Monday, 13 September 2010

The Ingredients of Public Worship

Many people ask me the question, 'what does a Presbyterian Church look like in practice?'; and it is perhaps helpful to partially answer this in this blog article. Of course the best way is for people to come and join us for public worship in Sheffield ( on the Lord's Day and we identify eight ingredients for public worship. Let us look briefly at these in turn.

1. A Clear Call to Worship the Triune God in the name of Christ the Mediator.

Our worship services will most often commence with a formal 'call to worship', a call which will include a verse from Scripture but also an exhortation to focus our hearts and minds on the Triune God. Our Lord Jesus Christ remarked to the woman at the well in John 4:22, that 'you worship what you do not know'. We do not want this to be said of ourselves, while pursuing a pattern of biblical and reformed worship and hopefully a clear call to worship minimises this possibility.

2. Public Prayer by the Minister

The public worship service is not an open prayer meeting but prayer should be a dynamic thread throughout the whole service. The organising minister prays publicly on behalf of the congregation as an act of worship, something that should direct our hearts and minds in adoration of God, the confession of sin, the request for forgiveness, along with intercession for God's church and God's world.

3. Congregational Singing

The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church and he exhorts them; 'Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart (5:19)'. The New Testament does not teach much about singing. Congregational singing is important but it must not dominate the proceedings at the expense of our next ingredient.

4. The Public Reading of the Scriptures

Need I say more! The public reading of the Scriptures forms a vital aspect of our worship and as the Scripture is read we must anticipate that this is God himself addressing us, from His Holy Word.

5. Preaching

Christ told Peter to 'feed my sheep (John 21:16)'. This is primarily exercised through the expositional preaching of the Word of God which is to be diligently heard by the sheep.

6. Rightly Administering the Sacraments

The two sacraments of the church are baptism and the Lord's Supper. Historically the right administration of these two sacraments has been deemed as the second mark of a true church. Their orderly administration is vital for the correct functioning of a New Testament church.

7. Benediction

Each service will be formally closed with the use of a benediction. The benediction is the pronouncement of the blessings of God that are made available to the church, in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Examples from the New Testament are: Romans 16:25-7; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Hebrews 13:20-1.

8. Sunday is the Lord's Day

The whole day is ordained by the Head of the Church, as a day for the public and private exercises of God's worship, for the spiritual profit of the saints and the glory of God'. Hopefully this day should be a 'foretaste of glory divine.

These eight ingredients have been explained only very briefly, but at least this blog article introduces us to the crucial matter as to the importance of what happens in the public worship of God, by Christians.


Jem said...

Hi Kevin

Thanks for this, it was a question I was going to ask.

I have a question though. (Genuine question, not having a dig:))

In 2. Public Prayer by the Minister. I understand that our worship services should not be an open prayer meeting, however, I don't understand why it is restricted to the Minister? Surely Public Worship is just that "Public", all of God's saint's have a chance to share in Worship whether it be by Congregational Song, Prayer and/or reading the Word of God.

I can't find any biblical basis for this. Is this a "Presbyterian thing" or a way of ensuring that a time of prayer does not overshadow the other elements of the service?



Kevin Bidwell said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think that there are probably a number of questions rolled into one with the question that you have asked.

Firstly, everything relates to one's idea of church government. Should churches be governed by elders, deacons, or by no official leaders at all? These are significant questions and the answer that we hold on this matter will undoubtedly impact our view of public worship.

A Presbyterian model holds to government by elders which includes what are called ''ruling elders' but also 'teaching elders' (1 Timothy 5:17ff). As such presbyterianism understands that the responsibility for the conducting the public worship.

Another point relates to public prayer. It is obvious that all the saints are encouraged to pray before, during and after the service but not out loud. As one the elders prays, he does so on behalf of the whole congregation, in a way that everyone can say 'amen'. There is a place for corporate prayer, namely the church prayer meeting.

For further reading: William Perkins, 'The Art of Prophesying' is helpful and also the Westminster Confession, Chapter 21: 'Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day'. All reformed confessions will have detail on public worship because the reformation was ultimately about re-forming worship after a biblical pattern; following centuries of mystical worship intrusions. I Hope this helps you, at least a little.


Kevin Bidwell said...

A sentence in paragraph 3 should read:

As such presbyterianism understands that the responsibility for the conducting the public worship is upon the elders, who are men who hold to the apostles' doctrine (1 Timothy 3:1ff).