Have you taken the time lately to stop and think deeply about why your church structures the worship service the way they do? The truth is the way we worship is a visible proclamation of how we view God and His Word. Or, as Terry L. Johnson in his book, Worshipping with Calvin, states it, “how we worship determines what we believe, and, what we believe determines how we worship.” We must ask ourselves, “Does our worship service declare (verbally and/or by your actions) that God is holy and to be revered?” In other words, “Is your worship God-centered or man-centered?” Truthfully, pragmaticism, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, is running rampant in churches and it is giving our members a false understanding of worship that says “if it feels good, looks good, and makes people happy then it is fair game to do”. The way we approach worship, structure our worship services, and then execute our worship services should be grounded in the Word of God. Our desire is the supremacy of God in all things, and our worship services are one way we accomplish that. It is high time that we adopt a mindset that says, “I know it might make me happy, and I know that the specific kind of music makes me want to raise my hand and stomp my feet, and I know topical and/or moralistic centered messages might make me feel good about myself, but what does the Word of God have to say about these things?”
Worshipping with Calvin was written to help believers understand the “how” and “why” of the Reformers liturgical structure. The author, Terry Johnson, has a burning desire to call out his fellow present-day Reformed brethren because of their abandoning of historically Reformed liturgical practices for cheaper alternatives (in his mind) of contemporary worship. Those who are “young, restless, and reformed” are more focused on plotting a new course of how to do worship that is uniquely different from the easy believism that has defined a great number of our churches the past few decades. In doing so, most present-day reformed churches have all but abandoned the worship structure held by their forefathers in the faith. The questions answered by this book are: (1) How did the historical Reformed church structure their liturgy?; (2) Why did they structure it that way?, and (3) Should we follow their example and possibly make some wholesale changes to our current liturgical structure?
The importance of John Calvin to the liturgical structure of the Reformation cannot be overstated. The majority of believers only correlate the five points of Calvinism with John Calvin, even though he was not the one to compose those five points, or they may have a passing understanding of the outstanding volumes of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. People often neglect Calvin the worshipper who passionately, brilliantly, and meticulously researched and structured his worship services. As Johnson states:
“Volumes have been written on Calvin the theologian, Calvin the exegete, Calvin and the sacraments, Calvin the church leader, Calvin the alleged dictator and tyrant. But Calvin the liturgist? Most of the standard works on Calvin fail to deal with his liturgical ideas in anything but the most cursory manner. These include biographies, monographs of Calvin and his thought, and collections of essays about Calvin and his ideas and influence. At times the titles are promising; but time and again Calvin’s liturgical work is either ignored or given only a superficial descriptive review without in-depth analysis or evaluation. ‘It is common knowledge that Calvin and worship are incongruous topics,’ complains Elsie McKee of the liturgical ‘experts,’ ‘and that whatever the strengths of those who are predestined to the glory of God, they are hopeless failures when it comes to liturgy.’ The best that Calvin receives from the scholarly analysts is ‘polite indulgence,’ adds John Witvliet.” (Kindle Location 262-263)
Terry Johnson does a decent job of showing how Calvin and the other Reformers were not concerned with “matters merely of taste, style, or personal preference, as is so often the case today.” They were passionate about all matters of worship being conformed to the patterns laid out in Scripture. This passion is demonstrated by their exegesis of Scripture and their study of worship throughout church history. These studies led to a “theological reformulation” which then led to a reform in their liturgical practices. The book is filled with examples of how our patristic fathers viewed and conducted worship. I found that aspect of the book highly informative and challenging.
The historic look at liturgy is fleshed out in part one of the book that briefly examines, discusses, and contrasts contemporary practices with the way they were historically done. The second part of the book zeroes in on the importance of reformed worship through various lenses: historical, exegetical, and theological. The third and final part of the book unpacks how historically Reformed worship is God-centered, Bible saturated, Gospel-structured, ecclesiastically aware, and Spirit-led and dependent.
Worshipping with Calvin was a very thought-provoking read for me, but I am not so sure it was as successful as it could have been. Is our current liturgical structure in need of change? Absolutely. We have become too man-centered and emotionally dependent on the current structure, and need to recover a more God-centered approach to liturgy. With that said, I found myself wanting a little bit more understanding of exactly how the church fathers did worship instead of merely passing glances at them. I am not sure if it is fair to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and claim that our church fathers, and primarily Calvin, would have a conniption if they saw how we worshipped today. I think there are reforms needed for sure, but I don’t find myself at the level of change that Terry Johnson is calling for in this book (at least not just yet).
I received this book for free from EP Books via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”