Worship is Conformative

The Holy Spirit in Worship (part 6)

In my class this semester on the Theology of the Penteteuch, Dr. Gordon Hugenburger pointed out that covenants have two parts – a vow and a ritual act. For instance, in Abraham’s covenant with Yahweh in Genesis 15, God promises Abraham an heir and an inheritance of land, and then walks through the animals Abraham has sacrificed, as if symbolically to say “let it be to me as it is to these animals if I do not fulfill the words of this covenant.” In marriage we have the same double bond: way commit to a marriage vow, but the stronger bond, which makes the marriage real, is the actual consummation of the marriage. Robert Webber says this is the same thing that happened when Israel first assembled at Mount Sinai: in the act of worshiping him, and committing to follow his laws, they became the people of God. In the same way, “when believers come together, the church, as the people of the Christ event, becomes a reality…. In this way the church is actualized.” It isn’t that there are certain activities that we engage in because we are the church. Rather, the Holy Spirit works through these activities to establish us as the church. It is by performing that we are formed.

Debra Murphy takes this concept one step further in Teaching that Transforms. Her main thesis is that the primary place for catechism – learning what it is to be a Christian – is in congregational worship: “What we do, how we act, in the liturgical assembly shapes us in particular and powerful ways and is both formative of identity and catechetical in the most basic sense.” Ms. Murphy is right. However, throughout her book, despite her ability to point out that “The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational” and that “The truth of this doctrine… is not available for us outside of our own participation in the forms of life that bear witness to God as Trinity,” she doesn’t seem to have any clear view of God’s engagement with us in these forms of life. Nevertheless, she make some very good statements about the formative character of acting out the liturgy which I think only need to have added a more sacramental understanding.

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