"The Lord's Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship" by Jeffrey J. Meyers

Gillis Harp
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Nov/Dec 2004

In this lengthy and ambitious book, Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) pastor Jeffrey Meyers, summons biblical, theological, and historical arguments to make a case for well-ordered liturgical worship. Significantly, Meyers argues for the sort of structured corporate worship that most conservative Protestant congregations eschew in favor of either a populist informality or a Spartan neo-Puritan minimalism. The result is a wide-ranging book that could be an enormous help to almost any pastor or elder, especially (but not exclusively) those in the Reformed tradition.

Meyers anchors his argument for a particular liturgical order in Covenant theology. In particular, he understands Christian worship to be a logical development of the Covenant renewal ceremonies described in the Old Testament. Meyers explains that one can avoid the contemporary confusion regarding worship "only by identifying a biblical purpose that includes everything we experience and do in Christian corporate worship. God's covenant provides the key. Simply stated, the purpose of the Sunday service is covenant renewal. During corporate 'worship' the Lord renews His covenant with His people when he gathers them together and serves them" (33). Consequently, according to Meyers, Christian worship should correspond to the following order or shape (86):

God Calls Us-We Gather Together and Praise Him God Cleanses Us-We Confess Our Sins and Are Forgiven in ChristGod Consecrates Us-We Respond in Prayer and OfferingGod Communes with Us-We Eat God's Food at His TableGod Commissions (Blesses) Us-We March Out to Serve God

The proper order of these elements is not, contrary to popular assumptions, a matter of indifference, nor should it be determined by the whim of individual pastors.

Since sacrifice was central to the Old Testament covenant, Meyers contends that it should also be the crux of Christian worship, though clearly Christ's sacrificial death on the cross transforms the church's understanding of her proper offering. Meyers argues that some Protestants may have excluded too much of this sacrificial theme from worship in their reaction against the medieval church's mass sacrifice. He proceeds then to provide a detailed explanation for every part of his home congregation's Sunday worship service. Along the way, The Lord's Service answers a host of common objections to liturgical worship. Just because Roman Catholics observe a particular practice is not a valid reason for Reformed believers to avoid it, especially if there is considerable biblical warrant for its observance (accordingly, using wine in communion and kneeling for prayer merit restoration). Perhaps most importantly, the author shows how set forms if used carefully can promote truly corporate, participatory worship that best reflects the great Reformation principle of the priesthood of all believers.

Meyers has written a valuable guide to Reformed worship that is well researched and catholic in the best sense. The bibliographical essay at the end of the book is a precious resource on its own. Although not all scholars would agree with Meyers about the formative character of the covenant renewal theme, most would probably endorse the shape of the order he advocates-arriving at a similar spot via rather different routes. This reviewer was unhappy about some of the sacrificial language Meyers appears prepared to apply to eucharistic worship (see especially pp. 68, 70, 96). The reformers rightly took pains to stress that, as sinners, we do not enter into Christ's self offering (although we are certainly beneficiaries of it) and that the only sacrifice the faithful offer in the eucharist is the purely responsive offering of praise and thanksgiving. Nor will all be convinced by his argument for young children receiving communion based upon an exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11:28 ff. Still, The Lord's Service is an excellent contribution to the sort of rethinking Reformed Christians need to do if they are truly committed to the principle of semper reformanda. It merits a wide readership.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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