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


REFORMATION 500: How We Worship

It is equally a fundamental truth of Scripture that we are how we worship. The kind of worship the church engages in shapes the kind of community she becomes and forms the character of individuals who make up the community. This was one of the great insights of the Reformation, for the Reformers were not contesting outright idolatry but wrong worship of the true God. They were struggling not about who was worshipped, for all agreed on that question; they gave their lives to a struggle about how Christians are to worship.

Worship, the Reformers insisted, had to be pure in order to be pleasing to God, and by “pure” worship they meant, first, worship that conformed to Scripture and, second, worship that arose from a genuine devotion to the Lord. [i.e., “worship in spirit and truth,” John 4:23-24]

—Peter Leithart, “Transforming Worship,” Foundations 38 (Spring ’97):27

Come to the Table 9

With the current situation of the American church in mind, we can say the following: frequent eating and drinking at the Lord’s table will inoculate the church against the Gnosticism of modern Christianity (not to mention trendy spiritualisms) that would reduce religion to a private, inner, purely “spiritual” experience; a church whose central religious rite includes baked goods is being trained in proper dominion over creation and will refuse resurgent nature worship in both its religious and political guises; a church that celebrates a feast of wine is being formed into a joyful community that contests the equation of Christian seriousness with prudishness; a church that celebrates the communal meal is bound into one body and will resist the corrosive individualism of modern culture that has too often invaded the church; a church that shares bread at the Lord’s table is learning the virtues of generosity and humility; a church that proclaims the Lord’s sacrificial death in the Supper is exercising itself in self-sacrifice and becoming immune to the lure of self-fulfillment. Not automatically, but in the context of biblical teaching and a robust community life, the skills and virtues practiced at the Lord’s table will spill over to fill the whole church with a eucharistic ethos. In short, the Supper exercises the church in the protocols of life in the presence of God.

—Peter J. Leithart, “The Way Things Really Ought to Be: Eucharist, Eschatology and Culture” Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997):176

Come to the Table 3

In New Covenant worship, the peace offering is fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper, and these passages indicate that song during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is appropriate and good. Much Eucharistic music, however, is far too slow, meditative, and melancholy, contributing powerfully to a Eucharistic piety that treats the Supper as “tomb” rather than “table.” Meditative music might occasionally be used at the Supper, but I believe that vigorous and triumphal music is far more appropriate. The Supper is a victory meal, memorializing the death that vanquished the powers and led captivity captive. It is not a moment to wallow in sorrow, but a moment to celebrate Christ the Victor.

—Peter J. Leithart, From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution, 128

Mingled with Us

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

God doesn’t need the incarnation any more than He needs the world. He would be the same infinitely joyful, infinitely lively and infinitely satisfied God if we had never existed and if Jesus had never been born.

God doesn’t need the incarnation, but the incarnation is not alien to God. God is boundlessly good, with a goodness that is infinite love. He is a ring of self-giving love from Father to Spirit to Son to Spirit to Father. Philanthropy —love for humans —comes naturally to the Triune God, the fitting expression of the goodness God is.

His Triune goodness is displayed in His willingness to become flesh and “mingle” with us (Gregory of Nyssa).

Our good is to mingle with Him.  He has become one spirit with us; our good is to be one spirit with Him.  He has united Himself with our flesh; our good is to be one body with Him.

—Peter J. Leithart, blog post on John 1:14 (

Another Comforter (3)

“I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)

We’ve seen in the sermon that the ascension means that Jesus is truly absent from us. He has been glorified and exalted into heaven, He has gone to the Father, He has gone away. As His disciples, we are called to witness faithfully, in the face of bullying and persecution, in His absence, in hope that we will meet Him when we are cast out of the synagogues.

But the ascension should never be detached from Pentecost. Jesus goes away, but in going away, He promises to send His Spirit. Jesus goes away, but at the same time assures His disciples that they will not be left orphans. He goes away, but says that He will come to us and be with us through His Spirit.

In 16:7, Jesus says it is for our good that He goes away, because unless He goes away the Spirit, the Paraklete, will not come. And it’s good for the Spirit to come, because through the Spirit Jesus’ disciples do greater works than He did. Because Jesus goes away, things are going to happen that could not happen when He was present.

During Jesus’ lifetime, He ate and drank frequently with the Twelve. He fed 5000 people on one occasion, and 4000 on another occasion. He had other meals and feasts throughout His ministry. But the sum total of people who ate and drank with Jesus during His lifetime would be somewhere in the thousands.

Now He has gone away, and the Spirit has come. Now Jesus is absent in the flesh, but present in the Spirit.  . . . Throughout the world, today, there are millions eating and drinking with Jesus, drawn from every tribe and tongue and nation. Jesus never did that. That could only be done when Jesus went away to His Father, and sent the Helper to be with us.

—Peter Leithart, “Eucharistic Meditation on John 16:7

Ascended on High! (3)

The key point of Ascension is not that the Son of God has begun to rule. The Son of God has, with the Father and Spirit, ruled all things since the beginning of things. The new thing that happened at the Ascension of Jesus is that the Incarnate Son begins to rule. There is a human being, a man, on the throne at the right hand of the Father, far above all authority; by the ascension, Jesus has fulfilled the original Adamic commission to rule the earth.

And we are in Him. Paul says that just as Jesus is seated in heavenly places, so also in Him we are seated in heavenly places.

—Peter Leithart, “Eucharistic Meditation on Luke 22:29,30