Worshipful Preaching

That the sermon, if it is to be a Christian sermon at all, must be an honest attempt to expound a passage of Scripture should go without saying. To by-pass Scripture at this point is like trying to celebrate the Holy Supper without bread or wine; it is to show that one is ignorant of the commandments and promises which determine Christian worship.

But it is not enough just to take a text. To take a text and then proceed to use it as a peg on which to hang one’s own thoughts is as bad as having no text at all: it is to handle the Word of God deceitfully and to insult the Lord who wills to speak to his people through the words of Scripture. But to say that preaching must be expository is not to say that it must not be topical in the sense of having direct relevance to contemporary events. On the contrary, the scriptural passage has not been properly heard and understood, until it relevance to the actual concrete situation of the congregation has been recognized; and the more patiently and honestly expository preaching is, the more relevant and contemporary does it become. Of course it is true that there is a sort of exposition that leaves everything in the air, but that is no proper exposition. A scriptural passage is not properly expounded until its relevance to the hearers becomes plain.

—C. E. B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958):393

God’s Initiative

Throughout the Bible it is assumed that the initiative in true worship is God’s.

Christian worship is also human action. The human action is altogether secondary, being made possible by, and responding to, the action of God.

—C. E. B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,”  Interpretation, vol. xii number 4 (October, 1958)

The Sermon as Worship

The sermon, if it really is a sermon, is most certainly worship. For the faithful exposition of the Word of God is itself at the same time both Word of God (the divine action of worship) and also hearing of the Word of God (the primary human action of worship), the preacher leading the congregation in its work of hearing.

—C. E. B. Cranfield “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,” Interpretation xii number 4 (October 1958)

Jesus My Worship

Who can do it?
Who can love God with all his heart, mind, and soul?
Who can achieve perfect union with God?
Who can worship God with a pure and unstained heart?
Not me!
Not you. Not Billy Graham. Not Bill Hybels. Not Matt Redman.
Not anybody I know or you know.
Only Jesus can. And He does for me and for you what neither of us can do for ourselves.

This is the message that is missing in the literature of contemporary worship [AND traditional worship!]. It is too much about what I ought to do and too little about what God has done for me. God has done for me what I cannot do for myself. He did it in Jesus Christ. Therefore my worship is offered in a broken vessel that is in the process of being healed, but is not yet capable of fullness of joy, endless intense passion, absolute exaltation, and celebration. But Jesus, who shares in my humanity yet without sin, is not only my Savior—He is also my complete and eternal worship, doing for me, in my place, what I cannot do. . . .

Thanks for Jesus Christ, who is my worship. We are free! And in gratitude, we offer our stumbling worship in the name of Jesus with thanksgiving.

—Robert E. Webber, “Contemporary Music-Driven Worship: A Blended Worship Response,” Exploring the Worship Spectrum, 130

Grace before Law

In the Bible, the form of covenant (in both the Old and New Testaments) is such that the indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of law and human obligation. “I have loved you, I have redeemed you . . . therefore, keep My commandments. . . .” But Judaism turned it the other way round. “If you keep the law, God will love you. If you keep the sabbath, the Kingdom of God will come”, etc. That is, the imperatives are made prior to the indicatives. The covenant has been turned into a contract, and God’s grace made conditional on man’s obedience. It is precisely against this inversion of the order of grace that Paul protests in Galatians 3:17-22. God made a covenant with Abraham, and although the law came four hundred and thirty years later (to spell out the obligations of grace) it did not suddenly introduce conditions of grace. It did not turn the covenant into a contract. To introduce conditions would be to break a promise.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):56

God as Subject

All priestly action within the place of meeting was by way of acknowledgment and witness to God’s testimony of Himself in the Covenant. God is not acted upon by means of priestly sacrifice. Priestly action rests upon God’s Self-revelation in His Word and answers as cultic sign and action to the thing signified. That is particularly clear in regard to the teaching of the OT about atonement, for the various words used to express expiation or reconciliation are used with God as Subject always, never with God as object (except in describing heathen sacrifice), and are only used with man as subject in the secondary sense of liturgical obedience to God’s appointment. It is actually God Himself who performs the act of forgiveness and atonement, but the priestly cultus is designed to answer to His act and bear witness to His cleansing of the sinner.

—T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood, 3

Christ Our Priest

The doctrine of the continuing Priesthood of Christ [is one] without which it seems to me one cannot have an adequate theology of worship. Whatever else our worship is, it is our participation through the Spirit in the self-offering of Christ and the intercession of Christ. If there is one doctrine which more than any other characterised the theology of both Calvin and Knox, it was the doctrine of the sole Priesthood of Christ within His Church. It was in terms of this that they attacked the medieval concept of the priesthood, and interpreted prayer, communion, forgiveness, union with Christ and the Church as the Body of Christ.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):73

Christ for Us

After His ascension He ever lives before the face of the Father as our Leitourgos  [Hebrews 8:2] and Intercessor, for there He confesses us before the face of God as those for whom He died, as those whose names He has entered as members of His Body.

Because that is Christ’s confession, it is also our confession. We may now take His confession as our own, His answer of prayer on our lips, and in His Name go boldly before the throne of grace. That confession is the one thing we hold on to. It is the confession of our hope, for all our hope rests on the obedience of Christ on the Cross and His confession before the Father. The confession of the Church which answers to the confession of the High Priest is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God continually.

—T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood, 13

Christ in Our Place

In Jesus Christ we are given more than the creative mould for our human responses, we are provided with the very essence and core of man’s worship of God. In His life, death, resurrection and ascension He offered Himself through the eternal Spirit in our name and on our behalf, presenting us in Himself to the Father, once and for all, so that He remains forever our sole offering in deed and word with which we appear before God.  We do not draw near to God in worship either with our own self-expression or empty handed, but with hands of faith filled with the self-oblation of Christ, for He constitutes in His vicarious humanity the eloquent reality of our worship.

—Thomas F. Torrance, “The Word of God and the Response of Man” in God and Rationality, 157-158

Thy Will Be Done

From the side of God [Christ] acts in the steadfastness of divine truth and love in judgment, from the side of man He acts in unswerving obedience to the Father. In that unity of the divine-human steadfastness the Word of God is spoken, the Word of Truth and Grace is enacted in our existence of flesh and blood, and the answer of man is given in the obedience of a perfect life, in the prayer which is the whole assent of Jesus to the will of God as it confronts the will of man: ‘Not my will but Thine be done.’ That is the prayer which He teaches His people and puts on their lips: ‘Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

—T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood, 12-13

What Christ Is Doing

Worship is not so much something that WE do, but what CHRIST IS DOING and in which we are given to participate through the Spirit. He is the One mediator of all communion between God and man, who unites us with Himself in His communion with the Father as we sing our psalms and offer our prayer and praise and meet at the Table “in the name of Christ.” The great strength of the Church of Rome…is that she preserves the sense of mystery and objectivity in worship by the profound belief that Christ is exercising His Priestly ministry in the Mass. [Protestant] worship today is often far more Pelagian than anything in Rome, by its all too exclusive emphases on what WE DO.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):75-76

God’s Grace for Our Worship

The first view—probably the commonest and most widespread—is that worship is something which we do—mainly in church on Sunday. . . .

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-centred, with 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! . . .

The second view of worship is that worship is rather the gift of participating through the Spirit in the (incarnate) Son’s communion with the Father —of 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, and 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. . . .

The Gospel of grace, that our Father in the gift of His Son and the gift of the Spirit, gives us what He demands—the worship of our hearts and minds—lifting us up out of ourselves to participate in the very life of the Godhead. . . .

Whereas the first view can be divisive, in that every church and denomination “does its own thing” and worships God in its own way, the second is unifying, in that it recognises that there is only one way to come to the Father, namely through Christ in the communion of saints, whatever outward form our worship may take.

—James F. Torrance, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in Our Contemporary Situation,” in The Forgotten Trinity, 5-6

Da quod iubes, et iube quod vis. (“Give what You command, and command what You will.)

—Augustine, Confessions X.9

 

Provided for Us

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, and our worship is our joyful Amen to that Worship. This is the heart of all true Christian worship. It is our response of faith to God’s grace. So we worship God “through Jesus Christ our Lord”, and pray “in the name of Jesus Christ.”

—James B. Torrance, “The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship”, in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 352

The Unique Center

I have long thought and taught that the right road into Christian theology is taken by reflecting on Christian worship in the light of the Bible. The Bible is supremely a manual of worship, but too often it has been treated, particularly in Protestantism, as a manual of ethics, of moral values, of religious ideas, or even of sound doctrine. When we see that the worship and mission of the church are the gift of participating through the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and the Son’s mission from the Father to the world, that the unique center of the Bible is Jesus Christ, “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Heb. 3:1), the doctrines all unfold from that center.

—James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 9

Shared Communion

At the centre of the New Testament stands, not our religious experience, but a unique relationship between Jesus and the Father. No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him (Matt. 11.27; John 1.18, 17.25-26). This unique relationship is vividly described as one of mutual love, mutual self-giving, mutual testifying, mutual glorifying. Indeed, there is a oneness of mind between the Father and the Son, revealed supremely in the Cross, ‘to bring many sons to glory’ (Heb. 2.10), ‘that we might receive the adoption of sons’ (Gal. 4.5ff)—that we might be drawn by the Spirit into that unique life of shared communion.

—James F. Torrance, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in Our Contemporary Situation,” in The Forgotten Trinity, 10-11

Christ in Our Place

In all our worship and prayer, private and public, informal or formal, we come before God in such a way as to let Jesus Christ take our place, replacing our offering with His own self-offering, for He IS the vicarious worship and prayer with which we respond to the love of the Father.

—Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 98

The Place of Worship

The true temple of God is the Body of Christ, the physical body of Jesus, His flesh, that which the apostles saw and touched with their hands. It is on this basic truth, as on a cornerstone, that the whole teaching of Peter and Paul about the Church as the Body of Christ and the Temple of God rests. The place of worship, therefore, is essentially the place where Christ is found. Now Christ is found where two or three are gathered in His name (Matt. 18:20). Hence the place of Christian worship is the assembled Church. It is not primarily a building but an assembly, and if, as we shall see, buildings made with human hands (cf. Mark 14:58; Acts 7:48; 17:24; Heb. 9:11; 24) can become places of worship, it is simply because they are intended to house the assembled liturgical people.  But it is the people who are the temple.

—Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship Its Theology and Practice, 241-242

Worship at the Center

The cult [worship gathering] is in some sense the criterion of parochial [congregational] life: whatever is entitled to its place in worship, whatever stands the test of being orientated by worship, whatever provides conditions for the ready fruition of worship, is healthy; whatever does not stand up to these tests in unhealthy. A catechesis which had not the intention of supporting “worshippers whom the Father seeks” (John 4:23) would be faulty. A parochial organization which was indifferent to rooting itself first of all in the cult would be parasitic. A diaconate which did not clearly emerge as an answer to the Church’s intercession would be profane. When we see the agitation which overtakes some parishes and which causes them to confuse insomnia with vigilance, we sometimes feel that we would like to impose on them a sabbatical year during which they would abstain from all activity except that of the Church’s worship, in order that they should learn once again to measure by that standard what they must do and what they can leave aside. And probably they could leave undone many more things than they in their feverish activity imagine.

—Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 55