Worship with, in and through Christ

I am not much of a singer.  I find it difficult to stay in tune.  But when I stand next to someone with a fine voice I find it much easier.  The voice I hear in my ear helps to keep my voice on line and I like to think of my voice merging with that voice so that the faltering poverty of mine is purified and beautified by the richness of the other.  This is a crude and very inadequate reflection of what happens when we worship.  The integrity of the worship which comes from our lips and our hearts is retained  it remains our worship  but it is retuned by the greater integrity of the worship of Christ.  The Spirit lifts our prayer and praise into the sphere of Christ’s worship to be purified and perfected by his prayer and praise and then presented by Christ to the Father in its new and redeemed form.  Our worship is with Christ our brother, in Christ our priest but always through Christ our sacrifice, whose death once for us is the means of our cleansing, renewing and perfecting.

—Christopher Cocksworth, Holy, Holy, Holy: Worshipping the Trinitarian God, 161-162

“To all our prayers and praises Christ adds His sweet perfume”

The holiest we enter
In perfect peace with God;
Through whom we found our centre
In Jesus and His blood:
Though great may be our dullness
In thought and word and deed,
We glory in the fulness
Of Him that meets our need.

Much incense is ascending
Before the eternal throne;
God graciously is bending
To hear each feeble one;
To all our prayers and praises
Christ adds His sweet perfume,
And He the censer raises
These odours to consume.

O God, we come with singing,
Because Thy great High Priest
Our names to Thee is bringing,
Nor e’er forgets the least:
For us He wears the mitre,
Where “Holiness” shines bright;
For us His robes are whiter
Than heaven’s unsullied light.

—Mary Bowley (1813-1856)

Freed to Lead

It is very tempting to conceive of a worship leader as the spiritual engine that drives the worship train, or the highly-charged sideline coach who needs to keep her team fired up.

This puts all the focus on our agency, a vision that doesn’t square with the New Testament. In the New Testament, our agency as worshipers and leaders is intimately linked with what Jesus is doing as we worship and with what the Holy Spirit is doing as we worship.

Our congregation’s worship is not ultimately mediated by your level of or capacity for emotional engagement but by the perfect mediating work of Jesus, effected through the Holy Spirit. Praise God! This can free you—and all of us—to engage emotionally, but without a sense of burden that it all depends on us.

—John Witvliet, Reformed Worship 116, 45-46

Another Comforter 3

Although worship is our response to love, it is actually better thought of as the Spirit’s gift to us of a response to God or, in Matt Redman’s words, ‘a gifted response’.  We can only respond to God in praise because the Holy Spirit causes love for God to arise in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), enabling us to cry ‘Abba, Father!’ (Gal. 4:6).  Without the Spirit we could not even sincerely say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (I Cor. 12:3).  And, as we have seen, even that is not the full story, because the response the Spirit enables us to make to the Father is actually simply a sharing in Christ’s own response to the Father.  The Spirit, in other words, is the one who baptizes us into Christ (I Cor. 12:13) and enables us to share with Christ in His worship of the Father.

—Robin Parry, Worshiping Trinity, 97

The Ministry of Song 7 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me 3)

The pattern for song in the pages of Scripture [especially in the Psalms] is perfectly suited and balanced to the reality for our humanity. And so we’re encouraged in this different way to sing that which varies in theme, that which differs in mood, that which is different in style, that which is singular, that which is repetitive, that which is long, that which is short. Because in all of these areas, our Lord Jesus Christ is, as it were—and this is to me a very important thing—the Lord Jesus Christ is not squeezing our emotions into some small bottle of grace; but stretching and pulling our emotions in order to fulfill and transform our fallen and broken humanity.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

The Ministry of Song 6 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me 2)

If you make at least a quick survey of the Psalms—and I confess I’ve only done it quickly, you’ll notice a very remarkable thing which is actually perfectly in keeping with the principial teaching of the NT, and that is this: only about a third of the Psalter is addressed to God; another third of the Psalter is addressed to me; and another third of the Psalter is addressed to you. Now isn’t that interesting? Here in the midst often of rather foolish language that has not been tested by Scripture, we are sometimes urged to sing only those things that are directed towards God; and we cannot do that without saying that the Lord Jesus was singing some of the wrong things!

So we need to be very careful, for example, about some of us—you know we all belong to different ends and edges of the spectrum on this—some of us who rather despise songs that have a focus on myself. What is the key thing here? The key thing here is not the question of how many times the first person singular is mentioned, but where those many mentions of the first person singular are eventually going to lead. Are they going to lead me from the first person singular to the three Persons divine? Is it not legitimate for me to sing, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” so long as I am going to sing, “Hope thou in God, send your light forth and your truth, and let them be guides to me”?

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

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

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

 

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

Ascended! (3)

Q.  If you could name one theological theme that worship committees could well spend time reflecting on, what would it be?

A.  Christ’s ascension.

As our ascended Lord, Jesus not only receives our worship but also perfects our prayers. In fact, Jesus “always lives to intercede for us” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus (and not any other human worship leader) is the true lead worshiper. As we worship it is fitting to think of Jesus as active: praying for us, perfecting our prayers, giving us full access to God. This is pastorally significant because it welcomes us to offer worship even in weakness (Heb. 4:14-16).

Importantly, when we imagine what our ascended Lord is like, we need a balanced view, remembering the one who appears like both a Lion and Lamb (cf. Rev. 5), the one who is both cosmic Lord (Col. 1) but also “who has been tempted in every way, just like us” (Heb. 4:15).

As you study this theme, ask yourselves how well your congregation’s musical diet conveys these themes. Ask worshipers how they imagine what Jesus is doing today (we often fail to realize how active in prayer Jesus is today). Finally, ask whether and how your congregation celebrates Ascension Day. Most of us can do better at giving attention to this remarkable event.

And when we do celebrate Ascension, we need to do a better job of keeping in mind not only Christ’s ongoing role as King, but also his role as Priest (and Prophet). For more insights and practical suggestions on this theme, see Gerrit Scott Dawson’s Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation (Presbyterian and Reformed), and the fine article by Laura Smit in Reformed Worship 79.

—John D. Witvliet, Reformed Worship Issue #80 (June 2006)

The Perfect Worshiper (2)

In union with its heavenly Lord the Church on earth worships, looking back to what He did once on Calvary and looking up to what He now is with the Father. It is a worship in Christ and through Christ. If it be called a worship of sacrificial offering, it is so because it is through Christ who is high-priest: ‘through Him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to His name’ (Heb. 13:15). If it be called a worship of glorifying, it is so because it is through Christ who glorifies the Father: ‘wherefore also through Him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us’ (2 Cor. 1:20).

—Arthur Michael Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, 94-95

The Perfect Worshiper

The perfect act of worship is seen only in the Son of Man. By Him alone there is made the perfect acknowledgment upon earth of the glory of God and the perfect response to it. On the one hand the prophetic revelation of the glory of God is summed up in Him as He is Himself the glory of which the prophets, all unknowing, spake (cf. John xii, 41). On the other hand the ancient sacrifices are fulfilled in Him as He, priest and victim, makes the rational offering of His will in Gethsemane and on the Cross. In Christ the praise of God, the wonder before God, the thirst for God, the zeal for God’s righteousness, which fill the pages of the Psalter, find pure and flawless utterance. And in Him too man’s contrition for his own sin and the sin of the race finds its perfect expression; for the sinless Christ made before God that perfect acknowledgment of man’s sin which man cannot make for himself.

—Arthur Michael Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, 93

Only Christ

Biblically speaking, no worship leader, pastor, band, or song will ever bring us close to God. We can’t shout, dance, or prophesy our way into God’s presence. Worship itself cannot lead us into God’s presence. Only Jesus Christ Himself can bring us into God’s presence, and He has done it through a single sacrifice that will never be repeated—only joyfully recounted and trusted in.

—Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, 74