REFORMATION 500: Reforming Worship

The Reformation was by no means merely a restating of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith; it was also intended as a reformation of the worship practices of the church. Two of the marks of the true church, “the right preaching of the word and the right administration of the sacraments,” concern worship.

—Stephen Farris, “Reformed Identity and Reformed Worship,” Reformed World 43:1&2 (Mar. & June `93), 69

REFORMATION 500: Semper Reformanda (Always Reforming)

Many imagine that what Luther and Calvin did was to found new churches, with their specific doctrines and forms of worship; and that therefore to be their loyal followers means holding rigidly to these doctrines and forms. Thus any movement to make changes in the established ways of Reformed churches is always met by cries of “betrayal of our heritage.” But neither Luther nor Calvin had any intention of founding a church.

They simply set out to reform the Church that Christ Himself had founded. They had no desire to make a break with the Church and its heritage, but were forced to separate from the contemporary church because of its refusal to reform. Their intention was never to deny continuity with the Christian heritage but rather to restore to the Church her most ancient traditions, those of the New Testament, which they saw had been radically distorted. Hence they were literally re-formers. And nothing could have been further from their intentions than the idea that their Reformation was definitive and authoritative for all time. Thus a loyal son of the Reformation is one who is prepared at all times to reform, and not one who has made of the sixteenth-century Reformation a new idol that cannot be touched. A Reformed Church is a reforming Church, and its characteristic ought to be, not a tenacious adherence to sixteenth century forms and principles, but an openness to the leading of the Spirit in every age. 

—Rev. D. H. C. Read, “The Reformation of Worship,” Scottish Journal of Theology 8:1 (March 1955):68

REFORMATION 500: The Priesthood of All Believers

The aim of the Reformation was not the abolition of the priesthood but the abolition of the laity. Every Christian was to realize his priesthood: ‘Ye are a chosen generation; a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.’ This is the Biblical conception of worship—an offering of the entire congregation in praise and adoration. The Reformers aimed at restoring this heritage to a people who had become accustomed to being spectators at a ceremonial in a language they did not understand. They therefore insisted on everything being said at worship in a clear and intelligible voice in the language of the common people. They also encouraged the revival of congregational singing and audible participation in the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.

—Rev. D.H.C. Read, “The Reformation of Worship, III. The Direction of Contemporary Worship,” Scottish Journal of Theology 8:3 (Sept. ’55), 285

The Hiding Place

Hail, sovereign Love, that first began the scheme to rescue fallen man!
Hail, matchless, free, eternal Grace, that gave my soul a hiding place!

Against the God Who rules the sky, I fought, with hand uplifted high
—despised the mention of His grace, too proud to seek a hiding place.

Enwrapped in thick Egyptian night, and fond of darkness, more than light,
madly I ran the sinful race, secure without a hiding place;

but thus th’ eternal counsel ran: Almighty Love, arrest that man!
I felt the arrows of distress, and found I had no hiding place.

Indignant Justice stood in view. To Sinai’s fiery mount I flew;
but Justice cried, with frowning face, This mountain is no hiding place.

Ere long, a heavenly voice I heard; and Mercy’s angel-form appeared,
Who led me on, with gentle pace, to Jesus Christ, my Hiding Place.

On Him Almighty Vengeance fell, that must have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race, and thus became their Hiding Place.

Should storms of sevenfold vengeance roll, and shake this earth from pole to pole,
no flaming bolt could daunt my face—for Jesus is my Hiding Place.

A few more rolling suns, at most, shall land me safe on Heaven’s coast.
Then I shall sing the song of grace to Jesus Christ, my Hiding Place.

—Jehoida Brewer (1752-1817)

The Audience of One

If we define all that we are before our great Caller and live our lives before one audience—the Audience of One—then we cannot define or decide our own achievements and our own success. It is not for us to say what we have accomplished. It is not for us to pronounce ourselves successful. It is not for us to spell out what our legacy has been. Indeed, it is not even for us to know. Only the Caller can say.

—Os Guinness, The Call

Teaching (to) Worship

Instead of merely scrutinizing hymns, students can be asked to sing them. To the extent that it forms in students and faculty alike a deeper capacity for wonder, a genuinely doxological ethos may be as important for a course on worship as any particular assignment.

—John D. Witvliet, “Teaching Worship as a Christian Practice,” in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry, 147  


In Christ the new life has already begun. . . . He is Life Eternal, the Fulfillment, the Resurrection and the Joy of the world. The Church is the entrance into the risen life of Christ; it is communion in life eternal, “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” And it is the expectation of the “day without evening” of the Kingdom; not of any “other world,” but of the fulfillment of all things and all life in Christ. In Him, death itself has become an act of life, for He has filled it with Himself. . . . And if I make this new life mine. . . then my very death will be act of communion with Life.

—Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, 106

Not the Center

Biblically shaped worship is a powerful way to remind ourselves that although we are beloved by God, we’re not really the star of our own story. Only in union with Christ by the Spirit are we the children of God and brothers and sisters in the community of faith. 

—Robbie F. Castleman, Story Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 203-4

Worship God! (Revelation 22:9)

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.

If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning into life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.

Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, 22

God Our Creator

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” (from the Apostles’ Creed)

What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

Martin Luther, Smaller Catechism

Unity in Diversity

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a detailed report of a Christian gathering indicating how different contributions fitted together and in what order. There are guidelines to follow, but there is no prescriptive pattern of service given to us. The glory of the gospel is to unite peoples of every language and culture under the lordship of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22; 4:3-6,13; Rev. 7:9-17). So we should not be content with divisions created by different musical tastes and traditions. As we grow to maturity in Christ we should be looking for ways to express the unity that is God’s goal for us: in gospel action, in the exchange of ministries and gifts, in combined services and in the sharing of musical resources and experiences.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 183

God and Music

When he was 48, Johann Sebastian Bach acquired a copy of Luther’s three-volume translation of the Bible. He pored over it as if it were a long-lost treasure. He underlined passages, corrected errors in the text and commentary, inserted missing words, and made notes in the margins. Near 1 Chronicles 25 (a listing of Davidic musicians) he wrote, “This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing music.” At 2 Chronicles 5:13 (which speaks of temple musicians praising God), he noted, “At a reverent performance of music, God is always at hand with His gracious presence.”

—”Johann Sebastian Bach, ‘The Fifth Evangelist,'” Christian History

All of the Above

The ‘vertical’ and the ‘horizontal’ dimensions of what takes place should not be artificially separated. One part of our meetings cannot be ‘the worship time’ (prayer and praise) and another part ‘the edification time’ (preaching and exhortation), since Paul’s teaching encourages us to view the same activities from both points of view.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 41

Not Up to Us

In biblical teaching the initiative lies with God, not with us. We can certainly pray that He would move us to honor Him and encourage one another in our singing. But God’s ability to minister to us in a gathering of His people does not depend on the intensity of our singing, the degree of our enthusiasm or the style of our music.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 129

Music as A Means

If music is simply used to create a mood or to entertain, it can be manipulative (e.g. the excessive repetition of songs to intensify the emotions of those present). But when it is employed to highlight the meaning of words, music can plant biblical truth memorably and powerfully in our hearts. Music can help us to be involved in prayer and praise emotionally as well as intellectually. It can be a vehicle for expressing deep reflections and feelings.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 141