What’s a typical order of worship?
In our service we follow an order that was more or less settled upon during the time of the Reformation, particularly as it came to be expressed in the Reformed family of churches. These are, for the most part, churches whose roots come down from the Protestant churches of Switzerland, France, Holland, England & Scotland. While various Presbyterian and Reformed churches flesh it out differently, the main elements are all there. What’s interesting is that these elements and this order of worship all have a Biblical & Gospel-focused reason for their existence. Much of what we do arises from Paul’s letters and from the patterns we see in the scenes of God’s throne room in Isaiah 6 and throughout the Book of Revelation.
At Stonebridge, here’s how it looks:
- Announcements: Because every aspect of the called worship of God is supposed to be directly worshipful, we do all of these before the actual call to worship.
- Prelude: The 4th Commandment states that on the Sabbath Day, or Lord’s Day, God’s people are to rest from their worldly affairs of the rest of the week in order to clear their minds of other distractions so as to focus on worship. In order to help us do this, we have a brief musical prelude to allow us to settle in, calm the children, and take a deep breath in order to prepare ourselves for the coming service.
- Call to Worship: God’s worship always begins as a response to God’s Word. God speaks and we respond. Rather than begin by inviting God to come, we begin by responding to God’s call to worship. The good news of the Gospel is that God has drawn us who were far from Him near to Himself through the death of Jesus on our behalf. The Holy Spirit then invites and commands God’s people to come into God’s presence to receive the Lord’s blessings. The Call to Worship reflects this truth, as the church session, in the name of the Lord, commands, and invites God’s beloved people to come into His presence and worship Him. The Call to Worship is thus the first Gospel act of our worship: God calls us to worship the true God, and Him alone.
- Hymn of Adoration: We generally begin with an upbeat hymn of adoration & joy, as we respond to God’s gracious invitation to come before Him with thanksgiving.
- Prayer of Invocation: We transition from praising God for Who He is and what He has done to asking Him to ask for His help and grace and to bless our service. On the first Sunday of the month, we pray the Lord’s Prayer together.
- Confession of Faith: Together we confess what we believe. On the first Sunday of the month, we recite the Apostles Creed. Other Sundays alternate between various creeds and catechisms.
- Old Testament Reading: After we confess our faith, we turn to God’s Word. Our worship is a response to God’s Word, and we believe God’s Word is contained in both Testaments as a unified whole.
- Prayer of Confession: In light of Who God is and what He has done, and in light of the great truths of our confession, we recognize that we do not in and of ourselves stand up to God’s holy standard. In our worship we therefore take time to confess our sins privately before approaching God’s throne of grace together in corporate confession. God invites and commands His people to repent of their sins, thus we confess our sins weekly, even as we sin in thought, word, and deed daily.
- Assurance of Pardon: Having confessed our sins together, next we hear from God as His Word offers us assurance of our pardon, forgiveness for our sins. God declares us forgiven in Christ alone, and God declares us forgiven according to His mercy and grace alone, not because of our works. God promises in His Word to forgive His people who repent of their sins and turn to Christ for forgiveness.
- Hymn: We respond to God’s assurance of our pardon by praising Him or singing of His forgiveness or affirming our commitment to repentance.
- Tithes & Offerings: At this point we respond to God’s salvation and gracious provision by reminding ourselves of the fact that all that we are and have belongs to Him. We are merely stewards of His blessings. And so we collect the offering at this time. This offering is used to support the ministry of the church and missionaries at home and abroad.
- Gloria Patri: This is an ancient & very brief song whose title means, “Glory be to the Father” in Latin. The whole text is: “Glory be to the Father, & to the Son, & to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.” We sing this at this point by way of giving glory to God for His great mercy in giving us new life in Christ, which is evidenced in the fact that He has caused us to believe the faith which we have just confessed.
- New Testament Reading: Following the time of giving, we have a second reading from God’s Word taken from the New Testament.
- Prayer of Intercession: After the New Testament reading, the minister or one of the elders offers prayer to God on behalf of the congregation, even as the congregation joins the minister or elder, praying in spirit.
- Hymn: Together the congregation sings another hymn.
- Sermon: This is the place in the service where we hear the Good News about Jesus Christ! It is our conviction that all of Scripture is Good News when we rightly understand it. All of it, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New, is a unified witness to Jesus. As a result, it is our desire that every message at Stonebridge should point us to Christ and the hope we have in Him.
In our tradition, the preaching of the Word of God is a very weighty and serious matter. One Reformed confession states that “the Word of God rightly preached is the Word of God.” It isn’t to be a matter of personal opinion or a time for the preacher to ride a hobby horse. Rather, it is a time for God’s people to hear what Scripture has to say. In the sermon, we come to learn about the Good News of Jesus Christ and how we are to live out our Christian faith.
- Song: We respond to God’s blessing of giving us His Word by again praising Him in song.
- Benediction: Following our last hymn, the minister pronounces the Lord’s blessing upon His people. This is a time to hear of God’s promises and declarations about His people.
- Congregational Response: Our worship ends with the congregation singing praise in response to God’s Word and benediction.
- Communion: Once a month we celebrate the sacrament of Communion after the post-sermon hymn. This sacrament is also sometimes known as the “Eucharist” (from a Greek word meaning “to give thanks”) or the “Lord’s Supper” (because it is a memorial of Jesus’ Last Supper). The name “Communion” refers to the fact that in this sacrament we commune with God as we celebrate it. We believe Christ is spiritually present in this meal, and that as we partake of this meal together, Christ strengthens us by the Holy Spirit.
All persons who have sincerely repented of their sins, who have entrusted their lives to Christ, who have made a public profession of faith, and who are members of a Bible-believing church in good standing are welcome to celebrate the sacrament with us.
We believe this sacrament is not for the righteous but the unrighteous. That’s the Good News after all—that Jesus came for people who have wandered from God, broken His law, and who are broken down, worn out, hurting, and weak! God invites the humble and repentant to His Table, where He reminds us of His promise that He loves us, has forgiven us, and accepts us despite our shortcomings!
- Baptism: Whenever we have a baptism, another element of worship is replaced by this sacrament. The sacrament of baptism is not merely a declaration of our salvation nor does the act of baptism confer salvation. Rather, baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenanting grace towards His people in which His sovereign grace and His great promises are shown forth as the recipient is brought into God’s kingdom passively. A proper baptism does not depend upon the minister’s holiness or the recipient’s sincerity of faith, but upon God’s Word. Baptism is thus to be administered only once in a person’s lifetime, and baptism is be administered both to believers and their children. Because baptism is not a guarantee of salvation, God’s grace and promises signed and sealed in baptism are not made effective to its recipients except through faith in Christ. We baptize a person into the singular name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
How do you live out or emphasize your core values?
There are a variety of ways that we do this. Generally speaking, it is our desire that everything we do fits clearly into and advances one of these four categories. More specifically, when we are not preaching through a book of the Bible we often arrange our monthly worship services such that one week each month somehow emphasizes one of the four core values.
Why is the pulpit in the center of the chancel (i.e., “the stage”)?
Prior to the Reformation, the altar was at the center of the chancel. This emphasized the fact that the sacrifice of the mass was the heart of the service. But in a Reformed church, the pulpit is in the center of the chancel to remind us that the very center of all of Christian worship is the Word of God. The centerpiece and high point of the Protestant worship service is the reading and the preaching of the Word of God.
Why do the elders serve the elements when the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper?
Rather than the people approaching the table, our elders serve the bread and the cup as a symbol of God’s grace to us. God serves us at the table.
In our understanding of the proper governance of the Church, we believe that the Lord governs His Church through a plurality of elders. He also shepherds, teaches, and leads His people in this same way. As a result, when we come to celebrate the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), it is not the pastor who administers them of his own authority, but rather the minister acts as a representative of the session as a whole who in turn represent the mind Christ to His people. Also, all elders—both “ruling” and “teaching”—share the same office of “presbyter,” a Greek word meaning “elder.” Presbyters exercise their authority jointly. Thus, the elders act together to serve the Lord’s Supper to His people.
The reason the pastor does not serve himself is because all of us come to the Lord’s Table in the same manner—as beggars who have found the Bread of Life. The minister must be served just as he serves, for the only One who serves Himself at the Lord’s Table is the Lord Jesus Himself.
Do you observe any kind of liturgical calendar? (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter…)
While we don’t slavishly adhere to the traditional “Church Calendar,” every year we celebrate several of the cardinal Christian holidays. Specifically, we observe:
- Advent:The four weeks before Christmas in which we remember the Old Testament promises of the coming of Christ & the story of the Nativity. Each week we have a different reading, light a candle in the Advent Wreath, and sing Christmas hymns.
- Christmas: Every year we have a special evening worship service on Christmas Eve in which we retell the Christmas Story through the reading of some of the key Old Testament prophecies, the Nativity story, and a whole lot of singing of Christmas carols. When Christmas is on the Lord’s Day, we celebrate worship as God commands us in the 4th Commandment.
- Lent: The forty days leading up to Easter is a time of prayer and reflection on the reason why Jesus went to the cross to die—namely, our many sins. This is a time both to examine ourselves that we might remind ourselves how sinful we are as well as a time to rejoice that our God loves us enough that He would willingly choose to send his one and only Son to die that we might be forgiven and accepted.
- Holy Week: The week before Easter is a time to remember the great love of Jesus for us as well as the awesome culmination of prophecy that climaxed in Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. One major aspect of this week’s celebration is Maundy Thursday. This is a special church fellowship dinner in which we walk through the Jewish Passover in order that we might see how Jesus fulfilled the hope of Passover in the Last Supper, and how he reinterpreted it when he established the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
- Easter: Every year we celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection. This Sunday service is particularly fitting to hear the Gospel presented in all its glory and to celebrate the forgiveness of our sins in Christ’s name.
Why do you say, “One holy catholic Church” in the creeds?
Many Protestant churches have decided to replace the original wording (“catholic”) with some other wording. Usually they say “one holy Christian church.” However, this fundamentally changes the meaning of the phrase as defined by the early ecumenical councils. The word “catholic” is a Latin word which means “universal.” After the Reformation the part of the church that was not reformed and which remained loyal to the Pope in Rome claimed to be the only true Church, and adopted the name “Roman Catholic Church.” However, we would assert that every church that can affirm the “ecumenical creeds” (the Apostles’, the Nicene, the Athanasian, etc) is a part of the “one, holy, universal Church.” It is not necessary to be a part of the Roman church in order to be a part of the catholic Church. (Note that we use a little “c.”) When we affirm that we believe in “one, holy, catholic Church,” we are affirming the same faith using the same creeds that have been used by Christians for at least 1800 years.