A recent issue of Reformed World was entitled “Reformed and Ecumenical—Ecumenical and Reformed.” These words raise an important question about the nature of our life as Reformed Christians in relation to other traditions. Are we first of all Reformed who are also ecumenical? Or, are we first of all ecumenical who are Reformed? Which perspective most truly represents the Reformed in ecumenical relations? It is an intriguing issue to ponder. Perhaps neither is the definitive position, though those of us who care about both may be inclined to lean toward one more than the other. The formative influence of the sixteenth-century Reformation may give the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, more than many others, a greater concern for things ecumenical, since Calvin and Luther sought toreform the one church , rather than create a new church. That fact places these two traditions most particularly at the center of ecumenism.
How does being Reformed and being ecumenical impact the life of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship (AR&LW)?
Being Reformed, Being Ecumenical
What is the significance of the terms Reformed and ecumenical in the life and structure of AR&LW?
A Reforming Tradition
The term Reformed appears only in the title of the Association coupled with liturgical , and is repeated in the same way in the Constitution which states that the Association aspires “to the understanding and practice of Christian worship that is Reformed and liturgical.”1
What do we mean by Reformed ? Does it refer to a global family of churches rooted in the sixteenth-century Reformation, now embracing 75,000,000 Christians in about 200 countries? Or, does it indicate a particular Reformed ethos that cherishes and seeks to preserve its Reformation heritage? Or, does it recognize the essence of being reformed from the perspective of semper reformanda (i.e.,always to be reformed , the essential meaning being that we are always to be reformed according to the Word of God)?
The answer? Certainly all of the above, but the latter understanding is fundamental. We are always tempted to canonize past formulations, but if we are faithful to the reforming thrust of Luther and Calvin, we will always be a reforming tradition , embracingreforming and tradition as inseparable concepts.
Michael Weinrich, professor of systematic theology at the Free University of Berlin and chairperson of the theology committee of the European area of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) describes the essence of what it means to be a reforming tradition:
The calling and promise of the church always lie far beyond anything that can be seen in historical reality, even in the most perfect form of the church. The church does not live of itself, and can be a living church only by constantly listening anew to what God is saying, and shaping its life and form in response The oft-quoted phrase ecclesia reformata semper reformandarefers the church beyond itself, not back to itself—pointing to the word of God to which it must listen and respond and to which it is accountable. Because the church is essentially the creation of the divine word (creatura verbi divini ), it must constantly seek to be just that.2
There is an integral relationship between reforming and tradition, otherwise what would it be re-forming ? A reforming tradition cannot start de novo . Yet there are those among us who have formed a tradition out of denying tradition! This resistance to change has confronted anyone who has been involved in developing or advocating a book of services, or a hymnal, in which the unfamiliar is introduced.
In a helpful way, Weinrich expresses the relationship the Reformed maintain between reforming and tradition :
The Reformed churches think of tradition less as a treasure to be preserved, a heritage to be safeguarded, than as a source of encouragement and empowerment. Tradition is respected not for its own sake or because of its inspired character, but because it provides an indispensable and therefore inspiring tool for the continuing life of the church here and now. The emphasis is on the future rather than the past, on proving the value of tradition rather than preserving it. Tradition is not the stronghold of an unchanging identity, but the challenge to keep renewing identity. . . .3
Lutheran scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan, expressed it similarly when he contrasts tradition with traditionalism. He said that traditionalismis “the dead faith of the living,” in contrast to tradition as “the living faith of the dead,” referring to those who cherish the historic liturgies of the church, advocating them in an appropriate manner for the present.4 Traditionalism points to the past; a living tradition is inspired by the past, but points to the future.
Since Christ’s church can never be fully faithful, never fully obedient to the Word, it is constantly in need of reform. Faithfulness requires the church to live in recognition that it is constantly under the judgment of God and always needs reformation, and is impelled to reform its life according to the Word under the guidance of the Spirit in the context of the age in which we live. That is semper reformanda.
It is this reforming impetus that propels us into being ecumenical. We cannot be otherwise. The basis for this is the recognition that the Reformers sought to purify and renew the one church of Jesus Christ, not to form a separate church. They sought to reform the liturgy not to replace it. This perspective compels us to seek partnership with all within the church catholic who seek to reform the church in light of the Word within the context in which we live. We then discover that we have more in common with folk in other denominations who seek comparable reforms, than we have with many folk in our own church.
The reforming tradition touches every aspect of the church’s life and is especially true of the way we worship, for worship is the primary means by which we are formed in the faith and express that faith.
Any true reforming of the church must always embrace how the church worships, for worship is the very heart of the church’s life. As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy reminds us, worship is both the summit of the church’s life together and the fountain from which the church’s power flows.5
Worship that is Ecumenical
In AR&LW’s founding documents, the term ecumenical is used only to define a dimension of the worship it seeks, “worship that is trinitarian, ecumenical , incarnational, and sacramental.” The basis for its being ecumenical is thus in the way it defines the worship it advocates, and becomes the shape of its constituency.
When ecumenical is linked with worship, a new perspective opens up: worship that is ecumenical. We are less aware of our different labels, as we share together in the worship of God. Looking at our books of worship, it is striking to note the remarkable convergence we have witnessed since the Second Vatican Council.
Experiencing ecumenical in reference to the worship of God is different from thinking ecumenical in denominational relationships, which focus on structures and cooperation. In worship that is ecumenical we experience a unifying bond. Made one in Baptism we are formed by the ordo that has formed the faithful through the ages. Denominational affiliations recede, as common worship becomes the focus. We experience some measure of what Paul Hoon understood in this often-quoted prophetic note:
[Our] ecumenical time is perforce a liturgical time. . . . Certainly it is arguable—that the road to reunion starts more truly from altar, pew, pulpit; and font than from headquarters in Geneva or Rome, or from the telephone number of the local commission on ecumenical relations.6
What the phrase “Worship that is . . . ecumenical” , implies is nothing other than a common sharing of the ordo at its very deepest level—not simply texts, but also the theological perspectives that give the ordo its shape.
Although AR&LW is primarily directed toward those in the Reformed tradition, it is open to all who share a common ground in things liturgical, a heritage shared ecumenically. Those who share its vision of worship from other denominations are welcomed into its membership.
To be faithful to semper reformanda at the very core of Reformed faith, we cannot be otherwise than ecumenical. Reformed and Ecumenical--Ecumenical and Reformed.
To Cultivate, Practice, and Promote
The Promise of Renewal in Liturgical Reform
To be engaged in a reforming tradition is to embrace an agenda for reform. Reform of the worship of the church is at the very core of all reform of the church. Both the liturgical reforms of the sixteenth-century Reformation and the Second Vatican Council of the twentieth-century are living proof of this. There is no other reform in church life that is of such central importance as the reform of its worship. It is at the very core of every aspect of reform, and gives promise for renewal in every dimension of its life. The preface of theBook of Common Worship emphasizes the importance of this reform:
The Reforming Agenda of the AR&LW
Worship is at the very heart of the church’s life. All that the church is and does is rooted in its worship. The community of faith, gathered in response to God’s call, is formed in its worship. Worship is the principle influence that shapes our faith, and is the most visible way we express the faith.
In worship, through Word and Sacrament, the church is sustained by the presence of Christ. Joined in worship to the One who is the source of its life, the church is empowered to serve God in the world.
Because of the centrality of worship in the church’s life, the continuing reform of worship is of primary importance in maintaining the integrity of the people of God. In an age dominated by individualism and secularism, it is particularly important to embrace forms of worship that are firmly rooted in the faith and foster a strong communal sense of being united with God, with the community of faith in every time and place, and with a broken world in need of God’s healing touch. In other words,the concern for the reform of worship is, above everything else, a concern for the renewal of the church .7 (emphasis added)
It is this conviction that impelled concerned folk to form an association embracing an activist agenda for liturgical reform at the core of its life and purpose—“to cultivate, practice and promote” its ordo centered vision of worship. After two years of discussions of defining and refining its vision and purpose, AR&LW was inaugurated July 8, 2004. The reforming character of its purpose is succinctly stated in the Mission Statement it adopted:
The Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship, a voluntary association of congregations and individuals, covenants with God’s help, to cultivate, practice, and promote worship that offers a foretaste of the fullness of God’s Reign. This worship is trinitarian, ecumenical, incarnational and sacramental; it is both universal and local and sends the church to live its liturgy, bringing God’s justice and grace to all of God’s creation.8
In other founding documents the reforming agenda of AR&LW is further described. In defining worship that is Reformed and liturgical, the association affirms a commitment to “the historic ordo , with sensitivity to cultural context.” In defining ordo, its constitution succinctly states:
The historic ordo includes a commitment to the norm of a weekly Lord’s Day service of Word and Table, an intentional ministry of formation leading to and flowing from the font, the observance of the liturgical year with lectionary, the practice of daily prayer, and a commitment to life patterned on worship.”9
The word ordo is new to many in our circles. Many of us came to know it decades ago in the teachings and writings of the Orthodox scholar, Alexander Schmemann. However, most of us sought to express the concept of the ordo as “the shape of the liturgy” (Dom Gregory Dix). However, that phrase inadequately conveys the full meaning of ordo. Ordo means more than the ordering of worship and its parts, but embraces the whole of the liturgical heritage—the word and meal, the bath, the way Christians mark time, morning and evening prayer, living the liturgy in acts of compassion, justice and peace. It includes how these relate to each other in forming and expressing the faith within the community of the faithful and in the fabric of society.
In recent years Lutheran scholar Gordon W. Lathrop has brought the word ordo to the forefront as a term best embracing “the central things”.10 While ordo is often confused with missals and prayer books, ordo is not confined to texts and rubrics. The ordo is more than texts, although it finds form and expression in our books of worship. It has more to do with what we do in worship than with prescribed words. As our received tradition, it is a rich heritage. In becoming enfleshed in our common life as Christians, it becomes a living tradition dynamically relating with culture in being transcultural, contextual, counter-cultural, and cross-cultural.11
The ordo transcends every Christian tradition, and is rooted in the oldest descriptions of Christian worship. It is the basis of the reforms embraced in the advocacy and support agenda of the AR&LW—to advocate a worship that gives hope for transforming what the church is about, and to provide support to all engaged in this reform. According to its Constitution, the AR&LW exists to:
- Express the Reformed understanding of worship by cultivating, practicing, and promoting worship that is trinitarian, ecumenical, incarnational and sacramental, in dialogue with ambient and impinging culture;
- Provide a network of communication and support among persons who practice or desire to move toward the practice of such worship;
- Offer continuing education and facilitate the sharing of resources for such worship;
- Form a recognizable authority which may advocate such worship in congregations, church governing bodies, seminaries, and denominational worship offices;
- Encourage the renewal of worship by embodying the historic ordo and developing liturgy within its shape, with the goal of revitalizing the spiritual life of churches and the Church;
- Empower the Church to live its liturgy, giving witness to God’s justice and grace for all of God’s creation, as well as the unity of Christ’s Church.
The keystone of this agenda is the conviction that there is promise for renewal in liturgical reform .
The AR&LW Constituency
A reforming tradition and ecumenism becomes the basis for determining the constituency of AR&LW. While ecumenical is a defining focus of the worship the Association embraces, it does not seek to be ecumenical in a bureaucratic sense. While the purpose of the Association is not to engage in dialogues seeking to resolve historic differences in theology, polity, and practice, it will take seriously the important denominational agreements that have been formalized.
The Association’s constituency will naturally first embrace those with whom we have a common history and tradition, the North American member churches in WARC. Individuals and congregations from among these churches, who share the vision of the Association and a common focus on the “central things,” are invited to join together in discovering the richness of the ordo and find the support of folk sharing this common focus. The most likely would be from within the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Reformed Church in America (RCA), the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC), Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC), Christian Church—Disciples of Christ (DOC), United Church of Canada (UCCan), and the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC).
It is expected that more interest will emerge in some of the denominations than in others, because some have advanced farther in liturgical reform than others. But no matter which denomination may have the greater numbers, or which may have the least numbers, all persons and congregations who share the common focus of the association are one body. Those at different places in the journey will have different priorities in the agenda for reform within their respective denominations, but will still share a common vision for the future. Those who have traveled the farthest have rich gifts to share with those just embarking on the journey. And those starting the journey will be a reminder to those farther along, that in their zeal they must take care lest they leave some behind.
Our Nearer Neighbors
The next level would certainly embrace individuals and congregations in communions with whom we have the most in common—our nearer neighbors. Globally, our nearest neighbors are the Lutherans. Conversations between the North American divisions of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and WARC began in 1962. Since that time agreements declaring full communion, full pulpit and altar/table fellowship and mutual recognition of ministers of Word and Sacrament have been established in Europe and in the United States. These agreements have led to growth in unity through shared church life and mission.
Of particular importance for AR&LW is the Formula of Agreement adopted in 1997 between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and three WARC member churches: RCA, PCUSA, and UCC.12 This Agreement not only brought Lutherans and Reformed together, but also represented a new formal unifying relationship among these three Reformed churches.
A friend of mine served as a Reformed member in the dialogue that drafted the Formula of Agreement. She told me of their final meeting during which they recommended adoption of the Agreement. They met at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville. While the Lutheran/Reformed group was meeting, a celebration of the Eucharist was held in the chapel at the Center, and the group recessed to attend. The liturgy was from the Book of Common Worship. Over the course of their previous meetings, one member of the group, a Lutheran bishop, had held back from approving the Formula, voicing lingering doubts about it. When the group met following this celebration of the Eucharist, the bishop reported that having heard a Presbyterian eucharistic prayer, he no longer entertained any doubts. He was then ready to join with the others in proposing that the churches approve the Formula of Agreement. In 2002, after conversations were begun that ultimately led to the formation of AR&LW, I described our proposal to my friend who had told me of the bishop’s change of mind. She quickly responded, “Will the Lutherans be included?”
Since the adoption of the Formula of Agreement, ELCA, UCC, RCA and PC(USA) congregations, middle governing bodies, and national offices are finding ways to give it expression. Increasingly, it is shaping our lives together.
In the past few years, the materials in the ELCA Renewing Worship series, developed in anticipation of a new book of services, are welcomed not only by Lutherans but are also being used by Reformed congregations. Prayers drawn from the Book of Common Worshipare prominent in these Lutheran materials. Reformed representation has been included on several of the developmental panels.13 The Renewing Worship materials give promise that the new Lutheran book of services will be the finest in the English language, an honor Gordon Lathrop, and others, presently give to the Book of Common Worship. Since we are bound together by the Formula of Agreement, the new Lutheran service book will surely find use among Reformed congregations, and will be a valued source of enrichment of our worship life. It should also be a cherished liturgy recommended by AR&LW.
In my judgment, AR&LW would be remiss if it did not seek ways to move more closely with those in the ELCA with whom we share “the central things” in common.
Other nearer neighbors also includes those with whom we have a more general relationships established in the Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) of which several Reformed denominations are a part. This includes the United Methodist Church (UMC), together with other Methodist bodies, and the Episcopal Church (EC). In the decades of Consultation of Church Union (COCU) existence, ultimately giving birth to CUIC, COCU’s Commission on Worship prepared worship studies and liturgies. Ecumenically produced, these liturgies were used by member churches. There are no continuing conversations in the CUIC bringing representatives of its member churches to discuss liturgical concerns shared in common. Unfortunately, this ended with the formation of CUIC and the dissolution of COCU and its Commission on Worship. AR&LW may be able to partner with those from other member churches to advocate a vehicle to resume the fine ecumenical work that had been done by the Commission on Worship. It would be a major expression of the unity that CUIC exhibits, if an ecumenical service book could be developed through the relationships that have been established in CUIC.
So, ecumenical , so clearly stated in AR&LW’s founding documents in describing one dimension of the liturgy it espouses, provides the foundation to move steadily to embrace those with whom we have formal bonds of agreement, and those with whom we share a common faith. Though the Association’s constituency may be directed primarily toward individuals and congregations who live under the Reformed umbrella, it is imperative, in the light of the Formula of Agreement to begin to explore how our “nearest neighbor”, the ELCA, can be partners, and extend a welcome to all others who share AR&LW’s vision. Together, we join in focusing our efforts for the reform and renewal of Christ’s Church.
First written in October 2004, with minor revisions in July 2005.
1 Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship, Constitution 2.1
2 Michael Weinrich, “Confessing unity—A Reformed perspective on ecumenism”, Reformed World , 53.4 (December 4, 2003), 170
3 Ibid . pp. 171-172.
4 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984), 65.
5 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy , Chapter 1, section 10, (The Vatican), 1963.
6 Paul Hoon, The Integrity of Worship: Ecumenical and Pastoral Studies in Liturgical Theology , (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1971) 17.
7 Book of Common Worship (Louisville, Kentucky: Wesminster/John Knox Press, 1993) 1.
8 AR&LW, Mission Statement. Cf. AR&LW Constitution 3.1.
9 AR&LW Constitution 2.1.
10 For a full study on the ordo , the three volume liturgical theology by Gordon W. Lathrop is highly recommended. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993);Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1999); and Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
11 This four fold description of the relationship between worship and culture derives from an important study by the Lutheran World Federation, the “Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture: Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities” 1996. Excerpts of the study may be found in: Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999) 233-236. It is also summarized in an article by Arlo Duba, “The Ordo – The Center of Liturgical Reform: Toward the establishment of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship” in a forthcoming issue of Liturgy in February 2005.
12 Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on worship comprise a special issue of Reformed Liturgy & Worship (31.2, 1997) published immediately before the adoption of the Formula of Agreement.
13 I had the privilege of serving on the liturgical year panel in developing the resource, The Church's Year: Propers and Seasonal Rite s, vol. 8 in the series, published by Augsburg-Fortress late in 2004.