Harry Boonstra

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


Articles by this author:

  • Reviews

    The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship
    by Kimberly Bracken Long,
    Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. 130 pages.

  • A few months ago a package arrived in the mail from a friend of RW. Inside was a full set of Liturgy and Music in Reformed Worship newsletters. This RW precursor set the trajectory for providing worship leaders and committees with practical assistance in planning, structuring, and conducting congregational worship in the Reformed tradition. Unlike back issues of Reformed Worship, the jewels in these newsletters are not available online, so we decided to share a few of them with you.

  • Teach Us to Pray

    My most distant memory of prayer in worship goes back to the “long prayer” in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands. Long it was, as the dominee covered our personal and communal sins; the needs of God’s kingdom and the Dutch kingdom as well as the rest of the world; the suffering of Sister Jacoba, who had pain in her left kidney; the cause of missions in Suriname; and an outline of the sermon.

  • By some accounts, the worship situation in churches today has reached an all-time low— "the worst of times." Others disagree. They think that the church has broken out of encrusted habits and is yielding to the working of the Spirit. We are finally worshiping "as God wants us to"—"the best of times."

    Who's right? Although there's no easy answer to that question, dipping into a few recent articles and books and mixing in a bit of commentary and history may help us evaluate our liturgical situation.

  • Q. The Presbyterian Hymns, Psalms & Spiritual Songs contains "My Country Tis of Thee" and other patriotic songs, but the Christian Reformed Psalter Hymnal does not. Is that failure caused by the fact that the Christian Reformed Church was at one time a Dutch immigrant church?

  • Our congregation was in need of healing. During the span of a year or less many members of the Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church had experienced serious illness, death, and other tragedies. The elders responded to these needs by calling several mid-week prayer services, which were helpful to those who attended. However, members also desired to deal with such needs in the context of congregational worship. The following service was planned and conducted in response to that need.

    Explanation of the Service (1)

  • Leading in Worship by Terry L. Johnson. Oak Ridge, TN: The Covenant Foundation, 1996.184 pp.
    Worship in Spirit and Truth by John Frame. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996.171 pp.

    Here are two books by conservative Presbyterians who do not at all agree on how Presbyterians (and other Christians) ought to worship.

    Johnson's book consists of two main sections—an essay on Reformed worship and a collection of liturgical resources. We'll look at the second part first.

  • Once more in this issue, we have selected (some Q&A's from the final section of Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture, a report to the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) synod in June 1997. The purpose of this study is to equip church leaders with perspectives and insights that will help them make decisions about worship—decisions that are biblically and theologically informed as well as culturally discerning.

  • For this issue the questions and answers for Q&A come from the report "Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture" by the worship committee of the Christian Reformed Church. Although the report, which is to , be presented at Synod 1997, is addressed in the first place to CRC congregations, churches from other denominations will have the same or similar questions. And, we trust, will benefit from the answers.

  • Q. Is there biblical support for the extravagant blood image in Andre Crouch's "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power?"

    A. I suppose that you are not questioning the "blood theology" of the hymn—that is the biblical teaching that we are saved by the suffering and death of Christ. Our being saved by the blood of Christ is a pervasive scriptural doctrine and is reflected in many hymns.

  • Q. Opinions in our church differ strongly about the "dress code" for our minister and others leading worship (a range from polo shirt to "Catholic" vestments). We would appreciate any advice you can give us, especially about the use of robes.

    A. I will here limit my answer to the wearing of special worship "vestments" (although the polo shirt versus the business suit is also an interesting issue). As often when discussing worship questions, it's helpful to be aware of a bit of history.

  • Q. I hardly ever find services in Reformed churches any more that use the votum to begin worship. Why have so many churches dropped this Reformed part of the liturgy?

    A. A brief question with many ripples. Let me try to sort out a few threads here:

  • Q. What is the origin of the Christian flag, and where should it stand in relation to the American flag?

    A. The idea for the Christian flag was conceived by a Mr. Charles E. Overton, apparently during an impromptu talk at Brighton Chapel in Staten Island, New York. It was first designed and constructed in 1907. The flag was initially popularized in the Methodist Church, and is used in several denominations. However, it has never received the status of being the "official" Christian flag.

  • Q. In the new Psalter Hymnal the linguistic surgeons decided to cut out the phrase "Here I raise my Ebenezer" from "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," thus depriving the reader/singer of a biblical allusion (at least they kept "Thou," for a change). Have any other hymn editors seen fit to do so?

  • It had not been the most edifying week for my involvement in worship. A local church asked me to suggest a "creative solution" for a prolonged controversy about the use of overhead transparencies for praise songs. (My suggestion about installing an impenetrable wall between the traditionalists and the experimentalists and using the wall for projection was not taken seriously). The high-church "Liturgy" Internet board I participate in had a long(winded) discussion about what kind of tablecloth to use on the communion table.

  • In most Reformed and Presbyterian churches people do not kneel during prayer. Should they?

    About one hundred years ago Abraham Kuyper, renowned Dutch theologian and prime minister of the 'Netherlands, addressed this question. His firm answer: Yes.

    In the paragraphs that follow, Kuyper explains that kneeling was still customary as late as 1618, at the Synod of Dort. Various reasons and circumstances led to a change soon after that. But not very good reasons!

  • Q. You recently wrote about the shape of the communion table. In our church the question is, "Where shall we put it?"

    A. A few years ago RW carried an article, "Where's the Font?" We can now ask, "Where's the table?" Let me answer the question by relating what I have seen in a number of Reformed church buildings.

  • Edinburgh, Saint Andrew Press, 1994. 700 pp.

    Worship books, both denominational and "commercial," are becoming plentiful. This plenitude is reason for thanks; it appears that God's people are working hard on prayer, praise, and worship.

    The latest denominational book to cross my desk is the Book of Common Order of the Church of Scotland. A fine book it is.

  • November, 1994

    Dear Harry,

    I read, quite sympathetically, your editorial in Reformed Worship 34 (December, 1994) this week—sympathetically because I know the heart that created it longs to be gracious and inclusive, not to hurt. There is nothing unrighteous about such goals.

  • I'm writing these thoughts at the end of August, after visiting and preaching in a number of different churches. Although these congregations were theologically rather uniform, their worship idioms differed greatly—ranging from stately Canterbury to enthusiastic Nashville. And some of the congregations showed cracks and crevices in their koinonia, because of differences in their worship preferences. All of which made me take stock again of my stance on various worship issues.

    Here's my worship credo of ten years ago:

  • Since many congregations are still new to observing the Christian Year, a teaching service about the various church seasons can be very instructive The following service was first conducted at the Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    Although hymns are suggested in the service, feel free to substitute other seasonal hymns Also, whether you use more or less choir participation will depend on your local situation.

  • Calvin called the ceremonies of the Roman church "alien hodgepodge, theatrical pomp, foolish gesticulations and empty little ceremonies, outward trappings, magical incantations, and perverse rites." (These and many other denigra-tions can be found especially in the Institutes, Book 4). Four centuries later, hardbitten detective Travis Mc Gee says: "To me organized religion, the formalities and routines, it's like being marched in formation to look at a sunset. Maybe some people need routines. I don't."

  • Bulletin Note

    Ash Wednesday is an ancient holy day in the Christian church calendar. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent—a time of penitence, discipline, and renewal. In the Ash Wednesday service we are reminded of our mortality, we confess our sins, and we experience forgiveness through Christ's death and resurrection. The "imposition of ashes" is a central part of the service. During this time you are invited to come forward to receive the ashes on your forehead.

  • Regina Kuehn. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1992.137 pages.

    "All you've ever wanted to know about baptismal fonts." You will find that and more in Kuehn's book. The text is directed largely at a Roman Catholic audience, and most of the examples are from Catholic churches (except those fonts illustrating immersion, which are borrowed mostly from Baptist churches).

  • 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.

  • Edward Foley. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1991.206 pages.

    This fine book would be improved by a more clear subtitle. In the old-fashioned tradition of long book titles, it should go something like this: A Brief but Accurate History of Roman Catholic Worship, with a Brief Glance at Some Protestant Worship Traditions.

  • The worship committee has a fine idea. Several other churches in the area have used an Advent wreath for years, and the committee thinks it's about time that John Knox Church does so as well. They construct the wreath, purchase candles in appropriate liturgical colors, and invite a family to read the Scripture and light the candle on the first Sunday of Advent.

  • Nashville: Abingdon, 1979. 94 pp.

    This resource is a I publication of the Sec-I tion on Worship of the United Methodist Church. "The Order of Service" appears as a special pamphlet and can be ordered in quantity. This Order includes a communion service and an "Order of Committal." The rest of the book consists of a discussion of the ministry of the church at death, extended commentary on the "Order of Service," and additional resources, including prayers and Scripture readings.

  • Revised ed. James F. White. Nashville: Abingdon, 1990. 317 pages.

    There are revisions, and there are revisions. Some publishers will add a new preface, update the bibliography, and trot out a book as a NEW, REVISED, IMPROVED, ENRICHED EDITION. White's book, even though appearing only ten years after the first edition, is a genuine revision. Although much of the earlier edition is left intact, both additions (such as a section on worship and justice) and numerous minor changes make this an honest "Revised Edition."

  • The worship team of our church met recently to discuss the Lord's Supper—not its theology or spiritual significance, but the mode of our participation. Should we sit in pews, the way we have done for the past sixty years? Should we consider gathering around tables, as our church's founders did in 1915? Should we come to the front and take the bread, dip it in the cup, and eat while walking back to the pew, as we have tried a few times (dubbed "dip and run")? Should we stand in a circle as we take the bread and wine?

  • Gathering for Worship:

    We prepare for worship in the Gathering Space. Welcome!

    Choir: "On Christmas Night" [Sussex Melody]

    Processional: "Once in Royal David's City" [stanza 1, soloist; stanza 2, choir; stanzas 3 and 4, choir and congregation]
    (PH 49, PsH 346, RL 201, TH 225)

    Scripture Reading: Isaiah 9:2; 42:5-9
  • Generalizations are dangerous, but I'll hazard one. I have visited enough churches in The Netherlands to generalize that usually not a soul or body in those congregations will so much as nod a greeting at a visitor. After the service there may be occasional "hellos" among friends, but few people linger. Five minutes after the benediction both the sanctuary and the bicycle parking lot are empty.

  • Even if you don't know very many Scripture choruses or praise songs, there's a good chance you'll know "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God." From the time it was written in 1972, the song has been a "hit" and has been incorporated into countless hymnals and albums. To its composer, Karen Lafferty, "Seek Ye First" has been a wonderful miracle which gives her daily joy.

  • Every baptism should lead us to a new sense of gratitude

    I don't remember the hymns we sang, nor the Scripture we read, nor the sermon. But I do remember the baptism.

  • Home Communion

    Spiritual nourishment for the shut-in

    We gathered around the kitchen table in the old farmhouse. The oilcloth with pictures of yellow pears and red strawberries was still on the table from lunchtime. So were the napkins and a few stray bread crumbs. There were four of us: the eighty-two-year-old widow who had lived in the house since her marriage sixty years ago, two elders, and myself.

  • by Sonja M. Stewart and Jerome W. Berryman. Westminster Press, 1989.

    See "Letting the Story Stand" (p. 25) for further information about the program described in this book.

    Our Heritage of Hymns. Choristers Guild, 1986
    Exploring the Hymnal. Choristers Guild, 1986.

    These two educational books, reviewed in RW 5, are excellent resources for teaching children about the hymns of the church.

  • by Margie Morris.Discipleship Resources, 1988. 66 pp.

    What can you do at home to make church more meaningful for your children? A Methodist author presents sensible, workable discussions, exercises, and games to help children understand worship and become a part of it. She demonstrates how we can explain various aspects of the worship service and how children can be participants who joyfully share in praising God. In some ways this is a simplified version of the Ng and Thomas book—a good place to start.

  • Discipleship Resources, 1988.

    This brand-new package by the United Methodist Church is an ambitious undertaking. It features a thirteen-session instruction program, aimed at systematically teaching children and parents about worship.

  • by A. Roger Gobbel and Phillip C. Huber. John Knox Press, 1981. 106 pp.

    Creative Designs is several cuts above most other books about children's sermons. The (Lutheran) authors begin (pp. 3-40) with a carefully reasoned explanation of the role of children in worship ("Not what we can do for children, but what we can do along with children"). The rest of the book is devoted to forty-three conversations (containing many questions) an adult can have with children as part of the worship service.

  • by Arline J. Ban. Judson Press, 1981. 128 pp.

    Children's Time was written in the context of rather traditional Baptist churches who want to make the worship service more meaningful to children. Ban considers the dilemma of children remaining in the service versus being separated to a another worship place. She opts (mildly) for the first and makes a number of suggestions for incorporating. children into the regular service.

  • by David Ng and Virginia Thomas. John Knox Press, 1981. 156 pp.

    This book has become somewhat of a standard text and remains one of the best guides on children and (or rather in) worship. Sensitive to biblical models, Reformed theology, and child development, the authors present a compelling case for children as full participants in worship. Ng and Thomas recognize that such inclusiveness requires deliberate effort on the part of the home and the church. They suggest routes for moving congregations in that direction.

  • Baptism: a Celebration of God's Presence is a twenty-sheet resource packet intended to highlight a child's baptism. It contains statements on the meaning and importance of baptism and guides for specific practices that will make the sacrament more celebrative. The guides include suggestions for banner making and for conducting the baptismal service.

  • Worship is at the heart of congregational life. Without so much as knowing the word liturgy, the people of God bring their praises and gifts, listen to the Word, are fed at the table, and are strengthened by each other's fellowship. Our congregational worship is good and pleasing to the Lord.

  • The Passion Story

    A dramatic reading from Luke 23

    The passion narrative, which describes the suffering of Jesus during the crucifixion and the week that preceded it, forms one of the key events in the Christian story, a story the church must listen to. Many congregations read all of the passion story during Holy Week—sometimes in one service. The evening service of Palm/'Passion Sunday offers a fine opportunity for such a reading.

  • Advent Litanies

    Based on the psalms the Common Lectionary recommends this year for the four Sundays in Advent

  • In issue 7 of RW our Service Planning encompassed the beginning of the Season after Pentecost, and the Scripture commentary dealt with the three Common Lectionary passages for each Sunday. For this issue we have chosen the close of the Season after Pentecost (October 9-November 13), and rather than providing comment on all three passages, we have focused on the gospel reading. This focus will encourage preaching a brief series on one book—an aim of the lectionary for this season.

  • Grace Episcopal Church is very quiet when I enter at 9:20. In fact, even though the service is to start at 9:30, I am the only person in the sanctuary. A few minutes later several more people show, but it turns out the big service will be in the evening. (After the soup supper. Ah! even Episcopalians must be urged with food. But during Lent?)

  • Book: Epiphany

    (Proclamation 3. Aids for Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year, Series A). Marianne H. Micks. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986,64 pp. $3.75.

  • A Dragon Intrusion

    The sermon about the dragon seemed an intrusion into our Advent and Christmas spirit.

    When entering church I was stili thinking about the VCR we had bought after long deliberation. And our children were coming home for Christmas; it had been six months since we had seen them last.

    The sanctaury, with its poin-settias and Advent wreath, looked beautiful and peaceful. And the choir anthem was marvelous. The spirit was one of peace, festivity, and joy.

  • When interviewing James Ward, one is interrupted by children (his and neighbors') running through the room and by a ringing telephone. Thus our conversation about intercultural worship was punctuated with muffled giggles and with talk about concert bookings, mikes, synthesizers, and recording facilities.

  • Celebrate!

    Reformed Christians should celebrate the ascension with verve, with glory, and with full pews. The ascension, after all, is not marked by an isolated Thursday service in which the church tries to come to terms with a gravity-defying miracle. The ascension is rather linked to the sunburst expression of the victory and power of the risen Lord that we celebrate on Easter Sunday. So on Ascension Day we sing songs of victory.

  • Tenebrae

    For many congregations the Tenebrae service, usually held on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, is one of the most moving and meaningful worship services of the year. In a candle-lit sanctuary Christ's suffering is commemorated through Scripture and song. Candles are extinguished one by one as the congregation listens to the account of Christ's suffering and death.

  • By William H. Willimon. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984, 116 pp., $7.95

    Those who prefer to keep worship frozen in always-the-same forms like to quote C. S. Lewis's essay "Liturgy." Lewis felt that a service "works best ... when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. ... My whole liturgical position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity."

  • The practice of preaching according to a lectionary is an old one, although Reformed and Presbyterian churches have not always used this method. The lectionary encourages both pastor and congregation to focus on the great salvation events recorded in Scripture. (See the article on page 14 for further background.)

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