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Presbyterian Worship by Robert Johnston

Chapter IX. Modern Movements in Presbyterian Churches Respecting Public Worship.

|All who desire to manifest an intelligent appreciation of what is distinctive in Presbyterian ritual would do well to guard against attaching undue importance, or adhering too tenaciously, to details of a past or present usage, as if these constituted the essentials from which there must never be the smallest deviation, of which there may never be the slightest modification or adaptation to altered acquirements and circumstances.| -- McCRIE.

The earliest indication of any general desire in Scotland for a more elaborate service than that in general use in the Church at the time of the Revolution was seen in the proposal to enlarge the Psalmody and to improve the Service of Praise. As early as 1713 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland called the attention of congregations to the necessity that existed for a more decent performance of the public praise of God, in a recommendation that was exceedingly desirable and necessary if the accounts of the service of praise at that time are to be believed. This was followed, not long afterward, by the introduction of paraphrases, styled |Songs of Scripture,| and later of hymns, and finally of instrumental music. In this matter of the improvement of worship in the department of praise, the Secession Churches in several cases were more forward than the Established Church, the revived interest in religion and worship which had been in a measure the cause of their existence lending itself to such measures. In all sections of the Church the conflict concerning praise in worship was for a long period prosecuted with an energy that frequently arose to bitterness. The vexed questions of hymn-singing and the use of instruments in Churches being settled, there followed, or perhaps it may be said there arose out of these, the further question of the elaboration and improvement of other parts of worship.

In 1858 the Assembly of the Church of Scotland recommended to congregations that were without a minister, the use in worship of a book prepared by its authority, in which were embodied the prayers of the Book of Common Order, together with much material from the Directory of Worship. This action on the part of the Church was regarded by some as indicating the existence of a spirit which warranted the formation of |The Church Service Society.| This Society was formed by certain ministers of the Established Church who were strongly impressed with the desirability of the adoption by the Church of certain authorized forms of prayer for public worship, and of the use of prescribed forms in the administration of the Sacraments. By the publication of its constitution, in which it announced its object as |The Study of the Liturgies ancient and modern of the Christian Church, with a view to the preparation and ultimate publication of certain forms of prayer for public worship, and services for the administration of the Sacraments, the celebration of Marriage, the Burial of the Dead,| etc., it very early aroused vigorous opposition on the part of many who saw in its organization an evident intention to introduce into the Church a liturgical service. Such a purpose the Society emphatically disavowed, and insisted that there was no desire on the part of its members to encroach upon the simplicity of Presbyterian worship, but claimed rather the desire to redeem the same from lifelessness and lack of a devotional spirit with which they declared it is so likely to be characterized. So effectively have the fears of those who first uttered their objections been allayed, that the Society is said to comprise in its membership, at the present time, more than one-third of the ordained ministers of the Established Church. The results of this Society's labors have been published in a volume which is now in its seventh edition. It is a book of more than 400 pages, and is entitled, |Euchologion -- A Book of Common Order.| Its contents seem to harmonize more with the views which were charged against the originators of the Society at its commencement than with the defence which was put forward in its behalf at that time. Although widely used it has no official sanction of the Church, and, therefore, it is not necessary to enter into any close analysis of its contents. Briefly, however, it may be said, it is a liturgy much more closely approximating to the English Book of Common Prayer than to Knox's Book of Common Order, or to the ritual of any of the Reformed Churches of the Continent, with which its projectors declare themselves to be more in sympathy than with the Episcopal Communion of England.

The first part comprises, in addition to prescribed daily Scripture readings and readings for every Sunday of the year, the Order of Divine Service for morning and evening for the five several Sundays of the month; in this Order are contained special forms of prayer, responses to be used by the congregation, the Lord's Prayer, to be repeated by minister and congregation together, and the Apostles' Creed, which is to be either said or sung.

In the second part, which contains |additional materials for daily and other services,| the first place is given to the Litany, which is an exact transcript of that of the Church of England with the exception of a change in one petition, rendered necessary by the difference in the forms of government in the two Churches. A number of |prayers for special graces,| |collects| and |prayers for special seasons| and |additional forms of service| are added. The |prayers for special seasons| have regard to |our Lord's advent,| |the Incarnation,| |Palm Sunday,| |the descent of the Holy Ghost,| etc.

The last section of the book provides forms of service for the administration of the Sacraments, visitation of the sick, marriage, burial, ordination, etc. In the form for the visitation of the sick a responsive service is provided, as also in the order for Holy Communion. On the whole it is probably not too much to assert that |Euchologion -- a Book of Common Order,| issued by the Church Service Society, is decidedly more liturgical in form than was the unfortunate Laud's Liturgy, which raised against itself and its projectors such a vigorous protest on the part of the Church of Scotland.

Following the organization of the Society referred to, came one in connection with the United Presbyterian Church called |The United Presbyterian Devotional Association,| having for its object |to promote the edifying conduct of the devotional services of the Church.| This Society declares its willingness to profit from the worship of other Churches besides the Presbyterian, but at the same time asserts its loyalty to the principles and history of Presbyterianism. The forms published in its book, |Presbyterian Forms of Service,| are not intended to be used liturgically, but the purpose is that they should furnish examples and serve as illustrations of the reverent and seemly conduct of public worship.

The latest book to be issued on these lines is |A New Directory for the Public Worship of God|; this name is further enlarged by the following description, which provides a sufficient index to its contents: |Founded on the Book of Common Order (1560-64) and the Westminster Directory (1643-45) and prepared by the Public Worship Association in Connection with the Free Church of Scotland.|

This book follows in general the form and method of the Directory, carefully avoiding the provision of even an optional liturgy. The form which it has assumed, that of a simple Directory of Worship, was adopted after long discussion in the |Association| on these four questions, |The desirableness of an optional liturgy as distinguished from a Directory of Public Worship;| |The Desirableness of a Responsive Service,| such a service to include the use by the people with the minister of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Beatitudes, the Commandments, etc.; |The desirableness of the Collect form of prayer and of Responses in general,| and |The desirableness of the celebration of the Christian year.|

After long and exhaustive debate on the above questions the book has been issued in its present form as a simple Directory of Worship, responses and the celebration of the Christian year and even an optional liturgy having been rejected as undesirable. Orders of service are suggested, as well for public worship as for the administration of the Sacraments and for special services, and suggestions at great length are offered concerning what should find a place in the prayers of Invocation, Thanksgiving, Confession, Petition, Intercession and Illumination. A few historic prayers of eminent saints of God are included as examples, and large quotations are made for the same purpose from Knox's Book of Common Order and from Hermann's |Consultation,| and from this last source |A Litany for Special Days of Prayer| is added in an Appendix. If the Euchologion indicates a strong tendency on the part of the |Church Service Society| towards the introduction of a responsive and liturgical service into public worship, the New Directory of Public Worship indicates just as strongly a tendency within the |Public Worship Association| to avoid the introduction of even optional forms and to retain the simplicity that has for three centuries characterized Presbyterian worship.

The attempts to revise the Directory of Worship in order to modify and adapt it to present-day requirements made recently by the Presbyterian Church of England, and by the Federated Churches of Australia and Tasmania, have already been referred to. That these Churches have confined their efforts to a revision of the Directory, and have in this asserted their approval of a Directory of Worship rather than of a liturgy, is in itself an instructive fact.

In the revised Directory of the Presbyterian Church of England some changes are made in the direction of securing for the people a larger part in audible worship. The repetition of the Creed is permitted, and where used is to be repeated by the minister and people together; it is recommended as seemly that the people after every prayer should audibly say Amen, and the Lord's Prayer, which should be uniformly used, is to be said by all.

The work of revision by the Churches of Australia and Tasmania introduces fewer changes. In the administration of |The Lord's Supper| it is recommended that at the close of the Consecration Prayer the minister recite the |Apostles Creed| as a brief summary of Christian Faith, and when the Lord's Prayer is used, as advised before or after the prayer of intercession, the people may be invited to join audibly or to add Amen.

Worthy of more extended notice than the limits of this chapter will permit is |The Book of Church Order| of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. As early as 1864 a proposal was made in Assembly to revise the Westminster Directory of Worship for the purpose not only of rendering it more suitable to the requirements of the time, but in order also to so modify and improve it as to increase its suggestiveness and helpfulness to ministers. The work was undertaken by a committee appointed in 1879, and in 1894 this committee presented its formal report, which was adopted, and the revised Directory was ordered to be published. It contains sixteen chapters, treating of all the matters treated in the original Directory, and containing in addition suggestive chapters on |Sabbath Schools,| |Prayer Meetings,| |Secret and Family Worship,| and |The Admission of Persons to Sealing Ordinances.|

Respecting the public reading of Holy Scripture the revised Directory declares it to be |a part of the public worship of God,| and that |it ought to be performed by the minister or some other authorized person.| Of public prayer, after indicating its different parts, and suggesting the place that it should occupy in the service, the mind of the Church is thus expressed: |But we think it necessary to observe that, although we do not approve, as is well known, of confining ministers to set or fixed forms of prayer for public worship, yet it is the indispensable duty of every minister, previously to his entering on his office, to prepare and qualify himself for this part of his duty, as well as for preaching.| In the chapters on the administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper particular directions are given, and questions suitable to be asked of the parents of children presented for baptism are suggested, while in the directions for the admission of persons to sealing ordinances, an important distinction is drawn between the reception of baptized children of the Church and that of those who, on confession of their faith, are at that time first received. To the Directory there are added optional forms for use at a marriage service and at a funeral service. The book is not elaborate, and may be thought by many to be far from comprehensive as a Directory, but it is suggestive and helpful, and, while true to the principles of Presbyterian worship, it gives no evidence of disregard for the beauty and appropriateness that should characterize the public services of the Church. Among books of Church order it is well worth study by those who desire in worship to combine simplicity with dignity.

It is evident from these recent and simultaneous movements in so many branches of the Presbyterian Church, that there exists a feeling on the part of many that there is need of improvement in the important department of worship in our public services. It is probable that there will be found few to deny this, or to confess absolute satisfaction with the worship of the Church to-day. The question on which many will hold widely divergent opinions is as to the means to be adopted for its improvement. Some there are, as in the Church Service Society, who advocate a prescribed liturgy for at least certain parts of public worship; others, who desire a liturgy, but who are content to leave to congregations or to ministers freedom to use it or to disregard it; still others are loyal to the spirit of the age which produced the Westminster Directory, while they are at the same time willing to revise that work, which was found so serviceable to the Church for so long a period, and so to render it more suitable to the demands of our own age.

If a judgment may be formed from the movements that have just been reviewed, it is probable that at least for some time to come, the Presbyterian Church will continue to walk in the paths that have become familiar through long usage. The age, it is true, is past when dictation on this matter, either favoring or condemning a liturgy, would be suffered; and, therefore, it is to be expected that congregations will exercise liberty in the matter. Yet, so far as the general sentiment of the Church is concerned, a sentiment that will doubtless from time to time find expression in official declarations, it appears evident that the preponderating feeling is still strongly in favor of a voluntary worship, unrestricted even by suggested forms.

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