A Brief History of U.S. Presbyterian Worship to 1905   10 comments

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Above:  First Presbyterian Church, Detroit, Michigan, Between 1889 and 1901

Image Published by the Detroit Publishing Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994003327/PP/)

Reproduction Number = LC-D4-3750

Currently the home of Ecumenical Theological Seminary (http://www.etseminary.edu/)

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INTRODUCTION

As early as 1560 the Church of Scotland recognized in The First Book of Discipline that Word (the Bible) and Sacrament were essential elements of worship.  Yet much of the history of U.S. Presbyterian worship has been a tale of the missing Holy Communion.  John Knox, the Presbyterian founder in Scotland, insisted on the frequent celebration of the Holy Communion and provided a liturgy for the service (http://archive.org/details/liturgyofchurcho00cumm).  John Calvin favored weekly celebration of that sacrament.  Yet much of the history of U.S. Presbyterian worship is a story of hostility to written forms of worship.

The purpose of this post is, without pretending to be a comprehensive explanation of the topic, to provide historical background on U.S. Presbyterian worship, with an emphasis on liturgy, through 1905.  Why 1905?  I plan to research and write a series of reviews of now-superceded editions of The Book of Common Worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/book-of-common-worship-1993/), starting with 1906.  So this post can stand alone quite well or function as a prelude to that series.

Before I proceed I need to define a term.  A liturgy is an agreed-upon, predictable pattern of worship.  It means literally “the work of the people.”  As Father Peter Ingeman, the now-retired Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia, said years ago, any church with an agreed-upon, predictable pattern of worship is liturgical.  There are degrees of being liturgical, for some liturgies are more elaborate than others.

One more matter requires attention now.  The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1869-1958) (PCUSA) was the alleged “Northern” church, just as the Presbyterian Church in the United States  (1861-1983) (PCUS) was the “Southern” Church.  The PCUS was mostly Southern, with congregations in the former Confederacy, border states, Oklahoma, and some New Mexico counties.  (It did organize in 1861 as the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America.)  The PCUSA, in contrast, was national–Northern, Western, Midwestern, Eastern, and Southern.

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BODY

Back in Great Britain, Puritanism influenced Presbyterianism.  During the English Civil Wars the Westminster Assembly of Divines outlawed the allegedly idolatrous Book of Common Prayer and introduced the Directory for the Worship of God in the 1640s.  The English Parliament imposed the Directory on England, Ireland, and Scotland in 1645.  The document established the Bible and a sermon as the center of worship.

I, as an Episcopalian in 2013, find certain religious opinions (especially some from the past) puzzling.  For example, why be hostile to the frequent celebration of the Holy Communion when the founder of one’s own tradition (John Knox, in this case) insisted upon the the practice one opposes?  And whey oppose instruments in church?  (The Church of Scotland lifted its ban on organs in the late 1800s.)  The sole use of psalms or paraphrases thereof for singing was long a Reformed characteristic.  In fact, some very conservative Reformed denominations retain that practice.  These days many Presbyterian congregations left, right, and center use psalms, psalm paraphrases, and hymns for singing.  In the 1750s the Presbyterian congregation in the City of New York replaced its psalter with an Isaac Watts hymnal.  Were human-composed hymns suitable for public worship?  This was a controversial topic.  The Synod of New York and Philadelphia ruled that the hymns of Isaac Watts, being theologically orthodox, were suitable for use in public worship.  The fact that this was even a controversy mystifies me.  I understand it academically, but not otherwise.

The mindset which opposed singing even theologically orthodox hymns because people wrote them was Jure Divino.  This point of view argued that one needed biblical permission to do anything in church.  There were–and remain–competing interpretations of Jure Divino.  The strictest one forbid even the celebration of Christmas and Easter.  One can find such arguments on the Internet today.  And one can find examples of it by examining Minutes of Presbyterian General Assemblies.  In 1899, for example, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the former “Southern Presbyterian Church,” passed the following resolution, found on page 430 of the official record:

There is no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv. 9-11; Colossians ii. 16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

Such simplicity manifested itself traditionally in plain church buildings, sermon-focused worship services, and quarterly Holy Communion.  The spoken word occupied the center of worship.

Yet there were Presbyterians who favored formality in worship.  Some ministers, influenced by Anglicanism, came to admire The Book of Common Prayer (1789).  And, in the 1850s and 1860s, support for formality grew among lay members.  Beginning in the 1840s congregations built Romanesque and Neo-Gothic structures.  Compatible with those new old-style buildings was an interest in Reformation-era Reformed liturgies.  One Charles W. Baird published Eutaxia:  or the Presbyterian Liturgies:  Historical Sketches, in 1855.  He made a case that written forms of worship were consistent with Reformed Christianity.  That same year St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York, opened in a new Romanesque building.  In the pews were copies of a manual of worship for the purpose for increasing congregation participation, restricted traditionally to singing (http://archive.org/details/musicws00stpe, http://archive.org/details/churchbookofstpe00roch, and http://archive.org/details/bookofworshipinu00stpe).  Ironically, the Presbyterian traditionalists who objected to all this formalism opposed a pattern of worship more traditional than the one they favored.  So were not the formalists really the traditionalists recovering a lost heritage?

The 1882 PCUSA General Assembly declined to prepare and publish an official book of worship yet authorized ministers to use any Reformed book of worship they desired.  Such books existed.  There was an anonymous Presbyterian Church Union Service, or Union Book of Worship, from the Liturgies of the Reformers (1868) (http://archive.org/details/presbyterianchur00newy).  In 1877 Alexander Archibald Hodge published the first edition of Manual of Forms (http://archive.org/details/manualofforms00hodg), used widely in upstate New York.  A second edition followed five years later.  The granddaddy of these books was The Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines, A.D. 1661 (1864) (http://archive.org/details/bookofcommonpray00shie), by the Reverend Charles W. Shields, a Princeton College professor.  He had added Roman Catholic elements to worship at his congregation, Second Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and written rituals for weddings, baptisms, and Holy Communion.  In this volume Shields argued that the Presbyterians had as much a historical claim to The Book of Common Prayer as did the Episcopalians, for there was an attempt at an Anglican-Presbyterian union in England in 1661. His argument won few followers, his book did not become a bestseller, and he became an Episcopal priest in time. But Shields had laid the foundations for successor volumes.

Other unofficial volumes followed in the 1880s and 1890s.  Samuel M. Hopkins, a Professor at Auburn Theological Seminary, New York City, published A General Liturgy and Book of Common Prayer (http://archive.org/details/generalliturgybo00hopk) in 1883.  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, bank President Benjamin Comegys published three such books:

And Herrick Johnson, the 1882-1883 Moderator the the General Assembly, published Forms for Special Occasions (1889 and 1900).  (http://archive.org/details/formsforspecialo00john).

The 1778 U.S. Directory of Worship remained in effect in the PCUS into the 1890s and in the PCUSA into the twentieth century.  The 1788 Directory of Worship provided mostly general advice on worship and a few forms, which most Presbyterian ministers ignored for a long time.  The 1894 PCUS Directory for Worship contained forms for a wedding, a child’s funeral, and a general funeral as well as prayers adapted from John Knox and unofficial PCUSA worship manuals.  Nevertheless, there was less support for liturgical renewal in the PCUS than in the PCUSA.

This is a good time to add to support the previous statement while adding responsive readings to the list of formerly controversial topics.  PCUS traditionalists were reluctant to add responsive readings to worship services in the 1890s.  In the PCUSA, the 1874 General Assembly had declared responsive readings

without warrant in the New Testament

and

unwise and impolitic

in their

inevitable tendency to destroy uniformity in our mode of worship.

Furthermore, congregations were to

preserve, in act and spirit, the simplicity of service indicated in the [1788] Directory for Worship.

Yet the 1888 General Assembly affirmed the decisions of the Presbytery of Washington City and the Synod of Baltimore not to hear an official complaint against two ministers for introducing responsive readings at their churches.

Then there was the matter of the Apostles’ Creed.  The 1892 PCUSA General Assembly ruled that using the Creed was consistent with the 1788 Directory of Worship and useful for educating children in the Christian faith.  If a minister did not want say that Christ descended into hell or to the dead, he could substitute the following:

He continued in the state of the dead, and under the power of death, until the third day.

I wonder why serious students of the Scriptures would have difficulty with the original statement, for 1 Peter 3:19, 1 Peter 4:6, and Ephesians 4:9-10 point to it.  If one stands on Scriptural ground on the basis of Sola Scriptura, one ought to have no difficulty affirming the descent of Christ into Hell.  But, if one is perhaps especially opposed to Roman Catholicism, one might make room for theological hypocrisy in the name of defending one’s own Protestant identity.  I, as an Episcopalian, stand on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, not Sola Scriptura, and I affirm our Lord and Savior’s descent into Hell.

The 1896 PCUSA General Assembly noted

the present freedom under the limits of our Directory for Worship,

calling such freedom

more reliable and edifying

than uniform rituals.  Seven years later the General Assembly appointed a committee to prepare what became The Book of Common Worship (1906) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-book-of-common-worship-1906/), an authorized yet voluntary volume.  But, as we will see in the review of that book, even the existence of the volume proved offensive to many in the denomination.  As Harold M. Daniels wrote,

…in a church born in reactive Puritanism, fixed prayer was too easily dismissed as “canned prayer.”

To God Alone Be the Glory:  The Story and Sources of the Book of Common Worship (Louisville, KY:  Geneva Press, 2003, pages 31-32)

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CONCLUSION

Something which we today take for granted and find inoffensive probably offended someone greatly in a previous age.  In this post alone we have seen some examples of this generalization in public worship:  hymns, responsive readings, the Apostles’ Creed, and voluntary books of worship.  Some people needed to relax more.  Going through life that easily offended must have raised their stress levels.

Here ends this history lesson.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAULI MURRAY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE WINKWORTH, TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, ABOLITIONIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHANDLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, SCHOLAR, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

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Other Posts in This Series:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-book-of-common-worship-1906/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-revised-1932/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-1946/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-worshipbook-services-and-hymns-1972-services/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/an-incomplete-recovery-of-the-holy-eucharist/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/book-of-common-worship-1993/

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