Celebrating Our Faith: Evangelism Through Worship. Robert E. Webber. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986,118 pp., $11.95.
The strength of Celebrating Our Faith is Webber's contention that "the early church knew no such thing as an individualistic Christianity—it practiced evangelism by, in, and through the community of God's people" (p.5). The author wants the reader to see that worship is the key to evangelism.
Specifically, Webber sees the "conversion experience regulated and ordered by the liturgical rites of the church" (p. 13). That is, external rites help to form the internal reality of Christian conversion. Just as the Lord's Supper symbolizes and seals the benefits of Christ's crucifixion upon the cross, so also the second- and third-century Christian church developed four stages of conversion and three rites of passage for the new believer to help him understand and experience God's transforming grace. Most of the book is spent explaining these seven parts of liturgical evangelism.
Each chapter starts with some biblical background on one of the parts, reflects on the experience of the early church, and then proceeds to contemporary applications. Pastors who are willing to work with unfamiliar terminology will recognize that Webber is dealing with basic ministry models for evangelism, dis-cipleship, and assimilation.
Where most Reformed readers will be stretched is in dealing with the function and value of ritual in worship. The author implies that the entire liturgy of the church celebrates the victory of Christ over evil and our incorporation into his fellowship.
Webber makes the observation—well worth the price of the book—that church members are more likely to make initial evangelistic contacts if the church has a support system to handle follow-up. He also urges that the dis-cipling process include having the convert make an open rejection of Satan and all his works of evil. More controversial will be his suggestion that the follow-up period take as long as eighteen months—and that during that time the convert should not participate in the Lord's Supper.
As one who has moved from the Baptist to the Episcopal church, Webber has more than a casual interest in the Roman Catholic Church. That interest is reflected in the way in which this author ranks the authority of traditions close to the authority of Scripture.
Although this book probably won't convince Reformed readers to move towards liturgical evangelism, it will give them insights into how the early church approached worship and evangelism. That history is worth knowing before one reads many of the how-to books available on the subject of evangelism.