In 1975, Hughes Oliphant Old published his dissertation entitled The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship. Old persuasively argues that we have every reason to take Calvin and his colleagues seriously when they claim patristic support for their liturgical ideas.
The Reformers deliberately developed their approach to worship by returning, first and foremost, to the scriptures but also to the fathers of the church, whom they regarded as fallible, though generally reliable, interpreters of the bible.
Unfortunately, the Reformers did not have at their disposal one of the earliest Christian documents that describes various liturgical customs in the ancient church, namely, the Didache.
With the fortuitous rediscovery of the Didache at the end of the 19th century, we have access to a critical resource for doing precisely what the Reformers aspired to do, namely, to reform the church’s worship in light of holy scripture and the customs of the ancient church.
My dissertation entitled The Eucharist in the Didache, which you can read here, is a modest attempt at continuing the important work of reforming the church’s worship in light of patristic customs.
Rumor has it that when Pope Leo X read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, he said, “What drunken German wrote this?”
It is also rumored that when Martin Luther read Jason Stellman’s post on The Biblical Basis of Man-Made Liturgy, he said, “What drunken Ex-PCA pastor posted this?” I’m sure that’s just a rumor. Continue reading
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my teacher Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old and reflecting on his insights into Reformed worship.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from his writings.
What is worship?
We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being…. When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” it gives witness to the same basic principle; God created us to worship him. Surely it is here that we must begin when as Reformed theologians we ask what worship is. Worship must above all serve the glory of God (Worship Reformed According to Scripture).
Why study the Reformers?
One often asks why today we should study the Reformers. We study the Reformers for the same reason the Reformers studied the church fathers. They are witnesses to the authority of Scripture. The Reformers studied the patristic commentaries on Scripture because they enriched their own understanding of Scripture. Today we study the Reformers because they throw so much light on the pages of the Bible. They were passionately concerned to worship God truly, and they searched the Scriptures to learn how. We study the Reformers because their understanding of Scripture is so profound (Worship Reformed According to Scripture).
Worship and the Holy Spirit?
If there is one doctrine which is at the heart of Reformed worship it is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is the belief that the Holy Spirit brings the Church into being, that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church and sanctifies the Church. Worship is the manifestation of the creative and sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. If we are to understand the worship of the early Reformed Church we must recognize that they went to worship not to do something for God, nor even so much to get something from God, but far more to be something with God (The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship).