Like Your Church's Liturgy? Thank the Reformers!
You've heard that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Fair enough. But in light of the 500th year celebration of the Reformation, those who don’t know history are doomed to under-appreciate it. We should celebrate and rejoice in the rediscovery of, as Ray Ortlund says, "the gospel doctrine"—but let’s remember the revival of a gospel-centered worship culture in the Reformation. The Reformation was a resuscitation of faithful doctrine and the reshaping of the worship practices of local churches. Reformation theology led to reformed doxology.
There are multiple elements and practices in our churches that we take for granted. We wrongly assume that the rhythms of our worship, and the joys of local church fellowship under the reign of Christ have always been like this. We couldn’t be more wrong.
We pull up to our buildings, shake hands, sip coffee, and pray together. We sing songs we know and love, lifting our voices and hearts toward the Lord. We open our personal copies of the Bible, hear God’s word exposited in an understandable (hopefully!) manner, and “take and eat” the bread and "take and drink" the wine in remembrance of Christ. But before the magisterial Reformers--and the Pre-Reformers (i.e. Wycliff, Huss and Tyndale)--picked up their hammers, this wasn't always the case.
By God’s grace, we can thank the Reformers for a bounty of blessings that we experience on a weekly basis in our local church gatherings. Whether you are Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican or Non-Denominational, you have the Reformers to thank for the right administration of these things.
Thank The Reformers
Do you like singing together in your services? Thank the Reformers. Before the Reformation, in most churches, there was little to no congregational singing. It wasn’t uncommon for the priests or the monks to be the only ones singing. The people watched as the priests worship. The Reformers, especially Jan Hus, pushed for the collective singing of God’s people.
Do you like having your own copy of the Bible? Thank the Reformers. Before the Reformation, only church leaders had copies of the Bible, often in Latin...and sometimes they were chained to the pulpit. Before Luther, Tyndale, and others translated the Bible into the common language of the day, no one read the Bible for themselves. No one had it. But the Reformers refused to let it stay that way—and some were burned at the stake so that you could own your own copy of Scripture in the vernacular.
Do you enjoy the preaching of God’s word? Do you like listening to sermons you can understand, in your own language? Before the Reformation, some sermons were only given in Latin, preached to ordinary German Christians who couldn't understand a lick. The Reformers fought for the Body of Christ to hear, know, understand, and live the word of God.
Do you like taking the Lord’s Supper? Before the Reformation, it wasn’t a normal practice for the parishioners to take communion. This issue was part of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). Most were only allowed to watch the priest partake of the Supper. They were kept from “eating and drinking.” They were frozen out of “doing this in remembrance” of Jesus.
We Don’t Attend Worship. We Worship.
You can see what was a common theme of pre-Reformation worship services. The priests worshiped and the people watched. The people attended the worship service. Spectator worship was the norm. Was. We no longer merely attend worship. We worship. We gather together on Sundays to sing, to pray, to serve, to hear, to remember—to worship our great God and Savior.
We need to dust of Luther’s hammer to drive a nail through the noggin of spectator worship. We don’t gather for Christian pep rallies. During Lord's Day services, we aren’t tagging along in worship with a worship band. We are all worshipping together. On Sunday mornings, we aren’t being served religious goods and services by trained professionals. We are worshipping. If you are a believer united to Jesus, you are a worshipper. Don’t ever merely attend worship. Worship!
Thank God For The Reformation
Thank God for the clay pots he raised up in Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Jan Hus, John Calvin, William Tyndale, and many, many others. The normalcy of our Sunday morning worship--what we’ve come to expect--is a direct shockwave from Luther’s hammer and Calvin's Geneva. God’s grace, Luther’s irritation, Calvin’s exposition, Tyndale’s determination all resulted in the reformation of our worship. Thank God for the Reformation. Don’t forget it, or you’ll inevitably under-appreciate it.
Jeff Medders is the pastor of Redeemer Church (Acts29) in Tomball, TX. He is the author of numerous books and a regular contributor at For The Church, a ministry of Midwestern Seminary. Jeff also regularly writes at his own blog, J.A. Medders.