Sacraments & Liturgy

Sacraments & Liturgy

Sacraments & Liturgy

An Introduction

At the heart of Christian community and identity is the worship of God. It is a reminder that we are not at the center of the universe, nor the source of all meaning and values. It is the recognition that we are dependent creatures, and that there is a Creator who shapes the purpose of our existence. It is the celebration of the Incarnation, with all that we gain from knowing Jesus, sitting at his feet, and participating in wonder and praise in the awful redemptive drama of the Passion and Resurrection. It is the expression of the indwelling Spirit who teaches us how to see into heaven itself, while remaining firmly grounded in the realities of this world. Worship is our religious center. Giving shape to its public expressions is a challenging and rewarding ministry. Because of the variety of worship expressions throughout the Bible, and, at the same time, the minimal amount of specific biblical teaching regarding preferred or optimal practices of public worship, there has been much debate about the idea and methods of Christian worship. Yet all Christian denominations recognize the great importance of these rites, sharing, at minimum, the following affirmations:

  • Worship is God-focused; it is the ascribing of worth to the One who is truly worthy.
  • Worship is both personal and communal.
  • The rituals of public worship are a dialogue between God and God’s people.
  • The Psalms are central to Christian worship, carrying a long tradition of prayer and devotional dialogue with God in manymoods and voices.
  • The sacraments are an integral part of the practices of public worship.

Central and unique to Christian theology, among the many religious systems of the world, is our understanding, gained through divine revelation, that the one creator God exists as a community of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This testimony emerged from both Jesus’ clear declarations and also from the experience of faithful Jews, who believed in God, affirmed the divinity of the man Jesus, and received the empowering of the Holy Spirit commencing from Pentecost. Thus, the foundational documents binding all Christians together are the Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed), each of which focuses on the Trinity as the primary confession of the church.

Throughout history, Christians have probed the nuances of these foundational testimonies. Influenced by cultural changes and challenges, a number of different families of theological reflection have emerged. Our approach at CLC lies within the Reformed tradition, built upon the expansive insights of John Calvin at the time of the Protestant Reformation. Central to this theological approach are these emphases:

  • The distinction between “regeneration” (God’s one-time act accomplished solely through the work of Jesus) and “sanctification” (God’s on-going transformative activity taking place in partnership with redeemed persons and communities).
  • The “Presbyterian” form of church structure, built around the primacy (but not independence) of the local congregation governed by Elders and Deacons who are called and elected from the membership because of their obvious spiritual gifts.
  • Appreciation of the sacraments as two in number (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), each being a sign and seal of God’s redemptive love, but not actually transacting merit.
  • Viewing the “Law of God” as not only normative for creation and as announcing human sinfulness, but also as guiding our redeemed response of sanctified living.

 

SESSION 1 – The Heritage of Congregational Worship Practices: A Biblical-Ecclesiastical Primer

Key Idea: Christian worship is Christ-focused, but arises out of and is shaped by the rich liturgical practices of ancient Israel, out of which Christianity emerged. The Psalms, in particular, give language to liturgy, with the life, work, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus providing new depth to these themes of divine deliverance and provision.

SESSION 2 – The Vital Themes of Worship Expression: Biblical, Catholic, Confessional, and Pastoral

Key Idea: The rites and practices of Christian worship are larger and personal preference, and have been shaped by a long and diverse trans-cultural interaction between God and God’s people.

SESSION 3 – The Culture of Worship Gatherings: Style and Substance

Key Idea: Although the Christian church exists in every culture on earth, the essentials of its public worship are shaped by key developments in the history of the biblical faith community. Judaism, the sacraments, theological reflections on the process of salvation, and the interactions of people within the faith community have all served to build traditions of worship expression that do not need to be re-invented Sunday to Sunday.

SESSION 4 – The Movements of Worship (1): Gathering & Giving

Key Idea: Public worship in the Christian community is formed by historical developments, theological discussions, and pastoral motifs. But its actual expression is also shaped by the dynamics of social interaction highlighting the significance and role of each major participant—God and God’s people.

SESSION 5 – The Movements of Worship (2): Growing & Going

Key Idea: Public worship in the Christian community is formed by historical developments, theological discussions, and pastoral motifs. But its actual expression is also shaped by the dynamics of social interaction highlighting the significance and role of each major participant—God and God’s people.

SESSION 6 – Leading Public Worship: Planning and Practice

Key Idea: Leading public worship in a congregational setting is a very important task that requires honed ministry skills, awareness of biblical themes, familiarity with the richness of the church’s theology and confessional statements, interpersonal relational gifts, programming sensibilities, love for music in diversity of expression, and commitment to the ties of catholicity that make the Body of Christ one.

SESSION 7 – Symbols: Expressions of Profound Meaning

Key Idea: Our lives are filled with actions, many of which are repeated. Some repeated actions carry deep significance and profound meanings because they connect us to unique events and extended communities. The sacraments of the Christian church, commanded by Jesus, are powerful rituals that connect us to him and his work on our behalf, and also to all others who share our testimony of faith.

SESSION 8 – Welcomed into the Community: The Symbolic Actions of Baptism

Key Idea: The rituals of baptism are linked to the Old Testament ceremonial significance of circumcision, and identify those entering the Christian community as bound both to Christ and also to all believers. Since there are two baptism rituals noted in the New Testament, confusion and division lingers in the church as to the appropriate meaning connected with this rite.

SESSION 9 – Sharing the Life of the Community: The Symbolic Actions of the Lord’s Supper

Key Idea: The first “Lord’s Supper” was a Passover meal hosted by Jesus and shared with his disciples. Jesus transformed two of the Passover elements—the unleavened bread which symbolized a break from the past and the third wine cup which symbolized God’s blessing—into ritualized memorials of his own broken body and shed blood that would link his followers both to himself in salvation and to one another in shared community and faith.

SESSION 10 – Celebrating the Sacraments: Planning and Practice

Key Idea: Because the sacraments are ritualized ceremonies, tying current participants to Jesus and to Jesus’ people throughout all times and places, it is important for those who plan worship gathering that include sacramental celebrations and for those who officiate at such events that both words and actions connect well to provide meaningful corporate renewals of faith and commitments.


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