The traditional Sunday worship service as we have known it and still know it today, is coming under increasing attack. The most vocal of these attacks come from inside the church itself, particularly from the side of certain leaders and (some) young people. There is a call for more “involvement” in the worship service, more dialogue (less monologue), greater congregational participation in the liturgy. But that is not all. From the more “extreme wing” comes a call for far more radical innovations—a drastic revamping of the entire worship service. In this view drama, choral reading, film and dance would be legitimate forms of “proclamation,” particularly in that “sickening, sagging second service.” Catechism preaching has come to be looked upon as a “punishment” for the people, and should be replaced by something less punitive and more “exciting.” In short, the way the services are set up now causes antagonism, embitterment and embarrassment The outlook is rather dismal if you believe what these critics are telling us. And perhaps it is. But as I see it, the picture would become considerably more dismal and gloomy if we would follow the road outlined for us above. Not that our worship services are perfect as they are or could not stand some liturgical improvement, or more audience participation. But the form is not the real problem, and any change in form is only incidental to the real problem. No amount of liturgical change, I am convinced, is going to make the worship service attractive to those who find it boring or embarrassing now. The form, as I see it, is secondary. That explains, I suppose, why I cannot get all hot and bothered about liturgy. It has its place, to he sure. But that place is definitely secondary.

The real heart of the worship service lies elsewhere: In the penitent, reverent, believing heart of the worshiper as he comes to worship God “in spirit and truth,” and in the proclamation of the living Word of God. There is the core of real worship—God’s people coming joyfully and expectantly before God’s face to worship and hear his Word. That explains why in the Reformed tradition Word-proclamation is always central in the worship service. The Heidelberg Catechism is instructive here. It tells us in A. 65 that the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts “by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.” Faith doesn’t just “happen,” doesn’t just fall “out of the blue,” but it comes through the means of grace. Answer 98 says in connection with the second commandment that “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.” And L.D. 38 says that on Sunday I “diligently attend the church of God to learn God’s Word…”

Right here lies the crux of the whole matter. On Sunday there is to be the lively preaching of God’s Word. There must be schrift-verkularing, the official administration of the Word. I come to be taught and to learn—to learn about God’s redemptive Word in Jesus Christ contained in the Scriptures. That is the Word by which the church lives. Seen that way, the church stands or falls with the Sunday worship service. Without the proclamation and application of that Word, the church dies. Film, drama, poetry, etc. can never replace that Word-proclamation. These other media have their place in the Christian’s total cultural mandate. They must be exploited for the Kingdom of Christ. But on Sunday the church has a right to hear God-centered preaching of the Bible which is the record of God’s mighty nets of redemption in Jesus Christ. Nothing can Or may replace that. If our worship services need improvement, then the improvement must begin there.

Veldkamp says in his work on the Catechism, L.D. 35: “Not the hymnody, the choir, the liturgy, the organ, but the preaching is the ornament of the church. A rose does not need to be painted, nor a lily powdered. So also the gospel needs no embellishment or ornamentation of liturgy because—if at least a la the admonition of the catechism it is not a dry, dead, scholastic but rather living proclamation of the Word—it is in itself beautiful enough.”


Rev. J. Tuininga is pastor of the LaGlace Christian Reformed Church, Grand Praire, Alta., Canada