Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lusk, Some Thoughtful Rebuttals of Anti-liturgists

We are not sure about Rich Lusk.  Is he a Federal Visionista?  That to the side, there are thoughtful rebuttals of the "I hate Prayer Book" enthusiasts.

Dabney Center

Spring 2003

Course: Liturgy

Teacher: Rich Lusk

Session #3

Objections to Liturgy/Ritual

“Liturgical” worship is highly “ritualized.” But since the Reformation, many

Protestants have viewed ritual and ceremony with suspicion. Several

arguments against ritualized, liturgical worship are offered:

1. “Old Covenant worship was full of rituals and ceremonies, but Christ’s

coming abolished the ceremonial law. We are free from such strictures in our

worship. Our worship in the New Covenant is ‘spiritual’ – spontaneous,

inward, and simple.”

Christ did not actually abolish the ceremonial system; he fulfilled it (Mt.

5:17ff), and in doing so transformed it. Thus, the categories of temple and

sacrifice are still used to describe New Covenant worship in the NT. Jesus

and the apostles established new rituals and ceremonies (baptism, the Lord’s

Supper, new prayer forms, new songs, etc.) for the new epoch. The NT is not

opposed to ritual per se, but to doing the wrong rituals, either because (a) they

belong to the old age (e.g., circumcision), or (b) they are human inventions

inconsistent with biblical principles (e.g., some Jewish oral law washings).

2. “Ritual leads to dead orthodoxy and dead formalism. It kills the freshness

of New Covenant worship and quenches the Spirit. If we do the same things

routinely, we’ll just go through the motions.”

This is a false dichotomy. Often, churches which favor “spontaneity” and

“freedom” become stale and dead themselves, as many ex-charismatics attest.

While dead formalism is a problem we must guard against, ritual per se is not

the real danger. If ritual is so dangerous, why did God give an entire

ritualized system to Israel that allowed virtually no variation? Surely God

would not tempt his people this way!

Rather, the real issue here is the heart of the worshippers. If we really love

God, the “liturgical routine” should never be dull.

God’s own life is one of tireless repetition. God is a ritualized being. He

moves through his divine life in an orderly, habitual way. The creation

account, with its repeated patterns, is very telling: Even when God is at his

most original, he acts habitually. We are made in his image, and so we are

“creatures of habit.”

3. “Liturgical worship is ‘high church.’ It is elitist and snobbish. It leaves

out the common man.”

Snobbery is a problem, but not unique to those who worship liturgically.

Extreme RPW minimalists and free wheeling charismatics can also take undue

pride in their worship.

Actually liturgical worship is the most “common” style of all, in the sense of

being accessible to anyone. (It was called the Book of Common Prayer after


The vast majority of Christian worshippers the last 2000 years (just like the

Israelites before them) have been mostly common folk and yet they’ve learned

to recite creeds and prayers, chant psalms, kneel and stand at appropriate

times, and so forth. The irony in the above mentioned objection is that until

rather recently in history (with the invention of printing and the rise in literacy

rates), worship had to be highly ritualized (and therefore memorized) for the

people to participate at all!

Ritualized liturgy is actually far friendlier to children, the elderly, immigrants,

etc. than other forms. For example, many traditional Presbyterian and Puritan

forms of worship are really only accessible to college educated, middle class

“thinkers.” As a result these kinds of churches end up with a very unbalanced

membership and become distorted, disfigured manifestations of the body of


Jordan is entirely correct that worship should be “childish.”

4. “Liturgical rituals, ancient prayer and hymn forms, etc. simply aren’t

intelligible in our modern culture. We need more contemporary styles and

forms to reach people today.”

This objection smuggles in several false assumptions. For example, Frame

argues for “intelligibility” from 1 Cor. 14, but he badly misreads the text.

The way this objection is sometimes stated, it presupposes confusion between

liturgy and evangelism. In evangelism, intelligibility is critical. In worship,

other concerns come to the fore. Worship is only indirectly evangelistic; the

primary audience is God himself.

This objection also assumes that worship should come easy. We have to teach

kids how to tie their shoes and ride a bike, but supposedly worship should

come “naturally.” Surely the King of the universe is worth more effort!

Worshipping well is a skill that has to be acquired (cf. references to musical

skill in the psalter). This skill is learned over the course of a lifetime through

practice and repetition.

This objection assumes the symbolic character of ritualized worship forms is

unintelligible to moderns. But surely this is false, even if moderns are

symbolically impoverished compared to their ancestors. Consider recent

examples: flag burning in the U.S.; tearing up billboard pictures of Saddam in

Iraq. Symbolic actions are still intelligible!

The real reason many American Christians object to liturgical worship is

laziness! We don’t want to have to learn the “grammar” or “language” of

historic, biblical worship forms. We put our personal convenience and

pleasure above honoring God. This is idolatry.

Given the broad scale idolatry of American culture, the church simply must

stake out her ground as a counter-culture. This means liturgical worship! So

what if it’s weird?

5. “Liturgy and ritual lead to Rome.”

Two can play at this game. Rejection of ritual leads to Pennsylvania . . . and

Amish country!

The fact that Rome does something is not, in itself, an adequate argument

against it. After all, Rome believes the Trinity, incarnation, etc.

This objection forgets that the Reformers themselves wrote liturgies that were

to be viewed as “fixed forms.” In fact, prayer books were a Protestant

invention, basically! Among the Puritans, liturgy was generally accepted

early on in the movement, but when worship forms got entangled in churchstate

issues with the British crown and persecution began, there was a

backlash against anything that smacked of Anglicanism or Romanism. There

is no reason to follow the Puritans in this area today since our cultural

situation is substantially different. The strict RPW which came out of the

Puritan interaction with the crown was an innovation, as Packer has pointed


The irony is that the Roman Catholic counter-reformation has implemented

more of the liturgical reforms that Calvin desired than Presbyterians have!

The early Reformers wanted weekly communion in both kinds for the

congregation, a lot of corporate participation rather than “spectator worship,”

etc. The Reformers were actually more medieval than modern.

Arguments in Favor of Ritualized, Liturgical Worship Forms

The traditional Christian liturgy balances form and freedom. It features both

ordinaries and propers – elements that remain fixed and elements that vary.

Life as whole is this way. In fact, biblically sound rituals will encapsulate


A good prima facie case can be made for liturgy from several places in

Scripture. We could argue covenantally that if Old Covenant worship was

ritualized, New Covenant worship will be as well, albeit with new forms. We

could point to the worship of the synagogue, with its regular structures and

patterns. Jesus participated in this worship, even reading the scheduled

lectionary passage from the scroll rather than “following the lead of the Spirit”

(Lk. 4). Paul clearly desired orderly, regimented worship (cf. Acts 20:7ff; 1

Cor. 14; Col. 2:5).

Perhaps the best argument for liturgical worship comes from the book of

Revelation. The entire book is an unveiling of the heavenly liturgy and

follows the same basic pattern as temple worship in the Old Covenant. John,

as a representative of the church is in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day and enters

into heaven to witness and participate in this worship service. If there is

“Spirit-led” worship anywhere, surely it’s in heaven! What do we see?

We can’t survey the entire book, but consider a few details from Rev. 4-5.

• The worship is corporate, as the actions of the worshippers are clearly

coordinated together. There is no individualistic spontaneity.

• The worship is scripted, and apparently memorized. It is orderly and

routine. The angels do not tire of singing the Sanctus; it never

becomes “vain repetition.”

• It is bodily. There is physical movement, to show reverence and


• It is symbolic, e.g., the worshippers wear special clothing. It is not


Towards a Biblical-Theology of Ritual

1. We should not think of rituals as specialized ceremonies tacked on to ordinary life.

Ritual – and therefore symbolic action -- is pervasive. Intensified forms of ritual –

“ceremonies” – give shape to life as a whole. Ritual is inescapable in God’s world,

though rituals are never neutral.

Our entire lives have a ritualized flow to them, as image bearers of the Ritual God.

Sometimes, we highlight the ritualized dimensions of behavior more than at other times,

e.g., weddings. But without an overall ritual character, our lives would be chaotic and

meaningless. Sin wrecked human life, taking it out of its God ordained rhythm; God uses

ritual to re-establish his pattern for human life. These rituals are microchronic

encapsulations of what human life should be.

Ritual in everyday life is simply a matter of habit. We have various ritual systems, or

“mini-liturgies,” we employ all the time, e.g., greeting protocols, manners, etc. These

become “second nature” and virtually invisible to us (analogous to “dead metaphors”).

Society cannot run smoothly without these ritualized patterns of action.

We move through day-to-day life ritually; we also surround important events, such as

birth, marriage, and death with more specialized rituals. Interestingly, most people know

better than to trust their spontaneity and intuitions on such momentous occasions.

2. Ritual both expresses and stimulates emotion.

Contrary to the claims of some, ritual does not kill feeling or emotional freedom. Rather,

it shapes and guides our emotions in proper ways.

Of course, sometimes, we go through the rituals of daily life without much feeling. This

is precisely why ritual (or habit) is so important. If we only showed signs of love,

friendliness, manners, etc., when we felt warm and fuzzy, we’d be very unloving!

Faithfulness to “the routine” is actually a demonstration of love. Proper everyday rituals

structure life in such a way that I show love towards my neighbor whether I feel like it or

not. It’s the same with weekly worship. You cannot experience a “revival” 52 Sundays a

year. Nor can you, Quaker-style, wait on God to move you inwardly before you obey.

Do the rituals; feeling will follow in due time. Bodily actions can shape the heart

outside-in. Performing rituals inscribes character and inculcates virtue. Proper rituals

generate appropriate theological concepts (Kerr, Edwards, church fathers, Calvin).

3. Ritualized worship provides the best possible cradle-to-grave pastoral care for the

covenant community.

Liturgy forms personal and corporate identity. It gives us a sense of who we are. It gives

us a sense of belonging. It creates and sustains bonds of covenant life and communion.

Rituals gel us into a body.

Liturgical rituals engrave certain habits into our hearts and minds, forming our character

in a virtuous fashion. Ritual begets character.

The liturgy gives us a world-view and world-praxis, a certain way of viewing the world

and being in the world. It gives us our symbolic matrix or grid, through which we

interpret reality and in terms of which we take action.

Liturgy and ritual disciple us as a distinct people, or counter-culture, in the world. These

patterns form us into “God’s army.”

Liturgy gives us a way of celebrating and coping – it enables us to express joy in

constructive ways, it enables to channel grief appropriately, and it allows us to die well.

4. Rituals transform human consciousness. They are performative.

5. Rituals can serve as microchronic enactments of all of history and life.

6. Proper rituals are necessary to generate and sustain Christian culture.

7. A proper ritual theology holds together the equal ultimacy of mind and body, doctrine

and praxis, the individual and community.


Kepha said...

Speaking as someone more or less an heir of John Knox, I admit that there is a lot in the old Reformed Episcopal recension of the BCP that I can live with, and respect the early Anglicans' acceptance of the Black Rubric (said to be Knox's work) in Cranmer's prayer book. I wll also admit that I have too much sympathy with the Regulative Principle to be too comfortable with the way Anglican and Lutheran forms have often been understood in the past.

However, if Reformed and Presbyterian people modernized the older Scottish Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed set prayers and ceremonies, I'd be a lot more comfortable with those.

I also think highly of what Robert Reymond put in his _Systematic Theology_ on how biblically-oriented worship might be carried out.

Reformation said...


Very thoughtful comments.

The REC BCP attempted a revision. The 1873 version was imperfect on several objections. I speak as a former BCP Churchman, yet they ordained me. It's still good in many respects, especially for novices--infants, teens, adults converts to Christ, non-lits like Presboes--needing training in basics.

As to old Scots and Dutchmen modernizing their prayers, that's need on my radar.

I'll need to re-read Reymond, astute exegetically, but not very informed--whatsover--on Reformed English history and theology. Alas, a re-read of Reymond must be put in the queue. He was quite good, esp. on Confessionalism and exegesis, but rather weak historically. Still, a "must read."

As a Reformed Anglican, this scribe continues to weep in exile while reading the greats, the classics, the leaders, and the champions in that august period of the Reformation.

Best regards,

Reformation said...

What Lusk seems to miss is this:

1. England had been accustomed to Latin services.

2. Cranmer (with a serious lapse during the Marian period), followed by Parker, Grindal and others--the serious effort to educate the "entire nation" with the English Bible and liturgy (minus the Romanism). This was a huge pastoral task.

3. Further, this element overshadows everything. The dominance of the English Bible in readings and liturgy, truly reformatory.

4. Upon prelim review, Lusk seems to miss this historic dynamic.