In this Christianity Today article, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra points out that the Vatican has made a decision to excise the name Yahweh from worship. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, says that evangelicals have been debating this point concerning not only the word Yahweh, but also Jehovah. In fact, “both Yahweh and Jehovah have been removed from the Christian Reformed Church’s Psalter Hymnal, turning “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” into “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer.” Are we letting superstition get in the way of a proper use of God’s revealed name?
A dear brother in Christ shared with me recently his amazement at the diversity within the PCA. Coming from a baptistic tradition and settling in a PCA congregation that is committed to the means of grace and a God-honoring liturgy that reflects a covenantal worship, this brother believed that other PCA churches would reflect the same commitment. His first experience in another PCA congregation revealed the shocking lack of harmony and commitment to a distinctly Reformed covenantal worship.
Author Jeff Meyers touches on this subject when he writes that his visit to a local Lutheran church brings him freedom that he does not “experience in Presbyterian churches that are constantly fiddling with the order and content of their liturgy (The Lord’s Service, pg. 10).” Indeed the fact is that most of the PCA is enamored with modern worship services that are largely framed around the ever-changing mega-church techniques rather than the unchanging pattern of holy writ.
Contemporary services are filled with a delight for the somber. In particular, many come to the Lord’s Table without any expectation to be renewed by God’s grace. The table, to many, serve only as a post-liturgical stick note, rather than the Eucharistic means to receive the grace of God via bread and wine. Indeed it is impossible to come to the table with any joy if the table does not impart grace to the broken sinner. But if we restore the early church and reformational attitude towards the Eucharist, we will begin to see the Lord’s Supper as an essential, without which the liturgical service is incomplete. To begin we are to treat the Eucharist as what the Eucharist means: give thanks. We give thanks to the Lord for renewing us and we give thanks to our Lord for making resurrection life possible even now.
In a common Presbyterian order of worship, the congregation will move from reflection, confession, singing, and hearing. What is consistent about this liturgical movement is the tone of somberness that contextualizes these steps in worship. And when the sermon is over, these steps tend to repeat themselves in the Lord’s Supper and final hymn. The Eucharist becomes a moment of deep confession and self-examination and the final hymn tends to be Cross-centered, which adds another dimension of mourning. My contention is that these movements are excessively somber, not reflecting the triumph of the Resurrection and Exaltation. While parts of the liturgical process must include reflection and self-examination, joy and triumph are to adorn the liturgy of the church. I am advocating a more Resurrection-centered worship. Though our worship reflects Christ’s atoning work, it must reflect with greater emphasis Christ’s present resurrected estate at the right hand of the Father. Death has been defeated; a new age of joy and victory has arrived.
One of the most captivating lectures at the Auburn Avenue Conference came from Pastor Douglas Wilson. Wilson entitled his talk: Against Liturgy. This was a play on Leithart’s classic: Against Christianity. In his book, Leithart is opposing the “ism” of Christianity, not Christianity itself. Wilson’s argument against Liturgy was an argument of caution. He noted that many have pursued liturgical reform to the detriment of other elements of worship. Some in the Anglo/Catholic tradition have emphasized liturgical structures so much that they have lost sight of the preached word. The Biblical proclamation is nothing but an added footnote to the worship service. In this case, we are to be against liturgy.
O God, who are great and to be praised, who have brought us from corruption to incorruption by the life-giving death of your Christ, free all our senses from the death of the passions, setting over them as a good leader the thought that comes from within. Let the eye abstain from every evil sight, the hearing give no entrance to idle words, the tongue be cleansed of unfitting speech. Purify our lips, Lord, that praise you. Make our hands keep from base actions, to perform only such things as are well-pleasing to you, making all our limbs and our mind secure by your grace. –From the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
I have long read Jeff Meyers’ blog. He has always been an insightful voice in an age of liturgical phobia in our Presbyterian tradition. Seven years ago, Jeff Meyers, Leithart, Jordan, and others were part of a Reformed Liturgical Conference. This series, which, he has started is an updated version of his lectures in 2001 (I believe he is referring to these lectures, though it may have been in 2000). In this first article, he writes on why Conservative Presbyterians fear Liturgy. This is a promising series.
Incidentally, I have started to listen to the Reformed Liturgical Conference in 2001 before I knew about this series. The first lecture I listened to was by Peter Leithart on the Lord’s Supper. I shall write about these instructive and profound lectures.
The philosophie des lumieres, commonly known as the Enlightenment, continues to have a destructive effect on our church’s liturgy and life. Hans Kung ably summarizes what was lost with the emergence of the Enlightenment:
Order, hierarchy, authority, discipline, Church, dogma, faith, still highly esteemed in the seventeenth century, came to be detested in the eighteenth.
A high view of Order, a high ecclesiology, a robust view of church discipline, and a commitment to the Great Creeds of the faith and much more have been abolished from Protestant and Evangelical churches. The Enlightenment succeeded in that it continually brings autonomy from the academia to the church. Where there once was a Creed confessed by all, now there are pithy sayings meant to spur others to action; where once was discipline, now there is immediate leniency. This despicable alliance the church has made with the heirs of the Enlightenment will eventually lead to a cultish disassociation from her historical roots. If man can invent their own methods, sell their own strategies, and de-ecclesiasticize the church, then we can expect a diminishment of Orthodoxy.
Much of this refers back to the orderliness of the Garden. The Garden was created so that order would prevail. Perfect beauty was to invade the Garden and replenish all the earth. Since the Fall of man, disorder has reigned supreme. The Christian Church has through the Ages attempted to restore this Edenic Order. To a certain extent it has succeeded, though the church has seen the good, the bad, and the disorderly. In order to once again continue the path laid by our forefathers, we need to abolish any Enlightenment element from our churches and our worship, and return to that sacred space and sacred order. Where there is order, there is clarity. We have lost that clarity in this day and to capitulate to the Enlightenment is to lose all clarity.
Kung, Hans, Does God Exist? Pg. 37.
 Considered by Calvin to be one of the marks of a true church.
4 But when the fullness of time had come…
Calvin writes that “that season is the most fit, and that mode of acting is the most proper, which the providence of God directs.” The season and time of the arrival of our Lord is no nugatory footnote. It is indeed, a sufficient representation of the majestic divine decree of God. It was that time and no other that the King of glory should come.
As Cavin notes, “Let no man presume to be dissatisfied with the secret purpose of God, and raise a dispute why Christ did not appear sooner.” Christ came at that time because God decreed that moment in history to experience the triumph of His coming. That moment, that fulness of time, introduced to the world the intra-Trinitarian secret of all ages past, even before the world began. It was at that time and no other.
While the world prepares for the holidays, we prepare for the Arrival of our Lord. While the world consumes Christmas, we consume Christ. There is nothing more tragic in this Advent than the common shared unorthodoxy of Christians and non- Christians alike to trade Christ for unlovely gain of this world.
Our celebration is drastically different than the celebration of the world. The Advent is made for the people of God and the world ought to look with jealousy and desire exactly what we possess. But what we possess appears to be lost. Our possession has been substituted for the fruits of creation. However, Christ will not be substituted for vain imaginings.
Our covenantal families have fallen into the trap of this covenantally faithless generation. Instead of showing restrain, we show greed, and thus, we become unorthodox in this Advent. The Advent must have just the opposite effect. The Advent calls us to rejoice in what we already have, not in what we will receive.
Our desperate last minute shopping leads to frustration and unhealthy busyness. As Molly Sabourin has said: “It is ironic that the franctic pace for preparing for a Christian holiday leaves us little time to focus on Christ.” And this is our unorthodoxy during this season: we have forgotten the one who came.