How Do the Southern Presbyterians Worship?

2 October 2023 by Wes Bredenhof

I was on vacation over the last week.  While on vacation, I will sometimes visit other churches in the area.  I’ve been to the Southern Presbyterian Church here in Launceston on a number of occasions, but yesterday was the first time I’ve been there with their new pastor, Rev. Tom Budgen. 

Tom hails from Scotland.  His last congregation was on the Isle of Skye.  He was a pastor in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).  That church has ecclesiastical fellowship with the Canadian Reformed Churches where I previously served. 

The Southern Presbyterian Church is a small denomination of two churches, one in Launceston and the other in Hobart.  The Free Reformed Churches of Australia are in ecumenical discussions with the SPC.  Locally, we’ve enjoyed a good (informal) relationship for many years.  Our prayer is that this can somehow be formalized in the near future.

The SPC has a simple, traditional Presbyterian liturgy.  This is their order of worship for the afternoon service:

  • Singing
  • Opening prayer
  • Scripture reading
  • Congregational prayer
  • Singing
  • Text & Sermon
  • Prayer of application
  • Singing
  • Benediction

If my memory is correct, I don’t think there’s any difference between the AM and PM orders of worship.

Like us, the SPC holds to the regulative principle of worship (RPW).  The RPW states that we should only worship God as he has commanded.  Or as the Heidelberg Catechism states in QA 96, we are not “to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.”   

While we both hold to the RPW, we do differ in its application on some points.  There are two notable differences.  One is that the SPC practices exclusive psalmody.  All the songs in the service yesterday afternoon were from the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter.  We sang portions of Psalms 42, 63, and 84.  The other notable difference is that the singing is done a cappella, unaccompanied.  There’s a capable young man who serves as precentor – he ensures that the singing starts off on the right note.  I have to say, if the tune is right, unaccompanied singing definitely has its charm.

At the centre of all Reformed worship is the preaching of the Word of God.  Rev. Budgen preached on Genesis 32, focussing his attention on verse 24:  “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.”  By the way, yes, the SPC continues to use the King James Version.  The sermon was a lively and edifying exposition of the passage.  Tom noted how Jacob was alone, alive, and altered.  He pointed us to Christ as the strength for every believer.  It was a sermon I’d be happy to hear preached from my own pulpit.

An attentive observer may have noticed one element missing from the order of worship:  the collection.  As noted in chapter 9 of Aiming to Please, the offertory has not always had a clear right to be present in Reformed worship.  In church history, the Reformation-era churches in Strasbourg and Geneva didn’t take offerings in their services.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, even some Dutch Reformed churches weren’t convinced that the offering should be part of the worship service.  This view found more widespread acceptance in confessional Presbyterianism.  While I don’t agree with that position, it has to be acknowledged that it has long been a viewpoint living within the Reformed tradition.  As such, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker to ecumenical fellowship. All that being said, I was informed that they do have a collection in the AM worship service. If the second service is regarded as a continuation of the first, I can find myself in that.  

In summary, within the context of conservative, confessional Presbyterianism there’s nothing idiosyncratic about the worship of the SPC.  It’s essentially the same as the worship you’d find at many other Presbyterian churches around the world:  Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, Reformed Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), etc.  There’s a reason for this commonality:  they’re all basically following the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God.  It’s simple, biblical worship which honours God and blesses his people.