Presbyterian worship

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Presbyterian worship documents worship practices in Presbyterian churches; in this case, the practices of the many churches descended from the Scottish Presbyterian church at the time of the Reformation.


Theology of Worship

Historically, the driving principle in the development of the standards of Presbyterian worship is the Regulative principle of worship, which specifies that (in worship), what is not commanded is forbidden. [1]

In addition to those detailed in the History section below, Presbyterians also historically have held the following Worship positions:


Worship at the time of the Reformation

At the start of the Scottish Reformation in 1560 there was no Reformed standard for worship in Scotland, so the shape the Church initially took was dependent on local Protestant patrons. [2]

Writing from exile in Geneva, John Knox described in detail what should be done at weekly worship in a 'Letter of Wholesome Councell' dated 1556. Protestant preachers fleeing Marian persecutions in England brought with them Edward VI's second Book of Common Prayer (of 1552), which was commended by the Lords of the Congregation. Knox too initially supported it (indeed reportedly, he had influenced aspects of it). However, before leaving Geneva and with the encouragement of John Calvin, he had written his own 'Book of Common Order' and it was this that was printed and approved by the General Assembly of 1562. Enlarged, it was reprinted with the Confession and the Psalms in metre in 1564, and it remained the standard until replaced with the Westminster Directory in 1643. [2]

The Regulative principle of worship (see Theology of Worship, above) saw many of the previous practices (inherited from the Roman Catholic church) cast aside. Two major points which might be unusual by today's standards were:

Both of these were introduced, at least partly, to prevent the singing of hymns to Mary and the Saints.

Introduction of Continuous Singing

In early times the common method of singing in Presbyterian worship, was lining out, where a precentor read or sang one line and the congregation repeated it after them. The Directory of Public Worship, [4] says this:

That the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a psalm book; and all others, not disabled by age or otherwise, are to be exhorted to learn to read. But for the present, where many in the congregation cannot read, it is convenient that the minister, or some other fit person appointed by him and the other ruling officers, do read the psalm, line by line, before the singing thereof.

It appears from the wording that this was a practical measure in 1650, not a doctrinal position. Lining out was used by other denominations as well for the practical reasons that many people were not sufficiently literate or because of a lack of hymnals.

From around 1720 onwards, many advocated the introduction of continuous (or regular) singing. [5] Continuous singing was introduced into many Presbyterian churches worldwide, even those that consider themselves to be following the traditional Presbyterian line on worship; there are some, who still practise lining out, such as the Steelites.

Introduction of Hymns

In this context, "hymns" means hymns that are not part of the Bible; the word "hymn" is used in the Bible, but it is claimed by advocates of exclusive psalmody that this refers to a specific type of psalm. [6]

After singing psalms for 200 years, in 1861 the Church of Scotland first formally adopted hymns, with the Free Church of Scotland doing the same in 1872. [7] Hymns and other extra-biblical words are now widely used in Presbyterian circles; the details vary from denomination to denomination.

Introduction of Instruments

In the early nineteenth century, the Revd R. William Ritchie of St. Andrew's Church, Glasgow, attempted to introduce an organ into his church, but was informed by the Presbytery of Glasgow that "the use of organs in the public worship of God is contrary to the law of the land and constitution of our Established Church." [8]

In 1863, the Revd Robert Lee introduced a harmonium into worship at Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh. Lee defended instrumental music at the 1864 General Assembly, who declared that "such innovations should only be put down when they interfered with the peace of the Church and harmony of congregations". A pipe organ was subsequently installed in Greyfriars, and first used in 1865. [9]

Present practice

Presbyterian churches practice worship the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This occurs every Sunday (Lords Day). Other services often occur at other times of the week as well as meetings for prayer and Bible Study or simply mid week chapel with communion being served. Most mainline Presbyterians utilize hymns and with some additions to more modern worship songs being introduced or part of a blended service. Most modern day Presbyterians do not strictly sing Psalms as some once did. John Calvin in Geneva used biblical psalms almost exclusively in the Genevan Psalter, though it contained some gospel canticles and catechetical songs. This psalter was to become a prototype for Reformed worship, but Calvin did not have any objection to the use of original hymns in other churches, and he did not appeal to scripture in his preface to the psalter justifying his preference for the Psalms.[1]:42, 45

Other Presbyterian denominations hold exclusively to the psalms in metre. The psalms in metre are still esteemed by worship leaders in the Church of Scotland while also recognizing the contribution of authors of hymns and worship songs from historic times to the contemporary. Use of contemporary worship songs is employed by some more independent or evangelical type of congregations within Presbyterianism.

John Calvin's direction for celebration of Holy Communion was every Lord's Day. [10] During the time of the Puritan influence upon some Presbyterians, worship and the celebration of the Eucharist became lessened to once per quarter. This has changed in most mainline Presbyterian denominational churches and celebration of Communion ranges from once a quarter/ once a month to every Sunday or Lord's Day Service. This movement is carried forward by those who believe that Word and Sacrament should be present in each service of worship. The Real Presence of Christ (spiritually) is highly viewed and understood. Presbyterians strongly disagree with simply the symbolic or memorial service as taught by many Anabaptists, but do not go as far as the consubstantiation view of Lutherans. Presbyterians hold the "Spiritual Real Presence" of Christ in the sacrament of Communion. Today most mainline Presbyterian churches administer Communion by either passing the elements or by intinction.

Presbyterians admit the authority of the Presbytery or Synod over all worship services in order to ensure that the worship of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, is carried on properly and regularly in each congregation within the 'bounds' (area of jurisdiction). This is done by the appointment of Ministers by the Presbytery, who can also dismiss (depose) the Ministers should their conduct of regular worship be unsatisfactory. In modern times an effective presbytery is a forum for discussing and disseminating approaches to worship, always recognizing the supreme authority of the Word of God (Old and New Testaments of the Bible).

In the Church of Scotland, the cancellation of any regular service of worship is a very serious matter. Services are carried out even by small rural congregations in the most extreme weather and under conditions of power failure and other privations. Elders, teaching and ruling, make every effort to ensure continuity or worship in every parish of Scotland at the published times.

See also

Related Research Articles

Psalms Book of the Bible

The Book of Psalms, commonly referred to simply as Psalms, the Psalter or "the Psalms", is the first book of the Ketuvim ("Writings"), the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and thus a book of the Christian Old Testament. The title is derived from the Greek translation, ψαλμοί, psalmoi, meaning "instrumental music" and, by extension, "the words accompanying the music". The book is an anthology of individual psalms, with 150 in the Jewish and Western Christian tradition and more in the Eastern Christian churches. Many are linked to the name of David, but his authorship is not accepted by modern scholars.

Metrical psalter kind of Bible translation: book containing a metrical translation of all or part of the Book of Psalms in vernacular poetry, meant to be sung as hymns in a church

A metrical psalter is a kind of Bible translation: a book containing a metrical translation of all or part of the Book of Psalms in vernacular poetry, meant to be sung as hymns in a church. Some metrical psalters include melodies or even harmonizations. The composition of metrical psalters was a large enterprise of the Protestant Reformation, especially in its Calvinist manifestation.

The Presbyterian Reformed Church is a Christian denomination that was founded in Ontario, Canada on November 17, 1965, whose churches continue the historic Scottish Presbyterian orthodoxy in doctrine, worship, government and discipline, on the basis of a conviction that these principles and practices are founded in and are agreeable to the Word of God.

Christian worship act of attributing reverent honor and homage to God

In Christianity, worship is the act of attributing reverent honor and homage to God. In the New Testament, various words are used to refer to the term worship. One is proskuneo which means to bow down to God or kings.

Free Church of Scotland (since 1900) part remaining after 1900, when the rest united with others

The Free Church of Scotland is an Evangelical and Reformed Presbyterian denomination in Scotland. Historically it comprised that part of the original Free Church of Scotland that remained outside the union with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1900. It remains a distinct Presbyterian denomination in Scotland.

Decisions concerning the conduct of public worship in the Church of Scotland are entirely at the discretion of the parish minister. As a result, a wide variety of musical resources are used. However, at various times in its history, the General Assembly has commissioned volumes of psalms and hymns for use by congregations.

Exclusive psalmody the practice of singing only the biblical Psalms in congregational singing as worship

Exclusive psalmody is the practice of singing only the biblical Psalms in congregational singing as worship. Today it is practised by several Protestant, especially Reformed denominations. Hymns besides the Psalms have been composed by Christians since the earliest days of the church, but psalms were preferred by the early church and used almost exclusively until the end of the fourth century. During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and many other reformers, including those associated with the Reformed tradition, used hymns as well as psalms, but John Calvin preferred the Psalms and they were the only music allowed for worship in Geneva. This became the norm for the next 200 years of Reformed worship. Hymnody became acceptable again for the Reformed in the middle of the nineteenth century, though several denominations, notably the Reformed Presbyterians, continue the practice of exclusive psalmody.

<i>Genevan Psalter</i> metrical psalter, choral book

The Genevan Psalter, also known as The Huguenot Psalter, is a metrical psalter in French created under the supervision of John Calvin for liturgical use by the Reformed churches of the city of Geneva in the sixteenth century.

Netherlands Reformed Congregations

The Netherlands Reformed Congregations, is a conservative denomination with congregations in Canada, the United States and Bolivia. It is affiliated with the Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands.

The New Century Hymnal is a comprehensive hymnal and worship book published in 1995 for the United Church of Christ. The hymnal contains a wide-variety of traditional Christian hymns and worship songs, many contemporary hymns and songs, a substantial selection of "world music" selections origin, a full lectionary-based Psalter, service music selections, and a selection of liturgies from the UCC Book of Worship (1986). Generally speaking, the hymnal is theologically within the "mainline" Protestant tradition, with a slant toward liturgical forms.

Paraphrases are traditional forms of singing within Presbyterian churches. They are biblical paraphrases: lyrical renderings of sections of the Bible that have been set to music, in a similar fashion to metrical psalms.

Hymn tune musical setting of a Christian hymn; the melody of a musical composition to which a hymn text is sung

A hymn tune is the melody of a musical composition to which a hymn text is sung. Musically speaking, a hymn is generally understood to have four-part harmony, a fast harmonic rhythm, and no refrain or chorus.

Lining out or hymn lining, called precenting the line in Scotland, is a form of a cappella hymn-singing or hymnody in which a leader, often called the clerk or precentor, gives each line of a hymn tune as it is to be sung, usually in a chanted form giving or suggesting the tune. It can be considered a form of call and response. First referred to as "the old way of singing" in eighteenth-century Britain, it has influenced twentieth century popular music singing styles.

Gelineau psalmody is a method of singing the Psalms that was developed in France by Catholic Jesuit priest Joseph Gelineau around 1953, with English translations appearing some ten years later. Its chief distinctives are:

Presbyterian Church of Brazil

The Presbyterian Church of Brazil is an Evangelical Protestant Christian denomination in Brazil. Oldest of the Reformed family of Protestantism in Brazil. It is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country, having an estimate 1,011,300 members, 8,315 ordained ministers and 5,015 churches and 5,392 parishes. It is also the only Presbyterian denomination in Brazil present in all 26 States and the Federal District. It was founded by the American missionary Rev. Ashbel Green Simonton, who also oversaw the formal organization of the first congregation and the first Presbytery. Although the Presbyterian Church of Rio de Janeiro was only formally organized in January 1863, and the Brazilian church only left the jurisdiction of the joint missions board of the American churches in 1888, when the Synod was formed, the denomination considers the date of Simonton's arrival in Brazil, August 12, 1859, as its foundation date.

Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is the largest Presbyterian denomination in Ireland, and the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland. Like most Christian churches in Ireland, it is organised on an all-island basis, in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The church has approximately 225,000 members.

Reformed Presbyterian churches organization

The Reformed Presbyterian churches are a communion of Presbyterians originating in Scotland in 1690 when its members declined to be part of the establishment of the Church of Scotland. The Reformed Presbyterian churches collectively have a little over 9,538 members worldwide in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, France, the United States of America, Canada, Japan, South Sudan and Australia.

Reformed worship is religious devotion to God as conducted by Reformed or Calvinistic Christians, including Presbyterians. Despite considerable local and national variation, public worship in most Reformed and Presbyterian churches is governed by the Regulative principle of worship.

Church music in Scotland

Church music in Scotland includes all musical composition and performance of music in the context of Christian worship in Scotland, from the beginnings of Christianisation in the fifth century, to the present day. The sources for Scottish Medieval music are extremely limited due to factors including a turbulent political history, the destructive practices of the Scottish Reformation, the climate and the relatively late arrival of music printing. In the early Middle Ages, ecclesiastical music was dominated by monophonic plainchant, which led to the development of a distinct form of liturgical Celtic chant. It was superseded from the eleventh century by more complex Gregorian chant. In the High Middle Ages, the need for large numbers of singing priests to fulfill the obligations of church services led to the foundation of a system of song schools, to train boys as choristers and priests. From the thirteenth century, Scottish church music was increasingly influenced by continental developments. Monophony was replaced from the fourteenth century by the Ars Nova consisting of complex polyphony. Survivals of works from the first half of the sixteenth century indicate the quality and scope of music that was undertaken at the end of the Medieval period. The outstanding Scottish composer of the first half of the sixteenth century was Robert Carver, who produced complex polyphonic music.

Daily Office (Anglican)

Since the English Reformation, the Daily Office in Anglican churches has principally been the two daily services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. These services are generally celebrated according to set forms contained in the various local editions of the Book of Common Prayer. The Daily Offices may be led either by clergy or lay people. In many Anglican provinces, clergy are required to pray the two main services daily.


  1. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI, paragraph I
  2. 1 2 J.H.S. Burleigh. A Church History of Scotland. pp. 160–163.
  3. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI, paragraph V
  4. Of the Singing of Psalms, Directory of Public Worship
  5. The Regular Singing Controversy: The Case Against Lining-Out, Linda R. Ruggles
  6. Psalms, hymns, and Spiritual songs, Rev. Ronald Hanko (PRCA)
  7. Sing the Lord's Song! Part 7, John W. Keddie
  9. Laurence James Moore, Sing to the Lord a New Song: A Study of Changing Musical Practices in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, 1861 - 1901. Available at Archived 2007-08-30 at the Wayback Machine .
  10. At Least Weekly by Michael S. Horton