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Worshiping in the Tradition Principles from the Past for the Present

By Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey

(From Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, 48-74)

 

Introduction

[During the Protestant Reformation] the liturgy of the church service was renovated and reinvigorated in such a way that the Reformation gospel shone brightly, from the opening words to the closing benediction.

For the Reformers, the Reformation was not simply about recovering true doctrine; it was ultimately about recovering pure worship…Tradition mattered to the Reformers. It was the living faith of the dead, not the dead faith of the living…The Reformers thus maintained ancient elements of worship in their public services, such as the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed. They believed that when the Church worshiped on earth, she ought to show her age—one which reached back, not just to the early church fathers (with the Apostles’ Creed), nor even to Christ (with the Lord’s Prayer), but to Moses and Israel at Sinai (with the Ten Commandments).

Thus, when the Church gathers for worship today, she ought to reveal her ancient roots. We worship on the shoulders of those who have worshiped before us. We worship with all the saints—present and past (Heb. 12:22-24). 

The following are some liturgical principles for Christian worship gleaned from the past and applicable for the present. Comments provided by Pastor Juan.

Christian worship is Trinitarian

Because God has revealed himself as one God in three persons, we worship a Triune God. The Father planned our salvation; the Son accomplished our salvation; and the Spirit applies this salvation to repentant believers (1 Peter 1:2). And the Triune God sustains us by his grace (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Christian Worship is Focused on the Incarnate Word

One of the solas of the Reformation was Christ alone. It is on the basis of the truth that God has revealed to us about Jesus as the Christ that true worship is grounded (John 4:21-26). Jesus is the living Word made flesh (John 1:1-14). He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15-20), the exact representation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:1-3). Because the focus of God’s work in the world is through his Son made flesh, it is appropriate to focus our worship on Jesus.

Christian Worship is Saturated with the Written Word

While God has made his glory known in his creation (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-23), God has revealed who he is in his Son, the Living Word, by Scripture, his written Word (John 1:1-14). Therefore, we are to give ourselves to the public reading of Scripture and to explaining it and to applying it (1 Timothy 4:13).

Christian Worship is Centered on the Preached Word

“The Reformers understood the priority of preaching in Jesus’s ministry (Luke 4:18), and that of the Apostles (Acts 6:2), and were determined to devote themselves to the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:1-2)” (Reformation Worship, page 56).

 For this reason, we are committed to consecutive exposition – preaching through whole books of the Bible, so that we hear all that God has revealed to his people by his written Word.

Christian Worship Incorporates the Visible Word

The Lord Jesus has ordained that the church practice two ordinances when we gather: Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20) and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29). Both ordinances are commanded by the Lord Jesus and are meant as pictures of the gospel. They are the gospel dramatized before us as we gather.

Note: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are church ordinances. That is, they are not to be practiced by individuals or small groups. They are to be celebrated by the whole church under the leadership of the elders.

Christian Worship is Tied to Church Discipline

For the Reformers, church discipline was tied to the Lord’s Supper. When a professing member continues in unrepentant sin, they are to be removed from the membership and treated as unbelievers (Matthew 18:15-20). Since the Lord’s Supper pictures God’s children at the Lord’s Table, eating together in holiness and unity, those under church discipline are kept from communion. Hence, the term – excommunication.

Christian Worship Affirms the Faith Once for All Delivered to the Saints

We did not invent Christianity. When we believe we are joined to the heavenly church with all the saints of all time (Hebrews 12:18-24). Consequently, when we gather, we “should show our age.” It is important when we gather that we remember the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We see evidences of the early church doing this in confessional formulas (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; perhaps even Philippians 2:5-11).

Additionally, throughout the history of the church, Christians have confessed this faith in confessional formulas: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed. We do well to remember this faith as confessed by our forefathers.

Christian Worship is a Rich Spiritual Banquet

“Just as worship on the Lord’s Day in the early church involved various elements (Acts 2:42-47), so Reformation worship reflected the variety of elements encouraged throughout Scriptures. Those who drafted the liturgies were careful to include individual elements which were biblically based, such as confession and assurance (1 John 1:8-10), thanksgiving and general intercession (1 Timothy 2:1-2), exhortation (Colossians 3:16a), psalms and hymns (Colossians 3:16b), prayer for illumination (Psalms 19:14; 43:4; Ephesians 3:18-19), Scripture readings and the sermon (1 Timothy 4:13), Creeds (Deuteronomy 6:1; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Timothy 3:16), the Decalogue (Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 5:17; 1 Corinthians 9:21), the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), and a concluding benediction (Numbers 6:24-26; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 4:7)” (RW, 65).

“In short, the proper worship of God and the edification of his people required then—and still now— a rich liturgical diet, presented in a deliberate order, with nothing to distract the heart or mind of the participants” (RW, 65).

Christian Worship Includes Serious, Structured, and Studied Prayer

Throughout Scripture, we are encouraged to cast our anxieties upon the Lord in prayer (Philippians 4:6). Additionally, there are times when we are commanded to pray when we gather (1 Timothy 2:8): both men and women (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), for governing authorities (1 Timothy 2:1-2), with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2), for the advance of the gospel (Colossians 4:3), without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), for one another (1 Thessalonians 5:25), and for those who are sick (James 5:14), in the Holy Spirit (Jude 1:20).

Christian Worship is Punctuated with Praise

“The Reformers reflected the biblical concern for sung praise (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13) and the biblical examples of sung portions of Scripture (Luke 1:46-55; 2:29-32; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-26). The Bible’s own hymn book was used in many and varied Psalters which formed the basis for much congregational worship…The chief purpose of congregational singing was to praise and bless the name of the Lord, but it also conveyed a sense of active participation for the congregation, something which previously had been absent” (RW, 68).

 “The prayers found throughout the Reformation liturgies were also a means of praise in public worship” (RW, 69).

Christian Worship is Well Prepared and Conducted

“Reformation services were overseen with great ministerial care. They were prepared and conducted by ordained ministers [pastors], and this included not just the choice of Bible readings and the preached sermon, but also the choice of psalms and hymns, the prayers, and the order of the elements in the service…

…in practice, leading worship was one way in which the minister shepherded his flock—from the front of the church, modeling how to praise and pray… 

…The content and structure of the service [liturgy] told the story of the gospel…

…perhaps it is worth remembering that in the early church Arias spread his deadly heresies through songs” (RW, 70-71).

Worshiping in the Tradition

So, because we have come to Mount Zion, when we gather together on the Lord’s Day, we want our worship to be reflective of our age – the age of the Church of all time, and we want to speak in the language of our culture today. Our gathered worship is done in spirit and in truth. True worship is a whole-hearted response to all that God has revealed to be for us in Jesus Christ.

When we gather, then, we want to worship in the tradition of Christianity in today’s language. “What 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” (RW, 72).