Book Review: Reformation Worship

9781948130219_1500x1000c“The recovery of the gospel in the Reformation was ultimately a worship war–a war against the idols, a war for the pure worship of God.” (49)

“Reformation Worship”, a new title compiled by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey, presents a fresh look at the liturgies of the Reformation period. As the true gospel was recovered in the preaching and theology of the Reformers in the face of the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformers across Europe applied these truths practically in Christian worship services. On the eve of the Reformation, gathered worship displayed Catholic theology. Mass in latin, altars for the sacrifice of the mass, the priestly vestures; everything communicated to the people in practice the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.

As these Reformed pastor-theologians began to challenge the teaching of the church, it was only a matter of time before the battle moved into the practice of the church.

This volume offers a fresh look at the liturgies of many of the Reformation churches of Europe from 1523 to 1586 as well as commentary from Reformation leaders such as Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, Cranmer and Knox to their churches explaining the changes from Scripture in contrast to their previous Catholic masses. Many of these liturgies are new translations for the first time in English. The work also begins with three chapters from the editors which outline a simple theology and history of Christian Worship in one of the clearest and best presentations one will find.

From a personal perspective, this volume helped bridge the gap between some of my experience and knowledge of the Reformation period. I spent a few years worshipping in the Anglican tradition and fell in love with the richness of the forms and doctrine. Everything about gathered worship felt different from the non-denominational, Charismatic or contemporary services which I had grown up in. But that experience seemed to stem from a different stream of Christian history than the rest of the Evangelicalism to which I had been exposed. It was interesting to see in reading this volume that what the Anglican or high church traditions currently practice on Sunday mornings was universally practiced by all of the Reformation churches. It has only been through church history that their practices have changed into what you find today in many churches which believe what the Reformers believed but did not practice what they practiced on Sunday mornings. Even chronologically, since the European Reformations preceded the English Reformations and much of the impact upon the Anglican tradition comes from Marian exiles seeing Reformation worship in places like Geneva, Basel and Zurich, the Anglican liturgies are heavily indebted to their European cousins.

At this point, you might be wondering what value a book which translated a bunch of old church bulletins has for the average Christian today. Gathered worship is for the glorification of God in Christ, the building up of the saints and a public witness to the world. The Reformers recovered this vision for Biblical worship. But in particular, the Reformers add two (but definitely not limited to two!) unique perspectives which challenge the church today:

First, Gathered worship is the most formative mean of personal of corporate growth in the Christian life. The practice of regularly gathering on Sunday mornings, week after week, month after month, year after year, has an inevitable impact on the formation of who you are, what you believe and how you live. Particularly because of the Christian and God-ward nature of corporate worship in the preaching of the Word, the praise of God, the edification of the saints, the effectiveness of formation in a Biblical direction is based upon the elements (or absence of elements) of a church service. This work shows how the truths recovered in the Reformation express themselves in the gathered service for those who are looking for a new Reformation in our day.

Second, Nothing in the church service is adiaphora or indifferent. Nothing in the church service is a throw away. Whatever happens when the church gathers from architecture to songs to solos to dress to order of service to prayer to lack of prayer to giving to motions to reading, everything not only is formative but communicates what is true and what is valuable for that particular church.

The worst thing would be for our churches today to be filled with many things that we are communicating to each other and the the world that we find valuable that God in his word does not find valuable.

Do we value prayer? Do we value God’s Word?

The worship services of the Reformers, what they did, honestly make most of our churches, in comparison to their services, look spiritually anemic. They recovered a biblical vision for the whole of Christian life and presented this glorious vision for their parishioners every Sunday.

“While the recovery of the true gospel sparked liturgical reforms, it was in fact the weekly impact of these reformed liturgies that carried this gospel back to the people and sent shock waves across the churches of the European mainland and the Atlantic Isles.” (26)

Now, the size of this book is a bit intimidating, but the wealth of spiritual insight and potential longterm impact of these ideas being reintroduced to today’s churches is incalculable. Every pastor and Christian will glean deep insights from this work which by God’s grace will hopefully impact the worship of God in Gospel-proclaiming churches for ages to come until Christ returns.

Interested in this book? Click the Link Below!

Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present

I received this book from New Growth Press in exchange for my honest review. Feel Free to visit their website to see excellent Gospel-Centered resources: www.newgrowthpress.com


Jared Poulton (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Pastor of Children and Families at First Baptist Church Dublin, in Dublin, GA. He is married to Kerry Poulton and they have two children, Riley and Oliver. Jared and Kerry are originally from South Carolina. You can follow Jared Poulton on twitter at @Jared_Poulton, or see his personal blog at @jspoulton.wordpress.com.

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