostal praise song out of place? The Director of the PCUSA Office of Theology and Worship, Rev. David Gambrell, offered these 7 ideas all based on the Directory for Worship in our Book of Order and on the scriptural and theological tradition we call Reformed. Maybe this short look will help us see why we do what we do in worship.

Reformed Worship is Christian. That is, it is part of the universal church and draws on many traditions within it. We are Biblically based (the order of service is from Isaiah 6: 1- for example) and sacramentally driven (Baptism is the foundation and the Lord’s Supper is the highest form) and centered on preaching (faith comes from hearing—Romans 10:17).

Reformed worship is WORD Centered. So the scripture and sermon are the heart of worship. The Scripture should dictate the sermon, the particular songs sung, the prayers prayed, the psalms chosen, the seasons of the year. Some traditions emphasis music or sacramental ritual, but Presbyterians have always said the Word read, preached, and received is the absolute key and focus of true and right worship. Elements not centered on the Word are entertainment. Some of our sister churches have taken that principle to the extreme and said only singing of psalms is allowed. Others have been lax and allowed a very human centered approach. But the tension is real and the Word is central as a witness to God/Jesus who is at the heart of worship, not our own ideas or ourselves. So, worship is not about what we get out of it, but about encountering the Word.

Reformed worship is Spirit Filled. We pray. We have quiet times. We sing and dance. We call on the Spirit with prayers before we read scripture (Prayer of Illumination). We call on the Spirit to make the sacraments real. We call on the Spirit to bless us and send us out (benediction)

Reformed Worship is Communal. It is about the community. Presbyterian churches emphasize the need for us all to gather together. We always have time for prayers of the people not forced prayers said by the clergy. We involve the congregation (or at least try) not just a pastor. We have fellowship and interaction (passing of the peace, collection of gifts/stewardship).

Reformed worship is Evangelical. That is we follow the pattern of the Gospel as Luther taught—Calling by God, Confession and repentance of sin, gratitude at Jesus’s saving us, recitation of creed together. Presbyterians almost always include a confession, (some have a reading of the ten commandments before). Presbyterians still talk about sin (individual and corporate) but also about Jesus’s cross and salvation. Presbyterians always give an assurance of pardon in Christ. And Presbyterians always respond to the Word with a creed or song or action or sacrament. That is why in most Presbyterian churches, we baptize in the service not before or at the beginning. That is why we ordain or commission folks after the sermon.

Reformed worship is Missional. Worship and thus communal gratitude to God does not end when the service ends. It continues. Presbyterian pastors are noted for calls to action, homework, connection of worship to programs throughout the week, highlighting and collecting for mission during worship, and calling on elders and deacons to lead mission in the world during the week.

Reformed worship is Always being reformed. In addition to all the above, the Spirit is also calling us to explore a little, be open to new ways while keeping our tradition, bringing in new folks not just the “right” folks, and being open to world-wide forms and ideas. It is also about building the kingdom. It is about everyday activities not just Sunday experiences, it is about what we do as much as what we say. Worship is a way of life that transforms us, that does what Romans 12:2 told us would happen—transforming of our minds so that we can know what pleases God and then do it together.

- Pastor Tim

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