Simple Questions

The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation for several criteria that can be used to evaluate and prescribe liturgical practices in many contexts. These criteria can be phrased as simple questions: Does liturgy speak of God with reference to particular actions in history recorded in Scripture? Does corporate worship in a particular congregation rehearse the whole of the divine economy? Are its liturgical actions carried out as means for a personal relationship and encounter with God? Do these actions acknowledge the example and mediation of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Does the community itself model the kind of intimate fellowship or koinonia that is central both to divine life and the Christian life?

One strength of these criteria . . . while they are certainly formulated in a very culturally specific way, they are the kind of transcultural criteria that are useful for contextual ministry on any continent.

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

Defining Worship 34

Any definition of Christian worship must be formulated within the framework of the Trinitarian nature of the faith.

Our worship must be God-centered. This should be obvious, but we often lose sight of it and focus our attention on people. If worship loses its God-centeredness, it ceases to be holy convocation and may become something akin to a common assembly, a rally, a theatrical performance, or an awards ceremony. This is not true worship. People should come away from a worship service with a fresh awareness of the majesty of God, with a desire to glorify God, and with renewed commitment to serve God.

Second, worship must be in Christ, the Son of God, who came into the world and brought salvation to us. Because He is the full revelation of the Godhead and the one way of access to the Father, He must be the focal point of worship. If He is not and we try to worship God without reference to the divine Son of God, then we have failed to follow God’s revelation through to its culmination in the plan of redemption. Believers should come away from a worship service with a renewed assurance of the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, of forgiveness through his blood, of acceptance into his eternal kingdom. And with a fresh commitment to give him the preeminence (Col. 1:18).

Third, because the Holy Spirit is the one who enables all spiritual service, all genuine worship must be by the Spirit. Without falling into the error of denying the physical part of worship, we must recognize that worship is to be spiritual—inspired by by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, genuine and life-giving because it flows from the Spirit. And as this happens, the Spirit will not draw attention to Himself but will point to Christ, will not lead into error but into righteousness, and will not produce responses that are foreign or out of harmony with the Word of God but will empower the Word to produce fruit in the lives of the worshippers.  When worshippers come away from a service that is truly spiritual, they will come away with zeal to love and serve the Lord. It will not be contrived or forced, and it will not be momentary enthusiasm; rather, the Spirit will continue to work in them to produce godliness.

—Allen P. Ross, Recalling The Hope Of Glory: Biblical Worship From The Garden To The New Creation, 66-67

Love with Feet

Evangelicals often sing contemporary songs and choruses that celebrate the love of God but without reference to how God has shown this love in time and space. Subjective sentimental lyrics that reflect a generic affection toward a loving divine being are inappropriate for Christian worship. Hymns and songs that are purely subjective reflections of an undefined, disembodied divine affection unattached from the historical reality of the faith should be eliminated or at least minimized and given context in some way. 

—Robbie F. Castleman, Story Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 198.

Duty and Delight

Isaac Watts:

Praise ye the Lord! ‘Tis good to raise
Your hearts and voices in His praise:
His nature and His works invite
To make this duty our delight.

Duty and delight combine in this anticipatory attainment of “man’s chief end,” “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” and it is God’s being, character, and acts—“His nature and His works”—which evoke our praise.

—Geoffrey Wainwright, Worship with One Accord: Where Liturgy and Ecumenism Embrace, 22