Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

The Performance of Worship and the Ordering of Our Lives: Liturgy and Ethics in the Mennonite Tradition

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

The Performance of Worship and the Ordering of Our Lives: Liturgy and Ethics in the Mennonite Tradition

Article excerpt

Abstract: Mennonites have long affirmed the unity of worship and work. Worship is not restricted merely to the practice of particular rituals and sacraments but extends to all of life--God is worshipped not only in words and music but also in the living of faithful lives. The risk inherent in this emphasis on the unity of worship and work is that when everything is worship, only passing attention is given to the specific ritualized practices of worship and they easily become neglected and left immature. Worship becomes understood too narrowly and instrumentally as a means of making disciples, often making the practices of worship overly verbal and dour. A morn comprehensive understanding of worship and its relationship to ethics is embedded within the order of service found in Hymnal: A Worship Book, reflecting a performative understanding of worship that it not limited to the ritualized practice of worship but can function as a paradigm for the performative work of the church in the world.

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Few would challenge the point that worship and the Christian life are closely connected. Indeed, the primary goal of most worship renewal movements has been the search for more "relevant" worship forms, for greater connectedness between worship and life. In many ways these are attempts to bridge a chasm between "church" and "politics" or between worship and ordinary life.

Mennonites--and they are not alone in this--have long emphasized the unity of worship and work. Typically they have insisted that worship encompasses all of life and cannot be restricted merely to the practice of particular rituals or sacraments. For the early Anabaptists a critical point of departure from the medieval church was their rejection of sacraments as opus operatum--in themselves, sacraments did not convey the grace of eternal life. Yet as Edward Poling claims in his description of early Anabaptist worship, this was "not to deny the sacred In life but to see that all of life was under God's dominion and thus special." (1) Anabaptists have affirmed an integral relationship between what is done in worship and what is done in life, between honoring God with words and music in worship and honoring God with obedient lives. (2) This unity of worship and work recognizes that all life is sacred and under God, and that Christians are invited to live their lives as sacrament, as holy. Worship and work are one.

While Mennonites should value this emphasis, problems emerge when worship and work are not held in proper balance. The strong emphasis on service and the prominent place of discipleship ethics in Mennonite Christology and ecclesiology, combined with the virtual absence of an explicit Mennonite worship theology, can potentially lead to a one-sided focus on human action. An emphasis on human agency, viewed apart from the action of God, frequently gives rise to an instrumental understanding of worship in which worship functions primarily as a means of making disciples and can easily become overly verbal and dour. (3) Mennonites need to consider how our worship practices can serve to bind worship and work together. While it is tempting to begin this theologizing with a sustained reflection on various textual sources, inquiry into the practice of worship itself can also contribute to the development of a fuller understanding of worship and of work. In particular, the ritualized ordering of worship practices give further insight into the interplay of worship and ethics. The order of worship found in the Mennonite Church's Hymnal: A Worship Book, contains a model for a more comprehensive consideration of the relationship of worship and work. The ordering in the hymnbook reflects a performative understanding of worship that is not limited to worship but can function as a paradigm for the performative work of the church in the world. For Anabaptist-Mennonites, as for all Christians, the practices of the church are constitutive of its being. …

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