Getting Practical

As a pastor in a local church, it often appears to me that folks have an aversion to talking theologically because there is a sense that it is “up in the clouds,” that it is just not “practical.” Along with this, I also sense a reluctance to reflect on worship services beyond the most basic discussion of aesthetic preferences.

This often creates problems and misunderstandings because without theological reflection, as well as a healthy sense of the church’s tradition and the basic pattern of worship, adjudicating what is and is not appropriate in a worship service becomes nearly impossible.

It is almost as if we are “here” and God is “there,” and you have to do this thing called worship to get to God, yet the actual means of that process is left to personal preferences of those involved in the leadership of those services, rather than being traditioned and normed by the life and experience of the church across time and space.

In considering this situation, I am drawn to a quote from the preface of Geoffrey Wainwright’s systematic theology, Doxology: “My conviction is that the relations between doctrine and worship are deeper rooted and further reaching than many theologians and liturgists have appeared to recognize in their writings” (Wainwright, Doxology, ix). His systematic theology is guided by doxology, our praise to God, as the string that runs throughout Christianity shaping theology and the transmission of the faith. Worship is the place in which all of our beliefs and practices are formed before we go out into the world, and it is to worship that we return for nourishment and formation.

Wainwright’s conviction does not apply only to those who are professionally involved in theology or liturgy because we are all theologians and liturgists by virtue of the common baptism into the body of Jesus Christ we share. However, we often become like those professional folks Wainwright speaks about when we fail to consider the relationship between theology and liturgy. The worship practices we undertake say something about what we believe, and what we believe informs our worship practices.

Theology and liturgy, because they are related, are constantly informing and norming one another. In failing to reflect theologically on our worship practices, we are neglecting what is arguably the most practical thing in which we participate as Christians: the worship of the Triune God. Further, if Wainwright’s conviction holds true, then not reflecting on our worship practices theologically not only means that we may allow inappropriate elements into worship, but more dangerously, we may be injure one another because what we do in worship may teach our minds and bodies practices that are contrary to Scripture and Church teachings.

With that in mind, I hope that my posts on this blog will concern themselves with reflecting on the relationship between theology and liturgy. Such reflection is of critical importance to us as Christians because learning to “see” as a Christian, speaking the language, doing the actions that followers of Christ do, is conditioned, strengthened, and nourished by practices we undertake in the liturgy. It is thus important that we be clear about the theological underpinnings for our liturgies. They must teach practices consistent with the story of God’s decisive action in history in Jesus Christ that we find in Scripture.

Folks unfamiliar with the church are less likely to respond to a sales pitch, to the right information. There is plenty information on the internet if that if that is all they want. Rather, it is my own conviction that what is crucial is that we get caught up into the story of God’s acts in history, in the practices that will then shape our experiences, leading us to return to God with praise and thanksgiving. I look forward to reflecting with you further on these subjects!


Alan Combs

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