When I began Worshiping with the Reformers by Karin Maag, I expected a history lesson and perhaps a further introduction into more of the details of the Anglican tradition. What I did not expect was the book captivating me in such a way that I found myself sitting in worship with my eyes watching the liturgy playing out before and around me in a brand-new way. Even from the book’s introduction, Maag lays out that “one of the aims of this book is to help current-day clergy and laypeople think more deeply about various aspects of worship practice,” and this was absolutely true for me.
As someone quite new to the Anglican tradition, this book was a wonderful introduction into not only how Anglican beliefs and liturgical practices developed over the centuries, but also how they intersected and complemented other Reformed and Catholic traditions. I appreciated Maag’s use of primary sources and vignettes spanning the main traditions (she focused on Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, and Anabaptist) to weave together a beautiful picture of how worship actually played out during the early-modern Reformation period.
Instead of dry facts and academic descriptions, Maag invited the reader into the real-life experiences of our forefathers in the faith, and it was as though she was introducing strangers to one another only to realize they were actually family. It is so easy, especially in the current culture, to associate “the church” with merely the evangelical church in America, but Worshiping with the Reformers was a timely reminder that our faith traditions are far more rooted and grounded than merely in one country or denomination. While the differences between the various traditions were stark in a lot of ways, it was also interesting to see how so much of the underlying heart desires of each tradition were, in essence, the same.
For those who are curious about the Anglican faith tradition, this book is eye-opening. While not specifically written for Anglicans, it shows the core hopes and beliefs of the church and how those changed (or stayed the same) throughout the centuries since the Reformation. Seeing the church fathers pray over and continue to craft the Book of Common Prayer during this time period was fascinating, and Maag made what could have been a dull procession of dates into an example of how seriously the beliefs around all parts of the Anglican liturgy were held.
Additionally, viewing the current Anglican tradition through the lens of church history allows those curious about, or new to, Anglicanism to see its place within a more global church, both historically and geographically. Rather than walking into a place of worship without knowledge of how it became what it is today, Maag’s book allows the Angli-curious to pull back the veil, so to speak, and witness why we do what we do both in our worship services, as well as throughout our lives of faith.
For those in leadership within the Anglican tradition, Worshiping with the Reformers is a critical reminder that the church must look to her deep history first and foremost rather than to what current fad is surfacing both in and out of the church. Anglican leaders should take a step back and remember what each element of the tradition is about—whether that be in the design of church buildings, songs chosen for the parish to sing during services, or how to encourage believers to grow in their faith throughout the week.
Maag shows how deeply the Reformers cared about how their sheep interpreted the weekly services, and how much thought and prayer went into discussions surrounding church and faith in general. There were indeed points that they stood their ground on, and it is important to take a humble look at whether or not we (both leaders and parishioners) have ever stopped to think about why we believe what we believe. Do we take the foundational beliefs regarding each element of our tradition as seriously as those in our history did, or has our view become commonplace?
Overall, I believe that Worshiping with the Reformers is a solid introduction to church history that is easily accessible to both the Angli-curious and Anglican leaders today. Maag’s writing is conversational and yet detailed, allowing a tapestry of history to be woven in the reader’s mind while still being deeply substantive and thought-provoking. If nothing else, the reader will find much to ponder within its pages and likely will never view their church services the same way again.
Ashley Titus is a wife and homeschooling mom to her two young boys. Her family attends Emmanuel Anglican Church in Seattle, WA where they live. If she’s not reading or prepping for school, you will likely find her drinking Earl Grey tea and watching birds. She journals about the intersection of faith, homeschooling, and living with chronic illness on Instagram at @_home_sweet_homeschool_.