In June I, and about 25 others, had the privilege to attend the first annual AFFN gathering which was held at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (IWS) in Orange Park Florida. Just prior to the gathering many of us were also a part of the IWS alumni event which was held in the same location and was led by Dr. Chris Hall where he spoke about his recent book Worshiping with the Church Fathers. If you are aware of Chris you will have realized that those of us who attended both events we were well primed for the AFFN gathering. Included in the gathering were pastors, educators, missionaries, dancers, board members of the AFFN and pastoral musicians from Canada and the US. Many were graduates of the IWS. Various denominational backgrounds were also represented by the attendees. A particularly notable (amongst many) attendee was the Rev. Dr. Joel Scandrett who is the recently appointed Director of the Robert E. Webber Center at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. Joel and I share the common notoriety of being the two of the three Anglican Priests present at the gathering.
I share that last bit of information so that you can glean a little about who I am to help provide some context for discerning my motivation to write this article. Other salient qualities are that I am an Evangelical, a lover of worship tradition and liturgy and a worship leader (I really prefer the term facilitator actually). I have also been richly encouraged and informed in my pastoral vocation by the late great Robert E. Webber having met Bob about twenty years ago. This relationship directly influenced my path as a graduate of the doctoral program in the area of Eucharistic liturgy at the IWS.
Now to the task at hand. I could tell you about all that was discussed at the AFFN gathering. I could tell you about the various workshops which were presented. I could tell you about any discussions that were made regarding moving ahead together. I’m not going to do that. Rather I want to tell a little story of and interaction I had with one of the other attendees of the gathering. My hope is that this vignette might help the reader to get a sense of what the AFFN is about. To help to sharpen this sense I want to offer a glimpse of two of the characters who spent their own time and money to meet together for a few days in the lovely late June heat of Florida— one of whom was me.
The other character is in focus of this little vignette is Dr. Carl Peters. Carl and I had just met each other at the IWS this past June. I think what initially attracted us to one another was our common sense of humour. Over the few days at the events we also began to sit beside one another during the sessions. Carl was one of the early graduates of the doctoral program at IWS and he serves on the board of AFFN. Carl is currently ministering at the Anchor Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky in the areas of ministries of worship, music and discipleship. As his bio on the AFFN website records Carl has a zeal for “renewal in the vital nature of the Table in the Christian sacred assembly.”
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1
[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil 2:12b-13
Now for the story. Right at the end of the last day’s session at the AFFN gathering Carl approached me with a question. It had just been announced that the group of attendees would reconvene in 15 minutes to celebrate Holy Communion together. Carl had just been asked if he would be the Celebrant at that service. Carl must have been desperate because he came to me (I had let slip that my field of interest is Eucharistic liturgy) and he asked me if I could help him to put together a Eucharistic Prayer. Usually it is a long process to write a Eucharistic Prayer but desperate times call for desperate measures! To paraphrase and personalize Psalm 133:1 in the context of this moment: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when Baptists and Anglicans (Americans and Canadians too!) dwell in unity!” We would need that blessed unity if Carl was going to represent well the purposes of Christ in the sacred mystery of the Eucharist given the time restraint that we were under.
I quickly replied in the affirmative to Carl’s request for help. I wasn’t sure of Carl’s understanding of how a traditional Eucharistic Prayer is ordered or what content should be included when writing one. In order to know how to proceed I did a quick “Q &A” session with Carl to discern where he was at in respect to his liturgical knowledge. Carl quickly blew apart any prejudices I had about Protestant Evangelicals and their understanding of the Eucharist. He had been clearly well educated at the IWS. I was also deeply impressed by his humility and openness as he expressed that writing a Eucharist prayer was something he not equipped to do on his own—especially given the constraint of time!
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. -Hebrews 4:12
Of particular import, with respect to this Q&A, I asked Carl a few deliberate questions to flesh out a sense of what might be possible in creating this Eucharistic Prayer. First off I asked him if he knew about “praying the Scriptures” to which he answered in the affirmative. If you are not familiar with this term praying the Scriptures is simply the incorporation of biblical texts into a liturgy element. This part of our discussion on praying the Scriptures provided the crux of how we would form the prayer itself.
The most obvious example of praying the Scriptures might be the congregational use of the Lord’s Prayer in worship. Another good example is found in the biblical greeting from Ruth 2:4, where Boaz uses the greeting “The Lord be with you.”[i]
When you think about it what better prayers can there be than those which incorporate those God breathed words from the scriptures?[ii] In my opinion the greatest example of praying the scriptures is the incorporation of the “Words of Institution,”[iii] Jesus’ own words, into any Eucharistic Prayer. Pursuant to this I believe the Words of Institution should be an essential part of any legitimate Eucharistic Prayer.
Praying the scriptures can be a wonderful way of gaining access to the power and presence of the Lord. This method of prayer is not a new thing but is an ancient discipline of the worshipping community.[iv] Praying the scriptures is not some magical form of incantation but rather it is a means of participation in the presence of Christ and his purposes through the gift of his grace in faith. This sense of participation derives itself from such biblical texts as John 6:63 where Jesus says “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”[v] As highlighted by this text I believe that the liturgical utilization of Jesus’ own words, and other God breathed words of Scripture, can be a great aid to worship.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11
To help to more fully understand how praying the Scriptures might benefit the worshipping community I would like to introduce the concept of “performative” language. Recognizing the implicit spiritual power of the biblical texts Clayton Schmit writes:
Words have the power to effect good things…By the words we use, we have the power to shape the lives of those to whom we speak…preachers mold their listeners into the body of Christ through the accumulative power of preaching…The positive power of language can be found in another form. It occurs in language that performs as it is uttered. Such language is known by philologists as “performative” or “performatory” language.[vi]
In the context of praying the scriptures performative words not only express the purposes of the Lord—they do what they say and render the purposes and promises of God, as espoused in his word, to the community of faith. For example, a typical Eucharistic Prayer begins with the relational exclamation expressed by the Celebrant to the gathered community “the Lord be with you.” I’ve already stated that this is a biblical text found in Ruth 2:4. This text expresses an ancient and common Hebrew greeting. These are not just simple polite words of greeting but rather they convey a sense of God’s purposes for his people. The obvious purpose inherent in this greeting is that the presence of the Lord himself would be with his people— to guide, bless and be manifested through them as a holy nation of priests. When uttered in faith, such a greeting can help us to find ourselves tangibly in the presence of the Lord and of his great blessing.
For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these, but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word. Justin Martyr
Now back to the story of my interaction with Carl. As noted earlier we didn’t have a lot of time. Neither of us had a Bible save for those in electronic files our laptops. We borrowed a hard copy (nicely leather bound at that) from one of the other attendees. Next we set out on the task of outlining and creating an Eucharistic Prayer based on texts of scripture. In our Q&A Carl shared that he knew about the Sursum Corda, the Sanctus Benedictus[vii] and the Words of Institution and how they function liturgically in a Eucharistic Prayer. From the beginning of the creative process these three elements were blocked out on paper and then we began to fill in the gaps between them.
The first gap to be filled was between the Sursum Corda and the Sanctus. This element is called the “Preface.” In keeping with the idea of creating a text which was fundamentally a praying of the Scriptures I pointed Carl to Hebrews 12:22-24a. The Letter to the Hebrews contains a great amount of worship related material. In particular Hebrews 8:13, 9:15 and 12:24 help us to understand the words of promise—the hope of a “New Covenant.” This hope was first expressed in Jeremiah 31:31, but it is fulfilled in Christ, according to his own words in the words of Institution, and renewed in us by our Lord in the Mystery of the Eucharist.[viii] In particular Jesus refers to the blessed wine at the initiation of the Lord’s Supper as the “new covenant in my blood.”[ix] Hebrew 12:22-24a expresses this “New Covenant” in the dimensional context of heavenly worship. Through this text we can see that the Eucharist can be seen as incorporating an ascension into a greater reality where mysteriously the earthly and the divine commune together.
…I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:1-3
The idea that worship somehow causes a transportation of the gathered community into a sort of communion with the heavenly realm brings me to the next scripture that I submitted to Carl. Ephesians 1:3 says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”[x] In my research on the biblical sources for liturgy I had come across the proposition that Ephesians 1:3-10 might very possibly be a fragment of an early Eucharistic Prayer. That would make this text the earliest extant fragment of such a text.[xi] The Ephesians text therefore makes an excellent liaison from the Sanctus Benedictus to the Words of Institution, the central text of the Eucharist, while also providing the great theme of thanksgiving lends its content to the name “Eucharist” itself.[xii]
At this point in our short dialogue we had linked together the elements of a traditional Eucharistic Prayer from the beginning to the Words of Institution. Next Carl suggested the insertion of a “Memorial Acclamation” followed by an “Epiclesis.”[xiii] Time was really running out, and we had to begin our walk to the Chapel, so I left these elements to Carl to knit together. In closing I suggested we say together the words of the Lord’s Prayer and on our walk I just went over the order with Carl and said a little prayer. From memory, to the best of my ability, I’ve laid out the text of this particular Eucharistic Prayer below:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up unto the Lord.[xiv]
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.[xv]
Therefore with angels and archangels and the whole community of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name evermore praising you and saying: holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.[xvi]
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.[xvii]
(For) the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.[xviii]
Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.[xix]
(At this point in the Prayer Carl inserted an Epiclesis or calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the elements of bread and wine. Although this is a part of many contemporary Anglican Prayers, and in other liturgical traditions as well, I prefer to think of the elements as fully consecrated by the Words of Institution. I am not overly dogmatic about this point and have no problem with a simple calling down of the Spirit upon the people of God gathered in worship.)
The Lord’s Prayer.
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
So your question now might be did we pull it off? My answer would be a resounding “yes!” Carl did an amazing job celebrating the Eucharist given the time constraint he was under as well as his limited experience in leading worship in this particular way. It was incredible how a Baptist an Anglican could come together for jus a few minutes and create something which could be used directly afterwards in worship. I don’t think this could have been accomplished in many other settings! I make this statement based on some experience. For example, I remember while in seminary, during liturgics class, the question about the efficacy of specific liturgies was often summed up as “is this a valid Eucharist?” As an Anglican a Eucharist might not be considered “valid’ if an ordained and licenced Priest were not the Celebrant. Likewise if the liturgy was not episcopally- or synodically-approved it might not be considered valid. In the context of the AFFN Chapel these considerations were thankfully not germane.
In June our AFFN worshipping community was a group of faithful Christians from various places and traditions who were keen to worship the Lord together rather than a denominational community under specific authority. We were simply Christians worshipping together. What we had was a shared love of the Lord Jesus Christ and a humble attitude towards one another coupled with a desire for deep authentic worship. We were also all students of the Gospel and the traditions of the Church. As a community we were willing to be formed in our worship practices by what the Lord has expressed through the Scriptures. There was also a willingness to be informed by the wisdom and testimonies of some of the Lord’s early saints in their writings about worship.
Speaking on behalf of the other worshippers, I think it is also safe to say that we shared a common belief that somehow, by the grace and purposes of God the Father in Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist is an encounter of Christ present with his people. I do not believe that the Eucharist is just a simple remembering exercise performed by a congregation. It is more to me than that. I believe that the Eucharist can be a means by which God’s people are renewed in the salvific transforming power and presence of our Saviour as his story and person are recalled together. This is called “real presence.” This presence changes God’s people. This presence forgives, renews, sets apart, transforms, transmutates, transubstantiates[xx] and gives hope to the community of faith and the individual members therein. In short, our worship together in that June Eucharist helped to deepen our sense with one another and moreover with Christ himself.
[T]hey devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common… And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-44, 47b
I hope this little vignette is encouraging to you the reader as you seek to go deeper in your own worship of the Lord or to help others to do likewise. I am convinced that one of the ways in which the Lord seems to be calling his people right now is in the area of worship renewal. In particular I’m hearing through the members of the AFFN, and wider communities, that the Lord seems to be calling his people back to the fundamentals of worship. Much of what is fundamental can be found in the Bible and in the testimonies of the early Church. Sometimes this is expressed in the notion of the three biblical streams of worship: evangelical, charismatic and sacramental. These elements have often been separated from one another, in our various denominational settings, but does this need to be so?
In closing I would like to share a little about Lesslie Newbigin, who has a Bishop in the Church of South India.[xxi] Newbigin spoke about the three biblical streams mentioned above—evangelical, charismatic and sacramental in the context of missiology and ecumenism. I think that his insights translate well into the subject of worship renewal as well. In a collection of his essays entitled The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of Church Newbigin wrote:
What is the manner of our ingrafting into Christ? That is the real question with which we have to deal.
I think that there are three main answers to these questions and these answers are embodied in great Christian communions which claim to be the Church.
The first answer is, briefly, that we are incorporated in Christ by hearing and believing the Gospel. The second is that we are incorporated by sacramental participation in the life of the historically continuous Church. The third is that we are incorporated by receiving and abiding in the Holy Spirit.[xxii]
In the context of worship renewal Newbigin’s taxonomy can be extrapolated into the three questions we might want to ask of our worship:
- Is the Gospel proclaimed and received?
- Do we have a living, powerful practice of the Sacraments?[xxiii]
- Are we spiritually open to the presence of God in our worship?
Hopefully the AFFN will continue to help to contribute to our being able to answer “yes” to these three questions. Our band of worshippers at the AFFN gathering was comprised of individuals from the three biblical streams of the Church together. With respect to worship denominational distinctives were never the focus for us. Rather we all felt that we could learn from each other and the traditions that we represented. Hopefully as the AFFN develops and grows we can continue to learn from one another’s insights, challenges, experiences, answers and questions. Certainly that was my experience at the first meeting of the AFFN. I think that was Carl’s too!
[i] All biblical references are from the RSV.
[ii] See 2 Timothy 3:16.
[iii] See Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-21 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
[iv] See Chapter 66 of Justin Martyr’s First Apology (dated within the middle of the 2nd century): “For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these, but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”
[v] Consider also Genesis 1:3, Isaiah 55:10-11, Psalm 51:1, Matthew 8:8, John 15:3 and Hebrews 4:12.
[vi] Clayton J. Schmit, Too Deep for Words: A Theology of Liturgical Expression (Louisville:Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 45.
[vii] Many significant liturgical elements are referred to in their ancient Latin, Greek and Hebrew versions. Sursum Corda comes from the Latin for “lift up your hearts.” Similarly Sanctus Benedictus is from the Latin for “holy” and “blessed.” These elements are shown in full in the Eucharistic Prayer that Carl and I created.
[viii] Mysterion is the Greek word which is rendered sacramentum in Latin or Sacrament in English.
[ix] See Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25.
[x] See how the heavenly orientation implicit in the Sursum Corda, Hebrews 11:22-24a and the Sanctus Benedictus liaise with Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
[xi] See the commentary on Ephesians 1 in: George Johnston, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon in New Century Bible. London: Nelson 1967.
[xii] Greek εὐχαριστία or “giving of thanks” is the root for the term Eucharist.
[xiii] A calling down of the Holy Spirit.
[xiv] The Sursum Corda captures the sense of the Eucharist being an ascent into God’s presence. This liturgical element is knitted together from Psalm 25:1, 86:4, 143:8 and Lamentations 3:41.
[xv] Hebrews 12:22-24a.
[xvi] See Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8, Psalm 118:26 and Mark 11:9, 10.
[xvii] Ephesians 1:3-10.
[xviii] 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
[xix] Referred to as the “Memorial Acclamation” this text is primarily based on 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 15.
[xx] Note iii refers to Martyr’s description of the “transmutation” caused in the believer who receives the elements at Communion. Richard Hooker, a 16th century Anglican Divine uses the word “transubstantiation” in a similar way. Removing the focus on what happens to the bread and wine in Communion to an emphasis on what happens to the faithful in Communion through the elements reframes Martyr in the context of the debate during the Reformation about transubstantiation to the Lord’s purposes for the Eucharist being realized in his people: “Christ assisting this heavenly banquet with his personal and true presence doth by his own divine power add to the natural substance thereof supernatural efficacy, which addition to the nature of those consecrated elements changeth them and maketh them that unto us which otherwise they could not be; that to us they are thereby made such instruments as mystically yet truly, invisibly yet really work our communion or fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ…whereupon there ensueth a kind of transubstantiation in us, a true change both of soul and body, an alteration from death to life.”
Richard Hooker, The Works of Richard Hooker, ed. W. Speed Hill, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977), 338.
[xxi] Although a “Bishop” Newbigin (1909-1998) was a Presbyterian. The Church of South India is an ecumenical church formed from several Protestant churches.
[xxii] J.E.Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church (London: SCM Press, 1953), 24.
[xxiii] In particular the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.
Mark Davison is an ordained Priest in the Anglican Church in North America. He has most recently served as founding Rector of Cross Roads: Peninsula Anglican Church in Brentwood Bay on Canada’s beautiful Vancouver Island. Mark graduated from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in 2011. While working on his Doctorate in Worship Studies, his academic focus was primarily on Eucharistic liturgy. Mark lives in Brentwood Bay British Columbia (home to the Buchart Gardens) with his wife Lyn who serves as a counselor at the local Christian High School.