Chapter 2: The Elements of Christian Worship

2.1 Prayer

2.1.1 Christian Prayer

Prayer is at the heart of worship. In prayer, through the Holy Spirit, people seek after and are found by the one true God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ. They listen and wait upon God, call God by name, remember God's gracious acts, and offer themselves to God. Prayer may be spoken, sung, offered in silence, or enacted. Prayer grows out of the centre of the church's life in response to the Spirit. Prayer is shaped by the Word of God in Scripture and by the life of the community of faith. Prayer results in commitment to join God's work in the world.

In prayer we respond to God in many ways. In adoration we praise God for who God is. In thanksgiving we express gratitude for what God has done. In confession we affirm God's forgiveness, acknowledge that we are human and repent for what we as individuals and as a people have done or left undone. In supplication we plead for ourselves and the gathered community. In intercession we plead for others, on behalf of others, and for the whole world. In self-dedication we offer ourselves to the purpose and glory of God.

2.1.2 Music as Prayer:

i. Congregational Song

Song is a response which engages the whole self in prayer. Song unites the faithful in common prayer wherever they gather for worship whether in church, home, or other special place. The covenant people have always used the gift of song to offer prayer. Psalms were created to be sung by the faithful as their response to God. In addition to psalms the Church in the New Testament sang hymns and spiritual songs. Through the ages and from varied cultures, the Church has developed additional musical forms for congregational prayer. Congregations are encouraged to use these diverse musical forms for prayer.

ii. Singing and Instrumental Music

To lead the congregation in the singing of prayer is a primary role of a choir and other musicians. They also may lead the congregation in prayer with introits, responses, and other musical forms. Instrumental music may be a form of prayer since prayer may go beyond words. In worship, music is not for entertainment or artistic display, nor should it be used as a cover for silence. Music as prayer is to be a worthy offering to God on behalf of the people.

2.1.3     Enacted Prayer

In the Old and New Testaments and through the ages, the people of God expressed prayer through actions as well as speech and song. So in worship today it is appropriate,

i. to sit, to kneel, to bow, to stand,
ii. to close eyes, to hold hands, to lift hands in prayer,
iii. to dance, to clap, to embrace in joy and praise,
iv. to anoint and to lay on hands in intercession and supplication, commissioning and ordination.

2.2 Scripture Read and Proclaimed

2.2.1 Centrality of Scripture

The Church confesses the Scriptures to be the written witness to the Word of God, witnessing to God's self-revelation. Where that Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the Living Word is present by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the reading, hearing, preaching, and confessing of the Word are central to Christian worship. The Session/Parish Council shall ensure that in public worship the Scripture is read and proclaimed regularly in the common language(s) of the people gathered.

2.2.2 Selection of Scripture

The minister of the Word and Sacrament is responsible for the selection of Scripture to be read in all services of public worship and should exercise care so that over a period of time the people will hear the full message of Scripture. It is appropriate that in the Service of the Lord's Day there be readings from the Old Testament and the Epistles and Gospels of the New Testament. The full range of the psalms should be also used in worship.

2.2.3 Lectionaries

Selections for reading in public worship should be guided by the seasons of the Church year, pastoral concerns for a local congregation, events and conditions in the world, and specific programme emphases of the Church. Lectionaries offered by the Church ensure a broad range of readings as well as consistency and connection with the universal Church.

2.2.4 Discipline in Reading

The people of God should exercise this same principle of selection in their choice of Scripture reading in family and personal worship. Those responsible for teaching and preaching the Word have a special responsibility to ensure that in their personal worship they observe a discipline of reading from the fullness of Scripture.

2.2.5 Versions

The minister of the Word and Sacrament has the responsibility for the selection of the version of text from which the Scripture lessons are read in public worship. If paraphrases are used, adaptations are made, or new translations are used, the congregation should be informed. The selection of the version of the Bible to be placed in pews is the responsibility of the Session/Parish Council in consultation with the minister.

2.2.6 Public Reading and Hearing of Scripture

The public reading of Scripture should be clear, audible, and attentive to the meanings of the text. Listening to the reading of Scripture requires expectation and concentration and may be aided by the availability of a printed text for the worshippers. The congregation may read Scripture responsively, antiphonally, or in unison as a part of the service. Sessions/Parish Councils should provide training for those entrusted with the reading of scripture.

2.2.7 Preaching the Word

The preached Word or sermon is to be based upon the written Word. It is a proclamation of the gospel in the conviction that through the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ is present to the gathered people, offering grace and calling for obedience. Preaching requires diligence and discernment in the study of Scripture, the discipline of daily prayer, cultivated sensitivity to events and issues affecting the lives of the people, and a consistent and personal obedience to Jesus Christ. The sermon should present the gospel with simplicity and clarity, in language which can be understood by the people. For reasons of order the responsibility for the preaching of the Word is entrusted to a minister of the Word and Sacrament. It is appropriate, however, for ministers to involve others in preparing worship and proclaiming the Word. A minister of the Word and Sacrament, lay preacher, or other person may be invited to preach by the minister who out of courtesy advises the Session/Parish Council.

2.2.8 Other Forms of Proclamation

The Word is also proclaimed through music, song in anthems and solos based on scriptural texts, in cantatas, and musicals which tell the biblical story, in psalms and canticles, and in hymns, and spiritual songs which present the truth of the biblical faith. Music is a gift of God through which God may communicate with us. Song in worship may also express the response of the people to the Word read, sung, enacted, or proclaimed. Drama and dance, poetry and pageant, indeed, most other human art forms are also expressions through which the people of God have proclaimed and responded to the Word. Those entrusted with the proclamation of the Word through art forms should exercise care that the gospel is faithfully presented in ways through which the particular congregation may receive and respond.

2.2.9 Creeds and Confessions

The people also express the Word in response to the reading and proclamation of the Word through creeds and confessions. The Church confesses its faith in relation to

i. the Church universal,
ii. its particular historic heritage, and
iii. its local situation.

When the Church confesses its faith during the celebration of Baptism and the Lord's Supper it is appropriate to use the creeds of the universal Church. The Apostles' Creed is commonly used by churches in the West as the ecumenical baptismal creed and the Nicene Creed is commonly used when celebrating the Lord's Supper. The Word confessed is always judged by the living Word, Jesus Christ, as attested in Scripture against which all creeds and confessions should be measured.

2.2.10 Hearing the Word

The people's participation in the proclamation of the Word is above all to hear in order:

i. to discern Jesus Christ,
ii. to receive his offered grace,

iii. to respond to his call with obedience.

Such participation depends upon the illumination of the Holy Spirit, which is to be sought earnestly in prayer. The words "hearing" and "heard" are not intended exclusively to mean acts of sensory perception.

2.3 Baptism

2.3.1 Jesus and Baptism

Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ. Jesus through his own baptism identified himself with sinners in order to fulfill all righteousness (Mathew 3:15). Jesus in his own baptism was attested Son by the Father and was anointed with the Holy Spirit to undertake the way of the servant manifested in his sufferings, death, and resurrection. Jesus the risen Lord assured his followers of his continuing presence and power and commissioned them to go throughout the world teaching and baptising others in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Spirit empowered the disciples to undertake a life of service and to be an inclusive worshiping community, sharing life in which love, justice, and mercy abounded.

2.3.2 Dying and Rising in Baptism

In Baptism, we participate in Jesus' death and resurrection. In Baptism, we die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ. Baptism points us back to the grace of God expressed in Jesus Christ, who died for us and who was raised for us. Baptism points us forward to that same Christ who will fulfill God's purpose in God's promised future.

2.3.3 Covenant and the Water of Baptism

In Baptism, the Holy Spirit binds the Church in covenant to its Creator and Lord. The water of Baptism symbolises the waters of Creation, of the Flood, and of the Exodus from Egypt. Thus, the water of Baptism links us to the goodness of God's creation and to the grace of God's covenants with Noah and with Israel. Prophets of Israel, amidst the failure of their own generation to honour God's covenant, called for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24.) They looked toward a fresh expression of God's grace and of creation's goodness - a new covenant accompanied by the sprinkling of cleansing water. In his ministry, Jesus offered the gift of living water. So, Baptism is the sign and seal of God's grace and covenant in Christ.

2.3.4 Inclusion in the Covenant of Grace

As circumcision was the sign and symbol of inclusiveness in God's grace and covenant with Israel, so Baptism is the sign and symbol of inclusion in God's grace and covenant with the Church. As an identifying mark, Baptism signifies

i. the faithfulness of God,
ii. the washing away of sin,
iii. rebirth,
iv. putting on the fresh garment of Christ,
v. being sealed by God's Spirit,
vi. adoption into the covenant family of the Church,
vii. resurrection and illumination in Christ.

2.3.5 Sign and Seal of God's Faithfulness

i. God's faithfulness signified in Baptism is constant and sure, even when human faithfulness to God is not. Jesus Christ responded to God's faithfulness in faithful obedience. The church's faith points to this faith into which the baptised enter.

ii. Baptism is received only once. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to the moment when it is administered, for Baptism signifies the beginning of life in Christ, not its completion. God's grace works steadily, calling to repentance and newness of life. God's faithfulness needs no renewal. Human faithfulness to God needs repeated renewal. Baptism calls for decision at every subsequent stage of life's way, both for those whose Baptism attends their profession of faith and for those who are nurtured from childhood within the family of faith.

2.3.6 Union with Christ and One Another

The body of Christ is one, and Baptism is the bond of unity in Christ. As they are united with Christ through faith, Baptism unites the people of God with each other and with the church of every time and place. Barriers of race, gender, status, and age are to be transcended. Barriers of nationality, history, and practice are to be overcome.

2.3.7 Baptism: Grace, Repentance, Commissioning

Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God's redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is God's gift of grace and also God's summons to respond to that grace. Baptism gives the Church its identity and commissions the Church for ministry to the world.

2.3.8 Baptism and children

i. "One Baptism": Its Meanings

Both believers and their children participate in God's covenant love. Children of believers are to be baptised without undue delay, but without undue haste. Baptism, whether administered to those who profess their faith or to those presented for Baptism as children, is one and the same Sacrament.

ii. Children

The Baptism of children demonstrates the grace of God whose love claims people before they are able to respond in faith.

iii. Adults

The Baptism of those who enter the covenant upon their own profession of faith demonstrates the grace of God whose love claims people and calls for fulfillment in a response of faithfulness.

2.3.9 Remembering One's Baptism

Baptism is received only once. There are many times in worship, however, when believers acknowledge the grace of God continually at work. As they participate in the celebration of another's Baptism, as they experience the sustaining nurture of the Lord's Supper, and as they reaffirm the commitments made at Baptism, they confess their ongoing need of God's grace and pledge anew their obedience to God's covenant in Christ.

2.3.10 One Body, One Baptism

As there is one body, there is one Baptism. (Eph. 4:4-6.) The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand recognises all Baptisms with water in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit administered by other Christian Churches.

2.3.11 Responsibility for Baptism

i. Administering Baptism

For reasons of order, Baptism shall be authorised by the Session/Parish Council, administered by a minister of the Word and Sacrament, and accompanied by the reading and proclaiming of the Word. Baptism is celebrated in a service of public worship. Extraordinary circumstances may call for the administration of Baptism apart from the worship of the whole congregation. In such cases care should be taken that

a. the congregation is represented by one or more members of the Session/Parish Council,

b. a proper understanding of the meaning of the Sacrament is offered by the minister;

c. the Session/Parish Council is consulted when possible;

d. the Baptism is reported by the officiating minister and recorded by the Session/Parish Council.

ii. By Chaplains and Others

When Baptisms are celebrated by chaplains or other ministers, the minister of the Word and Sacrament shall take responsibility that the newly baptised person is enrolled as a member of a particular parish. Where possible, enrollment should be arranged in advance in consultation with the Session/Parish Council of the church.

2.3.12 Session/Parish Council Responsibility

The Session's/Parish Council's responsibilities for Baptism are:

i.  encouraging parents to present their children for Baptism, reminding them that children of believers are to be baptised without undue haste, but without undue delay, and authorising the Baptism of those presented;

ii. admitting to Baptism, after appropriate instruction and examination, those not yet baptised who come making public their personal profession of faith;

iii. placing all baptised persons on the appropriate roll as members of the congregation,

iv. making certain that those baptised are nurtured in understanding the meaning of Baptism, of the Lord's Supper, and of their interrelation,and that they are surrounded by Christian encouragement and support.

2.3.13 Church Responsibility

The congregation as a whole, on behalf of the Church universal, assumes responsibility for nurturing all the baptised in the Christian life. In exercising this ministry, the Session/Parish Council may designate certain members of the congregation as representatives of the church charged with special responsibility for nurture. For any person who is being baptised, sponsor(s)/godparent(s) may be given the specific role of nurturing the baptised person.

2.3.14 Parental Responsibility

Those presenting children for Baptism shall promise to provide nurture and guidance within the community of faith until the child is ready to make a personal profession of faith and assume the responsibility of active church membership.

2.4 The Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist

2.4.1 Jesus and the Supper

i. Shared meals in his Ministry

The Lord's Supper, also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist, is the sign and seal of eating and drinking in communion with the crucified and risen Lord. During his earthly ministry Jesus shared meals with his followers as a sign of community and acceptance and as an occasion for his own ministry. He celebrated Israel's feasts of covenant commemoration.

ii. Last Supper

In his last meal before his death Jesus took and shared with his disciples the bread and wine, speaking of them as his body and blood, signs of the new covenant. He commended eating bread and drinking the cup to remember and proclaim his death. The structure of the Lord's Supper follows the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper: taking, giving thanks, breaking bread and pouring wine, and giving the bread and wine.

iii. Resurrection

On the day of his resurrection, the risen Jesus made himself known to his followers in the breaking of bread. He continued to show himself to believers, by blessing and breaking bread, by preparing, serving, and sharing common meals.

2.4.2 The Church in the New Testament

The Church in the New Testament devoted itself to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to prayers, and to the common meal. The apostle Paul handed on to the Church the tradition he had received from the risen Lord, who commanded that his followers share the bread and cup as a remembrance and a showing forth of his death until he comes. The New Testament describes the meal as a participation in Christ and with one another in the expectation of the Kingdom and as a foretaste of the messianic banquet.

2.4.3 Thanksgiving

In the Lord's Supper the Church, gathered for worship,

i.  blesses God for all that God has done through creation, redemption, and sanctification;
ii. gives thanks that God is working in the world and in the Church in spite of human sin;
iii. gratefully anticipates the fulfillment of the Kingdom Christ proclaimed, and offers itself in obedient service to God's reign.

At the Lord's Table, the Church is:

i. renewed and empowered by the memory of Christ's life, death, resurrection, and promise to return;
ii. sustained by Christ's pledge of undying love and continuing presence with God's people;
iii. sealed in God's covenant of grace by participating in Christ's self-offering.

In remembering, believers receive and trust the love of Christ present to them and to the world; they exhibit the reality of the covenant of grace in reconciling and being reconciled; and they proclaim the power of Christ's reign for the renewal of the world in justice and in peace.

2.4.4 Invocation

As the people of God bless and thank God the Father and remember Jesus Christ the Son, they call upon the Holy Spirit

i. to lift them into Christ's presence;
ii. to accept their offering of bread and wine;
iii. to make eating the bread and sharing the cup a participation in the body and blood of Christ;
iv. to bind them with Christ and with one another;
v. to unite them in communion with all the faithful in heaven and on earth;
vi. to nourish them with Christ's life and spirit that they may grow into the full stature of Christ;
vii. to keep them faithful as Christ's body, representing Christ and doing God's work in the world.

2.4.5 Communion of the Faithful

Around the Table of the Lord, God's people are in communion with Christ and with all who belong to Christ. Reconciliation with Christ compels reconciliation with one another. All the baptised faithful are to be welcomed to the Table, and none shall be excluded. Coming to the Lord's Table the faithful are actively to seek reconciliation in every instance of conflict or division between them and their neighbours. Each time believers gather at the Table they

i. are united with the Church in every place, and the whole Church is present;
ii. join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God;
iii. renew the vows taken at Baptism;

and they commit themselves afresh to love and serve God, one another, and their neighbours in the world.

2.4.6 Foretaste of the Kingdom Meal

In this meal the Church celebrates the joyful feast of the people of God, and anticipates the great banquet and marriage supper of the Lamb. Brought by the Holy Spirit into Christ's presence, the Church eagerly expects and prays for the day when Christ shall come in glory and God shall fulfil all things. Nourished by this hope, the Church rises from the Table and is sent by the power of the Holy Spirit to participate in God's mission of love to the world, to proclaim the gospel, to exercise compassion, to work for justice and peace until Christ's Kingdom shall come at last.

2.4.7 Word and Sacrament Together

In the life of the worshipping congregation, Word and Sacrament have an integral relationship. Whenever the Lord's Supper is observed, it shall be preceded by the reading and the proclamation of the Word.

2.4.8 Time, Place, and Frequency

While the Lord's Supper may be observed at various time and places, it is also to be observed on the Lord's Day, in the regular place of worship, and in a manner suitable to the particular occasion and local congregation. It is appropriate to celebrate the Lord's Supper as often as each Lord's Day. It is to be celebrated regularly and frequently enough to be recognised as integral to the Service for the Lord's Day.

2.4.9 Special Occasions

It is also appropriate to observe the Lord's Supper on other occasions of special significance in the life of the Christian community, as long as the celebration of the Sacrament is open to the whole believing community. The Lord's Supper may be observed in connection with the visitation of the sick and others isolated from public worship. On all such occasions of the celebration of the Sacrament, the Word should be read and proclaimed. Even though such a celebration may involve only a few members of the congregation, nevertheless it is not to be understood as a private ceremony or devotional exercise, but as an act of the whole church, which shall be represented not only by the minister or the one authorised by presbytery to administer the Sacrament, but also by one or more members of the congregation authorised by the Session/Parish Council to represent the church.

2.4.10 Who May Receive

i. Those who come in repentance, faith, and love

Access to the Table is not a right conferred upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. In preparing to receive Christ in this Sacrament, the believer is to acknowledge humanness and to confess sin and brokenness, to seek reconciliation with God and neighbour, and to trust in Jesus Christ for cleansing and renewal. Even one who doubts or whose trust is wavering may come to the Table in order to be assured of God's love and grace in Christ Jesus.

ii. Baptised Children

Baptised children are invited to receive the Lord's Supper, recognising that their understanding of participation will vary according to their maturity. Sessions/Parish Councils should enable children to be nurtured and instructed in the significance of the invitation to the Table and the meaning of their response.

2.4.11 Responsibility

i. Authorisation

The Session/Parish Council is responsible for authorising all observances of the Lord's Supper in the life of a particular congregation and shall ensure regular and frequent celebration of the Sacrament, in no case less than quarterly. Any other governing body of the Church, also, may appoint times for the celebration of the Lord's Supper during their meetings. A governing body may also authorise the celebration of the Sacrament in connection with the public worship of some gathering of believers which is under its jurisdiction or in institutions where it has a missional witness or authorised ministry.

ii. Chaplains or Others

Chaplains or other ministers serving in hospitals, prisons, schools, or other institutions, and chaplains ministering to members of the armed forces and their families, may administer the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper when authorised to do so by the governing body which has jurisdiction over the ministry exercised by the particular minister.

iii. Administered by Minister

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper shall normally be administered by a minister of the Word and Sacrament. Elders authorised by the Presbytery may also administer the Sacrament.

2.5 Self-Offering

2.5.1 Response to Christ

In worship the people are presented with the costly self-offering of Jesus Christ, are claimed and set free by him, and are led to respond by offering to him their lives, their particular gifts and abilities, and their material goods.

2.5.2 Offering Spiritual Gifts

Worship should always present opportunities to respond to Christ's call to become disciples by professing faith, by uniting with the Church, and by taking up the mission of the people of God, as well as opportunities for disciples to renew the commitment of their lives to Jesus Christ and his mission in the world. As the Holy Spirit has graced each member with particular gifts for strengthening the body of Christ for mission, so worship should provide opportunities to recognise these gifts and to offer them to serve Christ in the Church and in the world.

2.5.3 Offering Material Gifts and Goods

i. The reasons

The offering of material goods in worship is a corporate act of self-dedication in response to God. It expresses thanksgiving to God, the giver of life and of all goods, the redeemer from sin and evil. It is an affirmation by Christ's disciples of

a. their commitment to be stewards in all creation;
b. their responsibility to share the Word with and to care for all people;
c. their common bond in the body of Christ;
d. their desire to share God's gifts with those to whom believers are bound in the Church universal.

ii. Disciplined and Generous Support

In the Old Testament the people of Israel were commanded to bring a tenth of their income to support the work of the house of God and those who served God in it. In the New Testament the apostles recognised that the work of the Church required disciplined support. Both in Israel and in the early Church the people were encouraged to give generously to meet the needs of the poor. God calls believers today to be disciplined and generous in giving support to the ministries of the Church.

iii. Received in Worship

During public worship, at an appropriate time, and as an act of thanksgiving, the tithes and offerings of the people are gathered, received and set aside for the purposes for which they have been given. 

2.6 Relating to Each Other and the World - Community Concerns

Worship is an activity of the common life of the people of God in which the care of the members for each other and for the quality of their life and ministry together expresses the reality of God's power to create and sustain community in the midst of a sinful world. As God is concerned for the events in daily life, so members of the community in worship appropriately express concern for one another and for their ministry in the world as they


  • greet one another and are greeted by those who are leading them in worship;
  • welcome visitors, note their presence, and extend Christian hospitality;


  • actively seek and offer forgiveness for hurts, misunderstandings, and broken relationships among themselves;
  • respond to God's act of reconciliation by exchanging signs and words of reconciliation and of Christ's peace;


  • prepare for intercessions by expressing concerns and requesting prayer on behalf of those with needs in the congregation, the Church, and the world;
  • offer thanksgiving for life and life's transitions, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn;


  • apply God's Word to daily life;
  • interpret the mission and work of the Church;
  • give witness to faith and service;


  • make and renew covenants;
  • commit themselves to and are commissioned for specific corporate and personal ministries of compassion, justice, peacemaking, reconciliation, and witness.