(A review of the book, “With Reverence and Awe, Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship” by D. G. Hart and John R. Muether. In conjunction with our Wednesday night study, I am using this book and the principles taught in it to aid us in a study of worship.)
Chapter 7: Leading and Participating in Worship
“When it comes to the sermon we expect ministers to assume their appointed place in the church building and the order of service. But what about the rest of the service?
Is the Larger Catechism correct when it says that the laity may not read the Word publicly in worship? And by implication, does this mean that lay persons may not lead in worship at all? Are ministers the only ones allowed to be up front reading the Word, leading in prayer, preaching, and administering the sacraments? These are questions that some 350 years after the Westminster Assembly would not be as readily or unanimously answered by ministers or church members in Reformed communities.” (Hart and Meuther)
The word “laity” simply refers to those in the Church who are not ministers. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has led to the idea that ministers and laity should have an equal access to the leading of God’s people in worship. However, this idea is more of a North American development rather than true Reformed thought and teaching. Protestant Reformers taught the priesthood of all believers, but also believed that ministers were responsible for leading worship. Laity should not lead in worship because they have not been called to perform this service. For the Reformers, the priesthood of all believers did not apply to worship.
“The priesthood of all believers, then, gives every legitimate calling religious significance by teaching that all forms of work are valuable in God’s sight and useful to his providential and redemptive plan. But the doctrine had very little to say about worship.” (Hart and Meuther)
In the previous chapter we looked at the dialogue of worship, that which we defined as the “dialogical” principle of worship. We see a pattern of God speaking to His people in the call to worship, the reading and preaching of the Word, and the sacramental words of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God’s covenant people respond in prayer, songs of praise, and a corporate confession of faith. This principle helps us to see who does what in the worship service.
“As the Westminster Standards indicate, the Presbyterians and Puritans who gathered during the 1640s had a definite view that ministers and elders are solely responsible for leading worship.” (Hart and Meuther)
Changes in worship to more laity involvement are a rather recent invention. Prior to the 1960s worshippers would have seen ministers leading worship. In many areas of our lives we are comfortable with the idea of specialization. We want mechanics to fix our cars and not dentists or bakers. However, in the last generation or so in the American Church, we have become more democratic about worship than we have become biblical.
Ephesians 4:11-12 (ASV) states, “And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ:”
“Christ gave his church pastors to perfect the saints, to minister, and to build the church. In other words, the pastor is an undershepherd who nurtures the flock that Christ has entrusted to him. Ministers have a special function, which is to minister to God’s people. This does not necessarily involve expertise or authority, but it does give the minister a different status from the rest of God’s people, which is care for the body of Christ through the ministry of the Word and sacrament, just as Christians in their various vocations are called as parents to care for their children, farmers to be good stewards of their land, and shopkeepers to be fair and honest in their service to customers.” (Hart and Meuther)
The importance we place on proper worship as Orthodox Presbyterians was really communicated to me as I underwent various exams in two different Presbyteries in order to be installed as a minister of the Gospel in the OPC. The care that those in our Church take in Ordaining men to the ministry was a blessing to me. I found the exams I had to take much more difficult and challenging then any other college course I have ever taken. And yet, these men in their kindness to me, were patient and loving through the many year process. That patience and love also extends to you, the members of Faith Bible OPC, as you helped, prayed and waited with me during that process.
According to the dialogical principle of worship, we believe worship is active, not passive. All who gather for worship participate in the service. We acknowledge different roles in worship when we meet as covenant people with our God.
“If Christians are actually going to hear the Word read and preached, receive the sacraments, sing, confess their faith, pray as a body, and receive God’s blessing — if they are going to do any of these things with any measure of genuine faith, love, and obedience — they will not be able to sit by passively. Worship that is Reformed according to the Word, in the words of the first and greatest commandment, demands loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37). If worship is such a soul-wrenching experience, how could it ever be boring?” (Hart and Meuther)