On the Order of Worship & Liturgies

“Let all things be done unto edifying.”

1 Cor. 14:26

“Let all things be done decently and in order.”

1 Cor. 14:40



Order of Contents

Is Biblical & Reformed Worship Liturgical?
Order: Governed by Natural Convenience, Not any Spiritual Principles  4
Diaological Principle of Worship  1
Latin  2

Regular Elements of Worship
Particular Aspects of Liturgies  14



What Does ‘Liturgy’ Mean, & is Biblical & Reformed Worship Liturgical?


Biblical and Reformed worship is not liturgical in the common, narrow sense of the word, as having interchanging responsive readings, unison prayers, etc., but it is liturgical in the broad sense (which is rarely used) of having a form of order (which is common to all meetings and services: social, civil or otherwise).  The treatment of R.M. Patterson, a conservative, American presbyterian from the late-1800’s, is informative and superb.

For an ideal order of worship, we recommend following the principles of Westminster’s Directory for the Public Worship of God.


Dr. R.M. Patterson, ‘Presbyterian Worship’, in Presbyterian Review (1883), pp. 744-46

“The word ‘Liturgy’ in the Greek literally means ‘work for the people’, or public work.  In the Greek States it first designated a burdensome public duty which the richer citizens discharged at their own expense.  Then it expressed any work of a public kind.

In the Septuagint version [the Greek translation of the original Hebrew used in the time of Christ] of the Old Testament it was applied to the worship or public service of God.

In the New Testament this is the exclusive use of the word.  Thus:

Luke 1:23: ‘It came to pass when the days of his (Zacharias’) ministration were fulfilled’;

Acts 13:12: ‘As they ministered to the Lord’;

Rom. 15:16: ‘That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God’;

Heb. 8:2,6: ‘A minister of the sanctuary’; ‘Now has he obtained a more excellent ministry’;

Heb. 9:21: ‘All the vessels of the ministry’;

Heb. 10:11: ‘Every priest stands daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices.’

Because acts of charity for others, and especially for Christian brethren, are a part of the service of God, the word is also applied to them.

Rom. 15:27: ‘If the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.’;

2 Cor. 9:12: ‘The administration of this service not only supplies the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God’;

Phil. 2:17,25,30: ‘Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith I joy and rejoice with you all’; ‘He that ministered to my wants’; ‘Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.’

As engaged in the service of God for the saints, angels are described by the word.

Heb. 1:7,14: ‘Who makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire’; ‘Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?’

And it is once appropriated to civil magistrates, because properly looked at, they are in God’s service: ‘They are God’s ministers’ [Rom. 13:1-5].

These are the only instances in which the word ‘Liturgy’ in any of its grammatical forms is used in the New Testament.

By a very natural transition the term which thus designated the service of God was afterward applied to the way in which the service was performed and the form of words in which it was rendered, so that the lexicon now defines it:

‘In a general sense the established formulas for public worship or the entire ritual for public worship in those churches which use written forms.  But in a restricted sense among Roman Catholics, the mass; and in the Anglican Church, the communion service.’

In the earlier and in the modern sense of the word, all public worship must be, in a greater or less degree, liturgical.  ‘There may be a ritual of form without a form of words’; and form of words cannot be avoided or safely rejected by anyone.  ‘Some form there must be in all edifying worship.’  It is in one sense true, as President R.W. Hitchcock claimed in his Philadelphia Council paper, that

‘The Westminster Directory concedes the liturgical idea in being a prescription of thoughts rather than of words, of rules rather than of materials of devotion.’

But in common usage the word has a very narrow and restricted meaning.  ‘The responsive element is the popular feature in a liturgy,’ says Dr. Schaff: and that is the feature which is particularly thought of when a service is now spoken of as being liturgical, though, as we shall show, some of the best books and writers that are claimed as liturgical repudiate this feature.  The responsive element again manifests itself in a twofold form [in such narrowly defined liturgical services]:

[1.] the alternate reading by the minister and the congregation of the verses of the Scriptures, or at least of the Psalms; and

[2.] the recitation by the people of prescribed forms of prayer, under the leadership of the minister…

It is proposed in this article to consider this question: Is a Liturgy which prescribes written forms of prayer to be recited, in whole or in part, by the congregation, in unison or alternation with the minister; which provides for responsive readings of the Scriptures… consistent with or permissible in Presbyterian worship?”

[Patterson goes on to argue at length: No]



That the Order of Worship is to be Governed by Natural Convenience & Not Any Spiritual Principles  (as often is the case in Liturgies)

Order of Quotes



George Gillespie

A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 3, ch. 7, p. 119

“Let us then here call to mind the distinction which has been showed betwixt religious ceremonies and moral circumstances: for as touching moral circumstances which serve for common order and decency in the worship of God, they being so many and so alterable that they could not be particularly determined in Scripture, for all the different and almost infinite cases which might occur, the Jewish synagogue had the same power for determining things of this nature which the Church of Christ now has.

For the law did not define but left the[m to] be defined by the synagogue, the set hours for all public divine service, when it should begin, how long it should last, the order [that] should be kept in the reading and expounding of the law, praying, singing, catechizing, excommunicating, censuring and absolving of delinquents, etc…”


Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government...  (1646), Intro

p. 6

“…therefore all the former circumstances, as they are clothed with either moral conveniency and expediency, or with some religious positive goodness, must be warranted by the Word of God, or the rules of sinless and spiritual prudence, which cannot deviate from the Word of God…

And as touching things of prudence, they are things properly mixed, as at what hour sermon shall begin in such a church, at eight, or nine, or ten of the clock; how the worship shall be ordered, whether you should begin the worship with a word of prayer, or a word of praising, or a word of exhorting to stir up for the duty of the day, is a matter of prudence; and because God has not laid the band of a precept on us, to begin with either of the three; therefore it would seem, that though the things themselves be moral, and must be warranted by a Word of God, yet the order is not moral, but prudential, and so cannot fall under a command of the Church;

For to me it is hard that men and the Church should lay on a tie or bond of a precept where God has laid on no such bond; The Church, in these mixed things, where the morality is not clear, at farthest can but go on to directive advices, as Paul does, 1 Cor. 7:6,12, not to [the] imposing of laws, nor to injunctions or commandments under the pain of Church-censures; for Christ must bind and ratify in Heaven all Church-censures on earth, and so the Church cannot command nor censure but as Christ Himself would command or censure.”


Section 5, pp. 80-1

“…they [the apostolic Church] practiced all the ordinances directed, though they had no written directory¹ in a formal contexture or frame: for prayers, preaching, praising, sacraments and censures never Church wanted [lacked] in some one order or other, though we cannot say that the apostolic Church had this same very order and form:  But a liturgy which is a commanded, imposed, stinted form, in such words and no other, is another thing than a directory, as an unlawful thing is different from a lawful:

[¹ While Rutherford is speaking of directories in general, yet this section may have some reference to Westminster’s Directory for the Public Worship of God, as the Church of Scotland had adopted it in 1645, a year before this book of Rutherford’s was published.]

2.  There be some things positive-human, as the ordering of some parts, or worship, or prayer, the form of words or phrases, and some things of the circumstantials of the sacrament, as what cups, wood or metal, in these the directory lays a tie upon no man, nor can the Church in this make a directory to be a Church-compulsory to strain men: And this way the directory is not ordered and commanded in the frame and contexture, as was the [Anglican] Service-Book; and the pastor or people in these are not properly moral agents, nor do we press that Scripture should regulate men in these.”


A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (London, 1649), pp. 372-3

“Objection 17: But the particulars of your [Westminster] Directory of worship are not in Scripture, how then can the magistrate punish for not following the Directory?

Answer:  That there should be prayers, preaching, reading, praising of God, sacraments in the public worship, is evident by the Scripture, but for the ordering of these worships secundum prius & posterius [according to what is first and that which follows] the words of prayer (so they be according to the pattern of sound doctrine) the Preface of the Directory is clear, that no man is therein to be compelled, though to transgress the Holy Ghost’s express order in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and to break bread and eat first, and that before any of the words of institution be mentioned, or any blessing of the elements, must be a manifest breach of the directory of Jesus Christ which sure holds forth to us a twofold ordering of acts of worship, one divine, which we must peremptorily follow, another prudential and human in circumstances which concern both the worship of God and civil assemblies, as time, place, persons, etc. and in the latter we are no further to be commanded in point of uniformity than the general rules of the Word lead us; and compulsion, where God has no compelling commandment going before in an exact uniformity, we utterly disclaim, nor can men, or Church, or all the assemblies on earth make laws in matters of God’s worship where the Supreme Lawgiver has made none, and the Preface of the Directory is so clear in this that we trust we shall quickly agree with the godly and sound  in judgment in this.”



On the Diaological Principle of Worship in Relation to Liturgies


Fentiman, Travis – ‘The Dialogical Principle of Worship’  5 paragraphs  in ‘Introduction to the Biblical Teaching on Responsive Readings’  on the page, Responsive Readings in Worship





Voet, Gisbert

Select Theological Disputations  (Utrecht, 1659), vol. 3

71. Pseudo-Prayers, Rosaries, Litanies, Canonical Hours & the Offices of the Roman Church  1013

74. Litanies  1049

76. Appendix: Office, or Canonical Hours of Blessed Mary  1068

Ecclesiastical Politics, vol. 1  (Amsterdam, 1663-1676), pt 1, bk. 2, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Things, or Acts & Exercises’,

Tract 1, ‘Of Formularies, or Liturgies & Rituals’, chs. 1-2

ch. 1, ‘Of Formularies, or Liturgies’, pp. 343-360

Voet discusses regarding liturgies their (1) definition, (2) requisites and conditions, (3) divisions and (4) things opposite to them (false liturgies).

Under (1) their definition, Voet also discusses their genus, object and efficient cause (pp. 343-5).

Their (2) requisites and conditions are divided into those pertaining to their matter and those pertaining to their form (p. 345).

(3) How liturgies may be divided is discussed in sections 3-4 on pp. 346-54.  They may be divided (1) on account of their material, extension or object, either partial or total, (2) on account of their form or construction, into guides and directories, formularies, or mixed; (3) on account of their efficient cause in public or private; (4) p. 347, according to Churches or nations:

1. ancient Churches, 2. p. 349, Swiss, 3. French, 4-5. Anglican, 6. p. 350, Scottish, 7. German, 8. Dutch; p. 351 Appendix on books of psalms and hymns by nations.

Section 4 (pp. 351-5) is on classifying liturgies according to groups outside of the protestant and reformed Churches, namely (1) the sects, (2) the Papacy, and (3) pp. 353-5 infidels (Jews, Samaritans, Muslims and heathens).

Section 5 on p. 355 discusses (4) the true and false liturgies of the ancients; Section 6, p. 356-9, of the modern eastern Churches.

ch. 2, ‘Some Questions on Liturgies & Liturgical Actions Determined’, pp. 360-374  “We come now to the problems, which are either of sacred [Scriptural] history and are didactic, or of Church history.”

1st Problem, ‘Whether ‘liturgy’ may designate a sacrifice properly so-called, it even being propitiating, or be a rule or order to be accomplished as like a sacrifice?’, p. 360

“We respond: it is further asked whether it be of a Scriptural or ecclesiastical use, or an ancient or new use.”  5 conclusions are given.

2nd Problem, ‘Whether the Old Testament Church from Moses to Ezra began to use and maintained liturgies?’, p. 361

3rd Problem, ‘Whether a liturgy from Ezra and the men of the great Synagogue (that consistory or Sanheidren, as it is termed in the Hebrew, beit deenu) was established, having been prescribed to the people of God, and was publicly used till Christ?’, p. 363  3 conclusions are given on p. 364.

4th Problem, ‘Whether forms & litugies were established in the apostolic Church from the apostles to that Church, such that they have been prescribed to all succeeding churches?’, p. 364  3 conclusions.

5th Problem, ‘Whether a universal liturgy ought to be formed and written, and imposed on all the Churches throughout the whole globe?’, p. 365  3 reasons are given.

6th Problem, ‘Whether one provincial or national liturgy ought to be established, and introduced into all of its consociating churches?’, p. 367  4 conclusions.

7th Problem, ‘Whether liturgies in the national language, whatever is commonly used to write, ought to be taken up in the churches?’, p. 368

8th Problem, ‘Whether a liturgy in Churches already settled, from their first gathering or its introduction at the Reformation, may be changed?, p. 369  1 conclusion.

9th Problem, ‘What is the Gregorian or Roman service (named after Gregory VII) and what is the Mozarabic, or Gothic, and in what place were they used, or are used in the Roman Church?’, p. 370

[No 10th Problem]

11th Problem, ‘How far it is better for a populace having been accustomed to the Roman liturgies and rites from the Papacy to the Reformation, to carry them over, if they had been so engaged initially by the reformers, having purged and yet retained the Missal, Breviary and other liturgical books and rites?  I respond:  Minimally.’, pp. 372-74

 Tract 2

section 1

2. Of Benedictions, Salutations, Doxologies & Ecclesiastical Song  515

section 2, ‘On the public administration of the Word of God’  598



The Regular Elements of Worship

Singing of Psalms

Reading of Scripture




Baptism & the Lord’s Supper



On Particular Aspects of Liturgies

Call to Worship

On Responsive Readings

Assurance of Pardon

On Prayer

Helps & Forms for Prayer

Saying ‘Amen’ After Prayers

Should there be Silent, Private Prayer in Corporate Worship?

On Forms & Stinted Forms of Prayer

Creeds are Not an Element of Worship

Offering is Not an Element of Worship

Musical Instruments in Worship

Dancing & Drama in Worship

On Posture & Gestures in Worship

Head Coverings

On Natural Gestures, Signs & Customs about Worship, & of Reverence & Veneration as Distinguished from the Worship of Adoration




Related Pages

Simplicity & Spirituality of Worship


Critiques of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer


The Regulative Principle of Worship

All the Works of the Westminster Divines on Worship

Religious Images in Worship

Images of Christ

The Lord’s Day 

Religious Holidays

Children in Public Worship 

Tithes & Offerings

The History of Scottish Worship

On Holding Public Worship & Church Courts by Distance Through Technology, & on Using Satellite Campuses, under Necessity & for Edification

On the Ordinances, Order & Policy of the Church