October 26, 2008 Q & A

OPC and the Revised Common Lectionary


I am currently having a discussion with a Methodist friend of mine and I would like to give him a good solid answer as to why the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is not bound to the Revised Common Lectionary. Would you please help me?


Thank you for your question. The Revised Common Liturgy (RCL), specifically, as I am sure that you are aware, is an ecumenical product emerging only in recent decades, in the aftermath of liturgical revision at Vatican II and is used widely by a plethora of (generally liberal) Protestant churches (as well as a version that is used by the Roman Catholic Church).

Historically, a wide swath of Reformed and Presbyterian churches have had no commitment to the observance, at least in the stricter sense of that word, of a liturgical year. To be sure, more and more have begun in recent decades to observe such. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) has no such commitment as a denomination and its Directory for Public Worship (DPW) is not set up with such specifically in view. The DPW does require painstaking preaching of God's Word and much preaching is done as some form of lectio continua.

What is lectio continua? Hughes Oliphant Old, scholar on Reformed worship, defines it in an article entitled "Preaching by the Book: Using the Lectio Continua Approach in Sermon Planning" in Issue #8 (June 1988) of the periodical Reformed Worship:

You may recall that lect comes from the Latin word that means "to read" and that it refers to the Scripture lessons (or lections) that are read on a given Sunday [by those churches which follow a lectionary].... Lectio continua refers to another scheduling structure—that of preaching through a book, verse by verse or section by section.

Here's the Reformation background (quoting again the article by Hughes Oliphant Old):

Almost five hundred years ago in the city of Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli, inspired by the preaching of early church fathers Augustine and John Chrysostom, preached through the gospel of Matthew. Reformer John Calvin enthusiastically adopted Zwingli's lectio continua approach to preaching. In fact, during his long ministry in Geneva, Calvin followed this ancient liturgical practice, preaching through most of the Bible.

So, in answer to the question "Why is the OPC not bound to the RCL?" — I would turn it back and ask, "Why would anyone think that they are bound to the RCL?" Orthodox Presbyterian churches, generally, would want the freedom to select texts with a view to what the Session thinks is most edifying and to addressing needs in the congregation. Our Scottish forbears, especially, resisting the imposition of forms for worship, insisted on simplicity and the freedom of the local session to follow the DPW and not to have human authority unduly imposed on the people to the detriment of Christian liberty (the liberty to be free from the commandments of men in worship, particularly).

I trust that this is useful and that the Lord will richly bless you.



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