Reformed Worship? (Part 3)
Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Good liturgy necessarily arises out of a proper understanding of the church. But what is a good Reformed liturgy? “It is a liturgy that orders worship in a way that fits with Reformed doctrine” (93). That is to say, Reformed liturgy should reflect our understanding of the truth of Scripture. Hart and Muether helpfully identify that our worship ought to be arranged according to the doctrine of the covenant. God is God and we are His people. He initiates toward us by saving us. “God promises, and his people respond to his mercy in obedience and consecration. God speaks to us, and we respond in gratitude and service. God speaks to us, and we respond in praise. Following this pattern, Christian worship is inherently covenantal” (94). Thus arranging worship according to the doctrine of the covenant will mean the service bears a dialogical character; God speaks and we as His people respond. While the Scripture does not provide us with a fixed order of service, ordering it according to the doctrine of the covenant will provide the “gospel logic” that undergirds the service.
Moving forward Hart and Muether advocate preserving the Reformed pattern of worship being led by ordained elders, and particularly reserving the functions of preaching and administering the sacraments to ministers. Might not following such advice, though, lead to people in the pew becoming bored with worship? “Worship that is Reformed according to the Word, in the words of the first and greatest commandment, demands loving God with all our heart, soul, and experience (Matt. 22:37). If worship is such a soul-wrenching experience, how could it ever be boring” (115)? They go on to note that the real question is how we come to a place where we perceive preaching, sacraments, reading Scriptures, song, and benediction as boring.
The doctrine of the covenant and the regulative principle speak not only to the form of worship, but also to the tone and mood of worship. The authors observe, “God desires reverent worship, worship that reflects the seriousness that is inherent in a religion that required the death of his only begotten Son in order to redeem a chosen people from the bonds of sin and misery and to deliver them into the glorious blessedness of God’s children” (121). In my opinion, with that one statement Hart and Muether cut through all of the arguments for entertainment-oriented worship.
A serious tone, then, is inescapable in Christian worship; it is bound up in the nature of our faith. Dignity and reverence are vital. But they are not achieved by, as Calvin put it, “great ostentation in ceremonies.” Rather there is simplicity of worship commended by Scripture, and that simplicity has characterized Reformed worship throughout it’s history. The authors further note that there is no universal standard for expressing reverence. It may look differently in Asia than it does in the West. Even more importantly, reverence does not exclude joy. Proper reverence is the consequence of theological reflection, as is evident in Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord (Isaiah 6:5). But at the same time because Christ has brought forgiveness to His people, and has clothed us in His righteousness, Christian reverence is also confident.
My exploration of this book will continue in part 4.