Keeping it practical: It's like riding a bike?

Last time we began exploring the book Worshipping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship, by Robin Parry, and highlighted sections making plain that the primary emphasis in worship should not be on our own faith, decision or response, but rather on the perfect faith, decision and response of Jesus – the Son of God and Son of Man – and that the Holy Spirit enables us to share in the resurrected and ascended Son’s ongoing prayer and worship of the Father.  Below are additional quotes as to what that dynamic means for congregational worship.

“Trinity should be related to our other beliefs like hydrogen is related to water.  Take the ‘H’ out of H2O and you no longer have water.  Take the Trinity out of Christian faith and practice and you no longer have Christian faith and practice.” (p. 5)

“Christian theology is not an interesting exercise in abstract speculation but is intimately connected to Christian living and worship.  Good theology matters for good worship.” (p. 6)

“Our spirituality is usually shaped more by the experience of communal worship than it is by preaching and teaching.  Please do not think I am running preaching and teaching down – I believe in the importance of both.  My point is simply that the way we think about God and related to God is influenced enormously by our experience of God in communal worship….[in public worship] we learn the language of praise and the way to speak of and to God.  We may not consciously be copying those around us.  Often we simply absorb the pattern of speech, the intonation, the words to use, the appropriate physical gestures and postures and so on just by being immersed in an environment in which others are worshipping.  The public worship we experience often sets the limits and possibilities of our worshipping worlds.” (pp. 8-9)

“Songs are especially formative.  ‘We are far more likely to find ourselves humming something we sang in church when we go home than we are to find ourselves meditating on a phrase in the sermon’, observes Rosalind Brown….”

“Christian philosopher and scientist Michael Polanyi spoke of knowledge that we simply absorb by a kind of ‘osmosis’ without even realizing that we have done so.  This is what he refers to as ‘tacit knowledge’.  Most Christians simply imbibe a theology through the way that they worship.  The songs, Scripture readings, prayers and rituals (and even the most non-liturgical, charismatic churches have ‘rituals’) form the bricks and mortar of the congregation’s spirituality and faith.  The knowledge we gain through worship is not merely information but a practical knowledge.” (pp. 9-10)

“Think about riding a bike.  There are some things about riding a bike, such as how to balance on it, that can only be learned by riding it and not by reading the How to Cycle manual….we internalize all that we need to know through participating in the practice of cycling and then intuitively we just know how to do it, even if we would have trouble explaining it.  This kind of knowledge could be called participatory knowledge.

"Susan Wood argues that regularly taking part in Christian worship is essential for Christian spiritual formation.  We may not pay conscious attention to all the individual elements of the faith that we sing or act out in worship, but we are immersed in the practice of communal devotion to God.  We internalize the shape of the faith through the sights, sounds, smells, tastes of the whole experience.  Liturgy, says Wood, creates an environment that, when we indwell it, shapes our vision, relations and knowledge of God in Christian ways.  The knowledge of God we gain in worship is not the knowledge that one can learn from a book but the participatory knowledge that comes from being involved in a relationship.” (p. 10)

“If we get our Trinitarian worship in order then we will find that our congregations will absorb all the key elements of Trinitarian faith before we even get as far as explaining it.  So when we do formally explain the Trinity it will resonate with people and we will simply be helping them clarify what they already believe.  However if our worship is disordered then the message from the pulpit that ‘the Trinity matters’ is completely undermined by weekly experience of worship in which it clearly matters very little.  The occasional sermon on the Trinity cannot compensate for week after week of communal worship which has had all the Trinitarian life and color washed out of it.” (p. 13)

“I am not arguing that the reason we should get the theology right in our worship is so that we can teach good theology to our churches!  That is precisely the wrong way around.  What I am suggesting is that we get the theology in our worship right so that we can worship God more appropriately.” (p. 13)

“This view of communal worship calls attention to the crucial importance of the job of the person or people preparing and leading public worship.  The songwriters and worship leaders of today play an enormous part in shaping the faith and life of the church tomorrow….Those who shape worship are the de facto theologians of the church, whether they want to be or not….The songs that you choose, the Scriptures that you read, the prayers that you pray and the way you connect them all together make a vast difference. (p. 13)

“There are many illustrations of the Trinity, and all of them have strengths and weaknesses.  While no illustration is perfect….they can be helpful.  One such illustration was used in the second century by a church leader named Irenaeus (c. AD 130-200).  He said that the Word (i.e., the Son) and Spirit were like the two hands of the Father.  The weakness of this image is that it depersonalizes the Son and the Spirit (hands are not centers of consciousness and will).  The image is still helpful, however, for understanding God’s work in creation and redemption.  Everything that God does is the work of the whole Trinity.  When the Father acts, he does so through his Son and his Spirit.  The Son and the Spirit work together to achieve the Father’s will, just like the hands of a potter work together to shape a sculpture.” (p. 19)

“Christians are increasingly remembering that the Bible is not simply a list of ‘things-to-believe-and-do’ or a collection of timeless blessed thoughts that one can dip into at random.  On the contrary, the Bible is a single story that runs from creation to new creation, from Genesis to Revelation.  Robert Webber writes that ‘this story is the good news (evangelion).  In worship we signify it (leiturgia); in evangelism we proclaim it (kerygma); in fellowship we experience it (koinonia); in our ministry to each other and in our service to each other we live it (diaconia).  It is the very heartbeat of who we are.’” (p. 19-20)

Your comments are certainly welcome.

Comments

  1. This is a helpful post Mike. Thanks.

    I heartily agree with the quote: "The songs that you choose, the Scriptures that you read, the prayers that you pray and the way you connect them all together [in the worship of the church] make a vast difference."

    The difference this is referring to here, of course, is in providing worship that participates in the Triune Life and Love of God.

    I wonder if you might provide some positive and negative examples for us to consider.

    Perhaps a positive one would be to have the whole congregation recite together the Apostle's Creed. This creed is thoroughly trinitarian in its language and construction. It seems to me that speaking corporately words testifying to God's trinity bends our collective thinking toward a trinitarian understanding and worship of God.

    Other examples?

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  2. Thanks Ted. I'll give thought to additional examples, but here's a start. We do not have a standard benediction in our congregation, but on some occasions I use 2 Cor. 13:13 "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you." (NRSV)

    We occasionally sing the powerful praise anthem "Because We Believe" by Jamie Harvill and Nancy Gordon, which is trinitarian and creedal. This past weekend we sang a new Tommy Walker song "I Will Not Be Shaken" with a middle section that includes the first verse of "Holy, Holy, Holy" -- the traditional Reginald Heber hymn about God in three Persons.

    The photo of the praying child is intended to remind us that Jesus already has a relationship with his creation, including with little children. After several congregational songs, we have a grade school child offer up a prayer over the microphone as the children are ready to depart for their children's lessons downstairs. Perhaps we should not be surprised, but sometimes the simple heart-felt prayer of the child is more touching and inspiring than any other in the service.

    Better not mention bad examples – as I would certainly meet myself there way too many times!

    Thanks again.

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