KB Categories Archives: Christian Formation

10 Tithings Around the Table: A Devotional Guide for the Journey

Connie Bull: One tenth of a year is about every 36 days.  Welcome to the journey of tithing our time!  If we are indeed to bring all the tithes into the storehouse (Mal. 3:10), then we need to include the tithe of our time, for each day is a day the Lord has made (Ps. 118:24).

In this devotional set, you will find scriptures and feet-to-the-faith activities and the liturgical color to guide you through each of the 10 tithe segments of the year.  How do you most need to be challenged personally and corporately, as an intentional member of Christ’s body?  A service of communion at the end of each 36 day segment will be your chance to stop and meditate on your progress toward the goal(s) you chose:  a personal spiritual formation trek, a family missional projects, or a church community outreach focus.  Make a visual reminder by using the liturgical color in a family table centerpiece or family altar. The cycle here begins 36 days from Christmas Eve, but you may choose any day closest to your current “today.”  Blessings to your journey!

Tithe 1

December 24, 2017 to January 31, 2018 [White]

When counting 36 days from Christmas Eve, we arrive at January 31st. Some families of faith celebrate Human Relations Sunday in January. Christ’s call is to go into all the world and look into people’s hearts, not at the color of their skin or the many ways in which you may differ. Reaching the world with grace is not about judgment first, but humility. The widow humbly gave her tithe even though she herself was in need. Not many Sunday School units are on tithing except for the lesson on the widow’s mite.  Take time now to read Luke 21:1-4.  Tithe is taken from the word tenth. Tithing is not only money. It also encompasses the act of becoming the body of Christ by doing His work— exemplifying leitourgia, or liturgy— a work of the people.

Create a special offering the children themselves could take up during the service—an offering of dimes, Dimes of Devotion.  The dime being a unit of 10 will help in communicating to give monies to God as well as giving to God the tenth of the year it represents.

Words to the worship leader: The children’s “dime time” does not have to take up an extra allowance of time in the service. It could be done after the Opening of the Word during the prelude, during the choral anthem, or as a response to the scripture.  The children’s Sunday School classes could rotate as ushers to take up these “Dimes of Devotion.” The children could then decide with their teachers how the collective money will be spent— ten different charities or one single one, etc., or in the case of older classes, meet to buy school supplies for needy children or toiletries, etc. with the monies closer to the last tithe, Christmas Eve.

Tithe 2

January 31, 2018 to March  8, 2018 [Purple]

The Season of Lent— “Lent” comes from the Old

English “lencten” or “lengthen” because the days would continually  get longer as spring approached.  The Early Church used this time as 40 days of devotion (not counting Sundays) before Easter.  Some people take something out of their diet or habit so that when you miss it, you are prompted to realize Christ’s sacrifice for you.  Others add something to their daily routine.  Since we are in the middle of that period of self-reflection, focus on tithing the days remaining days of Lent by 1] planting a seed and taking a picture of it every three days until Easter to show its slow growth. Print out the pictures and make a devotional display for your home or for display at church or 2] creating a poster with 40 “footprints” in a winding path.  On each footprint, write the name of someone whose example you are thankful for along your journey and with their name, write one of the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 that they possess and helped you to nurture in yourself. Sometimes the leitourgia, work of the people of God, is the walk of the people of God.

Tithe 3

March 8 to April 13, 2018 [White]

Season of Eastertide
In this season of celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances to his followers before his ascension, it is a good time to tithe our presence as Christ’s countenance in the lives of those who cannot come to church as often to experience the presence of Christ among the family of God.

In the next 36 days, select six people who are either in the hospital or a nursing home, or get on the volunteer list to serve food in a shelter in your area.  As you visit with someone, you communicate blessing and make them feel like they belong and are not alone.  One of the most often quoted verses and scripture songs sung is “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” from Numbers 6:26.  If we examine the text, though, there is a paradox that often goes unnoticed: the Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace.  If the Lord is to lift up his countenance, then his face could possibly be ….below.  If you begin thinking of how Jesus’ face would be looking upward to see yours, you realize it suggests servanthood and sacrifice….when he bent down to write in the sand before granting forgiveness to the accused woman, when he was washing the disciples’ feet, when he fell beneath the weight of the cross.  Find a way to be a blessing every six days and lift up your countenance from the position of servanthood in Christ’s name.

Tithe 4

April 13 to May 19, 2018 [Red]

Season of Pentecost

In this season of the Christian year, or the life of Christ throughout the calendar year, we celebrate the empowerment of Christ’s followers by the Holy Spirit, the pouring out of God’s power upon the Church.  Read again Acts 2:1-18.  God’s gift of empowerment was through languages to communicate his plan of salvation to the world. Pentecost was a celebration 50 days (pente = five) after Passover.  In Hebrew tradition, it was to commemorate God giving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus.  God in His wisdom knew that the time to empower believers was when they were already gathered and when the world’s peoples could hear their message. God’s gift of the Commandments was given that followers of God would have foundational ideas on how to please God and live honoring the gift of life in community.  Jesus became the living example and was sacrificed as the Lamb at Passover in order to save us from our reckless selfishness with our lives. God’s Holy Spirit was given 50 days after to help us communicate that God’s love is more than obeying the 10 commandments; the everlasting covenant fulfills the laws with love. Look up on Google translate the way to say “God bless you” or “God cares for you” in a number of languages from all the continents (BTW: The scientists in the research station in Antarctica speak Spanish!)  Take a screenshot or create a display with 3×5 cards at your church. Pray for the

Spirit’s guidance to speak love and life in word and deed. There is a version of the Lord’s Prayer with motions for each phrase.  If you can teach the motions to all present, everyone can pray in silence but in unison. Embodied Lord’s Prayer.

You might even ask your church leadership to partner with other bodies of believers in your area who worship in different languages and celebrate communion together or teach them the motions to the embodied Lord’s prayer and pray in silence together.

Tithe 5

May 19 to June 24, 2018 [Green]
In this next 36 days, make it a goal to memorize six verses, one every six days. Write them on your mirrors or on cards to place at often visited focal locations in your house.  Begin by studying the fruits of the Spirit Galatians 5:22-23 or The Beatitudes Matthew 5:3-12.  Identify three qualities that you struggle to exemplify.  Choose two verses that would help you in these three areas. You might even find a song that helps you remember the verses or look on hymnary.org or wordtoworship.com for songs that are based on your target verses.  Read II Timothy 2:15 and encourage one another.

Tithe 6

June 24 to July 30, 2018 [Green]
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—emphasize the “ten” Sundays after the celebration of the empowerment of the Church through the Holy Spirit and have a “testimony times and dimes” aspect of the worship service as to how their journey  has been impacted so far through viewing the days in the year as the tithing of time.  Read Psalm 66:16-20 and rejoice with one another.

Share your verses with one another from Tithe 5 to keep them fresh in your memory.

Tithe 7

July 30 to September 5, 2018 [Green]
16th Sunday after Pentecost–next day is Labor Day.  With intentionality, there is a way to highlight the importance of Christ’s life events as a focal sacred observance on an otherwise secular day, Labor Day, by giving the dimes of devotion to a cause working to eradicate child labor. God tells us children and adults alike will stand before Him on the merit of their own choices. “For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me.  Ezekiel 18:4 (NIV)  We are also given the just cause of speaking up for those who have no voice.  Read James 1:27 and pray for the world’s children and the world’s working poor.  As a more personal ministry, deliver baked goods to police and fire departments with thank you notes for the good they do.

What would you have to give up to receive the empowering Gift of the King to join him in that work?

Tithe 8

October 7: World Communion Sunday [Green]

Our 36 days ends at Oct. 11 but rejoicing in communion with believers all around the world on the first Sunday of October is a privileged opportunity. Read anew the story of blessing for all God’s children: Mark 10:2-16. If possible, have family members take on the roles of people in the account.

In Jesus’ day, a tradition was already in place for the blessing of both boys and girls—but it required preparation.  Children up to 12 years old would prepare for to be blessed on the Jewish Day of Atonement by fasting (not eating) and prayer. Children up to one year of age would fast until daybreak.  Children up to 12 years old would fast until sundown, and then be taken to the elders for a blessing.

Some biblical scholars have suggested that the reason the disciples began turning the children away is because they were uncertain that the children were properly prepared or that it was not the Day of Atonement.  Some have also suggested that the disciples felt indignant because Jesus had not even blessed his own adult followers yet, and in that day, adults came before children in importance.

Jesus was not simply blessing the children to be seen in a good light like many politicians do when running for office.  Jesus was re-enacting Jacob’s blessing of his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the boys born to Joseph by his Egyptian wife.  Let the story live again and pause to read it now:  Gen. 48: 1-20.

In the blessing, Jacob adopted the grandson’s into the inheritance of God’s chosen people.  It was an act of unconditional acceptance and belonging.

Today we celebrate together at the Lord’s Table and the bond of Jesus’ adoption of all Christians all over the globe into God’s family.  For the tithe of the next 36 days, take the challenge to become more global in your daily prayers of intercession as an individual or as a family.  Here’s one way.

1) Look up the following website.


(You can also look in the front pages of a local phone book for the numbers that correspond with a great number of countries.)

2) Look on the left side bar and click “reverse look-up”.  If you scroll down, it should give you a place to look up numbers from 1-999.  Choose (or take turns in the family) a number and look up which country belongs with or is closest to that number.

3) Pray for the Christians in that country to be strong under persecution and bold in their words and deeds for Christ.  Pray for those who will encounter the presence of Christ through a believer’s example today.

4) Repeat tomorrow and choose a different country.  You may also want to look up ministries related to that country and pray for the stamina, health, and peace of those who are working for the cause of Christ.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to empower all believers to become more like Christ (Rev. 5:12).—strong, gentle, generous, and wise—so that together we all as adopted, unified family may walk with Christ in honor, glory, and blessing.

Tithe 9

November 25: Christ the King Sunday—[Gold]

The emphasis of this season is on the Heavenly Banquet and preparing to be ready in service for His return. Christ the King Sunday encourages our hearts to look forward to the day when every day is like Easter, and Jesus is indeed and forevermore enthroned on the praises of God’s people. Take time now to read Rev. 1:4-8.  Try this with your gathering: If you make a circle holding hands and then raise all hands, it makes a physical symbol of a crown. Pray that the King will be enthroned in the hearts of those gathered and that Christ’s peace will reign in their hearts whatever the current circumstance.  Pray for those who are in positions of government across the world as well as locally.

Some activities to help you tithe the next 36 days will take you into the season of Advent when we travel the faith journey in worship looking forward to Christ’s birth and the Promise of God’s greatest blessing to the world.

Enthrone the King who came as a helpless babe by selecting one of the following Psalms to read each day. As you read your daily Psalm, keep a record of the acts of salvation, deeds of mercy, works of creation, words of wisdom, or everlasting glory that causes the psalmist to praise the LORD.

Keep a record in those five categories and add a reason to praise of your own life experience or your heart’s overflowing.

Where can you find the LORD at work today locally or globally in acts of salvation, deeds of mercy, works of creation or words of wisdom?  (Psalm 132:12-18)

Tithe 10

December 24, 2018: Christmas Eve Communion [White]

 As we come to this last tithing of our time, give thanks through the four songs of the Nativity:  the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), the song of Zechariah Luke 1:67-79, The Song of the Angels (Luke 2:14), and Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32).  Here are songs that represent the work of God through all life situations:  the song of a man who has no voice until he gives way to God’s will in his life and for his family, the song of a woman who willingly gives way to God’s will in her life even though it will mean giving up her reputation and her home to become a refugee, the song of angels heard by some average third-shift workers (shepherds) whose lives are forever changed as they put feet to their faith and go when and where God tells them to go, and the song of a man who can now rest that God has kept a promise that the future will be full of hope.  Which story is most like your journey right now?  Praise the Lord whose hope is born anew in all and through you to all.

Revisit the verses you memorized half-way through the year and pray for strength to continue rebirthing those verses as you continue to unwrap the gift of Christ within you this next year.

Continue Reading 0

Weaving Children and Teens into Worship Leadership

Connie Bull:

Question: How is it that we embrace children professing their faith in Jesus the one who died for them and yet they are not usually included in services where they sing of Christ crucified…or help crush palms into ashes… or where they assist Good Friday in taking away the altar décor and drape the cross in black? Is it that we as adults want to “protect” them from the cruelty that was the crucifixion, or are we preventing the children from participating as a part of the body of Christ and using them for our own enjoyment?

Throughout history, children have been regarded in various ways from warmly to warily.  David Lancy, in his book The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings lists three:  the cherub who is overly romanticized and can do no wrong, the “children should be seen and not heard” chattel idea of children as completely unworthy in the presence of adults, and the suspicious idea of children and teens as so mercurial and unpredictable that they cannot be trusted.  I would add one more way I have seen children and teens treated within the church: as cheerleaders.  We bring them out only at times of the year that are joyful like Advent, Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter so that we can smile and applaud them. We do not necessarily applaud each time an adult reads scripture or sings as if it is a performance and not a participation in God’s message of the day….

Want to read the rest of Connie’s wonderful work? Please click the “Read More” link below.


Continue Reading 0

Celtic Spirituality and Formation

Audio Resource: 

Tracy Balzer (right) was the guest for this edition of Ancient-Future Faith radio. She is the director of Christian Formation at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  She is the author of Thin Places (Leafwood 2007), A Listening Life (Pinyon, 2011), and Permission to Ponder:  Contemplative Wisdom for the Spiritually Distracted (Leafwood, 2015).  She holds a Master of Ministry degree, is a certified spiritual director and advocate of Celtic spirituality, and is an oblate at the beautiful Subiaco Abbey, also in Arkansas.  Tracy regularly leads pilgrimages and study trips to the British Isles, having a special interest and affection for the Isle of Iona, Scotland.

Continue Reading 0

New Orientation… The Spirituality of the Psalms

Audio Resource:

In this episode of Ancient-Future Faith, guest Ellen Koehler (right) was in the studio to talk about an upcoming Lenten series at Epiclesis (an Ancient-Future Faith Church in Sacramento, CA) on the Psalms. Based partly on the work of theologian Walter Brueggemann, the 5-session study will look at how the psalms– what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the prayer book of the Bible”– speak to every season of our lives.


Continue Reading 0

The Imitation of Christ: Original Art by Donald Richmond

Donald Richmond:

Self Portrait: Donald Richmond

Self Portrait: Donald Richmond

The Imitation of Christ, purportedly written and/or compiled by Thomas á Kempis, is one the most beloved and important books within the Christian corpus. It has been said that, until relatively recently, it outsold every other book except the Bible. Although this has now changed, the text is a treasure trove of Christian philosophy and living that is appreciated by every major Christian tradition– including the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The first copy I ever saw was a 1954 edition, published by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, that my mother had when I was a child. As I could not read at the time, I remember paging through the text and being deeply moved by the images which accompanied this particular publication. These images changed my life. Later, when I eventually learned how to read, the words shaped and changed who I was and how I thought. Apart from the Bible and my Prayer Book, The Imitation of Christ has been my constant companion for almost forty years.

Several months ago, I was impressed by these words from the twelfth chapter of the first book of á Kempis’ four-part collection:

“In the cross is salvation

In the cross is life

In the cross is protection

In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness

In the cross is strength of mind

In the cross is joy of spirit

In the cross is the height of virtue

In the cross is the perfection of sanctity.”

These words, albeit modestly abridged from the Challoner edition (Tan Books), began to stir within my heart and imagination. Within a short time, I began producing images related to the quotation.

What you now have before you (below) is a selection of these images– and a bit more. I hope that you will enjoy looking at them as much as I have enjoyed creating them–  and this with the equal (if not greater) hope that you, too, will adopt á Kempis’ classic text and apply it.







Continue Reading 0

In the Cross

Dark blue crossDonald Richmond:

In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from our enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross of strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is height of virtue, in the cross the perfection of sanctity              -Thomas á Kempis, Imitation of Christ

Those who do not belong to Christ misunderstand and malign the cross. A mockery to heathens and a myth to many Jews, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is often misapprehended by Christians as well. Many believers in Christ gratefully look back upon the cross as simply a “justification accomplished” event. Attending the Divine Service, and participating in Holy Communion, is no more than a “remembrance.” Neglecting both the Hebrew understanding of “remembrance” and the “do this” imperative, many Christians give little attention to living the crucified life. As Thomas á Kempis has written, “Jesus has now many lovers of his heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of his cross” (Imitation).

Ash Wednesday introduces us to a new Season of the Church and, as well, a renewed opportunity to radically (in our culture) follow Christ. Lent, those days of denial between Ash Wednesday and Easter Saturday, reminds us of both Christ finished work and our ongoing responsibility. Far more than our now-defunct “New Year’s Resolution,” Lent provides Church-sanctioned and (hopefully) Spirit-inspired occasion to renew our walk with Christ along the “Way of Sorrows.”

Of course, such a prospect is not entirely “inspirational”– at least in strictly human terms. Who wants to take up the cross? Who wants to deny her or himself? Who wants to die, and “daily” at that? Who wants the narrow road along the Via Dolorosa? Let’s be honest, nobody wants to– even if we want to, in the broadest sense, follow Christ. It is, indeed, a hard road.

Thomas á Kempis, quoted at the introduction of this article, provides us with a different perspective on the cross. While certainly a “cross,” á Kempis highlights the “crown” embedded within it. He has apprehended the truth, communicated in one translation of a Psalm, “the Lord reigns from a tree.”

First he tells us that “the cross is salvation.” Generally speaking, Christians understand this. Without the cross of Christ, there is no forgiveness of sin or sins. Sadly, as mentioned earlier, we often embrace this as a fond (yet safely distant) remembrance. In fact, however, beyond the past, the cross is persistently present in the life of the Christian. It is salvation now…now…now…perpetually now. It is a “now” event because, for the Christian, the cross is firmly planted in the Gethsemane of our tangled emotions, the Golgotha of our minds and the tomb of our withered hearts. It hangs before our faded sight, as Constantine’s faded hope, shouting “In this sign conquer.” And in this planted sign, by God’s grace, we will conquer!

As well, á Kempis tells us that “the cross is life.” This assertion requires a new perspective. If our lives are rooted in this world, these words will never make sense. In order to apprehend and be apprehended by this truth, we need to understand that Christ’s cross is grounded in present realty as viewed from future hope. The cross is “life” as seed that was planted in Eden’s promise, Prophet’s speech, Psalmist’s song and Apostle’s testimony. The seed is Christ; Christ planted within the heart of every Christian by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus “endured” the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” Shame and sorrow were enveloped in Sovereignty. Today in our most abject poverty, mourning surrenders to the “now” of God’s presence and the tomorrow of God’s absolute and unbroken rule. The cross is life because, as Aaron’s Rod, it blossoms.

The cross is, as well, “protection from our enemies.” This is an odd statement, given the fact that Christ died at the hands of his enemies– the jealous, the grandiose, the violent, the envious, the rank idolaters and adulterers, the ones who wear our faces and bear our names. Where is protection when, naked and abused, you hang upon a cross? There is absolutely no “easy answer.” And yet, thankfully, there is an answer. When, like Christ, we come to bear the cross, when we accept this as our life-giving portion in this life, we have the protection promised in ‘a Kempis’ words. We are told that “the Son of God came forth to die,” and that we have no higher expectation. If we come to die, if we come for the cross, if our expectation is tribulation, we have no enemies to be protected from. If we embrace the worst, the cross, what more can enemies say or do? When we come to embrace what our enemies impose, what more can they do?

The cross, according to the writer of Imitation, is “infusion of heavenly sweetness.” How can this be? The answer is found in what Christ has done and what Christ will do. Our Lord knew God’s “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani,” the excruciating depth of which words were apparently incomprehensible to the hearers (Mark 15:33–35), so that we would not need to speak them ourselves. He knew the bitter gall (Mark 15:36) of separation so that we might be spared it. He released his Spirit, in promise (John 20:22) and in completion of his work (John 19:30), so that we might receive the sweetness of the Spirit (Acts 2) and be perpetually renewed in and by him (Acts 4). This holy infusion is the fullness of poverty presently realized (Matthew 5:3). It is the pay-off of mourning’s hard investment (Matthew 5:4). It is the inheritance of the humble (Matthew 5:5), the fullness of the hungry (Matthew 5:6), the living water of the thirsty (Matthew 5:6), righteousness for the unrighteous (Matthew 5:6), and vision of Glory (Matthew 5:7) with peace… and promise of persecution.

Given these things, in spite of the crisis and the cries, the cross is “strength of mind.” Take a moment, maybe many moments during Lent, to reflect upon Christ’s last seven “words.” Do these words in any way reflect a weak mind? Here, in spite of mockery, ridicule and abuse, we discover a most-stable and most-centered man. There are many reasons for this, but one of the reasons is that our Lord was singular in purpose. His purpose and his power were in pleasing the Father. The singular and centered mind set upon the calling of Christ, infused by the Spirit, is a most-stable mind and the foundation of a most-stable life.

There is a marked absence of joy in our world today. A similar deflation has infected the Church. We are SO VERY DESPERATE to manufacture emotionally charged worship simply because we have not really known the cross or the infusion of dynamic spiritual grace. To know the crown we must own the cross. According to á Kempis, the cross is “joy of spirit.” Are we feeling empty? Are we feeling joyless? Has life lost some (or even most) of its meaning? These experiences might simply be because we are not embracing the cross.  Although this is counter-intuitive and, from a human perspective, contradictory, the cross and celebration go together. We are, metaphorically and practically speaking, raised up by the cross.

“The cross is,” as well, “the height of virtue.” How is it the height of virtue? First and foremost it is the height because it is upon the cross that Christ, the perfect God-Man, secured our salvation, sanctification and glorification. He is the reason for its height. However, as imitators of Christ who are created and called to his “likeness,” we have a share in the virtue Christ and his cross provide. Virtue is given us, but it is a process of growth as well. Growing in the virtues is our Christian vocation. Peter, the Apostle, makes virtue a priority in his second letter. Virtue, he writes, his furthered by knowledge, self-control and steadfastness. This results in, or is further enhanced by, godliness (2 Peter 1:5–6). There is no means of growth than by the cross– its knowledge (implying intimacy), and the self-control and steadfastness that it requires. The cross is a “taking up” and not an “arriving at.” It is a path, and not simply a destination.

As such, the cross is “the perfection of sanctity.” The holy person clings to the cross, as Christ gracefully hung upon his, because this is “absolute surrender” to God. It is, as well, what is best for lost humanity– even if the lost do not know it, or are entirely disinterested in it. It is in our own best interest, and in the best interest of a fallen world, that we cling to Christ’s cross. It is our “Yes” to God who, in Christ, has said “Yes” to us.

Jesus says to take up your cross. Your cross and my cross are not the same. Although there certainly will be similarities of design, there will be striking dissimilarities. Each cross is unique, designed by God for us for our ongoing “perfection of sanctity” and “joy of spirit.”  Let this Season of Lent, soon to begin, set us upon the narrow path of following Christ. Lord, in your mercy, have mercy upon us.



Continue Reading 0

Dr. Carla Waterman: Exile, Imagination and the God of Steadfast Love

Video-IconVideo Content: At June, 2016’s annual AFFN Convocation, Network member Dr. Carla Waterman presented a memorably rich teaching entitled, “Exile, Imagination and the God of Steadfast Love.”

The presentation, she said, had grown out of her current interest in understanding psalms of lament as prayers of hope. With a focus on the psalms of the Sons of Korah, in particular Psalms 42 and 43, Carla asked us to bear in mind these questions: Who were the Sons of Korah? And why do their psalms bear the repeated motif, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases”? The answers she provided and the discussion that followed reveal just how meaningfully this message fits into and ministers to the needs of today, both to individuals and to the culture at large.

Carla was a founding faculty member of the Institute for Worship Studies, and also has taught at Wheaton College and Northern Seminary.

Continue Reading 0

What’s Missing from Our Worship?

Marc Brown:

NightHawks_HopperOne of the qualities that makes the Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks” memorable (right) is the large amount of empty space. In a painting that covers 84 x 152 cm, there are only four people surrounded by dark, empty streets. Most modern Christians would characterize the worship services in their churches by the things that are present: bands, choirs, videos, preaching, etc. But when I compare them to many worship encounters I find in Scripture, our services could seem like the Hopper painting – characterized by what’s absent.

We evangelicals love celebrating God’s holiness, power, goodness and love. In Joshua chapters six and seven, Joshua and the people of Israel had just experienced God’s might and provision through a great victory won over the city of Jericho. God’s people were also celebrating His holiness, power, goodness, and love. Unfortunately, through the unconfessed sin of some of the people (one couple), the entire lot were disqualified from receiving God’s guidance and blessing. Because of that unconfessed sin, the people failed miserably at something they assumed God directed (the taking of the town of Ai) and many lives were lost. God remained silent until the sin was confessed and the evil addressed.

In the beginning verses of Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah finds himself peering into worship in the throne room of heaven. As he observes angels worshiping God in grace and truth he is confronted by his own sinfulness. After he confesses his sin, God cleanses him by sending a seraphim flying with a burning coal to cauterize his sinful mouth. Only then was Isaiah able to listen and respond and God willing to speak.

Don’t we also want to hear from God in the midst of our worship? Isn’t this the reason that protestants in general and specifically evangelicals value the preached Word? In the Joshua telling of Achan’s sin and in the account of Isaiah’s call, we see a paradigm for worship: in many instances, in order to hear and understand God, we first must search our hearts, confess our sin and repent. Only then are we fit or able to understand God’s continuing revelation.

One way some churches address this need is by scripting a time of congregational confession. Because many churches who use this element of worship choose to utilize formal approaches, some see this time in the service as either stale or insincere. If that is your opinion, you should not give up so easily.

There are fresh and creative ways to help the Body of Christ confront themselves and their sin, embracing humility and submission to Holy God through a time of corporate confession and repentance. In his book, Rhythms of Grace, Worship Pastor Mike Cosper suggests using scriptures involving confession, such as Psalm 51. These passages can be read by a worship leader or the congregation. They can also be sung in paraphrased settings, like the song “Give Us Clean Hands.” In addition to reading or singing scriptures that call the church to confession, scripture-led confessions can also be transposed into corporate prayer. If you’ve ever tried praying scripture as a part of your personal quiet time, you have some idea of how effective this practice can be for a worshiping congregation. The Worship Sourcebook, produced by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is an excellent place to find these types of resources. I have also found several ideas on the web. One of my favorite internet resources is reformedworship.org. There are many places to get ideas for ways to include corporate confession and repentance in evangelical worship services, you just have to look.

“Nighthawks” may be defined by what’s missing, but our services should not be. When it comes to helping the Body of Christ encounter God’s revelation, we must provide our congregations with the best opportunities possible.

Continue Reading 0

The Concretization of Spiritual Ideals

D.H. Williams:

DHWilliamsThe following is an address that Dr. Williams gave to the June, 2016, conference sponsored by the Robert E. Webber Center for an Ancient-Evangelical Future at the Trinity School of Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. It is presented here by permission by the author. Dr. D.H. Williams is Professor of Religion in Patristics and Historical Theology at Baylor University, Co-Director of the Center of Ancient Greek Studies at Shandong University, and a Sustaining Member of the Ancient-Future Faith Network.

It is no great observation to say that the Protestant experiment with ancient tradition is still in process. Given the ecclesial diversity within evangelicalism, it is hardly surprising that a predictable hallmark of those communions drawing on the ancient church is its unpredictability.  Reading from the common lectionary, incorporation of certain liturgical elements and the attraction to patristic interpretation of Scripture, using quotes from patristic theologians– these figure most prominently across a broad spectrum of churches, many of which are looking for a centering of Christian faith and practice.

One result of evangelical openness to a broader and deeper historical awareness has been an acknowledgment that the construction of the Christian life must go beyond the re-experiencing or renewal of conversion. Another is that there are ancient “tools” or approaches available in realizing the journey to holiness.  While there is much to gain from patristic spirituality, it will nonetheless have points unfamiliar to us. For instance, at the time in which Christian spiritual practices were becoming generally established in the fourth century, the premier role model for Christian men was not the good husband and father, but the faithful celibate living at home or in the desert as frugally as possible.  Asceticism, not the family, was the best ground for growing in Christ.  Jesus himself set the higher standard in literal form: “Whoever loves father or mother (or a son or a daughter) more than me is not worthy of me.”[1]

For the early church pertinent material for spiritual formation was found in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.  In this, Augustine says, “one will discover in it a perfect pattern of the Christian life designed after the highest standards of conduct.”[2] Among the dozens of commentaries and series of homilies on this gospel, the Beatitudes took priority as the treasury to which one should search for the language and precepts of walking gracefully.[3]  We are supposed to “burn with an inward desire of hungering and thirsting after righteousness;” that is, actively “seeking for righteousness, as opposed to some mere longing or fleeting desire of wanting it.” [4] So too, only the pure of heart may see God,” which Gregory of Nyssa couches as “the divine image formed in us through the purity of our lives.”[5]  As a kind of epitome of all the Beatitudes, Matt 5 concludes, “Be perfect (τέλειοι) as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).  Since the term “perfect” in Greek derives from the word for goal (ends, means), human actions are understood in relation to ends; an understanding inherited from Greek thought.[6]  It is what the early church and ancient moral philosophy called the final or highest good (summum bonum).  To strive after the “perfect,” was meant, not only as an ideal, but also as an obtainable goal, as Paul clarified it: “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (II Cor 7:1).

It is instructive to see how Christianity, despite its many theological differences with classical Paganism, shared a certain amount of philosophical infrastructure within Hellenistic rationality.  The rise of intellectuals within Christianity in the second century inform us through their texts that there was already in place a well-developed system of moral formation in the Graeco-Roman world.  Christian apologetic texts often played on a shared expectation of justice and wisdom.  Athenagoras made his argument that victimizing Christians with false accusations does not comport with justice.[7]  Likewise Justin stated directly, “Justice mandates that you inquire into the life both of him who confesses and of him who denies, that by his deeds it may be apparent what kind of man each is.”[8]



Continue Reading 0

Don’t Just Tell Me What You Believe: Lex Orandi-Lex Credendi and its Implications for Evangelical Worship

Marc Brown:

lexEvery week I plan worship for my church’s worship services. Our church has four of them; one is traditional, led by choir and orchestra and the other three are modern, led by band and vocal teams. We are, for the most part, unburdened with the conflict that seems to arise in churches when more than one style of worship is present. Our church members and attendees don’t seem simply tolerant of the other’s worship service choices; they are supportive – despite our differences. I believe our services share several qualities that aid in this unity: each service shares the same space; each service shares the same (for the most part) leadership and no matter the style, each service shares the same doctrine. You may assume that the same doctrine is expressed in each service because they are all located in the same building. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily the case. While emotional unity is one of the most important qualities to monitor in churches that offer worship services in different styles, it is likely not the root of most disunity. I believe that the primary reason for my church’s unity is found in our common doctrinal beliefs – and the key to doctrinal unity may not be as rooted in preaching as you might think. Rather, the key may be found in a theological principal that has been around since the 5th century: Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi. A loose translation of this phrase could be, “the way you worship shapes the way you believe.” Many churches may suffer from a lack of unity because they do not understand the power of this principal.

Written sometime between 435 and 442, Prosper of Aquitaine’s original phrase is, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. This translates to “that the law of praying establishes the law of believing.” Prosper was a student and follower of Augustine and originally wrote this to support Augustine’s fight against Pelagianism, or the belief that people are born without a “sin nature.” Pelagius thought people were born innocent, without the curse of original sin via Adam and Eve.  In 325, the Council of Nicaea settled this and other issues when they adopted the Nicene Creed. The Council of Bishops knew that belief in original sin is crucial to understanding Christ’s role in the redemption of creation. Though his efforts to champion orthodoxy, Prosper promoted the awareness that prayer and worship are the believer’s first expressions of faith; the church’s teaching (credendi) is made tangible through the church’s prayer and worship (orandi).  Simply stated, the way a church worships not only reflects its beliefs, worship actually shapes a church’s faith and doctrine. According to Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, faith gives birth to and “shapes” worship, but it is worship, that by fulfilling and expressing faith, “bears testimony” to faith and becomes thus its true and adequate expression and norm: lex orandi est lex credendi.

In Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Christians are encouraged to ask God to reveal where He is at work. From that point, when the praying believer becomes aware that God is at work, this awareness becomes God’s invitation for the believer to join in His work. Blackaby writes that whenever the praying Christian becomes aware of God’s invitation, a crisis usually manifests that must be overcome in order for the person to fruitfully comply with God’s invitation. As individual Christians (and by extension, worshiping congregations) successfully navigate these cycles of revelation and response, a greater depth of discipleship is achieved and more fruit is produced for the Kingdom. Simon Chan shows the same holy dialogue is found in corporate worship. He wrote that when God reveals Himself to us as the church, worship is the best response. In worship we can actually participate with God.  Our worship either shapes us into disciples or something less: Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi.

Primary Theology

Many times Protestants don’t agree with Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi because they understand worship as something that naturally flows from a believer’s faith and doctrine. There are biblical and historical precedents for both. My purpose in writing is not to promote one over the other, but believers, especially evangelicals, must realize that no matter which concept they want to be right, both regularly occur in every church. Therefore, it is extremely important that we plan, structure and lead our worship services with the greatest intentionality. The concept of Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi is instrumental in creating the primary theology for worshiping communities. As opposed to the academic study and discourse of theology (secondary theology), worship actually does theology. If this is right, then the theology and doctrine of our churches could be expressed as Lex Orandi Lex Credendi et Agendi: Worship shapes our belief and action.

Assuming our worship does shape our faith, in what ways is this accomplished? How can we learn about worship’s effect on our faith as we think and express it?  In most evangelical churches, the primary way to understand our purpose as the church is through the lens of the Great Commission. My church reads this together at the end of every worship service. Historically and liturgically, this functions beautifully as the “sending” portion of our services.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

Many evangelical churches go to significant lengths attempting to use their worship services as a means to fulfill the Great Commission. The consensus among many is that we must make our congregational worship more “attractional” to those with little or no understanding of church culture – we don’t want to do anything that inhibits the lost from hearing and understanding the Gospel. Sometimes, in using the church’s corporate worship as a tool to fulfill the Great Commission, churches take shortcuts. These shortcuts often have unintended side effects. Theologian E. Byron Anderson believes that as we seek to capture the attention of the unchurched, there is a growing tendency to dispose of or hide our often unexplored worship traditions (Anderson uses the words “liturgical” and “sacramental”). Continuing, Anderson states, “Replacing these traditions are patterns and practices that more readily express the unfaith of the seeker than an invitation to the particular ethical way of God in Jesus Christ.”  In other words, whatever our worship most resembles is where we will be leading our people.

Is This Just an Opinion?

Isaiah 6A biblical perspective of Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi can be found in Isaiah 6. The first eight verses are referred to as Isaiah’s call and are commonly used as a biblical structure for planning worship. The framework for this worship sequence looks like this:

1) We come into God’s presence and being in His presence compels us to worship Him.

2) By worshiping God, we see Him for who He is.

3) Then we honestly see ourselves for who we are.

4) This leads us to confession and repentance.

5) When we repent, God mercifully forgives us, cleanses us and declares us clean.

6) Now we are fit to hear Him speak.

7) He speaks, calling us to join Him in His work

8) As we respond in willingness, He commissions us to go.

The biblical understanding of Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi comes in the rest of Isaiah chapter 6 where God gives Isaiah the message he is to bring to Israel; it is not a pleasant message. God asks Isaiah to bring a message of judgment to Israel. Israel’s chief sin is Idolatry. It seems that as Israel’s corporate worship became more inclusive of and accessible to other cultures, the values of these other cultures crept into Israel’s worship. These values included the worship of idols. Psalms 115 and 135 are examples of where the impotence of pagan idols is described:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of a man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts them. -Psalm 115: 4-8

After generations of idol worship growing in practice and influence, God calls Isaiah to tell Israel,

Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts  of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and turn and be healed. -Isaiah 6:9-10

This passage doesn’t, as some believe, demonstrate doubt of God’s everlasting kindness and grace. Rather, it’s an example of what happens when an entire people group continues to willingly walk away from God. If Israel longs most for the idols they worship, then God will deliver them over to the desires of their hearts. The people worship things that are blind, deaf and mute and God allows them to assume the qualities of those things they worship.  When we insert things into our worship that are more of culture instead of God, these become the things we most desire. God will then deliver us over to the desires of our heart and we will assume the qualities of those things we worship; Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi.

Church history also demonstrates that the way we worship creates doctrine, and in turn faith. One of these examples comes through perhaps the most defining action in Christian life, baptism. Baptism has always been a tangible evidence of God’s grace through Christ Jesus. In the Patristic age of the early church, evidence for the life transformation of each baptismal candidate was formally vouched for by the candidate’s God-father or God-mother. These individuals were the church representatives who served as the candidate’s one to one faith mentor through the duration of their pre-baptismal discipleship process; a process that could last up to three years. Even though baptism was never meant to achieve the “work” of salvation, its status was so revered that it was considered necessary for the demonstration of salvation. This is evident in the early church in the writings of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem that in the late 4th century:

“Great indeed is the Baptism offered you. It is a ransom to captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; the holy seal indissoluble; the chariot to heaven; the luxury of paradise; a procuring of the kingdom; the gift of adoption”

“The bath of Baptism we may not receive twice or thrice; else, it might be said, Through I fail once, I shall go right next time: whereas if thou failest once, there is no setting things right, for there is One Lord, and one Faith, and One Baptism: none but heretics are re-baptized, since their former baptism was not baptism.”

Infant mortality was much greater in the 5th century than today. It is easy to see why the worship practice of infant baptism gained popularity as a worship practice when believers understood the only path to heaven goes through the waters of baptism. Even though Tertullian strongly cautioned against infant baptism at the turn of the 3rd century, 40-50 years later Hippolytus accommodated the practice in his Apostolic Traditions:

“You are to baptize the little ones first. All those who are able to speak for themselves should speak. With regard to those who cannot speak for themselves, their parents, or somebody who belongs to their family should speak.”

Two hundred years later, the practice of infant baptism had become so widely practiced in the church that Augustine wrote, “This doctrine is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained.”  Somewhere along the line, churches began the widespread worship practice of baptizing infants without articulating a theological reason. Through worship practice alone, infant baptism had become so accepted, that even Augustine tried to make a theological argument by simply pointing to the pervasiveness of the practice. Have today’s churches also adopted doctrinally dangerous practices in worship based more on felt needs than solid theological grounding?

Can I Get a Witness?

Examples of how Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi impact churches don’t have to be negative ones. As I wrote earlier, my church, as the closing act of worship, reads or recites together the Great Commission. My Pastor instituted that change to our worship order over a year ago. At a recent staff meeting, while discussing the many changes that have occurred in our church over the last year or so, our Executive Pastor brought out the point that before our entire worshiping congregation (four different weekly services) began saying these words, the direction and attitude of our church was quite different. Since the advent of this new worship practice, our church has changed its goals and vision in a way that has made off campus ministries and starting new churches a prime directive. It seems that hearing Christ’s charge in our own mouths for countless weeks actually changed our primary theology and in turn, the values of our church. Something that was formerly of less value became primary. Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi.

Turning the spotlight on yourself is always harder than turning it on other people. While discussing the content of this article, my Pastor asked me if my own faith and values have been changed through intentional changes in personal and corporate worship. After reflecting, I realize the past few years of considering Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi have increased my regard for using the Psalms in personal and corporate worship. As a worship planner, Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi has motivated me to spend much more time considering scriptures than songs. When I choose songs, the lyrical content is usually of much larger concern than the music itself. The greatest change I recognize in my faith is that now, rather than wanting to get away from people to spend “quality time” with God, I am much more interested in finding “quality time” through worshiping God with others.

Questions to Consider

  1. Are you as intentional as you want to be when planning or entering corporate worship?
  2. In what ways does Lex Orandi Lex Credendi motivate you re-examine your church’s worship services?
  3. How is God revealing Himself to you over this concept and how will you respond?
  4. In relation to the way you worship alone or with others, are there any changes you would make?

Resources Cited

Anderson, E. Byron. Worship and Christian Identity: Practicing Ourselves. Collegeville, Minnesota. A Pueblo Book. The Liturgical Press: 2003.

Bass, Ralph E.  What About Baptism: A Discussion on the Mode, Candidate and Purpose of Christian Baptism – Revised Edition. Greenville, South Carolina. Living Hope Press: 2010.

Beale, G. K. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology or Idolatry. Downers Grove, Illinois. IVP Academic, 2008.

Blackaby, Henry. Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Nashville, Tennessee. LifeWay Press, 1990.

Chan, Simon. Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community. Downers Grove, Illinois. IVP Academic, 2006.

Cyril, St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis of the Five Mystical Catecheses. London. S.P.C.K., 1960.

Hilgartner, Rick F. “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Word of God in the Celebration of the Sacraments.” Catechetical Sunday Newsletter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. September 20th, 2009.

Hippolytus. On the Apostolic Tradition. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2001.

Kavanagh, Aidan. On Liturgical Theology. Collegeville, Minnesota. The Liturgical Press, 1992.

Schmemann, Alexander. Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann, ed. Thomas Fisch. Crestwood, NY. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990.

Wainwright, Geoffrey. Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life. New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 1980.

Continue Reading 0