In Reformed churches, worship is the service of God's glory. This service is in Jesus Christ, continuing his preaching of the gospel, his acts of mercy, his ministry of prayer, and celebration of the sacraments he instituted. It is both in Christ's name and in the fellowship of his body. Finally, worship is a divine work initiated, inspired, and constantly supported by the Holy Spirit at work in the individual human heart and the assembled congregation.

The Reformed approach to worship is most easily understood from certain key Scripture passages. A fundamental principle of Reformed theology is that worship must be formed and constantly reformed according to Scripture. That worship be according to God's Word follows from the perception that it is God's work. Our worship is at Christ's bidding and therefore bears the promise of his presence (Matt. 28:20). In working this out, the Reformers—notably John Oecolampadius—intended to steer a middle course between the strict principle that what is not commanded by Scripture is forbidden and the lax principle that what is not forbidden is permitted. By the end of the sixteenth century this had become a major plank in the Puritan program for liturgical reform as in the Admonition to Parliament (1572). William Ames affirmed the principle of Augustine and Calvin that nothing glorifies God quite so much as that which comes from God—that is, our worship should reflect God's glory. A most balanced statement of this principle is in the Westminster Confession (1.6).

Already in the first tablet of the law of Moses, Israel is called to serve God's glory. This service is to be to the one true God and no other. Neither idols, which could confuse God's nature, nor magical formulas, which would profane God's name, are to be used. Rather, God's people are to gather each Sabbath in remembrance of God's mighty acts of creation and redemption. For a Reformed theology of worship a Christian understanding of the first four commandments has always been fundamental (cf. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism [qq. 93–103]). As Calvin said, the first tablet of the law was summed up by Jesus as the first and greatest commandment, the commandment to love God. Worship is, therefore, in terms of the love relationship between God and the people of God (Inst 2.8.11–34). Paul treats several liturgical questions in 1 Corinthians 10–14 in terms of this covenant love. For this reason, many Reformed preachers, such as New England's Thomas Shepard, Scotland's John Willison, and New Jersey's Gilbert Tennent, often preached on the wedding feast of the Lamb at Communion. They understood worship in terms of covenant love.

When Martin Bucer set down the program of liturgical reform of the Church of Strassburg in his Grund und Ursach (1524), he drew from Acts 2:42 that worship should consist of (1) reading and teaching the Scriptures; (2) fellowship, expressed especially in giving alms; (3) celebration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and (4) the service of daily prayer. Strassburg developed a very full diet of prayer, including the singing of psalms and hymns, prayers of confession and supplication, prayers of intercession, thanksgivings, and benedictions. Place was given both to set forms of prayer and to extempore prayer. Bucer, as the Reformed tradition generally, was not so concerned for the sequence of these elements as that they all be included.

The Reformed approach to worship can be explained in terms of several dimensions of worship. First there is the kerygmatic dimension. Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom. The preaching of the gospel is worship because it proclaims God's rule and witnesses to God's sovereignty. In the worship of the Temple many of the psalms were acclamations of God's sovereign presence (e.g., Ps. 93; 96–99), not only in regard to Israel but all nations. In the same way evangelism glorifies God by proclaiming the Lordship of Christ over all nations and cultures. The missionary and evangelistic preaching of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries understood well the kerygmatic dimension of worship. Just as many of the ancient psalms were kerygmatic, so many Christian hymns are kerygmatic. One thinks of Isaac Watts's paraphrase of Psalm 72: "Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun," or of Joachim Neander's "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation." Much church music is kerygmatic. Organ preludes and postludes emphasize the kerygmatic dimension of Christian worship just as the sounding of the shofar and the blowing of trumpets announced the Sabbaths of ancient Israel.

Worship has an epicletic dimension; it calls on God's name for our help and salvation. An epiclesis is a prayer calling upon or invoking God. Just as it was important for OT worship not to use God's name in vain, so it was important for NT worship to hallow God's name. God is worshiped when the faithful call upon God in time of need. Many psalms are lamentations, supplications, and confessions of sin (e.g., Ps. 22; 42; 51; 102; 130). Jesus prayed them in his own worship, and in the Lord's Prayer he taught his disciples to pray for the forgiveness of their sins, for the supplying of their daily bread, for deliverance from evil, and for the coming of the kingdom. Reformed worship gives great attention to the invocation of God's name at the beginning of worship and the invocation of the Holy Spirit before the reading and preaching of the Scriptures. In the celebration of both Baptism and Communion, God the Father is called upon to send the Holy Spirit so that what is signified in the sacramental action becomes a reality in the lives of those who receive it.

Worship has a prophetic dimension. Jesus and the apostles no less than the prophets insisted that while God's glory is obscured by injustice and immorality, it is magnified when the worshiping community reflects God's holiness (Micah 6:6–8; Amos 5:21–24; Isa. 6:3–8). The service of God's glory entails the service of mercy toward the neighbor (Matt. 22:36–39; Rom. 12). The collection of tithes and alms, therefore, has a place in worship. It is in the diaconal ministry that the service of mercy and the service of worship are tied together. Theodor Fliedner and the German Reformed deaconesses developed this in a notable way. From this prophetic dimension of worship Reformed churches have developed a simple, orderly worship and have avoided sumptuous liturgical forms. As Calvin put it, "Humility is the beginning of worship" (Commentary on Micah 6:8).

The wisdom tradition of the Old and New Testaments shows us yet another dimension of worship. The wisdom tradition delighted in the Word of God (Ps. 1:2–3). In studying the Word, memorizing it, teaching it, preaching it, and living it, God was glorified. As in Psalm 19, the law, God's Word, glorifies God in the same way as the order of creation. In fact, God delights in wisdom (Prov. 8:30). In Johannine Logos Christology we find how the wisdom tradition approached worship (John 1:14–18; 2:1–11; 6:25–69; 20:29–31). The wisdom dimension helps us understand the importance of preaching in Reformed worship. Sermons of Huldrych Zwingli, Thomas Goodwin, or Charles H. Spurgeon delight in Scripture. Thomas Manton's 190 sermons on Psalm 119 can best be appreciated in terms of this delight.

Finally, there is a covenantal dimension. This is found in the worship described in Exodus 24. The Book of the Covenant is read, and with the making of vows of faith, the covenant is sealed both by the sprinkling of the blood of the covenant and by the sharing of a meal. Early in the Reformation, Heinrich Bullinger developed a covenantal understanding of the sacraments. Ever since, Reformed theologians encouraged by 1 Cor. 11:25 have seen these covenantal assemblies of the OT as types of Christian worship where the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup unite Christians in the new and eternal covenant. So also with Baptism, which, because it was a sign of the covenant as was circumcision, was appropriately given to the children of the covenant community. From this baptismal understanding, Horace Bushnell derived his ideas on Christian nurture. One place where this covenantal dimension is seen most clearly is in the Scottish Communion season. There the vows of faith were made and renewed. From New England's Jonathan Edwards and Virginia's Samuel Davies, it was clear that those who came to faith during the Great Awakening formally professed that faith at Communion.

E. B. Holifield, The Covenant Sealed (1974); J. H. Nichols, Corporate Worship in the Reformed Tradition (1968); H. O. Old, Worship That Is Reformed According to Scripture (1984).


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