The Second Worship Service

The Synodical Liturgical Committee submitted a “Second Sunday Service” report to Synod 1973 (Acts, pp. 502–513). Synod had not instructed the committee to make a report on that subject, but requests came in; and so the committee decided to make a report. This is an “irregular” procedure. No less irregular is the report itself.


This report is almost identical to an article which appeared in Calvinist-Contact (Jan. 15, 1973). The report suggests that we introduce “special services” in revitalize the second worship service, such as having an ecumenical service, with local congregations of differing denominations; or a diaconal service, where an “occasional CRWRC film could be shown” or “representatives of community offices could speak about the social needs of the neighborhood.” The second service could also be a “special category service”, e.g., for “the over-75 group.” A number of older members might be asked for a “testimony.” Other suggestions include requests by people of a certain hymn or prayer, or a spontaneous testimony by any one who feels he should contribute such at the time.

The Advisory Committee of Synod 1973 must have been a bit at a loss at what to do with this report. It advised Synod to refer this report to the churches for their consideration and reflection, since “we believe there are parts of this report that allow for tapes of services which may be in violation of the Church Order” (Acts, p. 54). Synod so decided.

It seems to me that this report should not havo been referred to the churches, but that it should have been rejected by Synod. Many of its suggestions are indeed contrary to the Church Order and to Reformed principles of worship.

The mandate of the Committee was (1694) “to study liturgical usages and practices in our churches in the light of Reformed liturgical principles and past synodical decisions” (Acts 1964, p. 60). To suggest sermons by pastors of other denominations in the neighborhood, testimonies by believers, and speeches by local social workers is in direct contradiction to the Calvinistic question prescribed by a former Synod for church visiting: “When guest ministers or unordained men are invited to preach, does the consistory employ only persons who are of Reformed persuasion and who are properly licensed?”

When the committee suggests that there be a film in the second service they go directly contrary to Article 54a of the Church Order which states: “In the worship services the minister of the Word shall officially explain and apply Holy Scripture.”

The Church Order stipulates in Article 54b: “At one of the services each Lord’s Day, the minister shall ordinarily preach the Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism, following its sequence.” But the committee advises: “the church’s teachings in the second service need not, however, be limited to the subjects explained in the Heidelberg Catechism; we should deal also with the post-Vatican II Church of Rome, the quest for unity among Christian churches, the revival of the gifts of the Spirit.”

The committee report continues: “For this purpose the Heidelberg Catechism can still serve as a starting point and an outline, but churches should have the courage to go beyond it.” “From time to time the regular series of catechism sermons can and should be supplemented” (Acts 1973, p. 510). We ask: Who gave the committee the authority to deviate from the Church Order?


The principles of our order of worship hail from the time of Calvin, who extracted them anew from the Holy Scriptures (Cf. Korte Verklaring van de Kerkorde, Jansen, pp. 23, 96, 113, 179). Consequently the order of worship should not be left to the whim and fancy of a minister or local consistory, who may try to copy some of the habits of fundamentalistic or liberal churches.

Synod 1928 stipulated the Reformed principles of worship (Acts 1928, pp. 276–3(2). Synod left enough freedom for re-arrangement, but the benediction, congregational prayer, congregational singing, the law, the creed, the Scripture reading, the official explanation and application of the Scriptures, the offering—they must have a part in the church service. We read on page 76 (Acts of Synod 1928): “Improvement of our worship should not be sought in the addition to our services of adornments and novelties borrowed from other churches but in a return to the worship of Reformation times and in a restoration of what has been lost in succeeding times of decay.”

Acts of Synod 1928 (p. 282) says: “When we speak of an improved order of worship we certainly mean nothing else than improvement in the direction of reformation principles and practices.” This was also the mandate of the committee in 1964: “to study in the light of Reformed liturgical principles” (Acts 1964, p. 54). The committee introduces elements of unReformed and non-Reformed origin.

That is not the way to revive the church. Calvinistic churches have been strong only as long as they adhered to the proclamation and explanation of God’s Holy Word. But what does the committee have to say about these Reformed elements of worship? The report reads: “There is no law demanding that the second service be a duplication of the first. There is no necessity for dull repetition.” Also, “The Holy Spirit will not allow himself to be boxed in by one-hour formats and time-worn routines” (Acts 1973, p. 512).

We answer: social worker talks and testimonies and films cannot improve on the proclamation of God’s Word! Here is a slipping and sliding away from Church Order and Reformed principles of worship. The slip may be small at first, but unless it is checked, the car may end up in the ditch. He is a foolish driver who does not take slipping and sliding seriously. The Church Order was adopted by the churches in Synod. Consequently, the articles are binding for the churches, especially for a synodical committee which was mandated to look at church liturgy “in the light of past synodical decisions”! Let us keep the simplicity which is characteristic of Calvinistic worship. Other churches still envy our attendance; if we go their way, we will go downhill with them.

My personal experience is that nothing boosts the attendance of the second service as does the faithful preaching of God’s Word. Then people know they will get something, not the preacher’s latest gimmicks, but the official blessing and strengthening in solid Bible preaching.

Scripture is God’s Word and that is what a true believer wants to hear. The distinctiveness of Reformed worship is taken away by the committee as it states about the combined service by differing neighborhood denominations: “The lack of fellowship between bodies of Christian believers is more conventional than Spirit-willed.” They “worship the same Lord and confess the same Savior.” These statements are again in contrast with past synodical decisions where we decided to join the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, not the World Council of Churches.


The saddest thing about the report on the second service, however, is that the writers apparently forgot what a Reformed church service is. This is summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism answer 103, where we confess that it is the Christian’s duty on the day of rest “to diligently attend the church of God, to learn God’s Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms.”

Based on this is Article 52 of the Church Order which stipulates “that the synodically-approved Bible versions, liturgical forms, and songs are used and that the principles and elements of the order of worship approved by Synod are observed.” People who complain about “a one-man show” should read Church Order Article 53 which states “the minister of the Word shall conduct the worship services.”

That this preaching element is very Scriptural is evident from the directions for worship in the Old and the New Testaments. It is very striking to see how the message was conveyed in the early New Testament Christian church. It was by ear, not by eye. They had come from the Old Testament period where God often conveyed the spiritual message in a visual way. But in the New Testament the rule is: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

In the Old Testament, faith came often by seeing: acting out ceremonies, by blood streaming from a lamb, by pressing hands on the head of a bull, by all kinds of visual aids God told the priests to convey the message of atonement. And what did the early churches do? Did they think up some aids to picture the message for the people? Not on your life. For those Old Testament visual aids were not invented by Moses or some priests, they were commanded by God. In the New Testament Jesus gave us two visual aids only: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He directed how our worship should be when he said: Worship in spirit and in truth. Therefore our Heidelberg Catechism says: We must not be wiser than God who will not have his people taught by dumb images but by the living preaching of His Word (L.D. 35, Ans. 98). The heathen had their symbolic dances and elaborate liturgies, but the Christians had reading, singing, preaching, and prayer. Everything very simple and plain. Yet it was a power for all who had spiritual needs. God has taken the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

Now some may say: “But in Sunday School we do use visual aids like flannel boards and in our catechism classes we sometimes show films. Is that wrong? If not, why would it be wrong in a church service?”

We should not fail to make the distinction between a church service and a catechism class or Sunday School class—or any meeting of Christians! There is a difference between a worship service and a meeting of some ladies’ or men’s society! Some people lose sight of that difference and yet it is so plain for all to see.

In a church service only an ordained and trained preacher may expound the Word or some elder reads a sermon of such a preacher. In Men’s Society, anyone can read his own essay. In a worship service we celebrate baptism and communion, but a Ladies’ Aid does not baptize the newest baby of one of the members at their meeting.

Also in other things one can easily see that there is a difference between a society meeting and a church service. In a worship service we do not read minutes of the previous Sunday or have a panel discussion. Some may say: “Well, that is just custom, that a worship service is different!” But this is not true; on purpose the Reformation went back to the form of the early Christian church, to make sure that their worship services might be like the early New Testament worship services.

The New Testament is very clear on how a church service should be conducted. It is a service which the elders call together, to worship God in official capacity. By reason of the office we say a prayer or expound the Word. And that is what the Lord meant by “the church” as He says (in His seven-times repeated admonition ): “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The churches were the gatherings of believers, where elders had been appointed. The church is the congregation of all Christ-believers. The church is the assembly of those whose ears have been unstopped and who register the message of Jesus relayed to them by the Spirit.

Now you see how all those arguments about a “one-man show” and similar criticisms, do not do justice to what an official church service is, according to the New Testament.

Let us not put the church service on the level of a society meeting. For then the minister becomes the chairman and the elders and deacons are the elected representatives or Board. And that is a far cry from what the Bible teaches about being appointed by Christ and about the Word of God being officially administered to the Church.

In the Old Testament the tabernacle was called the “tent of meeting,” the “Obel Moed,” that is: the meeting place of God with His people. Likewise, in a church service, the “church” meets its Lord in a unique way which is different from all other Christian meetings (for a beautiful treatise on this subject, see: Onze Eeredienst, A. Kuyper, pp. 7–28).

The church service is the official worship which the church brings to its Redeemer, and where we have our “Tent of meeting,” the meeting place with God’s people. Here we bring the official offering of our hands in gifts and the offering of our lips in song. The church is not just an auditorium. That is why a minister does not say: “Dear listeners,” but “Dear brothers and sisters, boys and girls in Christ,” or “Dear congregation,” or “Beloved in the Lord.” It is the meeting place of believers, where we praise God’s majesty. And if we want to be strong in faith, we must hear officially what the Spirit says officially, to the churches, and we must not forget that also the children belong to that church through the covenant. A service is for all age groups and all “categories” of believers.

Only if we hear in the church service the true authority of the true Word of God will it have its full impact on our souls and lives. Faith is by hearing, hearing of the Word of God. ]f we thus respect the true character of a worship service, as laid out for us in the New Testament, we will also come to the second service, for it is God who wants to speak to us and He waits for the worship of our heart in the assembly of the elect, duly called together by the office-bearers who are appointed by Christ. For this “congregation,” there is the beatitude: “Blessed is he who reads the words of the prophecy and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written therein” ( Rev. 1:3; see also Geesink’s Van’s Heeren Ordinatien, II, pp. 152–181).

Leonard T. Schalkwyk is pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of St. Thomas, Ontario.