KB Categories Archives: Worship

Dr. Marc Brown: Synthesis and Summary: Applying Ancient-Future Principles in Evangelical Worship Traditions

Video-IconVideo Content: At June, 2016’s annual AFFN Convocation, Network member Dr. Marc Brown presented “Synthesis and Summary: Applying Ancient-Future Principles in Evangelical Worship Traditions” and led us through a practical, step-by-step teaching and discussion session based in the way he devises, plans and leads worship services.

In this hour, we learned and shared many tips, suggestions and experiences – from choosing songs, prayers and readings, to incorporating complementary texts from the lectionary and reflecting the Christian year – that will be useful and adaptable in many settings.

A veteran worship leader, Marc has brought Ancient-Future worship paradigms to both contemporary and traditionally-styled services in the Southern Baptist churches he has served in northern Virginia and north-central Kentucky.

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Dr. Christopher Montgomery: Sacramentality: A Political Hermeneutic

Video-IconVideo Content: At June, 2016’s annual AFFN Convocation, Network member Dr. Christopher Montgomery presented a thought provoking paper on sacramentality and the Kingdom titled “Sacramentality: A Political Hermeneutic.”

Through a close reading of Mark 6;14-44 Christopher argued that the sacraments are gifts given to the Church to help us understand the way God relates to the world He has created and that the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, hold implications for the meaning we assign to ourselves as the Church and to our mission in the world around us.

Christopher has held pastoral positions in worship and the arts in evangelical and Anabaptist congregations, and now is pastor of Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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Presentational vs. Participatory: Are We Teaching to the Test?

Marc Brown:

test-taking-pencilMy wife is an educator. Her entire adult life has been spent teaching children and helping equip teachers. Perhaps the most formidable and irritating challenge she deals with is the enduring bane of standardized tests. Tests, in general, are not bad. Tests are meant to reveal objective progress toward a desired benchmark or standard. In the world of American public school education, standardized testing has unfortunately become the 800-pound gorilla in the room causing all things to revolve around its needs– determining the very curriculum it was designed to assess. In deciding what is crucial or dispensable, standardized tests can leave educators absolutely no time, opportunity, or choice to teach anything outside of the tests’ sometimes narrowly-focused objectives.

In planning and leading worship, the benchmark for which worship planners and leaders strive is congregational participation. If worship is what happens when God’s people assemble to receive and respond to God’s revelation, then it makes perfect sense that leaders want these moments to count. We want people to actively participate in the holy dialogue of worship with Creator God. We do not want to turn the sanctuary into an auditorium, nor the congregation into a crowd that passively seeks entertainment. Over the last few years I have read many books and heard several speakers expound on responsible worship planning, preparation and leadership. The buzz words in this milieu are “active congregational participation.” In nearly every instance the focus specifically lies on congregational singing. Recently, though, I have begun to wonder if focusing on the goal of congregational participation and inevitably dropping “nonessential” worship elements might be doing the same thing to evangelical worship that standardized tests have done to public education?

spectatorPlease don’t misunderstand me. I truly believe that one of the biggest problems in Western Christianity is audience-style, consumer-driven, passive worship attendance that turns would-be worshipers into non-engaged spectators. As Robert Webber writes, “we sit passively and are entertained by television…as spectators, we listen and watch, but we seldom participate actively. This same mood is often carried over into our church services.”[1] Bob Kauflin expressed the same sentiment when he wrote, “How can you stand there with your hands in your pockets and apathetic looks on your faces and claim to be worshiping God?”[2] For many Christians, greater participation is needed in congregational worship. My concern is that in our culture, active engagement in worship simply means that everyone sings for as long as possible. If someone sits down or does not sing, they are considered to be passively engaged in worship or not engaged at all. The fallacy at work is that we can’t see all forms of active engagement.

The root of this issue might come from our need to mend what is broken. A pastor once spoke to me comparing music ministry to preaching ministry. He said it must be nice for me to have immediate recognition as to whether or not I had done my job well. In preaching a sermon, he felt he had no evaluation of the effectiveness of his hours spent researching, writing and delivery other than expressions on the congregation’s faces, handshakes at the door, and their general responsiveness to his leadership. As opposed to the sermon, he remarked, with music everyone knows right away whether or not my work has been successful. In trying to achieve our goal of helping the congregation worship, we may be over simplifying our evaluation criteria to include only what is most obvious– congregational singing. Just like the pastor in my story, we can immediately see and hear active participation when the congregation sings, but may not so easily identify internal forms of active participation.

John Baldovin, in his introduction to the book, The Postures of the Assembly During the Eucharistic Prayer, points out that all Christians turn actions of worship into ritual.[3] Ritual has a bad rap in American culture. For many people, “ritual” is synonymous with “meaningless.” According to Baldovin, ritual is what “helps a group of people experience solidarity, identity, and common purpose.” Our ritualistic actions are the tools we need for the Body of Christ to “express our identity bodily and communally.” Singing together in the congregation can help us to experience this solidarity, group identity, and common purpose, but it is not the only way. If God reveals Himself to us in corporate worship and our response is our participation, don’t we need options for response in addition to musical expression? Shouldn’t we build liturgies in a way that accommodates more ways to respond than singing alone?

Throughout history, God’s people have responded to Him in many different ways. Andrew Hill points out several of these historic responses in his book, Enter His Courts with Praise: Old Testament Worship for the New Testament Church.[4] In addition to singing, Hill gives biblical evidence for liturgical responses (such as AMEN!), prayer (worship, praise, thanksgiving, adoration, devotion, communion, confession, petition, and intercession), making vows or commitments, preaching/teaching, giving tithes and offerings, participating in seasonal festivals, penitential acts (weeping, tearing clothes, shaving one’s head), and artistic responses. In her book, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, Constance Cherry lists numerous principals to consider when moving congregations from passive to participatory that do not include singing.[5]  Cherry asks worship planners to consider these questions: Which of the five senses have I employed? Where have I asked people to connect with fellow worshipers? How many times have I invited all worshipers to do something? What physical action have I invited? How much of what is being done by leaders can be done by the people? And, am I intentionally and pastorally guiding worshipers toward appropriate responses?

In a recent conversation with a good friend, we talked about this very subject. As we talked, my friend Tom shared that he almost never sings with the congregational music. However, he told me how he appreciates well-crafted and well delivered presentational music in the same way he values sermons. Why? Both presentational music and sermons give him time to hear God or to reflect on how God is revealing Himself. Tom is an introvert. Congregational music helps many in our congregations understand God’s revelation. However, as an element of worship naturally geared toward extroverts, it may also make it difficult for some introverts to listen to God. Some estimates are a that a third to a half of all people may function this way. [6] We need to provide many ways for our congregations to hear and respond to God’s revelation, not just one. If we don’t give our congregations time and opportunity to hear God, then to what or whom are we asking them to respond? Let’s not reduce the structures of our worship to include only the forms of response we can see and hear. That would be like turning congregational worship into a standardized test.


[1] Robert E. Webber, Worship is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2004), 3.

[2] Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway 2008), 121.

[3] John Baldovin, The Postures of the Assembly During the Eucharistic Prayer(Chicago, IL: Liturgy  Training Publications, 1994), 3.

[4] Andrew Hill, Enter His Courts with Praise: Old Testament Worship for the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1993), 113-130.

[5] Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 267-269.

[6] Susan Cain. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking(New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2013), 14-15.

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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.

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How Much is Enough?

Marc Brown:

Communion-Cup_BreadEverything we value we view with purpose and intentionality. Normally-occurring changes happen in everyone’s lives. These changes often challenge our habits and the things we treasure. Depending on how clearly we understand the meaning of the values we place on people, things and habits, these will either survive the changes or be left behind to make way for the new. There was a time in my life that I was sick and tired of being heavy…chubby…fat. I had battled poor fitness my whole life. Now, as the sun was about to set on my 20’s, I embarked on a fitness and diet routine that helped me to become stronger and slimmer than I had ever been. This new reality was made possible by routines of regular and frequent exercise along with habitual and constant positive eating habits. My daily and weekly schedule reflected my values with purpose and intentionality. Three years later we moved. Along with a new job came new responsibilities, new priorities and new stresses. My new schedule seemed to leave no time for exercise, especially habitual exercise. There was also the strong compulsion to salve my stresses through comfort eating. What happened to my habits? My values changed. Taking care of my new responsibilities meant more to me than taking care of my body.

My story makes the point that the value we place on something is based on its meaning. We will craft our daily and weekly schedule to accommodate the things we treasure. However, when change comes into our lives, we will be tempted to surrender the things value, trading them for something that seems more necessary– more meaningful.

Something all Christians agree on as being meaningful is the Lord’s Supper. Mark’s Gospel account of the Lord’s Supper tells us:

“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This I my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, he said to them.” -Mark 14:23-24

Jesus was eating the Passover meal with his disciples. While sharing this holy observance, he gave it a new meaning and told us to eat and drink. My purpose is not to promote one of the many interpretations different Christian traditions have ascribed to the Lord’s Supper. Instead, I am making the point that whatever way a church understands the meaning of the Lord’s Supper should lead them to intentionality and purpose with regard to the timing and frequency of the Lord’s Supper.

In my Southern Baptist tradition, there is a great variety in the frequency the observance of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, a 2012 random survey of Southern Baptist pastors conducted by LifeWay Research showed that fifty-seven percent of the pastor’s churches observed the Lord’s Supper once a quarter, eighteen percent monthly and only one percent weekly. Even though it is possible that these churches all came to a conclusion regarding the meaning of and frequency for observing the Lord’s Supper, it is also possible that their practices “developed over the course of history and have been perpetuated with little reflection or rationale” (40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Hammett, John S., 289). Many Baptists might point to an agreed meaning of the Lord’s Supper as being done at Christ’s command and “in remembrance.” Rather than being a means of making a regular deposit into one’s salvation, the Baptist (Zwinglian) view of remembrance may not seem to demand as much frequency. As Keith Mathison stated, “nature determines frequency” (Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Mathison, Keith., 293). An alternate perspective is proposed by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor John Hammett: “If the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is solely for us to remember Christ’s sacrifice, perhaps a quarterly observance would be sufficient, through it could also be asked if we can be reminded of the cross too often. But if the Lord’s Supper is given to us as a ‘means of grace,’ by which believing hearts experience communion with Christ, are nourished spiritually, are encouraged by anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb, and are renewed in unity and love by partaking ‘of the one loaf’ (1 Corinthians 10:17) and recognizing the corporate body of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:29), then such a gift would naturally be something we would desire more frequently.” (40 Question, 292-293)

Is any church healthier because it observes the Lord’s Supper less often? Has the frequency of the observance of the Lord’s Supper fallen prey to new things we have decided are more valuable? Are our deeply held traditions concerning the periodicity of the Lord’s Supper being kept for the sake of history rather than their meaning? I believe these questions should be prayerfully answered as we strive to be part of His kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

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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.

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A Journey through the Past

Duane Arnold:

I will stay with you, if you’ll stay with me,
Said the fiddler to the drum,
And we’ll keep good time on a journey thru the past.

-Neil Young

constantine2-1In the year 337, a sixty-five year old man in ill health was making his way back to his home.  His had been a turbulent life, filled with intrigues, wars, assassinations (including ordering the juridical deaths of his wife and an eldest son) and betrayals. Realizing that the end was near and hoping for forgiveness for all that he had done in his life, he changed into the white robes of a Christian catechumen and requested baptism. Shortly afterwards, in a small suburb of the city he had built, Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus, died.  Soon to be known as Constantine the Great and hailed as the first Christian emperor, his body was interred in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Constantinople.

Opinions vary as to the depth of Constantine’s Christian faith. What is certain, is that the promulgation of the Edict of Milan in 313 allowed Christians to openly practice their faith without fear of persecution and ordered the return of confiscated Church property. It is also allowed that Constantine supported numerous Christian endeavors, especially the building of churches while he personally retained many of the symbols and stylings of the older imperial cults and deities. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, he also involved himself in the doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of church life.  As such, he attracted numerous Christian leaders who had visions of “Christ’s kingdom on earth” rising out of the Roman empire, despite Christ’s own assertion– before Pontius Pilate no less– that his kingdom was not of this world.

In his wake Constantine left a troubled legacy of an empire ruled by intrigue and, perhaps of more importance to us in 2016, of a Church increasingly dependent upon the state, both for material well being and the expectation of specifically Christian ideals being promulgated in civil society.

Now, while intrigue has always been a part of political life (both in the civil and religious spheres) the involvement of the Church with the State was something new and it has left a mark on the life of the Church that extends from the time of Constantine to the present day. Throughout the centuries since Constantine, a quasi-theocratic idea of civil society (drawing heavily on Old Testament examples) has made it’s way in and out of Christian thought.  Some, such as Augustine, sought a clear differentiation between the “City of God” and the “City of Man,” but even he thought the power of the State could be used against heretics and schismatics and that the Church could and/or should enjoy special privileges.  The general idea of the amalgamation of Church and State, however, ranged throughout the Middle Ages and, despite Luther’s concept of “the Two Kingdoms”, into the Reformation period when, with the Peace of Augsburg (1555) and the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) the ruler of any state could establish its religious practice– cuius regio, eius religio (“Whose realm, his religion”).

First AmendmentIn the United States, formed in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, the truly revolutionary idea of a nation without a national established religion was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, namely, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Making use of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom as its basis, the intent was clear:  In Jefferson’s own words, it was meant to erect “a wall of separation between Church and State” (James Madison, the author of the First Amendment also cited Luther as providing the proper distinction between civil and ecclesiastical spheres.) This, however, applied only to the nation as a whole.  Several colonies, now states, had established churches well into the first half of the nineteenth century (Massachusetts being the last to disestablish in 1834). Moreover, as white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants made up the vast majority of the population, almost through to the present time, the intermingling of state policies and religious concerns remained the norm rather than the exception. Even as new waves of immigrants made their way to America, they often almost measured their progress by how they made their way into politics carrying their faith tradition with them. While the idea of a Roman Catholic president seemed novel and unusual in 1960, within a very short time most Judeo-Christian faith traditions were accepted– although the idea of an occupant of the White House stating that he was “born again”, did raise some eyebrows in the 1970s.

If you grew up in the fifties and sixties, you were used to seeing Bishop Fulton J. Sheen on television. Your parents might be reading Norman Vincent Peale. Billy Graham was a regular visitor at the White House. Clergy were respected members of the community. Presidents went to church, the Congress had chaplains, tax exemptions were made for houses of worship and prayers might be said before the local high school football game. In 1954, even the Pledge of Allegiance was altered to include the phrase “under God.” For the most part, we were comfortable.  The laws and mores of civil society seemed, at least to most, to mirror our faith traditions– and we were mostly, if not always, at ease with the status quo.  The road we were on had stretched all the way from fourth century Constantinople to twentieth century Washington… and we liked it.

Those days, however, are gone, and they will not return.

"Abandoned Church." Edward Peterson

“Abandoned Church.” Edward Peterson

We have to face the fact that not only has the world changed, so has the United States.

Europe, for decades, has been made up of nations that may only be described as “post-Christian” in terms of culture, belief and church attendance. At the present time, even in England, with an established Church and bishops seated in the upper chamber of Parliament, only 1.4% of the population will attend an Anglican service on any given weekend. On any Friday, more Muslims will attend mosque than Methodists will attend a church or chapel on the following Sunday. In the Netherlands, two-thirds of the remaining Roman Catholic churches and over 700 Protestant churches will close within the next 4-10 years. The outlook throughout the rest of the continent is similar.  Next stop… the United States.

In the United States the numbers may not say it all, but they say enough.  Mainline churches across the board are in decline and even evangelicals are caught in the slide downwards.  Whether in the Gallup Poll of December 2015, or the extensive Pew Religious Landscape study of 2014, or the recent book, The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones, the numbers generally tell the same story, and the story is this: Members of mainline denominations, as well as self-identified evangelicals are aging and dying, with fewer and fewer young people taking their place. Even former adherents, now in middle age, are leaving. The percentage of those with no religious affiliation whatsoever is growing across most age ranges (among young millennials, ages 18-24, 36% self identify as having no religious affiliation at all). I could go on. There is very little good news. The numbers are exhaustive and exhausting.

The influence of religious groups has also waned.  Perhaps a good anecdotal example of this might be seen in the lead up to recent wars. In 1990, prior to the Gulf War, real attention was given by President George H.W. Bush to the pronouncements of religious leaders, some even being invited to the White House to discuss their concerns. Vigils and prayers for peace were held across the country and were covered by national media. Eleven years later, prior to the invasion of Iraq, concerns of religious leaders were essentially ignored, with little attention being given by the media apart from secular  protest marches in major cities. Things had clearly changed.

We are blinded, however, by what we think we are seeing and hearing. There seems to be so much activity, so many blogs, so many websites for local churches.  If you have the money, you can even take a cruise with your favorite Bible teacher or Christian artist. The list of possible activities seems almost endless, as though a brave new Christian world is emerging.  Then those pesky statistics come back to haunt us. For the year 2014 (the last year reported) the average Sunday attendance in the Episcopal Church was 90. For the year 2015, the average Sunday attendance in the United Methodist Church was 88. Now remember, this is the mean number– about half of the churches have more, but half have less. Also, these are national figures and there are conferences (Methodists) and dioceses (Episcopal) where the average Sunday attendance is 35 or even lower. Obviously, many of these churches cannot be sustained. They struggle to pay their bills, rely on denominational subsidies and hope against hope that things will get better, but it seldom happens.

Arena WorshipSo, as I look at the mega-churches, worship events in arenas, and the panoply of television preachers and ministries, what am I to think? I believe that they are the last vestiges of a Christian triumphalism that is “past its sell-by date” and do not reflect the reality faced by many, if not most, churches in the United States. Aligning ourselves with society, current norms and partisan politics may have “worked” at one time. Now, in my opinion, it is the most certain way for the Church to be consigned to irrelevancy, or to further divide the Church into smaller and smaller factions and subgroups. As someone once said, “When you wed yourself to the present, you will be a widow in the future.”

If Robert Webber was correct that the “path to the future runs through the past,” it is to the past, I believe, we must go, bypassing the Constantinian settlement, the supposed glories of medieval Christendom and embrace the life of a different kind of Church: A Church that managed it’s own affairs.  A Church that did not look to the State to give it a position of advantage (financial or otherwise) and, indeed, did not look to the State to assist in propagating the Church’s ideals, mores or faith.  The treasure of that Church consisted of the poor, whom they cared for and fed. It was a Church that faced occasional persecution, but, in spite of the persecution, grew.

Clearly, there has never really been a “golden age” for the Church. As individuals and as worshipping communities we have always had to struggle with the dichotomy of “being in the world, but not of the world.” Nevertheless the example is there, even in the New Testament canon. We can see such a Church in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Clement and in the Didache. It was a Church that counted humility as a virtue. The certainty of that Church was confined to the saving work of Christ, not national pride or partisan political allegiances. Moreover we can see echoes of that Church in the lives and works of so many throughout the centuries– Francis of Assisi, the young Luther, John Wesley and so many more down to our own day.

Such a Church, especially if modeled on that of the ante-Nicene period, would be an adjustment for most American Christians. It would probably involve even more than can be stated in this small essay– the loss of tax exempt status, for instance; or involvement in civil disobedience if the State requires conformity contrary to conscience or belief. So be it. Such a Church, however, might also foster a renaissance in biblical studies, theology, music and the arts. Who knows, it might even create disciples.

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A Call to Worship

Chris Alford:

logo_mark_320Many of you have been called to call people to worship. It happens, in one form or another, each week. But I want to introduce you to another call to worship— one that you might not have heard about.

Before the death of my dear mentor and friend, Robert E. Webber spent a good portion of his last year working collaboratively with over 300 theologians and other leaders to craft A Call to an Ancient-Evangelical Future. The Call continues some themes from and expands upon the influential and widely circulated “Chicago Call” of 1977, and sets forth a vision for an Ancient-Future faith in a postmodern world.

The theologians and pastors who participated in putting the document together represented a broad diversity of ethnicity and denominational affiliation. The Call’s listing of theological editors and members of the board of reference is remarkable in its depth, but most encouraging to me is that hundreds of pastors, theologians, and lay persons across the U. S., Canada, and the world continue to sign The Call, lending voice to its concerns and affirming its truths. The Call is comprised of six sections, plus a prologue and epilogue, focusing on the gospel narrative in the context of the church: 1. On the Primacy of the Biblical Narrative; 2. On the Church, the Continuation of God’s Narrative; 3. On the Church’s Theological Reflection on God’s Narrative; 4. On Church’s Worship as Telling and Enacting God’s Narrative; 5. On Spiritual Formation in the Church as Embodiment of God’s Narrative; and 6. On the Church’s Embodied Life in the World.

That Bob helped to craft such a call is not unusual, for he spent the whole of his professional life calling the church to continual reform and, most especially, encouraging leaders and laity alike to drink from the refreshing well of ancient truth. That The Call comes at a time of great change in the world and in the church, and that it also came just before Bob’s passing, gives it a kind of weight that, at least for me, makes it especially compelling to examine.

So compelling, actually, that we made it the core component of the Ancient-Future Faith Network (AFFN). The Network’s purpose is to foster the worship of our Triune God; to build and promote a network and association of like-minded individuals and churches; to organize and provide Ancient-Future resources and training; to promote the 2006 “Call to an Ancient-Evangelical Future” championed by Robert Webber; and more generally to promote and encourage the knowledge and practice of Ancient-Future theology, worship, spirituality, and ecclesiology.

As the Network prepares for its fifth annual gathering next month in Jacksonville, Florida, we have a special task force focused on reworking The Call into every day, layman’s language. We want to communicate effectively the contents of The Call to the average person in the pew, as it were, and I will be sure to report back to you on those efforts. The task force will report on their progress at the June meeting and the resulting material will eventually be available on the website of the AFFN.

In the meantime, I’d love you to take some time to consider carefully the portion of The Call that addresses corporate worship:

4. On the Church’s Worship as Telling and Enacting God’s Narrative

We call for public worship that sings, preaches and enacts God’s story. We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in baptism, Eucharist, confession, the laying on of hands, marriage, healing and through the charisms of the Spirit, for these actions shape our lives and signify the meaning of the world.

Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from forms of worship that focus on God as a mere object of the intellect, or that assert the self as the source of worship. Such worship has resulted in lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered and program-controlled models that do not adequately proclaim God’s cosmic redemption. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover the historic substance of worship of Word and Table and to attend to the Christian year, which marks time according to God’s saving acts.

My hope is that you and your church, especially those whose joyful task it is to craft corporate worship, will take some intentional time to reflect deeply on The Call. Ask difficult questions: What does worship really look like that “enacts God’s story”? How might our worship change, if at all, if we focused on the ministries of worship and their ability to “shape our lives and signify meaning to the world”? And maybe some of the hardest questions of all: Is our worship “lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered and program-controlled”? Have we neglected the Table? If we’re not allowing God’s mighty deeds and saving acts order and mark our time, then what have we allowed to do so?

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The Right Order

Donald Richmond:

PrevinComedyRoutineIn his book and study guide The Way of Beauty, David Clayton relates the following comedic television routine: Famous composer and conductor, Andre Previn, is leading an orchestra. At a point during the mock-performance, Previn cues the pianist with his baton. As the pianist plays it becomes obvious that the music is not right and Previn tells him to stop. When Previn insists that the pianist was playing the “wrong notes,” the pianist gets up, walks over to the conductor, takes him by the lapels, and shakes him shouting, “I am playing all the right notes… but not necessarily in the right order.” This, used as an illustration, is the problem with much Protestant worship today. We may have the right notes, but we all too often “play” them in the wrong order.

The Worship Arts includes visual, vocal, poetic, prosaic, musical, rhetorical, and kinetic components. Each and all are included in public worship, and are crucial to the worship experience. Well-ordered worship will not simply attend to the biblical and theological aspects of “communication,” but, as well, the aesthetics which either add or detract from the worship encounter. To confuse the order is to confuse the message and confound the hearer. As just one of many examples, have we ever really thought about the theological implications of when (or if) we do the Announcements? Even Announcements proclaim a theological agenda!

I am sure that many worship leaders today, even if they enjoy some liturgical sentiments, think that Acts 2:42 provides a perfect paradigm for structuring worship. That is, if apostolic teaching (catechesis), fellowship (communion), breaking bread (Communion) and prayers are included, all is well. Of course, taking a hint from both the Psalms and Paul, “hymns and spiritual songs” would also be included. But, even with this sound substantive outline, is it really enough? Is it truly ordered for biblical fidelity and social impact? I think not.

One of the lessons that I learned from Dr. Robert E. Webber is that while substance does not change, structure can, does and must change. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. Nevertheless, even if the structure changes it does not mean that the structure is unimportant. As with everything in worship, structure is vital. Everything “says” something. What are our structures of worship saying?

Let me provide another illustration: Some time ago I was asked to lead a worship workshop at one of our local churches. During my two hour lecture, and then Questions and Answers, we covered almost every element of how we worship– or, in fact, do not. One of our topics was physical architecture. As I began to address this issue in greater detail, I focused (in part) upon their Communion Table. It was bare. There was nothing on it: no Table Cloth, no Wine Goblet, and no Paten. Nothing! “What,” I asked them, “is wrong with this picture?” They could not guess. My answer to this semi-rhetorical question was simple: “Even if you do not celebrate Communion every week, Word and Sacrament are so crucial to worship that when you have a bare Table your subliminal message is, ‘Come for the Bread of Life, although we cannot offer you anything.’” This is clearly not the Good News!

And every part of worship is almost equally as important. But have we clearly thought about every part of worship, from beginning to end, and why and how we “do” it? I think that many churches have not. How is worship to be practically understood and navigated? Do we have a theology of arriving at church? Do we intentionally embrace a functional Entrance Theology? What, specifically, is our theology of welcome? When a person enters our doors, what, within the entire structure of worship, do we want to say? What is our Preparatory Theology? Are we using our entrance into the Sanctuary optimally or is it simply a dead zone punctuated with somewhat purposeless (and thus powerless) music? What tone must the music have: Why? When? Where? How? What is our synthetic theology of music? Do we have one beyond the rather inept idea that it must integrate with the Sermon and be “missional” (another article in-and-of itself!). How many biblical texts do we read and reflect upon each week? Why one…two…three…four? How are Announcements done? Why? What is the theology behind Announcements?

The Road to Emmaus. Duccio. c. 1308

The Road to Emmaus. Duccio. c. 1308

All of these questions and illustrations beg an important question: Why? Although I have briefly hinted at answers throughout this article, it is important that I am absolutely clear about the purpose of playing the right notes in the right way in the right order. Fundamentally this concern is rooted in our relationship with God as revealed in and through both Word and Sacrament. From Genesis through Revelation God communicates a pronounced concern about proper worship. At no time did God ever communicate an “anything goes” orientation. God provided Adam and Eve the priority of blood sacrifice. Abel honored this emphasis, and his offering was acceptable. Although Cain’s offering may (or may not) have been well intentioned, it did not follow the revealed pattern and process. As such it was rejected. Also, and not to be minimized, the process and pattern of Passover was revealed by God, and disobedience to this revelation was both costly and immediate. Similarly, God gave Israel the patterns and the processes for the Tabernacle, Temple, and Feasts. Although some measure of artistic creativity was allowed, as the biblical text suggests, Tabernacle, Temple, and Feasts were revealed. God’s calculations, from coverings to costly jewels, were specific. Structure and substance were clearly stated. Turning to the New Testament, and not overlooking our Lord’s emphasis upon worship being “in spirit and in truth,” our Lord was deliberate in how the Last Supper was to occur. “Took, Blessed, Broke, Gave,” is the ritual refrain in the Communion (and other) narratives. Speaking and acting are both evident and emphasized. The Emmaus revelation was also predicated upon the Word (“did not our hearts burn?”) and Sacrament (“their eyes were opened”) paradigm as found throughout Holy Writ. That is, in other words, worship suggests a revealed pattern and process that requires careful and prayerful attention. There is NO arbitrary in worship. Worship is not well-intended whim. It is crucial to God’s revelation. Are we truly being attentive? (Although I do not entirely agree with their analysis of worship, I am indebted to both Dr. Scott Hahn and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger for at least some of these ideas.)

There are many other questions that must be asked and answered in worship. Have we actually taken the time to prayerfully and carefully work through the entire process? Without asking and answering the right questions we may have all the right notes but be playing them in the wrong order. Do we want cacophony or true celebration?


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