Saturday, 20 October 2012




Being the substance of a paper first presented to the
1989 Westminster Conference in London

by Dr Alan C. Clifford


The History and Development of Worship
To make a comprehensive and objective evaluation of the Directory requires a pre- as well as post-Westminster perspective. We who are used to so-called non-liturgical orders of service have inherited a largely Directory-based state of affairs, i.e. the usual hymn (or psalm)-free prayer-sermon sandwich. Such a 'simple' service is not without some vestige of order even when it remains unpublished. Even anti-formal charismatic fellowships cannot dispense with some kind of structure; they seem to opt for 'praise and chorus-time, prophecy and tongues-time, dance and drama-time and a sermon if there's any time left'. One caricatures  not maliciously, I trust  to make a point! That said, few are aware that the Westminster Directory largely terminated a Reformed tradition of liturgical worship, at least in the Anglo-Scottish tradition. However, a case may be made that liturgical worship is ultimately derived from New Testament times, and that when the reformers inherited corrupted forms of worship, they reformed and simplified them without discarding them entirely. The close contact between the early church and the synagogue very probably influenced Christian worship at an early stage. Accordingly, Professor John M. Barkley writes:

The early Christians naturally made use of the synagogue forms of worship in their own meetings. Synagogue worship consisted in reading from the Old Testament (Law and Prophets) with exposition, praise and prayer. These four elements continued in Christian worship, but they were permeated with a new meaning and spirit. Praise and prayer were 'in the name of Christ'. and to the Old Testament readings were added gradually readings from the Epistles and Gospels.5

For those persuaded by the Jonathan Edwards thesis,6 the Apostle Paul clearly envisaged a time when the presence of the revelatory gifts would cease (1 Cor. 13: 8, 13), and even when they were intended to function in worship, he ruled decisively in favour of 'decency' and 'order' (1 Cor. 14: 40). On this key text, Calvin writes:

The Lord allows us freedom in regard to outward rites, in order that we may not think that his worship is confined to those things. At the same time, however, he has not allowed us unlimited and unbridled liberty, but has, so to speak, put railings round about it; or at any rate he has restricted the freedom, which he has given us, in such a way that it is only from his Word that we can make up our minds about what is right... Furthermore, we may easily infer from this, that the Church's laws are not to be regarded as mere human traditions, seeing that they are based on this general injunction, and clearly give the impression of being approved, as it were, from the mouth of Christ himself.'7

In urging 'decency' and 'order' on the Corinthians, Paul probably had the order of the synagogue in view. Specific evidence of synagogue influences may be noted in the letters to the seven churches, addressed as they were to the 'angel' or messenger of each church. In his comment on Rev. 2:1, Philip Doddridge  without questioning the plurality of elders at Ephesus  makes three useful and relevant points:

That there was one pastor, who presided in each of these churches, is indeed evident from the expression here used; but that he was a diocesan bishop, or had several congregations of Christians under his care, can by no means be proved... Many have shown from ancient Jewish writings, that there was an officer in the synagogue who had the name of angel. See Vitringa, de Synagogue. Vet. Jib. 3, p. ii. c. 3. And Dr. Lightfoot adds, that from his office of overlooking the reader of the law, he was called episcopus….

Justin Martyr, writing about 155 AD. provides an account of Christian worship in which synagogue and
Christian features appear. The service is conducted by the 'president', and preaching precedes the Eucharist or Lord's Supper.9 With the advent of spiritual apostasy, ritualism began to assert itself. As Professor Brilioth points out, in the medieval Western Church specially, worship was 'overshadowed by the offering of the sacrifice'.10 A priestly emphasis became prominent in the time of Cyprian (d. 258). He worked out a detailed parallelism between the worshipping Christian community and Old Testament Israel. The title sacerdos (Latin for 'priest') as applied to the presiding presbyter/bishop and the doctrine of Apostolic succession was affirmed.11 The Eucharist was now regarded as a sacrifice and the focal point of worship.'12 It is surely significant that in the writings of Cyprian there is no reference13 to the Epistle to the Hebrews with its stress on the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ and his exclusive priesthood.

With the passage of time, error proliferated. The doctrine of transubstantiation was a ninth century invention of the monk Radbertus,14 and the promulgation of the theory by the fourth Lateran Council (1215)15 elevated the sacrament of the altar to idolatrous heights.

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