Worship and Spiritual Formation from a Kingdom Perspective

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Besides the introductory book on the nature of the Kingdom itself (Imminent Domain), in some ways the most important books are the first and last ones I wrote on worship and spiritual formation, We Have Seen his Glory and A Shared Christian Life.   It has occurred to me that Christians, with their tendencies to compartmentalize their lives into different activities, seldom have a Biblical, much less Wesleyan, perspective on things such as worship and Christian growth.

John Knox once suggested that the chief end of humankind is to worship God and enjoy Him forever. We are made for worship. We were created as creatures in God’s image, meant to have a deep and abiding relationship with God. Worship is the center, the focal point, involving all that we say and do everyday, not just on Sundays. Our spiritual worship, according to Rom. 12.1-2, is to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God again and again, and to not allow the world to squeeze us into its mold. Everything we say and do should be doxological– done to the glory of God–and edify our fellow human beings. This is clearly not just the perspective of the New Testament authors, but also of John Wesley.

This is why, for instance, John Wesley insisted that there are certain professions that no Christian should undertake because it can’t be done in accord with glorifying God and edifying human beings. He was right about that. Wesley desired a thoroughly Christian and comprehensive approach to life.   He asked questions such as:

  • Can you steal to the glory of God?
  • Can you commit adultery to the glory of God?
  • Can you live a greedy, self-centered life to the glory of God?

And, of course, the answer in each case was no.   Such behavior conflicted with the priority to do all things to God’s glory and for the edification of others. It conflicted with the worship focus of life.

When it comes to the topic of spiritual formation, somehow we have assumed that this is a private matter and an individualistic pursuit–the quest for personal transcendence or becoming a more spiritual person.  You, of course, hear people today say things like, “I’m not religious, just spiritual.” In the view of the writers of the New Testament and John Wesley, as well, growth in Christ was a deeply personal matter, but it was never meant to be a private matter. Spiritual formation chiefly happens in group activities, primarily in worship, in fellowship, in Bible study, in small group prayer, and the like. In other words, it happens in a corporate setting primarily, and in private, individualistic settings only secondarily. It seems then that we have put the emphasis entirely too much on individual and private growth through our own private prayer, quiet times and Bible study, forgetting entirely that it takes two or more persons meeting together for the Lord to be especially present, including present with the sacraments.

As John Wesley once told the Moravians,  if you want to receive the grace of God and mature in your Christian life, ‘wait actively,’ take the sacraments, go to the altar and pray with others, continue to go to your small group studies (in Wesley’s case to the society, class, and band meetings), always remembering we should never neglect the gathering of ourselves together, for wherever two or more do so, there the Lord is also.       

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Dr. Witherington joined the Asbury Seminary faculty in 1995. A prolific author, Dr. Witherington has written more than 40 books and six commentaries. He is a John Wesley Fellow for Life, a research fellow at Cambridge University and a member of numerous professional organizations, including the Society of Biblical Literature, Society for the Study of the New Testament and the Institute for Biblical Research. In his leisure time, Dr. Witherington appreciates both music and sports. It is hard to say which sound he prefers: the sophisticated sonance of jazz sensation Pat Metheny or the incessant tomahawk chant of the Atlanta Braves faithful. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he is a dedicated Tar Heels basketball and football fan. He and his wife, Ann, have two children.

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