Worshipping with Calvin
Terry L. Johnson
EP Books, 434 pages, £14.99
Star Rating : 5
The question of how a church worships God in public services is one which has been debated vigorously in recent years. This book is an important and well-researched contribution to the topic.
Rejecting the term ‘traditional’, Johnson argues for what he calls ‘the historic ministry and worship of Reformed Protestantism’. He states at the outset that his aim is ‘to demonstrate that the historic form of Reformed ministry and worship is greatly to be preferred to all the currently available alternatives’.
However, this is not a mere diatribe against modern worship styles. After an introductory chapter setting out the ecclesiastical scene, Johnson spends two chapters outlining the case for worship forms implemented by the Reformers.
Though describing Calvin as among the most influential worship leaders in church history, Johnson argues that this form of worship was not merely Calvin’s, but the comprehensive Protestant pattern following the Reformation.
He distinguishes helpfully between the essential elements of worship, the forms that those elements may take, and the matters which are merely incidentals of worship.
The bulk of the book sets out the strengths of Reformed worship and ministry. It is argued to be God-centred, Bible-filled, gospel-structured, church-aware and Spirit-dependent.
The emphasis on the centrality of Scripture throughout is certainly compelling. We are to read the Word, preach the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word (both in Psalms and Bible-based hymns) and see the Word (in the Lord’s Supper and baptism). As a convinced Baptist I found the section on baptism less compelling!
The chapter on being church-aware includes a helpful discussion of the place of tradition. Johnson rightly warns against making an idol of it, but observes that ‘to ignore tradition is to make an idol of the present’.
The concluding chapter on depending on the Holy Spirit in worship is very helpful, with a useful discussion on how this dependence is expressed.
Johnson rightly observes that cultural change requires awareness and sensitivity on the part of the church. He also points out that our era is not the first in which a Word-based church culture has encountered a ‘pictographic’ pagan culture.
We can have confidence in the long-term effectiveness of Bible-based worship, ‘because fundamental things do not change: the gospel, human nature and the ordinary means of grace’.