Theology drives worship

41H0WSGF75L._SY346_One of the best books I have read on the subject of Christian and Reformed worship is D.G. Hart and John R. Muether’s With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship.  One of the insights that I find most valuable about this volume is the connection it makes between our theology and our worship.  In a section early on called “Theology matters”, they write:

We begin from an explicitly Reformed perspective, because worship inevitably follows from theological conviction.  As the apostle Paul wrote to Titus, certain things are “fitting for sound doctrine,” matters such as temperateness, dignity, sensibleness, faith, love, and perseverance (Titus 2:1-2).  So too we believe that good theology must produce good worship, corporate acts of praise and devotion that fit the sound theology of the Reformed tradition.  On the other hand, defective theology yields inferior or inappropriate forms of worship.  The protestant Reformers understood this…

We suggest that when churches undergo dramatic changes in what is often called “worship style,” they may actually be changing their theology as well.  Form and content cannot be separated.  So in congregations where worship has changed, something significant may have happened also to their theology.  Is it possible to preach the whole counsel of God in an up-tempo service?  Can the hard truths of Calvinism be taught in a setting geared toward attracting outsiders?  Can pointing out our sinfulness ever be made appealing?  Churches that depart from older patterns of worship may very well abandon the theological coherence assumed by the Reformed creeds and confessions.  When this coherence is lost, something must replace it.  In our day the solution comes either through evangelistic zeal that makes soul-winning the sole criterion for evaluating the ministry of the church, or through therapeutic forms of positive reinforcement that orient worship more toward self-fulfillment than to self-denial.

The following is a short and helpful review of Hart and Muether’s book from here:

Why read a book on worship? The topic of worship should be of perennial concern to the church. It is our first and highest calling. and it comes from God himself. The authors. both OP ruling elders. emphasize that doctrine and worship go hand in hand. What we believe bears directly on how we worship; conversely, the form and content of our worship mirror what we believe.

But why read this book on worship? The authors contend that faithfulness to Reformed doctrine also means commitment to distinctively Reformed worship. They demonstrate how Reformed doctrines, such as the Creator-creature distinction, divine sovereignty, total depravity, a high view of the Sabbath, and a Reformed view of the church (and the world) all come to expression in Reformed worship.

They also address several issues that are being debated in many Reformed churches today. In this connection, they discuss the regulative principle, giving careful attention to the distinction between elements and circumstances. They unpack the dialogical character of worship, and they show how the covenantal dialogue between God and his people speaks to the question of who should lead in worship. And finally they address the issue of song in worship, showing that many of the observations that they have made concerning other aspects of worship also bear on how and what we sing in worship.

This book also addresses the consequences of abandoning the Reformed habits of worship. A disregard for these distinctives in worship should not be seen as an appropriate adaptation to today’s culture or as evidence of open-mindedness, but rather as “an indication that many in the Reformed camp no longer see the implications of their theology for their worship services.”

For all its wonderfully rich content, this is not a difficult book to read. It was specifically designed as material for adult Sunday school, and it is well suited to this task. With an introduction, eleven chapters, and a conclusion, it fits perfectly into a typical teaching quarter, and the chapters, about fifteen pages long, can easily be read and digested from week to week.

 

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