Reformed Worship (V): pastoral care with reliance upon the Holy Spirit...

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(NOTE: This is the fifth post in a series on Reformed worship. Here are the first firstsecondthirdfourth, and sixth.)

In the previous post, we saw that formalism in worship is very efficient in leading us and our congregants to play nice with Rome. We may do our best to remain vigilant in our soteriology, rallying round the cry “Faith alone!” even as we repudiate historic Reformed principles and orders of worship. We may continue to desire Presbyterian polity and a Reformed view of the real spiritual presence of our Lord in the elements even as we embrace the method and mechanisms of Anglicans' Book of Common Prayer.

Because of the poverty of worship in prior Evangelical Presbyterian or Baptist churches, many among us feel they must spurn the commitment of our Reformed fathers to Biblical simplicity. But let us know precisely what we are undoing before our deformission of Reformed worship reaches twenty years of age.

Today, we have a choice between the simplicity of reformed worship, regulated by God’s Word, or the ceremony and sarcedotalism inherent in the formulaic worship of the Book of Common Prayer and Covenant Renewal.

So you want to go back to the formulaic liturgy? This begs the question—Why? Can we be self-critical concerning our motivations?

Our motives are the same as the children of Israel. When we are faced with the job of entering the Promised Land and we hear their giants are giant, we have a choice: depend on God, or go back to Egypt. We can have a liturgy that is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit or we can have control of our worship. This choice seems ridiculous to those who eschew what some might term extemporaneous preaching and worship, choosing instead to depend upon manuscripts they read and prayers they recite. But Reformed worship is not extemporaneous in the normal sense of "unprepared." Reformed pastors who look at the sheep of their flock and preach to them and lead them in prayer have never held the absence of preparation as a principle of Reformed worship...

But their preparation is aimed at reliance upon the Holy Spirit in worship. And it's been Reformed men's contention that this reliance is holy, producing a pastor and people more sincere and more sanctified in worship.

The Divines had this choice. It was obvious to them. And while they pointed out improvements made in the Book of Common Prayer over the errors and idolatries of Rome, they went on to observe “long and sad experience hath made it manifest, that the Liturgy used in the Church of England, (notwithstanding all the pains and religious intentions of the Compilers of it,) hath proved an offence...".

In particular, in their Directory for the Publik Worship of God, they point out:

 (The Book of Common Prayer) liturgy hath been a great means, as on the one hand to make and increase an idle and unedifying ministry, which contented itself with set forms made to their hands by others, without putting forth themselves to exercise the gift of prayer, with which our Lord Jesus Christ pleaseth to furnish all his servants whom he calls to that office: so, on the other side, it hath been (and ever would be, if continued) a matter of endless strife and contention in the Church, and a snare both to many godly and faithful ministers, who have been persecuted and silenced upon that occasion, and to others of hopeful parts, many of which have been, and more still would be, diverted from all thoughts of the ministry to other studies; especially in these latter times, wherein God vouchsafeth to his people more and better means for the discovery of error and superstition, and for attaining of knowledge in the mysteries of godliness, and gifts in preaching and prayer.

With the Divines (we're talking broadly, here), we are not accusing every pastor who has adopted Jeff Meyers's formulas for the order of worship, liturgy, and set prayers of doing so from laziness. But maybe some of us can admit our desire to move to formalism and prayer forms is the result of the absence in us of a deep private prayer life that leads to a rich and beautiful leadership of prayer in Lord's Day worship? The absence of a weekly private searching and prayerful study of the Scriptures that issues in Lord's Day preaching that is soul-searching and convicting? Spiritual backsliding and hardness of heart that has led us to turn away from reliance upon the Holy Spirit in our worship prayers and preaching? 

With the weakness of our prayer life, Bible study, and faith comes a corresponding relief to have something to focus on and do that is not dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Engineers are driven to figure out systems because they are fundamentally lazy. I don't mean that as an insult—most engineers would admit it and explain that that is the reason they spend their time working to build machines that do the work for us (labor-saving devices). Liturgical complexity is the pastor's labor-saving device. In order to engineer a way around the fatiguing admonishment day and night with tears and preaching to the conscience, liturgical, sacramental, and pastoral mechanisms are introduced to produce in the church what God has called men to labor to produce. Reformed men historically have believed in getting down in the muck with their sheep, then leading worship and preaching looking directly at those sheep and remembering every particularity of the muck. Read Isaiah's sermons. Read Jesus' sermons. Read the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter and the Apostle John's sermons. Read John Calvin's sermons—even one of them. Maybe the best way to say all this is that Reformed leadership of the prayers and proclamation of God's Word has always been thoroughly pastoral. It smells of the reality of sin and righteousness and judgment in a way high liturgists can never get close to. Have you ever read Galatians, and do you take it for something beyond an exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is to say a prescriptive model for us to follow of pastoral care and preaching set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit?

Anyone who's read the preaching of the Reformers and the Apostles in their New Testament epistles knows that Reformed pulpiteer is an oxymoron.

The recovery of expressive words, beauty, and truth in Reformed and Presbyterian worship is not by the path of aiding and abetting our own spiritual and Biblical slothfulness by means of the employment of manuscripts, set forms, and prayers in our leadership of our congregations, but rather our giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God each day of the week, each hour of the day, so that when we take our places before our people to lead them in divine worship and to preach to them, we are filled by the grace of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Everything is alive and deep. Every word addresses the conscience, convicting, strengthening, healing... A service of Lord's Day worship in which all is done in dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit, coming out of saturation in the Word of God which we've found sweeter than honey, and devoured.

To the degree that it is true of us, may God forgive us our faithless abandonment of the Biblical and spiritual leadership of our Reformed fathers as, from ignorance, we sauntered back up the road to Canterbury and Rome.

As the Westminster Divines put it, let us turn away from sacramental and liturgical studies so we may, instead, give ourselves to "exercise the gift of prayer." Following their exhortations to us across the centuries, let us give ourselves to the hard work of studying and preaching the Word of God, both bathed in prayer. It is thus that our Heavenly Father "vouchsafeth to His people more and better means for the discovery of error and superstition, and for attaining of knowledge in the mysteries of godliness, and gifts in preaching and prayer."

These are the priorities and commitments of Reformed and Presbyterian pastors. And if we gave ourselves to these commitments, we will be walking by faith and dependence on the Holy Spirit into a land full of giants—and God’s Kingdom will prevail.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!