When I first came into contact with the Reformed faith about 33 years ago, there were two things that Reformed folk had to believe: divine sovereignty and the inerrancy of Scripture. It’s not that we actively disbelieved the other elements of the Reformed confession as much as they weren’t discussed or always practiced. Today, when evangelicals say, “She’s Reformed” what they mean is, “She believes in divine sovereignty in salvation.” If anything, the minimalist definition seems even more deeply entrenched than it was 33 years ago. Nevertheless, it’s a woefully incomplete definition. Yes, Reformed folk do certainly believe in divine sovereignty and in the inerrancy of Scripture but we also confess much more than those two things.
If we think of the Reformed faith as a train, near the way car (the caboose, i.e., eschatology) would be the doctrine of the church and within that car would the theology, piety, and practice of worship. To continue the metaphor, where we have formally retained most of the other cars in the Reformed train, it is evident that, in many places, the church and worship car has been set aside.
Question: has our principle of worship changed since the Reformation? Answer: No. How do I know that? From the Reformed confessions. We have not revised our confessions on the theology, piety, and practice of public worship. We still confess, Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 96, Belgic Confession Articles 7, and 32, and Westminster Confession chapter 21. If that is so it would seem that our practice of worship should be virtually identical to that of the Reformation (and post-Reformation) Reformed churches. It is not. There were no praise teams/bands, organs, solos, or choirs in the classic Reformed period. This fact should produce in us what scholars call “cognitive dissonance,” i.e., “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, esp. as relating to behavioral decisions andattitude change.” If we still confess the same principles we did in the classic period why is our practice so radically different?
Most often, I suspect, our practice has gradually been conformed to the prevailing pattern around us because 1) we no longer know what we confess; 2) because we don’t know how what we confess was originally understood.
The first part of the remedy is quite simple. We can easily remedy ignorance by learning. This volume by George Gillespie, English Popish Ceremonies is a great place to start. This volume, along with William Ames’ Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies, is one of the foundational texts of the Reformed tradition on worship.
My friend and colleague Bob Godfrey writes about this volume,
Gillespie’s famous book is a vitally important work in the history of the Scottish Reformation, but it is much more than simply that. It has abiding and profound value for all who are committed to knowing, applying, and following the Word of God on the proper worship of the church. With great insight and passion Gillespie pursues the freedom of the church from political interference and from ecclesiastical tyranny as well as the freedom of the individual Christian conscience from the burden of tradition. He rejoiced that the Church of Scotland had gotten “rid of all such rotten relics, riven [torn] rags, and rotten remainders of Popery” and feared that they were now returning by political fiat. He warned, “there is not a more deceitful and dangerous temptation than in yielding to the beginnings of evil.” This splendid edition makes Gillespie’s demanding work more accessible to the modern reader and encourages careful reading of this vastly rewarding study.
Chris Coldwell, the publisher, writes that this new edition marks the 400th anniversary of Gillespie’s birth. The work contains over 1000 citations from “nearly 200 authors and 300 works” and all these references have been “carefully traced and confirmed for this new edition, greatly expanding the footnotes over those in the 1993 edition.” Once you’ve read this volume, you’ll appreciate why this “24 year old astounded his contemporaries…and why the Dispute merited a place for Gillespie at the Westminster Assembly of Divines, where he helped shape Presbyterian doctrine for centuries to come.”
The second part of the remedy for our present situation, of course, will be much more difficult and painful. Having learned how our confession and principles were originally understood and intended we shall have to make some difficult decisions but first things first. Naphtali Press is offering English Popish Ceremonies at a pre-publication price of $19.95. Chris does a brilliant job with his books. This is a great price for a valuable work.