Catholicity and Intergenerational Worship

GDJT 1 (2022): 111–126
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If anyone qualifies as the godfather, or better, the midwife of contemporary Christian music, it would be Chuck Fromm. From 1975 to 2000 Fromm was the head of Maranatha Music in Costa Mesa, California, the birthplace and source of the contemporary genre in the early 1970’s. He was in the middle of organizing and promoting the hugely popular Friday and Saturday night Christian concerts that were attracting thousands of young people in Southern California and Oregon, a number of which I attended while an undergraduate at the University of Southern California. In 1991 he founded and edited Worship Leader magazine, coining the phrase “worship leader” even as its subscription rate rose to 40,000.

His description of his conversion to contemporary music genre described in Fuller Focus magazine is fascinating.[2] A musically inclined young man, Fromm sang in his church youth choirs in the mid-1960’s, and even formed a traveling singing group called “The New Life Singers.” One evening while his group was singing what had been marketed as “youth music,” he experienced an epiphany. The Christian rock band, “Love Song,” performed a new song at the rapidly growing Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, “in a vernacular of music that I understood from my culture,” he said. “They were speaking of something that was really going on, not something baked in a different universe and imported. That music—even before I thought about the lyrics—made everything I was doing prior to that inauthentic.”[3]

One cannot hear this testimony without sympathy. His experience connects with many of the members of the “boomer” generation. The environment of Moody-Sankey gospel songs, of Peterson, Gaither, and of George Beverly Shea solos, was to us another universe. Granted, baby-boomer generational hubris tends to see pre-boomer and post-boomer cultural preferences in these sorts of overwrought categories (“a different universe”), but he has a point. I too belonged to a traveling singing group (we were the “Young Life Singers”) which performed Otis Skillings’ “Life!” We dressed up in our yellow polo shirts and navy slacks, synchronized our hand and body motions, and sang, “Life! Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa.” My buddies and I felt like dorks, but the trips were fun and the gospel was being presented, so we endured. But compared to what we were hearing on AM 93 KHJ every day, church music was from another planet.

Much as Fromm’s testimony resonates, it is also rich with irony. He seems not to recognize that the church music environment that was a “different universe” from what he calls “my culture,” was in fact a familiar and comfortable culture for many others. What he came to reject, many others continued to embrace and love. For some, their familiar and comfortable church culture had deep roots, reaching back through the Protestant Reformers to the early church. At the same time, the importation of his culture into the church was inevitably deeply alienating to those in the church for whom it was new and foreign. How many times have we heard older people say, “I do not recognize my church anymore”? After 40 years (or even 450 years) of relative sameness, they walked into their church service one Sunday, saw a “praise band” up front, heard strange music played with non-traditional instruments (electric guitars, drums, tambourines, etc.), and were profoundly disoriented and disturbed by the experience. If they dared to express concern, they were cautioned not to obstruct outreach to the young. The church, it was explained, was reaching the rising generation. They soon learned that the only people to which the church cared to minister the gospel were young people, or so it seemed. Apparently older people, who were put-off by the new, did not need gospel ministry. So, it was in with the youth culture, and out with whatever preceded it.

“Worship wars,” as they are called, are really culture wars. “Contemporary worship” is really a determination to prefer the taste preferences of a segment of the youth-oriented contemporary culture (typically anglo-contemporary, but sometimes Latino, African-American, Hip-Hop, Cowboy, skate-boarders, etc.) over an older church culture. Have the ecclesiastical ramifications of that determination been considered? Can the church avoid fragmentation and division according to cultural preference if “authenticity” requires that “my culture” be the dominant form in which Christian devotion is expressed? What happens to Fromm’s baby boomer culture of soft-rock when it proves alien to a new generation of young people who insist on music and instrumentation ,which, for them, is familiar and comfortable? What happens when Gen-X or Gen-I rejects contemporary Christian music as traditional, 1970’s stuff, and “inauthentic?” There are two options. The church can either reject the innovations of the new generation and establish Boomer-forms of contemporary Christian worship as the new orthodoxy; or, it can embrace each new wave of cultural change and commit the church to perpetual liturgical innovation, shaped, one should note, by the preferences and tastes generated by secular America’s popular culture and its profit-driven entertainment industry.

The problem in today’s worship wars is that the “what’s new” game has been played now for several generations. Much of the gospel song genre of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century sounds like carnival or ballpark music to young ears because it was generationally-targeted when it was introduced. Moody-Sankey & Co. swept away the metrical psalms and evangelical hymns (Watts, Wesley, Toplady, Newton, Doddridge, etc.) and the traditional music that preceded them. Gospel songs then gave-way to Peterson and Gaither, who then gave way to Maranatha Music and CCM. Multiple generations of Evangelicals, from around the turn of the century to the present, have lost touch with that older Protestant tradition.[4]

It is to this older tradition, captured in the traditional hymnal, Psalter, and historic orders of service, which we must return if we are to unify the generations at the hour of worship. This older tradition, reaching back to the Reformers, and behind them to the ancient church to which they appealed for their reforms, is the church’s own liturgical culture.[5] This older tradition belongs to no single age, ethnic, or interest group. It does not involve the imposition of the culture of one group over another, whether young or old, white or black, European or non-European, because it is its own culture. The hymnal, Psalter, traditional orders, and, we would add, traditional instrumentation, constitute the historic worship culture of the church as it has slowly and organically evolved. It is the church’s “canon,” to which additions and alterations are made over time as worthy contributions (e.g., compositions) gain recognition. Embracing this older tradition can save us from the “liturgical Trotskeyism” of continuous revolution to which our default-drive now commits us. Who knows what eccentricities shall unfold before our eyes in the years ahead if we do not consciously draw back from the philosophy that pegs worship practices to the rapidly mutating American popular culture, and instead anchor the church’s public praise to Scripture and our historic ecclesiastical culture.

What is needed, more broadly, is a restored biblical ecclesiology, a constant theme in all of David Wells’s work.[6] Undergirding his call to truth and virtue has been a subordinate call to a biblical doctrine of the church. “It is time to become Protestant once again,” he insists.[7] Among the greatest strengths of traditional Protestant worship and ministry is that it is historically rooted. The whole catholic (small “c”) tradition has influenced the shape of the ministry and worship of Reformed Protestantism. Another way of saying this is to say that the worship and ministry of Reformed Protestantism has taken ecclesiology seriously. Because it has, it can provide a pattern for the present and the future. This is of no small importance given that very little in the way of a doctrine of the church remains among evangelical Christians. Evangelicalism is parachurch, Wells says, “to the point where the local church, in biblical terms (has become) increasingly irrelevant . . . or, at best, a luxury. It has become more of an optional extra, less of a necessity.”[8]

Historic Reformed Protestantism takes seriously the history and doctrine of the church. It honors the church local and universal, visible and invisible. It esteems the historic form of public ministry. It values catholicity. It respects the “communion of the saints,” past, present, and future. Decisions regarding worship practices typically have not been made in isolation from other churches or from the Christian tradition of worship. Adaptations normally have not been made quickly or idiosyncratically, but have been gradual, and made in consultation with the whole church across the ages. Those who are interested in liberating the church from unwarranted cultural influences should be particularly interested in historic Reformed ministry and worship. Traditional Reformed Protestantism resists the incursions of western pop-culture with its hyper-individualism, rootlessness, love of novelty, superficiality, and the cult of youth that have been so prominent in the shaping of contemporary worship.

What I hope to show in the following pages is that the principle of catholicity requires that we establish a single universal or common public service, that the principle of the communion of the saints requires that such a service gather together all the saints without regard for race, ethnicity, sex, culture, and especially for our purposes, age and generational differences. These, I hope to show, are the principles of the apostles, and should remain the ideals for us today.


The advocates of youth-oriented “contemporary worship” are not urging a single thing because there is no one contemporary culture. Instead, they argue for a thousand times a thousand different approaches to worship and ministry, each catering to individual cultural preferences based on age, affinity, or ethnicity, and at the same time excluding all the rest. Sally Morgenthaler in her book Worship Evangelism finds it necessary to devote nearly forty pages to distinguishing the worship that appeals to “Boomers” to that which appeals to “Busters.”[9] Being “contemporary” isn’t enough. One must determine which contemporary constituency one wishes to reach and tailor one’s services to its tastes. Saddleback Church now conducts four services simultaneously on Sunday mornings: “traditional” Saddleback, rock, gospel, and classic hymns and choruses. Cowboy churches now are not enough. There are urban cowboy churches and rural cowboy churches. We are experiencing, in the words of one commentary, a “hall of mirrors,” an “endless proliferation of new groups . . . based on nothing more substantial than catering to new styles.”[10] “How will we respond to the new tribalism of worship and music?” asks Michael S. Hamilton, in an article otherwise favorable to the new diversity in worship. “How can we keep our sectarian worship from becoming a sectarianism of the soul?”[11] “In today’s climate,” argues Gene E. Veith, “if a church seizes upon one particular style of popular music, then that will privilege those whose music is chosen and alienate everyone else.”[12] Call this trend the “ipodization” of public worship. The theory seems to be that the ideal public worship service is one that conforms completely to the participants’ cultural preferences. The perfect tool for fulfilling this ideal is the iPod and its successor iPhones. This technology makes it possible for each individual participant to dial-up exactly the songs and sermons and prayers that meet exactly his or her needs at exactly that particular moment—alone, self-absorbed, and isolated. What is the answer to this fragmenting of the church? A fresh appreciation of its catholicity.

Reformed Protestants have typically resisted surrendering the word “catholic” to the Roman Catholics. They have affirmed the importance of the church’s catholicity and apostolicity, though they have tended to define these doctrinally and spiritually rather than institutionally.[13]

Repeatedly the Apostle Paul appeals to the practice of the whole church when requiring a given reform. He strengthens his moral, theological, and biblical arguments with appeals to catholicity or universal practice. When he greets the church at Corinth, he does so with “all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2). The weight of the whole church universal stands with the Apostle in this epistle. This is catholicity. What he writes he writes on behalf of “All (people) who in every place . . .” What he teaches them is taught “everywhere in every church”(1 Cor 4:17). Universality was regarded by the Apostles as a principle worth highlighting. Dealing directly with our theme of worship (e.g., prayer, the role of women in the Christian assembly, and the Lord’s Supper) he says, “we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God” (1 Cor 11:16). The practice of the early church is singular enough that the Apostle Paul can appeal to it. The “churches of God” were unified in their use of important forms of ministry. Respecting a whole range of issues touching the church’s practice of prayer, singing, prophesying (preaching), decency (decorum), orderliness, and the role of women, he underscores his writings with a catholic appeal: “for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Cor 14:33).

The Apostles established a ministry common to the churches, a common worship, in which all the churches were expected to participate. The Apostle Paul expects the Corinthian church to conform to this orderly pattern found in “all the churches.” He does not merely appeal to scriptural or apostolic authority as he instructs the church. He buttresses his argument by appealing to universal or catholic practice. The whole weight of the church universal stands behind his exhortation. Underscoring elsewhere the importance of unity, the Apostle Paul cites baptism in addition to the above items: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling one Lord, one faith, one baptism . . .” (Eph 4:4, 5). Note that he assumes the positive value of uniformity of practice. The “churches of God” have one practice, or “one baptism,” and the churches of Ephesus and Corinth are expected to conform to that practice.

It is doubtful that the common practice of the churches of which the Apostle Paul speaks refers to that moment only, as though the standards to which they were to conform were always changing. Rather, it implies continuity not only from church to church but from one generation to the next. Nowhere is this more clear than in the Pastoral Epistles. The Apostle Paul is keenly aware of his impending death. He is being “poured out as a drink offering” (2 Tim 4:6). He aims to “set in order what remains,” that is, bring order to the church’s disorder, provide a pattern for its ongoing life and ministry (Titus 1:5).

What does he say? “Continue,” is his counsel. “Continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of.” Continue the apostolic pattern of ministry, “knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Tim 3:14). Continue in the word-based, word-filled ministry of 2 Timothy 3:15ff. Continue in the “difficult times that will come.” Continue until the “last days” (2 Tim 3:1). The pattern of ministry in what we may call the “regular” times from which the Apostle was writing will continue to be the pattern of ministry through “difficult times” ahead right up to the end. This is catholicity of ministry. Continue to peach the Word (2 Tim 4:1ff). Continue to read the Word (1 Tim 4:13). Continue to pray with depth and breadth (1 Tim 2:1ff). These central elements, along with singing praise (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; 1 Cor 14:15, 26) and administering the sacraments (1 Cor 10:16–17; 11:17–34) are forever normative for the ministry and worship of the church.

Uniformity in ministry is a virtue, and conformity at least at some important visible level is a requirement in the New Testament. It seems not to matter if a church is Greek (Corinth), or Asian (Ephesus), or Mid-Eastern (Jerusalem), or Latin (Rome). It is expected that the churches will not deviate from the apostolically established practice of the whole church. Idiosyncratic churches created to suit the taste and style preferences of specific ethnic groups or generations would seem not even to have been contemplated.

The Reformers understood the importance of the catholic tradition. They maintained continuity with the past, sought uniformity in the present, and instituted reforms that they hoped would endure, which future generations could embrace. So should we. They were not revolutionaries, as was the case with many anabaptist radicals. They were not revolutionaries in the sense in which Frank Viola and George Barna are in their book, Pagan Christianity?, a pretentious book in which the entire Christian tradition is rejected, from the church fathers, to the Middle Ages, to the Reformation, to post-Reformation Protestantism.[14] This is a form of radicalism unknown among Reformed Protestants. The Reformers respected historic practices. It is clear that both the Zurich and Strasbourg liturgies from which Calvin drew inspiration were “derived from the mass.”[15] H. G. Hageman says of Bucer’s service (Strasbourg, 1538), from which Calvin borrowed so much of his Genevan order, “His liturgy was still a recognizable evangelical version of the historic liturgy of western Christendom.”[16] Calvin, for his part, “preserved the historic shape of the liturgy for us.”[17]

However, the Reformers also sought to reform medieval novelties by Scripture and in light of the known practices of the church of the early centuries. Medieval tradition, which they knew well and from which they borrowed much, was reevaluated in light of Scripture and especially patristic tradition. Calvin’s worship directory, for example, was entitled, The Form of Church Prayers . . . According to the Custom of the Ancient Church (1542). Calvin accused Cardinal Sadoleto of maliciously hiding the fact that “we agree more clearly with antiquity than all of you,” and that the Reformers “ask for nothing else than that the ancient face of the Church may be restored.”[18] He cites Augustine on nearly every page of the Institutes and frequently makes positive reference to Bernard of Clairvaux among other medieval churchmen. John Owen and the theologians of Protestant orthodoxy demonstrate a profound awareness of the Patristic, medieval, and contemporary Roman Catholic traditions.[19]           

The principle of catholicity, seen in connection with the past, also can be seen in the Reformers’ then present and future work. Calvin’s Form of Church Prayers, bound together with the Genevan Psalter, quickly was translated into Dutch, German, English, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, and other languages. The considerable differences between Anglo, Romantic, Germanic, Slavic, and Celtic cultures were not seen as barriers to implementing a common worship. Why? Because reforms were theologically, not culturally, driven. Generational differences, again, seem not even to have been considered.

The influence of the Westminster Directory (1644) crossed denominational, cultural, and generational lines. It decisively shaped Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, and even Methodist worship for 250 years. As these denominational bodies moved around the world, their worship went unaltered with them. As the bold missionaries of the early modern era scattered around the globe, they took their Prayer Books, Psalters, and orders of service with them. Missionaries as diverse as Roman Catholic Matthew Ricci (1583–1610) and Hudson Taylor (1832–1905) were willing to adopt the fashion and manners of indigenous cultures. Ricci dressed as a Confucian scholar. However, they taught their converts to worship as Catholics, or Anglicans, or Presbyterians, or Baptists. In Ricci’s case, worshiping as a Roman Catholic meant a Latin mass! Yet he was among the most successful missionaries in the history of the church. “The Liturgy is cross cultural,” says Lutheran theologian Timothy Quill, and consequently may play a leading role in the church’s missionary work. Looking back further, to the missionary work of the early Christian centuries, he claims, “Those who argue for adapting new liturgies to meet the needs of the culture need to study more carefully the missiological methods of saints Cyril and Methodius,” he claims.[20]

15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thess. 2:15; cf. 1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 3:6)

Our point is that both biblically and historically, a common, universal form of worship has been the ideal. We should continue to conduct services around which the various ethnicities, cultures, and generations can unite.

Communion of the Saints

Consider the boast, “This is not your grandfather’s church,” announced by the leadership of one “conservative” denomination.[21] This is an arresting claim. Why is it not his church? Whose church is it? Is he not welcome? Should he not belong? The Apostles’ Creed affirms the “communion of the saints,” that is, the fellowship of all believers across all temporal or worldly categories. Has this article of faith, enshrined in Galatians 3:28, been abandoned?

The truth is that many churches today are practicing generational exclusion. Having abandoned the ideal of a common worship, they design their services assuming that the young must have their own distinctive worship forms, and do so without consideration of the older generations, even fully aware that older folks will be alienated by their innovations. Churches today, which recoil in horror at the deliberate racial segregation of the churches of previous generations, think nothing of justifying generational segregation today. It remains largely unrecognized by the advocates of diversity that only a common (and catholic) worship makes the communion of all the saints possible. Ironically, it is precisely the generational, ethnic and cultural diversityof the church that makes uniform forms of worship so important. All ages, races, and ethnic groups can gather together for worship only if the church has a common worship. John Owen defines the communion of the saints as union, both internal or spiritual, as well as “external and ecclesiastical, in the same outward ordinances.[22] This need to share in “the same outward ordinances” is obvious if the whole church is to gather, and fellowship, or communion is to be realized.

Homogeneous churches?

Current theory, however, runs in exactly the opposite direction. Donald McGavran and the church growth movement provided the philosophical justification for the “homogeneous unit,” that is, the building of churches in which members are ethnically, culturally, educationally, and racially similar.[23] The movement’s aim has been to remove sociological barriers to conversion, which were thought to play a crucial role in preventing church growth. The principle of homogeneity has been applied to the generations, as overwhelming numbers of churches have devised forms of worship that are thought to be effective in attracting the young. The result in the modern church has been segregation by age. That which a church targets will be that of which it will consist.

Is it conceivable that the Apostles would establish churches according to race or ethnicity: one for whites, another for blacks, another for Hispanics, and another for Asians? Is it conceivable that they would establish churches for affinity groups: a church for cowboys, another for Hip-Hoppers, another for jazz lovers, and another for rockers? Is it conceivable that the Apostles would sanction establishing churches according to age: a church for the young, another for the elderly, another for families with children?

The apostolic and the post-apostolic church didn’t design services to suit the cultural preferences, tastes, and styles of the various groups of converts, whether Greek, Roman, Asian, Egyptian, Middle Eastern, or African, whether young, middle-aged, or old. The use of 1 Corinthians 9:22, the locus classicus of the church growth movement to justify building homogenous churches through designer ministries, is unwarranted.

When music, language, and format are generationally or ethnically specific, it screams at all others groups, “this service is not for you.” Say what one will, when WWII or post WWII “silent” generation believers are greeted by drums and electric guitar, they know immediately that they don’t belong. The marketers of the church admit as much.

Protests notwithstanding, market-driven churches end up being composed of one “kind of person” to the exclusion in practice of every other kind of person. Homogenous churches are the result of homogenous forms of ministry. Is this what Jesus intended? Is this the apostolic vision for the church? Did the Apostles envision churches made up of one kind of person, united by age, race, ethnicity, or class? To ask the question is to answer it.

Biblical Data

Historic Christian practice does not recognize the current and dominant understanding of contextualizing. Homogenous churches for homogeneous people is an anomaly in the history of the Christian church.

First, culturally specific worship and ministry is not the New Testament way. Rick Warren’s attempts to enlist Jesus’s priority of “the lost sheep of Israel” (e.g., Matt 15:22–28, 10:5–6) in his cause of “targeting specific kinds of people for evangelism” is bad ecclesiology and worse exegesis. Jesus limits his ministry to Israel for redemptive-historical purposes, not in pursuit of effective evangelistic strategy. Those limits were temporary, abrogated by the Great Commission (Matt 28:18ff; Acts 1:8ff), and had nothing to do with cultural preferences among the various groups of Gentiles.[24] Warren’s philosophy confuses the church’s evangelism and mission with its public worship and congregational life. We have just seen the Apostle Paul appealing to the Corinthian church on the basis of catholicity, that is, what was practiced in “all the churches” (1 Cor 1:2, 4:7, 11:16, 14:33). Significant uniformity of church practice was achieved in the New Testament era between churches that were Mid-Eastern, Asian, Greek, African, and Latin. In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew (Gal 3:28). In Christ the dividing wall has been broken down and Gentile and Jew have been reconciled (Eph 2:14–22). In Christ, as we have seen, there is but one baptism (Eph 4:4–5), and by implication one worship. In Christ, Greek and Jew worship together in a common service.

It is difficult to believe that the Apostles would have approved of the homogenous church as a goal of church life. It might happen as an accident of circumstances, but not a goal. The churches of the Apostles featured an extensive diversity. For example, the church in Jerusalem consisted of Hellenistic Jewish widows as well as Judean Jewish widows, who culturally were different enough that tensions developed between them (Acts 6:1–6). The Apostle Paul finds it necessary to address the discrimination of Jewish Christians against Gentile Christians (Gal 2:11–15). The churches of the Apostles featured the employed and unemployed (2 Thess 3:10–13), Jew and Greek, slave, master, and free, as well as male and female (Gal 3:28). The Apostles find themselves addressing matters of propriety regarding older men and younger men, older women and younger women (1 Tim 5:1, 2; Titus 2:1–8). They must deal with the conduct and concerns of singles and married (1 Cor 7), of the formerly married and families (1 Tim 5:3–16), of children and parents (Eph 6:1–4; Col 3:18–21), of the rich and the rest (1 Tim 6:17–19; Jas 2:1–10). As these epistles were being read, all the various classes of people were present. The young and the old, and even the children are expected to be present, listening to the apostle’s instructions.

Apostolic churches were not homogenous units. They were generationally, ethnically, socially, culturally, and economically diverse. Commenting on three members of the Philippian church to whom we are introduced in Acts 16 (the wealthy Lydia from Asia Minor, the poor slave girl, probably a Greek or a foreigner, and the jailer, probably a retired Roman jailer, and a member of what we’d call the middle class), John Stott remarks, “It would be hard to imagine a more disparate group than the business woman, the slave girl, and the jailer. Racially, socially, and psychologically they were worlds apart. Yet all three were changed by the same gospel and were welcomed into the same church.”[25] “Did the early church separate itself out into units of the like-minded in terms of ethnicity, class, and language,” asks David Wells? “It did not,” he answers forcefully.[26]

This kind of multi-cultural and multi-generational unity is possible when it is recognized that the church has its own biblical, catholic, and organically developing culture through which its form of worship and ministry is expressed. We don’t claim to have all the answers to the difficult cultural questions that arise. However, rather than dividing and excluding through new worship services that cater to particular group styles and tastes, we believe it is wiser for the church to maintain a significant measure of uniformity of worship, expressed in the forms of its own ecclesiastical heritage, through which the diversity of its peoples can unite. “Only a church which resists being merely of one generation (or ethnic culture, we would add) can be relevant to them all,” Gene Veith reminds us.[27] Only a church with a common and catholic worship can facilitate the communion of all the saints. We are indebted to David Wells for urging evangelicals to embrace a more serious and more thoroughly biblical ecclesiology. This renewed ecclesiology should begin with a renewed appreciation for catholicity of practices which will promote, as we have seen, a true communion of all the saints.


What does our understanding of catholicity (a common or universal service) and the communion of the saints (gathering the whole congregation, young and old in that common service) mean for what goes on in that service? It means that nothing in particular is done to appease the style preferences of any one group in particular, or to appease smorgasbord-like the style preferences of all groups in general. Rather, the standard elements, filled with scriptural content, will be administered. The Word will be:

  1. Read and preached – substantial portions of the Bible will be read and digestible portions expounded using standard English and biblical terminology, avoiding the slang and vocabulary of any particular sub-culture.
  2. Prayed – a “full diet” of prayer will be a part of every service. using the biblical language of praise, confession of sin, thanksgiving, intercession, illumination, and blessing.
  3. Sung – biblical hymns and metrical psalms will be sung using the repertoire found in a good, theologically sound, historically-rooted hymnal, and perhaps supplemented by a complete Psalter. A solid hymnal contains the music and lyrics developed by the catholic church over a period of 2000 years, with contributions from multiple continents and multiple nations, including both metrical psalms and biblical hymns.
  4. Displayed – through the sacraments, simply administered.

To those for whom the church’s historic liturgical culture is foreign, particularly the newly converted, we say what we might say to a first-time visitor to a baseball game—come and learn. Of course the game or the worship service seems odd. It takes time to understand what is going on. Baptisms are strange. The Lord’s Supper and reading from a 2000-year-old book is strange. The sermon, the prayers, the music are all culturally foreign. Be patient, we counsel. Over time you will grow to love every element of public worship. What about those reared in the church? They should be brought into the public services as soon as is reasonable, as soon as they can be present without disrupting the worship. They quickly will memorize the various fixed forms (e.g., Apostles Creed, Lord’s Prayer, doxology, Ten Commandments). If family worship reinforces the elements of the public services, Christian children will grow up loving the hymnody, the orderliness, the reverence, and the rich content of Reformed catholic worship.

[1] Terry L. Johnson is senior minister of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia.

[2] “The Way We Were Led,” in Fuller Focus (Spring 2005, Vol. 13, No. 2), 8.

[3] Fromm, “The Way We Were Led,” 8.

[4] See Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 846.

[5] “Divine Worship is a culture unlike any other,” says Timothy Quill, “and is, in fact, a counterculture” (“Liturgical Worship” in Matthew J. Pinson, Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views (United States: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 30.

[6] See David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), 72–87; Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), 196–209; Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World  (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), 263–317; The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 1–58, 209–248.

[7] Wells, Courage to be Protestant, 58.

[8] Wells, Courage to be Protestant, 220.

[9] Sally Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism: Inviting Unbelievers into the Presence of God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 172–210.

[10] Dieter & Valerie Zander, “The Evolution of Gen X-Ministry,” Regeneration Quarterly, 5.3, (1999), 17.

[11] Michael S. Hamilton, “The Triumph of the Praise Songs,” in Christianity Today. July 12, 1999, 72.

[12] Gene E. Veith, “Church Music and Contemporary Culture,” in Modern Reformation, November/December, 2002, 43.

[13] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion – Vol. 1 & 2, in John T. McNeill (ed.) The Library of Christian Classics, Volume XXI (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), IV.i.2, 1013–14; IV.i.9, 1023ff.

[14] Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity?: Explaining the Roots of Our Church Practices (2000, Barna: Tyndal House Publishers Inc., 2008).

[15] J. G. Davies, (ed.), The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1986), 150.

[16] H. G. Hageman, Pulpit & Table: Some Chapters in the History of Worship in the Reformed Churches (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1962), 26.

[17] Hageman, Pulpit & Table, 126.

[18] Cited by Douglas F. Kelly, “Catholicity of Calvin’s Theology,” in Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of His Quincentenary, David W. Hall (ed.) (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2010), 211, my emphasis.

[19] See Carl R. Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (United Kingdom: Ashgate, 2007), 17–26.

[20] Timothy Quill, “Liturgical Worship” in Pinson, Perspectives on Christian Worship, 75.

[21] “Kieschnick: LCMS Needs New Ways to Share Gospel,” Reporter, July 11, 2010, https://reporter.lcms.org/2010/kieschnick-lcms-needs-new-ways-to-share-gospel/.

[22] John Owen, “The Greater Catechism,” in William. H. Gould, The Works of John Owen, Volume 1 (1850–1853, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 492, emphasis added.

[23] e.g. Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970), 198ff.

[24] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 158.

[25] John Stott, The Spirit, the Church, and the World: the Message of Acts (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 268.

[26] David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 292. Wells continues: “Many of the problems which the early church faced arose from the fact that the first converts were together despite all of their diversity. From this point the gospel spread and its spread was both lateral and vertical, breaking down and leaping across the homogeneous units of race, class, and economic status of that world. It spread geographically from Palestine to Syria, and then on to Asia, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, and Spain. What was quite as significant is that it also spread vertically through all the layers of society. It touched slaves like Onesimus, those of rather ordinary birth like the pretentious Corinthians (1 Cor 1:26–29), those who were wealthy like John Mark’s mother whose large house in Jerusalem was the first meeting place of Christians, and Lydia the trader. It spread to the well-connected like Manean, Herod the Tetrarch’s foster brother; and to the powerful like the Ethiopian eunuch who served in a role comparable to the British Foreign Minister or the American Secretary to State. And in Paul’s lifetime, the gospel entered Caesar’s own household. What we see is the gospel traversing all socioeconomic, ethnic, linguistic, and class barriers to draw God’s people not into subsets of the like-minded who could be comfortable with each other, but into the richly diversified people of God” (292).

[27] Gene E. Veith, “Through Generations,” For the Life of the World (March, 1998), Vol 2, No. 1, 9. “In the scramble for new, contemporary worship styles,” cautions Lutheran theologian Timothy Quill, “it is important to keep in mind that nothing is more relevant than that which is relevant for every generation” (Timothy Quill, “Liturgical Worship” in Pinson (ed), Perspectives on Worship, 32.

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Terry L. Johnson

Terry L. Johnson is senior minister of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia.