VOLUME 18, NO. 7 (JULY 2023)
This month I would like to share a number of quotations from authors who can help us to begin to plumb the depths (or, perhaps rather, attain to the heights) of the mystery of the Trinity and the engagement of all three Persons in our worship.
The Nature of Trinitarian Worship
Probably the most common and widespread view is that worship is something which we, religious people, do—mainly in church on Sunday. . . . No doubt we need God’s grace to help us do it. . . . But worship is what we do before God.
In theological language, this means that the only priesthood is our priesthood, the only offering our offering, the only intercessions our intercessions. Indeed this view of worship is in practice unitarian, has no doctrine of the mediator or sole priesthood of Christ, is human-centered, has no proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit, is too often non-sacramental, and can engender weariness. We sit in the pew watching the minister “doing his thing,” exhorting us “to do our thing,” until we go home thinking we have done our duty for another week! This kind of do-it-yourself-with-the-help-of-the-minister worship . . . is not trinitarian.
The second view of worship is that it is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. It means participating in union with Christ, in what He has done for us once and for all, in His self-offering to the Father, in His life and death on the cross. It also means participating in what He is continuing to do for us in the presence of the Father and in His mission from the Father to the world. (James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 20–21)
The perfect human prayer and the perfect human praise are to be found on the lips of Jesus our brother. He is the perfect worshipper in the presence of the perfect God. . . . He calls us to join his voice and to share in his song. (Cocksworth, 158-159)
Our worship is a participation in the priestly prayer and praise of Christ through the enabling of the Spirit. (Christopher Cocksworth, Holy, Holy, Holy, 160)
- The Father receives our worship.
- The Son perfects our worship.
- The Holy Spirit prompts our worship. (John Witvliet)
I remember a time during my training for ordination when each member of my tutor group was asked to give us one sentence definition of worship. At that time I was working for a research degree in the area Christian worship, so I gave what I thought was a suitably sophisticated answer. It was something on the lines of the offering of the whole of our lives to God in grateful, self-giving. But, along with others in the group, I was much more moved by the answer of a young Church of Scotland ordinand on an exchange visit to the college. “For me,” he said, “worship is joining with Jesus as He praises His Father.” [“. . . in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise” (Hebrews 2:12b)]. He made the reality of Christian existence and the nature of Christian prayer and worship startlingly clear and simple. To be a Christian is to be in Christ through His spirit. To relate to God in prayer and worship is to do so in, through and even with Christ, “the firstborn of many brethren” (Romans 8:29). (Cocksworth, 32-33)
“Father, . . . we pray that we may . . . be brought to admire him [the Holy Spirit], whose ministry it is to bring us to your Son, whose ministry it is to bring us to you as our Father and you to us as your children.” (Sinclair Ferguson)
The Gift of Trinitarian Worship
Worship is a gift we are invited to receive. We are invited to join the prayer and praise of Christ and to allow our voice to be perfected in his. (Cocksworth, 161)
Our worship is a participation in the priestly prayer and praise of Christ through the enabling of the spirit. According to this view worship is essentially a gift. (Cocksworth, 160)
Worship is . . . the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. (Torrance, 21)
The Power of Trinitarian Worship
Whenever true worship happens, it is because Jesus Christ is in the midst of his people, leading them in their praises and presenting them to the Father as part of his own perfect offering of praise: “in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise” (Hebrews 2:12b). No matter what form or style our worship may take, no matter what language, instruments, architecture, or art forms we may use—the power of true worship, in all its wonderfully varied manifestations, is the living Christ in our midst.
God accepts and delights in our worship, not because it is so good, so well-rehearsed, so sincere (though all these things are important), but because our Lord Jesus presents it to the Father in our place and on our behalf—and the Father is always pleased with his Son. It is the Son’s excellence that gains the Father’s favor.
We are accepted by God, not because we have offered worthy worship, but in spite of our unworthiness, because He has provided for us a Worship, a Way, a Sacrifice, a Forerunner in Christ our Leader and Representative. This is the heart of all true Christian worship. (James Torrance, “The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” 352)
We do not offer up our services, our sets and our songs in hopes that by saying or singing or doing the right thing God will be obligated to “show up” and bless us. We lift our praises, not out of fear that we’re going to miss something or lose out or not be accepted by God. Instead we rest, we bask in the status we enjoy with him as his beloved children, because we are in Christ by his mercy.
We do not sing loud or pray hard in order to generate divine favor—a perfect theology of worship if we wanted to worship Baal. (John Witvliet, “What to Do with Our Renewed Trinitarian Enthusiasm,” 242
It is profoundly important to see that worship is not a work. It is a grateful and humble gift that we offer to God in response to the grace that he has lavished on us. And even that response is made perfectly acceptable as by grace we offer it to God through Christ our Redeemer and Mediator. The all-sufficiency of Christ envelops, enriches, fulfills, and perfects our worship.
Worship can only take place through the enabling and empowering of the Spirit. And the Spirit who enables and empowers is not an impersonal force by which God acts on the believers but the . . . presence of God himself as He comes to and works within them. (Cocksworth, 42)
The Joy and Wonder of Trinitarian Worship
By the Spirit we are drawn into the life of Christ to participate in His life of love with the Father. (Cocksworth, 99)
Participation in the relatedness of God is the joy of Christian worship. By giving glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit we share in the eternal giving and receiving of life and love which constitutes the very being of God. (Cocksworth, 119)
The invitation of the book of Hebrews is to go where [Jesus] goes. (Cocksworth, 157)