Reforming Worship

Throughout the history of the Christian church, periods of significant liturgical reform have almost always featured (1) an intense call to deeper, more intentional participation in worship, (2) a deeper, pastoral concern for the particularities of worship in a given congregation, and (3) a profound awareness of how God works in and through all these particularities in worship to nourish, confront, comfort, and inspire participants.

—John D. Witvliet, “Teaching Worship as a Christian Practice” in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry (ed. Dorothy C. Bass & Craig Dykstra)

Trintarian Worship

Ponder Robert Jenson’s evocative image: “The particular God of Scripture does not just stand over against us; He envelops us.” In this vision, we still pray and sing ‘to’ each divine person “Holy, holy, holy. . .blessed Trinity!,” but we are also aware that we pray and sing “through Christ,” “in the power of the Spirit.” This is also a remarkably active vision of God. The picture here is not of God as a passive being up in heaven, waiting for us to sing a little louder and pray a little harder before conferring a blessing. That description better fits Baal! (I Kings 18). No, God is active in prompting our worship [Holy Spirit], in receiving it [Father], and in perfecting it.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Opening of Worship/Trinity” in A More Profound Alleluia, 8

The Forgotten Participant

Each element in the gospel drama can be viewed through a Trinitarian lens. Take the festival of Christmas as one example. Despite significant references to the Holy Spirit in several appointed readings for the Christmas season, the Holy Spirit is the forgotten participant in the Christmas drama. We see this omission not only in the Christmas card selection at Hallmark but also in music for the season. Yet the juxtaposition of “Christmas” and “Holy Spirit” challenges our understanding of each. First, it anchors our understanding of the Spirit’s work in the person of Jesus Christ: the Holy Spirit is not just any spirit we feel; it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Second, it makes our understanding of Christmas more dynamic and personal: the Spirit that came upon Mary is the same Spirit that anointed Jesus to preach good news to the poor and raised him from the dead, and that has now been poured into our hearts. The Spirit makes us participants in the Christmas drama.

A fully Trinitarian approach to Christmas will work to highlight and probe these themes.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Trinitarian DNA of Christian Worship: Perennial Themes in Recent Theological Literature”, 13

Worship & Culture 5

Gordon Lathrop has sometimes described culture as the conversation between generations about how best to live on the land.

—Benjamin M. Stewart, “What, Then, Do Theologians Mean When They Say ‘Culture’?” in Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, ed., 47

Culture: “how we do do things around here”

—John Witvliet

Facets of Worship

I am grateful for an instructive experience I had near the beginning of my work as a liturgical choral conductor, hearing comments of four worshipers after a service in which my choir had participated. The first, obviously either a veteran chorister or former drill sergeant, remarked: “That choir’s procession was as precise and symmetrical as any I have seen.” The second participant commented: “I loved the exuberant style of that choir.” The third observed, as if making a new discovery: “I couldn’t believe how each piece of music went so well with the Scripture readings that preceded it.” The fourth, in a noticeably reflective tone, added: “My husband died six months ago, and tonight through your music, I finally have been able to pray.” These comments each illustrate a different level of attention and analysis. The first addresses matters of mechanics, the second matters of style, the third, the form of worship; only the fourth evokes worship’s deep meaning and purpose.

John D. Witvliet, “Teaching Worship as a Christian Practice by John D. Witvliet” (in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry, ed. Dorothy C. Bass & Craig Dykstra), 137