The liturgical movement has been hailed as having great promise. Some theologians have said it contains the key to Christian renewal in our time. If worship is the heart of the Christian faith, then any movement that seeks to make worship central in the life of the Church should certainly be encouraged.

Much in the liturgical movement commends itself to those who seek a revitalized biblical faith. Greater lay participation in worship services is very much in accord with the New Testament doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. The attempt to give equal emphasis to Word and sacrament has a biblical foundation. Moving the altar out from the wall to enable the minister to face the people during Holy Communion gives substance to the biblical image of the Church as a family. The attempt to make prayer central is commendable also; it is well to remember that Calvin regarded prayer and not the sermon as the culmination of the service of worship.

Yet there are reasons for misgivings.

First, churches that have incorporated liturgical reforms seem oriented too much toward the past. It is well to learn from the past, but to revive older forms of worship (e.g., kneeling before the altar) simply because of their antiquity smacks of archaism. What is needed is not a restoration of past forms of devotion but a breakthrough into something new. Can new wine be contained in old wineskins?

Again, changes in worship often seem motivated by aesthetic rather than theological concerns. The emphasis on vestments, candles, and incense betrays an inconsistency between the practices of this movement and its professed aim—that is, to make the Word and the sacrament central. Liturgical scholars seek greater simplicity in worship, but the practical ...

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