Clearly, we in the CRC embrace public worship with profound respect. Our interim Banner editor has written an editorial on the subject entitled “Key Features of Reformed Worship.” He selected two principles from others as the defining ingredients: covenant renewal and Trinitarian. I appreciate his writing on this subject and for the most part heartily agree. Reformed Worship among us has it’s own institute and conferences, hymnals, theologians, liturgists, worship leaders, and ordained pastors. It is on the front page of CRC life as it should be.
Still, I wonder about how we are putting Reformed Worship into practice. I come from the perspective of a home missionary (which we used to have) but now call church planters. Home missionaries by definition served in places where there was only a small gathering of CRC people. They were in places other than Grand Rapids, Pella, Edgerton/Leota, Hanford,Toronto, Winnepeg and Edmonton. In home mission churches, it was not only necessary to connect with the CRC nucleus but also the surrounding assimilated American Germans, Italians, Russians, Latin Americans, and Polish. It was necessary because the Bible mandated it but also survival as a church required it. Barring any new influx of CRC people, you had to reach this surrounding community and enfold them or risk extinction.
At this point in history it is clear that Reformed Worship among the CRC people in America has worked well and is still working well in Grand Rapids, Pella, etc. It is not so evident to me that Reformed Worship as we practice it has worked so well among the surrounding community of diverse ethnicities.
I see a couple of programmatic challenges for Reformed Worship. We need to keep worship seamless with only one conversation occurring per service. The conversation should be controlled by the selected scripture that will be preached. Reformed Worship as we now practice it tends to chop things up: greeting, service of confession and assurance, service of the law/other passage on living gratefully, service of the Word, service of intercession, service of offering, and service of departure to serve. I fear that the service of the Word gets drowned out by all the other services we are carrying on in just one hour. Every Reformed Christian knows that repentance, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, instruction from the Word, prayer, grateful living, etc. are important, but we would never try to do all five or six within a very brief period of time.
We practice the spiritual disciplines. The apostle Paul declared: “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” We need the fresh air of Holy Spirit freedom in our Reformed Worship. We do not need to fit all aspects of the Christian life into every single service. Worship Leaders, Pastors, and theologians need to be free to select 1-2 other elements along with the Word and forget the others for a given service.
One other consideration, we need in my opinion, is to design worship services that are more accessible for the non-professional musician and theologian. What I fear we might have happening in the CRC (judging from our evangelism statistics) is what Robert A Schuller warned us about many years ago. He said, “If my sermons were evaluated by theologians, I would get an F, but if they were evaluated by those who listen to the “Hour of Power” they would get an A.” In other words, let the participants in our worship tell us, perhaps by their feet, whether they are being edified. Our Reformed Worship is undoubtedly correct but does it edify?
Paul’s goal in preaching and christian worship was edification of the participants. “He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” 1 Corinthians 14:5.
A single thematic approach to worship would edify, unify, and be “transformative, missional, and winsome.”