The Divine Initiative

Worship depends upon revelation, and Christian worship depends upon the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Worship, that is to say, begins not from our end but from God’s; it springs from the divine initiative in redemption. We come to God because God, in Jesus Christ, has come to us: we love Him because He first loved us: we ascribe to Him supreme worth because He has showed Himself to be worthy of our complete homage, gratitude and trust. Worship is essentially a response, man’s response to God’s Word of grace, to what He has done for us and for our salvation.

—Raymond Abba, Principles of Christian Worship, 5

The Bottom Line

The Christian church is deeply divided into communities that rehearse different histories and embody divergent aesthetic preferences. Any lasting cease-fire in these worship wars is not likely to emerge from a resolution of the so-called culture wars which feed them, or from large-scale conversions of taste, or from carefully buttressed historical arguments about ancient liturgical precedents. Finally, such a cease-fire can only issue from the depth and mystery of the gospel which Christians proclaim. Christian worship is strongest when it is integrally and self-consciously related to the person and work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. The study of Christian worship is most helpful to Christian communities when it demonstrates how this has happened in the past and how it might happen in the future in more profound ways.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Trinitarian DNA of Christian Worship: Perennial Themes in Recent Theological Literature,” 18

Come, Holy Spirit (5)

The Spirit makes known the personal presence in and with the Christian and the church of the risen, reigning Saviour, the Jesus of history, who is the Christ of faith. Scripture shows . . . that since the Pentecost of Acts 2 this, essentially, is what the Spirit is doing all the time as He empowers, enables, purges, and leads generation after generation of sinners to face the reality of God. And He does it in order that Christ may be known, loved, trusted, honored and praised, which is the Spirit’s aim and purpose throughout as it is the aim and purpose of God the Father, too. This is what, in the last analysis, the Spirit’s new covenant ministry is all about. . . . The distinctive, constant, basic ministry of the Holy Spirit under the new covenant is so to mediate Christ’s presence to believers—that is, to give them the knowledge of His presence with them as their Saviour, Lord, and God—that three things keep happening:

First, personal fellowship with Jesus . . . becomes a reality of experience, even though Jesus is now not here on earth in bodily form, but is enthroned in heaven’s glory.

Second, personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness starts to take place as, looking to Jesus, their model, for strength, believers worship and adore Him and learn to lay out and, indeed, lay down their lives for Him and for others.

Third, the Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed, and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family, so as to be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), makes gratitude, delight, hope, and confidence—in a word, assurance-blossom in believers’ hearts.

By these phenomena of experience, Spirit-given knowledge of Christ’s presence . . . shows itself.

J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 47,49

Ascended (6)

I think that one practical implication of the ascension for our corporate worship is that the general tone of the Lord’s Supper should be joyful and celebratory. When we receive the Lord’s Supper, we are not re-creating the Last Supper on the night before Jesus died. Rather, we meet in real time in the present with the risen, ascended, and glorified Christ! When we focus on the cross in our communion songs or meditations or prayers, it ought to be a joyful proclamation of the victory that he won in his death. On this side of the resurrection and ascension, we can now see the cross as the place where Jesus reigned, where he destroyed the old creation order and in doing so, released the world from its bondage to Sin, Death, and the Devil. And of course our communion songs and prayers and meditations should not only be about the cross but also about the resurrection, ascension, and the future fullness of the kingdom yet to come. And that means it is an occasion of supreme joy at the victory of God, of supreme hope in the coming consummation of the kingdom, and of supreme love for the presence of the ascended Christ.

—Michael Farley, Worship Reformation Network post

Ascended (5)

The dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on high.

—Rev Prof John Duncan (1796-1870) (a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, a missionary to the Jews in Hungary, and Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at New College, Edinburgh; he was affectionately called Rabbi Duncan because of his knowledge of Hebrew and his heart for the Jewish people)

Ascended (4)

The Ascension doctrine helps us to keep a balance between seeing God in Christ as “one of us” and Christ as “from the heart of God.” Too great an emphasis on the Incarnation can distort this balance, so that worship is centered exclusively on the human aspects of worship—our concerns, our needs, our agenda, and our material world. Worship, unless corrected by the dimension of heaven, can become earthbound. The Ascension doctrine reminds us that there is another dimension to worship. We join Christ—rather than Christ coming down to join us – in the eternal nature of heaven, and there our worship is caught up with that of the angels and archangels and the apostles of every generation.

—Peter Atkins, Ascension Now: Implications of Christ’s Ascension for Today’s Church, 83-4