Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Role of Worship in Spiritual Formation (1)

Leiturgia (prayer/worship) is an important part of the Christian life and an important formative process. Prayer and worship are the characteristics of God’s people. Worship may be understood as “pure adoration, the lifting up of the redeemed spirit towards God in contemplation of his holy perfection” (Harrison, 1984, 1193). In a broader sense worship may be honouring of God with prayer and praises. Worship in its broadest sense is service for God. While there is worship in the “sing-spiration” part of the Sunday service, it alone does not constitute worship. Worship is the whole service with its rituals or liturgies, Scripture reading and preaching, fellowship, and the sacraments.

Presbyterian Dudley Weaver placed the Reformed/Presbyterian worship service between the “prayer-book liturgical tradition” groups of churches, where liturgy was strictly followed, and the “free-church tradition”, where there were no prescribed liturgical rules[i] (2002, 30). Singaporean theologian Simon Chan and others have been studying how liturgical worship influences spiritual formation (Chan, 2006; Chittister, 1990; Dawn, 1989). The Christian church has a tradition of using worship, liturgy and the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist as means of spiritually forming its adherents. While it is acknowledged that worship, liturgy and the sacraments is spiritually forming, the willing participation of the worshipper is also vital. The rituals can become a powerful spiritual encounter or it may be a boring, dull and routine. Another problem is the frequent repetition of the liturgy may be spiritually affirming, or spiritually deadening. Bauman (1994) highlights the role of liturgy in spiritual formation while Anglican Samuel Wells (2002) have examined how worship forms character. Chan sums it up well when he declares “worship could be said to be the defining characteristic of the church…This may be why in the Scriptures Christians are sometimes simply called worshippers” (Phil. 3:3; 1 Tim. 2:10; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 13:12-13; 14:11). Worshiping God is the “hallmark of the people of God” (Chan, 2006, 43). Worship does have its role as a formative agent in spiritual formation but it is also Christian spiritual formative process by itself.

Works cited

Bauman, L. C. (1994). Spiritual Formation Through The Liturgy. In The Christian Educator's Handbook on Spiritual Formation (pp. 99-110). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Chan, S. (2006). Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community (1 ed.). Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Chittister, J. (1990). Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St.Benedict Today. New York: HarperCollins Publishing Company.

Dawn, M. (1989). Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting; Embracing; Feasting. Grand Rapids, MI.: William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Harrison, E. F. (1984). Worship. In W. A. Elwell (Ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (pp. 1192-1193). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Weaver, J. D. (2002). Presbyterian Worship: A Guide for Clergy. Louisville, KN: Geneva Press.

Wells, S. (2002). How Common Worship Forms Local Character. Studies in Christian Ethics(15), 66-74.


[i] Weaver mentions three major liturgical streams. The prayer-book stream includes the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran has a liturgy format for all their churches. All their churches are required to follow the given format. At the other end is the free-church stream, which does not have a fixed liturgy or rules for governing the context and conduct of worship. Weaver mentioned the Presbyterians as being in between without mentioning the name of the stream. (Weaver, 2002) p.30

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