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

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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