A friend of mine pastors a young church plant in my hometown about two hours northwest of Little Geneva. Though I am not a little thankful that Traverse City finally has a faithful and sane Reformational outpost, I have been routinely struck at how a church such as Redeemer Presbyterian has taken root while the ground around here seems stonier than ever.
Dan has always insisted that what makes Redeemer’s expression of worship characteristic and distinguished is her weekly communion. That may be why when the local experimenting evangelicals who visit (which include several of my own family members) conclude that “it’s way too Catholic.” But I have always wondered if the liturgical expression there has just as much to do with that.
Under the guidance of John Meuther, who suggested he develop the thesis of it being the fourth mark of the true church, Dan has recently finished a little pamphlet which takes up the topic of worship. After spending thirty-some pages rendering a diagnosis of the contemporary landscape, he begins to offer a biblical-historical perspective which includes a treatment of just what is meant by liturgical reform and renewal. It isn’t as reductive and underdeveloped as taking down the big screens and adopting a flinty countenance, some modern version of Zwinglian white-washing. It actually has to do with adopting fixed liturgical forms—with a smile. Gasp.
Obviously, it is quite fraught as to cause. But after suggesting that today’s disdain for liturgical form could be a carry-over from the late medieval abuses which had devolved into a “complicated, mystical and allegorized mass,” he writes,
The answer for the reformers was not to abandon liturgy but rather to return to the simple, faithful, and rightly motivated orders of worship. The great reformer John Calvin is often painted as one who advocated places of worship being stripped bare and worship services that were devoid of liturgy while focusing almost exclusively on the word read and preached.
He then quotes Frankie Schaeffer as Schaeffer recounts his trek from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy,
If we were Reformed Presbyterians, we stuck to our Calvinist tradition—church consisted of four white walls and a lengthy sermon—and ‘worship’ was the feeling you got if the sermon was good.
Unfortunately, I know exactly what he is talking about. I can attest that the trail-heads of Rome, Canterbury and even Constantinople can be quite tempting in the midst of the stark barrenness of low-church Protestantism that seems more low than church. But if Nicholas Wolterstorff is right that truer forms of Calvinist Protestantism really do know how to balance “proclamation” and “worship” in liturgy, it could be that “Frankie spent too much time in Hollywood.” In other words, given to caricature and some sensationalism, modern interpretations on historical data are not always the most reliable. Calvinists aren’t really low-churchers.
After all, does the following, coupled with the fact that he desired weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper (of which he also said, “I’d rather experience it than understand it”), really sound like a man who would prefer three-songs-and-a-lecture to make sure the gospel be not obscured:
I highly approve of it that there be a certain form…from which the ministers be not allowed to vary: that first, some provision be made to help the simplicity and un-skillfulness of some; secondly that the consent and harmony of the churches of the churches one with another may appear; and lastly, that the capricious giddiness and levity of such as affect innovations may be prevented.