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Liturgical Forms


Liturgical forms are an important part of the Reformed faith.

The Protestant Reformation was a renewal of the church’s worship, as much as it was a renewal of doctrine and life. Just as catechisms and confessions were used to teach the rediscovered principles of Scripture alone and faith alone, so too liturgical forms were prepared to teach the proper understanding of the church’s sacraments and guide faithful practice.

Liturgical Forms were prepared initially for the celebration of the two biblical sacraments confessed by Reformed Churches: baptism and the Lord’s supper. In time, additional forms were provided for other ceremonial moments in the life of the church, including profession of faith, marriage, ordination of ministers and elders, and excommunication and readmission. These forms were prepared to enact and teach the sacramental doctrine found in our confessions and catechisms.

Because the Reformed drew upon scripture alone as the foundation for this doctrine, they contain rich biblical teaching. The forms at this site are therefore a timeless resource of sacramental and practical theology for all believers today.

The book of Forms and Prayers recently published for use in the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA) is reflective of the Dutch Reformed tradition. This tradition was heavily shaped by an early Psalter published for Dutch speaking refugees in Heidelberg by Petrus Dathenus in 1566. Dathenus drew heavily upon the liturgy of the Church Order of the Palatinate (1563), where Heidelberg was located, which had largely been prepared by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus. This liturgy drew upon the forms prepared by John Calvin for Geneva in 1542. The work of all these Reformed liturgists can be traced back to the earlier work of Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli.

As a rule, the Reformers did not seek to reinvent the wheel, but rather recovered and restored the most faithful practices of the medieval and ancient church. Their work reflects the writings of church fathers such as Augustine, Tertullian, and Chrysostom. Though notably Reformed in character, these forms exhibit ancient practice and thought.

The Synod of Dort (1618 – 1619) approved liturgical forms for the use of the Dutch churches, and this liturgical tradition remained fairly stable in Dutch speaking churches for hundreds of years. Reformed church synods in North America approved English translations of these liturgical forms, notably in 1912 and 1934, with minor alterations and revisions.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, there was a great deal of liturgical innovation, not all of it taking the sacramental theology of the Reformation as its starting point. The URCNA Liturgical Forms committee sought to preserve the best of our tradition, and provide a collection of liturgical forms reflecting what was in use by our churches in the early part of the twenty-first century. Revisions were undertaken to ensure the language and sentence structure was clear and understandable to modern readers. After many years of work and much deliberative input from all our churches, these forms were approved by the Synod of the URCNA in 2016.