In chapter 7, the most dense of the book, Clark begins by saying "There can be little question whether Reformed worship is in trouble and perhaps everywhere." (p227) Quoting W. Robert Godfrey he notes that, "the last thirty years or so have seen the most dramatic and speedy changes in Protestant worship since the Protestant Reformation." (p227)
On p228 he goes on, "as Terry Johnson notes, 'the way we worship today will determine the shape and substance of our piety for generations to come.' The fact that many Reformed Christians alive today have never seen or participated in a worship service that Calvin, the Heidelberg Reformers, or the Westminster divines would recognize does not bode well for the future of Reformed theology, piety and practice."
Therefore, he argues that "an essential part of recovering the Reformed confession is to recover the Reformed principle and practice of worship." (p228)
This is a chapter where many who wish to associate with Reformed theology will spit the dummy. They just won't like it. How do I know? Well, as an evangelical I didn't like it, but I had to ask myself, "why?"
In this chapter, Clark asserts that you cannot separate Reformed theology from Reformed worship. Worship and theology are mutually serving and shaping entities. If you worship like a charismatic it's because, deep down, you think like a charismatic. To embark on a recovery of Reformed Christian theology will take you on a trajectory towards a reformation of the worship service.
Many who associate with the Reformed movement advocate the principle of sola Scriptura with respect to theology but not with respect to the worship service. Yet as Clark notes again and again, the Reformed churches advocated the regulative principle of worship (RPW). The RPW is the principle that we may worship God in a way only that is explicitly asked of us in Scripture. In contrast, Anglicans, Lutherans and most evangelicals believe that we may do what is not expressly forbidden. The Reformed community, in response, have traditionally pointed to examples like Nadab and Abihu who thought it was fine to offer a sacrifice not explicitly commanded.
Essential to reformed worship as confessed by the WCF for instance is, "Gods Word (21.5) and prayer (21.3-4). It treats the sacraments under the heading of the Word because they are the gospel made visible." (p230) These are the 'elements' of worship, i.e. the essentials. Other things like where we meet, what we wear, at what time, etc are to be treated as 'circumstances'.
Clark argues again and again that God's Word and prayer are ALL that God has required of us during worship. Many will breath a sigh of relief. At last, no more crappy drama skits. No more cheesy chairmen gags. No more announcements. No more sentimental Powerpoint slideshows that make you cringe so bad you pull a muscle in your butt cheeks.
But the implications are more wide reaching. Clark argues that if we wish to truly reform worship, we must sing only inspired texts (i.e. Psalms, the Decalogue, the Magnificat, etc). After all, if the service is about Word and prayer, it must not only include the Word read/preached but also only the Word sung.
And if the worship leader gasps as Clark removes the photocopied chord sheet of 'The Days of Elijah', he positively palpitates as Clark very gently asks him to hand over his guitar and rainbow strap too. You see, the majority report in the Reformed churches was that musical instruments belonged to the old covenant. Lest we think this a legalistic Reformed innovation, Clark has evidence that the earliest postapostolic churh rejected uninspired singing and musical instruments as pagan. (p246)
Again I'll say, I didn't like this chapter. But again, I ask myself "why?" Has having a band really become such a sacred cow to me? Am I attending worship for my personal excitement? Am I at church for the "liver shiver" or the QIRE? In most evangelical churches, try getting rid of the sermon for a couple of weeks and you'll get minimal unrest. Suggest, on the other hand, ditching the band and you become as popular as a hang-glider with diarrhoea.
I couldn't help thinking as I read through the chapter that I've never sung a Psalm in worship in my life, and I don't think I'm alone in evangelicalism. To those of us who wish to Reform our theology, piety and practice, but can't stomach Clark's bold proposals with respect to worship, we should at least consider taking some steps in this direction. For instance, perhaps start singing and prioritising the Psalms. Chuck out the "My Jesus, My Boyfriend" hymns. If someone proposes to do in worship anything that isn't explicitly Word or prayer, reject it and tell them to save it for the school show.
I'm still thinking through the issues here, but it's very difficult to argue with what Clark has done in this chapter. Everyone I've asked about the RPW with respect to musical instruments, Psalm singing, etc seem to come back with a similar response "it sounds biblical and is hard to argue with, but I just don't like it." Well, I'm sure the Israelites didn't like the idea of letting go of their beloved bronze snake before reformer Hezekiah broke it in pieces. Maybe it's time we metaphorically smashed some stuff to please our Lord.
I've gone on, but it's a long chapter. Read it for yourself.