The Relationship between Worship and Mission

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN WORSHIP AND MISSION:

 The Missionary Magnetism of the Means of Grace.

101/Short

It is my purpose in this paper to completely destroy the false idea that somehow worship and mission are competitors, that at best they form an awkward marriage, that at worst they are incompatible with each other. It is my hope to make a worthwhile contribution to a sound theology of worship and mission, which in turn will contribute to a sound practice of the same.

OUR MISSIONARY GOD

All mission begins with God. God is a missionary God. The names of God reflect his missionary enterprise: “Jesus” means God saves. “Immanuel” means God with us. “Shepherd” speaks for itself. God is in fact the first missionary. Since “the fall” God has always taken the first steps to seek out man and rescue him from sin, death and the devil.

An overview of both Old and New Testaments quickly establishes the missionary activity of God. In the missionary activity of God he not only takes the first steps toward humanity, he initiates all mission activity. Mission is the inclusive task of God into which he draws us, while remaining the exclusive task of God in which he excludes all human initiative by which humanity would make its own path to God.

Further, mission summarises the entire activity of God under both the Old and New Covenants by which he draws humanity to himself. It is that activity by which God sent forth his son, and it is that activity by which he, God, sends us forth as missionaries.

The Spirit’s activity since Pentecost constitutes the history of mission in our modern era. This history seems to allow a lot of scope for the study of pneumatology in the context of missiology. Having made our point, that God is a missionary God and that mission is God’s activity into which he draws us, we turn to the question of how God continues his mission on earth through the work of his Spirit.

PNEUMATOLOGY AND MISSION: Grappling with how the Spirit carries out God’s mission activity today.

Luther’s explanation to “The Third Article of The Apostle’s Creed” in his Small Catechism is easily the most concise statement of how the Holy Spirit carries out the Mission of God since Pentecost. “The Holy Spirit calls us through the gospel…” In summary, the Means of Grace, which consist of the written and the visible Word in the Sacraments, are clearly God’s chosen means by which he grants the Holy Spirit. They are the means by which the Holy Spirit works faith and orchestrates the Mission of God today. The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word and Sacraments, and not apart from them. He sends us out in mission with that Word by which he calls and gathers others into fellowship with God.

THE COVENANTS OF GOD AND MISSION

Central to the mission of God in both the Old and New Testaments are his Covenants and Blessings or Benedictions. In both the Old and New Testaments God’s presence is tied to the covenants which he established with humanity. These covenants are the constitutive fabric of God’s missionary activity. They declare that his kingdom is among us, that God himself is in our midst, that he meets us in certain ways, given certain fulfilled conditions.

The chief way God proclaims his wonderful deeds before the watching world is in the provision of New Testament covenantal acts for worship or liturgy. These constitute the core of liturgical worship. Put more simply for modern man, who tends to understand worship as primarily that which man does, the main way God conducts his mission in this world is by his provision of the written and proclaimed Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are the basis for the celebration of worship. They announce where repentance and forgiveness can be experienced.

Conversely, as God’s people the chief way that we enter into mission and proclaim these wonderful deeds of God is in the worshipful celebration of these New Testament Covenantal Acts of Almighty God. Romans 12: 1, 2 clearly teach that our chief act of worship is how we live. We are to present ourselves as living sacrifices which is our God-pleasing worship. However, St Paul’s letter to the Romans is primarily a celebration of the covenant God established with us in the rite of Baptism. It is a Baptismal letter which calls us to live out our baptisms in missional lifestyles.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the covenantal acts by which God makes us his people. They surpass and replace, in the sense of complete and fulfil, the mighty acts of deliverance which God worked under the  Old Covenant/s. Further, they not only bridge the space-time gap of history to proclaim “the marvellous deeds” of Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Peter 2:9,10); as the visible Word of God they actually deliver what they promise. This is because the Word of God is effective to do that for which it is sent to accomplish (Is 55:11), namely to grant God’s presence in the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sin, life and salvation . The Word of God, Baptism and Holy Communion are sealed as a covenantal/done deal by the blood of Jesus.

The Covenants of God constitute the very substance of God’s mission activity. Here we see that God’s basic paradigm for worship and mission are one and the same. 

WORSHIP AND MISSION: Exploring the relationship between worship and mission.

If both worship and evangelism/mission are rightly understood as the work of God then we must affirm their common nexus. Both begin with:

1. God’s action,

2. and are established in covenants

3. through which God actually calls people to himself – evangelism –

4. and around which he gathers people  together in worship.

Naturally we could include in this paradigm fellowship and service, in fact every facet of church life. Without this downward element, whereby God bonds himself to us through the New Covenant established in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there would be no such thing as Christian anything. Without God’s benevolent action to us everything that we do would be pure, unadulterated idolatry, since it would be crafted out of our own design/desires/imaginations. Bless God that he has not left us to design the elements of liturgy/worship

Clearly Baptism and the Lord’s Supper define the basis for and the basics of divine-mission-worship. They are God’s givens for mission-worship. Worship and mission consist of the same ingredients: law and gospel, the presentation and reception of God’s covenantal promises through word and sacraments. These confront man with his sin as his greatest need, and with God’s provision for man’s salvation from sin and all that goes with it. In worship God calls people to himself. The essential elements of worship are the things to which we are called to witness God’s presence. Here it is that God makes himself known in Word and Sacraments.

The missionary relevance of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in worship is that they are the means by which God brings people into covenantal relationship with him.  

The missionary relevance of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper further answers the mistaken question as to the place of a non-believer in worship. Clearly a non-believer cannot worship. However, to infer that they should not be there or that worship is not for them is to misunderstand the essential nature of worship as God’s activity toward man, and to place the emphasis on what man does in worship. (It is amazing how “good” Lutheran Theologians reveal reformed tendencies.) It is also a failure to recognise that God’s worshipping community is his main instrument of mission in the world by which he is able to identify a group of people as his own.

Worship does not just have a mission component to it. Nor do we use worship for outreach. Worship is outreach through and through, like it or not. Worship is God’s main tool for mission. Mission is not a second rate activity on God’s agenda when compared with worship. Mission happens wherever there is worship, whenever the Evangel is presented – however poorly.

Since it is quite correct to argue that just as we do not change the rules of a game when introducing a newcomer to a particular sport, so we do not change the essentials of worship to accommodate the unbeliever. There is a definite need for agreement as to what are the essentials in worship. This should be unarguable. For now let it suffice that we say they are the Means of Grace. These essentials of worship are God’s tools for mission. They constitute the Evangel without which there is no proclamation, no mission, no church, no worship.

It should be evident by now that worship and evangelism are integral to each other. They are intricately bound to each other. In essence they are one and the same activity of God which he draws us into. Worship is the starting point for mission. It is the essence of evangelism. Basic to evangelism is the call to worship. We can rightly conclude that our worship is our greatest witness, and our witness is our greatest worship.

We must also categorically affirm and declare that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the authenticating marks of the Christian Church, its mission and worship. They authenticate the mission, worship, and very existence of a church as that of the Christian Church. Authentic worship and mission can be determined by the celebration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

To suppose that there can be worship without mission, or mission without worship is as deceptively false as to suppose that there can be either of these without Word and Sacraments. These are all divine acts and gifts which are integrally entwined with each other.

These insights ought to shape how we worship; not only how we theologise about worship, but how we actually practice worship.

ECCLESIOLOGY AND MISSION: The crisis facing a church wishing to be in mission.

We may sum up a brief excursus on the theology of the Church and mission by saying that the Church in mission understands itself as God’s Mission Society on Earth. To be Church means to be in mission. Mission is not one activity among many that the Church does. It is the sum total of all Church activities. Nor is mission merely a part of each activity the Church undertakes. That kind of thinking leads a Church to its grave, since it denies the nature of mission as God’s activity. Mission and worship are how God constitutes the Church and into which he draws his Church. The idea that mission is one aspect of any churchly activity also denies the purpose and potency of the Evangel in all of its forms (Is 55:11). Mission is the very essence of the Church and of every activity the Church engages in.

CONCLUSIONS

The following are a few of the conclusions to be drawn from this paper. These conclusions lead us to a series of open-ended thoughts/question that leave plenty of scope for further discussion especially as to how Baptism and the Lord’s Supper may help us determine a clear hermeneutic of worship and liturgy? 

1. From the above discussions it ought to be clear that arguments ought not be about the relationship between worship and mission. Let’s settle this once for all. Evangelism does not merely flow out of the worship experience. Since worship is inherently evangelical, the problem is how worship could not result in mission. It may be convenient for a person with a vested interest in “traditional” worship styles to blur the connection between mission and worship to avoid facing the pain of change, or the fear of the church forfeiting its heritage. On the other hand, it may be opportune for a person with a vested interest in “modern” or “informal” worship styles to ignore a clearly sacramental theology and worship style. It is easy to remain traditional when you are prone to avoid any kind of change. It is easy to be modern when you show disregard for or have a poor appreciation of tradition.

2. The Means of Grace, especially the Sacraments, are not nuisances that get in the way of evangelism. They are the content of evangelism: “As often as you do this you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1Corinthians 11:26). We ought not be ashamed or apologetic about the place of the Sacraments in liturgies since they are central to God’s mission to this world. They witness to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and through them Jesus’ incarnate presence remains constant in the life of God’s people. “He who is ashamed of me …of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed” (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26).

3. Essentially the Sacraments embody the scandal of the incarnation and the cross before the wise of the world and within the Church where sacramental theology is given scant regard (1Corinthians 1&2). It is not we who bind Jesus’ body and his blood nor the Holy Spirit to the Sacraments. It is God himself who has instituted and commanded these, and who binds himself to them and gives himself in them. Apart from these there is no grace of God for sinners. This is the critical reason for a high valuation of the Sacraments in missiology. It is also gives urgency to resolving what it means to be in mission and making the most of every God-given opportunity in every aspect of Church life. Evangelism must be God centred and sacramentally directed if it is to be faithful to the Mission of God, the work of the Spirit, the place of the Sacraments in the New Covenant, and a biblical understanding of worship and church.

Michael Uebergang

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s