Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Worship that is Reformed According to Scripture, by Hughes Oliphant Old (202 pp).

In this book, the author introduces all the different aspects of Reformed worship. He treats the following parts: baptism; the Lord's day; the ministry of praise; the ministry of the Word; the ministry of prayer; the Lord's supper; daily prayer; alms. In each case he discusses Old and New Testament roots, development in the synagogue, the early church and the middle ages, and reformation. Old has clearly mastered his topic on both the large and small scales. His bibliography is extensive.

In the final chapter," Tradition and Practice," the author enumerates a 15-point program for the renewal of worship in American Protestantism. He wants to avoid two extremes: the first is a sort of archaeological reconstruction in the English language of classic Reformed liturgies that do no more than mechanically and unthinkingly reproduce the tradition; the second is an ignoring of our traditions and of giving ourselves to perpetual liturgical revision (or revolution) thereby losing sight of the great value and importance of having a set liturgy. A tradition radically changed every generation is not a tradition.

This is a good book and very pleasant to read. The one who reads it will learn much about the biblical and church-historical roots of the different parts of the worship of the Reformed churches and be led to reflect on why we do things the way we do.

Here are two interesting quotations from the book. This first one (p. 148) is in the context of an argument to renew the classical Reformed practice of daily household worship:
For classical Reformed spirituality, morning and evening family prayer was one of the foundations of piety. It was at the heart of the day to day exercising of Christian faith. This made sense to those for whom Covenant theology was so formative. The unity of the family was a significant feature of Covenant theology. With the coming of pietism, daily family prayer was unfortunately replaced with private devotions.

Pietism was very individualistic and many of this persuasion had a hard time understanding why children should be baptized. There was no sacred unity in the family. Each single human being stood before God alone. With the demise of pietism, private devotions began to develop atrophy. They finally became not much more than "five minutes a day." Today as we seek to recover a Reformed spirituality, we need to reach behind pietism and recover the older classical Protestant discipline of daily morning and evening prayer.
I'm confident Old is not advancing an either-or dilemma between family worship and private devotion. Surely both are important. He is writing in a North American context that eschews the corporate for the individualistic in matters of relationship to God and neighbour.

What follows is the concluding paragraph after the author has put forward his 15-point renewal program for (North) American Protestantism:
This program for the renewal of worship in American Protestant churches of today may not be just exactly what everyone is looking for. In our evangelistic zeal we are looking for programs that will attract people. We think we have to put honey on the lip of the bitter cup of salvation. It is the story of the wedding of Cana all over again but with this difference. At the crucial moment when the wine failed, we took matters into our own hands and used those five stone jars to mix up a batch of Kool-Aid instead. It seemed like a good solution in terms of our American culture. Unfortunately, all too soon the guests discovered the fraud. Alas! What are we to do now? How can we possibly minister to those who thirst for the real thing? There is but one thing to do, as Mary the mother of Jesus, understood so very well. You remember how the story goes. After presenting the problem to Jesus, Mary turned to the servants and said to them, "Do whatever he tells you." The servants did just that and the water was turned to wine, wine rich and mellow beyond anything they had ever tasted before.

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