Skip to comments.Worship: The Heavenly Pattern (The Genevan Liturgy of John Calvin -- Heaven on Earth?)
Posted on 05/04/2006 3:19:44 PM PDT by OrthodoxPresbyterian
What is worship? We have begun to explore what it means to have a redemptive-historical understanding of the church -- what it means to see the church in the light of how God has accomplished the salvation of his people. And we have sought to show the eschatological nature of the church -- that everything that God promised to do for Israel at the end of history he has done for Jesus in the middle of history -- and therefore the ends of the ages have come upon us. If the church's true identity is found in Christ, and Christ has received the final judgment, then we too have heard the declaration of God's final judgment on us: you are mine!
What does that mean for worship?
Most discussions about worship today focus on style. Should we have praise choruses? Should we have guitars or drums? Or, on the other side, should we only sing Psalms? Or should we forbid all instruments? These sorts of questions have plagued the church now for three hundred years. And while the church has been fighting over worship style, she has seemed to forget the more important question of what is happening in worship. As our theology of worship has disappeared, it is perhaps not surprising that our practice of worship has become so fragmented.
The theology of worship is perhaps best expressed in the practice of worship. So what I would like to do today is do a rapid overview of the history and practice of Christian worship from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem.
1. Worship in the Old Testament
The practice of worship in Eden was expressed very simply. Adam and Eve heard the Word of God, responded with faith and obedience, and partook of the Tree of Life. At least, that was the way it was supposed to be. But trading in the true worship of God for the worship of the serpent, they heard the word of the serpent, responded with faith and obedience toward the Devil, and partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Remember that--because you'll see the contrast again!
Throughout the book of Genesis you can see the connection between Word--Response--Table, but the first corporate worship service recorded in any detail in the scriptures is the assembly of Israel at Mt Sinai in Exodus 19-24. Exodus 19-23 recounts the establishment of the covenant between God and his people, and Exodus 24 gives the worship service where Israel ratified the covenant. The basic pattern is very simple:
It would be useful to go into the details of the daily worship of the Old Testament (and I do so in a seminar on worship that the Rev. Larry Wilson and I have conducted), but for our purposes it will be sufficient to point out that every biblical worship service described in scripture follows this basic pattern (no other pattern is ever substituted for it). The worship service that is presented in the greatest detail is the service at the dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles 5-7. There is more detail in Solomon's service, but it follows the same pattern that Moses did:
So the Old Testament pattern of worship has a very clear theological shape: 1) worship is entrance into the presence of God, and you can only enter the presence of God if sin has been removed; 2) God then speaks to his people through his Word, reminding them of what he has done for their redemption, and calling upon them to live as his people; 3) God's people then respond to his word with faith and obedience, asking him to continue to do what he has promised; 4) worship concludes with the covenant meal, whereby the people of God partake of the benefits of the sacrifice and go forth in peace (for more detail on this, see the sermons on Exodus 24 and 2 Chronicles 5-7).
2. Worship in the New Testament
There has been considerable debate regarding the relative influence of the temple and the synagogue in New Testament worship. (For more detail on this, see my essay, "Which Regulative Principle? A Response to Steve Schlissel and Brian Schwertley," where I show that the synagogue was not properly considered worship by Jews until after AD 70.) A comparison between the two is useful:
|Temple Worship (2 Chron 5-7)||
|Assembling for Worship||
|Assembling for Worship|
|Enter God's Presence||
|Psalm of Praise||
|Word of God read and preached||
|Prayer of the Covenant Community|
|Benediction (if a priest was present)|
|Prayer of the Covenant Community||
|Word of God read and preached|
|Fire consumes the sacrifices/glory fills the temple||
|Psalm of Praise||
The synagogue was established during and after the Exile to teach the Israelites the Word of God. Since they had been exiled from the Land because of their disobedience and idolatry, they began meeting weekly to learn how to avoid making the same mistakes again. Synagogue "worship," therefore, was not opposed to temple worship, but was designed to prepare people for temple worship. Indeed, Jesus and the apostles regularly attended both the temple and the synagogue, but never would have considered the synagogue to be "worship." Recall what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4 when she asked whether she should worship at Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem: "the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-23). Jesus did not say, "well, you could worship at any synagogue you like!" He admitted that prior to his coming, there was only one place to worship truly--at Jerusalem--but that now things were going to change.
But what did the apostolic worship look like? Did they see themselves as synagogues, or as the temple of God? The Church is seen as the true temple (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Peter 2:4). The Lord's Supper is described in the language of the Old Testament peace offerings (1 Cor 10:18; Heb 13:10). While the preaching style and the traditions of prayer from the synagogue seem to have influenced apostolic worship, they did not imitate the pattern of worship found in the synagogue. Instead, the indications are that the apostles followed the same pattern of worship that had been laid down by Moses and Solomon. At the very least it is plain that they described their worship in terms of the Word, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers (Acts 2:42). But there is more evidence for the continued use of the Old Testament pattern: the whole book of Revelation is laid out in the pattern of an Old Testament worship service.
3. The Heavenly Worship as the Pattern for Our Worship: Worship in the Book of Revelation
In Revelation 1:10 we are told that John sees his vision on the Lord's Day, and in 1:12-13 we hear that John sees Christ among the Lampstands: in other words, Jesus is with his church. After the seven letters are sent to the seven churches, John is called to witness the heavenly worship.
Now, the next four items,
repeat themselves five times. But, each pattern of "sevens" in the Book of Revelation follows this same order.
Rev. 6:1-8:5--The Seven Seals proclaim the Word of God
7:9-8:4 reports the praises and prayers of the saints
8:5 reports the fire from heaven in reply
Rev. 8:6-11:19--The Seven Trumpets proclaim the Word of God
11:15-18 reports the prayers of the saints
11:19--says that the temple of God was opened in heaven, bringing lightning and thunder upon the earth
Rev. 12:1-15:8--The Seven Signs proclaim the Word of God
15:2-4 reports the song of Moses--the prayer of the saints
15:5-8 reports that the glory of the Lord so filled the heavenly temple that no one was able to enter the temple until the plagues were done
Rev. 16:1-21--The Seven Bowls proclaim the Word of God
16:17-18--fire comes from heaven. The silence of the people of God here is striking--but understandable since no one can enter the heavenly temple right now (remember 15:8). God's wrath is so fierce that even the islands and mountains flee at the fierceness of his wrath! (15:19-20) These are the plagues of Egypt, but much worse!
Rev. 17:1-19:5--The Fall of Babylon proclaims the Word of God
19:1-5 reports the praises of the saints for such a great salvation
Notice the parts of heavenly worship: John enters worship only because of what Jesus has done (Ch 1-3), the sacrifice is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (Ch 4-5), the sermon is what God accomplishes in redemptive history in between Jesus' first coming and his second coming. (Chs 6-19), the prayers are the prayers of the saints throughout history (Ch 6-19), the covenant meal occurs when Christ returns (Ch 19), the benediction is the blessedness of eternal life in Christ (Ch 21-22).
In other words, the book of Revelation portrays us as living in the midst of the heavenly worship. The heavenly worship service began when Jesus (the great High Priest) entered the Holy of Holies, and will not end until the final Judgment, when we will enter the blessedness of eternal life in Christ. This is why Jesus said at the Last Supper: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:24-26). Jesus will not drink the cup again until the Wedding Supper of the Lamb because that is the conclusion of the heavenly worship.
Therefore, our worship each Lord's Day partakes of this heavenly worship. Our worship is a reminder that we share in the eschatological worship. In our worship, we are reminded of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, because we cannot enter worship except through His blood. But in our worship we truly enter the heavenly Holy of Holies because we come in His name (and how could anyone refrain from bursting forth into songs of praise for this!!!).
In our worship we hear the Word of God read and preached. We are reminded of how God has been faithful to his promises throughout redemptive history, and we are called to persevere in faith to the end because God has promised that he will bring this work to completion in the Day of Christ.
In our worship our prayers ascend to the heavenly throne as we ask God to continue to be faithful to his promises. We bring our praises and intercessions before God because he receives them as sweet incense before his throne. And, indeed, he answers them by sending fire on the earth (recall Rev. 8:5). The fire of his Spirit brings blessing to his people and judgment to his enemies through the prayers of the saints.
In our worship we partake of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ through the Lord's Supper. In it we remember our Lord's death until he comes. Hence there are two parts: we remember what he has done on the cross, and we anticipate the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. We partake of his death on the cross, and we partake of his resurrection life.
In our worship, finally, we receive God's blessing. When the benediction is spoken we are to remember that God has promised to grant his blessing of eternal life in Christ. The blessing that you hear from the minister is nothing less than God's blessing of eternal life.
We then may go back into the world for the next week remembering that even as we live in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation, we are also partakers of the heavenly worship whose true home is found before the throne of God. This is why Paul can say: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). All of life is an act of worship because all of history participates in the heavenly worship. And as Revelation reminds us, it either leads to blessing and joy or to cursing and destruction. It is either the worship of the Lamb or the worship of the beast. "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20)
4. The Deformation of Worship
I did not invent this pattern of worship. You can actually find the same basic pattern reflected in almost every liturgy of the Christian church from the second century through the seventeenth century. The only reformer who rejected it was Zwingli--but no one followed him. All of the Reformed and Lutheran churches utilized this basic pattern (see tables below).
But it is not clear that the church always understood the theological rationale behind the pattern. And by the seventeenth century, some English Puritans, especially those who had been influenced by the growing rabbinic studies, began to argue that the traditional pattern of worship was too influenced by the temple, and began to argue that we should follow the synagogue pattern. They were afraid of the tendency toward "priestcraft" that came from using Old Testament forms of worship, and began to argue that the New Testament alone should provide the model for worship. The first alteration was the elimination of weekly communion. Only a few Reformed churches had been able to reinstate weekly communion during the 16th century, and the result was a truncated worship service. Without weekly communion, the service was out of balance, and the sermon became the only center of worship. Perhaps, then, it was only natural for the sermon to come at the end of the service. But further, with no participation in the covenant meal, the Word of God was divorced from the participation in the sacrifice, and so the understanding that worship begins with the sacrifice was also lost. The confession of sin and declaration of pardon gradually dropped out of the service as well, resulting in the now-familiar evangelical liturgy: sing-a-little, pray-a-little, here comes the preacher!
Disclaimer: The table below has been abstracted from a seminar conducted by Rev Wallace in which he gives much more detailed
explanation of the fourfold biblical pattern of worship:
Entrance by means of Sacrifice
Proclamation of Word
Response of Covenant Community
Partaking of Covenant Meal
|The Pattern of Worship from Moses to the New Creation|
(2 Chr 5-7)
(no biblical examples)*
|The Heavenly Worship (Rev)|
|Call to Worship||Call to Worship|
|Assembling for Worship||Shema/Call to Worship||Assembling for Worship|
|Burnt Offerings and Peace Offerings||Burnt Offerings||Sin Offering of the Lamb|
|Entering God's Presence||Entering God's Presence|
|Psalm of Praise||Psalms||Songs of Praise|
|Word of God proclaimed||Word of God proclaimed||Prayer of the Covenant Community||Word of God proclaimed|
|Prayer of Intercession||Benediction (if a priest was present)||Prayer of Intercession|
|Fire consumes the sacrifices, glory fills the temple||Word of God read and proclaimed||Fire from heaven, glory fills the temple|
|Response: profession of faith and obedience||Psalm of Praise||Psalms of Praise||Songs of Praise|
|Covenant Meal||Peace Offerings||Wedding Supper of the Lamb|
|*The synagogue service dates from 200 years after AD 70 and therefore does not reflect the practice of the synagogue in Jesus' day. Prior to AD 70 the synagogue was considered a school and was never described as worship.|
|Early Church Liturgies*|
|Gathering||Psalm (sung by choir during the entrance of the clergy)||Salutation (pax vobiscum)||Little Entrance|
|Prayer/collect||"Holy, Holy, Holy"|
|OT Reading||OT Reading||OT Reading||Antiphon|
|Epistle Reading||Epistle Reading||Epistle Reading|
|Psalms (interspersed)||Psalm||Alleluia and two prayers|
|NT Reading||Gospel Reading||Gospel Reading||Gospel Reading|
|Dismissal of Catechumens||Dismissal of Catechumens||Dismissal of Catechumens||Dismissal of Catechumens|
|Intercessory Prayers||Prayers of the Faithful||Prayers of the Faithful|
|Kiss of Peace|
|Presentation of bread and wine||Offerings of bread and wine (choir sings another psalm)||Offering of bread and wine (with psalm)||Great Entrance with elements|
|Collect for mysteries||Prayer over the gifts||Kiss of Peace|
|Preface||Two offertory prayers and two prayers of the veil|
|Choral song of praise|
|Great Thanksgiving||Canon||Eucharistic Prayer||The Anaphora of James|
|Lord's Prayer||Lord's Prayer||Prayer and the Lord's Prayer|
|Kiss of Peace||Prayer of Inclination|
|Blessing||Prayer of Elevation|
|Distribution of bread and wine--by the deacons||Communion (psalm sung by choir)||Communion with psalmody||Communion|
|Extended distribution to the absent||Two prayers behind the (reading desk)|
|Giving of tithes and offerings||Prayer of thanksgiving||Prayer of thanksgiving||Prayer of Thanksgiving|
|*Patristic worship divided the service into two parts: the Service of the Word and the Service of the Table, connected by the prayers of the faithful. The idea of entering worship on the basis of sacrifice was included more in the Eucharistic service. The reader will note that by the fifth century the sermon is dropping out of some services.|
|Lord's Prayer||Hymn or Psalm||Psalm 124:8|
|Ave Maria||Kyrie ("Lord Have Mercy")||Confession of Sins||Confession of Sin|
|Sermon||Words of Pardon||Word of Pardon|
|Remembrance of those who died the past week||Absolution||Absolution|
|Lord's Prayer||Psalm or Hymn||Ten Commandments (sung)|
|Ave Maria||Prayer (collect)||Prayer for Illumination||Prayer for Illumination|
|Creed||Epistle (sung)||Gospel||Scripture Reading|
|Confession and Pardon||Gospel (sung)|
|Lord's Supper (quarterly)||Creed|
|Prayer of preparation (collect)||Sermon||Sermon||Sermon|
|Epistle||Collection of alms||Collection of Alms|
|Gloria Patri (read)||Creed|
|Gospel||Prayer of Intercession and Consecration||Prayer of Intercession|
|Exhortation||Lord's Prayer||Creed (sung)|
|Lord's Prayer||Lord's Supper (weekly)||Lord's Supper (weekly)||Lord's Supper (quarterly)|
|Communion Prayer||Admonition||Exhortation||Words of Institution|
|Words of Institution||Words of Institution (sung)||Words of Institution||Exhortation|
|Bread and Cup (John 13 read)||Prayer of Consecration|
|Psalm 113 (read)||Fraction||Fraction|
|Prayer of Thanksgiving||Bread||Bread||Bread|
|Dismissal||Sanctus ("Holy Holy Holy")|
|Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God")||Psalm or Hymn||Psalm|
|Prayer of Thanksgiving||Prayer of Thanksgiving||Prayer of Thanksgiving|
|Aaronic Benediction||Aaronic Benediction||Aaronic Benediction|
|*Zwingli followed the medieval preaching service instead of the biblical/patristic pattern. The other Reformers rejected his approach.|
|Call to Worship|
|Prayer for God's presence and pardon||Invocation|
|Psalm or Hymn||Singing several songs and hymns|
|Scripture Reading and Exposition||Scripture Reading||(Testimonies)|
|Psalm (sung)||Congregational Prayer|
|Prayer of Confession and Illumination (Scots)||Congregational Prayer (English)||Psalm or Hymn||Congregational Prayer|
|Scripture Reading||Scripture Reading|
|Prayer of Thanksgiving and Application (Intercessions--Scots) with Lord's Prayer||Prayer of Thanksgiving and Application||(Prayer of Application)|
|Psalm or Hymn with Doxology||Songs|
|Lord's Supper (monthly or quarterly)||Lord's Supper (monthly or quarterly)||Lord's Supper (monthly or quarterly)|
|Words of Institution||Words of Institution|
|Prayer for the Sanctification and Blessing of the Elements||Prayer|
|Prayer of Thanksgiving||Prayer of Thanksgiving||Prayer|
|*The Westminster Directory for Public Worship begins to move toward a synagogue view of worship due to the revival of rabbinic studies in the seventeenth century. From the seventeenth century to the present we have seen a progressive loss of the classic theology of worship, which is also reflected in the tendency to debate music rather than the theology of worship itself ever since the controversy over Isaac Watts's paraphrases around 1700.
Copyright © 2003 Peter J. Wallace
When my elder brother (now Orthodox) was married in a massive and beautiful French Catholic Cathedral built from foundation to pinnacle in black volcanic rock, the Bible stories I read as a child illustrated in brilliant Icons upon every stained-glass window, I knew then a taste of the amazement which the Emissaries of Vladimir brought back to Russia:
And against that, we Calvinists offer... um... "Four White Walls and a Sermon".
Yeah, that's pretty much how I felt.
AND YET... Calvinist worship may not boast the finest architecture, the prettiest ornamentation, or the eldest tradition; but we can boast in one thing, and that is this: we can boast in Christ.
As Rev. Wallace has amply demonstrated above, from Genesis to Revelation, the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ has developed the most deliberately and conscientiously Biblical Liturgy in the entire geographical breadth and historical depth of all Christendom. "Four White Walls and a Sermon" is merely a question of Style; when it comes to the Form and Substance of Liturgy, Calvinists need not take a back seat to anyone.
Presbyterian Calvinism represents the most ancient form of Christian Ecclesiology, the most advanced form of Christian Theology, and the most Biblical form of Christian Liturgy.... and, by God's grace, we will win the Church, and win the World.
I went away for a year, so I don't even know who's still left on the GRPL list after the "mass purges"; if y'all enjoy the Article, please feel free to "ping" it to anyone who's left.
I will submit one major problem with Protestant worship is the fear of weekly Communion.
I used to have it myself, but I now believe it is essential.
My Reformed Presbyterian pastor is really pushing for weekly Communion, and so far has got us up to about once a month from something on the order of 4 times a year. But, some people are still scared they will get bored of Communion if it happens all the time.
Well, you know what, it is meant to be done every week.
I am pleased with the transformation in my church's worship over the past couple years.
It used to be a typical sing, read scripture, sing, sermon, offerings, sing, pray, close service.
Now, this is how it goes:
1) Coming before God with praise
2) Confessing sin
3) assurance of pardon
4) reading of the law (sometimes NT, not just the Ten Commandments only)
5) Scripture reading
7) Communion when we have it
10) Apostle's Creed
12) closing praise
What is the GRPL?
The 19th-Century Presbyterian Liturgy is, IMHO, but a poor truncation of John Calvin's robust original, exceeding it only in the more-regular adminstration of the Lord's Supper. (It was, of course, John Calvin's desire that the Sacrament be administered weekly; unfortunately, in this aspect he was over-ruled by the Geneva Town Council).
See my #6... John Calvin, who wrote the Genevan Liturgy, intended that the Sacrament be administered weekly.
Unfortunately, he was over-ruled on this aspect by the Geneva Town Council, Anti-Predestinarians and Libertines and the whole lot of them. They mandated a Quarterly Observance instead.
Frickin' politicians. (sigh)
Great Reformed Ping List.
A "ping list" for Calvinist Presbyterians, Old School Baptists, and the occasional Reformed Episcopalian and Missouri-Synod Lutheran. Basically, anyone who held to the core doctrines of the Reformation (Scripture alone, Faith alone, and Absolute Predestination being the three main theological distinctives of the Protestant Reformation... [there are actually five "Solas" of the Protestant Reformation; but the Eastern Orthodox, at least, don't really object to our doctrines of "Solus Christus" or "Soli Deo Gloria", so we tend to focus on our most distinctively Protestant traits ]).
A while back, a bunch of the GRPL were banned for various reasons, and I took a year off from Free Republic.
thank you, Mr. OP, for the explanation I was wondering what a grpl was. I thought it was spelled wrong. shows how little I know.
this is an interesting thread. I believe God enjoys a variety of our worship as long as we are well intended.
Pinging myself for later read.
Indeed it does! Thanks much for posting this excellent article, OP, and glad to know that you're doing well since your move. Don't be a stranger!
Thank you. Interesting post.
Thanks for posting this excellent article, OP.
There are currently 73 names on the GRPL and many threads are still posted to and by them. The list is found on Nobdysfool's homepage.
I don't see the logic of those people who restrict communion to a few times a year, saying it is more "special" and "meaningful".
Under such thinking, then the people who get the most out of church-going are those who attend on Christmas and Easter only.
This is a great article; one of the best I have read on FR.
What a beautiful explanation of the purpose of the liturgy! Thank you for the post. I think that liturgical congregations should teach the purpose of the liturgy along with the teaching of the catechism, so that members can appreciate what they are doing in worship and why.
I do not understand why congregations would choose to not have communion every Sunday in a Reformed church. Sundays are a celebration, why would supping together not be included?
Hi, Suzy! You've been missed. Hope you're well and enjoying the springtime. 8~)
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