God of All ages: Four Service Plans Using Resources from Different Centuries

Like many historical congregations, we faced a daunting challenge: encourage our congregation to consider new expressions and more variety in worship, Finding liturgical resources was not a prohlem. Our music coordinators were aware of the myriad of sources for contemporary expressions of faith: praise music, newly published hymnbooks, psalters, choir anthems, and so on. Nor was it difficult to find musicians to build praise teams and lead the praise music: we had a number of "undiscovered" guitar players in our midst, as well as some vocalists who were not inter-ested in belonging to the existing choir but who were able and eager to participate in this new ministry. Our goal was to create worship services that would attract and minister to a younger generation without alienating a faithful older generation.

The worship planning team had many conversations about how best to achieve this goal. We seized on the idea of planning worship with elements from different historical periods. It made sense. Those new to Christian worship did not know the church's broader stoiy. Even senior members with a lifetime's experience of worship knew only part of the story. We wanted to stretch everyone's worship memory to include more than just contemporary experiences or experiences from childhood, however distant. We would lengthen our memories right back to the birth of the church. hooking back would help us move forward.

From two thousand years of worship history we created four services, each centered around a time of transition in the church's history. Each service incorporated a selection of various liturgical elements from that era. The congregation learned about these elements throughout the service, especially those that have continued to the present.

The series led to an increased awareness that the roots of our worship run deep. And this awareness has enabled us to broaden our worship by incorporating a greater variety of liturgical elements and musical styles.


We begin in the first century, somewhere between a.d. 30 and 100. The church is a group of men and women who believe that the Messiah has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Some have heard the word spoken by the apostles and other believers, others may have heard Jesus himself speak.

Many arc Jewish, but a number of Gentiles are also coming to faith. The church is ostracized by the Jewish community, and it lives under an ever-present threat of persecution by the ruling Romans.

Believers gather in each other's homes, devoting themselves to "the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). Imagine the service beginning at nightfall after the workday has ended. A psalm is sung to signal the start of the service. The believers probably sit in a circle. Their worship is fully participatory and accessible to all.

Gathering Songs

Old Testament psalms were very likely used as songs in early Christian seivices. We paired the text of Psalm 92 with the well-known ancientplainsong melody commonly sung to "0 Come, O Come Emmanuel" in order to help the congregation connect with a chant style.

Psalm 66, with "Cantad al Senor/O Sing to Our God" SNC 224, BP 453

Psalm 92 PsH 92


The congregation was invited to stand with arms raised in the manner of Luke 18:10 as recognition that sitting with head bowed and eyes closed has not always been the position for prayer. The prayer of approach began with the Shema (Deut 6:4-9), a confession of faith; it was followed by a prayer of confession and assurance of pardon.

Kiss of Peace (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20)

As a sign of our reconciliation to God and to one another, the early Christians greeted one another with a kiss; our custom is to greet with handshakes. We used this opportunity to introduce the passing of the peace of Christ, a practice we have carried over into all our services.

The peace of Christ be with you.

And also with you.

Scripture: Acts 15:1-21; Psalm 98

A visiting teacher like Paul or an elder from within the community would take time to explain the readings, a practice that gave rise to the modern sermon.

Sermon: What Does It Take to Be the Church?

Text: Acts 15:1-21

Notes: After years of meeting in school gymnasiums and a library, a congregation finally completed their own building. Now we are a real church, commented one member.

We tend to think of the church as a building. The first-century church knew what we tend to forget: the church is people. But they faced a tough question. Who, exactly, is the church?

Obeyingjesus' commission, the disciples went to the synagogues in many cities to share the gospel. On one such journey, Peter received a vision and a message: "Don't call anything impure God has made clean" (Acts 10). Peter was shocked when God told him to visit a Gentile named Cornelius. With the discomfort of a Protestant entering a Catholic's home in northern Ireland, Peter entered.

Cornelius's house and was invited to share the gospel. When Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit, Peter saw that the church is all who receive Christ. Referring to the traditions and obligations of Judaism, Peter said to the council in Jerusalem, "We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."

The church is those whose faith is in Jesus Christ. Everything else is secondary.

Sung Response
"Song of Simeon" PsH 216, BP 791 (for other hymnals look under "Nunc Dimittis" or "Now May Your Servant, Lord")

This response to the message was sung in koine (vernacular) Greek by a soloist, giving the congregation an opportunity to hear Greek and demonstrating that the King James Version is a translation. A translation of the words was printed in the order of service.

The Lord's Supper

The prayers we pray today are pom a first-century document called the Didache, perhaps the earliest record we have of worship practice. Portions of die prayers are from Justin Martyr, a church leader from the second century.

Prayer of Thanksgiving
With this cup
we thank you, our Father,
for the holy vine of David your servant,
which you made known to us through Jesus your
To you belongs the glory forever.

Sung Response: Gloria Patri

We sang the Gloria Patri in a variety of styles as we moved through the four different periods of our series, beginning in this setvice in plainsong, and ending in the fourth service in a contemporary style presented by the praise team.

The Bread (raised and broken)
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We thank you, our Father,
for the life and knowledge
which you made known to us through Jesus your
To you belongs the glory for ever.

Sung Response: Gloria Patri

Prayer of Supplication and the Lord's Prayer

Sung Acclamation: "Come, Jesus, Amen" SNC 165


In the manner of the fust-century church, we collected the offering at the door at the end of the service. The following explanation was given to the congregation: "When the service was completed, the church would give food and money for support of the poor in and beyond the church. It would be collected as they left logo home."



Last week we learned that for the first-century church, worship was a communal activity, with everyone praying, singing, and reading Scripture. In some respects, the early church's worship more closely resembled a home Bible study group than what we experience as worship today.

So when did worship begin to move away from that pattern to having clergy at the front of the sanctuary? In the fourth century, Christianity went from being an underground movement to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantinc. As a Christian, Constantine saw it as his duty to bring the church and state into a relationship characterized by the closest possible ties. He introduced a system of priests, bishops, and cardinals, with special status for the Bishop of Jerusalem, reflecting the hierarchical government of Rome. Constantine also changed the language of the service from the traditional Greek to Latin, the more widely understood language of the empire.

With its new legal status, the church increasingly put worship into the hands of professional clergy. Service leaders wore religious vestments; choirs were introduced and took over the responsibility of singing.

The order of worship the church adopted in the fourth century would remain largely unchanged for 1,200 years.

Introit: "Of The Father's Love Begotten" PsH 342

Although the commonly known melody for this hymn was not written until the twelfth century, the words were written in the fourth century. The choir, wearing robes, sang while processing from the rear of the sanctuary.

Prayer of Confession: Kyrie Eleison

The choir sang the Kyrie Eleison (many settings are available), preparing the congregation to pray, asking God for mercy.

Assurance of Pardon

Sung Response: Gloria

Our choir sang a setting of the Gloria; the hymn "All Glory Be to God on High" (PsH 247) is a hymn version of tlie fourth-century prayer, an expansion of the text from Luke 2:14.

Congregation: Threefold Amen " BP 614

Pax Vobis

The peace of Christ be with you.

And also with you.

Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11

Sung response: Gloria BP 594, PsH 635

Scripture: John 1:1-18

Sung response: Gloria Patri BP 594, PsH 635

Sermon: The Person of Christ

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Notes: Speaking of God doesn't offend anyone. But speaking of Jesus is different. Jesus is offensive because he is exclusive. "No one comes to the Father but by me. The one who has me has the Father. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father."

You can attend church, love the church, and be a generous financial giver. You can be a theological professor, an elder, or a Sunday school teacher. You can be a good person, live a decent life, and do your best to help others. You can appreciate the beauty of nature and be aware of God's presence. You can be a tolerant person, a respecter of other's ideas and faith. But in the end, "Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus]."

The confession of the early church was "Jesus is Lord." The council of Nicea in 381 wanted to make it crystal clear:

Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God,
begotten not made,
being of one substance with the Father.
Jesus, the one we worship, is Lord and Savior.

Donrinus Vobiscum
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
We lift up our hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.

Credo: The Nicene Creed

Oremus (Let us pray)

The Lord's Supper

During Communion, the choir song settings of the Sanctis ("Holy, Holy, Holy"), Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God"), and Pater Noster ("Our Father").

Collect (A prayer of supplication and intercession)


Ite missa est. (You are dismissed.)
Deo gratias. (Thanks be to God)

Recessional: "Of the Father's Love Begotten"



In the early sixteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire had become extremely rich, powerful, and internally corrupt. As early as the twelfth century, there had been calls for reform. In 1517 a German Augustinian friar named Martin Luther publicly called for reform in church practice, advocating a return to Scripture as the church's authority. The invention of the printing press helped spread his message of reform, and soon other leaders appeared: Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, French-born John Calvin in Geneva, and John Knox, who carried Calvin's teachings to Scotland.

Luther sought to reform the worship service as well, with a focus on Scripture and involvement of the congregation. He thought that the congregation should receive both bread and wine during communion, and that a sermon interpreting Scripture should be delivered in the local language during each worship service.

Luther also wanted to broaden congregational singing. He noticed that German folk music and tavern music was written syllabically—one syllable per note—and that this made it easier to learn and Sing for untrained musicians. He adopted this style of music in new hymns and settings of psalms to encourage congregational singing. With his reforms, Luther sought to put worship back in the hands of the worshipers.

In fact, patterns of worship in the sixteenth century and the rise of hymnody during this and subsequent centuries provides the model of our worship services today.

Call To Worship

Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm of Praise: "All People That on Earth Do Dwell" PsH 100, PH 220, RL 120, TH 1, TWC 317

Prayer of Confession

The Absolution

The Reformers believed that the authority to forgive sin lay not with the priest, but with Scripture.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Let us truly acknowledge that we are sinners, humble ourselves before God, and believe that the heavenly Father wills to be gracious unto us in Jesus Christ. To all who repent in this way and look to Jesus Christ for their salvation, I declare that the absolution of sins is effected, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hymn of Gratitude: "I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art" BP 678

Children's message

Anthem: "Jesus, Priceless Treasure" (J- S. Bach; from the motet Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227)

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture: Galatians 3:1-14 Psalm 119:105-112

Sermon: Justified By Faith Alone

Text: Galatians 3:1-14

Notes: How could man abide God's presence unless he himself were holy? In an effort to answer this question, Luther pursued holiness, fasting for days at a time, praying more prayers than his order required of him, sleeping in the cold dampness of his room without blankets. Despite participating in the indulgences of the day, as well as a scrupulous regimen of confession, he didn't feel peace with God.

Preparing to teach the Bible, specifically Romans and Galatians, Luther was confronted by the phrase the just shall live by faith. How, he wondered, could the just live by faith if there was no one just? Luther received an insight that changed not only his life but the life of the church. "The justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. God makes atonement for us," he wrote.

Luther's faith came alive not in behavior or confession or asceticism, but by trusting in God. Through Scripture, the church rediscovered that we can't earn God's favor. God's love is a gift. Luther and the Reformers realized anew that there is life in the Word, an emphasis we still carry today. From the Word we learn that faith isn't rules, duty, obligation, or guilt. It is trust in the living Word—in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Congregational response: The Ten Commandments

We pointed out to the congregation that the positioning of liturgical elements in worship has meaning. For example, Lutherans historically recite the Ten Commandments before the prayer of confession, reflecting Luther's view that the law reveals our sin to us. Those in the Reformed tradition tend to recite them as a response to the Assurance of Pardon or the preached Word, reflecting Calvin's view that the law teaches us how to live in light of the grace shown to us in Christ.

Hymn: "Help Us to Help Each Other, Lord"

While this is a later Wesleyan hymn, the music (Dunfermline) comes from the Scottish Psalter. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has its roots in the Chinch of Scotland. This was an opportunity to demonstrate the historical reach of some of our music.


Recessional Hymn: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" PsH 469, PH 260, RL 179, TH 92, TWC 43

Prayers of Intercession



For the last three weeks, we have been exposed to liturgical elements of worship services from the last two thousand years. We have learned how many of the major changes in worship were intended to make worship more meaningful and accessible. We have also noticed that over time these reforms made worship less accessible by remaining static in a changing society. Luther wanted worship back in the hands of the people. He translated the Bible into

German and wrote music in the popular style of the day. In short, he sought to make the church accessible.

In the present day, many clergy are still wearing the black academic robes common in the sixteenth century, and we are still singing hymns from Luther's time. While there is no need to discard everything "old," we do need to ask ourselves whether our worship is accessible. As we worship in a contemporary style this morning, consider how these elements communicate in today's culture. Is our worship approachable? Is it meaningful and participatory?

[For this service we rented a multimedia projector and screen and presented the compounds of the service with PowerPoint programming. Our congregation had just completed a mission trip to Nicaragua; the team's report included projected photos and a computer-generated slide show set to music]

Introit: "Come, Now Is the Time to Worship,"

Brian Doerksen, Vineyard Songs

We were called to worship by some of our teens, who, along with our youth director, had formed a small praise team with drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, and piano.

Call to Worship: Psalm 57:7-11

Anthem: "Heart of Worship," Matt Redman, arr, Marty Parks, Kingsway's Thankyou Music

New Songs of Praise

"All Heaven Declares," Noel and Tricia Richards, Kingsway's Thankyou Music

"Better Is One Day," Matt Redman, Kingsway's Thankyou Music
"All in All," Dennis Jernigan, Shepherd's Heart Music
"I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," Martin Smith, Curious? Music U.K.

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Psalm 113

Sermon: Worship and Service—In the Hands of All God's People

Text: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Notes: It is not by accident that our Nicaragua presentation dovetails with the end of our series on the history of Christian worship. In the first century, the whole church took responsibility for worship and service. Through the centuries, worship and service moved from being the work of the people to being the work of clergy. Priests and clergy led worship and taught, choirs sang, people watched.

Then in the sixteenth century, worship was put back into the hands of the people. Again today, there is increasing realization that worship is our first act of service to God. Our worship is an offering to God, not something that is done on our behalf.

Christian service is also being put back into the hands of the people. No longer can worshipers define church as sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. As we say yes when God calls us to serve, God will be able to work in ways beyond our imagining. My greatest pleasure and privilege as a pastor going to Nicaragua was seeing the church work as it should, each person using his or her gifts with energy, diligence, and faithfulness, so that God is honored and Christ's love proclaimed.

Hymn of Response: "O Christ, the Great Foundation" SNC 177

A Chinese hymn based on "The Church's One Foundation," now translated back into English, and sung to the familiar tune, showing the foundation of our faith for "every age and land."


Offertory: Praise team, "Who Paints the Skies,"
Stuart Townend, Kingway's Thankyou Music

Nicaragua Presentation

The team who had recently returned pom Nicaragua shared their work with the congregation. This was an opportunity to show how the whole church serves in a variety of ministries; the service of the church in the hands of the people.

Prayer of Dedication

Prayers of the People

Praise Choruses

We entered God's presence singing his praise. We left the service recommitting ourselves to worshiping and serving God in our day-to-day living.

"Cry of My Heart," Terry Butler, Mercy Publishing "Beautiful Savior," Stuart Townend, Kingsway's
Thankyou Music "Shout to the North," Martin Smith, Curious?

Music U.K.


Reformed Worship 67 © March 2003, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.