The crisis of content has to do with the story we tell in worship. His point is that worship should both remember and anticipate. Worship leads us to remember the mighty acts of God’s salvation in history as well as anticipate a new creation. The content of worship often falls short in providing the full breadth of God’s action in creation, incarnation, and re-creation.
The crisis of structure has to do with how the story is narrated. If worship is to remember and anticipate God’s story, it is best accented in the Four Fold historical model of worship that hinges on word and table. God’s word helps us remember, God’s table helps us anticipate. This is not to say that readings and preaching can’t cause anticipation, and that the Eucharist can’t cause remembrance. Word and table are less a rigid framework that stifles and more an acknowledgment of how God comes to us in worship (and in examples throughout the Bible, such as the Emmaus Road story).
The crisis of style has to do with how the content and structure of worship are communicated. Webber suggests that the content and structure of worship should be made indigenous to the local setting. I would use the word contextual. Style is less important than content and structure. Appropriate use of style makes God’s story more readily heard in any given culture.
If you were with us in worship last Sunday you got to see the “Welcome to Baptism” rite by which we introduce our candidates in the First Steps @ Faith catechumenate process. The rite of welcome is an important transitional moment for these folks. It signifies that they are committing to growing their faith in Jesus in a very intentional way. It also lifts up to the church the fact that we have disciples sprouting in our midst, and our job is to nurture and encourage them in their journey of following Jesus. The ritual we witnessed is one of the most ancient rites of the Christian church. Record of its existence goes as far back as Hippolytus in 235 AD. “New converts to the faith, who are to be admitted to hearers of the word, shall first be brought to the teachers before the people assembled. And they shall be examined as to their reason for embracing the faith, and they who bring them shall testify that they are competent to hear the word.” (Webber, Journey to Jesus, p. 83)
Recently we had a discussion in our “Worship Matters” Learning Group about what our bodies do in worship. It might seem that, compared to some churches, not much is physically happening in the context of our Lutheran assemblies. But look again:
We stand to sing praise and hear the words of the gospel.
We sit to receive God’s message during the sermon.
We are free to kneel at the altar rail for prayer after communion. The entire assembly kneels to receive communion on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday.
We make the sign of the cross on our bodies by touching our forehead to chest, then shoulder to shoulder. We make the sign of the cross on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday during the imposition of ashes. We can dip our fingers in the baptismal font and make the sign of the cross on our foreheads every Sunday as a reminder of our baptismal identity as children of God.
If we loosely define the term dancing, (as a toe tap or slight sway) I can see dancing every Sunday at Faith! Especially from our children during particularly energetic songs.
We clap our hands to express praise and joy.
We lift our hands in adoration and surrender. An outstretched arm with open palm is a sign of openness and receptivity to God in our lives.
You will also observe the assisting and presiding ministers use the orans posture during prayer. Orans is the Latin word for prayer and has been depicted by ancient art of the church. Usually those leading prayer on behalf of the assembly use this posture, especially during the prayer of the day, the prayers of intercession, and the thanksgiving at the table during communion.
One thing I often say is that any posture during worship is an outward symbol of an inward reality. In other words, if I physically kneel in worship, it is because my heart and will are utterly bowed in humility and surrender to God. If I dance in worship, it is because my heart and soul are filled with joy and praise to God. The physical posture is a reflection of my heart’s posture.
“Human response comes through the use of the body in worship. A principle at work in body language is that external order organizes internal experience. We can do nothing without our bodies. We greet people in our bodies, we go to work in our bodies, we express leisure in our bodies. The spirit within always tells the body what to do. In similar manner, we come to worship in our bodies, and the spirit within tells the body to be at worship. Consequently, when we stand, sit, kneel, raise our hands, or bow down, the body is at worship. Posture and movement in worship allows the whole person to be engaged in worship.” (Robert Webber, Planning Blended Worship, 1998, p. 46)
I’m part of a new community that is forming called the “Ancient Future Faith Network” (AncientFutureFaithNetwork.org). I’ve always felt the need for ministry to be rooted in the historical, not just concerned with the novelty of the now. Bob Webber, in “Ancient-Future Faith” writes:
“In biblical and ancient times worship was the primary way of experiencing God’s saving work in history. Early Christian sermons (as in Acts) and liturgies (both Eastern and Western) are oriented around the proclamation and enactment of God’s saving work from creation to the consummation. This historical and symbolic recitation expressed the identity of the church, gave shape to its communal self-understanding, and signified its place in the world. During the first three centuries of the church, worship took place in homes or the catacombs. Its content was primarily the proclamation of God’s salvation and the anticipation of Christ’s return. The culminating praise of worship celebrated the work of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Because believers did not meet in churches, worship was informal and intimate.” (p. 97)
The vision of the Ancient-Future Faith Network (AFFN) is to grow and facilitate a grassroots network of like-minded individuals and churches.
At its core is Bob Webber’s 2006 “Call to an Ancient-Evangelical Future”. But the association is not so much about doctrinal bona fides as it is about mutual encouragement and resourcing. The very heart of the Network is its members. Our desire is that members will find in this virtual community of faith a vibrant place for interaction. The Network:
Is purposefully ecumenical and non-denominational.
Exists for the purpose of championing and promulgating an Ancient-Future theology and philosophy.
Is open to men and women around the world— both ministers and lay persons— inside and outside of established churches who are interested in worship renewal and what it means to be Ancient-Future.
Exists for established churches, and people who serve them, who want access to Ancient-Future materials, resources, and ideas, and want to learn from, share, and collaborate with those who are using them.
Exists for brand new church starts, and those called to start them, who need a network of encouraging, like-minded communities of faith.
Promotes and coordinate conferences, workshops, and offer appropriate resources and materials consistent with the mission of the AFFN.
Every time the church gathers together for worship it does God’s story. God’s story is that epic narrative that we can see unfolding throughout the Bible. When we step back and look at the big picture that the total Bible paints we can see a three-part story unfold. The three parts are creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Every time we gather for worship at Faith we do God’s story.
The story of God begins at the story of creation. God, existing as a Triune community, created human beings to participate in the community of God. Unfortunately the idyllic community didn’t last forever and corruption and evil entered the picture. But God sets in motion the plan to redeem and fix everything that went wrong. Out of the desolation of the desert the line of Abraham is established to begin the process of bringing back the peace once found in the Garden. God kick-starts the plan of redemption.
The incarnation of God is witnessed in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God’s response after centuries of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, insecure, and the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. In Jesus, God’s loving desire to really be known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest among us. Jesus’ humble mission was to become the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. God comes to us and accomplishes for us what we cannot do ourselves: salvation.
Re-creation is what the Holy Spirit brings about through the work of Jesus. Re-creation is the work of salvation healing all the broken areas of our lives. Re-creation is the new life we find as people born of water and the Spirit. Re-creation is the Jesus-garment that we put on when we become new creatures. Re-creation is the power of God to redeem everyone and everything. Re-creation is a new heaven and a new earth, where sorrows find their end and Jesus is the only light we need. Re-creation is the Garden restored.
The story of God is the story that our worship does. How? Every time we lift our corporate prayers we acknowledge God as the Creator of every good and perfect gift. Every time we invoke the name of the Holy Trinity we recognize that God was before creation came to be. When we bring our gifts and offerings to God we realize that as the Creator, everything is already God’s. That is how our worship remembers creation. Every time the Word of God is read and the Gospel of peace is proclaimed we hear Jesus. Every time the bread and wine are shared at the Table God’s love is experienced anew in the community of his Body. That is how our worship remembers and experiences incarnation. Every time we prepare for the meal and hear the words “until he comes again” we anticipate the feast to come. When we share the peace we experience the reconciliation that comes from being new creatures. Every time we celebrate at the baptismal font we are connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings us new life. That is how our worship experiences and anticipates re-creation. When you step through the doors on Sunday remember that we are doing God’s story!