Monday, July 16, 2007

The Trinity in Worship & Life

Over at the Ref21 blog Carl Trueman asks a few interesting questions:
Given the fact that the Trinitarian identity of the Christian God is the identity of the Christian God, how do the other bloggers on Ref21 (who are all ministers) ensure that the action of worship in their churches on a Sunday is truly Trinitarian? For theologians such as Gregory Nazianzus, John Calvin and John Owen, Christianity in all its aspects, theoretical and practical, was Trinitarian; yet the oft repeated comment of theologians such as Colin Gunton, to the effect that Western theology is modalist and functionally unitarian, seems well-made; and this surely renders worship more narrowly and the Christian life more broadly as both unChristian and vulnerable to syncretistic forces from Islam.

Or, from another angle, is the practical ignorance among church leaders of the first five centuries of Christian thinking having a damaging effect not simply on the catholicity of contemporary Protestant theology, but also upon its understanding of who God is and how we relate to him, both in the worship service and in the worship of everyday life?

Any thoughts?
It just so happens that I have a thought or two about these issues.

Covenant and sacrifice are ultimately grounded in God’s eternal tri-Personal communal life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The eternal personal relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are covenantal. The mutual love, obedience, and self-sacrificial giving and receiving that characterizes the relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in eternity is the origin and ground of God’s covenant with us and our covenantal relations with one another. In other words, the bond of love between the three Persons of the Trinity has been graciously extended to embrace human creatures.

Reformed theology and worship has not always given careful attention to the fundamentally Trinitarian character of genuine Christian worship. This is made explicit in Ephesians 2:18, “Through Christ we . . . have access in one Spirit to the Father,” but it is embedded in the entire record of Scripture. I believe that it is precisely this trinitarian dynamic that is jeopardized in so much of what passes for Christian worship in modern churches.

Our liturgy must exhibit an explicitly trinitarian content and shape if it is be genuinely and recognizably Christian worship. I will take two chapters to unpack this. First, I will make a case for a deep, inexorable connection between the form of worship and our doctrinal confession. Next, in the following chapter I will unpack the significance of this nexus for the order and substance of our worship.

If worship is reduced to evangelism, education, experience, or even praise, the Persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit need not play a vital role except possibly as objects of worship. In contrast, Christian liturgical worship has the Father effectually calling his people into his presence by the Spirit and then renewing his church in Jesus Christ his Son.

The gathered church, as it receives this service from the triune God, then responds by the enabling power of the Spirit with thanksgiving and praise in Christ directed to their heavenly Father. The Spirit has been sent by the Father to bring us to the Son, and with the Son, to the Father. A liturgy that embodies this reality will be ineradicably trinitarian in “both directions”—as God serves us and as we serve God. And as always, what is done in the assembly on the Lord's Day will affect the Christians way of living in the world.

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