Archives for October 2013

“Lex orandi, lex credendi”

Rev. Dr. Edd Cathey-adapted from Pastor J. Strey

“Lex orandi, lex credendi” is a Latin phrase that literally means, “The law of praying [is] the law of believing.”  The idea behind the phrase is that the way you pray says something about, and even shapes, what you believe.  Practically speaking, this observation can be extended beyond prayer to worship in general.  The way you worship as a Christian congregation says something about your beliefs.

“Lex orandi, lex credendi” is a shorthand version of the original Latin phrase, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi.”  This phrase is attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine, a 5th century lay theologian, Christian writer and student of Augustine. A translation of that phrase is, “The law of praying establishes the law of believing.”  The original phrase is even stronger than the more common, shortened version: The idea is that the way you pray and worship actually establishes what you believe.

It’s no secret that many churches today have been reexamining their worship practices.  A careful analysis of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is a good thing.  We don’t want to get ourselves into a liturgical rut, nor do we want to jump on the next bandwagon just because it’s passing by.  Now, before we do what we’ve always done, or before we change anything, we need to understand our own theology and how worship reflects, or fails to reflect and support what we believe.

Take the example of singing multiple songs at the beginning of worship.  There is no law that says you can’t sing multiple songs at the start of worship.  Scripture doesn’t tell us how we should specifically arrange the songs in our service.  We have the freedom to sing songs wherever we choose in the service, or even to sing at all.  And since there are more than a few churches pulling in big numbers each week that begin worship with multiple praise songs, perhaps that’s something we should look into.

So let’s look into it.  Many people do not realize that the whole idea of singing multiple songs in worship comes out of Pentecostal thinking.  The following quotation from Donald Hustad warns non-charismatics that they should not copy charismatic worship ideas in their own services unless they want to adopt charismatic theology (emphasis mine):

Praise and worship music itself originated with the Charismatic Renewal Movement; all of the approaches identified in these chapters … are carefully devised according to charismatic theology and Scripture interpretation and are expected to lead to characteristic Pentecostal experiences. … Charismatic believers have a right to develop their own worship to match their own theology and exegesis, and they have done this well. Non-charismatics should not thoughtlessly copy or imitate their worship formulae, unless they expect to enter the same “Holy of Holies” in the same way. Instead, they should develop their worship rationale based on their scriptural understanding, and then sing up to their own theology!

In many Non-reformed Evangelical circles, music and prayer are the “means of grace,” i.e. the way God comes among us and strengthens our faith.  For Reformed believers, the means of grace is the gospel, the message of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ redeeming work; the gospel message is administered to us in the Word and the Sacraments.

If you look at a Pentecostal or Evangelical service, it is quite clear that singing and praying are the “means of grace.”  Multiple songs are sung to call God into our presence (following a curious misinterpretation of Psalm 22:3.) Prayers are scattered throughout the songs and the service.  Obviously I’m not against prayer, but the content of the prayers often reflects the idea that we are praying God into our presence.

Let’s take the content of the songs out of the discussion. Let’s simply examine the practice of multiple praise songs at the start of the service.  Again, there is no law saying “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.”  But consider these factors.  American Christianity is heavily influenced by the Pentecostal/Evangelical movement.  If Evangelicals believe that we can sing ourselves into God’s presence, and if they include a series of songs to do that at the beginning of their worship, and if Reformation Churches subsequently borrow that idea from Evangelical worship and place it into reformed worship, what will be the long-term effect on Reformed churchgoers?  How could they not, over time, be led to think that music is the means of grace?  Even if the pastor never said or taught anything remotely close to that, the influence of Evangelicalism in American Christianity and the continuous use of their worship concepts will teach and reinforce a bad understanding of the means of grace over time. “Lex ordandi, lex credendi.”

An aside: Someone may argue that if we shouldn’t borrow from the Evangelicals, we also shouldn’t borrow the liturgy from the Roman Catholic Church.  A few things should be noted.  First, the basic liturgy’s so-called Western Rite was around long before Rome’s false doctrine.  The liturgy was not based on false doctrine, and Reformed versions of the liturgy do not incorporate any later elements that reflect Rome’s theology.  Second, Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed both acknowledge that the Word and Sacraments are the means of grace, so it’s no surprise to see some similarities — though not total similarity.  Finally, while Catholic and Reformed liturgical outlines are similar, there is quite a bit of difference in specific content between the two.  Compare the confession of sin and pardon at the start of the service, or the Eucharistic Prayers (Prayers of Thanksgiving) prior to the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Rome’s prayers turn the Supper into our sacrifice to God; Reformed prayers keep the Supper as the sacrament of Christ’s once for all sacrifice for us).

Many other examples could be offered about the way that worship practices can affect our beliefs, whether they are practices borrowed from other denominations or practices developed within a church or denomination.  But the point should be clear.  Whether it is a developed or borrowed practice, every worship practice needs to be carefully examined to see if we’re communicating the gospel message clearly and without compromise.  “Lex orandi, lex credendi.”