What We Can Learn from Reformation Worship and Liturgies

We owe an immense debt of gratitude to those who have participated in this project.

Reformation Worship gives impressive testimony to the way the reformers in various countries devoted so much attention to the subject of worship. They well understood that the rediscovery of the gospel and the reformation of worship were two sides of the same coin, because sung praise, confessions of sin and faith, prayer, and the reading and preaching of Scripture are but various aspects of the one ministry of the Word.

 

Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present is a resource of almost unparalleled richness in its field, representing an immense labor of love on the part of its editors and translators. It gathers together liturgies crafted by some of the leading figures in the Protestant Reformation and employed by them to aid worship in a wide variety of places and churches.

We owe an immense debt of gratitude to those who have participated in this project. They would, I feel sure, tell us that the best way we can repay that debt is to read carefully, to assess biblically, and then to reach down into the first principles of worship variously expressed in these liturgies from the past, and apply them wisely and sensitively in our worship in the present. This can only lead to a new reformation of the worship of God the Trinity.

Such access to the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit can alone help the congregations of God’s people, in the place and time they occupy, to worship with renewed mind, transformed affections, and holy joy.

Importance of Worship

Reformation Worship is an important book for several reasons.

The first—so obvious that we might not underline it sufficiently—is that it gives impressive testimony to the way the reformers in various countries devoted so much attention to the subject of worship. They well understood that the rediscovery of the gospel and the reformation of worship were two sides of the same coin, because sung praise, confessions of sin and faith, prayer, and the reading and preaching of Scripture are but various aspects of the one ministry of the Word.

For that reason, the reformers regarded the liturgies that framed the church’s worship as being an important aspect of the application of Scripture. An order of service could not therefore be simply thrown together casually. It might belong to the adiaphora; but “things indifferent” are never to be treated with indifference to the general teaching of Scripture (as the Westminster Divines would later make clear, WCF 1.6).

The integration between gospel rediscovery and worship transformation was made clear by John Calvin, when, in 1544 (and still in his mid-30s), he wrote The Necessity of Reforming the Church. Penned in preparation for the Imperial Diet at Spires, he prefaced his tract with a “Humble Exhortation to the Emperor, Charles V,” in which he tellingly wrote:

If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity, [namely], a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshiped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain. . . . If any one is desirous of a clearer and more familiar illustration, I would say, that rule in the church, the pastoral office, and all other matters of order, resemble the body, whereas the doctrine which regulates the due worship of God, and points out the ground on which the consciences of men must rest their hope of salvation, is the soul which animates the body, renders it lively and active, and, in short, makes it not to be a dead and useless carcass.

As to what I have yet said, there is no controversy among the pious, or among men of right and sane mind.

What is immediately striking here is not only the combination of fundamentals—worship and gospel—but the fact that the former is given pride of place, perhaps because the first fruit of rightly understanding the gospel is true worship. It is that important.

For this reason, we ought not to devalue the contents of this book by treating them as a kind of liturgical archaeological dig, the concern only of those who are interested in antiquities or aesthetics. For these liturgies were crafted out of a passion for the glory of God.

And while this compilation is not formulated as a tract for the times, it carries an important and powerful message for the contemporary church.

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