Liturgical Change in the Christian Reformed Church (1964-1985) — Part 5

27 October 2011 by Wes Bredenhof

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Synod 1973 — Pushing the Boundaries

In some ways the report of the Liturgical Committee to Synod 1973 was business as usual.  For instance, it contained a revision of the Form for the Baptism of Children.  However, the remainder of the report attempted to take some steps “forward.”  Within the report was a sub-report on the second service.  The Committee felt obliged to produce such a report because of continued pressure from churches which “keep on asking questions about the place and possibilities of this service in the whole of the Christian life.”  The Committee went on to state that much of what the 1968 report concluded is as applicable to the second service as to the morning service.

The report contained theological, historical, and pastoral reasons for maintaining a second service.  The theological and historical sections were unremarkable.  It was in the pastoral section that some new elements appeared.  First, the report emphasized that the second service must “meet the needs of believers living in today’s world.”  This led to a consideration of the “need for diversity amidst a diversity of needs.”  In this framework, the instructional character of the second service was reaffirmed, but the Heidelberg Catechism was seen as inadequate for the task.  It was alleged that, by itself, the Catechism could not meet the needs of contemporary church-goers.  Said the report, “…the Heidelberg Catechism can still serve as a starting point and an outline, but churches should have the courage to go beyond it and speak with a contemporary voice.”  Thus the Catechism sermons should occasionally be shelved in favour of a sermon on something more immediately relevant.

However, the report went on to note, the pulpit does not lend itself very well to instruction on relevant issues.  Thus we come to this statement:  “We therefore propose that instruction from the pulpit be focused on fundamentals and that this instruction be augmented with panels, interviews, audio-visuals, and group discussion possibly held in another part of the building after the service.”  It is evident, also from the Synod’s reaction to this proposal (which we will see momentarily), that the last clause about meeting in another part of the building only applies to the group discussion.  Here the Liturgical Committee was pushing the outer boundaries with their notion of what a teaching service can entail.

The report went further.  The second service, they said, can be more than a teaching service.  Ecumenical services can also be slotted in here:  “A real blessing could be obtained in an occasional coming together of various congregations in and around a worship service.”  Furthermore, they also proposed a diaconal service in which, for instance, “an occasional CRWRC [Christian Reformed World Relief Committee] film could be shown.”  There could be also be special category services directed towards the youth or the aged.  Finally, there could also be an evangelistic service, for drawing in outsiders, but also because “we cannot blithely assume that all of our members on the records are converted people, true, practicing children of God.”

Through this report, one can detect a development.  There is a difference from 1968.  The earlier report spoke emphatically about the dialogical character of worship.  The 1973 report mentions nothing about that.  It seems that the door was open and the time was right for introducing some innovations.  They did this wishing to meet human “needs.”  There was no concern for what God would have us do in worship and certainly no consideration given to the principles of worship found in the Three Forms of Unity.  Indeed, the Heidelberg Catechism itself came under attack for being out of date.  Catechism preaching lost its preeminent place not only in favour of different, more “modern” forms of teaching, but also in exchange for ecumenical, diaconal, special category, and evangelistic services.  All this because human “needs” were regarded as chief above all.

The Liturgical Committee recommended that its report on the second service be commended to the churches for their “consideration, reflection, and guidance.”  Synod 1973 decided to “refer this report to the churches for their consideration and reflection.”  However, they were quite hesitant, for they stated in the observations that “we believe there are parts of this report that allow for types of services which may be in violation of the Church Order.”  On the basis of the CRC church order, the Synod warned against ecumenical services.  They also saw the pressure this report was placing on the preaching of the Word.  This observation led to the second recommendation:

That Synod remind the churches that whatever practices are followed with respect to the second service, the consistories exercise care to observe Articles 51-55 of the Church Order, particularly Article 54a which states, “In the worship services the Minister of the Word shall officially explain and apply Holy Scripture.”

Thus we can see that Synod 1973 was not prepared to go as far as the Liturgical Committee would have liked.  There was still a conservative element in the CRC which held back a wholesale recommendation or adoption of the liturgical innovations found in this report.  Yet the report was still sent out to the churches…

Next time Part 6, Synods 1977-1979 — A Lull in the Action