way that we
can step out of our own world and out of our own prejudices is to step
into the world of the fathers. This is one excellent way of testing
At the annual Greenville Theological Seminary Conference
in Taylors, South
Carolina on March 12, 2003 Dr. Joseph Pipa in introducing the topic of
Reformed liturgy, sought to draw attention to the fact that there are
problems with traditional, regulated worship. There are forms shaped
scripture and Reformed tradition that are richer than we are currently
experiencing, he contended, and we need to be challenged to search the
scriptures to find and use them in our corporate worship. We are often
worshipping in such a way, he said, that we often forget that we are
people and are called to worship God not just with our minds but with
entirety of our being.
Two areas with respect to Reformed worship present themselves as concerns.
The first is Reformed liturgy, and the second is posture in worship.
The term "liturgy" may cause us to think of highly liturgical,
Common Prayer type services with many imposed forms. In fact, President
Pipa said, the term actually means "acts of worship." According
there are four types of liturgy.
i] One of those is the imposed liturgy of the prayer book we normally
ii] A second is discretional - wherein there is a set order of service
with common prayer, public confession, reading of the Ten Commandments,
creeds, and so forth, that are not imposed and are combined with free
iii] A third is what Baird calls "rubric" liturgy, seen best
Directory for Worship where rubrics are given to the minister. Again,
is a set order, but within that order, the minister is given suggestions
about what to pray for in various prayers. One could turn these suggestions
into common prayer, but they may also be used simply as aids to the
iv] The fourth type of liturgy is free liturgy. Despite the protests
many churches that they have no liturgy, attending two weeks in a row
prove to one that they indeed do have a liturgy or simply a way of doing
things. Even when there is a free-for-all, that, too is part of the
Pipa stressed that liturgy is not unbiblical and that everybody has one.
Dr. Pipa said the question for us as Reformed Presbyterians and Reformed
Baptists is, "What is the most biblical way to have a liturgy? Is
better way to approach the worship of God?"
Dr. Pipa believes there has been a great decline in Presbyterian worship.
There is little rhyme or reason to the free liturgy style of worship
some of our more conservative churches, and the seminary president
expressed a desire to challenge those churches to a better way without
any way violating the Regulative Principle which dictates the elements
worship. Liturgy, the ordering of those things, has to do with the forms
worship and forms are a confessional concept found both in the Larger
Shorter Catechisms and the PCA's Directory for Worship. This concept
form expresses itself in the content and structuring of the elements
worship such things as which song or psalm is to be sung, whether to
our worship using some common prayer or all free prayer, and so forth.
content, of all, of course, must be biblical.
How, then, do we develop a liturgy? Dr. Pipa stated that although we
given some freedom of forms within the context of that which is biblical,
there ought to be some assembly directives with respect to our worship
order to create a greater uniformity within the broad context of a liturgy.
We must, the speaker said, look to Scripture to find the principles for
setting forth a liturgy, but before doing so, we should address three
important questions that Terry Johnson poses and answers in his book
Leading Worship". First, are all forms equally suited to express
Presbyterian convictions? Secondly, is the emotive power of forms being
taken seriously enough, and thirdly, are the forms of the Reformed
tradition being taken seriously enough?
The answer to the first question, says Dr. Pipa, is clearly no. Not all
forms are equally well-suited to express Reformed and Presbyterian
convictions. One cannot separate theology from liturgy because the theology
informs the liturgy, and the liturgy informs the theology. Thus, if we
attempt to communicate Reformed theology and piety through a broadly
Evangelical or Anglican or Charismatic liturgy, we are going to affect
doctrine, and history validates that.
In answer to the question of whether or not we are taking seriously enough
the emotive power of forms, the answer is again no. We see this most
clearly in children who grow up in Presbyterian churches with a Baptistic
or Charismatic piety. When they grow up and move to another town, they
don't end up in Presbyterian churches but in Baptist or Charismatic ones,
which feel familiar to them. This happened to the French Huguenots who
accustomed to a rich, formal liturgy. When they came to America, the
liturgy of the Presbyterian churches had become so free that they ended
in Anglican and Episcopal churches because of the emotive power of the
In response to the question of whether or not the forms of Reformed
tradition are taken seriously enough today, again the answer is no. They
are not being taken seriously enough by us, and they are certainly not
being taken seriously enough by those in the contemporary movement.
How do we determine the form that is most akin to Reformed theology?
Pipa gave his listeners four principles.
i] First, the form must be consistent with the Regulative Principle.
it must include all of the elements of worship.
ii] Secondly, the order that really will communicate Reformed theology,
Pipa believes, is a covenantal order. Covenant has two parties, with
the initiating party and man as respondent. This is illustrated in the
tabernacle and temple worship, with the priests not only entering the
of Holies to act on the people's behalf, but also coming out to minister
the people on God's behalf. We now have access into the throne room in
speaking our parts of worship. But, we are priests, not prophets. God
speaks to us through our prophets, our ministers, through the scriptures,
the blessings, the prayers, the preaching, and the sacraments. So what
see in New Testament worship is this divine dialogue that takes place.
There ought to be a covenantal structure to our liturgy, but "so
Dr. Pipa lamented, "as I visit some of our more conservative churches,
there seems to be no rhyme or reason."
iii] Thirdly, there should be a gospel cycle that speaks a sort of "gospel
logic." Some elements are from the side of God, and then there are
from the side of man.
iv] Fourthly, the form must be shaped by Reformed tradition. We must
what? Calvin and Zwingli and Bucer did when they desired to reform worship.
They went first to the scripture to be instructed and afterward to the
early church. Dr. Pipa told of teaching Reformation history and using
overheads, one of Justin Martyr's liturgy from 180 AD., and the other
Calvin's Strasbourg liturgy.
You could superimpose them because they were so alike. "Now you're
about something that's transcultural, transgenerational, transgeographical,
and yet the uniformity is amazing," President Pipa noted. One way
can step out of our own world and out of our own prejudices is to step
into the world of the fathers. This is one excellent way of testing
The Westminster Directory of Worship adopted finally in 1645 is a liturgy
that came in the context of a universal Puritan rejection of imposed
liturgy. It is a document that resulted from compromise between
Presbyterians and independents. These independents were, according to
writers, influenced by the first Charismatic movement of the Reformed
church and desired no structures so that they might remain entirely free
be led by the Spirit throughout their worship services. Thus, though
Directory of Worship is consistent with the principles of the Presbyterian
Puritans, due to their compromise with the independents, some things
left out that they would gladly have included. Dr. Pipa said he believes
that the Directory does allow us to include some of these forms that
Two patterns were followed in the Directory of Worship - Calvin's liturgy,
particularly that from Strasbourg, and Knox's Scottish Rite. The Puritans
took the Scottish Rite along with the Genevan/Strasbourg outline and
enriched it. Dr. Pipa said he believes, however, that in some places
also impoverished it. There is in the Directory an absence of common
prayer; a concession to independents. However, such prayers, due to the
Puritans' unanimous opposition to imposed liturgy, had they been included,
would not have been obligatory. Their commitment to free prayer brought
with it a commitment to carefully-wrought free prayer, often prayers
written out. Sometimes, according to Dr. Pipa, as much time was spent
prayer as was on the sermon. This was not "offering up to God the
thoughts that come to my mind," said the speaker. "If we just
today, we would be light years ahead of where we are in so many of our
The rich liturgy found in the Directory was soon given up in nonconformist
churches, and Presbyterians followed. This, said Dr. Pipa, along with
departure from the great Reformed liturgies like those of Calvin and
and the French and Dutch churches, led to an impoverished worship. That
departure was not out of conviction on the part of Presbyterians but
because of their commitment to trying to get a uniformity of religion
to meet their brothers in the middle.
In statements to Charles II prior to the Restoration, English Puritans
attempted to clarify their position on liturgical worship. They wrote: "We
are satisfied in our judgments concerning the lawfulness of a Liturgy,
form of Public Worship, provided that it be for the matter agreeable
the Word of God, and fitly suited to the nature of the several ordinances
and necessities of the Church; neither too tedious in the whole, nor
composed of too short prayers, unmeet repetitions or responsals; not
dissonant from the Liturgies of other reformed Churches; nor too rigorously
imposed; nor the minister so confined thereunto, but that he may also
use of those gifts for prayer and exhortation which Christ hath given
for the service and edification of the Church"
You see," said Dr. Pipa, "The Presbyterians were not opposed
non-imposed common prayer such as Calvin and Knox and Dutch churches
in their liturgy."
Dr. Pipa summarized his purpose in bringing this lecture, saying, "What
trying to do today is get you out of your comfort zone and get you
that there is more to Reformed worship than what many of us as Southern
Presbyterians have thought about."
Recommending Terry Johnson's "Leading in Worship", as containing
biblically-worked-out, historically-faithful forms of liturgy," Dr.
commented, "just take out the special music, and it's perfect."
POSTURE IN WORSHIP
For the final ten minutes, he turned to discussing posture, saying
too little attention to the matter of the body in worship. It is the
person who worships, said Dr. Pipa, not just a disembodied brain. And,
with liturgical forms, we must take our instructions on posture from
scripture. When we do so, we need to be guided by three principles:
i] first, asking the qualifying question, "Does that posture today
various cultures have the same significance it had then? If it does,
it's clearly a transferable posture to be used in corporate worship."
ii] We need also to look to history, asking whether or not these postures
have been used in Reformed churches and in the ancient church as well
keeping in mind always the corporate character of worship.
A general posture that is quite foreign in our culture is the practice
silence in connection with the approach to worship. "It is strange
first," Dr. Pipa admitted, "but you'll soon grow to love it
cheated if you are not given that time approaching God or in the Lord's
With respect to Scripture reading, there is great precedent in scripture
for standing for the reading of the Word of God. This was the universal
synagogue practice. It is a posture of holy reverence and displays
understanding that when the scriptures are read, God Himself is speaking.
iii] Another important posture concept is that of the corporate "amen" at
the end of corporate prayer. One voice leads the prayer, with the
congregation joining silently and indicating their attentiveness and
agreement at the end by joining in the corporate "amen". This
as well as being the practice of the early church. Dr. Pipa suggested
well that the, corporate "amen" can approximate the biblical
shout so that
we are fulfilling the command to shout to the Lord.
With respect to postures for prayer, Dr. Pipa pointed out that there
three biblical body positions: prostration, kneeling, and standing.
is not an appropriate posture for prayer. Prostration is not often
practical in public prayer and often comes in time of great brokenness
humiliation, so that its use may be better suited for private prayer.
Kneeling and standing, however, are biblical and time-honored in the
Reformed tradition, and both are practical for public worship. Kneeling
the most often described posture for prayer in both Old and New Testaments,
and Calvin used it in Geneva. "Just because people who hold to error
some of these things, that does not mean they're wrong," Dr. Pipa
explained. If kneeling is not possible, it is good to stand for prayer.
Again, it is a posture found in both Testaments. One other thing to
consider is the matter of the eyes in prayer. "I challenge you," said
Pipa, "find one place in the Bible where you are told to close your
prayer." We may do so in order to protect us from distractions,
but its purpose is not reverence. In scripture, we read time and again
lift your eyes to the Lord." This lifting of eyes, looking heavenward,
then, would be a reverent and appropriate posture for prayer.
The lifting of hands, is also a biblical posture. It means today what
meant then, but it must be done corporately as part of prayer and praise.
The difficulty we have with this today is its being done in
individualistically rather than corporately. Either the minister should
raise his hands on behalf of the people as their representative, or
people should raise their hands together in a time of prayer. "It
scriptural, as long as we do it corporately."
He pleaded: "I want you to think about these things, and examine
scripturally and in terms of the Reformed traditio." He continued: "Don't
just overreact to what charismatics or Roman Catholics or high church
Anglicans do. What can we do to worship God more richly and fully as
people in terms of liturgy and in terms of posture?"
The lecturer reminded his listeners also to keep in mind that these
must be for the good of God's people and that it would be wrong to
them. Do one thing at a time, study and teach, and as God's people
understanding, you then can institute something. He asked his listeners
work on these things as well as work toward an agreed-on directory
worship in order to rebuild unity and uniformity within the worship
Reformed and Presbyterian people.
[as reported in "Presbyterian and Reformed News", January-March