Charles W. Baird’s book, The Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches (Eugene: Wipf & Stock,reprinted 2006), is one of the classics of Reformed liturgical literature from the 19th century. Although surpassed by more recent works (e.g., Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church; Old, The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship), it remains a valuable introductory survey for those interested in our liturgical heritage and practice. In this work, Baird surveys the liturgies of Geneva (following the now-defunct idea that Calvin was the source of all Reformed liturgy, when, in fact, Strasbourg is the fount of Reformed liturgical thought), France, Scotland, the English Puritans, the Netherlands, and Heidelberg.
The only weakness of the book, in my opinion, is that Baird did not give the entire liturgy of the churches he was surveying. Instead, he gave only select prayers that he thought were exemplars of our heritage.
One of the benefits of this volume, though, besides its narrative style of writing, is that it helps to cure the main problem of liturgy in Reformed churches—we have been led to think we are anti-liturgical, and that only Rome, Constantinople, Canterbury, and Wittenburg are liturgical. Baird travels back ad fontes and shows that we have always been a liturgical people, and that high Calvinist liturgy is not an oxymoron. It is only under the influence of Pietism, Puritanism, and Revivalism, that we have left our roots and become Baptist in our liturgics.
Of special note to those in the Dutch Reformed tradition (e.g., Reformed Church in America, Christian Reformed Church, United Reformed Churches, Canadian Reformed Churches, Free Reformed Churches, Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations), is how Baird traces the daily “Morning and Evening Prayers” to be used in family worship from Geneva, through the Netherlands, into Scotland, and into America. These treasures need to be recovered in our personal and family piety. They can be found, for example, in the Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church, 1959), 188–89.
Baird also reflects upon the Dutch Reformed in his day (mid-19th century) and says, “…of all the Calvinistic Churches represented in these United States, the Dutch Reformed denomination [RCA] alone has faithfully retained her ancient forms of worship” (207). One wonders if he would say the same today.
All seminarians, pastors, and laypeople in our churches ought to read Baird. For in so doing, our worship will be strengthened and our witness emboldened.