Review of In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century.

Jon D. Payne. In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century. Whitehall, W.V.: Tolle Lege Press, 2008. 119 pages. ISBN 9781607021513. $13.50 (paperback).

The last fifteen years have seen Calvinism (or neo-Calvinism,[1] depending on whom you ask) grow from strength to strength, and as a consequence we have seen a number of books published on the subject of liturgy and worship.[2] Among the more recent of these is John Payne’s In the Splendor of Holiness. Following in the footsteps of John Calvin, Dr. Payne recognizes the centrality of worship in Reformed theology, writing, “When Christians gather to worship God on the Lord’s Day, they take part in the most meaningful, significant, and wonderful activity possible” (15). To this, I can only say “Yes, and Amen.”

In the Splendor of Holiness can be divided into two sections: the first is comprised of chapters one and two, which attempt to answer the question “Why Liturgy?” (13-20) and which delves into how we can best prepare ourselves for public worship on the Lord’s Day (21-46). The second section deals with the various constituent parts of public worship; that is, Payne attempts to walk through everything that occurs in public worship—from the call to worship at the beginning to the benediction at the end—and everything in between them. This structure is particularly helpful, as the first 46 pages lay the biblical foundation for liturgy, while the following 57 pages (not including appendices) examine the various parts of a Reformed liturgy. Payne’s goal is set forth in an admirably straight forward manner: “In the following pages I attempt to set forth a relatively simple, lay-friendly introduction to historic Protestant and Reformed worship. This book, therefore, is intended to be neither scholarly nor exhaustive” (20).

Payne’s work opens with an answer to the question, “What is liturgy?” After a cursory explication of Isa. 6:1-3 and two short passages from the fifth and seventh chapters of Revelation (15), Payne offers an excoriating analysis of the condition of worship in evangelical churches in the 21st century. “In general evangelical worship has become radically informal, presumptuously innovative, and biblically impoverished. Much of this is due largely to the abandonment of God-centered, biblically-regulated liturgy” (16). By way of another blistering quotation, this time from Calvin,[3] Payne points out that this is not a new reality; the problem of “biblically impoverished” worship has been confronted before. Knowing that the idea of liturgy is usually (and wrongly, I might add) associated only with Eastern Orthodoxy, Romanism, and high church Anglicanism, Payne helpfully points out, “…all Christian worship services have a liturgy. In some of the more spontaneous express of Christian worship the liturgy may be difficult to decipher; nevertheless, it is there” (18).[4] After providing a good definition of liturgy from the Oxford English Dictionary (“a prescribed form of public worship” [18]), Payne indicates that any liturgy worthy of being called Christian—much less Protestant or Reformed—must be prescribed (or imposed) only by God’s Word (18-19).[5]

In the second chapter, Payne explains what worship is and what it isn’t (21-38), and how we can prepare ourselves daily to worship a holy God with His holy people on his appointed holy day (39-46). Payne presents eight points that, in his view, define biblical worship:

  1. Biblical worship is biblical (22-25).
  2. Biblical worship is God-centered, not man-centered (25-27).
  3. Biblical worship is dialogical (27-29).
  4. Biblical worship is simple (29-30).
  5. Biblical worship is expressed in all of life and at sacred times (31-32).
  6. Biblical worship is reverent (32-34).
  7. Biblical worship is Trinitarian (37-37).
  8. Biblical worship sets forth the Person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ (38-39).

Having explored these eight points, Payne proceeds to examine how we can prepare ourselves every day to come before the Lord in worship on His appointed day or worship and rest. Payne helpfully points out that faithful preparation throughout the week prior to the appointed times of worship on the Lord’s Day will aid our gathered worship. We do this by engaging in both private worship (43-46) and through family worship (39-43), which has to be the most overlooked aspect of Christian piety in our era.[6] From this point forward, Payne examines the various parts of a biblical Reformed liturgy, which includes a call to worship (47-49), song (51-58), reading (59-61) and preaching God’s word (83-89), confession of sin (63-66), among other ingredients.

Dr. Payne is an obviously well-educated man, with two master’s degrees (M.A.T.S., from Reformed Theological Seminary, and Th.M. from New College, University of Edinburgh) in addition to his Doctor of Ministry; he is also a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary–Atlanta in addition to his pastoral duties at Christ Church Presbyterian (PCA) in my beloved city of Charleston, S.C. So how, then, should a lowly seminarian interact with his book? With humility and deference, to start with! Allow me to begin by saying that Dr. Payne admirably achieves the objective he announced at the beginning of his work, namely, “to set forth a relatively simple, lay-friendly introduction to historic Protestant and Reformed worship” (20). This book is delightfully concise and wonderfully simple without degenerating into being simplistic and, in my opinion, would be an excellent introduction to Protestant worship for those who may be Protestant in name only, or for new converts to the Christian faith. Nevertheless, there are a two defects to be found in this excellent little book, and I would be remiss to pass by them entirely.

Notable by its absence in Payne’s work is any reference to the votum; for those who are unfamiliar with this oddity of Reformed worship allow me to explain. If you were to by some happy accident wander into a worship service in a Dutch Reformed church (such as the Free Reformed Churches, for example), at the very, very beginning of the worship service you would hear the minister announce the words of Psalm 124 prior to everything else: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth.” This practice has deep roots in Reformed liturgy, though it has (for reasons I’ve never been able to discern) been absent from the Scottish Presbyterian churches (and in many of the churches of our Dutch cousins, you’ll not hear a call to worship). Van Dooren, in his book The Beauty of Reformed Liturgy ably exposits the biblical basis for this practice.[7] It would be well to have it be recovered in our Presbyterian churches as well.

The other defect—which in my opinion is somewhat more significant—is found in Dr. Payne’s chapter on the place of song in the public worship of God (51-58). At the very beginning of this chapter, Payne writes, “Over the last thirty years, divinely-inspired Psalms and historic hymns have been marginalized to make room for a new genre of music…” (51); then later he writes, “…in recent times the Psalms have been neglected” (53). The irony of those two statements appearing so closely together is thick, to say the least. Historically, it was the introduction of non-inspired hymns into the worship of Presbyterian and Reformed churches that was the death-knell for the historic Presbyterian practice of only singing the Psalms. Here’s just one example:

During the early twentieth century, sentiment arose in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church for the optional use of hymns. The argument was that visitors and possible memebers did not feel at ease with exclusive psalmody and that Associate Reformed Presbyterian young people felt an attraction to other churches that used hymns. The General Synod of 1945, therefore, submitted ot the presbyteries the question of whether to permit local churches to sing hymns. The vote in the presbyteries, by 1946, favored the proposed relaxation, and since that time hymns have been accepted by all but a few local churches…. Some congregations took liberties with the new privilege, and now give little attention to the psalms.[8]

Interestingly, Payne writes, “In an effort to appeal to the secular and youth cultures, many churches have capitulated to the musical trends of our day…” (52); the similarities between that statement and the arguments presented before the ARP General Synod in 1945 should be obvious. Yet except for a passing statement on page 55, the fact that exclusive psalmody was the historic position of the Presbyterian and Reformed churches isn’t even mentioned in In the Splendor of Holiness. More disturbing still is that Payne never mentions, despite his comment on page 55, the sheer tonnage of biblical arguments for exclusive psalmody that have been produced over the past four centuries.[9] Given Payne’s explanation and exposition of the Regulative Principle of Worship (22-25), the fact that when he moves on to his explanation of hymnody (55-58) he offers no biblical basis for singing non-inspired songs is a glaring omission. Surely if uninspired hymns are a part of Christian worship, which is to be regulated by the Word of God, there must be some biblical evidence that we are to do so!

Yet even with these defects, Payne’s little book on Christian worship is an excellent resource, and one that I can gladly recommend with very little hesitation.

[1] I’m entirely opposed to calling Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll and others “neo-Calvinists,” since neo-Calvinism was a movement within the Dutch churches of the nineteenth century led by theologians such as Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. Referring to Driscoll, et. al. as “neo-Calvinists” is historically confusing at best; at worst, it is wildly misleading and historically irresponsible.

[2] See, for example Terry Johnson, ed., Leading in Worship: A Sourcebook for Presbyterian Students and Ministers Drawing upon the Biblical and Historic Forms of the Reformed Tradition, 1st ed. (Oak Ridge, Tenn: Covenant Foundation, 1996); Joe Morecraft, III., How God Wants Us to Worship Him: An Exposition and Defense of the Regulative Principle of Worship (San Antonio, Tex.: Vision Forum, 2001); The Worship of God: Reformed Concepts of Biblical Worship (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2005); G. Vandooren, The Beauty of Reformed Liturgy (Winnipeg, Man: Premier Pub., 1980).

[3] John Calvin, “The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” in Calvin’s Selected Works, vol. 1 (1844; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1983), 128.

[4] It is worth noting that this is equally true of creeds and confessions. For more on this, see Carl R. Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012).

[5] This is to say nothing more than that the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura applies to the sphere of worship. See Brian M. Schwertly, Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principle of Worship (Southfield, Mich.: Reformed Witness, n.d.), 2, 38–39.

[6] A helpful resource on this lost practice of Christian piety is Joel R Beeke, Family Worship, Family Guidance Series, no. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002); Also helpful is Joel R Beeke, The Family at Church: Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer Meetings, Family Guidance Series, no. 4 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004).

[7] For more on the place of the votum, see Vandooren, Reformed Liturgy, 24–25.

[8] Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (1935-    ), eds., The ARP Psalter: With Bible Songs (Pittsburgh, Penn: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2011), viii–ix.

[9] The strongest modern work on the subject is Michael E. Bushell, The Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody, 2nd ed. (Pittsburgh, Pa.: Crown and Covenant Publications, 1993) and in my opinion, it has yet to be answered.


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