Robert E. Webber

I cannot tell a lie.  Robert E. Webber has had a huge influence on my understanding and practice—not only in the area of worship, but in my understanding of the church and ministry in general.  His books are plethora.  Probably the two most influential on my thinking are:

  • Worship Old and New
  • Ancient-Future Faith

Other important books for me include:

  • Journey to Jesus
  • Ancient-Future Evangelism
  • The Worship Phenomenon
  • Worship is a Verb
  • Planning Blended Worship
  • The Library of Christian Worship (7 volumes)

In the book The Worship Phenomenon in the chapter entitled “Experiencing God’s Transforming Power on Sunday Morning” Webber states the following concerning the Early Church’s Latin expression:

lex orandi, lex credendi, est

Literally, Webber explains, this means, “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.”  In other words, “experience shapes the way we believe.  In the early church, this meant that the experience of worship was a priority.  In the community of faith, one’s behavior was influenced by the communal experience of worship.” (pg. 74)

Webber goes on:

“When lex orandi, lex credendi, est. is applied to worship, it is best stated as ‘worship is faith in motion.’  That is, the primary purpose of worship is not to provide discursive teaching about God, Christ, sin, salvation, the church, ethical behavior, and social concern [like in a classroom setting].  Instead, the primary purpose of worship is to experience faith in the community of worship in such a way that the Christian faith is not merely known intellectually, but experienced as a reality.  In this kind of worship, the Christian faith is taught by being caught.  Herein lies the key to aliveness in worship:  a Spirit-filled congregation—a warm, loving, and caring community of people—is by its very existence a community of faith in motion.  Such a congregation will so actualize the faith that if someone were to ask, ‘Where can I go to find God?’, a person may answer, ‘Go to that church for God dwells in their worship.’   This is the kind of worship in which a person may establish, maintain, and repair a relationship with God.” (pg. 75)

Webber emphasizes that having that kind of worship at one’s church is NOT a “how to” question about “technique but an issue of being.”  Webber asserts that Sunday morning worship should:  Celebrate Christ, Experience Divine Action, Necessitate Human Response, all within The Common Order of Worship, which is (pg. 81):

1)   We enter in God’s presence

2)   Communicate with God through the Word which we hear and to which we respond

3)   Eat with Christ at the Table of the Lord

4)   Depart into the world to serve the Lord in our daily lives

In Worship Old and New, he spells out the reasoning behind the ancient, time-tested order for worship (a.k.a. the liturgy!)  (pg112-13)

“Because humans wear a body and live in a physical world and communicate through language and symbol, there can be no such thing as a bodiless, orderless, signless worship.  Nevertheless, worship acted out in the body, according to form, by sign is a spiritual worship because it signifies the eternal truth that is its ultimate point of reference.  Just as in the Incarnation the immaterial Word was made present in material form, so in worship the material form is the means through which the church makes its spiritual worship present to God the Father.”

“The form of worship is determined by three considerations.  First, because worship is a meeting between God and human beings it is bound by rules of order.  It must contain a beginning and an ending and follow a sequence of events.  It is natural therefore, that worship should begin with a procession (going to something) and end with a recession (leaving the meeting).  Since it is a meeting with God, the people should first address God with an appropriate greeting and in departing receive a benediction from God.”

“Second, because the meeting is an enactment of the gospel story, it is appropriate that it should follow the sequence of God’s work in history.  For this reason the Scripture readings and the sermon act as a sign of God speaking to His people and precede the Eucharist, a sign of God coming to His people.”

“Third, because worship entails response, it is appropriate that God’s people praise Him in doxologies, hymns, prayers, confessions, creeds, and offerings.  These responses may be placed throughout the ordering of the service that sequentially sets forth the gospel story.”

Conceptual Models of the Church being Church

A)   My interaction with Webber and the other writers listed below, as well as several years of pastoral experience, have brought me to conceive of the church in the following way:

  • WORSHIP:  The Church is the radiant Bride of Christ united to Him (and through Him to the whole Trinity) in worship—actualized in Word & Table & Prayer
  • MISSION:  The supernatural act of worship compels and empowers the Church for mission—disciple making (transformed individuals and families who become united to God in Christ).

  • The cycle then repeats itself and transformed disciples are irresistibly drawn back into worship out of love for God and other Christ-followers, and the very real need to be fed and re-empowered by the Holy Spirit through Word & Table.
  • All other works and ministries then become a natural outflow of the Worship Mission Worship cycle.

B)   Webber has given me three key foci for worship renewal in the local church—our worship MUST be:

  • Trinity Focused
  • Gospel Rehearsing
  • Disciple Making

C)   Acts 2:42-47 also gives us a snapshot of what the church looks like when she is being the church as God intended.  This includes a synergistic relationship with God where  He and His people must each play their part (this assumes that God acted first for our redemption through Christ’s finished work):

Our Part

  • Scripture & Instruction
  • Fellowship (all need provided for)
  • Sacraments
  • Prayer

God’s Part

  • Signs, Wonders & Miracles
  • Increasing number seeking and entering the Kingdom

(Yes!  God is inextricably at work in each item under the “Our Part” section.  I simply mean these are acts we perform in worship into which God infuses His grace, love, mercy and power.)

Other Influential Writers/Theologians

  • Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy
  • Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World
  • James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship
  • Rob L. Staples (Nazarene), Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality
  • Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, and A Royal “Waste” of Time
  • William H. Willimon, Word, Water, Wine and Bread
  • Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
  • Keith Drury (Wesleyan), The Wonder of Worship
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