Feel free to explore the music on this site to prepare for worship or continue it at home. Below is an explanation of how each element is incorporated into our services. Also, feel free to read more extensively about worship at URC here.
At University Reformed Church, we structure our services around:
This part of the service has meaningful implications for our gathered worship. It is easy to allow it to pass by without much thought. We must be careful not to approach a worship service as if our hearts and minds will be ready by default to meet the Creator of the universe. (Exodus 19:10-18) God prescribed every aspect of the Israelite’s worship and there were grave consequences for deviating from his commands. While we don’t experience the “fearfulness” of God in the same manner that Moses and Isaiah did, (see also Isaiah 6:1-6) we must remember that God is unchanging and no less majestic and glorious now than he was in the Old Testament.
Now, in the new covenant in Christ, we know that we can approach our heavenly Father due to the union we have with his Son. The scene is no less extraordinary, though. God is still a quaking source of perfect power and justice and we are shielded from the blazing inferno of his wrath only because we are covered by Christ’s righteousness. So, while we may not feel fear in the same way, (no mountains shaking, no lighting) we should have an absolute sense of reverence and awe when we come to gathered worship before the eternal, triune God. In addition to reverence, it is also appropriate to approach with hearts full of gratitude, knowing that it is only Christ’s death that has atoned for our sins and granted us access to the Father.
These are some of the main things we should meditate on as we prepare for the rest of the worship service. Other things that might serve us well as we prepare our minds and hearts are to ponder and thank God for his steadfast love. It has never wavered from his chosen people. His love for the church is deep and brimming with mercy. The announcements are at the beginning of the service as an effort to refrain from interrupting our time of vertical worship and mutual edification with unnecessary “house-keeping.” The time of silent prayer is to align our minds with the truth of Who we are meeting with and to prayerfully seek to rid our minds of the trite distractions of our week/day/hour.
The call to worship reminds us that God, not you or I, is the main “actor” in corporate worship. We can also think of this call to worship as a call to continued worship, for we have been commanded to worship in all of life. Yet, God invites us to something truly sweet and sacred when he gathers his chosen people to be filled up on his Word and to respond to that truth in praise. Taking the call to worship seriously is a direct way to acknowledge the supremacy and sovereignty of God in all things. Singing songs of praise is a perfect way to respond to the call to worship. As we do so, we acknowledge to God and remind ourselves of his “otherness.” Why would we adore and revere someone just like us? We are exclaiming to ourselves and the world around us that our God is holy, unchanging, all-powerful, patient, and infinitely loving. We say it to him, and we say it to each other. We do this not only because it is good for us, but also because God lovingly commands it.
There are at least fifty Scriptures that speak to this specifically. (See Ps. 33, 96 and Eph 5:19-20 as examples) Reading Scripture has both a praise and a teaching function. We see in the old Testament that the Law was read aloud as people gathered for worship. Paul exhorted Timothy to read scripture publicly in the New Testament Church. (1Tim 4:13) Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. For this reason, we often read Scripture responsively as part of our praise time. It is most commonly a Psalm which exalts God or reminds us of his steadfast love even when we are surrounded by pain and struggles. We also try to have songs that are based on the Psalms since Eph. 5 speaks to that directly.
Renewal is the point in our liturgy (order of service) where we react to the reminder of how different we as creatures are from our Creator and claim the promises of God to brought near. We are neither holy, or unchanging, or all-powerful, or perfectly patient, and certainly not infinitely loving. However, these are God’s attributes (among many others) and his law requires perfection to be in his presence. This is why the Israelites had to go through extensive ritual cleansing to be in his presence. What do we do in light of recognizing this difference? We run to Christ and the promises we have in the gospel. We repent for our sins – both personally and corporately – and rejoice in the pardon we receive at the cross of Christ. This is our renewal. Martin Luther rightly said that the Christian life is one of constant repentance. A Christian’s justification is once-for-all and complete, but their sanctification is ongoing. For this reason, we continue to plead the merit of Christ’s blood and thank him for our forgiveness and new identity.
Tim Keller often says, “Christ lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died.” Because of this, we experience mercy instead of judgement. Each week as we confess our sin and receive assurance of pardon, we are renewing ourselves in the new covenant we have in Christ. As with all true repentance, there is an aspect of turning away from sin and praying for the Holy Spirit to enable you to live a life that more fully reflects Christ to others. We should be living out the gratitude we feel as pardoned, adopted children of the King of kings. We also obey God’s Word and demonstrate trust in him when we give our tithes and offerings as an act of worship each Sunday. (Lev. 27:30, Mal. 3:8-10, 2 Cor. 9:7)
Read 2 Tim 3:16 – 4:2. Preaching is the pinnacle of our time together each week. The Word of God is powerful. It is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. It makes us complete and equips us for good works. God commands our leaders to preach the Word to us, and since worship is glorifying God, expounding upon his greatness is the most effective way of leading us to worship. The preaching of God’s Word is truly a matter of life and death. It carries eternal weight. People come to God by hearing his Word – all the more so when it is carefully and responsibly explained. That being said, even a person who sits under the best teaching any human can offer has no chance of seeing and coming to God unless the Holy Spirit draws him through the words of Scripture.
When we hear Christ’s exaltation and the gospel message proclaimed in the sermon, it is fitting to respond in both reflection and praise. We normally sing a song afterwards, seeking to express an appropriate reaction to the truth we have received. The singing is followed by the benediction which is a pronouncement of God’s blessing on his people. In an age of “bless you” after a sneeze or “#blessed,” we can lose sight of the significance here. When God blesses someone, it carries weight. It comes with the provisions for the “wishes” being carried out. In the Hebrew culture, the blessing given to the firstborn also included an identity, an inheritance and security.
Let us not miss the grace and hope in this crucial element of worship. Our liturgy is a purposeful interaction with the Triune God as we see the Bible instructing us to carry it out. We do these things because they are commanded of us, but we remember that every command God gives comes with inherent blessing when we obey. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism so succinctly summarizes, “Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” May we all strive for that by the power of God’s Spirit both in our personal lives and our gathered worship!