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Posts Tagged ‘worship’

unitarian worshipContinued 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.

The Gathering

Acts 2:42 gives four characteristic marks of the post-Pentecost church: the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship (koinonia), the breaking of bread and prayer.

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).

Conclusion

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.

 

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Dali CrossContinued from here.

Christ’s Work

“But now in Christ, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

As we speak about intimacy with God we must never forget the way into divine fellowship. Ever since humanity rejected the LORD Christ and trusted Satan instead, the way back to fellowship has been blocked by fiery judgement (Genesis 3:24).  This fallen flesh and blood cannot participate in the life of God (1 Cor 15:50).  Only ‘the Man out of the Heavens’ could ever belong in the inner circle of God’s life (1 Cor 15:15:47-49).

Yet, with infinite grace and condescension, this Man came out of the heavens.  He took the very flesh and blood of our humanity and He redeemed it.  Where we had failed, He succeeded, where we had sinned, He obeyed, where we had fled, He stood tall, where we had hated, He loved, where we had erred, He taught, where we were enslaved, He set free, where we were ashamed, He gave dignity, where we grasped at glory, He gave freely, where we clung to life, He poured it out.

On the cross, God’s Man took on Himself all the sin, guilt and shame of this fallen humanity.  He endured the divine fury at sin, passing through that fiery judgement which bars the way into God.  And now, in His glorious resurrection body, Christ, the True Man, sits at the Father’s right hand.  He is beyond death and judgement.  Our Brother is now in the inner circle of the life of God.  We, in ourselves, would be swept away by God’s righteous anger at sin.  Yet Christ is the Way to the Father and in Him, Who “quenched the wrath of hostile heaven”, we have obtained access.

Why do I recount these gospel truths? A) Because they are glorious!  B) Because sometimes people (and I’m sure I’m guilty of this too), manage to speak of  “union with Christ”  as a warm ‘n’ fuzzy truth. Often the Fatherhood of God, adoption into His family, one-ness with Jesus can be articulated without the blood and fire of the Bible’s presentation.  But we desperately need the grit and grime – the sweat and tears – of Christ’s atonement if we’re going to experience true intimacy with God.  A toothless, bloodless message about a heavenly Father-figure doesn’t connect with people who live in the midst of suffering and sin.  It can’t connect, because the only real point of connection is a Bleeding Sacrifice choking to death on a cross.  But He’s who we really need if we want intimacy with God.  Because He actually meets us in the godforsakeness of life as we know it.

If all our talk of intimacy with God is not dripping in the blood of Christ we’re just holding out “a nice idea” to people who are burdened by shame and guilt and who will never connect with our words of “divine participation” – no matter how warm or inviting we sound.  More than this, if our talk of divine intimacy is not utterly cross-shaped then people will play off “taking up our cross” against enjoying life in God. Which would be absurd – yet it happens all the time!  But no, triune glory is cruciform glory. Therefore participating in God means participating in the cross. The way to God is through Christ and Him crucified.

Christ’s Priesthood

Our Great High Priest, Jesus, does not simply bring God’s life down to us. He also offers our life up to God. He is not just God-for-us, He is also Man-for-God.  Thus, from Christ’s representative humanity (for us) there is a presentation to the Father.  This is Christ’s Priestly work – again a work done for us.

By the Spirit, Christ has made the perfect offering to the Father:

‘Christ, through the eternal Spirit… offered Himself unblemished to God.’ (Hebrews 9:14)

Christ’s worship constitutes the fullness of all acceptable worship to God.  Without participation in His perfect obedience, His perfect sacrifice and His perfect Priesthood, there is no worship worthy of the name.  To offer true sacrifice to the Father we must be in Christ.  Only then do we have a share in acceptable worship.  Yet, in Him, we are pure, spotless and holy – as acceptable as Christ Himself (Colossians 1:22).

What place does our worship have?

If Christ is our Great High Priest, where does my worship fit in?

Worship is the gracious invitation which the LORD makes to us to share in His own worshipping life.  Just as Christ is the Righteous One (for us) and yet invites us to share in His holy life, just as Christ is the Great Sufferer (for us) and yet allows us to share in His sufferings, so we, His people are to share in His worship.

Hebrews 8:2 calls Christ our Leitourgos – ‘the leader of our worship’. Calvin, following Psalm 22:22, called Christ ‘the great choirmaster’, tuning our hearts to sing the Father’s praises.  Worship is the participation in Christ’s perfect worship.  As James Torrance says,

“Whatever else our worship is, it is our liturgical amen to the worship of Christ.” 

Every act of worship or devotion that we perform is grounded in and surrounded by Christ’s prior and perfect offering.  Thus we do not worship as those attempting to gain intimacy with God, but as those who have been gifted it. And the ‘direction’ of the activity is the gracious movement of God coming to us in Christ.  Any ‘upward’ movement is that done by Christ and we participate by faith.  Thus, the focus of all worship must be on the LORD Jesus.  In other words:

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except by me. (John 14:6)

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union-with-christContinued from here.

Participating in the Divine Nature

The God who is an eternal communion is a God who wills to share.  He does this through creation and maintains His offer in redemption.

The Father, by the Spirit, has created a love-gift through and for the Son – the creation (Col 1:16).  His desire is that the Son be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29).  The Father wants many brought into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit (Gal 4:4-7).  This is the goal of all His creating and redeeming purposes.

As Christ says Himself:

 ‘Father, I want those You have given me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world… I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me will be in them, and that I myself may be in them.’  (John 17:24-26)

The glory of our Triune God expresses itself in His will to share His divine life with us.  The love of the Father for the Son – that which defines both God and the creation – cascades over to His people when they are united, by His Spirit, to the Son.

By our union with Christ (discussed below), we are thus adopted as sons and daughters in the same Family.  In this way, we do not simply share in a favoured status external to the LORD, we share in the Father-Son relationship which is constitutive of the divine life itself.  To know and appropriate the love of God is to participate in that which forms the very being of God.

2 Corinthians 1 tells us that God bellows an exultant YES towards His Son (v19).  The incarnate Son answers with a mighty AMEN on our behalf (v20). By the Spirit we are sealed into Jesus and find ourselves responding to God with Christ’s own AMEN (v21-22).  In the Bible, we do not simply admire the LORD from afar, we participate in His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Union with Christ

The way in to this divine participation is the Son.  As John Owen says in his classic book “Communion with God”:

‘Scripture shows us that we hold communion with the Lord Jesus in grace by a marriage relationship…  This spiritual relationship is accompanied with mutual love, and so in this fellowship with Christ we experience and enjoy all the excellent things which are in Him.’

Christ is the Bridegroom, we (the Church) are His Bride.  In this union we enjoy all His benefits as though they were ours by right.  Not least of these is His status as the Father’s beloved Son.  Therefore Christ can say to His Father, ‘the love You have for Me will be in them.’  In this way we are caught up into God.

The bible speaks of our union with Christ at different levels.  In one sense, we share in Jesus’ benefits as co-beneficiaries:

As Christ is the Son, we can be called sons (Galatians 4:4-7)

While Christ is Heir, we are co-heirs (Romans 8:17)

While Christ is the Living Stone, we are living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5)

In this way we are graciously allowed to come alongside Jesus, to be treated to His blessings on the same level.

Yet, at times, Scripture tells of a higher level of identification.  Often we are said (in the plural) to be exactly what Jesus is in the singular:

While Christ is the Seed, we are the seed (Galatians 3:16 <=>3:29)

While Christ is the Light of the world, we are the light of the world (John 8:12 <=> Matthew 5:14)

While He is the Vine, we are the branches (John 15:5)

Note that, with this last example, it is not that Christ is the root structure and we are the branches.  Rather we form part of the Vine Himself!  The Vine is One, we are others, but in this organic relationship that He creates and sustains, we become part of Him.

This leads naturally to a third category by which the bible speaks of our union.  That is, in the sense of a symbiotic relationship.

Thus, Christ is the Head, we are the Body (Colossians 1:18)

Christ is the Groom, we are the Bride (Isaiah 54:5; Ezekiel 16; Ephesians 5:21-33; Revelation 19:6-9)

When the bible speaks in these kinds of terms, we are on hallowed ground indeed.  Christ unites His Church to Himself that our union might redound to His greater glory.  As He says in John 17:10, He is glorified in us.

This is not to say that we sinners complete Christ in the sense of contributing our worth to the equation.  In ourselves we could only bring shame to Jesus.  Yet Christ redeems and cleanses a Bride and then (Eph 5:26) presents her to Himself.  In this way Christ becomes more truly who He is because of His union with us.  After all, must not the Head have a Body?  Should not the Vine have branches?  Ought not the Bridegroom to have a Bride? If He did not have a Bride, would He not have to give up the glory of being Bridegroom?  Therefore Christ is very committed to His covenant partner – His own Person and glory is bound up in the fate of His Church.

Christ takes His own marriage advice and loves Himself by loving His Bride (Eph 5:28).  Thus when the infinite powers of the Father have been committed to the Son, He employs them solely ‘for the church’. (Eph 1:22).  All divine power in heaven and earth is employed for the good of Christ’s Bride. Thus the Church has its immeasurable status both conferred by divine right but also under-girded by divine commitment even to death.  No wonder Paul can ask ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ?’  This is more than impossible.

Our union with Christ could not be closer.  The Apostle Paul can speak of our history and identity as entirely bound up in Jesus: ‘When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.’ (Col 3:1-4) The believer is in fact seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and has not actually appeared yet.  We are hidden with Christ in God.

In this way, we are more united to Christ than we are to ourselves.  Certainly His identity and not our own determines our standing in God’s eyes both now and in eternity.

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Last Supper # 2“Those who receive and bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son.  But the Son takes them up and presents them to the Father, and the Father bestows incorruptibility.  Therefore one cannot see the Word of God without the Spirit, nor can anyone approach the Father without the Son.  For the Son is the knowledge of the Father, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.  But the Son, in accord with the Father’s good pleasure, graciously dispenses the Spirit to those to whom the Father wills it, and as the Father wills it.” (Irenaeus of Lyon)

“Christian worship is therefore our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father.” (James Torrance)

Introduction

Participation in the life of God is cherished by some as the very goal of God’s Gospel and it’s mistrusted by others as a spurious Hellenization of the truth.  In the next few posts I will outline a biblical case for divine participation. I’ll examine the precious doctrine of union with Christ that brings us such participation, and I’ll highlight the work of Christ as Mediator, guaranteeing and grounding the free offer of this relationship.

I want to show that intimacy with God is not an optional extra for the more ‘emotional’ among us.  To ‘know’ the Father and the Son is eternal life (John 17:3).  When we understand “knowing” in the biblical sense we cannot deny that profound intimacy with God is the essence of our Christian lives. It is not a carrot to be held out for the pious, nor a bonus given in response to particularly ‘successful’ worship. Intimacy is guaranteed to the Christian in Christ.  It is therefore the indispensable starting point of the Christian life – not an optimistic goal.

The intimacy of God

Any talk of intimacy with God must begin with the intimacy that is within God.  As a community of Persons united in self-giving love, the Triune God knows worship and intimacy within Himself.  The creation does not give rise to relationship, rather relationship gives rise to the creation. In other words, the Father creates for the Son (Colossians 1:16).  Thus, worship is not the self-willed response of creature to Creator but rather an eternal dynamic within the being of God.

Before the foundation of the world the Father delighted in the Son in the bond of the Spirit. Virtually every verse regarding the pre-creation life of God describes the Father focussing His affections and purposes on the Son: (Prov 8:22-30; John 3:35; 5:20; 17:5, 24; 1 Pet 1:20; Eph 1:4-6; Col 1:15-17; Romans 8:29.)

Likewise the Son, in the power of the Spirit, commits Himself to the service of the Father: John 17:4-5; 5:17; 12:27f; 14:31; 17:24; Hebrews 10:5-7; Revelation 13:8.

The Persons of God commit to one another in a common love and purpose.  To use the technical terminology of Trinitarian theology, these inter-relations are referred to as the perichoresis of the Persons. To get a sense of the meaning of this Greek word, think of a choreographed dance around a perimeter. The Trinity is described as performing a round dance, each of the Members committing to the Others in love, service and empowerment.  The divine life is a dance of giving and receiving in joyful communion.

Now this dance is not simply something the Persons do.  It is not a part-time hobby of the Persons.  We must not think of the Persons in isolation, deciding to come together.  If we could ever conceive of a time when the Father was not committed to the Son or when the Son was not obedient to the Father we have imagined the Father not being the Father and the Son not being the Son.  We have imagined false gods.  The Persons are who they are IN the relationships that they share with one another in this dance of love.

To “see” this dance is to witness the divine being.  As Colin Gunton says, ‘the ousia – general being – of God is constituted without remainder by what the persons are to and from each other in eternal perichoresis.’

Without Trinity there is no intimacy with God. Without this give-and-take to God’s being there would be no room for us to participate. We must say this.  But we must say more than this.

Intimacy Earthed

It is not enough to say that “God is a dance” and then expect the worshipper to “link arms and join in.”  It’s not enough to say “God is an intimate community – we should follow suit.”  We can’t just say “There’s room to God, come on in.”  If we did then intimacy with God would be our doing.  And it could only ever be as solid as our own feeble hearts.

No, there’s better news than that.  God does not leave us to make our own way to the party. If He did, then our intimacy would depend on us. It would be about our ability to spiritualize our humanity up to God.  But God in Christ does something much more profound.  He incarnates His divinity into our humanity.  He earths His own intimacy into our very being and raises it back up to the highest heaven.

At Christmas, He moves down into our life. At the ascension, He sweeps us up into His life: really, substantially, eternally, irrevocably. As we’ll see in the next post – the triune God does not make participation something that’s up to us.  The triune God takes the whole intimacy thing into His own hands.  And that’s the only safe place for it to be.

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Isaiah warned us and Jesus repeated it – it’s hypocritical to honour the Lord with your lips while your heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 15:8).  It’s something I pray about every Sunday, “As I preach or pray or sing, may my lips and my heart be set on the Lord Jesus.”

But there’s another danger.  We can react the other way and disdain anything ‘external’.  We say to the world: “I reject ‘works’, I’m all about the inward life.”  And so we’re constantly taking our spiritual temperatures.  We neglect ritual (as though it always leads to ritualism).  And we start to think of faith as a thing – the one really meritorious work!

The faith-works polarity becomes, in our thinking, an internal-external polarity.  Internal – good.  External – bad.  We start to imagine that mental acts are good old grace while physical acts are nasty old law.

But that’s not how it is.  There can be a crippling legalism of the heart (ever felt it?) and there can be a wonderful liberation in gospel rituals (ever experienced that?).

Take communion.

Please.

No but seriously, take it.   Because here is a gospel ritual which, because it is external, brings home the grace of Jesus all the stronger.

We are not (or at least we should not be!) memorialists. Jesus has not left us a mental duty with the bread and wine as mere thought prompters.  We have been left a meal.  To chew.  And to gulp down.  There are motions to go through.  And they are the same motions we performed last week.  And the week before that.

But here’s the thing – these motions are means of God’s grace and not in spite of their externalism but because they are external.  Here is a gift that comes to you from outside yourself.  And it comes apart from your internal state.  But nonetheless it is for you – sinner that you are.

So take it regardless of whether your heart is white-hot with religious zeal.  Take it regardless of whether you are really, really mindful of the gravity of it all.  And as the minister prays the prayer of consecration and your mind wanders… oh well.  Don’t ask him to start again.  Go through the motions I say.  Your heart is meant to catch up with the motions.  That’s why the motions were given.  Because our hearts are weak and not to be trusted.

So allow the Word to come to you from beyond.  Allow Him to love you first. Don’t disdain ‘going through the motions.’  For many on a Sunday –  those grieving or sick or gripped by depression – they need to be carried along by these motions.  And for all of us – if we’re going to be people of grace, we need these externals.

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…continued from here

Implications

We’ve been following the thought of Irenaeus and Athanasius and have seen creation and salvation united as the one divine work of the one divine Word.  Creation is a gospel project for the Gospel God.

Let’s sketch out some implications.

Perhaps the first application of these truths should be in the realm of evangelism.  Such a theology of creation and redemption means that the call to “trust Jesus” is not just for Christians.  It is the calling of every creature.  All are to find their peace, their life, their goal in Him.  If, as the Apostle Paul says, “All things are made by [Christ] and for [Christ]” then the question for every creature is, “Am I for Him?”  Christians must have no embarrassment about the greatness of the commission laid upon them for the One they herald is not simply a spiritual Teacher for spiritual people.  He is the Maker and Heir of each one of us.  Pointing to Jesus is not simply a special calling for sprecial Christians but our vocation as human beings.

Secondly, the ‘cultural mandate’ as it’s often called (‘fill the earth and subdue it’, Gen 1:28) is recapitulated in the great commission.  If Irenaeus is right that Adam’s is a ‘sketched out’ ensouled humanity to be filled out by Christ’s spiritual humanity then it is right to see Adam’s commission as similarly recapitulated.  In Matthew 28 Christ, as the Second Adam, tells His people to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with the gospel.  “Making disciples” is not a second task alongside a quite separate ‘cultural mandate’.  That would be to assume that God has two works, creation and redemption rather than one work of creation-redemption.  Therefore, making disciples is the renewed and elevated mandate given to new creation people.  This means that care for the environment and socio-political involvement must be strictly co-ordinated under the over-arching requirement of gospel proclamation.  We are to care for this old creation, but we are to do so by pointing to its one hope, Jesus.

Thirdly, the gospel we proclaim needs to be much more comprehensive than the communication of certain moral or spiritual truths.  The gospel is about everything.  In fact, it is the reason foreverything.  In ‘pointing to Jesus’ we are not narrowing things down to a small range of religious truths.  Rather we must see how all of history, philosophy, science and the arts, all of created life, is a gospel reality.

Fourthly, we should beware of escapist eschatologies that despise the body and our earthly future.  Our great hope is not some aphysical, anaemic vision of heaven, but of a renewed creation summed up under Christ.  Yet this rightly orients our concern for the environment.  It is not environmentalism that will save the world but Christ Himself.  Our love for the world must take its shape from God’s gospel love for the world.  This will entail a passion for His gospel mission.

Fifthly, we must take seriously our embodied physicality in life.  Our bodies are neither to be despised as unspiritual nor merely indulged or worshipped but they are “instruments for righteousness” (Rom 6:13). More specifically, our gendered embodiment, as part of God’s good creation, is internal to our identity and not something incidental to our personhood.  It is a neo-Gnostic spirituality that would tell us that we are ‘trapped’ in the body of the opposite sex or that a union of bodies is not really a union of persons or that gender is immaterial to such unions.  In modern debates about gender or sexuality, the liberal arguments may present on the surface as a celebration of bodily life.  Yet this is quickly undermined as soon as it is asserted that “my gender or the gender of my partner is immaterial.  What counts is…”  Such arguments are a rejection of our concrete creatureliness in order to ground our true being elsewhere.  It becomes the very opposite of a celebration of bodily life.  We need to return to the more robust doctrine of creation provided by the bishops (the ancient ones, that is).

Sixthly, we must take seriously our embodied physicality in worship.  The evangelical wing of the church will more usually emphasize worship as an all-of-life sacrificial service (Rom 12:1).  This is a right application of the creation-redemption union.  But the catholic wing of the church points with equal and justified concern to a right reverence for the sacraments.  It is not more spiritual to bypass the creaturely gifts of water, bread and wine.  It is not more spiritual to close our eyes and disregard the bodily.  Our spiritual life takes shape precisely in our creatureliness and will do so eternally.  This is not a fact to be lamented but celebrated.  These two wings of the church can help each other to live out the creation-redemption link in worship.

Conclusion

Wherever salvation is spiritualized, wherever the body is denigrated, wherever gender is trivialized, wherever the future is immaterial, wherever the sacraments are Platonized, wherever worship is merely internalized, we have lost the insights of Irenaeus and Athanasius.

Irenaeus must be heard again as he proclaims the triune Creator’s good purposes for this world.  Man ruling under God was the creation blueprint realized in Christ, the Heavenly Man ruling under God in the redeemed creation.  Christ’s work is the triumphant reversal of Adam.  More than this, it is the kingly accomplishment of God’s eternal plan for the creation.  Christ reigns from the tree.

Athanasius must be heard as he holds out Christ as the divine Agent of creation and redemption.  The incarnate work is nothing less than a re-creation of the de-created cosmos disintegrating under the weight of sin and death.  The Redeemer is therefore no-one less than the Creator taking responsibility for His handiwork and making all things new.

When we fail to hold together creation and redemption, Christ’s work is entirely misunderstood.  It is either considered as a superfluous addendum to the purposeof creation or it achieves a goal subordinate to it, or it begins a work alien to the creative intention or, worst of all, it is won as a salvation from the created order (and perhaps even from the Creator).  Yet none of these say what the Scriptures insist and what Irenaeus and Athanasius knew must be proclaimed.  That is, that redemption is the accomplishment of the one work of God, encompassing both creation and redemption.  Christ’s work is not an awkward adjunct but rather the accomplishment and consummation of His own creative intent.

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For more applications see Dev’s recent post.

Here’s Leon Sim on Irenaeus and the Trinitarian OT – great stuff.

Dan Hames on Irenaeus.

And Mike Reeves’ introductions to Irenaeus and Athanasius
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A sermon on Hebrews 10:19-39.

Audio of 30 minute versionAudio of 15 minute version.

Drawing Near

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God.

Here’s the picture that Hebrews has been building up for us for the last ten chapters.  The Most Holy Place was the dwelling of God Himself.  It was the centre of the OT tabernacle and in it was the ark of the covenant – the LORD’s very throne.

But of course the whole Old Covenant system kept the people away from God’s presence.  One thing in particular – the curtain, mentioned in v20 – it had guardian cherubim embroidered into it to remind people of the guards protecting the way back to Eden.  You are a sinner and God is holy, holy, holy.  There’s no entry through here.  Not unless you’ve got a great sacrifice and a great priest.

Well then v19 speaks into this whole system and says “Come on in!”  It’s extraordinary.  Hebrews says, walk with CONFIDENCE into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord Almighty.  You could imagine the Old Testament priests appalled, running along behind us in their robes saying “You can’t go in there!  Are you even Jewish?”  “Nope” we say.

“And where’s your sacrifice, I don’t see a sacrifice.  And where’s your priest, you need a priest.”  And we say the blood of the LORD Jesus has been shed, is that a good enough sacrifice.  And He is our great High Priest, appearing for us in heaven right now, is that a good enough priest?  Yes it is and so we DRAW NEAR to God.

This command to draw near is repeated seven times in Hebrews.  It’s a major theme.  It says “draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near.”  Christ’s sacrifice is the perfect sacrifice, His priesthood is the perfect priesthood, draw near with confidence.

And you think, well I can’t, can I?  I get tongue tied in the presence of earthly authorities.  I make a fool of myself in the presence of minor celebrities.  I feel small and awkward and ashamed in the presence of human greatness.  Can I really draw near?

Yes, v22 goes on:

draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

There is a FULL assurance that comes from faith.  When we see Jesus, arms open on the cross, we see just how approachable He really is.  He assures we can draw near and we trust Him.  Not only that He sprinkles our hearts with His blood.  The blood of the OT sacrifices were sprinkled on external things to say “This sacrifice has outwardly cleansed these things.”  Christ’s sacrifice goes deep – it cleanses even our wayward and sinful hearts.  No more guilt – it’s all been laid on Jesus:  He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.  The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.  And by His wounds we are healed.  No need for guilt.  Christ has paid for it all, cleansed it all, removed it all.

And our bodies are washed with pure water.  In between the altar and the holy place of the tabernacle there was a massive basin where the priests washed before entering the holy places.  Jesus has taken us through that washing into God’s presence.  And for our part, baptism is the symbol of this deeper washing.  But as we stand before God no need to feel out of place, no need to feel uncertain, no need to feel guilty, no need to feel impure – Christ has cleansed us.  Draw near.

But what does that actually mean?  What does it look like to ‘draw near to God’?

In Hebrews 10 there are three important contexts we need to bear in mind as we draw near:

The holiness of God

The suffering of the Christian life, and

The need for community

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