This Sunday is Reformation Sunday—a time when Protestants thank God for how He refined and revived the Church in the sixteenth century. Being Presbyterian, we’re wedding the celebration of the Reformation with the 500th anniversary year of the birthday of John Calvin. Our unique slant on acknowledging Calvin is by stepping back several centuries and worshiping with a liturgy straight out of Calvin’s Geneva. We’re going instrument-less and hymn-less. We’re singing a capella psalms. We’re comparing the Genevan liturgy to its preceding backdrop—the medieval Roman mass. I’m hopeful that our people will emerge from the worship time more devoted followers of Jesus, having seen how theology affects worship (and vice versa). Perhaps they might think more critically about worship, engage more deeply in worship, and appreciate God more fully through worship.
However, I say all this with a bit of lamentation. My lament is for churches which aren’t equipped to celebrate God’s movement throughout salvation history because we’ve become so thoroughly “modern.” My lament is for the “worship arts” tracks and programs at Christian universities and seminaries which have done much to train worship leaders in the pragmatics of modern worship-leading, but little to train them in history, hymnody, liturgics, and the theology of worship (and yes, I do believe that even if you’re leading in a thoroughly modern worship context, you should strive to have this training…formal or informal). My lament is for churches which settle for a strong singer/guitar-player without any pre-requisite or subsequent training or knowledge in the above areas. How will modern worship leaders in Protestant evangelical churches lead their congregations in remembering and celebrating one of the great revivals in Church history? Do they know enough about the reformation—its ideas, theology, and music—to infuse some creative, thoughtful reflection into Sunday morning?
The irony in all of this is that, if it weren’t for the Reformation, modern worship would probably look very different. Almost singularly from the influence of Martin Luther, the church after the Reformation became a singing church. If you’re in a church on Sunday where a choir isn’t doing most or all of the singing, or where you’re not merely a bystander to what the pastors are doing “up there on stage,” you’re an heir of the Reformation.
The drum that I beat whenever I teach on worship and the Reformation, and the drum I will beat on Sunday, is that the Protestant Reformation was just as much a biblical reforming of worship as it was of belief. Check out Bryan Chapell’s new book, Christ-Centered Worship, if you want a compact yet thorough treatment.
Wake up, worship leaders! You have a job because of the Reformation! Don’t forget it!