Monday, July 27, 2009

Wayland on Baptist "Sabbath Services" c. mid 19th century

Wayland offered these observations on "Sabbath services" in Baptist churches in mid-19th century New England:

Our services in the house of God have suffered no change. They consist of (generally) a prayer of invocation, singing, reading the Scriptures, prayer, singing, sermon, prayer, benediction. In some of our churches we sing twice, in others three times, and in others, the prayer at the opening of the service is omitted.

According to our former custom, we stood in prayer, and sat in singing. Of late, we have adopted, in part, the practice of the Episcopalian brethren, by standing in singing, and sitting in prayer…. To kneel in prayer is exceedingly appropriate, and I wish it could be universally adopted. To stand is expressive of reverence, when we approach into the presence of God. To sit listlessly gazing around, when we profess to be offering up our supplications to God, can surely be justified neither by religion or good taste. I must, therefore, consider our change in this respect to be a failure. It would have been better had we remained as we were. Our love for imitation has overstepped itself, and excluded what was good, both in our own usage and that of others.

Again our notion of worship is simply this. We meet together on the Sabbath to offer up to God, each one for himself, the sacrifice of prayer and praise, and to cultivate holy affections by the reading and explanation of the word of God, and by applying its truth to our own souls. The preacher has a particular portion of Scripture to which he directs our attention. It is his design to unfold the mind of the Spirit, as it is made known in this part of revelation. To this end he selects his hymns, and the portion of Scripture which he reads, desiring, so far as possible, to have every part of the service aid in producing a definite moral effect. From beginning to end it is one act of worship, from which every thing irreverent, is to be from the nature of the case, excluded. Nothing should divert the mind from the great moral object for which the assembly has convened. This idea was formerly carried out among us. No notices were read, or announcements made, except they pertained to the religious meetings of the church, and lest they should distract the attention of the audience, they were given at the close of the last singing, just before the congregation was dismissed.
Source: Notes, pp. 159-60.

Note the simplicity of the service and the scripturally regulated elements. Baptists at this point were still influenced by the Regulative Principle. The order:

Prayer of invocation
Scripture reading

Notice that there is no "hymns of invitation" or "altar call." There is also no offering collection. He also expresses little approval of "announcements."

On posture, Wayland expresses his preference for standing for prayer and sitting for singing.


Joseph said...

There is much here to be admired. Often contemporary "worship" services lack the reverence that is befitting our approach to God in worship. On the other hand, I question where the scriptural basis for "regulated" worship comes from. What about the scripture that says "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying." ?

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


One of the scriptural bases for the RP would be Deuteronomy 4:2: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” This was a lesson that Nadab and Abihu learned the hard way when they offered up “strange fire” before the Lord (Numbers 10:1).

The passage you cite from 1 Corinthians 14 should, of course, be read in context, as should all of Scripture. In context, Paul is not at all approving of Corinthian worship, so it is not at all sure that he is approving of the practice described in 1 Cor 14:26. In fact, in v. 29 his instruction is that only office bearers (prophets) speak: “Let the prophets speak two of three, and let the other judge.” He specifically forbids women from speaking (vv. 34-35). The problem at Corinth seems to be that there was so much freedom in worship that it had led to chaos! The consistent emphasis is order (regulation!): “Let all things be done decently and in order” (v. 40).

We clearly see how the “Corinthian spirit” is alive and well today not only in charismatic circles but in most evangelical churches. It is also keenly evident in many of the baby boomer generation who grew up with the “question authority” mantra and who don’t want anyone telling them there is something they cannot do (e.g., They often chafe at the notion that worship leadership is restricted to officer bearers to insure doctrinal and practical orderliness in the church’s worship.).

Of course, this also is a description of apostolic era worship. There were Christian prophets in the church. The offices of apostle and prophet have now ceased, having fulfilled their role of laying the foundation for the Christian movement, most particularly in the writing of the NT (cf. Eph 2:20). The offices that remain are those of preaching ministers, elders, and teachers.