Reformation Worship: An Interview with the Editors (Part 1)

April 17, 2018

by Jonathan Gibson

Credo Magazine interviews Dr. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey on their new book, Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present. More information about Reformation Worship including the full list of liturgies, endorsements, and access to the book’s preface and opening chapter can be found here.

How did your vision for a 700+ page book on Reformation liturgies come about?

By the Lord’s providence, really. In January 2016, I (Jonny) was on writing leave from Cambridge Presbyterian Church, working on developing liturgical resources for my denomination, the International Presbyterian Church (UK). As I hunted down old prayers to be reworked for the modern church, I happened upon a treasure-trove of Reformation liturgies made accessible through Charles W. Baird’s Eutaxia, or The Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches (1855) and Bard Thompson’s Liturgies of the Western Church (1961). Around the same time, I (Mark) was pursuing doctoral research at the University of Oxford into John Ponet (1516–1556), formerly chaplain to Thomas Cranmer and then Bishop of Winchester. Providentially, I stumbled across a treasure-trove of personal books owned by various English Reformers. I was soon buried in early modern rare books and incunabula, rustling through pages of theological and liturgical literature from the Reformation. It became obvious that our interests were dovetailing, and so we set about finding a way to collate a select number of Reformation liturgies and make them accessible to the modern church. The book sort of evolved from there. Three translators helped move it from vision to reality: Matthias Mangold (German and Dutch liturgies), Bernard Aubert (French liturgies), and Michael Hunter (Latin liturgies). What’s unique about the book is that, because of these translators’ important work, we now have liturgies in the English language that were previously inaccessible to the Anglophone world.

What is the connection between the Reformation and worship?

Only once we have begun to worship God aright are we ready to call others to repent and do the same.

When Christians today hear of the Reformation in the 16th century, they generally think of the recovery of doctrines such as sola scriptura and justification by faith alone, etc. However, the Reformers were not just interested in recovering these doctrines as an end in themselves; ultimately, they were interested in recovering the true and pure worship of God in his church. John Calvin made this point in his tract On the Necessity of Reforming the Church. He wrote that the Reformation was necessary because by the 16th century “the whole of divine worship . . . [was] nothing but mere corruption.” You also see this focus in Calvin’s comments about his own conversion. He spoke not only of being saved from works righteousness, but also from idolatry. For Calvin, as well as the other Reformers, justification by faith alone was the immediate goal; the true and pure worship of God was the ultimate goal. Few people know this, but the reformation of worship was so important to Martin Luther that when he was in hiding in Wartburg Castle translating the Bible into his native German, he put down his penned and came out of hiding to return to Wittenberg because a controversy had broken out about how to conduct public worship. From that visit, Luther penned his now famous “The Form of the Mass” in Latin in 1523. He would later follow it up with one in German in 1526. These two examples from Calvin and Luther demonstrate that when the Reformers recovered the gospel, they aimed for true and pure worship, because a renewed interest in the gospel always leads to a renewed interest in worship. We often forget that one of the very first things our Reformers did when they were converted and took charge of their churches was to write an evangelical liturgy—not as isolated congregations adrift from those who came before them, but with deep reflection upon the received tradition, and often recycling the insights from other evangelical liturgies themselves. As G. J. van de Poll has put it, “Where else should the reformation in the Church start but in her liturgies, which were her chief instruments by which she held the great mass of people together!”

Why do you think this book is important for the church today?

We think it’s important because worship of the triune God has always been the raison d’etre of the church. Of course, mission is also an integral part of the church’s calling; but worship is primary. God has chosen and saved us for his own praise (Isa. 43:1; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:9); and only once we have begun to worship God aright are we ready to call others to repent and do the same. The question then becomes: “Having been saved into Christ’s church, how then shall we worship?” . . .

. . . continue reading at Credo Magazine.

Read More On liturgy, Reformation, worship

Jonathan Gibson

Dr. Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge) is professor of Old Testament at WTS.

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