On the tenth anniversary of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in 2007, we identified ten core principles and practices to present as our central convictions about vital Christian worship. We pray that these ten convictions have already been at the heart of our work so far, and we pledge that they will be even more formative for our institute in the work that lies ahead of us. And we hope our many ecumenical partners and contacts find them clear, compelling, and most of all enriching for their own worship and ministry.
These ten core convictions are not innovations. They are timeless truths from Scripture and the rich history of Christian worship. Today, each conviction remains theologically crucial, pastorally significant, and culturally threatened. The importance of one or all of these convictions risks being obscured by cultural trends outside the church, and disputes about the mechanics and style of worship within the church. This attempt to reiterate and reinforce the importance of these ten core convictions will lead, we pray, to more fruitful (if not necessarily easier) conversations about the meaning and practice of Christian worship.
Christian worship is immeasurably enriched by:
Worship cultivates our knowledge and imagination about who God is and what God has done. Worship gives us a profound awareness of the glory, beauty, and holiness of God. Each element of worship can be understood through a Trinitarian framework. Worship renewal is best sustained by attention to the triune God we worship.
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (Ps. 63:2)
Worship is not just what ministers, musicians, and other leaders do; it is what all worshipers “do”—through the work of the Spirit in worship. In vital worship, all worshipers are involved in the actions, words, and meaning of worship.
God’s covenant promises endure “from generation to generation.” Worship that arises out of an intentionally intergenerational community, in which people of all ages are welcomed as full participants, and whose participation enriches each other, reflects that worship breaks down barriers of age.
And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. . . And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. . . the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. . . And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Neh. 8:1, 6, 7, 8, 12)
Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.(Ps. 148:12-13)
The Bible is the source of our knowledge of God and of the world’s redemption in Christ. Worship should include prominent readings of Scripture, and engage worshipers through intentional reading practices, art, and music. It should present and depict God’s being, character, and actions in ways that are consistent with scriptural teaching. It should follow biblical commands about worship practices, and it should heed scriptural warnings about false and improper worship. In particular, Christian worship should be deeply connected to its ancient roots in psalmody.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)
The sacraments are physical signs of God's nourishing action in creation through the Holy Spirit. In baptism God puts his covenant mark on his children, adopts them into the church, and calls them to a lifetime of dying and rising with Christ. In the Lord's Supper, God physically and spiritually feeds his people. These celebrations are not just ceremonies, but gifts of grace and signs of God's ongoing work.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom. 6:3-5)
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17)
Worship should strike a healthy balance among four approaches or dimensions to its cultural context: worship is transcultural (some elements of worship are beyond culture), contextual (worship reflects the culture in which it is offered), cross-cultural (worship breaks barriers of culture through worship), and counter-cultural (worship resists the idolatries of its cultural context.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12)
"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matt. 5:13)
They sing a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; (Rev. 5:9)
Worship is enriched by artistic creativity in many genres and media, not as ends to themselves or as open-ended individual inspirations, but all disciplined by the nature of worship as a prophetic and priestly activity.
Then Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; he has filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every kind of work done by an artisan or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of artisan or skilled designer. (Exod. 25:30-35)
Congregational worship is mutually enriching to the full range of congregational ministries, including pastoral care, education, spiritual formation, and witness.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)
A central feature of worship is that it breaks down barriers to welcome all worshipers, including persons with disabilities, those from other cultures, both seekers and lifelong Christians,and others.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Rom. 12:13)
Worship fosters natural and dynamic connections between worship and life, so that the worship life of Christian congregations both reflects and shapes lives of grateful obedience, deeply engages with the needs of the world, including such specific areas as restorative justice, care for the earth, and many other areas.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1)
Worship involves a collaborative process for planning and evaluating services in the context of an adaptive approach to overall congregational leadership.
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (Acts 20:28)