Monday, 3 July 2017

“The Worship of the Presbyterian Church”

“The Worship of the Presbyterian Church”

This short work by David Douglas Bannerman, published in 1884 is based on lectures that he gave in Perth and Glasgow.  Bannerman, the Free Church minister of St Leonards in Perth for most of his ministerial career, produced this succinct biblical and historical defence of the use of an optional liturgy, showing that this was the historical position of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland from the Reformation until the watering down of her practice with the adoption of the Westminster Directory for Public Worship.  The guidance of the Directory was only adopted to try and facilitated a closer union with the Reformed church in England, but that hoped for unity of practice in worship never truly emerged.

Bannerman shows that Knox’s Book of Common Order was the standard guide in the Scottish Church, outlining a rich but not prescribed and binding liturgy.  The prayers of the Book of Common Order were both models and guides to enrich Presbyterian worship.  They were the framework used by Rutherford, Dickson and Henderson and beloved by the Scottish Covenanters who resisted the imposition of Laud’s liturgy not because they were opposed to a liturgy per se, but because they were opposed to a liturgy that was inflexible and Popish in character and had no consent from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Bannerman is not blind to the dangers that even a non-prescriptive liturgy could cause, but he gently balances this with a discussion of the advantages that such a liturgy could bring, not least a historical continuity with the worship of the Scottish Reformers and the wider Reformed church in continental Europe.
“The historical position of the Scottish Church in this matter, deliberately taken up by her best representatives both of the first and second Reformation, was that of a discretionary liturgy, regarded and used as at once a basis, guide, and stimulus for the exercise of free prayer on the part of her ministers, elders and people.”

There is a growing sense within Presbyterianism that our worship needs to return to our Reformed roots, combining freedom and form, enriched by the liturgies of the Reformation and the ancient church.  There is equally a growing danger that Presbyterian worship becomes less Reformed, reflecting the vacuous style of much modern evangelical and charismatic confusion, rather than the traditional decency and order of our forefathers.  Bannerman is a voice from the past calling us to reconsider how we approach worship, and a voice that deserves to be heard.

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