But their controversies about the formal and external aspects of worship were real and sustained, religiously motivated and passionately pursued, and to establish my right to pass them by in the body of my text I must first deal briefly with them now. I shall not trace their historical details, nor take sides (for I do not want to start them all over again!), but I shall try to bring into focus the problems which occasioned them, so that we see just how much -- and at some points, how little -- divided the conflicting parties. The problems themselves, as we shall see, remain living issues for us today.
1. In what sense are the Scriptures authoritative for Christian worship?
It is usually said that, whereas Luther's rule in ordering public worship was to allow traditional things that were not contrary to Scripture and seemed helpful, it was Calvin's rule to admit nothing that the Bible did not directly prescribe; and that the Church of England officially followed Luther's principle, whereas the Puritans within its ranks espoused that of Calvin. This way of putting it gives the impression that Luther and the Reformed Church of England did not regard Holy Scripture as constituting an authoritative rule for worship at all -- which was, of course, the constant Puritan accusation right up to the Civil War. It also gives the impression that the Puritan critique of Anglican public worship represented a reversion to the principles and practice of Calvin at Geneva -- which, to be sure, the Puritans themselves thought it was. But both impressions are misleading.
German, Swiss, and English Reformers held common basic principles about worship. They agreed that Christian worship must express man's reception of, and response to, evangelical truth, and they were substantially in agreement as to what that truth was. They agreed in analyzing worship as an exercise of mind and heart in praise, thanksgiving, prayer, confession of sin, trust in God's promises, and the hearing of God's word, read and preached. They were in agreement also as to the nature and number of the gospel sacraments, and their place in the church's worship. They took the same view of the office of the Christian minister in leading the worship of the congregation. They agreed too that each church, or federation of churches ("every particular or national Church,' as Article XXXIV puts it) is responsible for settling the details of its own worship in accordance with the apostolic principle that all must be done "unto edifying" (I Cor. 14:26), and that as a means to that end everything must be done "decently and in order" (v 40). Finally, they were all agreed that each church has liberty (the presupposition of its responsibility) to arrange its worship in the way best adapted to edify its own worshippers, in the light of their state, background, and needs; so that they all took it for granted that the worship of varied churches in varying pastoral situations would vary in detail.
The idea that direct Biblical warrant, in the form of precept or precedent, is required to sanction every substantive item included in the public worship of God was in fact a Puritan innovation, which crystallized out in the course of the prolonged debates that followed the Elizabethan settlement. It is an idea distinct from the principle that tainted ceremonies, which hide the truth from worshippers and buttress superstitious error, should be dropped, as both dishonoring God and impeding edification. On this latter principle all the English Reformers were agreed from the start, as the 1549 Prayer Book Preface "Of Ceremonies" shows; though they did not succeed in agreeing as to its application, which was why in 1550 Hooper clashed with the authorities over episcopal vesture, and why in the 1560s those who were first called Puritans felt obliged to campaign against the Prayer Book requirement of surplices, wedding-rings, baptizing with the sign of the cross, and kneeling at Holy Communion. But this new principle went further, declaring that no justification of non-Biblical rites and ceremonies in worship as convenient means to Biblically prescribed ends could in the nature of the case be valid (in other words, that the line taken in the preface "Of Ceremonies" was wrong); all ceremonies must have direct Biblical warrant, or they were impious intrusions.
It should also be noticed that when the Puritans singled out some of the ineptiae of the Prayer Book as intolerable, when they challenged the principle that each church has liberty to ordain unbiblical ceremonies in worship where these seem conducive to edification and reverence, when they repudiated all set prayers, when they rejected kneeling in public worship, the Christian year, weekly Communion, and the practice of confirmation, they were not in fact reverting to Calvin, but departing from him, though, as Horton Davies says, it is doubtful whether they realized this.
Even if they had realized it, however, it would not have affected their position; for their basic concern was not to secure Reformed solidarity as such (much though they made of this idea in controversy), but simply to obey God's authoritative Word. But the question at issue was, how should the sufficiency of Scripture be understood in connection with worship? The Puritans thought the official Anglican view on the point lax and wrongheaded; Anglican spokesmen like Hooker criticized the developed Puritan view as legalistic and irrational. Which was right? The question still presses today. Do we agree with John Owen that "God's worship hath no accidentals...all that is in it and belonging to it, and the manner of it, is false worship, if it have not a divine institution in particular"? The problem is not simple, and much can still be said on both sides.
2. What regulations are proper for Christian worship? There were, and are, three possible ways of ordering public worship: to have a set liturgy like the Book of Common Prayer, or a manual of general guidance like the Westminster Directory, or to leave it entirely to the individual minister or congregation to regulate its own worship at will. These alternatives are historically associated with Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Independents and Quakers respectively. Which now is preferable? How strong are the objections to each? Does liturgical worship necessarily breed formality and deadness? Is extempore prayer necessarily uneven in quality? Does it really make it harder for worship to be congregational than if it is a known form is being used? Does a regular order followed Sunday by Sunday quench the Spirit? Is it necessary, if a congregation would honor the Holy Spirit, for it to refuse to tie itself to an established pattern of worship, and simply at each meeting wait on the Spirit for a fresh leading? On these issues, evangelicals would differ now, as the Puritans differed in their day. Baxter, for instance, like Calvin and Knox, approved of liturgy with room for extempore prayer at the minister's discretion, but Owen maintained that "all liturgies, as such, are...false worship...used to defeat Christ's promise of gifts and God's Spirit." Which was right? Here again is an issue which is not simple, and cannot be regarded as dead.
3. What discipline is proper in connection with worship? No doubt there would be general agreement that the attempts made under Elizabeth and the Stuarts to enforce strict national uniformity to the Book of Common Prayer were regrettable, and did more harm than good. Nobody, one hopes, would wish to defend the kind of discipline administered upon nonconformists, by the Courts of High Commission and Star Chamber before the Civil War, and by the judges and JPs of England during the years of the Clarendon Code. Yet a problem remains. Granted that the discipline we have mentioned was ungodly in its rigidity and disregard for tender consciences, is there to be no discipline in connection with public worship at all? Today, in some Protestant churches where set prayers are the rule, rituals and prayers from the Roman Mass are introduced, and in others where extempore prayer is practiced, ministers are heard basing their public intercessions on the heresy that all human beings are God's redeemed children. In both these instances worship is spoiled through the doctrinal aberration of the minister. Is there not need for discipline in such cases? But of what sort? What steps are appropriate today in face of such disfigurements as these? The problem exercised the Puritans in their day, and it will be well if it continues to exercise us in ours.
Worship comprehends all that respect which man oweth and giveth to his Maker...It is the tribute which we pay to the King of Kings, whereby we acknowledge his sovereignty over us, and our dependence on him...All that inward reverence and respect, and all that outward obedience and service to God, which the word [sc,godliness] enjoineth, is included in this one word worship.Usually, however , the Puritans used the word in its narrower and more common sense, to signify simply all our direct communion with God: invocation, adoration, mediation, faith, praise, prayer and the receiving of instruction from his word, both in public and in private.
Worship must be, as our Lord said, "in spirit and in truth"(Jn 4:24). The Puritans understood this as meaning that, on the one hand, worship must be inward, a matter of "heart-work," and, on the other, worship must be a response to the revealed reality of God's will and work, applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they insisted that worship must be simple and Scriptural. Simplicity was to them the safeguard of inwardness, just as Scripture was the fountain-head of truth. The austere simplicity of Puritan worship has often been criticized as uncouth, but to the Puritans it was an essential part of the beauty of Christian worship. This comes out in two sermons by Owen on Ephesians 2:18, entitled "The nature and beauty of gospel worship," in which the weightiest of all the Puritan theologians formulates to perfection the Puritan ideal of worship in scarcely veiled antithesis to the Prayer Book formalism of Laud ("the beauty of holiness" as Laud was pleased to call it.) It is worth quoting from this exposition at some length. Owen begins by making the point that the true "decency," "order," and "beauty" of Christian worship lies in its trinitarian and evangelical character, as an exercise of faith on the worshippers' part.
It is a principle deeply fixed in the minds of men that the worship of God ought to be orderly, comely, beautiful and glorious....And indeed that worship may be well suspected not to be according to the mind of God which comes short in these properties. ...I shall add unto this, only this reasonable assertion,... viz, That what is so in his worship and service, God himself is the most proper judge. If then we evince not that spiritual gospel worship, in its own naked simplicity, without any other external, adventitious helper or countenance, is most orderly, comely, beautiful, and glorious, the Holy Ghost in the Scripture being judge, we shall be content to seek for these things where else, as it is pretended, they may be found.In similar terms, Owen from his text gives theological substance to the idea of uniformity in worship:
...In the spiritual worship of the gospel, the whole blessed trinity, and each person therein distinctly, do in that economy and dispensation, wherein they act severally and peculiarly in the work of our redemption, afford distinct communion with themselves unto the souls of the worshippers. [Owen shows how this is set forth in his text, which speaks of access to the Father through the Son by the Spirit.] This is the general order of gospel worship, the great rubric of our service....If either we come not unto it by Jesus Christ, or perform it not in the strength of the Holy Ghost, or in it go not unto God as a Father, we transgress all the rules of this worship. This is the great canon, which if it be neglected, there is no decency in whatever else is done in this way. And this in general is the glory of it....Acting faith on Christ for admission, and on the Holy Ghost for his assistance, so going on in his strength; and on God, even the Father, for acceptance, is the work of the soul in this worship. That it hath anything more glorious to be conversant about, I am yet to learn....
The saints...have all their access "in one Spirit": and this is the spring of all the uniformity that God requires. So the apostle tells us, that as the gifts themselves [sc,abilities for leading the church in corporate worship] there are diversities of them, and difference in them; I Cor. xii. 4-6. But where then is uniformity?...The apostle answereth, verse 11. ("All these worketh that one and self-same Spirit"). Here lies the uniformity of gospel worship, that though the gifts bestowed on men for the public performance of it be various...yet it is one Spirit that bestows them all among them ...one and the same Spirit discovers the will and worship of God to them all; one and the same Spirit works the same graces for their king in the hearts of them all; one and the same Spirit bestows the gifts that are necessary for the carrying on the gospel worship in the public assemblies... And what if he be pleased to give out his gifts...variously ..."dividing to every one severally, as he will?" Yet this hindereth not, but that as the saints mentioned, they all approach unto God by the one Spirit, and so have uniformity in their worship throughout the world. This is a catholic uniformity....Finally, Owen scouts the idea that ornate buildings and rituals have, or can have, anything to do with the "beauty" that God seeks and finds in the worship of his faithful people. He reminds us that Christians are themselves the temple and dwelling place of God, and that true worship, though done on earth in the body, is actually "performed in heaven," inasmuch as "those who have an access unto the immediate presence of God, and to the throne of grace, enter into heaven itself." (Owen appeals for the proof to Hebrews 5:20; 9:24; 10:19, 21; Revelation 4.) The idea that ritual pageantry in services and decoration of church buildings is of itself an enriching of worship thus appears as a ludicrous irreverence. "What poor low thoughts have men of God and his ways, who think there lies an acceptable glory and beauty in a little paint and varnish."
Complementary to Owen's analysis is Charnock's anatomizing of worship in his sermon entitled "Spiritual Worship"on John 4:24.
Worship is an act of the understanding, applying itself to the knowledge of the excellency of God, and actual thoughts of his majesty....It is also an act of the will, whereby the soul adores and reverenceth his majesty, is ravished with his amiableness, embraceth his goodness, enters itself into an intimate communion with this most lovely object, and pitcheth all his affections upon him.Only the regenerate can worship God acceptably, says Charnock, for only they have hearts that truly go out to him in adoration and self-subjection. Therefore "we must find healing in Christ's wings, before God can find spirituality in our services. All worship issuing from a dead nature, is but a dead service.["8]
Charnock goes on to show that spiritual worship is performed only by the Spirit's active help, since it requires sincerity and singleness of heart ("unitedness," Charnock calls it; "concentration" would express his meaning). It involves acts of faith, love, humbling, and self-distrust, and must be an expression of the heart's desire for God. "A spiritual worshipper actually aspires in every duty to know God....To desire worship as an end, is carnal; to desire it as a means, and act desires in it for communion with God in it, is spiritual, and the fruit of a spiritual life...." Also, spiritual worship will be joyful:
The evangelical worship is a spiritual worship, and praise, joy, and delight are prophesied of as great ingredients in attendance on gospel ordinances, Is. xii.3-5....The approach is to God as gracious, not to God as unpacified, as a son to a father, not as a criminal to a judge....Delight in God is a gospel frame, therefore the more joyful, the more spiritual....In worship we must seek to reflect back to God by our response the knowledge that we have received of him through his revelation.
God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach him with cheerfulness; he is a Spirit of infinite majesty, therefore we must come before him with reverence; he is a Spirit infinitely high, therefore we must offer up our sacrifices with deepest humility; he is a Spirit infinitely holy, therefore we must address him with purity; he is a Spirit glorious, we therefore must acknowledge his excellency...he is a Spirit infinitely provoked by us, therefore we must offer up our worship in the name of a pacifying mediator and intercessor."That all true believers whose minds are spiritually renewed have a singular delight in all the institutions and ordinances of divine worship is fully evident," writes Owen, and quotes Psalms 42:1-4, 63:1-5, 84:1-4 to prove his point. That the saints love public worship is a constant Puritan theme. Why their delight in it? Because in worship the saints do not merely seek God; they also find him. Worship is not only an expression of gratitude, but also a means of grace, whereby the hungry are fed, so that the empty are sent away rich. For "there is in worship an approach of God to man." God's presence in his ordinances is a reality; God is essentially present in the world, graciously present in his church. "God delights to approach to men, and converse with them in the worship instituted in the gospel." And men honor God most when they come to worship hungry and expectant, conscious of need and looking to God to meet them and supply it.
The ordinances of Christian worship, declares Owen, are "means of the communication of a sense of divine love, and supplies of divine grace unto the souls of them that do believe." They are "ways of our approaching unto God," and "we are always to come unto God, as unto an eternal spring of goodness, grace and mercy, of all that our souls do stand in need of." "To make a pretence of coming unto God, and not with expectation of receiving good and great things from him, is to despise God." An aimless, careless, casual, routine habit of church-going is neither rational nor reverent. Asks Owen, with piercing rhetoric:
What do men come to hear the Word of God for? What do they pray for? What do they expect to receive from him? Do they come unto God as the eternal fountain of living waters? As the God of all grace, peace and consolation? Or do they come unto his worship without any design as unto a dry and empty show?....Or do they think they bring something unto God, but receive nothing from him?....To receive anything from him they expect not, nor do ever examine themselves whether they have done so or no?....It is not for persons who walk in such ways, ever to attain a due delight in the ordinances of divine worship.Owen's application of this is uncomfortably searching:
Many of the better sort of professors are too negligent in this matter. They do not long and pant in the inward man after renewed pledges of the love of God; they do not consider how much they have need of them...; they do not prepare their minds for their reception of them, nor come with the expectation of the communication unto them; they do not rightly fix their faith on this truth, namely that these holy administrations and duties are appointed of God in the first place, as the way and means of conveying his love and a sense of it unto our souls. From hence springs all that luke-warmness, coldness, and indifferency unto the duties of holy worship, that are growing among us.This, surely, is a word for our times.
It is not the letter of the Word that ordinarily doth convert, but the spiritual meaning of it, as revealed and expounded....There is the letter, the husk; and there is the spirit, the kernel, and when we by expounding the Word do open the husk, out drops the kernel. It is the meaning of the word which is the word indeed, it is the sense of it which is the soul....Now, preaching in a more special manner reveals God's Word. When an ointment box is once opened, then it casts its savour about; and when the juice of a medicinal herb is once strained out and applied, then it heals. And so it is the spiritual meaning of the Word let into the heart which converts it and turns it to God.For congregations, therefore, the hearing of sermons is the most momentous event of their lives, and the Puritans pleaded with worshippers to appreciate this fact, and listen to the word preached with awe, attention, and expectancy. Baxter put the point thus, in the course of his "Directions for Profitably Hearing the Word Preached" in the Christian Directory:
Come not to hear with careless heart, as if you were to hear a matter that little concerned you, but come with a sense of the unspeakable weight, necessity, and consequence of the holy Word which you are to hear; and when you understand how much you are concerned in it, it will greatly help your understanding of every particular truth....We complain today that ministers do not know how to preach; but is it not equally true that our congregations do not know how to hear? An instruction to remedy the first deficiency will surely be labor lost unless the second is remedied too.
Make it our work with diligence to apply the word as you are hearing it....Cast not all upon the minister, as those that will go no further than they are carried as by force....You have work to do as well as the preacher, and should all the time be as busy as he....you must open your mouths, and digest it, for another cannot digest it for you...therefore be all the while at work, and abhor an idle heart in hearing, as well as an idle minister.
Chew the cud, and call up all when you come home in secret, and by meditation preach it over to yourselves. If it were coldly delivered by the preacher, do you...preach it more earnestly over to your own hearts....
Not, however, that the hearing of sermons is an end in itself, or that ardent sermon-tasting and preacher-hunting is the height of Christian devotion. Thomas Adams speaks sternly against the assumption that listening to sermons is all that matters, reminding us that preaching must lead on to prayer and praise:
Many come to these holy places, and are so transported with a desire of hearing, that they forget the fervency of praying and praising God....All our preaching is but to beget your praying; to instruct you to praise and worship God....I complain not that our churches are auditories, but that they are not oratories; not that you come to sermons (for God's sake, come faster), but that you neglect public prayer: as if it were only God's part to bless you, not yours to bless God....Beloved, mistake not. It is not the only exercise of a Christian to hear a sermon; nor is that Sabbath well spent that dispatcheth no other business for heaven....God's service is not to be narrowed up in hearing, it hath greater latitude; there must be prayer, praise, adoration....Here, too, surely is a word for Christian people today.
But family worship was also, to the Puritans, vitally important. Every home should be a church, with the head of the house as its minister. Daily and indeed twice daily, the Puritans recommended, the family as a family should hear the Word read, and pray to God. Sunday by Sunday, the family should seek to pool the profiting of its members from the public ordinances; day by day, its members should seek to encourage each other in the way of God. Parents must teach their children the Scriptures; all members of the household must be given time and a place to pray. Thus, informally, but conscientiously, the worship and service of God in the home must be carried on.
But still one question remains. How do we begin to get from where we are to where the Puritans show us that we ought to be in our own practice of worship? How can we, cold-hearted and formal as we so often are -- to our shame -- in church services, advance closer to the Puritan ideals? The Puritans would have met our question by asking us another. How do we prepare for worship?
Here, perhaps, is our own chief weakness. The Puritans inculcated specific preparation for worship -- not merely for the Lord's Supper, but for all services -- as a regular part of the Christian's inner discipline of prayer and communion with God. Says the Westminster Directory: "When the congregation is to meet for public worship, the people (having before prepared their hearts thereunto) ought all to come...." But we neglect to prepare our hearts; for, as the Puritans would have been the first to tell us, thirty seconds of private prayer upon taking our seat in the church building is not time enough in which to do it. It is here that we need to take ourselves in hand. What we need at the present time to deepen our worship is not new liturgical forms or formulae, nor new hymns and tunes, but more preparatory "heart-work" before we use the old ones. There is nothing wrong with new hymns, tunes, and worship styles -- there may be very good reasons for them -- but without "heart-work" they will not make our worship more fruitful and God-honoring; they will only strengthen the syndrome that C.S. Lewis called "the liturgical fidgets." "Heart-works" must have priority or spiritually our worship will get nowhere. So I close with an admonition from George Swinnock on preparation for the service of the Lord's Day, which for all its seeming quaintedness is, I think, a word in season for very many of us:
Prepare to meet thy God, O Christian! Betake thyself to thy chamber on the Saturday night, confess and bewail thine unfaithfulness under the ordinances of God; ashamed and condemn thyself for thy sins, entreat God to prepare they heart for, and assist it in, thy religious performances; spend some time in consideration of the infinite majesty, holiness, jealously, and goodness, of that God, with whom thouart to have to do in sacred duties; ponder the weight and importance of his holy ordinances...; meditate on the shortness of the time thou hast to enjoy Sabbaths in; and continue musing...till the fire burneth; thou canst not think the good thou mayest gain by such forethoughts, how pleasant and profitable a Lord's day would be to thee after such a preparation. The oven of thine heart thus baked in, as it were overnight, would be easily heated the next morning; the fire so well raked up when thou wentest to bed, would be the sooner kindled when thou shouldst rise. If thou wouldst thus leave thy heart with God on the Saturday night, thou shouldst find it with him in the Lord's Day morning.
 George Swinnock, Works, (Edinburgh: James Nichols, 1868), I:31.
 John Owen, Works, ed. William Goold (Edinburgh: Johnsone and Hunter, 1850-53) IX: 53-84.
 Ibid, IX:56f.
 Ibid, IX:76f.
 Ibid, IX:77f.
 Stephen Charnock, Works, (Edinburgh: James Nichols, 1864), I: 298.
 Ibid, I: 299.
 Ibid, I: 307.
 Ibid, I: 308.
 Ibid, I: 315.
 Owen, Works, VII: 430f.
 Charnock, Works, I: 319.
 Owen, Works, I: 319.
 Ibid, VII: 439.
 William Bradshaw, English Puritanisme, (1605), p. 17.
 Thomas Goodwin, Works, ed. J. Miller (London: James Nichol, 1861) XI: 364.
 Richard Baxter, Works, (London: George Virtue, 1838) I: 473,475.
 Thomas Adams, Works, (Edidburgh: James Nichols, 1861-62) I: 103.
 David Clarkson, Works, (Edinburgh: James Nichols, 1864) III: 190ff.
 Ibid, III: 194.
 Swinnock, Works, I:234.
 Ibid, I: 229f.