Liturgical Change in the Christian Reformed Church (1964-1985) — Part 3

Synod 1964

Our survey begins in 1964 with the appointment of the Liturgical Committee.  How did this committee come into existence?  A committee was originally appointed in 1957 already to undertake a revision of the Form for the Lord’s Supper.  This committee presented its work to Synod 1964.  Accompanying the report on Liturgical Form Revision was a request from Classis Grand Rapids East (CGRE) to appoint a standing Liturgical Committee.  Is there any significance to the fact that the request came from the classis that presumably included Calvin College and Seminary?  I have not been able to determine the answer to that question.

The overture from CGRE was to appoint a committee whose task would be “to engage in a thorough and continuing study of the liturgy and worship of the church beginning with a study of the Scriptural principles of worship, the role of the sacraments…and the history of Reformed liturgy.”  The committee would then come with guidance.  It would provide direction with regard to both liturgical practice and the ongoing revision of liturgical forms.

The ad hoc committee for Liturgical Form Revision recognized the value of this overture.  They said, “There is in our time, in the church at large, an awakening interest in liturgical matters and a growing concern for liturgical reform.”  There were also liturgical concerns recognized in the CRC.  Among these was the fact that the use of choirs had become increasingly common, even though this was discouraged by CRC synods in the past.  There was also the matter of home mission and liturgy.  The committee asked, “…what flexibilit is allowable in the structuring of of worship in the newly emerging churches?”  Thus the committee recognized the concerns of the CGRE overture.  However, in the end, the ad hoc committee recommended that Synod 1964 not accede to the CGRE overture for a standing committee on liturgy, but instead just appoint another ad hoc committee.

For the most part, Synod 1964 seems to have agreed with CGRE.  They appointed a standing liturgical committee with the following mandate:

a. To review all our liturgical literature in the light of its history, its theological content, and the contemporary needs of the churches; and to recommend such revisions or substitutes as the results of this review might recommend.

b.  To study liturgical usages and practices in our churches in the light of Reformed liturgical principles and past synodical decisions, and to advise Synod as to the guidance and supervision it ought to provide local congregations in all liturgical matters.

This proposal was adopted and so a committee was spawned which endured for the length of the period we are investigating.   There are two aspects to this committee’s mandate:  work on the liturgical forms and undertake a study regarding the liturgy more broadly considered.  It is this latter aspect to which I want to devote special attention in what follows.

Thus far already we can see that the genesis of this committee is partly accounted for by discrepancy between local practice and synodical decisions or recommendations.  It is also partly accounted for by the growing emphasis in the CRC upon evangelism/home mission.  However, no less important was the increasing pressure for liturgical change in American Christianity in general.  Such pressure also filtered into the CRC in this tumultuous era.

Next time:  Synod 1968 — A Major Development

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

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