The Art of Worship and Belief, part 3: Doxological Dogma
I’ll confess up front that this has been one of the most difficult blog posts for me to write. The deeper I go into the idea of doxological dogma the more elusive it becomes. But let’s start with the basics, such as what do I mean by “doxological dogma”?
Dogma, it is generally agreed, is the beliefs that are central to a faith. In this case, Christian dogma includes the theological beliefs that make up the core of Christianity. They are more firm, more basic, and more ecumenical than other doctrines. Christian dogma includes ideas such as the divinity/humanity of Jesus Christ and (for nearly all Christians) the Trinity of God. I like to think of belief in terms of concentric circles, as seen below.
Doxology is a liturgical formula of praise to God. This is not to be confused with doxologies, which are short hymns of praise to God that are often tacked on to the ends of psalms, canticles, and hymns. A doxological perspective is one that is from the vantage point of liturgy, or worship. The idea of this blog post stems from the notion that the theology of a group comes into focus in its worship. In short, the goal of this post is to put a finger on the core beliefs that are present in Christian worship, or the doxological dogma. This is not a theology of worship, but theology in worship.
There are some Christian traditions for which the liturgy is the theology. This is especially true for Orthodox Christian Churches, many of whom still use the Liturgy of St. James, which probably developed in the fourth century. Others use the early liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil. These are followed strictly at each gathering because they represent–indeed are–the beliefs of these Orthodox Churches.
Roman Catholic theologians, too, generally agree that liturgical texts and rites form the basis of theology. This is why the Ordinary of the Mass remains consistent and the Proper texts follow a prescribed pattern. As far as Protestants… well it gets more complicated. The early Reformers believed that doctrine should influence worship just as worship influences doctrine, so Protestants began to introduce other elements into their liturgies. Thus hymns, spiritual songs, readings, and additional prayers were added to the long-standing elements of Christian liturgy.
Still, most of us can agree with the beautiful fifth-century axiom lex orandi, lex credendi, which means that the rule of prayer (read: worship) is the rule of belief, and conversely the rule of belief is the rule of prayer. In other words, worship influences theology and theology influences worship. But what beliefs are at the core of Christian worship?
Some people would point to the Creeds as doxological dogma. The Nicene Creed was adopted by the First Council of Nicea in 325 and amended by another Council in 381. Its younger cousin, the Apostles’ Creed, is widely used in worship by many Churches in the Western tradition, including the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Methodists. The Nicene Creed is used by most of these groups too, and also by some Eastern Churches. The creeds include the essentials of Christian doctrine, or dogma. So maybe the creeds should be our doxological dogma, and we should check to see how these beliefs find a place in our worship (or whether they are absent).
Some of my friends in the Reformed tradition believe that Christian worship, at its core, should portray the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, as well as what that means for human salvation. This is a good measure because the work of Christ for the salvation of humankind has been the long-standing center of Christianity itself.
Another idea for doxological dogma that is less frequently noted is the Lord’s Prayer, or the prayer of Jesus recorded in Matthew 6:5-13 and Luke 11:1-4. (The prayer in Matthew is more extensive and is the one more often used in worship.) Keep in mind that prayer in the Jewish context is essentially what we would call worship. Indeed worship is the ongoing dialogue between God and God’s people. So it may be that we can use both the words and the theological patterns of the Lord’s Prayer as a guide for our doxological dogma. What I want to point out is the parallelism found throughout the Prayer:
- “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” God’s kingdom exists, and this phrase calls for obedience and surrender to God here too.
- “Give us today our daily bread.” The parallelism here is not plainly stated, but it is implied. “Daily bread” means bread that is necessary for tomorrow, but which tomorrow is not specified. The bread of earth mirrors the banquet of heaven.
- “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Our forgiving others is a reflection of God forgiving us.
- “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.” I think these two statements go hand-in-hand. The first asks God to deliver us from failure of faith during persecution, and the second affirms that God has the power to sustain.
The entire Lord’s Prayer shows a powerful parallel between the here-and-now and the there-and-then. It speaks of them separately, but also reminds the pray-er that the kingdom of God is at hand. If we take this to heart, the Prayer shapes our thinking, feeling, and living.
If we were to state the central idea of the Lord’s Prayer in light of Christian tradition, I assert that it would be “Jesus is Lord.” This simple statement is overflowing with significance. First, it applies to ever-widening circles; Jesus is Lord of me, Lord of the Church, and Lord of all. Second, Jesus is Lord of the kingdom of God, which exists here and now but will be fully realized in the future. Third, the confession “Jesus is Lord” places the life, death, and resurrection of Christ at the center of our individual and communal lives as well as our worship. Simple as it may seem, could it be that “Jesus is Lord” is the central dogmatic statement of Christian worship?