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Reformed Worship

By Howard L. Rice and James C. Huffstuttler
Geneva. 2001. 233 pp. $24.95.
ISBN 0-664-50147-8

Reviewed by Ronald P. Byars, professor of preaching and
worship,Union-PSCE, Richmond, Va.

"Word-centered worship appeals to the mind . . . sometimes to the neglect of the emotions. Partly because of this emphasis, the flight of the young from Reformed congregations has been particularly noticeable, and the feeling that something is wrong is very deep" [p. x].

In the introduction to Reformed Worship, the authors analyze the crisis from the perspective of Reformed churches. Their intention is to provide a simple and accessible review of the history of Jewish and Christian worship, in the hopes that pastors and worship committees may approach the present crisis armed with more than personal experience and private tastes.

It was not the ambition of the Reformers to create a new church, but to reform the existing church “according to the Word of God.” The authors understand that the history of the Reformed tradition must always be viewed from within this wider horizon.

The characteristics of the Reformed tradition have been shaped by the conflicts of the 16th century. If Reformed worship places a high priority on intelligibility, that can be understood against the background of medieval mystification. If it has opted for a less-than-weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, that can be understood against the infrequency with which lay people received Communion in medieval times, as well as to the anxiety associated with it. If, in spite of denominational positions favoring Calvin’s high doctrine of the Eucharist, the average Presbyterian understands the Lord’s Supper as nothing much more than an audio-visual reminder of a past event, that can be understood against the influence of Ulrich Zwingli, the Zurich Reformer, reinforced by 400 years of Enlightenment rationalism. Zwingli (and the “enlightened”) substituted one extreme position for another.

The Reformed church will honor its Reformers best not by slavish imitation, but by rediscovering early Christian practices which had become lost to the medieval church: “Restoring regular sacramental observance in which the people are involved in the action and the symbols are magnified rather than minimized would be a major component in the renewal of worship among Reformed Protestants” (p. 78).

The book moves from history to prosaic matters, such as guidelines for wedding policies. It also includes examples of liturgical materials. These tend to be disappointing, frequently falling short of possibilities available in the Book of Common Worship (1993).