Just over one hundred years ago, E. M. Bounds began his influential book Power Through Prayer by calling the Christian community of his day to abandon their reliance upon the latest church growth "techniques" and to concentrate instead on communing with Christ by way of massive doses of Word and prayer. Bounds insisted,
The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men….What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Spirit can use-men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men-men of prayer. (11)
While Bounds's work tends to emphasize the individual more than the worshiping community-something we might expect given his background in Methodism and the fact that he is writing primarily to ministers-it is still a helpful reminder that God has never been interested in techniques so much as in his people communing with him by Word and prayer.
The church in our day is without a doubt "on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the gospel." In search of a quick fix to problems caused by our longtime neglect of Christian discipleship, evangelicalism has elected to take the easy way out. It has opted for programs over people and seeker-friendly style over substance. And it has all been done with an eye to building the church. To borrow the well-known words of James Montgomery Boice, we have grossly overestimated what God will do in one year (or even five) and underestimated what he will do in twenty.
Jon Payne's In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century fits neatly into this same category of writings. It is a succinct introduction to the subject of Reformed worship and one designed to whet the reader's appetite for further study. Dr. Payne has even included study/discussion questions at the end of each chapter in order to encourage deeper reflection and review. What is more, the book is written by a pastor who himself has wrestled (and continues to wrestle) with the topic of corporate worship within the context of the local church, and who longs to see God's people transformed by "rediscovering the beauty of Reformed worship" for themselves. For all of these reasons, the book is an excellent resource for officer training courses, staff meetings, small group Bible studies, new member courses, and one-on-one discipleship opportunities within the church. If we are going to produce a generation of men and women who opt for communion with God (especially of the corporate variety) over the latest techniques and methods, we will need to capitalize on books such as In the Splendor of Holiness.
The first two chapters of this book set the stage for the remainder of the study. In the first chapter, Dr. Payne offers a definition of liturgy and defends its necessity in the corporate worship services of the church. In the second chapter, he seeks to help Christians prepare themselves for worship by explaining what worship is and by advocating two ways of ensuring that every worshiper is ready for Sunday morning when they walk through the doors of the facility. The second chapter, which is by far the longest of the book, contains a helpful discussion of eight characteristics that distinguish biblical worship. When taken together, these characteristics provide a powerful corrective to the tendencies of the twenty-first-century church that is striving after the latest techniques and programs. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
The remaining chapters (three through thirteen) take up an examination of the component parts of the liturgy of a typical Reformed worship service: the call to worship, the singing of psalms and hymns, the reading of Scripture, the confession of sin, the assurance of pardon, the confession of faith, the pastoral prayer, the giving of tithes and offerings, the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and the benediction. The overriding concern in each of these chapters is to give an understanding of what these component parts involve and why they are to be included in Reformed liturgy. What emerges is a lucid and well-reasoned account of the distinctives of Reformed and Presbyterian worship in a form that is easily digestible. I would highly recommend it.