Old School Worship: Keeping it Simple And Biblical

Over the next few posts, amongst other things, I hope to discuss in detail the various parts of an Old School Presbyterian (OSP) Worship Service. I’ll include here a sample order of worship from an OSP church, and as we discuss the various parts I’ll make them into hyperlinks that will take you directly to the pages on which they are discussed.

The first thing to remember about Old School Presbyterian worship is that it should be biblical. Old School Presbyterians believe that when it comes to worship the Lord our God teaches us the way in which we are to worship Him in His Word. The Bible, therefore, is an entirely sufficient guide for everything in our faith, life, and practice and we do not need to add anything of our own, nor should we. Therefore our worship should not include elements of our own devising whether we thought of them a few minutes ago, or if they have been around for thousands of years. When it comes to the parts of our worship service, if it isn’t commanded or prescribed by God in His Word, it’s forbidden.

The ordinary elements of worship given to us in the Bible are: prayer; the reading of the scriptures; the sound preaching and attentive hearing of the Word, in obedience to God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with grace in the heart; public confession of our faith; the collection; the due administration and right receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ and the benediction. There are also occasional elements of worship given to us in the Bible, which should occur in our worship at appropriate times and special occasions, these are: religious oaths and vows, solemn fasting, and thanksgiving to God for his providential blessings.

The next thing to remember is that OSP worship is simple. New Testament worship is spiritual rather than carnal or sensual. In that sense it differs even from Old Testament worship of which A.A. Hodge remarked, “that dispensation was so encumbered with ceremonies as to be comparatively carnal; the present dispensation is spiritual“, and as the Westminster Divines put it the elements of New Testament worship are “fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory” and yet in them the gospel is “held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy.” The attempt therefore to replace revelation with symbolism and to create a highly sensual form of worship service, as is the case with the Catholic Mass, is fundamentally misguided and takes it cues not from the New Testament era of worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24) but the types and shadows of the Old Testament, which have been superseded. What we might ask, do we really think was lacking in the simple worship of the Apostolic church, and why do we think we can improve upon it?

With the above in mind, here is a sample order of worship from an OSP church:

Call to Worship – Psalm 100

Confession of Sins and Invocation of God’s Presence

Singing of a Psalm

Confession of our Faith – The Nicene Creed

Old Testament Scripture Reading – 1 Kings 17

Singing of a Hymn

Pastoral Prayer

Worship in Tithes and Offerings

Doxology & Prayer of Thanksgiving

Prayer for Illumination

Sermon

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Consecration

Singing of a Hymn

Closing Prayer

Gloria Patri

Benediction

[Please note that announcements should be either before or after worship, rather than being included in the service itself]

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About Andrew Webb

Andrew James Webb, Pastor Providence PCA, Fayetteville NC. Born: July 29, 1969 Rochford, Essex England Education: MA Modern History, St. Andrews University, Fife, Scotland, 1991 M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA, 2001 Personal Details: Husband of Joy Webb, Father of Margaret (6), Victor (5), Graham (3) and Isabel (10 Mos.) Secular Work History: Upon graduation from University, I returned to the United States and worked for two Madison Ave Advertising Firms in copy writing and advertising space sales. After moving to Northern Virginia, I went into computing. I worked as a Systems Administrator in Washington D.C. for both the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) (a legal publishing firm,) and the International Republican Institute. Experience: Licensed by Potomac Presbytery, May 1997 and Philadelphia Presbytery in 1999. From 1998 to 2001 I did a three year apprentice/internship under Dr. Mark Herzer while working with the Christ Covenant church plant in Hatboro, PA. Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor. Presbytery Committees: Assistance and Membership (Philadelphia), Candidates (Central Carolina), Nominations (Central Carolina) GA Committees: Bills and Overtures, Covenant Theological Seminary Other: I have had a number of my essays on theological topics published including What is the Reformed Doctrine of Divorce? and Five Reasons Not To Go See The Passion of the Christ Why I Don't Have an English Accent: I don't have an English accent because my parents moved to New Jersey when I was six!
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4 Responses to Old School Worship: Keeping it Simple And Biblical

  1. Bennett B. Wethered says:

    I wanted to thank you for this marvelous website, which I have enjoyed reading since last summer. With you, I think there is so very much to learn from the practice of Church Life (in all that means) from the OSP view.

    I am commenting on this post, in particular, because I have a specific question related to worship that (in scanning your posts, I see reference to it, but not on this point) I would like to know what the OSP ‘take’ or perspective was/is.

    How frequently (theologically, from the OSP perspective) should the Lord’s Supper be celebrated? The “sample order of worship from an OSP church” listed above does not include it, although it is an element (not sure if I’m using the right term) of worship that would occur with some regularity within that order. Can it be weekly? Should it be weekly? Should it rather be less frequently (monthly, every 2 months, quarterly). Why, for any of these practices? Or, is it adiaphora, a thing indifferent? (I doubt this, but it’s a possibility)

    As the pastor of a small, struggling church, you have provided many good and helpful ideas, and much encouragement. I thank you for both, and look forward to reading your comments.

    Bennett B. Wethered
    Pastor, Dayspring Orthodox Presbyterian Church
    Manassas/Warrenton, Virginia

  2. Andrew Webb says:

    Hi Bennett,

    Thank you for your kind words regarding the blog, I’m glad that it is proving useful to you and your ministry.

    Regarding your question, I will freely admit that my opinion on the frequency of the Lord’s Supper has changed over the last five years:

    While I agree entirely with the position that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated frequently, I do not believe that frequent observance necessitates that we observe it weekly, in fact I find the statement of the Westminster Directory for Public Worship on this point to be about right:

    “THE communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated; but how often, may be considered and determined by the ministers, and other church-governors of each congregation, as they shall find most convenient for the comfort and edification of the people committed to their charge. And, when it shall be administered, we judge it convenient to be done after the morning sermon.”

    At one time I would have been in favor of weekly communion, now I tend to be in favor of celebrating the Lord’s Supper on a monthly basis. I tend to find that there is an unhappy tendency when the Supper is celebrated on a weekly basis to gradually fall into the recurring error of putting communion on the same level as the preaching of the word, or even to make it more important than the preaching of the word (or as in the case of Rome – to replace it entirely.) We’ve seen that very error overcome the Roman church in the middle ages, and to be a persistent affliction in the Anglican church since the 16th, and now in our own day we again see an unhealthy and unscriptural sacramentalism creeping in to Reformed denominations. A due consideration of Paul’s words from 1 Cor. 1:14-18 should immediately eliminate any belief that the sacraments are as important as the Preaching of the Word or that the sacraments have the power to regenerate. Obviously, it’s not ideal, but we could have a church where the Lord’s Supper is only served once a year, but we could not have a church where the Word was preached only once a year.

    In any event, at this point I’d tend to err on the side of the historic Presbyterian practice of not observing the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis.

    If you are looking for a defense of weekly communion, I’ll give you one from an unlikely source, me circa 2003 citing John Brown of Haddington on the Warfield list:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bbwarfield/message/13223

    Personally, I still agree with me today and not me then. 😉

    Your Servant in Christ,

    Andy Webb

  3. Joseph says:

    Hi liked your article. Sure , I could see keeping it simple most likely with an offshoot of the mainline Presbyterian like your Refromed Presbyterian , Orthodox and the like.

    However, remember John Calvins original liturgy as well aws John Knox was not in any means ‘simple and non liturgical”, contrary to what people may have been led to believe Presbyterian / Reformed worship was just that the Reformed Roman Catholic liturgy!

    What has happened is that during the time of the Purtians, the Presbyterian church was highly inlfluenced by outside sources. Sadly, that is why we have lost today who we are. Worship varies from the traditional reformed type of service(similar to low episcopal) to a non denominational or Baptist type of feel.

    Church we need to wake up! Do you want to become an non denominational or Baptist church and then loose the Presbyterian Creeds and beliefs. Our beleiefs are one in Christ with these folks as they are with Catholics, Lutherans etc. However we are far from doctrinally close when it comes to sacraments with the Baptists or non ddenominational, creeds, salvation and even observations and worship.

    Many Presbyterian churches today want to get that non denominationa” Baptist free type of worship cause it attracts and brings the masses.. The sad thing here is that you will loose who we really are and the beautry of Reformed liturgy…think twice!

  4. Andrew Webb says:

    Joseph,

    Please don’t spam the comments section, this is essentially a repeat of your longer response HERE

    Also, clearly you didn’t like my article given that you are arguing for a worship practice diametrically opposed to the Old School Presbyterian (RPW) model above, namely that as the Anglican 39 Articles put it: “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies” and “Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.”

    I know this will sound odd to you but both the contemporary “lets do what the culture likes” style of worship and the Anglican model expressed above both stem from the same root. You may prefer the ancient innovations observed by the church for centuries, but they are no more biblical than the ones dreamed up and implemented in the 1980s and in many cases those ancient rites were simply the importing of the cultural traditions of their day into the worship of the church.

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