Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reformed Worship: In the Spendor of Holiness

Jon D. Payne. In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century. Whitehall, WV: Tolle Lege Press, 2008. Hardcover. $16.95.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw
This book fulfills a great need that many people are not aware that they have. Are you looking for a short book on Reformed worship that you can give to visitors and to lay-people that leads them step by step through the entire service? Jon Payne’s work, In the Splendor of Holiness, is one of the few works available that does this adequately. It is too often the case that books on Reformed worship set forth principles only and then they develop the elements of preaching, prayer, and singing while cramming the rest of the service into one short section. The result is that most people in Reformed churches do not know what we are doing or why during elements such as the call to worship, the public reading of Scripture, confession of sin and assurance of pardon, reciting creeds and confessions, collecting the tithes and offerings, and receiving the benediction.

This is one of the greatest oversights in books on Reformed worship. While we claim that we are not permitted to include any elements of worship that are not prescribed in Holy Scripture, most of our churches include elements that are truly biblical with little to no understanding of why they are such, and much less how to participate in them. How many for instance treat the benediction as a prayer that closes the service rather than as a proclamation from God himself that we must receive by faith? How many ministers are guilty of replacing the benediction (“the Lord bless you . . .”) with a doxology (“now to Him . . .)? In this climate of confusion over Reformed worship, is it any surprise that we have begun to see the introduction of extra-biblical elements such as drama and dance? If we do not know what are we are doing in our worship, then our people will sense that worship is largely non-participation. The result is that they seek out new elements in which they believe they can participate better. Payne’s book corrects such misconceptions by providing a biblical description of what each element is and how to participate in it.

This book is short, but it is precise. The author has not sacrificed clarity for brevity and simplicity. The two appendices on the Lord’s Day and the sufficiency of Scripture are valuable in their own right as well. This work does not remedy every gap in our understanding. For instance, the divine mandate for including baptism, the offering, and the benediction in public worship require further development. Yet this reviewer cannot recommend this book too highly. He is thankful as well to have learned from the author that it has been translated into several languages and that it is going into a second printing. This book will help you become a participant in every element of a Reformed worship service instead of being a spectator.

This review first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.