Conversations in Reformed biblical theology

ecclesiology (3)

Liturgy and covenantal worship

How should God’s covenant with man affect the way we worship?

We have forgotten a great deal over the years. It is now thought “un-Protestant” to have a “high liturgy.” Confessions of faith and form prayers are labelled as “Roman Catholic.” The Reformers, however, were quite aggressive in restoring congregational involvement in the liturgy. At the time of the Reformation, worship had become a spectator sport - an act performed by the priest, in another language, no less. One of the key ways the Reformers restored congregational involvement was through unison confession, as well as congregational singing. (We ought to remember the latter when we begin to delegate the task of singing to special vocalists and choirs.) And form prayers were composed by many of the leading Reformers as part of their program of reform.

At any rate, because we have largely lost a vision of the purpose of worship, liturgy has been cut adrift in the modern Church. There are all sorts of questionable assumptions regarding worship - that it ought to be “seeker-sensitive,” for one. The worship service, however, was not originally a primary place of what we call “evangelism.” Although unbelievers were sometimes present, as Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 14, the worship service was a covenantal event which centered upon the breaking of bread, in which only believers could participate.

In an age when worship is geared toward entertaining believer and unbeliever alike, and in provoking emotions that feel warm and fuzzy, we need to reexamine the biblical purpose of corporate worship. If the way we worship speaks volumes regarding our view of God, there is disturbing evidence that our view of God has fallen on hard times indeed.


Disclaimer: inclusion of material in the bibliography implies neither endorsement of all views expressed in the material, nor that the author of the material endorses (or, if deceased, would have endorsed) the views of this web site. The criterion for inclusion of material in this list is genuine helpfulness to the discussion, not uniformity of viewpoint.

Tim Gallant: “‘Wine’ Means Wine: A Summary Defense of the Use of Wine in Communion.” The title says it all.

James B. Jordan: “‘Do This!’” A challenge to take the biblical way of celebrating the Supper seriously.

Rich Lusk: “A Visionary Ecclesiology: A Primer for Church Members on the Nature and Functions of the Body of Christ.” An effort to understand liturgy in integration with salvation and vibrant Christian living.

Jeffrey J. Meyers: The Lord’s Service:  The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship. (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2003.)  An significant recent work which covers many aspects of liturgy.

Hughes Oliphant Old: Worship That is Reformed According to Scripture. (Guides to the Reformed Tradition.) (Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1984.) An important reintroduction to the Reformed and biblical principles of worship.