Martin Luther complained about the radicals of the Reformation who invoked the fullness of the Spirit that they had “swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all.” Justin Taylor’s recent quote from John Piper about worship makes me wonder if fire-eater would occur to Luther as the name to describe the oldest of the Young, Restless, and “Reformed.” Here’s the quote that lights Taylor’s fire:
The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God;
the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit;
the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit;
and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship, pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands, and obedient lives.
Fire metaphors aside, some of what Piper writes is sensible, such as the idea that God’s greatness undergirds worship, or that true worship depends on the work of the Holy Spirit. What is troubling is the criteria Piper uses to evaluate Spirit-filled worship. Do we really want to put shouts and tears and lifted hands on a par with confessions and songs? In my-all-about-me-church the only person raising his hands is the Reformed pastor at the beginning and end of the service.
To put Piper’s spiritual arsonry in perspective, confessionalists may need a little spiritual quenching from the teaching of Reformed churches:
Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (Confession 7.6)
This is a significant difference between confessionalism and pietism. Pietists believe that for worship to become white hot, the work of the Spirit must be visible, even tangible. Confessionalists, in contrast, actually believe that the more the Spirit is at work in worship, the simpler and more invisible the Spirits work will be.
But Piper’s version of “Reformed” worship is what happens when you redact the 16th through the 18th century. Cherry picking indeed.