Anyone who thinks presuppositionally becomes aware that such things as ritual and liturgy are inescapable. Symbols and rituals structure our lives, and if we have poor symbols and rituals, our lives are the poorer. Every church has symbols and rituals. Because we realized this in Tyler, we were concerned to study the Bible and church history in order to make our worship as Biblical as possible, and as pastorally useful to the people as possible. We did not pretend that we had no ritual, but worked to have a good ritual.
I wound up doing most of the research and teaching on this, but it was of interest to everyone. In the early 1980s (c. 1982) I read Gregory Dix’s influential (but often quixotic) book The Shape of the Liturgy.
1. The elements are “taken.”
2. The officiant “gives thanks.”
3. The bread is broken.
4. The elements are distributed.
Obviously, this ritual imitates what Jesus did at the Last Supper and what Paul told the church at Corinth to do.
As I reflected on Dix’s observation, I began to alter, refine, and expand upon it in terms of the discussion going on in Tyler. Because of my covenantal-worldview interests, I saw that Dix’s four-fold action applied to all of life: “The central ritual of the Church is the four-fold action of Holy Communion. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke and distributed it, and they all ate it. This four-fold action (taking, thanking, sharing, enjoying) is the key to the Christian life in every area. An artist takes raw material, thanks God for it, creates his art and distributes it (playing a concert, exhibiting a painting), and enjoys it in fellowship with others. A businessman takes raw material, thanks God for it, works with it and shares it by means of the free market (exchanges it for a share of someone else’s goods), and then enjoys it in fellowship with others. This is the Christian life, and it finds its most concentrated expression in the liturgy of the sacrament.” (Jordan, “Should Churches Incorporate,” 1984; reprinted in The Sociology of the Church.)
By late 1984 I had expanded the four-fold action to a six-fold action based on the communion ritual, to wit:
1. Take the elements.
2. Give thanks.
3. Break the bread.
5. Eat and enjoy.
6. Evaluate as good.
I taught it this way in a series of lectures called “Kingdom Discipline.” But rather rapidly I came to see that the last two points were reversed. The first taste of the bread and wine is evaluative, and then we relax and finish the meal. I saw that essentially the same structure of action (ritual in the widest sense) is found in Genesis 1, and also in the worship service as a whole – except that when God does this action, He does not thank anyone since there is no one greater than God for Him to thank. Consider the worship service:
1. God takes hold of us in the call to worship.
2. God breaks us down and restructures us in the confession.
3. God gives us His Word in the preaching.
4. We hear the Word and approve it.
5. We carry the Word forth and live it.
I also began to see that this five-fold or six-fold structure is inescapably the way all of God’s actions are done, and all the actions of man, the image of God. To bake a cake, you
1. Gather the materials.
2. Break them down, mix them, and make the cake.
3. Distribute it to those who eat it.
4. They taste and evaluate it, and if it is good . . .
5. They enjoy it.
I wrote up these observations in a monograph, Christian Piety: Deformed and Reformed. (1985).