Reforming worship according to the Reformers; body posture, the holy kiss, paedocommunion...

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Asst. Prof. Hutchinson at Hillsdale just did a post listing and interacting with some of John Calvin's comments on body posture in worship. Dr. Hutchinson has done us a service and others should add to the collection—both from Calvin and other Reformed fathers as well as Early Church and Apostolic fathers. Here's an excerpt:

Worship of God without the heart is useless; but, at the same time, what we do with our bodies is closely bound up with what we do with our hearts, and not in a symbolic way merely. The posture of the body ought to be emblematic of the posture of the heart, yes. But, ideally, the posture of the body serves to form the posture of the heart as well... Kneeling is not just a sign of submission; kneeling aids in producing submission.

Dr. Hutchinson has nothing about greeting one another with a holy kiss. There's little doubt this was part of the Early Church's corporate worship since it's commanded by both the Apostles Paul and Peter, and Jesus rebuked Simon for not kissing Him when He came for a meal at Simon's house.

So kisses are absent. And although he includes quotes from Calvin which touch on them, Dr. Hutchinson himself avoids any mention of headcoverings. The holy kiss and headcoverings are not heart, but body postures. Who can ever forget that beautiful scene of Rebekah dismounting her camel and covering her head when for the first time she enters the presence of Isaac, her betrothed (Genesis 24:64, 65)?

During worship at Christ the Word, Toledo and Clearnote Church, Bloomington, we lift holy hands...

in our prayers of adoration, kneel before God in prayer, and stand for all worship except the reading of Scripture and the preaching of God's Word. We also have a number of women who confess their sexuality before God and man through the traditional headcovering, and a number of men greet one another with the holy kiss. Both congregations would commend these practices to every Reformed, every Biblical church.

Speaking of John Calvin and our Reformed fathers, what it means to be Reformed is that we believe the Reformers got most things right, which is to say they were Biblical. Those who toss away their doctrine and practices lightly are foolish. On the other hand, think how many are so very grateful for the ways the Puritans and other Reformed fathers, since, have added to the work of the Reformers. May the day soon arrive when our generation, also, adds to their work. The Puritans' preaching and pastoral care are wonderful additions to the Reformed church's history and tradition. Maybe someday soon Reformed fathers of our time will begin to fight against the sexual anarchists and thereby add worthy contributions to the Reformed church's instruction in Christian doctrine. The present attack on God's creation order of sexuality is unprecedented across church history. Thus it stands to reason that, if we are faithful to stand in this gap and fight against Satan's hordes, our generation should discover Biblical truths none of our fathers in the faith saw or wrote.

Nowhere has the cavalier dismissal of the work of Biblical Reformed fathers of the church been so evident among so-called "Reformed" men today as in the doctrine of the sacraments and worship. It angers many of us that these men abuse John Calvin, the Westminster Divines, and others by claiming their return to Roman Catholic sacramentology—which is to say sacramentalism—is simply them leading the Reformed church to return to the sacramentology of John Calvin and the Westminster Divines.

This is a lie. Sadly, though, the only people who would know it, and therefore not be intimidated by these false claims, are those who have read and read and read John Calvin and are therefore impervious to dishonest secondary sources. Knowing the primary sources does keep one from being bamboozled by men who speak ex cathedra, from the seat of authority known as the terminal degree.

Maybe the best example of this departure from church tradition in sacramentology is those who argue for infant communion, although some are more honest than others in admitting that the Reformers would have been scandalized by this practice. Note I say infant communion—not paedocommunion or child communion. So called "paedocommunion" is an entirely unhelpful term. People assume since we call the baptism of newborn infants "paedobaptism," "paedocommunion" must be the welcoming of newborn infants to the Lord's Supper. Yet there are men who refer to their practice as paedocommunion and think their practice would be condemned by Calvin when in fact their practice is nearly the same as Calvin's concerning the age children begin to commune at the Lord's Table. In Geneva, eight-year-olds were welcomed,1 Again, child communion is a far cry from the innovation of infant communion some have recently embraced.

The key factor for determining whether or not the practice of child communion is in basic harmony with Reformed church fathers (Rome's Council of Trent anathematized the practice) is whether or not the child is of an age sufficient for professing his faith. There are likely any number of church officers in the PCA and CREC who think of themselves as paedocommunionists, yet do not believe in infant communion. Rather, they believe in child communion because, as you listen to them, they describe elementary confessions of faith by children as justifications for their practice. Many men who practice what they call "paedocommunion" think that Calvin would condemn their practice when in fact it is hardly different than the practice of Calvin's Geneva.

This post began with a link to Dr. Hutchinson's piece on Calvin's approach to body posture, the premise being that the worship of the church today ought to be reformed by the return of body posture practices taught and practiced by Calvin and the Reformers. Really, though, all our worship, including the nature and themes of our preaching, the structure or order of our worship, the elements of our worship, and what age we receive the sons and daughters of the church to the Lord's Table, ought to be reformed by the return of what was taught and practiced by Calvin and the Reformers.

This would not be called "High Liturgical Worship" or "Sacramentalist Worship" or "Roman Catholic Worship" or "Covenant Renewal Worship." Rather, it would simply be called "Reformed Worship."

  • 1. Describing Geneva's practice of the Lord's Supper, Cathelan writes "Throughout all this, somebody else reads from the pulpit in the vernacular, with head uncovered, the Gospel of Saint John, from the beginning of the thirteenth chapter, until everyone has taken their pieces, both men and women, each one at their different tables, along with the boys and girls of around eight to ten years of age."Antoince Cathelan, Passevent Parisien, p. 74; Scott Manetsch, Calvin's Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609; p. 275. as quoted in 
Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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