Reformation Worship Blurb

Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey’s Reformation Worship fills a big gap among Reformed evangelicals, among whom I number myself. We don’t know how to do liturgy well. If I could snap my fingers, I would make every seminary student read this.

I just finished the first three chapters, which offer reflections on worship from a biblical and historical viewpoint, and they are very good. The rest of the book consists of original source materials of liturgies from the Reformers with editorial introductions.

While there is notable diversity among the Reformers, there are all the more striking similarities between them. Common elements include a confession of sins and absolution/prayer for forgiveness, kneeling for prayer, the singing of psalms (and often hymns, but with an emphasis on psalms), the reading and preaching of the Word, and congregational recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed (Apostles’ or Nicene). In addition, these elements generally followed a certain more-or-less fixed order. In all things the Reformers sought for corporate worship to be focused upon the Triune God and the gospel of Christ, and that such worship would be marked by reverence and awe, as well as by the decency and good order that the Bible enjoins (Heb 12:28; 1 Cor 14:40).

The Reformers realized that it was not just the church’s teaching and preaching that was in need of reformation, but also the church’s worship and liturgies. “The recovery of the gospel in the Reformation was ultimately a worship war—a war against the idols, a war for the pure worship of God” (49). The Reformers struggled against their own issues current in their day: the idolatry of the mass, the exclusive use of Latin, the veneration of saints, etc. In an analogous way, in our era much of evangelical Reformed worship is in need of reformation. Not, to be sure, from errors as serious as those of the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church, but from errors and deficiencies nonetheless. While the book is primarily irenic, and does not argue for one particular liturgy over another, its portrait of Reformed worship does present a challenge to Reformed evangelicals:

“This book is an encouragement for churches and Christians who claim to stand in the tradition of the Reformation to worship as they did.… What then do we mean by ‘worshiping in the tradition’? Simply put: We mean that the biblical, liturgical elements that were passed from the ancient church to the medieval church, and which were then refined by the Reformers in the light of Scripture, should once again, and hereafter, be integral to the weekly services of Christian worship. The modern church must again learn to revel in traditional liturgy. In this regard, orders of service ought to reflect a certain ‘fixed’ regularity in the liturgical tradition of the Reformation churches” (73).

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