Discipleship Deep, Rich, & Rooted: Belief
Listen to, and reflect on, Scriptures that address our beliefs and worship:
- Deuteronomy 6:4-9
- Exodus 20:1-7
- Psalm 100
- Isaiah 43:10-13
- John 17:1-21
- Galatians 1:6-12
- Romans 10:6-11
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
- Colossians 3:14-17
Belief is a powerful force in our development as human persons. What we believe arises from who we are and how we live; yet, in another sense, our beliefs determine who we are and how we live. Accordingly, worship, theological convictions, and personal discipleship are inextricably connected. Spiritual growth will take place in the context of this awareness, as we recognize and intentionally cultivate the connection between our beliefs and behaviors, individually and corporately.
We tend to think that what we believe determines how we worship, and this is certainly true, for our beliefs do have a formative impact on our worship and our everyday life. The person who sees God as creator and judge will enter worship with a sense of deep respect and will live day to day acutely aware of "the fear of the Lord," not wanting to violate the perfect justice of a holy God. If we focus on our belief that God is a loving Father, we may worship in a way that conveys intimacy and gratitude, and will probably be more likely to try to convey the love of God to those around us in every day life.
There is another perspective on this question, however, which is expressed in an often quoted Latin motto used by Christians across the centuries: lex orandi, lex credendi, which frequently is rendered: "As we worship, so we believe." The grammar of the phrase is vague enough to allow either action to be listed first. The truth is that worship and belief powerfully impact each other. Our worship, while arising out of our belief, also helps to form it. A good example of this is the early Christian practice of baptism, which boldly declared belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20), long before Christian theologians employed the term "Trinity." The Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon, grappling with this belief, were heavily influenced by three centuries of Trinitarian worship in the sacrament of baptism. Worship had a formative influence on the development and expression of belief.
If we desire that our belief and our worship be pleasing to God, we must submit each of them to the Word of God and be willing to amend any areas of error that come to light. We must be aware of their interdependence, and resist any effort to separate the two. Theology and worship are complementary, not to be placed in opposition to each other. Good theology will yield richer worship, and richer worship will lead to deeper theology.
Prayer: "Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed, O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come. When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions. Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple (Psalm 65:1-4).
- When a new Christian joins our fellowship, how do we encourage him or her to understand the importance of belief and worship? Does our current practice place an undue emphasis on one at the expense of the other?
- If someone visited our church for a year, what could they conclude about what we believe by observing our practice of the Lord's Supper and baptism? Would our practice communicate what is truly important to us?
- How often do we hear confessions of our belief in our services, including the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, biblical statements of belief, and historical creeds? Is this too much or not enough?
- In what ways does our pastor's preaching help us tie together our belief and our worship? How could this be improved?
- As our church has made decisions about worship style (contemporary or traditional, spontaneous or liturgical, etc.), to what extent have we considered how our practices are rooted in what we believe? How might such a study help to bring unity in these areas that are often grounds of discord within congregations?
- The RCA's Book of Church Order requires that the contents of the Heidelberg Catechism are to be covered in Sunday sermons at least once every four years. Do we fulfill this requirement? If not, are we satisfied that this is not important, or do we acknowledge that we need to make steps in that direction?
- To what extent has our church wrestled with the question of baptism? Are we encouraged or concerned to hear that some Reformed churches have made room for baby dedication instead of baptism, at the discretion of the parents? How do we handle requests from those who were baptized as infants, but now want to be baptized again as adults because they believe it will be a spiritually rewarding experience? How are our current practices rooted in our beliefs?
- The RCA General Synod of 2004 urged congregations to consider how they can observe the Lord's Supper more meaningfully and more frequently. How has our church responded to this call? How can our current experience of the Lord's Supper be enriched and connected to our beliefs?
- Are our elders, deacons, and teachers well grounded in biblical teachings and the creeds and confessions of the church? How could our competence in these areas be enhanced?
- Have we presented to our people the story and teachings of the Belhar Confession? Have we discussed its significance together as a leadership team? How might it serve to help us address areas of obedience in our congregation?
Belief is more than mental assent--it involves all we are, think, and do. Jesus makes clear in Matthew 25:31-46 that when we stand before him, the reality of our faith will be shown not by a written statement of our beliefs, but by an examination of our actions. For this reason, it is not surprising that belief involves worship, the sacraments, and our daily lives, along with affirmations of scriptural teaching, creeds, and confessions. As individuals and as communities of faith, we can engage in activities that will cultivate a genuine, vibrant faith. Here are examples of ways this can be done:
1. Church community: Begin a study and discussion group in your church that explores some aspect of belief. This could be as simple as a chapter by chapter study of the book of Romans or some other book of the Bible. Another idea is to hold weekly discussions of one of the creeds or confessions of the church, working directly from these documents or using one of many contemporary resources as a guide (each listing below is available from Faith Alive Christian Resources:
- Questions Worth Asking: an experiential course on the Heidelberg Catechism that involves learning with head, heart, and hands.
- Believe It!: a small-group course for teens following the themes of the Belgic Confession; covers the basics of Reformed doctrine.
- HC and Me: easy-to-use, classic course on the Heidelberg Catechism and its relevance for life today.
- Reformed: What It Means, Why It Matters: learn what's different about the Reformed/Presbyterian faith and how having a Reformed perspective can change your life.
2. Families: As a family, consider together the place of the sacraments in your lives. Ask open-ended questions of your children that give them the opportunity to express what God has already communicated to them through baptism (reflecting on their own and observing others) and the Lord's Supper. Spend time together in the Scriptures that inform our belief and practices of the sacraments, carefully thinking about what God wants on our hearts as we approach these observances.
3. Individuals and families: Talk with ministers or members of other Christian traditions to try to understand their belief and practices regarding worship and the sacraments. Attend a worship service very different from your own, asking God to give you an open heart to recognize elements of this worship that complements your own experiences. Talk together with a group of Christians from different churches about the idea that because God is infinite, no one of our traditions can perfectly reflect the biblical ideals, so our varying types of worship can work together to help us understand just a little more of who God truly is.
4. Individuals and/or church community: As you approach the next observance of baptism or the Lord's Supper in your church, set aside an hour or two of quiet time before God to prepare you for the service. Ask God what he wants to change – in who you are, what you know, and what you do. Specifically deal with matters that call for confession and repentance. Ask God to give you a heart of celebration, as you meditate on all he has done for us in Jesus Christ, who is at the center of all we do in the sacraments.
5. Individually or in a group: Investigate the sources that reveal to us how Christians throughout the centuries have understood the relationship between belief, worship, and the sacraments.
If you take seriously God's call to worship "in spirit and in truth," you undoubtedly experience both success and failure in the endeavor. One way to learn from both the successes and the failures is to talk about what they can teach you about living out your belief--in your profession, in worship, and in the sacraments.
Begin conversations about God's presence in your life through belief and worship. Talk honestly about your good experiences as well as those that have fallen short of your expectations.
- Share a recent story from your participation in the Lord's Supper that helped you understand better who God is and what he has done for us.
- Share ideas and practices that you have used to lead others in a consideration of their Christian belief.
- Begin a conversation about your church's practice of preparing young people and new Christians for significant milestones in the development of belief: baptism, the Lord's Supper, and profession of faith, for example.
By Word and Spirit: Scriptural Foundations of the Belhar Confession. Reformed Church Press (available on the RCA website and for purchase through Faith Alive Christian Resources).
This booklet contains 25 devotions. At www.rca.org/belhar, various resources to study and use the Belhar Confession can be found.
Global Songs for Worship. Faith Alive Christian Resources (and Calvin Institute for Christian Worship).
We sing what we believe. This is a collection of 57 songs gathered from all parts of the world. The CD, featuring The Choral Scholars with Norma de Waal Malefyt and Greg Scheer, highlights 28 songs from the songbook.