REFORMATION 500: The Continuing Need for Reformation

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin has commented that when the average Christian in Europe or North America hears the name of God, he or she does not think of the Trinity. After many years of missionary work among Eastern religions, he returned to find that much of the worship in the West is in practice, if not in theory, unitarian. The “religion” of so many people today is moulded by concepts of God which obscure the joyful witness of the Bible to the triune God of grace. God is conceived of too often as the remote sovereign Individual Monad “out there,” the law-giver, the contract-God who needs to be, or can be, conditioned into being gracious by devout religious behavior or by this or that religious act, be it even repentance or prayer. The Reformers were concerned to sweep away these views of God, but in spite of the Reformation, such concepts are alive and highly influential in our day.

—James B. Torrance, “Contemplating the Trinitarian Mystery of Christ,” Chapter 12 in Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality, 141

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God Our Creator

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” (from the Apostles’ Creed)

What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

Martin Luther, Smaller Catechism

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