ENCOUNTER WITH GOD: ‘UNDERSTANDING THE ANGLICAN WORSHIP (ISAIAH 6:1-8) A PRESENTATION AT THE 2022 BISHOPS’ RETREAT OF THE CHURCH: OF NIGERIA -ANGLICAN COMMUNION HELD AT THE IBRU CENTRE ON JANUARY 4, 2022 BY THE RT REVD DM STEPHEN AYODEJI A. FAGBEM1, THE BISHOP OF OWO.
Profound thanks to the Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of the Church of Nigeria, the Most Rev’d Dr. Henry Ndukuba for giving me the opportunity to address the House of Bishops at this year’s retreat.
To discuss or talk about encounter with God is to discuss worship, because neither can exist without the other. In worship divine encounter takes place and where there is encounter the natural reaction is that of worship. The experience of Isaiah is a particularly helpful illustration of this subject. More interesting in our discussion, however, is how an appropriate understanding of the Anglican worship can offer a veritable model for spiritual encounter. This is pertinent in the discussion of spiritual encounter in contemporary church life, where some have admittedly succumbed to the idea that the Anglican worship is devoid of spiritual encounter. Whilst acknowledging the present challenges to Anglican worship, our discussion is intended to engender and stimulate a new thinking and understanding of it, and to draw Anglicans to a fresh appreciation of their worship as a rich and spiritually ‘sound heritage for the present generation if, indeed, true worship is the desire of the church and its members.
Encounter with God in Isaiah 6
That the commissioning of Isaiah is coming at this point of the book would indicate the experience or narrative of chapter 6 to be a logical rather than chronological arrangement. The context appears to be that of the temple in which the prophet had gone to worship. The temple is the spiritual equivalent of the earthly palace for a secular or earthly king. Amidst the bewildering visions of the opening chapters, what is significant is Isaiah’s encounter of the Holy One of Israel. He encountered God. Regardless of what is happening to the human monarchy, it is the monarch in Isaiah’s vision that is important. Isaiah sees’ Yahweh awesome in royal honour and splendor’ similar to what is expressed in. Psalm 97. Isaiah’s vision is a profound encounter that caused him to repeat one word three times, as a point of emphasis, something that occurs only here in the prophecy of Isaiah. “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”, an acclamation that is reflected also in the prayer of David in Psalm 72:1.9. ‘Blessed be his glorious name forever, May the whole earth, be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!’ As John Goldingay puts it, it is presumably the vision of Yahweh’s triple holiness and exaltedness that generate his adoption of ‘the Holy One of Israel’ as his distinctive title for God (1.4). This is also to emphasize the exaltedness of this holy one (5:15-16)
It Is impossible to overstate the importance of spiritual encounter in the context of worship, and. especially of Isaiah in the temple. Three profoundly significant things happen here.
First, Isaiah, encountered God beyond whatever he had encountered or seen, of an earthly monarch before. This monarch is seated-on a throne, high and exalted, as king and sovereign of the whole of heaven and earth, the King, the Almighty (v.5). Isaiah saw the Lord and this experience is the start of a new life in faith. He saw the throne “of God, his greatness and glory; he saw the nobility of the cherubim’s and. seraphim’s; he heard the proclamation of God’s sanctity.
At a time of transition, Isaiah might: have been reassured in this vision by the contest between the limitlessness of Yahweh’s reign and the limitations of the earthly king, After all, it was in the year that King Uzziah died, between 742 and 735 B.C after an outstanding 52 year reign and a period of co-regency with his son Jotham (2 Kings 15.5), This vision was unique and reassuring for Isaiah.
Second, Isaiah saw a vision of who he was and was able to contemplate his own impurity. The awesome vision of God and his throne offered a reflective view of who Isaiah was. As he saw the house filled with smoke, in the splendor of divine presence he said, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips;- for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts5 (6:5). How can Isaiah worship or serve Yahweh with unclean lips and in an. unworthy state that he had discovered? One of the cherubim’s came and touched his mouth to take away his guilt, and atone for his sins, so that he could be made ready for his service unto the Lord.
It is difficult to read this as an Anglican without thinking of O LORI), open our lips and our mouth shall show forth thy praise, as taken from Psalm 51:15, Or O Lord make haste to save us; O Lord make haste to help us (Ps.70.1).
Third, he saw a vision of the people amongst whom he dwelt. ‘I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts'(6:5b).
It is evident that no one who truly encounters the LORD can fail to see the true picture of his life and that of his community, Isaiah saw this in an unmistakable way and. it left a lifelong impression on him. Those who saw God and (their own sin aid. were purified, they also see the misery of the lost and want to save them. This should be the experience of every servant of God and in this -way churches are revived.
Consequently, Isaiah was able to hear the call of God, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And he said, ‘Here am I! Send me'(6:8). In summary, the encounter of Isaiah is about the awesome revelation of God, the King, the Holy One of Israel, and the transforming impact on the life of the worshipper. This is themysterium tremendum, the awe inspiring mystery, which Rudolf Otto talks about. The numinous is. Experienced as mysterious, awesome and urgent. This experience is also fascinating.2
‘Man’s sense of awe in the presence of the magnificent, the frightening or the miraculous illustrates something of what is meant by worship.’3 True worship is characterized by two fundamental elements, namely revelation and response. God. Shows himself to man through which awe-stricken man responds to God. The human response to this may be one of speechlessness, paralysis, emulation or dedication. For Martin. Luther, ‘to know God is to worship him’. That is, to say that ‘worship is not an optional extra for the godly person, but an essential symptom or expression of that knowledge.’4
Anglican Worship as a model of Encounter with God
Worship, therefore, is an essential context for divine revelation and encounter, and only those who respond appropriately can hear God and, in obedience, submit to be commissioned for His service. Isaiah’s encounter with God as contained in Chapter 6 draws one’s mind to Anglican worship; and it is vital to be reminded of it so that we do not lose the essential and .focal points of Anglican worship. In a tradition that developed out of the Reformation of some five hundred, years of history, Anglican approach to worship has developed, adapting, and changing and embracing a wide diversity of insight and styles. Yet there are some fundamental elements that have characterized Anglican Worship over the time. This is clearly rooted in its identity and. history. This is the more reason why the handlers of its liturgy arid conductors of worship must have clear understanding of it in order to avoid confusion and a basterdization of its worship,, and to preserve the uniformity of practice across the Church. Thus the Anglican in worship is guided not only by the Spirit of the living God but much more but the written word of God, as is revealed in Scripture. This is an objective reality that people can relate to rather than the somewhat subjective experience of an individual.
Today, our church is gradually sliding into confusion with some teachings that develop simply from individual conviction rather than an objective interpretation of the Bible. An example is cases where many women are now removing their earrings as if this is the evidence of holiness to make them acceptable in God’s sight Surprisingly this is fast gaining ground among clergy and even bishops. The church cannot afford to look ‘the other way, if its practices are to be maintained in a uniform and fairly objective manner. It is vital to look at how Anglican worship may help in one’s encounter with God. A cursory look at the order of Morning Prayer will suffice to stimulate our reflection on this subject.
Four key principles for understanding the Anglican worship should be briefly listed here. First Anglican Worship gives a central place to Scripture. Second, Anglican Worship witnesses to the Importance for the Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper: and third, Anglican Worship has special concern for the. building up of the body of Christ, and believes in the mission of the body of Christ as witness to the saving grace of Christ our Lord.
Anglican Worship and Scripture
The significance of the scripture in Anglican Worship cannot be overstated. It is so central, that it is a rehearsal of the scripture. It is best demonstrated by looking more closely at the Matting or service of the Morning Prayer, which also has an underlying theology of its own. The canticles, an important part of Anglican worship are taken, from various parts of the Bible; Even the Te Deum has nothing unbiblical about it. It is important for Anglicans to understand this in the midst of the enormous confusion of our time; the entire Anglican liturgy has confession and absolution of sins, praise and thanksgiving, prayer and liturgy of the word and sacrament. It is focused on God. Like Isaiah, Anglican worship is designed to help the believer or worshipper approach the awesome presence of God in humility, hence, the call to worship is important. It is an invitation to access the throne of grace by presenting oneself for purification.
The opening sentences of scripture draw the attention of the worshippers to the awesome presence of God, and the nature of God Himself. This is evident in sentences of scripture such as, ‘the Lord is in His Holy temple, let the whole earth stand in awe of him'(Hab.2.20); ‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before him all the earth!'(Ps. 96:9); God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24).
While these may hint at the nature of the LORD being approached, the sentences further state the manner of coming before Him, to worship or encounter him. ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise'(Ps. 51:17); To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against him, neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws which he set before us’ (Daniel 9:9,10); ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:8-9). Isaiah would have agreed with this.
The exhortation is very clear as to how to approach his throne, namely that we must acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, and that we should not dissemble nor cloak them before the face of the almighty God our heavenly Father, but confess them with a humble, lowly, penitent and obedient heart, to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same by his infinite goodness and mercy…
Itis noteworthy that the invitation to confess our sins is predicated on the teaching of the scripture, which is a particular strength of the Anglican liturgy. It starts by saying in the 1662 liturgy, thus “Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places …’ the content of the confession and absolution pronounced only by ordained priests indicate that it is entirely according to scripture. In. fact, the absolution reads like a proclamation of the gospel itself. In this Archbishop Cranmer tried to avoid any error or lapse into such things that they had tried to avoid in Roman Catholicism. The spirit of the Reformation or Protestantism is very evident in Cranmer’s own theology.
The alternative and shorter confession suggested in the 1928 Book of Common. A prayer, which has now been adopted, in the liturgy of the Church of Nigeria, Morning Prayer is mindful, also of our fault, we have not loved you with our whole heart; neither have we loved our neighbors as ourselves. Even the kind, of people with whom we live can be inferred from this; like Isaiah, a man of unclean lips, dwelling among people of unclean lips.
It is encouraging that we can respond to the absolution with the Lord’s Prayer and. on the assurance of forgiven sins, the versicl.es and responses aid our access to the throne of God. ‘O LORD, open our lips and our mouth shall show forth thy praise’, as taken from Psalm. 51:15, and after the Gloria, we are actively called upon to praise the Lord; ‘Praise ye the Lord: The Lord’s name be praised’,
A reflection on Psalms 51 shows that King ‘David could only say O LORD, open our lips as part of his confession to God, after the death of Uriah the husband of Beersheba whom he had killed, because he had put his wife in the family way. In seeking deliverance and forgiveness from blood guilt he acknowledged that it was only when he had been delivered and forgiven that he can be liberated to praise or declare the praise of God. Interestingly,, the point at which this appears in the Anglican worship is most appropriate, during the call to worship, after the confession arid absolution. It follows that worshippers, having been forgiven, are liberated to declare and praise God. Otherwise, what can a sinner bring to God? It is easier to access the throne of grace and enter into his courts with praise and thanksgiving when there is no inhibition whatsoever; when, sins have been forgiven.5 This is fitting within the context of the Isaiah vision.
Now what follows is simply the Venite (Psalm 95), and is a clear indication of what theology lies behind the Martins in particular. The Venite is full of praise to God, for who he is and to seek the worshipper to bow down and worship,
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving and show ourselves glad in him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God. and a great king above all gods. In his hands are all the corners of the earth and the strength of the hills is his also… O come, let us worship and fall down, and’ kneel before the LORD our maker.
So, Anglican worship has an important place for praise to the Almighty God. That is why it seems to be awkward for any Anglican Church to style itself a sanctuary of praise, knowing that the Anglican Church is a place of prayer, praise and everything else that makes for sound spiritual journey and growth of the kingdom. John Wesley praised the Anglican liturgy so highly that many modem Methodists feel embarrassed about it.6 Wesley said, ‘I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modem language, which breathes more of solid. Scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England.’
Truly, Anglican liturgies are good and scriptural, and especially helpful in placing our lives within God’s unfolding plan in humanity. Objective statement about Jesus’ saving work now take a subjective application: ‘As you call us out of darkness into his marvelous light may our lives reflect his glory and our lips repeat the endless song.’7
The ministry of the word further underlines the centrality of scripture in Anglican worship. The word is read in the Psalm, the Old Testament Law or Prophets, and the New Testament. In the context of the Holy Communion the epistle and gospel, are read apart from the psalms and the prophets. The ending of the reading underlines the corporate participatory nature of what is received. This is the word of the Lord, to which all say. Thanks be to God, This is ‘recognizing that scripture is a divine gift to the Church and that God speaks through the reading of it.’8 The significance of the Scripture in Anglican worship cannot be overstated. In the reading and preaching of the word, worshippers encounter God and to this they are called to make a response, hearing and using the same version of the Bible, especially during corporate worship,
Anglican Worship and the Place of the Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper
The Holy Communion continually keeps before the Church the central acts of our redemption.9 Thus we are able to appreciate the cost of our redemption. It is also an. opportunity of thanksgiving to God for his love for his creation, redemption and sanctification. The intercessions also invite us to bring our thanks for a variety of things including the ministry of the church triumphant and intercede for the church militant. The Holy Communion enables us to encounter Christ through the broken, bread and wine, It is remarkable that neither transubstantiation nor consubstantiation truly describes the Anglican understanding of their encounter at the Lord’s Table, The Anglican theology is that of a receptionist theology, that is, the strength of it is in receiving by faith. Receive by faith with thanksgiving,
What is encountered by faith is our Lord Jesus Christ which is proclaimed in the prayer of thanksgiving that is itself missional in nature. This is best expressed in the post communion prayer. ‘May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring lift to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world’; and ‘Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.’
The richness of the Anglican worship is not in doubt, and if understood it calls the worshipper to declare afresh the glory of God and the praises of the Lord, in the world. This indicates that mission work is for all member of the church, and not just for a select few. This call to mission starts at baptism.
The building up of the body of Christ is another evident sign of the encounter of God in Anglican worship. Anglican worship is deliberately corporate. This is against the backdrop of its protest against medieval Catholicism where Latin was the official language and where the participation of the laity was not significant As the people encounter God in worship, they are to respond corporately in public worship. Hence using the prayer book and, using the same responses in worship is to enhance participation and divine encounter.
Setting of Worship
The setting of worship is of importance to our discourse. The church building provides a worship space that witnesses to the greatness and glory of God, a God to be approached in awe and reverence, and therefore to the smallness of self.10 Similarly, the various symbols of the faith such as the font, prayer desk, holy table, lectern and pulpit, all remind us of the importance of our incorporation into Christ and the journey of faith, which they all support, However, as Lord Coggan once wrote, these symbols are not merely functional, ‘they have a role to play whether they are being used or not.11 It is important for the architecture of the building to clearly show the centrality of both Word and Sacrament because in them we encounter God. ‘Anyone entering a church should at once be arrested by two things – the central importance of a table where the faithful are fed sacramentally and of the pulpit (and/or lectern) from where the Word is being expounded.”2
It is evident that the worship of the Anglican Church is rich, to enable divine encounter, if truly the worship encompasses genuine, humble approach to the presence of the Lord in which sins are confessed, and absolution of sins declared, thus giving the worshipper an opportunity for intense and profound praise and celebration of the presence of God. The centrality of the word of God, read and preached, give a maximum opportunity to hear and be challenged by God, and to respond through the declaration of the faith of the Church in God, which encompasses also a time of prayer in which one communicates or responds to God with a place for grace and strength to serve him faithfully and to intercede on behalf of the community of faith and the world at .large.
It is remarkable that, like Isaiah, when God is encountered through the canticles, hymns, prayers, the word and the sacrament, the best response is one of submission to go and share the love of God with the world. So when it was said to Isaiah ‘Who shall go for us? Isaiah could only say, ‘here am I send me.’ The Anglican worship offers these opportunities, and is at its best when the rich liturgy is used under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and when its membership are truly open to divine encounter at worship, using every aspect of it
In spite of the rich worship and liturgical traditions of the Anglican Church, one must be concerned that there are many challenges that can potentially hinder out encounter of God during worship. They are becoming pronounced today, and, unless they are checked, they can mar worship
- Distraction. We have given room, to a lot of distraction in our worship services today. Things that appear good but not particularly expedient are creeping into our worship time in church. Perhaps it is the various individual attitudes in church or gossip or interruption in service or undue reverence for human beings. The back slapping or indiscriminate handshake by those who come late to worship or the ministers in the chancel who engage in undue discussion, throughout the service, or those who come late and still go round greeting people in the service.
- Lack of focus and introduction of many activities that are lacking in spiritual value in the service. When we fund raise or call for many thanksgiving during the church service, can we avoid the level of noise or jokes that sometimes characterize the sessions? Sometimes it could, take too long that people lose interest in the rest of the service. When does service cease to be worship?
- Imitation of practices that lack’ biblical and true spiritual depth. Many practices are being introduced into the church today just because they have become fashionable or popular. We hardly-a.sk whether they are biblical or Anglican.
- Challenge of Indigenization. We want to do things in a way that would be appealing and attractive to our Indigenous approach or culture.
Dealing with the Challenges
In order to retain the Anglican worship within which we encounter God, it is vital to unlearn superficial practices and identify true, godly and biblical practices that are faithful to both scripture and our Anglican heritage.
Retaining true Anglican practices and. principles in a godly and. charismatic way without losing Anglican identity is essential. Let us be filled with the Holy Spirit and express our faith in a lively mariner but not by acquiring or borrowing things that have no spiritual impact whatsoever.
There is need for adequate preparation for service with prayers. Leaders of worship must not be casual about leading worship. They must prepare with clear sense of the leading of God. Conductors of worship must prepare with expectation of divine encounter, and avoid all forms of distraction and irreverent- movements capable of distracting people during worship. God is indeed with us, and no one other than God must be at the centre of church worship.
It is necessary to understand Anglican theology and Worship if we are to lead effectively. The liturgy is dynamic but should not be thrown away; we need to constantly attend refresher courses as leaders and remind our workers and clergy not to basterdize the rich heritage of the church. Bishops must not look the other way when our liturgy is being damaged. The Bishop must correct and call to question strange practices or slangs by our modern preachers which will not help in anyway. Even lyrics or songs that are lacking in balanced Christian content must challenged or corrected.
Finally, God. makes himself known in a variety of ways, through his works in creation (Ps. 19:1); through his written word (Ps. 19:7), and. supremely through Jesus Christ His only Son (John 1:18) arid through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), Thus Christian worship (Anglican) depends on theology – that is,, the knowledge of God, which will enable the worshipper to know who and how great God is and especially of His awesome wonders in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and. the unity of the Godhead.
The Anglican thought is clearly linked to worship. Anglicans pray to God the Father through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit, This must be clear in how we pray not just by imitating wrong methods and teachings because they seem to be working somewhere else. Any wrong doctrine or teaching can also adversely affect worship. That members are running from church to church in our present generation must not lead us to encourage wrong teachings; rather we must teach sound doctrine and encourage worshippers to ‘draw near with faith.’ There is clearly a strong relationship between Christian thought and worship.
Hence, Anglicans say the law of prayer is the law of belief (lex orandi lex crede-ndi). In other words, how you pray or worship shows what you believe. So be careful to think and act Anglican in what you do because it is an indication, of what you believe. While Jacob may say the Lord is here and I did not know it (Gen. 28:16), which many have said about Anglican, worship, it should be our joy to affirm that the Lord is here; His Spirit is with us. That is, to say the Lord is with us in Anglican worship and we know because His Spirit is with us and we are in the Spirit.
- What noticeable distractions are evident among bishops, clergy and laity, which require attention to ensure considerable level of discipline?
- Why are we abandoning what we have in the Anglican Church, as if they do not work?
- Despite the .fact that our worship is a context for divine encounter why is this not often the case for many, and what can we do?
- What is the role of the Bishop or leader of worship and preacher in enabling encounter with God during our worship services?