Friday, January 21, 2011

Christian worship as covenant renewal

In Letter XVI of Letters to a Young Calvinist author Jamie Smith gently chides Jesse (his fictional correspondent) for choosing a church home based on the fact that it "teaches Calvinism." Smith writes that this is the wrong criteria because it sees church as primarily a lecture hall where one goes to be taught.

Instead Smith wants Jesse to pay more attention to how a church worships -- and not just the music. This is one way, Smith argues, in which the Reformed tradition runs counter to the "ethos of American evangelicalism." In that ethos worship is reduced to music (there's even a genre called "praise and worship"), and the sermon is reduced to teaching. Even if that teaching is Calvinistic it isn't enough to make it a Reformed church. Smith:

In the Reformed tradition, the entire service is worship. While psalm singing and hymn singing might be an important part of worship, in fact they are just a slice of the entire drama that constitutes a service of Christian worship. And while the sermon is important, it too is only a part of the drama of worship. There is a specific "logic" to the entire shape of worship that flows out of the conviction that Christian worship replays the drama of the covenant. In fact, Michael Horton, in A Better Way, has very helpfully described the service of Christian worship as a "covenant renewal ceremony." Worship is the site of God's action, where we dialogically encounter our Redeemer and covenantal Lord, in offers of praise and thanksgiving—but also in confession and reverence. Each week, worship invites us into the narrative of God's redemptive history. Indeed, the entire drama of worship replays that story each week and invites us to situate ourselves in that story. (pp. 81-2)

I love that description of worship! This approach has the added benefit of reminding us that worship is about something bigger than ourselves. Yet, within this framework is plenty of room for cultural or musical variation. A few more quotes. . .

[. . .] worship is a matter of both Word and sacrament. Worship is not just an opportunity to get "information" in the Word preached; it is also a ceremony in which we (re)enact the covenant with our promise-keeping God. (p. 83)

[. . .] worship is not only what is rightly owed to God; it is also a kind of training, a means of discipline and formation that God provides for our sanctification. Worship not only expresses our praise and adoration of God; it also forms our habits and desires. Rightly ordered worship is a crucial part of our discipleship and sanctification. (p. 84)

I'll have one more post on this book later...including some nitpicks. BTW the author is answering questions via video about the book at his blog.

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