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Richard Baxter’s Reformed Liturgy: A Puritan alternative to the Book of Common Prayer

Author: Glen J Segger
Published By: Ashgate Publishing Ltd
Pages: 292
Price: £65.00
ISBN: 978 1 84952 301 1

Reviewed by Terry Hinks.

How seriously do we take the worship offered Sunday by Sunday ‘to the glory of God’? How much does the language, imagery and theology of the Bible influence the prayers we lead in public worship? Do our liturgies properly reflect the Trinitarian nature of God or are they skewed towards one member of the Trinity? When is it good to use liturgical forms of prayer and when more extempore forms? What do we believe is happening when we share in the Lord’s Supper? What does the theology of covenant bring to our understanding of baptism? And to the baptism of children? How do we help people walk the Christian way and grow in faith? What place does discipline have within church life today? And what is the role of ministers in this? How are Christians of widely different theological and cultural backgrounds brought together as the body of Christ?

Glen Segger’s study of Richard Baxter’s Reformed Liturgy raises these kind of questions, within the context of 17th century ecclesiastical struggles. Entering that very different world takes some effort. Segger’s historical introduction provides an excellent entry into the world of Richard Baxter and the particular situation in which he wrote Reformed Liturgy.  Following the restoration of the monarchy, the Savoy conference in 1661 brought together two fiercely opposed groups to reform the liturgy of the Church of England: the bishops who favoured the Book of Common Prayer as it stood and the Puritan ministers who wanted much greater liturgical revision.  Baxter submitted Reformed Liturgy to the conference but it was rejected without discussion. It was the end of the road in terms of the Puritan party within the Church of England. Many like Baxter would be ejected the following year. 

Reformed Liturgy never took on any official status, yet it is a fascinating document, influenced by the Book of Common Prayer, the Westminster Directory and Baxter’s own experience as a highly effective Church of England vicar in Kidderminster. Segger provides a detailed analysis of its historical origins and theological emphases, section by section, with the liturgy itself included as an appendix. He recognises Baxter’s ‘Puritan verbosity’ and the hugely different historical context, but draws out interesting and distinctive elements of Baxter’s work. Much of this detailed work will only be only of interest to historians and liturgists, but those key questions to ministers and worship leaders remain. Baxter’s seriousness about the liturgy, the centrality of genuine conversion and the need for the church to unite around Trinitarian and biblical essentials is a challenge to us all.

Terry Hinks

United Reformed Church Minister and Ministry Today Board Member

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You are reading Issue 63 of Ministry Today, published in April 2015.

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