When the Gospel was rediscovered at the Reformation a focus on worship accompanied it.
Paying heed to the practice of worship from the past is an insight into the impact of the Gospel on the gathered people of God.
This is based on an understanding of worship as a whole as a means of grace, something from God to us (vertical downward focused); rather than something that people are doing for God (vertical upward focused), or developing an effective content delivery system (horizontal focused) primarily to educate non-Christians.
In reality all three aspects have to be acknowledged and incorporated; and I’m sure the current horizontal obsession will mitigate over time and we’ll see less of Sunday morning as Christian TAFE and something a little more … worshipful.
Sinclair Ferguson writes an introduction to Reformation Worship, a new book on this classic subject.
This isn’t a plea for a wooden adopting, or a slavish imitation, of any or all older liturgies; nor is it an intimidating and metallic insistence that we should use them today “because the reformers used them.” That could—and almost certainly would—have a deadening effect on our worship. Most of us do not live on the continent of Europe, and none of us lives in the 16th century.
Our greatest need is for worship in Spirit as well as in truth today. But older liturgies should stimulate us to careful thought, and cause us to ask how we can apply their principles today in a way that echoes their Trinitarian, Christ-centered, biblically informed content, so that our worship, in our place and time, will echo the gospel content and rhythm they exhibit.
This is no easy task, and it requires wisdom, tact, sensitivity, and careful communication of principles and goals. But it’s also true that, at the end of the day, people tend to learn and to grow as much by experience as by verbal instructions. They need to sense and taste the help and the value of a better way. And since their appetite may have been blunted by a diet of modernity, it’s important to advance little by little.