Modern evangelicals generally approach the subject of worship by focusing upon biblical texts and/or biblical theology, or by focusing upon the style question as an end in itself. Rarely do they put the two of these together in any meaningful way. John Witvliet, professor of worship at Calvin College, addressed this subject in his lecture on Friday morning at the Wheaton Theology Conference by showing us how worship (lex orandi) and mission (lex vivendi) are intimately connected.
Witvliet, one of the finest voices in worship renewal within the Reformed world, stressed that discussions and considerations of the forms and patterns of worship must talk more about the strategic means by which real convictions can be expressed contextually in radically appropriate ways. He used various patristic sources from 4th century church to make his point. He did this by giving us a sampler of certain rich and full texts, suggesting that these were the kinds of texts that can provide a rich source of wisdom for contemporary practice. This kind of ressourcement could prove very helpful to many worship leaders but sadly most evangelicals will never bother using them until they take the history of liturgy more seriously. And they will not take the history of liturgy more seriously until they see how vitally related worship is to theology.
All churches, and church leaders, ultimately trust some source(s) to guide what they do. Most evangelicals determine what they will do in worship by the trends and cultural patterns of the present. It sounds almost heretical when an evangelical scholar actually suggests that we can mine the resources of ancient prayers and liturgical forms from the 4th century in order to improve our worship and mission practice in the 21st century but this is precisely what Witvliet suggested. I found it refreshing and extremely helpful.
Clearly the influence of Bob Webber has prompted some kind of renewal of worship theology in certain corners of the evangelical world. One can hope and pray that this fire will spread. The church is what it does in worship and worship is more than songs and a sermon.
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