Book: The ABC's of Worship: A Concise Dictionary

Donald Wilson Stake. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.196 pages. $9.95.

Reviewers of dictionaries and encyclopedias are apt (perhaps ungraciously) to cite lists of items not found in a new work. Such a list of omissions would be easy to produce for any liturgical dictionary especially a concise one such as Stakes. But in this case the omissions make room for inclusions that are of special interest to Reformed Worship readers.

Most worship dictionaries focus on "liturgical" churches—Roman, Episcopal, Lutheran, Orthodox. There one can find definitions of rogation, hone igitur, pre-della, and dalmatic—not exactly the kind of terms that will be most useful to the worship committee at Knox Presbyterian Church. Stake's Dictionary omits many of the more technical liturgical terms, but includes entries on the communion table, Reformation Day, elders, worship bulletin, and the psalter.

This is not to say that Stake limits his purview to Reformed or Presbyterian traditions. He casts his liturgical net rather widely and includes entries on Ash Wednesday, chanting, the sign of the cross, paschal candle, and Christian symbols. But even when defining terms from many traditions, he often provides a brief history or theological slant from a Presbyterian perspective. For example, the entry on the Lord's Supper provides a general overview of theology and rituals,but stresses Reformed interpretations. "Ordination" is defined wholly from a Reformed perspective.

The overall tenor is "main line" (on the upscale side of the ecclesiastical tracks), which means that Stake borrows from Lutheran and Episcopal traditions but does not represent the Free Church tradition very well. Moreover, he gives only scant attention to charismatic worship, and gospel music is virtually ignored, as is "contemporary Christian" music. One specifically continental Reformed hiatus is the omission of the Heidelberg Catechism, which has functioned as a preaching lectionary for centuries.

Let me close by noting some personal pluses and minuses: the "Peace" section makes a good point that our "turn around and say 'Hi!' to your neighbor" can be greatly improved upon; the section on symbols is brief but helpful; "ordinary time" has a venerable history, although Stake's explanation of it in the Roman Mass is not very clear, and "time after Pentecost" may still be preferable for many Protestants; in the section on 'Art" he calls for careful color choice for pew cushions and carpeting without sounding the alarm on the deadening effect these may have on singing; Stake may not like the NIV but he could at least have acknowledged its existence along with other Bible versions; he explains "presbytery" but not the Reformed equivalent, "classis"; the entry on "gesture" is more helpful than the one on "dance."

Such personal likes and dislikes are unavoidable when reading a dictionary treatment of hundreds of topics. But overall this is a very fine piece of work that will be of help especially to those at the beginning of their study of liturgy and worship.

Harry Boonstra ( is former theological editor of RW and emeritus theological librarian of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 28 © June 1993, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.