Recently I had the privilege of evaluating several graduate seminars in Scottish Presbyterian church history. One of my students, a Korean Presbyterian, presented on a Scottish Presbyterian classic on church and worship: James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ.
It was both refreshing and challenging to engage with the rich exposition of theology of worship that Bannerman provides. Both robust and deep, it caused me to wonder whether many of us in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition haven’t slid into a generic blended worship — a few vestiges of understanding of Reformed principles of worship, melded with twentieth-twenty first century broad evangelical approaches, and a dash (sometimes a bucket) of Anglicanism thrown in. It also brought me to reflect on a good conversation I’d had with Gene Veith, Provost at Patrick Henry College, on his settled conviction that traditional Lutheran worship was deep, substantive and consistent, whereas across a good deal of evangelical Protestantism in North America, in the attempt to tap into a plurality of sources, past and present, richness is gone, replaced by indistinguishable genericism. Lost in the process: coherent, substantive theology and historical awareness.
Bannerman’s effort to elucidate a biblical theology of worship is rooted in a powerful premise — one that we all, whether non-denominational, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Baptist, charismatic or otherwise, do well to consider. It is Jesus Christ who opens the way for us to worship, as our Redeemer and Mediator. Not only that, but Christ Himself also gives us the way in which we are to worship. He, the Eternal Son, the Father, and the Spirit, in Triune glory are the focus of our worship. Even just this brief sketch makes me realize again how holistic, comprehensive, and rich a biblical theology of worship is, and how crucial it is that our worship is in Spirit and in truth. It is thoroughly grounded on, and directed by the teaching of the Word. (John 4:24)
This last point very briefly sums what is referred to as the regulative principle of worship in Reformed theology — New Testament worship is to adhere to the pattern and content of worship revealed by the New Testament. For further reading I’d highly recommend James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ, which includes this and much more besides. Well worth the price, if you love the church of Christ, and delight in worshiping and communing with God.