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A Doxological Ecclesiology: Part One

March 4, 2012

Inagrace Dietterich

During 2012, The Center Blog intends to explore the theological, biblical, and practical implications of missional worship, which is also the theme of the Center’s Convocation in Chicago, IL on July 26-28, 2012.

This is the start of several postings in which I will explore what the life and ministry of the church might look like viewed through the lens of a “doxological ecclesiology.” Such a vision of the church, grounded in and expressed through worship, includes a people of praise, a particular people, and a people of the kingdom. The intent is not to explore the concrete aspects of worship but to lay the theological foundation for further practical consideration.


A People of Praise. Worship is the one unique and essential activity of the church. Worship is the celebration—the anticipation, remembrance, and enactment—of God’s creative purpose, redemptive activity, and transformative presence for and with humanity. Read More…

For the Praise of God’s Glory. Ephesians offers an alternative view of worship: “We who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12, RSV). Encompassing but moving beyond specific ritual activity, worship designates the style and purpose—the nature and mission of the church—the calling and forming of a people who offer praise to the glory of God. Read More…

The Cosmic Nature of Worship. Secularism is not just a contemporary movement to which the church must accommodate its ministry; it is a lie and distortion which views the world as an end in itself. Rather than seeing our whole life depending upon the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God, the world becomes the ultimate reference point of existence—it becomes humanity’s god. Read More…

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. What does it mean to say that “worship is the one unique and essential activity of the church”?

2. In what ways do you think the perspectives of our secular culture shape our expectation and experience of worship?  More Questions…



A People of Praise. Worship is the one unique and essential activity of the church. Worship is the celebration—the anticipation, remembrance, and enactment—of God’s creative purpose, redemptive activity, and transformative presence for and with humanity. Through worship individuals are shaped and formed into a particular people—God’s own people—a people called and equipped to manifest life within the realm of God’s gracious and liberating rule. “In the worship life of a community a vision is fostered of the universal order of peace and justice in relation to which diverse peoples become a people of God.” 1

Thus a faithful and effective ecclesiology (a theological vision of the church) must begin with the vocation and destiny of the church which is discovered and actualized in worship. While this approach may be new in that it challenges the current paradigm of Western ecclesiology, it is very old, in that it attempts to draw upon the rich resources of the Christian heritage which provide not ready-made answers but rays of illumination for contemporary endeavors. This effort at reframing takes seriously John Milbank’s challenge to “tell again the Christian mythos [pattern of beliefs], to pronounce again the Christian logos [God’s wisdom, revelation, or word], to call again for Christian praxis [intentional habits and practices] in a manner that restores their freshness and originality.2

The usual identification of “church” is the coming together of a group of persons in a particular location at least once a week for “worship.” These gatherings may be large or small, growing or shrinking, boisterous or solemn, plain or splendid. The style and content of worship takes many forms and people gather to worship for a variety of reasons. “They may come together out of some deep and durable devotion to the reality and worth of God, or out of some lingering sense of duty or guilt, or for mutual support in what they take to be an unfriendly world, or from the almost spent force of unquestioned and unreasoned habit and routine, or for unacknowledged and unspecifiable reasons unknown.”3

Within our secular culture, religion is often relegated to the “sublime” or the “ultimate” where it can have no effect upon “real” life, except as it relates to the so-called religious needs of the individual. Within this view the purpose of religion is to provide “help” to my self-defined needs, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation.  Worship, then, is expected to fulfill an instrumental function. Worship forms and content are sought which will reflect and be understandable and appropriate to the needs and aspirations of the secular person. This view of worship effectively affirms and confirms the world’s autonomy and self-sufficiency in terms of reason, knowledge, and action. “Having nothing to reveal about world and matter, about time and nature, this idea and this experience of worship ‘disturb’ nothing, question nothing, challenge nothing, are indeed ‘applicable’ to nothing.”4

For the Praise of God’s Glory. Ephesians offers an alternative view of worship: “We who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12, RSV). Encompassing but moving beyond specific ritual activity, worship designates the style and purpose—the nature and mission of the church—the calling and forming of a people who offer praise to the glory of God. Worship is not separate from life, but symbolizes the redemption and fulfillment of life, the constitution of the wholeness of life as intended by God for all humanity.

Christians are challenged to rediscover the true meaning and power of worship, its power of judgment and transformation in a God-centered realism. Not an exercise in introspective piety, of private devotion, or superficial escape, the church worships so that all of life may become worship. Thus worship becomes not retreat from the world, but “an exercise in vision, practice in seeing,”5 which enables Christians to see the world as it really is—as the creation of a loving and forgiving God. In worship the church gains its distinctive vision and identity by recalling and celebrating the “story” of God’s creative presence. “Worship is important because it is in worship that the church enacts its story: the story of God creating a world and ordaining reality, of a world that turned against its creator and against reality, and the story of God caring and coming to rescue the world, to restore it and make it new.”6

Worship—the offering of praise and thanksgiving to God—is not a “supernatural” cultic act, but the “natural” and appropriate way of human life—the doxological way. Doxology indicates the wholeness of life characterized by trust, praise, and thanks to the living God for the abundance of God’s generous love. The world is not perceived as an autonomous entity but as God’s sacramental creation: “the sign and means of God’s presence and wisdom, love and revelation.”7 All creation is a gift of love which enables communion with God, and all humanity is called to bless God—to participate in and celebrate God’s manifold blessings through praise and thanksgiving. “We know that we were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life, of its transformation into life in God, communion with God. We know that real life is ‘eucharist,’ a movement of love and adoration towards God, the movement in which alone the meaning and the value of all that exists can be revealed and fulfilled….It is the movement that Adam failed to perform, and that in Christ has become the very life of man: a movement of adoration and praise in which all joy and suffering, all beauty and all frustration, all hunger and all satisfaction are referred to their ultimate End and become finally meaningful.”8

The Cosmic Nature of Worship. Secularism is not just a contemporary movement to which the church must accommodate its ministry; it is a lie and distortion which views the world as an end in itself. Rather than seeing our whole life depending upon the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God, the world becomes the ultimate reference point of existence—it becomes humanity’s god. Within this idolatrous context, humanity ceases to be the “celebrant” of God’s creation and becomes the world’s slave. As a doxological people (a people of praise) immersed in a “movement of love and adoration,” the church symbolizes a way of life formed through thanksgiving for what God has done, is doing, and promises to do. In its worship, the church acknowledges the fallenness and alienation of the world, celebrates its recreation through the event of Jesus Christ, and in the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit experiences the “first fruits” of the fulfillment of the destiny of the world in the eschaton (God’s “final time”).

A doxological approach attempts to transcend the distinction between secular and sacred, natural and supernatural, by affirming that “all that exists is God’s gift to humanity, and it all exists to make God known to humanity, to make humanity’s life communion with God.”9 If the world is created as God’s “natural” sacrament, then there is no distinction between material and spiritual. Within the worship of the church the world is liberated and restored to its rightful place as creation–as God’s means of grace. Thus worship is not individualized and privatized but cosmic and eschatological. The doxological life of the church symbolizes the true meaning and fulfillment of the world’s destiny: the communion of all things united in the praise of God’s glory. In its adoration and praise the church proclaims the inexhaustible knowledge and love of God which is the true life of creation: the worship of the church exists for “the life of the world.”


Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. What does it mean to say that “worship is the one unique and essential activity of the church”?

2. In what ways do you think the perspectives of our secular culture shape our expectation and experience of worship?

3. Read Ephesians 1:3-14. What do we learn about the history and the identity of those who are adopted as God’s “children through Jesus Christ”?

4. What vision of worship is expressed in the text from Ephesians? How is it different from that of our secular culture?

5. What does it mean to say that worship is “an exercise in vision, a practice in seeing”?

6. How can worship influence our vision of all of creation?

7. How would the approach to worship change if the church’s vision of its identity and purpose was that of a “people of praise?”

8. How would this vision and experience of worship be “subversive”?



1 Paul D. Hanson, The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 527.

2 Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, p. 380.

3 John E. Burkhart, Worship: A Searching Examination of the Liturgical Experience (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1982), p. 9.

4 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), p. 133.

5 Robert E. Webber and Rodney Clapp, People of the Truth: The Power of the Worshipping Community in the Modern World (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 94.

6 Ibid., p. 20.

7 Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 14.

8 Ibid., pp. 34-35.

9 Ibid., p. 14.


The Rev. Inagrace Dietterich, Ph.D. is the Director of Theological Research at the Center for Parish Development.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. mrvege2728 permalink*
    March 5, 2012 8:32 am

    “The world’s destiny: the communion of all things united in the praise of God’s glory.” Inagrace, thank you for this stimulating post. Walking the earth as a people of praise, seeing with faithful imaginations the power and presence of God and the connections that unit us — a member of a race in which God himself became incarnate.

    Like

  2. March 5, 2012 8:21 am

    It is so helpful and also refreshing to consider deeply what Christian worship is, when for practical purposes most of the attention is often on the parts and the style. We are really taking seriously the gathering of the faithful, what God is wanting to do with us here, and how we can be more faithful to the work of the Holy Spirit in and among us forming us for God’s mission!

    Like

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