Liturgical Discipleship

Liturgical Discipleship April 11, 2016

The liturgy provides a rich and holistic model of evangelism and discipleship, holding together dimensions of Christian living that often fly apart. The liturgy begins with a call to enter the presence of God; just so, our entry into Christ is not a product of our diligent efforts but the product of a divine summons.

Once called, we are called to confession and repentance; just so, the Christian life is a life of continuous repentance, good news that rests on the bad news of human sin.

We confess, and hear the good news of forgiveness, and then hear the word of God; just so, cleansing is not the end of the Christian life but its beginning; we are cleansed to become obedient disciples.

At the end of the liturgy, we are dismissed with the peace of God to love and serve Christ; just so, every cleansed disciple is commission. Liturgical discipleship is missional discipleship. Being a Christian means being caught up into the worship and the mission of the Son.

The liturgy of the word provides a model of discipleship in a more specific way. In the liturgy, the word is delivered to a community of listeners by an authoritative teacher. This has not been the model of discipleship in modern evangelicalism, where the ideal setting has been seen as a one-on-one Bible study. I don’t disparage such intensive, personalized discipleship, but the liturgy indicates that it’s not necessarily the ideal.

Discipleship has also often been conversational. The disciple is as much a speaker as a hearer. Again, without disparaging such dialogic discipleship, the liturgy suggests that there’s an important place for silent learning.

Evangelical discipleship typically involves a relationship of authority. The discipler is a mature believer, able to guide the disciple into deeper knowledge of Scripture and of Jesus, and more consistent and faithful living. At times, though, the model has been more egalitarian; at its worst, a group of people gather around the Scripture, pool their ignorance, and wait for the lightning bolt of insight. Liturgical discipleship is discipleship under authority, led by a shepherd ordained to speak God’s word on God’s behalf.

(These reflections were inspired by a Sunday School class taught by Pastor Jimmy Gill of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama.)

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