James R. Esther and Donald J. Bruggink. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987, 85 pp. $3.95.
Having served as a member of the Liturgical Committee of the Christian Reformed Church for six years, I was naturally very much interested in this volume— the result of ten years of work of the Worship Committee of the Reformed Church in America. During that time some twenty persons worked on this project.
The close ties between the two Reformed denominations mentioned above are apparent in their liturgical efforts. At almost the same time the two churches felt the need to revise and update their liturgical materials. Both published the results of their work in 1987-88. The new CRC liturgical materials appear in the worship edition of the new Psalter Hymnal. The RCA's revised forms are published in this separate volume, which may be used alongside their new hymnal, Rejoice in the Lord.
Worship the Lord consists of five parts. Part one contains forms for worship on the Lord's Day: Order of Worship (including the Lord's Supper, Baptism, Reception into Communicant Membership, and Ordination of Elders and Deacons). Part two provides liturgies for Christian marriage, healing, and burial. Part three, "Classical Services," contains forms that a classis may use for ordaining, installing, and receiving ministers of the Word and others in specialized ministries . Part four offers a Directory of Worship, adopted by the General Synod of 1986, which is similar to, but more modest than the CRC Liturgical Committee's 1968 report to synod (published in the Psalter Hymnal Supplement of 1974). Part five is the Song of Hope, a poetic statement of the church's faith, adopted by the RCA Synod of 1987 and similar to the CRC's Our World Belongs to God and the Canadian Presbyterians' Living Faith.
I congratulate the Reformed Church in America and its Worship Committee on this book. I know from experience how many bridges have to be crossed before liturgical forms are finally approved for use in the churches. AH members must have a say in such matters, making final adoption a minor miracle.
I also think it is laudable to publish all liturgical materials in a separate volume. The CRC includes its "service book" in its hymnal. As a result, some valuable resources—burial and healing services, for example—had to be omitted. At this point I am a bit jealous of my RCA relatives.
However, I think that Worship the Lord could have been more joyful and happy. Everything in this book sounds quite solemn and restrained. In other words, the Holy Spirit does not blow a storm in these forms! The Preparatory Exhortation, for example, begins with "Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, we propose to celebrate together, with the gracious help of God…" The celebration seems to be a chore rather than an expression of happiness and thanksgiving. This particular form is modeled after the old Dutch one with its impossible "nochtans, desniettegen-staanded, overmits." I refer here to the sentence that begins with "Therefore, despite…" a sentence that rolls on for eight full lines before reaching—finally—a period of rest.
But what these forms may lack in emotion, they make up for in options and variations. The assurance of pardon can take ten different forms, and the final benediction, seven. Such variety is helpful; the church should not have or get a one-track mind.
The last page of this volume includes the following statement: "The boundaries of God's love are not known." I wish Worship the Lord a blessed journey to the ends of the world, proclaiming in many worship services this good news.