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Worship Old and New

July 11, 2011

Chaplain Mike:

Most evangelicals who have learned anything about Biblical, theological, and historical perspectives have been touched by the late Robert Webber. Last year, I called him “The Father of the Ancient-Future Path” because he helped low church evangelicals like me appreciate the tradition of the church’s liturgy. However, Webber himself was hard to categorize. He studied, participated in, and learned to appreciate a wide variety of Christian worship expressions. One of his goals was to encourage the church to come to some fundamental understandings about worship and then let the Holy Spirit build upon those within each tradition.

His seminal book, Worship Old and New, remains required reading for anyone who is concerned about worship renewal in today’s church. The copy I have was published in 1982 (the year before I entered seminary and began studying worship in earnest), and his words and proposals are as pertinent today as they were then.

Today, I would like to discuss his “Nine Proposals” in the book. These came out of discussions with students in his classes at Wheaton College. He asked them to suggest how the material he was presenting might be useful in the church. The result was this list of nine recommendations for evangelical churches and worshipers.

PROPOSAL ONE: Educate the people.

PROPOSAL TWO: Acknowledge the distinction between services for worship and services for teaching.

PROPOSAL THREE: Do not disregard the tradition of your denomination.

PROPOSAL FOUR: Orient worship toward God rather than human beings.

PROPOSAL FIVE: Restore a sense of awe and reverence, mystery and transcendence.

PROPOSAL SIX: Recover a christocentric focus through enactment.

PROPOSAL SEVEN: Restore congregational involvement in worship.

PROPOSAL EIGHT: Attain spontaneity with the proper balance on form and freedom.

PROPOSAL NINE: Restore the relationship of worship to all of life.

Robert Webber’s Conclusion

“Clearly worship renewal does not consist of moving chairs in a circle, rearranging the order of worship, or finding new gimmicks. The heart of worship renewal is a recovery of the power of the Holy Spirit who enables the congregation to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. The value of studying the history and theology of worship is that it provides us with insights into the work of the Holy Spirit in the past and allows us to be open to His work in the present. In this way the Holy Spirit may lead us into the ways of worship that are continuous with the historic witness of worship given to the church throughout its history in the world, and at the same time He may lead us into the discovery of new forms and patterns that meet the needs of people in our day.” (WO&N, p. 196)


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