Worshiping with Calvin

Worshipping with Calvin

“Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” Revelation 11:15-19

Is Christian worship in America (and elsewhere) in need of major, sound, biblically and historically grounded reform?

You might as well just ask ‘Is the pope Catholic?’

I, like the author, have similar theological education and experience in various types of churches, from dispensationalist charismatic in the 70’s, revivalistic Southern Baptist, mega churches, and a variety of mainline Protestant churches. With great relief in the last few years, I have found and joined a theologically profound, historically rich, deeply rooted church to worship and grow in, a Dutch Reformed heritage church (URCNA), quite a rare find in our day.

The thin spiritual gruel in most of those previous settings was often just barely to keep a person spiritually alive, leaving those assembled spiritually enervated – like a diet of cotton candy vs. steak and potatoes or like searching for water in a bleak and parched desert vs. Minnesota. Sadly, places like my church are hard to find today, even among the theologically reformed, but that was not so much the case from the 16th to early 20th centuries.

Worshiping With Calvin is a substantial book of ~ 320 pages with a 40 page bibliography and 60 pages of end-notes. Not light reading by any means, but accessible to most Christians. He takes a threefold approach to worship analysis, much like the reformers, starting with an exegetical review of Scripture leading to theological analysis and then reviewing how early church leaders viewed those things to confirm or correct the exegetical and theological points. His book could also have been titled “Worshiping with the Apostles, the Early Church, and the Protestant Reformers”, but his title is fine I suppose.

As most already know, the primary reformers were deeply pious scholars with a remarkable passion for Christ and truth, rigorously demanding in their research and analysis of primary sources of the manuscripts of Scripture and Patristic era, and so becoming increasingly aware of how profoundly the Roman church had departed (apostatized) from the simple, yet profound worship and beliefs found in Scripture, a system that by medieval time had devolved in grotesquely unrecognizable ways from the Scriptural simplicity of apostolic teaching and practices.

The reformers derived certain basic theological principals from their intensive study of Scripture and early church leaders, to wit: the truths of Christian faith are found in Scripture alone which teaches that salvation is received because of divine grace alone, by the means of the gift of faith alone, resting solely in the full and final sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice alone, and all of that is to the glory of God alone.

Per the author:

Worship that glorifies God as He is in Himself, in the edification of His church, and inclusion of the outsider, is God, not human, centered, and looks solely to His divine, authoritative words as to how He will be approached and worshiped. This is in stark contrast to so-called seeker-sensitive, market-driven, revivalistic, emotion driven, and / or purely didactic approaches that have become increasingly common in so-called worship. Some of the highly influential Pied Pipers of these approaches are Hybels (Willow Creek), Warren (Saddleback), and Barna.

Worship of God is worship that is rich in Scripture in every aspect of the weekly liturgy, emphasizing God’s words over mans’. This is effected by reading in a continuing manner each week large portions of Scripture (with exposition) and likewise preaching expositorily through Scripture in a continuous manner. Prayers are to be rich in Scripture and fervently, humbly, in faith made to God in confession and thanksgiving for illumination and intercession. Whole Psalms and biblically rich hymns of the church are solely appropriate for congregational singing in the worship of God.

In the twin sacraments of the Supper and Baptism, God’s words must precede and accompany those important visual signs of the gospel of the new covenant in Christ’s blood, both being central and primary means of grace. The Lord’s Supper, like the Passover, is a simple, covenant meal around a table to be given to confessing, believing sinners, while baptism is to be administered as a simple washing to the children of believers and adult converts as a sign of covenant inclusion in the family of God.

Further, worship must be gospel structured (Christ-centered) with all elements of the weekly liturgy directly pointing to benefits which flow from the cross to His church, structured with a stable, well-thought out, soundly theological order. Some of its elements are preparation, praise, law & confession, word & sacrament, thanksgiving / blessing (with of course sub-elements for each).

True worship must be catholic, having knowledge of, respect and love for God’s people in all places, and times. Johnson challenges the enervating ideologies of the homogeneous unit principle and culturally specific worship among other nasties currently infecting the church.

Finally, worship must divest itself of gimmicks, showmanship, ostentation, etc. learning to rely on and have confidence in the Spirit and Word to accomplish whatsoever He will in the church as it faithfully worships God in the way He commands.

This was a challenging book to read, digest, and review. Dense, heavily researched and documented, it contains solid correctives to the ‘mile wide, inch deep’ worship and theology of modern day evangelicalism and its increasingly odd offspring. Highly recommended. The book was provided gratis in exchange for a review.

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