A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Bennett W. Rogers
How then should we worship? That is an important question, which makes this an important book. Planning corporate worship services is one of the pastor’s most important works, as every pastor knows. I didn’t appreciate this sufficiently in seminary, or the conflict it could potentially engender, but it didn’t take me long to figure that out after graduation. But how should Christians worship? Does the Bible provide a blueprint? Sam Waldron, and churches that embrace the regulative principle of worship (RPW), claim that it does. In this work, he seeks to explain and defend it, while confirming the committed, convincing doubters, and clarifying several practical issues.
Waldron opens with two chapters devoted to church history, which is an odd move, given the RPW’s insistence that corporate worship must be directed by scripture alone. Even though it seems counterintuitive at first glance, Waldron was right to raise the historical question. If the RPW is ius divinum, then why does it make its confessional appearance so late in the game? Waldron attempts to ground the RPW in the holiness of the Church as set forth in the Nicene Creed (ch. 2), but he is unable to connect the dots. He spends too much time defining holiness and too little explaining how and why the RPW necessarily follows. The liturgical traditions of the East and the West all connect the holiness of God with the holiness of his Church and the imperative of holiness in worship without appealing to the RPW. The historical question is not unanswerable, but Waldron asserts far more than proves. His treatment of the historical development of the RPW during the Reformation is more convincing (ch. 3). It is much easier to see the logical connection between the RPW and the reformers’ emphasis on sola scriptura than the 9th Article of the Creed.
History aside, the heart of the work is Waldron’s exposition and defense of the RPW, which can be found in chapters 4-8. He argues that the RPW is rooted in God’s special presence in the Church (ch. 4); God’s special identification of the Church (ch. 5); it must be interpreted in light of new covenant realities (ch. 6); and informed by Colossians 2:20-23 (chs. 7-8), which Waldron regards as the “classic proof-text for the regulative principle (105).” Each chapter essentially focuses on a particular New Testament text of Scripture, and his exposition is usually solid, but I suspect most of these chapters were originally sermons. The chapter divisions and subdivisions read like sermon points (and subpoints), and the use of mnemonic devices (consonance, assonance, repeated phrases, etc.) seems to suggest that this material was originally intended for hearers. As a fellow sermon-writer, I have no problem with this technique in principle, and one would expect an expository preacher of Waldron’s caliber to incorporate old sermon material into this new project. But these sermon-turned-chapters need to be expanded, both in terms of their scope and argument, and they need to shed some of their original sermonic trappings and be streamlined for readers.
Waldron also missed an opportunity to strengthen his argument for the RPW by neglecting Old Testament worship. Granted, Waldron is addressing new covenant worship and worshippers, but his neglect of the Old Testament is a significant oversight. Though the title of chapter 6 is “What Do We Learn about Worship from the Old Testament?” the focus is largely, if not exclusively, on a New Testament text – John 4:24. And at no point does he attempt to ground the RPW in Eden, the patriarchal era, and Israel’s worship. One might even expect such a treatment from a reformed author, who presumably sees some degree of continuity – in principle, if not in practice – between old covenant and new covenant worship.
The rest of the work is devoted to identifying and explaining the required parts of the Church’s corporate worship. After a preliminary discussion about the required parts and circumstances of worship (ch. 9) and the heart (ch. 10), Waldron lists and explains the required parts of worship, which are:
- The Proclamation of the Word (ch. 11)
- The Giving of Offerings (ch. 12)
- The Prayers (ch. 13)
- The Reading of Scripture (ch. 14)
- The Saying of the Amen (ch. 15)
- Congregations singing (chs. 16-18)
- Pronouncing the Benediction (ch. 19)
- The Sacraments or Ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Suppers (ch. 20)
- Various Acts of Church Order (ch. 21).
These are the strongest chapters of the work and the most practically useful. Readers are sure to be interested in his discussion of the “Amen” as a required part of worship, the raising of hands in prayer, and the discussion of congregational singing, which includes those thorny and oft-asked questions about exclusive Psalmody, musical instruments, praise bands, choirs, and song-leaders. This is where Waldron’s exegetical insights, practical wisdom, and pastoral experience shine the brightest. I loved the chapter on “the Amen.” After reading this chapter, I am much more intentional about saying “Amen” in corporate worship as an appropriate public response to God and his truth, and I am blessed in so doing! And I am equally blessed when others do so as well. These chapters challenged and encouraged my own devotion in worship, which may not be the stated goal of the work, but it is a nice (and perhaps hoped for) side-effect.
How Then Should We Worship? is an important book about an important subject. In Part 1 Waldron provides a fair defense of the RPW, the critiques above notwithstanding, and his treatment here will likely confirm those already committed, but it is not likely to sway doubters. Part 2, however, is another story. It is far stronger and more useful. Elders in reformed churches would do well to have this work on their shelves.
Bennett W. Rogers
Buy the books
HOW THEN SHOULD WE WORSHIP? THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE AND REQUIRED PARTS OF THE CHURCH’S CORPORATE WORSHIP, by Sam Waldron