The Recovery of Worship -- By: R. C. Sproul

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 02:1 (Winter 1993)
Article: The Recovery of Worship
Author: R. C. Sproul

The Recovery of Worship

R. C. Sproul

In the 1960s a book appeared on the continent of Europe written by the French Roman Catholic theologian Yves Congar titled Ecclesiam Ab Abel, i.e., The Church from Abel. Congar’s book traced the origins of the modern church, not just to the New Testament time, or to the Upper Room (which is the usual beginning point or watershed of Protestant thought regarding the historical origins of the church). Congar went back into the Old Testament, all the way to back Abel. You may wonder, “Why did he stop there? Why didn’t he go back one more generation and title his book, Ecclesiam Ab Adam?”

The reason he went to Abel is because he saw the essence of worship in the dynamic of sacrifice and in the critical disjunction between the offering of Cain and the offering of Abel. This, according to Congar, is what gives us the historic moment of true worship. This view is, and has been, controversial, and one largely rejected by historic Protestant theologians. In our tradition it must be understood that part of our protest has been against sacerdotalism. Sacerdotalism is a theology of salvation through the priestly ordinances of the church. This is why Roman Catholic dogma has taught ex opere operata, or salvation through the works of the various sacraments. Rome, for example, defines the instrumental cause of justification as being baptism. Protestant evangelicals believe the Scriptures reveal that the instrumental cause of salvation is faith. That was, and is, the first great issue. Rome says that baptism is the instrument by which the saving grace of justification is conveyed to the human soul. That grace can, of course, be lost through the commission of mortal sin. If a person destroys that salvific grace he must be restored to saving grace through the second plank of justification, which is the sacrament of penance. Again, what is being said is this: you must enter into salvation, first through baptism, and then when there is any lapse you are restored to salvation through penance.

The other five sacraments of the church augment and increase the operations of grace. These are the sacraments of extreme unction, communion, marriage, confirmation and holy orders. Sacerdotalism, in its essence, teaches that salvation is through these sacraments as administered through the priesthood.

The Protestant Reaction

It is against this concept of justification and salvation that Luther waged his protest and argued that justification was by faith in Christ and in Christ alone. He said it was not conveyed through the rites and ceremonies of the church. What happened in the midst of this great controversy was that in the development of t...

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