A Reformation Day Service for Canadian Churches

This service for Reformation Day was written for use in the Canadian Christian Reformed Church context. As with all RW articles you are encouraged to adapt it to fit your own congregation. In the original service the “Leader” portions were divided among a number of leaders. The historical content that is used in this service originates from the following sources: “A History of Worship in the Christian Reformed Church” by Bert Polman in the Psalter Hymnal Handbook (Faith Alive), and The Church in History by B. K. Kuiper (Eerdmans). —JB

Call to Worship: “Hear, O Israel” (Getty)

Song of Praise: “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” LUYH 538, PH 138, PsH 249, SWM 28, TH 100, WR 136, GTG 1


Leader: As we worship together on this Reformation Sunday, we remember our roots as a denomination and all the joys and trials along the way. Throughout the whole journey, what we do is informed by our understanding of God through how he has revealed himself in Scripture and creation. Our worship this evening traces glimpses of our denominational story and how our worship has been impacted along the way. Since the days of John Calvin, many Reformed worship services have begun with the votum from Psalm 124:8. Please rise, and join me as we respond to Psalm 124:

Leader: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

People: What did God do to help us?

Leader: God chose the people of Israel to make a new beginning.

People: They received God’s covenant and prepared the way for Jesus to come as our Savior.

Leader: Let us worship the God of the covenant, the God of heaven and earth.

God's Greeting

Mutual Greeting

The Early Church

Leader:Although the Reformation shaped who we are as a church, we can trace our roots further back into early Christian history. Our identity is not found in John Calvin, our identity is in the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians throughout history have been studying Scripture to gain deeper understanding of who God is. The Nicene Creed developed as our understanding of God developed, especially as our understanding of what it means that God is triune. This creed was not written overnight; it took over 250 years to develop, because a change in understanding takes time. But we still use this creed to profess our faith today.

We stand with the church of all time and all places and together profess our faith with the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one God,

      the Father almighty,

      maker of heaven and earth,

      of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

      the only Son of God,

      begotten from the Father before all ages,

           God from God,

           Light from Light,

           true God from true God,

      begotten, not made;

      of the same essence as the Father.

      Through him all things were made.

      For us and for our salvation

           he came down from heaven;

           he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

           and was made human.

           He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

           he suffered and was buried.

           The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.

           He ascended to heaven

           and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

           He will come again with glory

           to judge the living and the dead.

           His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,

      the Lord, the giver of life.

      He proceeds from the Father and the Son,

      and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

      He spoke through the prophets.

      We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

      We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

      We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

      and to life in the world to come. Amen.

Leader: This next song is a recent re-tune of an English translation of an early Latin hymn text, written around AD 800. A chorus was added, making the song a dialogue in which we ask for the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, praising the Holy Spirit, Father, and Son. The chorus is a response of God calling us not to be afraid, for he will never leave us or forsake us.

Song: “Come, Holy Ghost” LUYH 232

Leader:John Calvin, in his Institutes, focuses much attention on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. It is Calvinists who brought awareness and focus to the person and work of the Spirit during the Reformation, and Calvin’s study of the Holy Spirit contributed significantly to the developing understanding of the Trinity during the Reformation. Listen to Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 53:

Q. What do you believe concerning “the Holy Spirit”?

A. First, he, as well as the Father and Son, is eternal God.

Second, he has been given to me personally,

So that, by true faith,

He makes me share in Christ and all his blessings,

Comforts me,

And remains with me forever.

Prayer: Triune God—Holy Spirit, Son, and Father—we praise you and thank you for revealing yourself to us through your Word. Before time began, you were and are and ever will be. Thank you for your work in creation. Thank you for leading and guiding your people. We pray for continued faithful study of the Scriptures, that we may come to know and love you more. Amen.

The Reformation

Leader: We move ahead several hundred years, to a time we have all come to learn about and understand as the start of Protestantism, and the reason for this service, the Reformation.

Scripture: Ephesians 2:4-10

Leader: We believe that we are saved by grace, through faith, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. What we often call the “five solas” were five rallying cries of Protestants: Scripture alone, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. To God alone be the glory.

Song: “Ancient Words” LUYH 762

Leader: The Dutch Reformed Church, which developed during the Reformation and followed the teachings of John Calvin, would sing only psalms. In fact, up until the 17th century, the psalms were sung in strong unison without any organ accompaniment or added harmony. Since then, instruments have made their way into the church to accompany and support the human voice, and we sing together this evening one of these Genevan psalm tunes, Psalm 134. Let us stand as we sing.

Song: “You Servants of the Lord Our God” PsH 134 (Organ leads on first verse, then cuts out for the congregation to sing a capella.)

Leader: The Reformation was a time of turmoil and persecution. The Protestants needed to be united and grounded in their theology, so the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort were all developed to unite the people, teach doctrine, and correct heresies. Inspired by Psalm 46, Martin Luther composed the original text of our next hymn, which became the “battle hymn” of the Reformation.

Scripture: Psalm 46:1-3, 11

Song: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” LUYH 776, PH 259, PsH 469, TH 92, WR 507, GTG 275  (st. 1, 2 & 4)

Prayer: God of grace and truth, we thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, as an atoning sacrifice for all our sins. We thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit, giving us wisdom, understanding, and faith. We thank you for Reformers like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, who loved and studied Scripture in pursuit of deeper knowledge of you, so that we might come to know you more today. We pray that though our history is tainted with controversy, disagreements, tensions, and separations, that we may extend grace toward others who think differently than we do. Help us to love others as you have loved us. Deepen our faith that we may learn to trust in you for everything in our lives. Amen.

The Beginning of the Christian Reformed Church

Leader:In the Dutch Reformed Church, worship became preaching-centered. Aside from singing the psalms, the dominee, or pastor, enacted most of the worship on behalf of the people. The state took over the church in 1816 to fix the disarray in Reformed churches caused by Napoleon’s domination of the Netherlands. Those changes, along with what was seen as theologically liberal trends with the influence of the “Great Awakening,” which emphasized a deep personal revelation of the need of salvation by Jesus Christ, led to secession. After a disastrous potato crop failure in 1846, a number of those who left the Dutch Reformed Church migrated to Michigan and Iowa and initially joined with the Protestant Dutch Church of North America, now known as the Reformed Church in America. Not long after, the Christian Reformed Church split off from the RCA. Reacting against the perceived liberalism and laxity of the Dutch Reformed Church and of the RCA, the CRC grounded themselves in the importance of purity of doctrine.

The CRC found its strength in isolation from American culture, safeguarding fiercely its ethnic heritage and language. An English-language psalter was adopted by the church in 1914, a huge milestone in the Americanization of the CRC. Other liturgical practices in the church were also influenced by American culture, such as structuring worship as a dialogue between God and his people.

One song written around this time of secession in the Netherlands was the American hymn “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” which demonstrates the emotive response of the “Great Awakening” along with strong doctrine.

Song: “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less” LUYH 772, PH 379, TH 521, WR 405, GTG 353 (st. 1, 2, & 4)

Prayer: God of grace and God of glory, you know us completely. You know when we sit and when we rise. You perceive our thoughts from afar. You created us intricately and with purpose. You made us with eyes to see, and we marvel at your vast creation. Lord, open our eyes, not just so that we may see you more clearly, but also that we may see others the way you see them. You created us with ears to hear. Lord, open our ears, not only to hear, but to listen. You created us with mouths to sing your praise. As we glorify your name in this place, may we never forget to use our mouths to proclaim the gospel to those who have not heard or understood. We love your word, O Lord. May your Word continue to form and shape and guide us as we live, breathe, move. Help us to love each other, as you have loved us. Open our eyes. Amen.

The Influence of Abraham Kuyper

Leader: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” This famous line comes from Abraham Kuyper. He is well-known for this idea of sphere-sovereignty, saying that all created order is designed and ruled by God. Education, labor, agriculture, worship, social justice, marriage and family, among others, are all spheres over which God reigns. Most of the post-war Dutch immigrants carried with them a Kuyperian mindset, and they sought to transform the Canadian culture by introducing the Christian perspective into all of life. We see the legacy of this Kuyperian perspective in Christian political parties, labor unions, nursing homes, and educational institutions.

Scripture: Colossians 1:15-20

Song: “The First Place” LUYH 15

The Current Situation

Leader: The CRC in Canada experienced a lot of growth after World War II. In fact, many worshiping among us here were part of that wave of immigration to Canada from the Netherlands. For many, the move to Canada was coupled with mixed emotions: hope and peace for the future, but also a loss of home, family, and language. Many songs beloved in that time speak of comfort in trial—songs like “Nearer, Still Nearer,” “Amazing Grace,” “Abide with Me” and “Nearer My God to Thee.” These songs contain doctrine but are also very much a personal response to God’s grace and comfort through good times and bad.

We see this in the Heidelberg Catechism as well. “What is my only comfort in life and in death?” It is in these times of trial that we so desperately long for comfort.

Many changes were happening in worship in the broader CRC over this time and to the present. Churches were seeing an increase in congregational participation, more visual art and special music, a growing understanding and celebration of the liturgical year, more frequent and joyful celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, a greater concern for the role of children in worship, and a decrease in the singing of psalms.

Today we see huge diversity in CRC churches. We will need to continue to navigate how we can transition from being a cultural institution to being a union of mission-oriented congregations. Around the year 2000, the CRC was worshiping in 11 different languages, and that number is increasing. This is a big deal, considering that only 100 years ago we were worshiping only in Dutch.

Song: “Amazing Grace” LUYH 691, PH 280, PsH 462, SWM 186, TH 460, WR 422, GTG 649 (st. 1, 4, 5)

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

Sermon: “Reformed and Always Reforming”

Looking Forward

Scripture: Revelation 7:9-12

Leader: We read in Revelation about worship in heaven, where people of all nations, tribes, and languages come together in unity to give glory to God alone. What a beautiful picture of what worship can look like!

As we move forward into who we are called to be as a Church on earth, we are left with many things to wonder about. How do we maintain our heritage, history, and roots, but also have a more global focus in our worship? How do we unite with the universal church of all times and all places?

Despite our differences, despite our conflicts and trials, God’s sovereignty remains. Scripture alone tells us we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. To God alone be all the glory!


Offertory: “Behold Our God”

Prayer: God of all nations and all peoples, may our worship remind us of how great you are. May we never stop praising you, even as we leave this worship space, for the many ways you have blessed us,  both personally and corporately. We pray that our worship may be inclusive and not exclusive. Help us to reach out to the stranger, the lonely, the lost, and help us to image you in all that we do and say. May we be salt and light in this ever-changing world. Amen.

Parting Blessing: (Aaronic benediction from Num. 6:24-26, early Reformation practice)

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you

and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you

and give you peace.

Leader: We noted earlier in the service a trend in the decrease of psalm singing in the CRC. Many groups are working to counter that movement. Our closing song is an adaptation of a Genevan psalm by the Psalm Project.

Song: “Praise the Lord (Psalm 150)” (Sheet music is available at tinyurl.com/ptlsheetmusic. A recording is available on the Psalms Unplugged CD at FaithAliveResources.org.)


Pastor Elly Boersma Sarkany is pastor of worship at Covenant Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, where she has been privileged to serve for the past ten years planning and leading worship in community with many gifted volunteers. 

Reformed Worship 116 © June 2015, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.