Wesleyan Theology: Worship and Fellowship as Means of Grace

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

Worship in the Christian tradition has included both the reading of Scripture and its preaching, as well as the celebration of the Sacraments, common prayers, and the fellowship of the believers together. Indeed, the pattern of "Word and Table," held together, is fully attested to in Scripture, and particularly in the Acts of the Apostles, were we are told how the early Church met for worship:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 NRSV)

When we gather together to worship, we proclaim that we do so in fellowship not just with those gathered there, but also with all those who are, or ever have been, Disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout all time and space. When we worship, we are engaged in multiple forms of the Means of Grace, forms through which we both receive God's love and participate in the expression of God's love to others. The Means of Grace in worship include the Sacraments and the Sacramental acts, about which we've already written, but worship is also, itself, a Means of Grace. When we worship Jesus, we assign "worth" to him. When we worship Jesus, we proclaim that God is of principle importance to us. When we worship Jesus, we celebrate his Divine presence with us and our membership in his Holy Body. Our Fellowship together, both with God and with each other, is empowered by the unitive "glue" of the Holy Spirit. This wonderful presence of God in our lives doesn't just knit us together, nor is it just a theoretical union, lacking substance for our daily living. No, indeed, the unitive power of God in the presence of the Holy Spirit moves us forward, through God's Sanctifying Grace, toward Perfection in the love of Christ; this love is manifested both in the community of faith and in our openness to reaching out to others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. In other words, our worship and our fellowship together are among the many instrumental ways by which we come into full communion with the Grace of God. As such, they are most certainly Means of Grace.

Above, I said that in our worship we assign to Jesus great "worth." This is very true: we give praise, honor, and glory to Jesus; we proclaim him Lord and Savior; we declare his mighty deeds in his life and ministry, death and resurrection; we affirm his continuing presence among us; we truly do assign Jesus worth when we Worship together. But our worship of Jesus doesn't just include what we say to and about Jesus in our worship. No, the worth we assign to Jesus is expressed in and through what we do with our time and — gasp — with what we do with our money. How we spend our time and how we spend our money reflects how we identify our priorities. If we esteem ourselves to be of great worth, we'll spend our time and our money on ourselves; if we esteem our family to be of great worth, we'll spend our time and our money on our families; if we esteem our nation to be of great worth, we'll spend our time and our money in lifting up our nation; if we esteem God in Jesus Christ to be be of great worth, we'll spend our time and our money in those things that God thinks are important ... in proclaiming and living the Gospel, in giving our time and resources to his Body, in demonstrating the worth of our faith by what we do and how we give. When we worship Christ Jesus, we engage in an important Means of Grace. Are you neglecting God's Grace by worshiping elsewhere? Ask yourself: who or what do you esteem to be of greatest worth in this life? Who or what do you worth-ship?

© 1999 Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.