Christ in the Church

This syllabus was designed for a basic worship course that is designed to prepare people in initial skills needed to lead worship in local congregations today. The main question asked in the course is: how is Christ's presence manifested in a church's worship?

Course Syllabus

Course Objectives

Students completing this course will be able to:

  • articulate a theology of the church as the sacrament of Christ;
  • know Wesleyan criteria for discerning being moved by Christ in worship;
  • discern Christ’s presence in classic texts for Christian worship;
  • know principles for preparing worship where different venues for Christ’s presence work together cooperatively;
  • assess how a congregation understands Christ to be present in its midst while making pastoral suggestions for deepening the congregation’s experience of Christ in worship.

The achievement of these objectives should enable the student to do the following:

  • understand the diversity of Christian worship practices, along with self-critical appraisal of one’s own approach;
  • enrich congregational worship through prayer, Word, and sacraments, making sound worship decisions informed by a variety of sources for theological thought.

More Thoughts on Course Objectives, a Note from the Professor

The course is intended to be related to the practice of ministry.   What we do here is what I like to call “poetic theology,” with poetic not just meaning the opposite of prose but a creating out of theology.   Worship and its leadership is where knowledge of God gets turned into prayer, into proclamation, into affections of the heart, and postures of the body.   We’ll seek to look at the creation and the assessment of these.

I also designed this course with the presumption that we are not the only ones doing Christian worship.   You’ll see something of the range of cultures and pieties as we progress through the semester.

Finally, I’ll confess that I’m thoroughly Wesleyan and hope to offer a Wesleyan take on the biblical story.   You’ll see this seeping through in a variety of points, some less obvious and some more (we’ll address specifically Wesleyan concerns for discerning God’s presence in worship, for example).

Texts to be purchased (3 required books and a required course packet)

Bernard Cooke, Sacraments & Sacramentality (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1983).   ISBN 0-89622-161-x

Charles Wesley, Hymns for our Lord’s Nativity, facsimile reprint, ed. Oliver A. Beckerlegge (Madison, NJ: The Charles Wesley Society, 1992).

Holy Communion (Abingdon, 2003).   This is a book of prayers, called Great Thanksgivings, for the Lord’s Supper.

A course packet with the additional readings will be available in the bookstore.

Assignments

There are 3 assignments, 1 of which is graded credit/no credit (it can adversely affect your semester grade if not done) and 2 of which factor into your numeric grade.

Assignment #1:   devotionally using Wesley’s Hymns for our Lord’s Nativity and the Great Thanksgiving prayers in Holy Communion, keep a journal recording your discoveries as to how you discovered Christ’s presence in these texts.   Pray with them, live with them, seek Christ in them until you discover Him there.   The existence of such a journal will be checked on its due date. Failure to have kept a journal will result in the lowering of your semester’s numeric grade ½ letter (e.g., A to A-; B+ to B, etc.)

Assignment #2:   close weekly reading of assigned readings from Cooke’s Sacraments and Sacramentality and the reading in the course packet.   Weekly quizzes will be given on the assigned reading. The top 9 of these 12 quizzes will be averaged together and form 40% of the semester grade.   Quizzes will vary in format between objective and non-objective but all will be relatively short in nature.

Assignment #3:   a comprehensive assessment of a single local assembly.

To gather the information needed to complete the project, the student should:   1)   pick a local worshiping assembly with which she or he can have continued contact through the semester (it can be a church or campus ministry but not Asbury Seminary related);   2)   worship regularly in this assembly through the semester in order to have multiple experiences from which to draw in writing the project;   3)   interview 12 persons in this assembly including the two people most responsible for leading worship; the student should ask enough pertinent questions so as to understand where and how this assembly thinks Christ is present in their worship.   It is recommended highly that, if possible, students not select a setting in which she or he has current worship leadership responsibilities.   Student pastors and others with regular Sunday morning responsibilities should consider options like a Seventh Day Adventist church or a church with Saturday or Sunday evening services.   (Do not forget about Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.)   If a student must use their own church (and thus have leadership responsibilities), instead of trying to “interview” herself or himself, the student should include in the project a self-reflective section about their presumptions about Christ’s presence in worship.

The final written project should include the following sections at a minimum:   1)   a self-appraisal by the student concerning her or his initial assumptions about Christ’s presence in worship (an expanded section if the student has to do her or his own church); 2)   the student’s overall evaluation of the organizing sacramental principle in this assembly using the grid provided in class; 3)   describe 3 instances in which the student discerned this assembly encountering Christ in worship, noting the student’s criteria for discerning Christ’s presence (how did she or he know it was Christ?) and the ways in which different aspects of worship worked together for a holistic manifestation of Christ’s presence; and 4)   based on the student’s overall evaluation of the assembly’s organizing sacramental principle, develop pastoral suggestions on how this assembly might appropriately introduce less emphasized venues for Christ’s presence.

The projects will be graded on the following criteria:   1)   comprehensiveness; 2)   clarity; 3)   student perceptiveness;   and, very importantly, 4)   ability to synthesize the material from class and from reading.

In grading, the professor will use the following qualitative assessments, in descending order:   exceptional work, good work, acceptable work, marginal work, and unacceptable work.   For more details on the qualities of each level and their relationship to letter grades, please see p. 28 of the seminary catalog.

Course Schedule

A.   Classroom discussions

Week 1:   The promise of Christ’s Presence and the sacramentality of the Church

Week 2:   The ministry of Christ:   then and now

Week 3:   Christ, baptizer with the Holy Spirit

Week 4:   Christ, host of the table, Lamb of God, heavenly bread

Week 5:   Christ continues to speak in the Word of God

Week 6:   Christ prays through His Church

Week 7:   Discerning the Presence of Christ

Week 8:   Music and the Presence of Christ

Week 9:   Christ, present and absent in fasting and silence

Week 10:   The ongoing ministry of Christ:   healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, hospitality

Week 11:   When Christ meets a funeral

Week 12:   When Christ attends a wedding

Week 13:   Review of semester projects

B.   Reading and quiz schedule   (All readings not in Cooke are in the course packet.)

Week 2:   The ministry of Christ:   then and now

Read:   Cooke, 57-77; Edward Schillebeeckx, pp. 13-17, 40-45 in Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (Sheed and Ward, 1963).

Quiz preparation:   review the questions at the end of each Cooke chapter; consider how Schillebeeckx says physical encounter is still possible with Christ.

Week 3:   Christ, baptizer with the Holy Spirit

Read:   Cooke, 115-133, 150-167; Rob L. Staples, pp. 172-177 in Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality (Beacon Hill Press, 1991); James F. White, pp. 39-50 in Sacraments as God’s Self Giving (Abingdon, 2001).

Quiz preparation:   review the questions at the end of each Cooke chapter; consider how Staples and White might describe Christ as the active administrator of baptism.

Week 4:   Christ, host of the table, Lamb of God, heavenly bread

Read:   Cooke, 94-113; J. Ernest Rattenbury, pp. 168-170 in The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley (OSL Publications, 1996); Rob L. Staples, pp. 211-228 inOutward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality(Beacon Hill Press, 1991); Laurence Hull Stookey, pp. 41-62 in Eucharist:   Christ’s Feast With The Church (Abingdon, 1993); William Willimon, pp. 23-34 in Sunday Dinner.

Quiz preparation:   review the questions at the end of each Cooke chapter; consider the different manners Christ is said to be present in the Lord’s Supper in the other readings; how does affirming the presence of Christ affect what we say about the bread and wine?

Week 5:   Christ continues to speak in the Word of God

Read:   Gerhard O. Forde, “Preaching the Sacraments,” in Lutheran Theological Seminary Bulletin 64 (Fall 1984): 3-12; B. A. Gerrish, pp. 109-115 in The Old Protestantism and the New (University of Chicago Press, 1982); Clayton J. Schmit, pp. 33-46 in Public Reading of Scripture: A Handbook (Abingdon, 2002).

Quiz preparation:   consider the commonalities between these authors on how it might be that Christ still continues to speak and teach; according to Gerrish what is the connection between the Word and sacrament.

Week 6:   Christ prays through His Church

Read:   Paul F. Bradshaw, pp. 59-71 in Two Ways of Praying (Abingdon, 1995).

Quiz preparation:   How does Bradshaw describe us praying “in Christ” and not alone?

Week 7:   Discerning the Presence of Christ

Read:   Henry H. Knight III, pp. 8-15 in The Presence of God in the Christian Life:   ohn Wesley and the Means of Grace (Scarecrow Press, 1992); Theodore Runyon, pp. 146-167 in The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today (Abingdon, 1998).

Quiz preparation:   How do these two authors lay out similar criteria for discerning a true Presence of Christ?   According to them, how might we go beyond feelings for discerning Christ?

Week 8:   Music and the Presence of Christ

Read:   Christine Pohl, pp. 150-169 in Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Eerdmans, 1999).

Quiz preparation:   From Pohl, consider the characteristics of Christian hospitality and how these might be made evident in Christian worship.

Week 9:   Christ, present and absent in fasting and silence

Read:   Cook, 168-178; Harry Boonstra, “Hush! Before the Lord,” in Perspectives 12, 9 (November 1997):   6-7.

Quiz preparation:   review the questions at the end of each Cooke chapter; According to Boonstra, how might silence be of benefit in worship?

Week 10:   The ongoing ministry of Christ:   healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, hospitality

Read:   Cooke, 179-194; L. Gregory Jones, pp. 133-147 in Practicing our Faith, ed. Dorothy C. Bass (Jossey-Bass, 1997).

Quiz preparation:   review the questions at the end of each Cooke chapter; According to Jones, how might forgiveness be demonstrated?

Week 11:   When Christ meets a funeral

Read:   Cooke, 195-207; Charles W. Gusmer, pp. 148-167 in And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying (Pueblo, 1984).

Quiz preparation:   review the questions at the end of each Cooke chapter; According to Gusmer, what are the characteristics of sacramental ministry to the sick and dying?

Week 12:   When Christ attends a wedding

Read:   Cooke, 78-93; William Willimon, pp. 100-146 in Worship as Pastoral Care(Abingdon).

Quiz preparation:   review the questions at the end of each Cooke chapter; According to Willimon, in what ways can ritual conducted with pastoral sensitivity be an act of ministry to those in life transitions?

Week 13:   Review of semester projects

Read:   Karl Rahner, “What is a Sacrament?” in Worship 47, 5 (May 1973): 274-284.

Quiz preparation:   According to Rahner, why is it more important to talk about Christ’s “institution” of the church than about specific “institution” of individual sacraments?

C.   Weekly class rhythm

The rhythm for each week’s class will be the following:

  • quiz on reading
  • review of previous session and handling remaining questions and issues
  • professor presents new material
  • break
  • viewing of worship videos and small group work
  • clarifying lingering questions and issue

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