Reformation Worship: An Interview with the Editors (Part 2)

April 24, 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.

Practically speaking, what are some of those things that have come down to us, which the Reformers recovered and refined in their liturgies?

We outline those in our third chapter. The first chapter is a biblical theology of worship in the Bible; the second is a historical overview of Reformation worship; and the third chapter is called “Worshiping in the Tradition: Principles from the Past for the Present.” In that chapter, we present the characteristic traits of Christian worship that have existed for two millennia. We wanted to show these as timeless principles of Christian worship that were present in the apostolic and early church, and which were refined by the Reformers in the 16th century. They are applicable to any era of the church. Let us give two examples.

First, Christian worship is Trinitarian. Now, that statement may seem unremarkable to many, but it is amazing how many modern evangelical and Reformed church services hardly mention our Triune God. We have been in services where Jesus is mentioned a lot, but God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are not mentioned, or if they are, it is only in passing. In contrast, the liturgies of the Reformation were permeated with references to the Trinity: in the prayers, in the praises, in the Creeds, in the sermons, and in the benediction. Just because a church mentions Jesus a lot, doesn’t mean Christian worship is taking place. Cults mention Jesus a lot, but an affirmation and praise of the Trinity is almost absent.

Second, the Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer and the Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian) were read, prayed, and affirmed, respectively, on a weekly basis. Integral to most Reformation liturgies was the reading of the law before or after the confession of sin; the Lord’s Prayer was prayed at least once—in many cases, more than once; and almost to a man, the Reformers incorporated the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds in their weekly services. The modern church needs to ask itself, not just if these elements are present from time to time, but are they part of the fabric of our weekly, regular worship services.

Church history demonstrates that where God has been pleased to reform the church and grow it, set forms of worship always follow.

But doesn’t church history show us that mere tradition can kill a church after a generation or two? And doesn’t a “fixed” church service put off the younger generation?

Well, to answer your first question, two key quotes in our book come to mind. The first is from Charles W. Baird who was influential in reforming worship in the Presbyterian church of America in the 19th century. He wrote a book called Eutaxia or The Presbyterian Liturgies: A Historical Sketch. (If you enjoy singing the Gloria Patri or the Doxology in a Presbyterian service, then that’s because of the influence of Charles W. Baird.) Baird said this about the Reformation and liturgy: “History gives forth but one utterance on the subject. Wherever Protestant Communions have been established, the institution of worship has been secured by formularies, in whose production the most able minds to be enlisted have been employed.”

So church history actually demonstrates that where God has been pleased to reform the church and grow it, set forms of worship always follow. And let’s be honest, every church, from whatever tradition or denomination, has a liturgy. It’s not whether we will have a liturgy; it’s just which liturgy we will have. Every week God’s people in whatever church they worship participate in a liturgy—the question is: Does the liturgy glorify God and reflect the fact this church claims to be a Christian church?

Additionally, we need to make a distinction between tradition and traditionalism. Jaroslav Pelikan has helpfully noted that, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”

In other words, tradition is not the problem. Traditionalism is. The two are not the same. And when it comes to Christian worship according to tradition—not traditionalism—then there ought to be a certain “fixed regularity” to it. This is because the church has always heard God’s call to worship through his Word; it has always praised the Triune God, prayed the Lord’s Prayer, read his Word in public and had it proclaimed; participated in the Lord’s Supper, and been dismissed with a benediction. Why would we not want these elements to feature regularly in our services of worship? There are ways to provide variety within the elements themselves, but the elements ought to be fairly “fixed.” In fact, C. S. Lewis said there was a certain advantage to experiencing the same worship service each week:

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

The problem with liturgical novelty is that, in the words of Lewis again, “it fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping.” . . .

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

April 17, 2018

by Jonathan Gibson