Question and Answer

Liturgy, Liturgical Calendars and the Sign of the Cross

Question:

As someone attracted to a more high church understanding of worship, I am curious as to what the OPC believes about such things as liturgy, liturgical calendars, and making the sign of the cross. Are these things prohibited, encouraged, or permitted?

Answer:

Thank you for your thought-provoking question. As a former Roman Catholic and former altar boy for the church when I was about 11, I appreciate your question. Please permit me to answer this way:

First of all, liturgy simply means the order and elements of worship. Every church has one, whether they call it that or not, but I suspect your high church bent means the kind of liturgy that involves the other elements you speak of.

Secondly, we believe in the regulative principle of worship as it is presented in our Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Consider what is said in the Westminster Larger Catechism.

Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments …

Question #109 goes on to say, in part,

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it … corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever.

What the Catechism teaches is this: Only God has the right to command what is to be used in worship. We are not free to add to what he has commanded (Deut. 12:12). In particular we read nothing in Scripture about the sign of the cross either by the command of Christ or his apostles. This would be adding to God’s revealed will for worship. As to the liturgical calendar, there are no other holy days set by God in the New Testament (all Old Testament holy days having been set aside as unnecessary in light of Christ fulfilling their meaning and rituals). It is not a bad thing, I think, to remember and celebrate Christmas and the resurrection of Christ, or to remember Pentecost and Christ’s ascension, so long as we are clear they are not holy days and not days God has commanded us to keep.

To put is simply: We are forbidden to add to what God has commanded—the gathering of his people on the Christian Sabbath (Sunday) to worship him in Spirit and truth and to give attention to prayer, the proclamation of his Word and baptism and the Lord’s Supper (and the frequency of that last is not commanded, so we are free to do it weekly or monthly or less often as seems edifying to God’s people, though I think the more often the better). As in all other things relating to the Gospel, we are to submit our thoughts and wishes to the Word of God. Since our worship is presented to him, he has the right to say what he accepts.

I hope this is helpful.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.

You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

Return to Formatted Page