Ancient/Future Worship: What Is It Exactly?

afworshipOne of our core values at Foothills Fellowship is “Ancient/Future Worship.” The way we describe this form of worship (and way of life, might I add) is this: Because we are a part of the same people of God that has existed from creation (and on through biblical history and church history), we will be rooted in and will learn from the past, both in belief and in practice. This will give substance to our kingdom life and call and will give us something to say in the present and future which will not ring hollow. We will be grounded in the past but always looking forward into the future. As clear (or unclear!) as this definition may be, many of you still ask what exactly we mean by this.

The phrase “Ancient/Future Worship” was coined by the late Robert Webber, a professor at Northern Seminary in Illinois and the founder and first president of the Institute for Worship Studies. In 1977, he led the call – along with several other evangelical leaders – for churches to recover the fullness of our Christian heritage and worship practices. Known as “The Chicago Call,” the document – among other things – called the church to “confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scriptures and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures. Therefore, we call for a recovery of our full Christian heritage.”

This call began a sweeping movement among Protestant churches to root their worship, as the early church did, in God’s story and led them to reform their corporate worship practices to embody not the current culture but God’s mission; to tell the story of Christ’s redemptive work through their worship practices. New (but very ancient) elements were added to their worship services like singing ancient hymns with modern arrangements, kneeling for confession, receiving the assurance of forgiveness through the declaration of God’s words about our forgiveness, recovering the practice of the public reading of the Scriptures, engaging in weekly communion, and following the liturgical church calendar by observing events like Advent, Ash Wednesday, and Lent.

afworshipbookIn 2007, Robert Webber died, but before he did, he wrote one final book called, Ancient/Future Worship, in which he made a solid case for the recovery of these practices. Shortly after the book was published, I – along with then associate pastors Jesse Harden and Andrew Streett – began to discuss how to enhance our corporate worship experience, making it more meaningful and more rooted in the story of God’s mission of redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ. Along with other resources, we read Webber’s book and decided that what he was proposing was just what we were looking for. After discussing this and praying about this with the elders, we began to “reform” our worship service one element at a time over a two-year period, resulting in the rhythm or “liturgy” we have now on Sundays.

It’s richness and depth has not only deepened our understanding of God’s redemption, but it has also served as a shaping force in our lives, helping us to counteract the many other godless forces in our culture that seek to shape us all week long. Many of you have begun to include these practices in your daily lives as well – which is the ultimate goal of our Ancient/Future worship liturgy: to shape us into daily worshipers who are developing a deeper intimacy with the Lord. In addition to all of this, we have seen our church grow numerically since we started this practice, which I believe is no coincidence. People long for a deeper connection to and intimacy with our Lord, and the way we worship on Sundays helps produce this.

Hopefully, this has helped to better explain the concept of Ancient/Future worship and has helped you see why we are engaging in it each week. I highly recommend that you purchase Webber’s book and read it. Not only will it help you understand what (and why) we worship the way we do every Sunday, but it will also give you an expanding understanding of God’s holiness and worthiness of our worship.