Book: Understanding Worship in the RCA: The Lord's Day Service with the Directory of Worship

Prepared by the Commission on Worship, The Reformed Church in America. The Reformed Church Press, 1988. Price: 1-9 copies, $2.00; 10 or more $1.50

Understanding Worship is a companion booklet to the RCA Worship the Lord (1978). While Worship the Lord is largely a collection of worship services (with brief explanations), Understanding Worship is a commentary on the services.

The publication opens with a brief statement about the nature, scope, and reality of worship, followed by a short explanation of the three-fold structure of Approach, Word in proclamation and sacrament, and Response. The parallel printing of comment and liturgy follows this succinctly worded introductory material.

Understanding Worship is printed in "wall-calendar" format (11" x 17"), permitting readers to "feel" the flow of the liturgy by viewing extensive sections of the RCA order of worship at one time. The liturgy is printed in green ink in the right-hand column, the relevant directory comment in blue in the left-hand column. Tastefully executed line drawings by the Rev. James R. Esther illustrate the various stages of the liturgy.

The booklet maintains that there must be freedom in the liturgy, but that this freedom must be within the bounds of the structure set down in the order of worship. Although the accent of the publication is not narrowly "high church," the emphasis is clearly on the side of the traditional Western liturgy. However, historic Reformed emphases are honored. The law of God (also, but not exclusively in its Old Testament form) is given a place of importance as a guide for grateful living and is spoken after the assurance of pardon. Furthermore, among the reasons given for the use of the lectionary in proclamation is the fact that this practice keeps the Old Testament before the people. In these and other ways it is clear that this liturgy and its rationale wish to preserve the "whole Bible" flavor so characteristic of the historic Reformed expression of corporate worship.

The treatment of the liturgy includes commentary on the administration of the Lord's Supper. A separate section at the end of the liturgy discusses the administration of baptism. Here the discussion is usually solid, but the argument for not including the family name with the "Christian" name in the act of baptism is not conclusive and seems to be based on Medieval reasoning. Similarly, a concluding "Liturgical Miscellany" has many fine things to say about the position of the minister, the function of the choir, the virtues of repetition, and announcements. But again, some "ax grinding" occurs, particularly when the announcement of hymns is held to be superfluous if the numbers are printed in the bulletin. There are sound reasons for occasionally announcing and commenting on songs even though the numbers are published, but these are ignored in favor of a service that moves by internal momentum. These are, however, very minor flaws in a discussion which is generally excellent.

Although Understanding Worship is intended for use in the Reformed Church in America, every congregation in the larger Reformed family of churches can profit from the clear and usually balanced discussion of actual Reformed worship contained in this practical booklet. Worship committees will want to give this publication careful attention, and persons responsible for planning adult education in the church will certainly want to find ways to incorporate this attractive resource into the curriculum.

Carl G. Kromminga is professor of practical theology (emeritus) at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 15 © March 1990, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.