Ten Core Convictions
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.
These ten criteria are applicable not only in specific cultural settings. They have as much to say about corporate worship offered in Kenya or Korea as in Canada or the United States. They are the kind of questions that apply to contextual ministry in any setting.
They are also theological. They emerge not only out of historical study or aesthetic preference, but also out of reflection on the mystery of the gospel that Christians proclaim. Long-term vital worship doesn’t come out of singing a little faster, praying a little harder, or making worship a bit more proper or a bit more fun. Vital worship can issue only from the depth and mystery of the gospel that Christians proclaim. Christian worship is strongest when it is integrally and self-consciously related to the person and work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christian worship is immeasurably enriched by:
1. a vivid awareness of the beauty, majesty, mystery, and holiness of the triune God
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. (Psalm 27:4)
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (Psalm 63:2)
- What is the picture of God we are, consciously and unconsciously, cultivating in our worship?
- In what moments of our worship do we most perceive the glory and beauty of God?
- In what way does our worship space convey God’s glory?
- In what way might renewed attention to God’s glory make our worship more contemplative? more exuberant? more vibrant?
- What barriers does our culture present to worshiping with a sense of God’s transcendence?
- How does our picture of God help us resist idolatries?
- Trinitarian Worship
- The Glory of God and Faithful Worship
- Theological Reflection and Worship
- A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony Eerdmans, 2005
2. the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers, as a fully intergenerational community
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.
They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then 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. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. 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. (Nehemiah 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.(Psalm 148:12-13)
- How do worshipers in our community understand the nature of their participation in worship?
- How do worshipers in our community understand the purpose of their participation in worship?
- What does participation mean in addition to lay leadership of worship?
- What could we do as worshipers to prepare to be as involved in the actions and in tune with the meaning of worship as we assume our leaders are?
- How are we enabling the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers in our worship?
- How are we failing to enable the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers?
- How can our worship be more intergenerational in its lay leadership?
- How can our worship be more intergenerational in its participation?
- How can we better foster intergenerational community?
- What generational barriers does our culture set or lead us to expect?
- What generational barriers does our own tradition or history set or lead us to expect?
- Participation in Worship: More Than the Doing
- Our Inestimable Privilege: Full, Conscious Participation in Christian Worship
- The Church of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together
- Intergenerational Worship
3. deep engagement with scripture
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 with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
- How prominent is the reading and teaching of scripture in our worship?
- How engaging is the reading and teaching of scripture in our worship?
- What use of art and music could help us better engage worshipers with scripture?
- How deeply and broadly do we select biblical passages to read, sing, reflect, and preach from?
- The Public Reading of Scripture
- Center for Excellence in Preaching
- The Psalms in Worship
- Soaking in Scripture: Memorization & Public Reading
4. joyful and solemn celebrations of baptism and the Lord’s Supper
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. (Romans 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 Corinthians 10:16-17)
- How regularly do we celebrate the sacraments?
- When we do celebrate the sacraments, how prominent are they in our worship services?
- How could we do more to nourish a sacramental awareness even (or especially) in services in which they are not held—in preaching, prayers, singing, creeds, professions of faith, and other aspects of worship?
- Do we treat the font and table with any significance during services in which we're not using them?
- How much water do we use in our baptismal font or pool? Could we use more?
- How would worshipers summarize the theological significance of baptism and the Lord's Supper?
- How could we make worshipers more aware of their own baptism and its personal significance for them?
- How could we make our celebration of the Lord's Supper more communal?
- What are some of the most meaningful celebrations of the sacraments you have experienced?
- The Sacraments and Worship
- N.T. Wright on the Gospel and Meal Jesus Gave Us
- Baptism: A Story We All Share
5. an open and discerning approach to culture
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 renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
"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.” (Matthew 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; (Revelations 5:9)
- What aspects of our worship are transcultural?
- What aspects of our worship are inculturated?
- What aspects of our worship are cross-cultural?
- What aspects of our worship are countercultural?
- Which of these four approaches comes most naturally to our worshiping community?
- Which comes least naturally?
- Teaching video on "An Open and Discerning Approach to Culture"
- Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture
- Worship Worldwide
- Love Globally, Worship Locally
6. disciplined creativity in the arts
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. (Exodus 35:30-35)
- How are we incorporating the arts into our worship?
- How are we mediating the danger of not neglecting visual aspects of worship but not idolizing them, either?
- How can we better incorporate artists into our community, and cultivate the artistic gifts within our worshiping community?
7. collaboration with all other congregational ministries
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 Corinthians 12:12)
- What are some of the ways we are integrating our worship with the full scope of our congregational ministry and life together?
- How can we better integrate worship into our ministries of evangelism, fellowship, education, pastoral care, and others?
8. warm, Christ-centered hospitality for all people
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. (Romans 12:13)
- How does our worship currently express hospitality to all worshipers?
- How does our worship currently express hospitality to those with special needs?
- How does our worship current express hospitality to visitors?
- How can we better express hospitality in our worship?
9. intentional integration between worship and all of life
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. (Romans 12:1)
- How does our worship currently express connections between worship and other areas of life?
- Does our worship foster a sense that our common faith is primarily relevant only in worship, or foster a sense that worship is one aspect—though a very important one—of our service to God?
- other questions
- Worship and Interdisciplinary Learning
- How One Campus is Learning to Worship God in All Life
- Learning to Worship 24/7
10. collaborative planning and evaluation
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)
- How collaborative is our current process of worship planning?
- How collaborative is our current process of worship evaluation?
- How could our worship planning be more collaborative?
- How could our worship evaluation be more collaborative?