The most important thing we do as a church is to gather for public worship services on the Lord’s Day. It is in the assembly of His people that God, by His Spirit, has promised to be active through the Means of Grace; the preaching of the holy gospel, and the administration of the sacraments, to create faith in our hearts and strengthen that faith. It is here that we meet with our risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and are served by Him as he proclaims his Word of pardon and grace to us in preaching and gives Himself to us visibly in the sacraments. We also commune with one another as fellow pilgrims, sharing our gifts with one another, teaching, admonishing, and encouraging one another in the holy faith.
Our Liturgy: A Law and Gospel Dialogue
Our worship services proclaim the law and the gospel in a dialogical liturgy. Our response to God comes from what He has declared through His servant in the written and preached word. These are distinct aspects of worship.
God: Call to Worship: God calls us with his word to worship Him. A text of scripture, often a Psalm, is read to summon us into his presence.
The People: The Invocation: Having heard God’s call, we respond in unison. We call upon the name of God, confessing that “our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps 124.8).
God: Greeting: God responds to our calling on His name. He announces his grace and peace to all who come to him through Jesus Christ. As God’s appointed ambassador, the minister raises his hands and announces God’s blessing from his Word: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1.7).
The People: Song of Praise: Having heard God greet us, we respond with a song of praise.
God: The Reading of the Law: God tells us his will for our lives in his law (scripture text, often Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5). God’s law tells us clearly how we are to live and what God expects of us. It also reveals God’s holiness as well as our sinfulness.
The People: Confession of Sin: We corporately confess our sins against God’s holy law in prayer or with the use of a penitential song.
God: Declaration of Pardon: Having confessed our sins to God, we hear the joyful announcement of his promise, the Gospel of Jesus Christ (scripture text). As Christ’s ambassador, the minister declares pardon to all who trust in Christ and repent of their sins.
The People: Response in Gratitude: Pastoral Prayer on behalf of the people, The giving of our offerings, and a song of preparation to hear God’s Word)
God: The Ministry of the Word: We listen to God speak as his Word is read, God continues to speak as his Word is explained and proclaimed through His Ambassador, the minister. The minister gives a faithful exposition of the text, which ultimately calls us to repentance of sin and faith in Christ.
The Ministry of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: When celebrated, God serves us His covenant meal. As the preached Word promised us God’s favor in Christ, so also our heavenly Father adds this visible conformation of his unchangeable promise. We partake together to commune with and participate in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 10.16).
The People: Song of Response and Doxology of Praise: Having heard God’s Word and having received of Christ and all His benefits, we respond in praise and thanksgiving.
God: Benediction: The final word in our worship service is the triune God’s word. The minister raises his hands and blesses the people of God from the Word of God.
Word and Sacrament
The preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments are God’s ordinary Means of Grace. In His grace, God uses these means to create and confirm our faith in Jesus Christ and bless us with every spiritual blessing. The Spirit accompanies the preaching of the Gospel so that God’s Word achieves its purposes. The preaching of the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
The Heidelberg Catechism defines the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “holy signs and seals for us to see.” They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise.” That promise is “To forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross.” Sacraments are visible signs and seals of God’s invisible grace promised to us in the Gospel. They are given by God to confirm that faith is already given through the preaching of the Gospel.
What God promises (the forgiveness of sins) is confirmed in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Gospel is both promised and then made visible when the Word is preached and when the sacraments are administered.