In the early centuries of the Church, worship was dynamically linked to the spiritual formation of worshipers. The various acts of worship constantly reminded believers of their formation journey as worshipers, in that these worship components were first delivered and explained to them as part of the catechetical instruction they received prior to and following their baptism – itself, a central act of worship. As worshipers heard the teachings, memorized the Creed, offered up prayers, and received the Eucharist, their own catechesis and baptism were always in view. Believers were formed for worship.
Today’s reality is quite different. Conversion and Christian formation have little to do with the when, why, and how we worship. As evangelicals, we are quick to affirm that the Christian faith is meant to be a faith-of-the-heart. [OT: God is not after our “sacrifices”, but after our hearts] Yet, a process of spiritual formation that prepares the believer for knowledge of, full participation in, and commitment to worship is strangely absent. We might “require” praise-team members to be members or at least regular attendees for 6 months or some such thing before being allowed on stage to help lead worship, but we generally leave their spiritual formation process up to them! We have fairly successfully disconnected the ministry and acts of worship from the spiritual formation of the worshiper.
What implications does this disconnect present? How might it be affecting our corporate worship expressions? In what ways does our culture’s emphasis on radical individualism, as well as egalitarianism, keep us from rediscovering and utilizing the catechetical practices of the early church? Further, what implications would the faithful catechizing of believers have on the health, strength, and effectiveness of congregational worship and mission?
We evangelicals commonly “save” people (facilitate their "decision" to receive Christ), yet fail to fully “convert” them. As a result, we become discouraged when attempting to “disciple” these saved-but-not-yet-converted “Christians,” and shake our heads in disbelief at how many of them eventually discard their faith for a more secularized and even less demanding "form" of quasi-Christian spirituality.
Wouldn’t this reality drastically change if we led new comers to the faith through a process of conversion, and of Christian formation? What if worship, then, flowed out of who we had become? What if we worshipped like truly baptized people (with all that this means), rather than un-converted folks who still bring their capitalism, materialism, hedonism, narcicism and the like, into the worship gathering?
(more to come)
image © iStockPhoto, Steve Greer