Proposed Revisions to the Directory For Public Worship

Rev. Chip Hammond

At the December 2009 meeting of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, I was appointed to a temporary committee to review the proposed changes to the Directory for Public Worship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and to report back to the Presbytery with a recommendation of whether our Presbytery should support the proposed changes. Some history and governmental background are in order before explaining where we are in the process.

With the constitution of the first General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936, a committee was immediately established “for submission to the next General Assembly a Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for Public Worship” (a three-fold constitutional component of all Reformed and Presbyterian churches, which when bound together are commonly referred to as a Book of Church Order).

The Constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is comprised of 1) the Bible, 2) the Westminster Standards, and 3) the Book of Church Order. While the Bible is the infallible constituting document of any true church, and is therefore not subject to revision, a church must express how it understands the Bible and thus defines itself. The Westminster Standards establish this for us, which Standards are open to amendment (if any such is needed) to bring them into closer conformity with the Word of God. Lastly, the Book of Church Order contains the practical application of the Scriptures as we understand them to the areas of church government, church order, and worship.

By time the second Assembly convened later that year, the committee was only able to complete the first of these documents, which was adopted in its final form at the third Assembly in 1937. A Directory for Public worship was proposed at the Fourth General Assembly, and after revision it was adopted by the Sixth Assembly in 1939. A Book of Discipline which had also been proposed to the Fourth Assembly was revised and adopted the following year in 1940. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church had its first Book of Church Order. 

In 1948 the General Assembly elected a committee to revise and make improvements to the Form of Government. The proposed changes went through numerous debates and revisions until a revised Form of Government was adopted by the Forty-Sixth General Assembly in 1979.

A Committee to revise the Book of Discipline was elected by the General Assembly in 1967, on which served our own Rev. Edward L. Kellogg. Revisions of that committee were adopted by the General Assembly in 1983.

In 1989 a committee elected by the General Assembly was tasked to revise the Directory for Worship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Since that time the Committee has met, making numerous proposed changes which it has reported for discussion and debate at the General Assembly and at the Presbytery level, and has made available for input and comment by local sessions and individual pastors and elders.

As required by our Constitution (Form of Government XXXII), revision of the Directory for Public Worship is to be done as follows: The General Assembly, after due discussion and approval of the changes, will propose the amendments to the presbyteries (there are sixteen of them in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), which will vote “yes” or “no” on the proposed amended Directory. If a majority of presbyteries concurs with the proposed changes, the amended Directory will become effective on the January 1 in the next year ending in “0” or “5” after the Assembly at which the Stated Clerk announces and certifies that a majority of presbyteries have voted in favor of the proposed amended form. Thus, if a majority of presbyteries concurs with the proposed changes, and that fact is announced and certified at the Seventy-seventh General Assembly in 2010, the amended Directory for Public Worship will become effective on January 1, 2015. 

I have been placed on the Presbytery’s committee to review the proposed revisions of the Directory for Public Worship and bring to the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic a recommendation that we either concur with the proposed changes, or vote to negate the proposed amended document. I am very glad to have been appointed to such a committee, as the public worship of God has been, particularly in recent years, of the greatest interest to me.

The work of the any such committee, whether to propose or evaluate, is one that requires the exercise of wisdom and discretion (a wisdom and discretion I am quite certain that I do not possess, but for which I have petitioned the Lord to make up for my deficiencies) and reliance upon God’s grace and guidance. In a Presbyterian government members of a committee may endeavor to demonstrate from God’s Word, argue, and enlighten. What they may not do is pontificate or presume a superior position. For this reason, members of all such committees must balance what each individually believes the Word to say, teach, or allow with a knowledge and understanding of what the Church as a whole believes the Word to say, teach, or allow.

A Church’s Directory for Public Worship should grow organically. As pastors, elders, and churches as a whole become more and more enlightened by the Word of God, we would expect a unity of the Spirit that guides them to uniform conclusions. Those who have been members of Bethel for six years or more will remember the rather significant change that our worship service underwent after our session studied the topic of public worship. We discovered that God has revealed a great deal more about the elements, order, and rationale of public worship than is generally believed today by many Christians.

What is heartening is that at the same time our session was reaching this conclusion, scores of Orthodox Presbyterian Churches were independently coming to the same conclusion. As those churches searched the Scriptures the conclusions that they came to produced an order of service that looks remarkably like our own.

It was thus heartening to me when reviewing the proposed amendments to the Directory for Public Worship that it became evident that in the main, all of the proposed revisions echo or harmonize with Bethel’s service of worship.

This does not mean that the new Directory for Worship is perfect. There are some segments of it that, in my opinion, reflect truly biblical elements but employ a rationale for them that is less than sound. This, however, does not affect any of the elements in the prescribed and encouraged service of Worship, nor negate or impinge negatively upon the general principles of the Word on which they are based. 

In showing great wisdom, the GA committee has carefully distinguished practices that are mandated with the words “shall,” “will,” “is to be,” “must,” and “are to be.” An examination of where these words and phrases occur shows very little change from our current Directory for Public Worship.

The Directory gives guidance in areas where before nothing was explicitly stated with words and phrases such as, “should,” “ought to,” “it is desirable,” “it is advisable,” “it is appropriate (well, or fitting),” or “may,” which phrases do not have the force of mandate.

The new Directory brings three benefits to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church: 1) it recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church in the consensus of many congregations with regard to public worship; 2) it guides into a more biblical practice of leading worship those ministers who are new, or those who have not as thoroughly thought through these issues; 3) it allows a large measure of liberty for churches and ministers who are not yet persuaded, thus maintaining the unity of the Church even while it continues to grow together.

When I taught the class at Bethel on Worship for our adult Christian education class, I explained the principle of lex orandi lex credendi – “the law of prayer is the law of faith,” or “the way a church worships influences what it believes,” and how this becomes an ascending loop. Correct belief leads to worship that undergirds that faith, and that worship in turn deepens our faith and understanding.

I have yet to meet with the rest of the committee to formulate our recommendation to Presbytery, but my input to the committee will be to heartily approve the amended Directory for Public Worship, and to thank God for the grace and guidance that he has given to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. For by his grace He is fulfilling in us what He requires of us in Ephesians 4:11-17, for the risen Christ has “given some to be pastors and teachers to equip the saints,” 

. . . until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.