REFORMATION 500: Returning Worship to the People

One of the great, and often ignored, contributions of the Reformation was to return worship to the people. Somehow, many Protestants have got the idea that prayer books, with written prayers, responsive readings, creeds and the like are Roman Catholic and medieval. Nothing could be further from the truth. Prayer books were a product of the Reformation and they were written so that the congregation could participate fully in the act of worship.

—Peter Leithart, “Transforming Worship” Foundations 38 (Spring ’97):30

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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

In It Together

The success of worship is not measured by its entertainment values, nor is its success the sole responsibility of its leaders. Protestant worship is a communal activity that requires the active engagement of the worshipers themselves. Persons who sit passively waiting for worship to happen to them are likely to be disappointed. Each Christian must practice the disciplines of meditation and prayer for him- or herself.

—Daniel Frankforter, Stones for Bread: A Critique of Contemporary Worship, 183

Co-Abiding

Worship is not merely time with a deistic god who winds us up and then sends us out on our own; we don’t enter worship for “top up” refueling to then leave as self-sufficient, autonomous actors. “In the conception of Christian praxis,” Ward notes, “there is no room for such a modern notion of self-sufficiency.” Instead, the biblical vision is one of co-abiding presence and participation (“I in you and you in me”).

—James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, 153

Participatory Worship

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 Rev. D.H.C. Read, “The Reformation of Worship. Part III: The Direction of Contemporary Worship,” Scottish Journal of Theology 8:3 (Sept. 1955), 285

The Priority of Participation

The current generation of Christians, having been raised in a culture of television, radio, CDs and personal listening devices, has slipped into the habit of living life vicariously. We no longer gather around the piano for an informal sing-along, but just slide a CD or DVD into the player. Our “sophisticated” tastes have come to expect and be satisfied only with polished symphony orchestras, high-profile singing idols and technological bells and whistles. We are dissatisfied with our own often imperfect attempts to make music and want to be “ministered to,” if not by professionals, at least by the more competent and gifted in our congregation. . . .

Indeed, many great pieces of music were never intended to be sung by a group at all, but rather by soloists. Meditating on the words of a song performed by others can be a significant spiritual exercise, as much as reflecting on the words of a book written by a Christian author of acknowledged wisdom and insight. The value of listening to beautiful music itself, apart from the lyrics, should not be underestimated. We are created in the image of a creator God, as creative beings ourselves, and the exercise of our creative gifts can bring glory to God as well as edification and pleasure to others.

Performance of sacred music certainly has a valuable place in the worship service. Problems ensue, however, when performance dominates the music at the expense of participation. Morganthaler warns, “We are not producing worshippers in this country. Rather, we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with God” [Sally Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism, 17].

–Mary L. Conway, “Worship Music: Maintaining Dynamic Tension,” McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 7 (2006): 145-46  www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/pdfs/vol7/MJTM_7-7_Conway.pdf