Thursday, 5 February 2015


New Directory for Public Worship (1)

Presbyterian worship has been characterised as worship done in reverence in fear, decently and in order.  It is not a chaotic free for all, where a constantly changing pattern of worship reflects the whims of the pastor.

In the past this worship has maintained a perfect balance between freedom and order.  Guidelines rather than rules were followed. Knox’s Book of Common Order was used in the church in Scotland until it was sacrificed in the cause of ecumenical unity in 1645 for the less Reformed, Westminster Directory for Public Worship.  By accepting the Directory the Scots lost many of their liturgical practices in a vain attempt to further a UK wide union that embraced the Congregationalists and Independents.

However, the acceptance of the Directory introduced a diminished sense of having a truly Reformed “common order”, and more and more Presbyterian worship began to resemble the practices of the Independents, with the loss of the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the doxologies concluding the psalms, and other aspects of Knox’s liturgy.

In the late 1800’s the Public Worship Association of the Free Church of Scotland issued a new and invaluable Directory for Public Worship.  It was not an official church publication, approved by the General Assembly, but it was compiled by some of the best minds in the Free Church and represented the best in Scottish, English and Continental worship.  It was designed to be a tool to be wisely used, not a rule to be inflexibly followed.


It has dated.  The prayers given as guidelines would not suit today, not because of their doctrinal content but because of changes in language.  Indeed, it is because of their solid biblical content that they are so valuable today.  They deserve to become models of public prayer again, and they are a both a challenge and an aid to pastors who are seeking to be Reformed in worship as well as doctrine.