Tim's Reviews > An Outline Of Christian Worship Its Development And Forms

An Outline Of Christian Worship Its Development And Forms by William D. Maxwell
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Apr 09, 2012

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bookshelves: history, worship-liturgy, theology
Read from April 09 to May 05, 2012

This review will be a little longer than others, for Maxwell's little book was like a bombshell for me. If nothing else, I learned that I know very, very little about historic Christian worship. I found, with some astonishment, that I knew virtually nothing of the liturgical nomenclature. I virtually had to have a dictionary open in one hand as I read this little volume. Maybe there is a liturgical dictionary out there (if so, please let me know, and I will buy it promptly, as I need it!), but I was swimming just trying to keep up with language of historic Christian worship. In a word, this book taught me that my ignorance is immense. That, itself, made this book worth reading. There are probably plenty of books that could have accomplished this, but, providentially, it was this book that came into my world and rocked the same. What's more (as if I needed any more cause for humility), this book is not some 800-page tome by Dom Dix. It is a small overview, a beginner's introduction to that *central* labor of the Christian life: public worship.

I joyfully hold to the regulative principle of worship (RPW). I think that divine worship is closely regulated by the revealed law of God. I am committed to the regulative principle, but I am currently not quite so sure I know what that means. In fact, I think that my commitment to the RPW (note: not the RPW itself, but my commitment to it) has actually pridefully blinded me to two millennia of Christian tradition, dismissing the great bulk of it as, at best, misguided. One reality that I found from page to page in Maxwell's book is that a great deal of Christian liturgy, which initially seems odd and non-Scriptural, is actually based upon Scripture itself. Now, I grant that what's based upon Scripture is not, itself, necessarily Scriptural. But, there are many aspects of Christian liturgy that I have dismissed out of hand, which I should rather have considered with much greater attention. My point, here, is that I have roundly dismissed too much of Christian liturgical history, merely assuming that these Christians were not in submission to Scripture. I want to stress that this is an issue of pride on my part. Essentially, I think that I've used the concept of the RPW as a rubber stamp for what I want divine worship to be. What's more, I do not suppose that I'm the only one who has done this.

I want quickly to add this note of restraint. I own that I am a schoolboy when it comes to Christian liturgy. I have been a schoolboy before, and I'm aware of the foolish errors which schoolboys are want to make. Briefly stated, knowing that I know very little, and therefore would do well to keep my trap shut. I need to read and pray extensively; I need to study the Scripture. In a word, I need to be humble. Humility naturally gives rise to conservatism. Conservatism is, by definition, slow to move.

As to criticism, there are two reasons that this book gets only three stars. First, the book could have been organized in a more useful way. Maxwell includes liturgies in the text proper. He would have done better to add an appendix with the liturgies. This would have done two things. First, it would have made the text less choppy, and second, it would have made comparison of the various liturgies far easier, as they would have been consolidated in one place. The second criticism is that Maxwell's guiding principle for worship is too subjective and is not based upon God's Word. Every liturgy is weighed in the balance of what Maxwell thinks is capable to shoulder the weight of divine worship. This is a useful concept, but is not where one should start. One should start with the Bible. What is scriptural? The Bible tells us what God wants in worship. Maxwell does not seem to have this most fundamental standard in view, and that is a glaring weakness.
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