I have finished (woop-woop) the three parts of my study guide, “Why should I go to church?” My aim is is to give people an understanding of God’s part and our part in the service of holy communion. The guide sets out the way God makes and renews His covenant of grace with his gathered people during the communion service.
As I have studied, it has taken me by surprise just how little I knew about the function and structure of communion services. Previous studies focused on the theology of various liturgies, with critical attention to detail, so that I could spot heresy at 50 yards, but I had never given much thought to the whole. Until now, I could see no other function in communion than to remember Jesus’ death for my sin.
But now the answer to the question “why should I go to church?” is first and foremost, in my mind, for God’s people to meet with God to renew His covenant of grace. Communion is a corporate activity but my thinking and practice until now has been heavily skewed by individualistic western culture.
The study guide breaks into two parts. Part 1 could be used by any church with a reformed (Calvinistic) theology of communion. It teaches about communion through nine questions and answers, which cover a wide range of subjects: there’s a brief bible overview and then a theology of covenants, preaching, signs, seals, the indwelling of Christ, personal salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit in communion, individually and corporately. It ends by introducing people to the basic elements of the Anglican communion service.
Qu1. What is the basic Christian story?
Qu2. What is a communion service for?
Qu3. How does God make promises and speak to his people?
Qu4. What is a sign and how does it work?
Qu4a. What signs has God given his people?
Qu5. What is a seal and how does it work?
Qu6. What does it mean to be “in” Christ?
Qu7. What do I need to do to receive eternal life?
Qu8. What happens when believers gather for a communion service? How does God renew his covenant with his people?
Qu9. What are the different parts of a communion service?
Part one gives the foundation upon which part 2 is built. I envisage that part one might take a term to study. The pace of learning and progress will depend on the group and each question could take two or more sessions to cover properly, especially the questions on preaching and on signs. Part 2 might also take a term, depending how long it takes to cover the ACNA Catechism, which is over 400 questions and answers! It is more easily digestible when broken down.
Part 2 of why should I go to church takes people through the whole of the Common Worship (Order 2) Communion service, so is only really for Anglicans. The aim is to give people a deep grasp of the theology and the purpose of the communion service as a whole, whilst studying the parts in some detail. The structure of the communion service is made clear, I think, and the reasons given for why each part is included. The aim is for people to grasp their part in renewing the covenant of grace with God.
Part 2 is set out in two columns. The liturgy is on the left and a commentary and catechism on the right. When it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the 10 Commandments, there is lots to teach and so people are referred to the ACNA Catechism.
The third, and final part, is a double sided A4 laminated service sheet. The headers for each section of the service follow the same format as the study guide part 2, so that the service sheet will not only act as a guide in worship but a reminder of what was studied during the course. We use a projector for the liturgy, so people will have a choice to use the service sheet or the screen.
The ACNA catechism has a service for Admission of Catechumens (people starting the course of study based on the catechism) which I intend to use when we start the first course to publicly mark the point of setting off for the group.
I expect revisions (probably after my final supervision with Garry Williams and as I trial the studies), but my hope is that others might want to use the guide too.