January 2018 New Horizons

John Calvin and the Directory for the Public Worship of God

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John Calvin and the Directory for the Public Worship of God

It can be argued that John Calvin is among the most important liturgists in the history of the Christian church. Indeed, I have attempted to make the case that his Genevan Psalter of 1542 and its Form of Church Prayers established a norm for worship. The Form ’s stress on the ordinary means of grace (word, prayer, sacraments), its emphasis on preaching and congregational singing, its elimination of extra-biblical ceremonies, and its relative simplicity and austerity, have had a decisive influence on all subsequent worship, whether Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, or even post-Vatican II Roman Catholic. In contrast, the most important document among English-speaking Presbyterians, the Westminster Assembly’s Directory of the Public Worship of God (1645), has often been treated by scholars as a liturgical wrong-turn, a devolution, even dismissed contemptuously as being “the only liturgy to consist entirely of rubrics.” Among some conservative Presbyterians who care about ... Read more

Glory Veiled in Simplicity

In the sixteenth century, a French monk named Antoine Cathelan visited a Genevan church and contemptuously opined on its simplicity of worship: “When the preacher appeared, all the people knelt down, except the preacher. And he began praying, with uncovered head, and his hands joined.” “His prayer was entirely in French,” continued Cathelan, “created out of his own imagination, which was concluded with the Lord’s Prayer but not the Ave Maria. Then all the people responded quietly ‘Amen.’ And two times a week, [they] sing a Psalm before the sermon (but only in the cities). Everyone sings together while seated, men, women, girls, and infants” (Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors [2013], 32). Cathelan also described the simplicity of its setting. “It is altogether like the interior of a college or school, full of benches, with a pulpit in the middle for the preacher. … The stained glass windows are just about all knocked out, and the plaster dust is up to the ankles.” ... Read more

A Greater Priest, A Greater Sacrifice, a Heavenly Place

It doesn’t take much time reading the Old and New Testaments to notice some significant differences between them when it comes to corporate worship. The differences are clearly seen when considering the three primary elements of Old Testament worship: the place, the priest, and the sacrifice. Old Testament Worship In the Old Testament, there was a specific place where the people would gather for worship. Often it would be the place of God’s very own presence. This begins in Exodus 24, with the gathering of the people of God at Mount Sinai. God appeared at the top of the mountain and, from there, he called certain people to approach him (vv. 1–2). Not just anyone could approach God! Then sacrifices were offered. These were not sacrifices for sin, but rather had to do with the covenant that God would make with the people. At the heart of their worship was the covenant, as expressed when Moses places the blood upon the people and they vowed obedience to God’s commands: “All that the LORD has ... Read more