Just finished Pastor Douglas Wilson’s forthcoming book A Primer on Worship and Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan.
As the title suggests, this is a short, accessible introduction to the practice and importance of Covenant Renewal Worship. This is the sort of book you want to hand to visitors at church and have a stout little pile of sitting on the literature table. At the same time, even though it’s short and an intentionally simple presentation of the vision for a recovery of robust Puritan worship, there’s enough meat here for any famished evangelical to begin bulking up on.
And that leads us to the subtitle: “Recovering the High Church Puritan.” In the opening chapters Pastor Wilson introduces the idea of reforming evangelical worship using the Puritans as fathers in the faith who are examples of what we are striving for. In the first place that means recovering a more historically grounded picture of who the Puritans actually were and what they were actually striving to accomplish. While they are popularly maligned for being sour cranks and finicky prudes, history suggests that they were by and large neither of these and quite the opposite in fact. But more to the point of the book, Pastor Wilson designates “High Church Puritans” as those who were simultaneously seeking to be obedient to the Scriptures on the one hand and patient lovers of Mother Kirk on the other. He describes this as the twin virtues of obedience and kindness. And this is an important point to stress since many of the folks who will be most attracted to this book will be people who are already starving for something with a little substance. And when you’re starving, you don’t always think clearly and act with a thoughtful kindness towards those around you. But the last thing we want is a bunch of cranky reformers. It won’t do to thrash all your neighbors in the name of reformation and go out and start a new church in the name of obedience. Sectarians beware.
But the simple point of this book is that worship drives the world. Our culture is in the shambles it is in because of the worship that is being offered in Christian churches throughout our land. We need reformation, revival, renewal, or whatever you want to call it, and that will not happen until Christians begin to do it. And this means we need to go back to the Scriptures and love them, sing them, learn them, feast on them, and most importantly submit to them, particularly when it comes to how we approach the Triune God of heaven. Pastor Wilson presents the basic outline of what has come to be called ‘Covenant Renewal Worship’ which follows the general pattern of covenant renewal in the Old Testament, was figured in the levitical sacrifices, and finds its fulfillment in the spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which Christians offer in their worship. This pattern, as it turns out (and not surprisingly), is basically the way Christians have worshiped for the last two thousand years and flourished particularly during those ages in which the Church had the greatest influence for good in culture and society.
Pastor Wilson urges his readers to recover the centrality of word and sacrament, considers the historic exegetical methods of typological study of Scripture, and he says that the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper is one of the central ways that God transforms his people into the image of Christ. He closes with chapters on singing the Psalms, celebrating the Sabbath, and covenant succession. In places it can feel like too much is being covered in too short of space, but again, this is a primer and merely meant to introduce someone to these practices and customs which have made up the culture of the churches of the Reformation for centuries. And it is the last chapter on children that is arguably one of the greatest reasons for pressing these themes and continuing to make them accessible to the broader evangelical church. Short of winning the hearts and minds of our children with the culture of a robust Christian faith, reformation will continue to be a word that people say and have no actual experience of. We will know that God has blessed us with reformation when the vast majority of Christians today see their grandchildren walking with the Lord, wielding the Psalms as the weapons they are, and rejoicing in Sabbath living with their children and neighbors. And by the grace of God, worshiping faithfully each Lord’s Day is the way God has promised to bless us with that glory.