By Hughes Oliphant Old. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984, 202 pp., $9.60.
If I could, I would assign the reading and careful discussion of Old's book to every Presbyterian and Reformed pastor, seminary student, and person who in any way plans or shapes worship services. It is that good, that thorough, that basic, that important!
But let the reader beware. The book will discipline liturgical innovators and exhibitionists through the principled planning of services. It will shame traditionalists and mere functionaries into rediscovering the richness, versatility, and spiritual authenticity of the whole service. If taken seriously as a "Guide to the Reformed Tradition" (the title of the series to which it belongs), the book will promote a common liturgical understanding and practice that are rather badly needed at present.
Worship begins with a chapter on four basic principles for Reformed worship, which must be 1) scriptural, 2) in Christ's name, 3) in the Spirit, and 4) holy and sincere. The author then devotes longer chapters to baptism, the Lord's day, praise, the ministry of the Word, prayer, the Lord's supper, daily prayer, and almsgiving. In his last chapter Old treats us to a balanced assessment of two extremes: slavish conformity to worn-out practices and "perpetual liturgical revision." Here he commends fifteen valuable traditions worth continuing.
When explaining the eight major worship activities, Old fully reviews their biblical basis. Then he traces their development by the early church. Next he demonstrates their rediscovery and reapplication by major and secondary Reformed leaders, whose writings he has mastered. Finally, he sprinkles his whole treatment with observations about present liturgical practices and makes biblically sound and spiritually wholesome suggestions for change.
If one were to register a single criticism, it would be that sometimes the historical richness of this book is overwhelming. But its details can be nibbled or fully savored, depending on the reader's taste. Most important is that the study obligates persons with any responsibility whatever for Reformed or Presbyterian worship to digest its main ideas thoroughly. To do so will yield a satisfying, at times inspiring, feast of liturgical fundamentals.