Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.
Chapter 5, “Practicing (for) the Kingdom: An Exegesis of the Social Imaginary embedded in Christian Worship” pp. 155-214.
Smith invites the reader to consider what is happening in a Christian worship gathering, and to consider what it communicates about the people (Smith 2009, 155). The colors and decorations will change over time, with each one coordinating in some way with various rituals through the year (Smith 2009, 156). We notice that Smith is speaking particularly about a church which observes a traditional liturgical year. There are significant differences between the secular and Church calendars. Smith identifies these differences as being rooted in the life and work of the historical Jesus, with a yearly cycle of observance of pivotal events in his life, accompanied by a concern for eternity, rather than temporality (Smith 2009, 157). There is a time consciousness, but it extends simultaneously forward and backward in eternity (Smith 2009, 158).
In the worship we notice that a wide variety of people gathers, sometimes at great personal effort, in response to God’s call (Smith 2009, 160). The congregation is gathered for a purpose, to see how God is re-creating humanity to the point that we can be united in him for eternity. This is confessed in our proclamation as well as in what we observe when gathered (Smith 2009, 162). The gathered people of God are to be his image, visible to others on earth (Smith 2009, 163). Knowing our inadequacy for the task, we typically follow the call to worship by asking for God’s mercy upon us (Smith 2009, 165).
The worship gathering normally continues with an expression of greeting from God to his people (Smith 2009, 167). In this we practice the realization that God desires to welcome his assembled people and to bless them (Smith 2009, 168). In this, God shows that we are His people and He is our God. As we are welcome in His household we practice welcoming others (Smith 2009, 169).
Christian worship, especially in the early part of a worship service, is normally filled with singing, a factor Smith sees as very important (Smith 2009, 170). It is an active and physical involvement. Music is often more memorable than words alone (Smith 2009, 171). The content of the music also expresses our theology (Smith 2009, 172).
The next act present in worship is reading from the Bible. Smith re-emphasizes the fact that in receiving the messages in worship we become more human, while the messages we receive in other settings tend to undermine our humanity (Smith 2009, 174). The readings from the Bible invite us to know how God sees us and our world. They also remind us that we are not autonomous. We benefit from a word coming from outside ourselves (Smith 2009, 175).
Because God’s law normally reminds us of our failure, worship moves on to a time of prayer, confession, and forgiveness (Smith 2009, 177). This serves also as a confessin that a human image of good will be inaccurate, and that right order will only come from God (Smith 2009, 178). The confession and forgiveness are starkly different from our secular liturgies in which we believe in ourselves and make the world a better place (Smith 2009, 180).
In a worship service, Smith continues, there may be a baptism ceremony. This event gathers people in an identifiable way into the community (Smith 2009, 182). “As a sacrament, it makes what it promises: a new person and a new people. As such, it is a profoundly social reality” (Smith 2009, 183). The Church is made up of baptized people, regardless of class or background (Smith 2009, 184). Through the promises involved in baptism, the congregation is bound together as family, not limited to those related by birth or marriage (Smith 2009, 186). Finally, baptism involves pledges to separate from the world and Satan. This is a re-formation of society which is distinctly different from the surrounding culture (Smith 2009, 187).
Smith next discusses use of a creed, such as the Apostles’ Creed, in a worship service. The Creed serves as a confirmation of the faith Christians hold (Smith 2009, 190). It also ties the current generation with people throughout many ages (Smith 2009, 191). This is radically different from our broader culture which tends to diminish historical significance. The Creed also reminds Christians what they have agreed to believe (Smith 2009, 191). It summarizes the entirety of the Christian faith.
Smith now considers how prayer is a distinctly different activity than anything in the broader culture (Smith 2009, 193). It is a conversation with an unseen other party whom we confess to be present and active. Prayer certainly reminds the Christian of his own identity and of God’s identity (Smith 2009, 193).
In the worship gatherings there is also reading and a commentary, or sermon, from the Bible (Smith 2009, 194). Here, Smith observes, the text is a very old book, as opposed to the University where the latest writing is considered authoritative (Smith 2009, 195). The Scripture works in the community of faith as its ruling document, the standard of all that is right or wrong (Smith 2009, 196). Smith also observes that it is the Bible which provides nourishment for the imagination (Smith 2009, 197).
Smith next discusses the celebration of communion, which he views as “a compacted microcosm of the whole of worship” (Smith 2009, 197). The Gospel takes physical form in the bread and wine. He observes that some of the wonder is in the very simplicity of bread and wine. Jesus takes a common element, a meal of ordinary items, and he transforms it into a supernatural blessing (Smith 2009, 199). It also serves as a time to look forward to an eternity yet to come (Smith 2009, 200). Further, it is a time of community in the present (Smith 2009, 201).
Smith now moves to the offering (Smith 2009, 203). This, rather than being payment for something, is a gift of gratitude. It is a way people work together voluntarily to confer a variety of needs (Smith 2009, 204). The congregation is then sent out to bear witness to Christ in the world (Smith 2009, 205).
Smith points out that the great power of Christian worship does not always seem as transformative as we might hope (Smith 2009, 208). Possibly a greater grasp of the nature of the liturgy can help to activate it more effectively (Smith 2009, 209). It is also helpful to our overall consistency if we carefully consider the goals of various liturgies in our lives (Smith 2009, 210). Specifically, as an aid to living a Christian life, Smith commends gathering with others, extending the liturgy so as to remind one another of the Christian purpose in life (Smith 2009, 212).