Thursday, August 9, 2007

Presbyterians & Liturgy - Part VI

Continued from Part V

A few more thoughts on God's service to us

First, remember that the tabernacle, temple, sacrifices, and priesthood of Israel were God’s service to Israel and mankind. God did not need their praise. This liturgical setup was his gracious gift to his people and the world. When the Israelites came to the conclusion that they were doing something for God, giving something to him, they were rebuked by the Lord. Consider Psalm 50:8-15:
I will not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are continually before Me. I will not take a bull from your house, nor goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
According to Psalm 50, the way we glorify God is by calling upon him in the day of trouble and allowing him to deliver us. By depending upon his divine service, we ultimately glorify him. Well, this is what the Sunday morning service is. It is the Lord’s service to us, not first of all our service to him.

Second, if the only purpose of the Lord's Day worship is that individuals are getting together to praise and pray and offer God all kinds of human devotion, then this is dangerously lop-sided. As Calvinists we should be able to see the Pelagian danger lurking in such a one-sided conception. And since Pelagianism goes hand in hand with a Unitarian understanding of God, it is no surprise that worship framed in these terms tends to ignore the Trinity.

In the traditional liturgy the service of God on our behalf has a very definite Trinitarian shape to it. God’s service to us is to graciously draw us into the presence of the Father in Spiritual union with the God-man Jesus Christ. The man Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. He is the priest. He offers himself as man before the Father and he does so as the Representative Man, the High Priest of Redeemed humanity. He assists us in our approach to God. That's what priests do.

John Thompson says it like this: “Jesus Christ is thus the one true worshiper. . . By the Holy Spirit we are drawn into the worship and response Christ offers to the Father. Ours is a response to a response. The Spirit enables this and so gives what he demands, the worship of our hearts and lives.” (Modern Trinitarian Perspectives [New York: Oxford University Press, 1994], p. 100).

Again, what this means is that "worship" is not foundationally what we do. Rather it is what we are graciously given as well as what we are given to do in Christ. Worship is the service of the Triune God to the congregation.

T. F. Torrance is correct, I believe, when he says that there is something grotesquely Unitarian, even Pelagian, about the popular view of worship in evangelicalism. God is at a distance and we come and do all kinds of things before him to please him. Consider this: there is a profound sense in which our worship is not merely coram Deo or Coram Trinitate or even ad Deum or ad Trinitatem, but in Trinitate (that is, “by means of” the Trinity or even in the spatial sense of “in”). A Trinitarian conception of worship recognizes the two movements of God: 1) God to humanity—from the Father, through the Son by the Spirit to redeem man; and 2) Humanity to God—in reverse direction—by the Spirit through the Son to the Father. Just so, our response is included in this since we only respond in union with the priestly response of Jesus Christ. Even our response is a gift.

Only a carefully constructed liturgy will insure that the congregation does not lapse into what amounts to Pelagian and Unitarian "worship." Traditionally, Christian liturgy has sought to embody the service of God for his people as well as the appropriate response of praise from his people. More on that in the next post.


JATB said...

Of course Torrance is correct! :-)

Unknown said...


Any chance that you will capture this series of articles as one big article? I think it would be very helpful to have them in that format.