Continued from here…
In his book, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”, James Torrance sums up much of the teaching we’re considering, especially as he highlights the difference between Unitarian and Trinitarian worship.
Unitarian and Trinitarian Worship
According to Torrance these are the two broad models of worship. Unitarian worship is not necessarily that offered by Unitarians – most often it simply reflects the functionally monadic doctrine of God latent in our congregations. Worship on this model sees only two parties – the LORD who is simply the recipient of worship; and the human worshipper (or congregation) who may be divinely enabled and empowered but who, nonetheless, is wholly responsible for performing the worship.
As against this, Trinitarian worship recognizes that God the Father has set forth God the Son to be the True High Priest who, by God the Spirit, offers to the Father that which He demands. Worship is therefore not the efforts of humanity in approaching God but a participation in Christ’s perfect worship of the Father, graciously offered through the Spirit.
This, in turn, leads to different accounts of intimacy. On the Unitarian model, intimacy is an ideal to be reached (if only we can raise our moral and mystical games). We are external to God and must figure out how to approach Him in an acceptable way. The only priesthood here is our priesthood. The only offering involved is our offering. The only intercession is our intercession. And if we get all these things right, then, perhaps, we will attain to a measure of intimacy.
On the Trinitarian model, adoption into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit is the incomparable intimacy which guarantees true and acceptable worship. The order is thus reversed. Worship does not bring us near to God. Rather ‘the blood of Christ’ has brought us near (Ephesians 2:13) that ‘through Him we… have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ (Ephesians 2:18). Blood-bought intimacy with God is the beginning of true worship – not an added bonus when the mood is right.
The Perfect and Eternal Priesthood of Christ guarantees our acceptable worship before the Father. Therefore we’re always late to worship. We’re always joining something that is already under way. We begin our worship in the embrace of the divine love – our worship is merely God’s appointed means of experiencing such intimacy.
How then do we worship?
When we think of “intimacy with God”, what do we picture? Probably we’re thinking of a private experience. But in the Bible our intimacy with the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit is expressed corporately. In community we reflect the Triune life to which we have been called. As a community we are Christ’s Body and Bride. A merely private intimacy with God is a rejection of the terms on which we have been offered fellowship. It’s true that worship of God is 24/7 (Romans 12:1ff). And it’s true that I am continually ‘one with Christ’, whether by myself or with others. But consider the marriage analogy. I may be ‘one with my wife’ even when we’re separated by oceans. Yet our experience of intimacy comes with setting aside times and places. So it is with our experience of intimacy – the Scriptures envisage corporate fellowship with God, as we gather.
Firstly, the Word is set forth. This is essential. The Spirit brings us Christ through the Word since, as Calvin would say, Christ comes clothed in His promises. There is no unmediated or self-generated approach to God. It is of the essence of grace that God approaches us at His initiative and by His appointed means. In the Bible, Christ is offered to us freely in words of promise. God has ordained that ‘faith comes by hearing’ (Romans 10:17), thus the Bible must be at the absolute centre. There ought not to be any meeting without the Word. When Luther wrote ‘Concerning the Order of Public Worship’ he advised: ‘Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course… We can spare everything except the Word. Again we profit by nothing as much as by the Word.’
‘The fellowship’ is an objective, Spirit-created, communion to which believers are to be ‘devoted’. This fellowship subsists in the organic union we share as the Body of Christ. In it we are given various gifts and roles for our mutual edification and mission to the world (cf 1 Cor 12-14). To be devoted to this involves the exercise of gifts in ministering to one another (cf Romans 12:4-8) and practical, costly service (eg 1 John 3:17-18).
‘The breaking of bread’ we take to be sacramental (hence the). Along with the preached Word, the dispensing of the sacraments was taken by reformers as the other defining mark of a true Church. Christ has given us Himself in this supper through ‘visible words’ (Augustine’s phrase). Via these, we ‘feed on Christ in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving’ (Cranmer’s phrase). This sacrament is communal by its very nature – uniting us with Christ and each other. It ought to be a genuine high point in our gatherings though always attended by the Word, by clear teaching on its purpose, and eaten in peaceable fellowship with all (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).
Corporate prayer is an essential part of worship. The prayer Jesus taught His disciples was corporate – ‘Our Father’. The Spirit equips the Bride to call on her Husband ‘Come’ (Revelation 22:17). Prayer is an activity of the Church and one that expresses our complete dependence on, and devotion to, the Lord. Our intimacy with God could not be more evident than when the Father sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts “who calls out ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6). All kinds of prayers should therefore be made in our services – prayers of praise (Revelation 5:9-14), of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20), of confession (Nehemiah 9) and of supplication (1 Timothy 2:1ff).
Right worship is possible only on the basis of our intimate union with Christ, under-written by His blood and sealed by His Spirit. Intimacy should not be held out as the goal of Christian worship but the ground. Our experience of intimacy with the Triune God comes as we appreciate that which is already ours in Christ.
Grace, therefore, is the very atmosphere of Christian worship since Christ, our great High Priest, has already performed the perfect service to God. Even worship is a gift that comes from on high – not a work to be generated by us. We receive the benefits of His priestly worship through faith-union with Him, and we experience, understand and deepen that union especially in corporate worship.
The Communion of Father, Son and Spirit is known most fully in the communion of His people. This happens as the Spirit works through word and sacrament, through a communal lifting of our hearts in prayer and through mutual encouragement, to awaken us to Christ’s presence in and with us. As we grasp and appreciate Him we know our exalted position, caught up in the intimate life of God Himself.