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A Delicate Balance

Since the days of John Calvin, Reformed worship services have begun with the votum: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8). Its use at the beginning of worship actually dates back to the Roman Mass of the Middle Ages, but after the Reformation this text became something of a Reformed liturgical icon. That one verse encapsulates much of what Calvin—and centuries of Reformed folk—believed about worship, about our relationship with God, and about our understanding of the divine.

We begin worship by acknowledging our weakness and our dependency on God. This is the “big ‘G’” God—the God who created the universe—not the gods of money, success, or a good harvest. “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” In this case, “Lord” is “I AM WHO I AM,” יהוה, the Hebrew tetragrammaton that is so holy it may not be spoken aloud, and for which we substitute the word Lord.

Do you get a sense of how countercultural the votum is? By uttering it at the beginning of worship, we create the context in which the worship conversation is to occur. We don’t worship by our own power or for our own entertainment, nor do we worship to appease God. From the very beginning to the very end, worship is about our dependence on the Lord and our response to God’s grace. We are saved from our enemies, even from death itself, only because the Lord is on our side.

Why this historical exegesis? Because it’s RW’s twenty-fifth anniversary, and we need to reclaim the votum not just for congregational worship but for this journal as well. It is a delicate balance, this creating of worship services that point to God rather than humans. It is a delicate balance to depend on the Creator of heaven and earth rather than on our own creative juices. It is a delicate balance to offer twenty-five years of worship resources and articles that support the worship of God without encouraging idolatry of the innovative, the newest, the best. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance we aim to avoid the pitfalls and continue to be a voice of encouragement and a source of ideas for the planning of Spirit-inspired worship that gives God the glory.

In a Word: Votum

From the Latin, meaning “a prayer, wish, desire, vow, promise to God.”

In his article “Worship in a Beatitude-Shaped World” (p. 5), John Witvliet wonders about beginning each issue of RW with a proverb or beatitude. In that vein, I wonder about beginning each issue with the votum. It helps us get things right.

Reformed Worship has been blessed with twenty-five years of publication. This is no small feat, given the changes in worship and the economics of publishing. It would not have been possible without the hard work of staff from the first issue to today, particularly the great leadership of Emily Brink, editor for the first twenty years. It would not have been possible without the financial support of Faith Alive Christian Resources, which has carried the indirect costs incurred by RWfrom the beginning in order to keep the magazine affordable. Reformed Worship has also received the generous support of ministry partners like the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and, more recently, the Center for Excellence in Preaching. It is difficult to point out all the ways in which the people behind these institutions have given to RW. And, of course, this journal exists primarily because our readership is a dedicated group of individuals who are willing to share their gifts with other subscribers. For all of you we are grateful.

As a staff, our goal is to serve you, the reader, so that God’s name may be glorified. We often marvel at how the Spirit is at work through the whole process—from ideas to the printed page, from your submissions to seeing how other churches adapt them for their own worship. Here’s to the future!

Sung Votums