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Reformation Worship: An Interview on Liturgies from the Past for the Present (Part 1)

Church history teaches the present how to move into the future through its instruction from the past. Reformation Worship, edited by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey, brings forth such instruction on the topic of worship from the era of the Reformation. Containing 26 liturgies from sixteenth-century Reformers, Reformation Worship stands as “a worship resource of almost unparalleled richness,” as Sinclair Ferguson stated. Reformation Worship also has a website worth perusing. There you will find the full list of liturgies along with the first pages of each liturgy. This volume would be a practical guide and edifying read for those who have any part to play in structuring the worship of God’s people on the Lord’s Day. It is our privilege at Credo Magazine to publish a two-part interview with the editors of Reformation Worship.[1]

How did your vision for a 700+ page book on Reformation Liturgies come about?

By the Lord’s providence, really. In January 2016, I (Jonny) was on writing leave from Cambridge Presbyterian Church, working on developing liturgical resources for my denomination, the International Presbyterian Church (UK). As I hunted down old prayers to be reworked for the modern church, I happened upon a treasure-trove of Reformation liturgies made accessible through Charles W. Baird’s Eutaxia, or The Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches (1855) and Bard Thompson’s Liturgies of the Western Church (1961). Around the same time, I (Mark) was pursuing doctoral research at the University of Oxford into John Ponet (1516–1556), formerly chaplain to Thomas Cranmer and then Bishop of Winchester. Providentially, I stumbled across a treasure-trove of personal books owned by various English Reformers. I was soon buried in early modern rare books and incunabula, rustling through pages of theological and liturgical literature from the Reformation. It became obvious that our interests were dovetailing, and so we set about finding a way to collate a select number of Reformation liturgies and make them accessible to the modern church. The book sort of evolved from there. Three translators helped move it from vision to reality: Matthias Mangold (German and Dutch liturgies), Bernard Aubert (French liturgies), and Michael Hunter (Latin liturgies). What’s unique about the book is that, because of these translators’ important work, we now have liturgies in the English language that were previously inaccessible to the Anglophone world.

What is the connection between the Reformation and worship?

When Christians today hear of the Reformation in the 16th century, they generally think of the recovery of doctrines such as sola scriptura and justification by faith alone, etc. However, the Reformers were not just interested in recovering these doctrines as an end in themselves; ultimately, they were interested in recovering the true and pure worship of God in his church. John Calvin made this point in his tract On the Necessity of Reforming the Church. He wrote that the reformation was necessary because by the 16th century “the whole of divine worship … [was] nothing but mere corruption.” You also see this focus in Calvin’s comments about his own conversion. He spoke not only of being saved from works righteousness, but also from idolatry. For Calvin, as well as the other Reformers, justification by faith alone was the immediate goal; the true and pure worship of God was the ultimate goal. Few people know this, but the reformation of worship was so important to Martin Luther that when he was in hiding in Wartburg Castle translating the Bible into his native German, he put down his penned and came out of hiding to return to Wittenberg because a controversy had broken out about how to conduct public worship. From that visit, Luther penned his now famous “The Form of the Mass” in Latin in 1523. He would later follow it up with one in German in 1526. These two examples from Calvin and Luther demonstrate that when the Reformers recovered the gospel, they aimed for true and pure worship, because a renewed interest in the gospel always leads to a renewed interest in worship. We often forget that one of the very first things our Reformers did when they were converted and took charge of their churches was to write an evangelical liturgy—not as isolated congregations adrift from those who came before them, but with deep reflection upon the received tradition, and often recycling the insights from other evangelical liturgies themselves. As G. J. van de Poll has put it, “Where else should the reformation in the Church start but in her liturgies, which were her chief instruments by which she held the great mass of people together!”

Why do you think this book is important for the church today?

We think it’s important because worship of the Triune God has always been the raison d’etre of the church. Of course, mission is also an integral part of the church’s calling; but worship is primary. God has chosen and saved us for his own praise (Isa. 43:1; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:9); and only once we have begun to worship God aright are we ready to call others to repent and do the same. The question then becomes: “Having been saved into Christ’s church, how then shall we worship?” This was a question that preoccupied the Reformers from the moment of the Reformation. Once they recovered the gospel, one of the first things they set about doing was rewriting their church liturgies to bring them into conformity with the gospel. By presenting 26 of these liturgies in a bound volume, we are making an irenic plea to the modern church—her ministers in particular; and the laity more generally—to reflect critically on why we do what we do in church. If we claim to be a Christian church, then we are claiming to stand in a certain tradition, one that goes back, not just to the early church, but to the Apostles, to Christ, to Solomon on Mount Zion, to Moses at Sinai, and even to Adam and Eve in Eden. Cyprian said, “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother,” which means that as the church we ought to look like our Father in heaven and also like our mother on earth. We Protestants get very nervous with a statement like that, but Calvin took the analogy of the church as our mother and developed it in terms of the nourishment and care of Christians in pastoral ministry. And part of the responsibility of ministers is to conduct services of worship of Word and Sacrament for God’s people each week, which means that our worship services ought to reflect the mother from whom we claim to have come. This does not mean that our worship will look or feel like it’s from a previous decade or century—if it does, then we are denying one of the very things the Reformers stood for; but it does mean that we will continue certain biblically informed traditions (in modern garb) that have been passed down to us.

[1] Some of the answers in this interview are derived directly from the book and are used here with permission.

Jonathan Gibson

Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge) is ordained in the International Presbyterian Church, UK, and is Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. Previously, he served as Associate Minister at Cambridge Presbyterian Church, England. He studied theology at Moore Theological College, Sydney, and then completed a PhD in Hebrew Studies, at Girton College, Cambridge. He is contributor to and co-editor with David Gibson of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her (Crossway, 2013), as well as author of historical and biblical articles in Themelios, Journal of Biblical Literature, Tyndale Bulletin, and “Obadiah” in the NIV Proclamation Bible. His PhD dissertation was published as Covenant Continuity and Fidelity: A Study of Inner-Biblical Allusion and Exegesis in Malachi (Bloomsbury, 2016). He is married to Jacqueline, and they have two children: Benjamin and Leila.

Mark Earngey

Mark Earngey (DPhil candidate, Oxford) is ordained in the Anglican Church of Australia (Diocese of Sydney) and is currently a doctoral candidate in historical theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University. His dissertation, “New Light on the Life and Theology of Bishop John Ponet (1516–1556),” aims to bring significant new manuscript evidence to bear upon one of the leading, but highly neglected, theologians of the early English Reformation. Previously, he served as Assistant Minister at Toongabbie Anglican Church, Sydney. He studied theology at Moore Theological College, Sydney, and has completed an MPhil. in Theology at the University of Oxford. He is married to Tanya, and they have three children: Grace, Simeon, and Sophia.

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