Tradition

Cabbages and Kings

Sometimes I preach in Christian Reformed churches where nothing in the worship hour reminds me that I’m in a Christian Reformed church.

I can imagine that is no problem for some who think that if it is a problem for me, then I do, indeed, have a problem. Therefore, I’m reluctant to share my reservations on this whole matter, which could very easily be misunderstood. Nevertheless, here goes.

It used to be that all Christian Reformed congregations were addressed as “Beloved congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ” instead of “dear friends” or nothing at all. It was a tradition. But no more. And no big deal. But there’s more.

As a child I always heard the man in the pulpit say, “Let us now hear the will of God for our lives as found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.” There was something comforting in that. I might not have always listened. Still—weekly worship was not complete without that sentence and what followed.

The same was true in the evening service. It was unthinkable that the p.m. hour would proceed without a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, followed by the singing of the “Gloria Patri.” Again, my mind was not always on it, but I would have missed it had it not taken place.

I do not mean to say that our worship hour was superior to the Baptist service, which I sometimes attended with my boyhood buddy. Indeed, I considered our Christmas service inferior to that of St. Paul’s Lutheran, whose day school I attended. They had a Christmas tree. We didn’t. They sang carols, which were not included in our Psalter.

Still the Ten Commandments, creed, invocation, salutation, benediction, psalm singing, congregational prayer, catechism sermons, doxology, silent prayer upon entering God’s house—some of those items prescribed by synod and/or our Church Order—were part of the rhythm of the week. I didn’t have a word for it in those days. But it was my tradition.

My friend Gottlieb Wehrwein, a Lutheran, had his tradition. Joe Pastato, a Roman Catholic, had his, and I had mine. And it was mine that largely gave my church and denomination its character.

I miss those rituals in some of our churches today. When I watch the play Fiddler on the Roof I’m not only entertained but somewhat envious of Jewish ways. The Eastern Orthodox churches have liturgies establishing connections with their past. By contrast, we have largely jettisoned traditional ways, creating a great disconnect with our history.

I chose some appropriate numbers from our Psalter Hymnal for a Christian Reformed worship service sometime ago only to discover upon arrival that there were no Psalter Hymnals in the pews, let alone in the entire building.

I’m told that what we need today is seeker-friendly services. I’m in agreement if that means that we make our worship hour as attractive as possible for visitors. But it should never mean that others set the agenda for our gathering of the saints.

Our traditional services developed over the years according to Reformed principles, which we inherited from our forefathers. That does not mean we copy past ways of worship in every detail, but it also does not mean we discard our Reformed roots lightly. Is there a drift among us of which a discontinuity with past ways is a symptom? Some believe so.

Perhaps I have not stated my concerns very well. But I feel them and write out of love for my denomination. Copying some mega-churches and some fundamentalist ways has, among some of us, replaced all traces of our heritage.

And identity.

About the Author

Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga was pastor emeritus of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich. He went to be with his Lord March 1, 2008. This column concludes his popular “Cabbages and Kings” series, which he wrote for 40 consecutive years. Watch for It’s All Grace, a collection of his best and more recent columns to be published in book form this fall by Faith Alive Christian Resources.
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