A New(ly Reprinted) Book on Worship Liturgies

Charles W. Baird, The Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches, 1855; reprint, Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2006, paperback, 266 pages, no index, reviewed by Barry Waugh.

Worship is a hot topic for contemporary Evangelicals and Reformed Christians. C. W. Baird’s book is concerned to show “from the history and teachings of the Presbyterian Church, what may be considered the proper theory of its worship, and to compare that ideal with our prevailing practice” (1). His method for achieving decent and orderly worship is to recommend the “discretionary use of written forms,” which he believed is “abundantly” warranted by the Westminster Standards and the history and practice of the Presbyterian Church (5). For the author, the Directory for Worship “minutely and definitely” contains regulation of prayer and the other aspects of worship “without rigid confinement to set words and phrases” (3). The regulations provided by the Directory for Worship, he says, do not exclude the use of written forms, but neither do they prescribe the use of forms.

During the course of Dr. Baird’s book, he presents the order of worship of several churches including Calvin’s Geneva, Knox’s Scottish order, Richard Baxter’s liturgy, and the “liturgy of the Palatinate” or the German Reformed. Common to each of these liturgies are the singing of Psalms, the reading and preaching of the Word, prayers in various locations of the order, confession of sin, the use of the sacraments and the use of a benediction. Essential to each liturgical order is the Bible, whether its text is the lyrics for singing, the words read for hearing, the subject matter of the sermon, the words used for the confession of sin, the passages used for administering the sacraments or the benediction—the service is a service to God using the words he has given for his worship. The orders of worship Dr. Baird describes are very simple, so simple that readers of this book might think that he left some things out. For example, there was no collection of the offering, it appears that there were no announcements, no greeting of the visitors, no special appeals from the leaders of special groups and ministries in the church for attendance at their functions, and there were no presentations appealing for a building fund. The liturgies were simple in that they were centered on the Word of God, but they were also elegant because the majestic language of God’s Word was used for adoration, supplication, blessing, and obeisance. Such Scripture centered liturgies would appear strange to many today since nearly all the scriptural elements of the Protestant liturgies either are minimalized or absent from many present day worship services. Sermons are often just devotional snippets that might be published in a self-improvement meditating guide; prayer, if present at all, is limited in the scope and gravity of its supplications and thanksgiving; if there is a Bible reading it is as brief as the sermon; and if hymns are sung, they are limited to a few stanzas. One thing that can be said about the present scene is that the Psalms and other Bible texts sometimes constitute the lyrics of popular choruses.

Dr. Baird ends the book with a concluding chapter, pages 251-266, where he presents his thoughts regarding the history of Reformed liturgy and its relevancy to his contemporary situation. He appeals for “a reverent approach to the Divine Majesty” by means of appropriate language being used to approach the throne of grace. He comments that the same “solicitude” should be used to approach God as one might use to approach “the great and honored among men.” He believed that the historic use of the Westminster Standards by the “Calvinistic Churches of Great Britain and the United States” faced a cross-roads between continuing to follow the Directory for Worship and its historic liturgy, or following the path of rejection of its standards and each minister creating his own liturgy. In the face of the trends, Dr. Baird called for the use of liturgical forms noting that Great Britain and America were the only Calvinistic churches without a liturgy. Dr. Baird went on to propose measures to be taken to turn the tide of worship practice in his own era. The church must begin anew to use the “Scriptural and Apostolic Elements of Worship,” such as the benediction, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed.” The author goes on to call for “the regular and continuous reading of the Holy Scripture, at every religious service.” Baird believed that the limited use of the reading of the Word in his own era was due to the disposition of his contemporaries to depreciate “regular and prescriptive…rites of religion.” The key to achieving this rediscovery of reverent worship, according to Dr. Baird, is a stricter adherence to the Directory for Worship.

There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to irreverence. Just as C. W. Baird was concerned for the decline of worship in his own era, many are concerned today about casual, man-centered, unregulated services. Is it just the thinking of this reviewer or is it not absurd to think that Christians could really believe that they can define proper worship apart from Scripture or by picking-and-choosing which liturgical elements to use? Could it be that the erosion of the fundamental elements in some of today’s worship—prayer, reading the Bible, preaching the Word, confession of sin, and singing the Scripture—is due to the ever present Edenic tempting desire to rule one’s self? Concerned parents do not allow their children to define right and wrong for themselves; good parents teach their children to believe God’s Word and follow his commands for righteousness. Good Christian parents exercise authority and tell their children what is right and wrong because God has given them that responsibility, but when it comes to worship, the Christian’s most exalted and edifying experience, people many times choose to define worship for themselves. Some will argue that the depreciation of worship in our era is due to the influences of Schleiermacher, or maybe post-modernism, or possibly the “me-ism” of American individualism, or the anti-organized religion descendants of the Jesus Generation, but worship degenerates into human exaltation when it is designed to appeal to the worshipper rather than God and any philosophy or theology that exalts humanity at the expense of God will affect worship. Charles W. Baird’s book is a helpful reminder of where worship doctrine has come from and a warning to beware of self-indulgence in worship.

For those interested in more study of the doctrine of worship, the following books may be found helpful: first and foremost is the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Public Worship of God, which can be found in several editions including those of the Westminster Standards published by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (my copy is from 1976); the two important books by Horton Davies, The Worship of the American Puritans (Soli Deo Gloria reprint, 1999), and The Worship of the English Puritans (Soli Deo Gloria reprint, 1997); Sean Lucas, On Being Presbyterian (P&R, 2006), particularly 117-21, though the whole book is helpful; D. G. Hart and John Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (P&R, 2002), which is an appeal for Scripture regulated and confessional worship; the Anglican theologian, P. E. Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (1965, 1980, 1997), the discussion of worship begins on page 153; and any of Pastor Terry Johnson’s several worship titles (here, here, and here).

Request to Reformation 21 Blog

I could no longer find any way of contacting the Reformation 21 Blog. So, I’ll lob up my request, and hope that someone who can do something about it sees it. I know that they are in the midst of some face-lifts, and so I am willing to be patient with that. However, there is a difficulty that needs to be addressed. Previously, in reading the feed, the feed would tell me who the author of each post was. With the new feed, that is no longer the case. I really like to know who wrote what without having actually to visit the site, as I read almost all blog posts in my Google reader.

Before I Go On

Before addressing the Joint Federal Vision Profession (again), I need to answer Doug’s latest post.

The basic claim could be boiled down (hopefully without attenuation of the actual argument) to this: Rollock and several other theologians (such as the ones Steven Wedgeworth mentions) argue that Adam owed thanks to God, and that Adam’s works could not have merited eternal life. Since this is the core of what the FV wants to say about the Adamic situation, then why are they getting arrows thrown at them? Is this not within the acceptable boundaries of debate? Hopefully this is an accurate representation of Doug’s argument. He makes the point about Murray, as well.

Reformed authors such as Robert Rollock had one great enemy: the Roman Catholic Church. There were, of course, others. However, that early in the ball game, there weren’t Arminians floating around, and even the Anabaptists (which receive some attention from Calvin) were not nearly as high on the radar screen as the Romanists. From the previous sections to the one quoted, it is quite obvious that the enemy Rollock is fighting is the Papists (see pp. 31-32 of volume 1). Therefore, if the word “merit” comes into play as something rejected by Rollock, it is the term “merit” as understood by the Romanists, which means either condign or congruent merit. Pactum merit does not appear in so many terms. However, it can be inferred from Rollock’s words. In other words, the argument here is that Rollock was not directly addressing the question of whether there is an improper way to speak of merit in the case of Adam. He was rejecting merit in the sense that the Romanists wanted to use it. Here are some clear indications that Rollock would not have denied the idea of pactum merit:

The covenant of works, which may also be called a legal or natural covenant, is founded in nature, which by creation was pure and holy, and in the law of god, which in the first creation was engraven in man’s heart…he made a covenant with man, wherein he promised him eternal life, under the condition of holy and good works, which should be answerable to the holines and goodness of their creation, and conformable to his law…it could not well stand with the justice of God to make a covenant under condition of good works and perfect obedience to his law, except he had first created man pure and holy, and had engraven his law in his heart, whence those good works might proceed…the ground of the covenant of work was not Christ, nor the grace of God in Christ, but the nature of man in the first creation holy and perfect, endued also with the knowledge of the lawand so eternal life might be said to be given unto him, as justified by his works…works mere naturally good only are required as the condition of the covenant of works. So, then, by this condition, do you exclude hence faith in Christ? I do so. (pp. 34-35, emphasis added).

The conditionality of the obtaining of the promised eternal life excluded faith. Faith was not part of the instrument. Rollock even goes so far as to say that the ground of the covenant was not the work of Christ, but the works of Adam. This language parallels precisely the “ground” language of Christ’s perfect obedience in the covenant of grace. The language of pactum merit is not present in Rollock, but the idea most certainly is. Rollock is willing to say that the instrument and ground of Adam’s obtaining eternal life is that righteousness inherent in him and accomplished in obedience to the law given to him by God. That is denied by the Federal Vision. Rollock explicitly excludes faith from any kind of instrumentality in the CoW. That is also something that the FV denies. It should be noted that Rollock clearly adheres to a CoW layer to the Mosaic covenant, when he says, “repeat that covenant of works to the people of Israel” (pg. 34). There is not one aspect of this portrayal of the CoW with which TR’s would have a problem. In the light of the foregoing, Rollock’s rejection of merit in the CoW is clearly to be seen as a rejection of Adam having any kind of condign merit. But Rollock clearly adheres to condign merit in the case of Christ. He says, (the virtue of the blood of the Mediator is twofold)… “The second is, to purchase and merit a new grace and mercy of God for us” (pg. 38). So that blasts Wedgeworth’s argument that Christ did not merit eternal life for us.

Now, quoting a long list of names indicates one’s familiarity with a long list of names. But quite frankly, the positions of those divines need to be spelled out, not simply quoted in a long list of names, as if that is supposed to seal the argument. So, this is an invitation actually to consider what they wrote. Let the FV writers give us a quotation (in context, not the cherry-picking that they usually do), and let’s discuss what they wrote. Even Murray’s position is not clear. Murray is clear that the issue of Adam’s obtaining life was suspended on his obedience (pg. 49 of volume 2). His reasons for disliking the term covenant of works are not the same as the reasons the FV rejects it. Just because there are elements of God’s condescending favor does not rule out the appropriateness of the term (that is in chapter 7 of the confession already!). The concept of covenant can be there even without the term (and actually, the FV agrees with its critics against Murray that Adam was in covenant with God). This also nullifies Murray’s “redemptive” reason. For if the concept can be there without the term, then saying that the term only applies to redemptive situations simply begs the question. Murray does not say the same thing as the FV at all.

Consider also this argument: if the FV definition of “covenant” is true (as being the relationship of God and man), and Murray doesn’t want to call what Adam had with God a covenant, then doesn’t it follow that Adam had no relationship with God, according to Murray? Obviously, Murray would not agree that Adam had no relationship with God. Therefore, Murray’s definition of covenant differs drastically from the FV.