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Worship, Its Historical and Theological Evaluation Report (Assessment)

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Abstract

The analysis of worship is given in the paper. We assess the telos and ethos of the service, its contextual significance, and macro organizational patterns in the first section of the report. Secondly, the detailed historical and theological evaluation of liturgical units is provided. We describe the relevance of the selected ceremonial events and give the justification for their implementation in the service in the following paragraphs. The results of the analysis indicate that the suggested worship plan is constructed according to general rules of service structuring; it consistent and logical. Therefore, no changes are required.

Introduction

It is possible to say that the actions and decisions of the contemporary people are influenced by a great variety of controversial perspectives that make their knowledge chaotic and lacking certainty. This situation interferes with the belief in the universal ethical code of human behavior. Nowadays, people live in an unstable environment, in which the fundamental norms and main rules of morality have lost their power and, therefore, the quality of life and success largely depends on worldviews that people have. In this way, the responsibility to act ethically and rightly is the inner quality of every prudent person who understands the situation in which he or she lives and who wants to bring the positive change to the society. To do so, people need to have knowledge that would allow them to identify the best principles of behavior appropriate for a particular context and practice these principles accordingly. To develop this type of wisdom, a person needs to know God’s purposes (telos) and act towards their fulfillment through self-understanding (ethos).

Telos and Ethos

Overall, God’s telos can be defined as affirmation and protection of life at both personal and community levels. At the same time, in the Christian faith, ethical practice and development of self-understanding or ethos imply a compassionate attitude to others, promote love to live, and denote the service for the kingdom of God. According to Nicolet-Anderson (2012), “telos combines the good of the community and the shaping of the person into a Christ-like individual” (p. 146). And it is possible to say, that the same telos is represented in the service outlined in the second part of the assignment.

The UMC service focuses on the Baptism of the Lord and remembrance of baptism. To understand the telos of the given service we need to evaluate the significance of baptism in the mainline Protestant denomination.

“We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit” (United Methodist Church [UMC], 2016a, para. 3). The ceremony of baptism can be regarded as a symbol of a believer’s self-identification with Christ; it is a symbol of a new life given by God and born of repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection. The achievement of the new life and the good associated with it is the telos of the analyzed service. It prompts a person in what quality he/she wants to live on the earth, actualizes his/her positive role, and brings psychological and spiritual satisfaction to him/her, as well as the society as a whole, and adds new significant meaning and value to life. Telos implicitly presented in the evaluated service guides every member of the UMC congregation in making choices regarding the principles of behavior and the formation of the social self. And it is possible to say that the actual cognition of telos may lead a person to the acquisition of practical wisdom needed to improve the life of self and others.

Telos is inseparably connected with ethos. Ethos represents a person’s “essential being” that influences and is influenced by the actions towards a particular telos (Marsden, 2012, n.p.). Self-understanding is thus a necessary factor for living a life according to an own meaning and universal ethical principles, as well as for the development of knowledge and wisdom. Therefore, ethos can be regarded as an essential norm of morality.

In the Letter to the Romans, Paul the Apostle mentioned that the work on self (i.e., “the shaping of a person into a Christ-like individual”) is possible only because believers receive “a new self-understanding from God, translated in their identity of children of God” (Nicolet-Anderson, 2012, p. 146). Baptism is the primary symbol of the reception of this new spiritual identity. Therefore, the service promotes the understanding of selves as children of God among the members of congregate and, in this way, stimulates the formation of ethical awareness in them.

It is possible to say that understanding of self as a Christ-like individual or a child of God guides a person in a chaotic social life towards the generation of wisdom. Ethos largely defines the individual behavior in the context of the community and the interpersonal relationships that exist in it. Ethos introduced in the service may regulate the behavior of the church attendees in the way it will be consistent with the identified telos or God’s purposes.

Contextual Aspect

In the multicultural community and the situation of rapid ethnic and racial diversification, interpersonal and social conflicts occur more often. Thus, the issue of unity, mutual understanding, and compassion are most topical in the present-day world. The UMC congregation is comprised of diverse racial groups including Afro- and Anglo-Americans, as well as Hispanic and Asian attendees. Therefore, the efforts to promote friendly and open relationships among the congregate members are of great importance in the church as well. The pastors and worship planners need to pay significant attention to the social implications of the religious services they arrange.

The analyzed service has many positive social and individual implications. It is possible to say that the identified telos and ethos has the potential to foster harmony through the establishment of open and trustful dialog among the church attendees. When the authority and glory of God reconciling all things in it is put in the center of communication, the human interactions may be easily oriented towards peace, justice, and love.

The positive multicultural relationships are promoted through the performance of various liturgical practices including preaching, singing hymns, and collective prayers which raise awareness of ethical and religious aspects of behavior and communication. For instance, the invitation to the offering reads:

“God gives us not only Genesis life but the new life born of repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection. Therefore, with generous hearts, let us give back a portion of what has already been given to us in our baptismal covenant with God and each other” (Long, 2012, p. 47).

The cited verse shows what important quality the communication with God and other people should have. Moreover, this quality is represented as a result of the repentance and forgiveness given to believers by God. This type of prayer serves as guidelines for people of faith in decision making and actions they undertake daily; they actualize telos through practice and contribute to the development of ethos in them.

It is possible to say that understanding of self as a child of God plays a key role in the development of trust and positive attitudes towards others. While the knowledge of the significance of Baptism provides individuals with a sense of new life and unity with Christ, it also has the potential to strengthen the cohesion among the congregation members by giving them a shared sense of belonging, brotherhood, and affinity. In this way, despite significant differences in social, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, the UMC church attendees become more connected to each other through the shared telos. Moreover, it is possible to presume that the message conveyed to them through the theme of Baptism of the Lord and Remembrance of Baptism may encourage the congregation to maintain positive relations not merely within the church but with people of other confessions and belief systems in broader social contexts.

Macro Patterns of the Service

Usually, worship services are structured according to the following pattern: 1) Approach to God, 2) the Word of God, and 3) Response to the Word of God. The approach to God is the introductory part. In the analyzed service, it includes an opening voluntary and a call to worship, the Testament reading, and singing of hymns. The opening part includes such hymns as “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” and “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” which allow us to set aright mood and create a favorable atmosphere in the Sanctuary.

Afterward, the Word of God is preached. The Associate Pastor reads “The Baptism of Jesus.” The script introduces the theme of the service and, followed by the sermon “Come on in… The Water is Fine!” read by the Senior Pastor. They explain the significance of baptism to the congregate.

Response to the Word of God is the largest part of the service and the most significant one as it enables the congregation to profess faith. It includes such liturgical events as the offertory, thanksgiving, affirmation of faith, etc. The closing hymn and benediction follow the Remembrance of Baptism service in an appropriate manner allowing us to summarize the results of the service and send the attendees to the world with a sense of renewal.

Overall, the worship components are organized logically and consistently. The organizational macro pattern of the service allows the gradual revelation of the main theme and its significance that lead to the development of the right perceptions in the members of the congregation and facilitate meaningful practice.

Historical and Theological Analysis of Liturgical Units
Call to Worship: A Psalm of David

“Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of God’s name,
worship the Lord in holy array.
The voice of the Lord is upon the water.
The God of glory thunders, the Lord upon many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful.
The voice of God is full of majesty.
Let us praise the name of the Lord!” (UMC, 2016b)

It is considered that the psalm is written by David to mark the consecration of a place for the construction of a new church. David’s experiences of God’s mercy are described in the full text of the psalm. In the cited verse, he praises the Lord for the exemption from punishment.

The full meaning of the verse can be revealed in comparison with Psalm 21:17. It is mentioned there that the plague was decimating the Jewish people because of David’s sin, and the king asked the Lord to send the disease to his house as a punishment for the evil he, David, did. But the depth of the king’s repentance, on the contrary, led to the cessation of the epidemics. In this way, God had saved David’s soul. Thus, the king was filled with gratitude and encouraged people to praise God.

The psalm has a clear liturgical implication and its use as the call to worship in the service is appropriate due to the message included in it. During the psalm proclamation, the pastors stand back at the Lectern and invite the congregation to stand as well. The manner of the psalm proclamation is meaningful because it allows the realization of the intended purpose – the universal eulogizing of God.

Hymn of Praise: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, UM Hymnal, no. 384.

“Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart” (Beggs, 2016, par. 1).

According to Beggs (2016), the hymn was first published in a collection named “Hymns for those that Seek, and those that Have, Redemption in the Blood of Christ” (1747). The hymn is focused on prayers to God and the Holy Spirit and prayers for the Lord’s second coming. The primary message included in it is the achievement of the complete sanctification of being through self-identification with Christ. Thus, the hymn has an important biblical implication and is of great significance for the Methodist church.

The pastors stand singing the hymn with the congregation. Singing is an essential part of religious service in the Christian tradition. It is said in the Bible, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col. 3:16 New International Version [NIV]). Singing thus helps attendees to strengthen the positive emotions associated with the hymn, as well as telos and ethos of the service.

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9

The common theme for the volume 42 of the Book of Isaiah is the prophecy about the humble Servant of the Lord, the purposes of his coming, and the results of his deeds. The prophecy about the Servant’s appearance, his objectives, and goals is described in the first part of the volume (1-9).

“1 ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations’” (Is. 42: 1 NIV).

In the given stanza, Christ’s Baptism is regarded as the moment of his entry into the service to people. Baptism actualizes the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Lord. It symbolizes the connectedness of Christ to God through the Holy Spirit and their unity.

2-9. Isaiah describes that despite the humble character of the Messiah and the meekness of his preaching, his word will have tremendous power and will make him the conqueror of all nations. The external placidity and internal majesty of the Servant of the Lord serve as the sign of his divine origin. The appearance of Christ can be regarded as the response of God to the praises and cries of people, as the promise of a peaceful and bright future.

The Associate Pastor reads the Old Testament passage standing at the Lectern. Reading at the Lectern helps to show the elevated character of the scripture.

Hymn of Preparation: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Frederick Faber, The United Methodist Hymnal, no. 121
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty” (Hawn, 2016, par. 1).

The hymn was composed by Faber in 1854. The author describes God’s greatness and mercy that are unlimited. The major idea refers to the fact that God’s nature cannot be comprehended and measured, but the Lord always supports people and is always kind to them. If people have faith, they will attain the “upper home bliss” (Hawn, 2016, par. 2).

The Associate Pastor comes off the Lectern for singing the hymn because the nature of the hymn differs from the one the Biblical scriptures have. It is more sentimental and less elevated. The hymn prepares the congregation for the following preaching. Similarly to the hymn of praise, it is meant to remind the attendees about the truth of God’s Words. It is an essential part of a worship service, and its inclusion demonstrates that the service is organized according to the formal rules of worship construction.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 3:13-17

The Gospel according to Matthew was written primarily to show Jewish people that Christ is their Messiah. Chapter 3 of the Gospel is devoted to the character of John the Baptist, his appearance, mode of life, and service. The part that includes stanzas 12-17 describes the Baptism of Christ.

12-15. Christ came to John for baptism. From the formal point of view, he did not need to be baptized since he had no sins for which he could repent. But as Christ said to John, he needed to be baptized by him to “fulfill all righteousness” (Mat. 3:15 NIV). But the most significant part of Christ’s baptism is the verification of his might from above:

“16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Mat. 3: 16-17 NIV).

In this way, the act of baptism verified that Jesus is truly the Son of God. The descent of the Holy Spirit gave the Messiah the power to fulfill his service among people. But for the general audience, baptism is the symbol of resurrection and purification from sins. Therefore, the pastor asks the congregation to stand while the scripture is being read to realize this symbol of resurrection and new life given by baptism. The Associate Pastor reads the scripture at the Lectern to show the significance of the scripture.

Sermon: “Come on in…the Water is Fine”

The sermon that is read by the Senior Pastor at the Pulpit goes deeper into the interpretation of John’s role in the forgiveness of sins; significance, and purposes of Baptism. In the sermon, the pastor explains the symbolism of baptism with water and the implications it has.

“‘I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:8 NIV).

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit is in the baptism of Christ is explicit but, similarly, it is implicitly present in the baptism of every believer. Every person can identify him/herself with Christ and the Holy Spirit through the act of baptism.

Offertory

The offertory is a part of the Holy Eucharist and response to the Word of God. It includes the offering of bread and wine, as well as the financial gifts, to God and the accompanying prayers. The rite is highly symbolic. It can be regarded as a material expression of gratitude to God. It is meant to remind the church attendees about their reliance on the Lord.

Remembrance of Baptism

The service is critical to the UMC because it helps to remind the congregation about responsibilities every Christian has. Overall, it allows church attendees to re-identify themselves with the Body of Christ. The essential parts of the service include confession and forgiveness, Word, signs, and symbols (e.g., cross), and the use of water.

Renunciation of sin and profession of faith

Before the initial act of baptism, participants are always asked to reject sin and evil and profess their faith in God. Similarly, the congregation renounces sins and professes faith in the Triune God during the Remembrance of Baptism. The process takes place at the Baptismal Font that serves as an evident sign of baptism’s centrality. The attendees actively participate in the reading of the hymn under the lead of the Senior Pastor. The reading allows the congregation members to deepen their spiritual self-understanding.

Thanksgiving over the water and reaffirmation of faith

The Senior Pastor reads a prayer that is meant to thank God for his mercy and blessings. The pastor invites the congregation to pray with the hands raised above the head. It is the ancient praying posture that signifies praise. He then places the hands above the water to relate the elements of eulogy to it. The congregation members may touch the water throughout worship to remember their baptism and reconnect to their Christ-like identity. Moreover, the pastor invites them to make a sign of the cross on their forehead after dipping the fingers into the water. The sign of the cross is a significant reminder of the completed baptism.

“The God of all grace,
who has called us to eternal glory in Christ,
establish and strengthen you
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
that you may live in grace and peace” (1 Pet. 5:10 NIV).

Apostle Peter says about the new responsibility that is imposed on the members of the church in the face of difficult times. In chapter 5 of his message, he calls believers for manifesting the strength of their belief. In verse 10, Peter claims that all sufferings are short while the glory of Christ is eternal. The Holy Spirit descended on those who are baptized through the water can make them stronger in faith and firm in the performance of responsibilities.

The affirmation of faith through this Thanksgiving prayer helps to give those reaffirming the Baptismal Covenant a renewed sense of call to God’s mission. It is meant to link baptism to the daily lives of the church attendees.

Benediction

May God who called Jesus “beloved” speak blessings to you, beloved sons and daughters, and empower you to bring that good news to others who still need to hear it. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This closing part of the service is important because it helps to consolidate the effect of the worship, prolong it, and scatter when the gathering is dispersed. The benediction sends believers forward to independent activities with a promise of God’s support and presence.

Conclusion

The analysis of the service reveals that the suggested worship plan is designed with the consideration of all implications and meanings. Therefore, it is possible to perform the service without any changes in the program because no problematic areas were identified, and it seems coherent and efficient.

Separate ethos and telos implicit in each liturgical unit are well combined under the common theme of baptism. The hymns and scriptures used in the service since the introductory part to the closing part have similar purposes of praising God and the fulfillment of the Lord’s mission. By preaching, reading, and singing the chosen liturgical elements, the pastors may contribute to the development of an appropriate self-understanding in the congregation, self-identification with Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the selected liturgical events and components perfectly suit the general purposes of the service, and their selection can be considered reasonable.

References

Beggs, Mark. (2016). . Web.

Hawn, M. (2016). Web.

Long, K. B. (2012). Feasting on the Word: Liturgies for Year A. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Marsden, L. (2012). The Ashgate research companion to religion and conflict resolution. Surrey, England: Ashgate.

Nicolet-Anderson, V. (2012). Constructing the self: Thinking with Paul and Michel Foucault. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. (2005). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

United Methodist Church. (2016a). Web.

United Methodist Church. (2016b). Web.

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