Sentences

Appropriate verses of Scripture are meant to be read aloud at the beginning of Morning and Evening Prayer, to prepare the congregation to confess their sins together. Together with the Exhortation that follows, these verses explain the ongoing need for repentance in the Christian life and the importance of approaching God with penitence when we meet together as his people. This pattern of preparation is designed to prevent an empty and meaningless recitation of the words of the General Confession.

In An Australian Prayer Book, the updated version of the Exhortation begins like this:

Dear friends, the Scriptures urge us to acknowledge our sins, and not to conceal them in the presence of God our heavenly Father, but to confess them with a penitent and obedient heart.

It seems ironic that in some contemporary services, where the concern is to be authentic and real, there is little use of Scripture or any form of exhortation before a confession of sins. The solemnity of the Prayer Book challenge is often replaced with remarks about nobody being perfect, or the simple encouragement to bring to mind sins committed in the previous week. This is not the same as hearing what God says about the need to repent and confess our sins!

Psalms and canticles

Psalm 95 is provided in Morning Prayer to stimulate praise and encourage a careful hearing of God's word. In both the daily services, portions of Scripture such as Luke 1:46-55 (The Song of Mary), 1:68-79 (The Song of Zechariah), and 2:29-32 (the Song of Simeon) are included, together with Psalms 67, 98 and 100, as 'canticles' or 'little songs' after the readings from the Bible. The aim is to respond to Scripture with Scripture! Furthermore, these passages provide a break between the lessons, to help the congregation respond to what they have heard.

In some modern versions of these services, seasonal verses or extra passages of Scripture such as the songs in Revelation or Philippians 2:5-11 have been suggested as alternative canticles. However, in evangelical churches today it is rare to hear Scripture being employed in this way.

Most of us use 'hymns and spiritual songs' without the 'psalms' mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16! It's worth asking ourselves whether we place too much reliance on contemporary music to edify the congregation and glorify God. Why do we consider that reciting portions of Scripture together is unhelpful? Is it simply a matter of culture and taste?

Scriptural texts in the Communion Service

The pattern of using Scripture to excite and express worship is extended in the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion.

At the beginning, the Ten Commandments are used to encourage repentance, though in modern versions, the commands to love God and neighbour are provided as alternatives. As well as offering a shorter form of meditation, the 'two great commands' focus on the essential requirements of the Mosaic Law (Matthew 22:34-40), while avoiding some of the complexities associated with applying the Ten Commandments to a Christian congregation.

Scripture verses are then provided after the sermon to stimulate generous giving, and after the absolution or declaration of forgiveness to assure the congregation of God's mercy.

Some contemporary orders of service have developed these options further. Well-chosen verses give people a chance to reflect on the significance of what they are doing. They signal a change in the direction of the service and bring God's will to bear on the whole experience. They can also be used to highlight the main theme of a song that is being introduced.

Creeds as forms of praise

Biblical teaching about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is expressed in a summary way by the use of creeds. Confessing together what we believe about the character and will of God is a way of praising him (Hebrews 13:15). It is also a way of encouraging one another to hold fast to the hope we profess (Hebrews 3:1; 10:23).

The historic creeds give voice to beliefs that unite us as believers, identifying us as part of mainstream Christianity.

The Apostles' Creed, which is the form of confession used in the baptismal services, is set down for regular use in Morning and Evening Prayer. Repeating it is a way of renewing our baptismal commitment and expressing unity with believers throughout the ages.

The longer Nicene Creed is set down for use in the Holy Communion. Some modern liturgies suggest creedal passages from New Testament passages as possible alternatives (e.g. Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Philippians 2:5-11).

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