Together

Worship . . . is the one hour in the week when an entire community acknowledges a world where God rules, where evil is named, where hope abounds, where the Spirit is on the move.

—John Witvliet, “At Play in the House of the Lord. Why Worship Matters,” 13 (booksandculture.com)

Receiving and Participating

Through the liturgy of the church, God comes to, speaks to, and joins with the worshiping community in Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit, and worshipers offer a response which is inspired by the Spirit and is united to the prayers and worship of Jesus Christ.  In this way, a trinitarian theology of worship calls worshipers not to generate their own proclamation about God nor to muster up their own acclamation to God, but rather to receive the gift of the Word of God and to participate in the worship offered by Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.

—John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition, 297

A Gift to Be Received

Christian liturgy should tangibly reflect the fact that participation in worship is a gift to be received more than an accomplishment to be sought, that Christians do not make corporate worship a divine encounter but receive it as such.

—John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 230

The Word Read

Part of what we need is simply to recover the idea that reading of Scripture is itself a powerful act of worship.  Rather than thinking of Scripture reading in worship as a short preface to the sermon, try thinking of the sermon as an extended footnote to the reading of scripture.

—John D. Witvliet, “Isaiah in Christian Liturgy: Recovering Textual Contrasts and Correcting Theological Astigmatism,” Calvin Theological Journal 39 (2004):150

Sharing Life

Sharing life with others, whatever the cost, is God’s own way of being. That is the identity of God disclosed in the life and death of Jesus Christ and articulated in the doctrine of the Trinity.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 279

Depth and Mystery

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 in the power of the Holy Spirit. The study of Christian worship is most helpful to Christian communities when it demonstrated how this has happened in the past and how it might happen in the future in more profound ways.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), Page 304-305

I-Thou

Christian worship is not awe in the face of an irresistible and unresponsive Power, nor is it the attempt to manipulate by magic or placate by offerings remote deities or the forces of nature. Christian worship is an ‘I-Thou’, not an ‘I-It’ relationship. 

—John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 161 

Mutuality

What is exemplary about divine life is not three-in-oneness in the mathematical sense, not some abstract notion of a pristine community, but personal relationships that are marked by transparency, common purpose, and mutuality.  In the economy of the kingdom of God, these virtues replace both alienation and domination as the customary marks of personal relationships.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 258-59

Worship in the Spirit

Christian worship is inspired by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, directed by the Spirit, purified by the Spirit and bears the fruit of the Spirit. Christian worship is Spirit-filled. . . . It is the Holy Spirit who purifies our worship by his continual work of sanctification. By purifying the worshipers the worship is made pure. When we worship, having our minds enlightened by the Spirit, our lives changed by the Spirit, our wills moved by the Spirit, and our hearts warmed by the Spirit, then our worship is transformed from being a mere human work into being a divine work.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 219-220

Worship as a Window

Think of worship as a window. . . . The temptation we face as worship leaders is that we will spend so much energy dressing this window, repairing this window, or cleaning this window that we have no time to look through it.

Bread, wine, water, music are not just to look at, but to look through.

—John Witvliet, “On Divine Glory: An Expanded Conversation on the Conference Theme,” (Calvin Symposium on Worship Jan. 2007), 2

Leaving Worship

It is so easy to walk out of church (or a worship conference) thinking about mostly how interesting the sermon was, how engaging the music and art were, how good or not-so-good the hospitality and fellowship might have been. How many of us leave worship genuinely pondering the sheer beauty and glory of God?

—John Witvliet, “On Divine Glory: An Expanded Conversation on the Conference Theme” (Calvin Symposium on Worship Jan. 2007), 2

Graced Encounter (2)

Graced liturgy need not imply that any particular technique is necessary to engineer God’s presence. This theme is prominently underscored by James Torrance. Torrance argues that a trinitarian understanding of worship changes the spirit in which worship is offered: whereas a unitarian theology of worship, one that relies on human effort, “can engender weariness,” a trinitarian theology “releases joy and ecstasy.” Losing the sense of worship as an event of divine grace, for Torrance, is “to lose the comfort and peace of the gospel.” Any worship leader, Torrance suggests, that feels the need to “whip up” the congregation to an experience of God misses the point that worship is more like a gift than an accomplishment.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 237

Graced Encounter

Christian liturgy is a graced series of personal, relational acts of encounter between God and the gathered community, acts that are made possible through the mediation of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 298

Worship as Receiving

Worship is not an act of obeisance to appease a distant deity; an act of self-expression to impress a waiting God; a gift calculated to curry divine favor, or to generate, manipulate, or prevent divine activity. Worship is not an accomplishment to achieve, but a gift in which to participate. It is motivated not by fear, guilt, or shame, but by gratitude. Worship, to use an image from the Hebrew Scriptures, is more like Elijah’s reception of fire from heaven on Mount Carmel than the frantic efforts of the opposing prophets to call forth the action of their gods.

—John D. Witvliet, “Prism of Glory: Trinitarian Worship and Liturgical Piety in the Reformed Tradition” in The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer, ed. Bryan D. Spinks, 285

Theological Worship Planning

In a time of remarkable liturgical change, it is tempting to focus many of our discussions about worship on styles of preaching, music, or art. The challenge for leaders is to address deeper issues, to ground our worship in a biblical vision of God. The way to do this is to make irreducibly theological conversation an active part of our planning and evaluating worship.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Opening of Worship: Trinity,” A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony, 25

The Neglected Trinity (17)

By rehearsing God’s actions in history, the church ensures that its worship is not directed to a hazy or vaguely defined god derived from philosophical or cultural ideals, but to the God who is active in specific ways in history, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the creating and sustaining work of the Holy Spirit.

——John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1997), 296

The Neglected Trinity (16)

Through the liturgy of the church, God comes to, speaks to, and joins with the worshiping community in Jesus Christ through the power the Spirit, and worshipers offer a response which is inspired by the Spirit and is united to the prayers and worship of Jesus Christ. In this way, a trinitarian theology of worship calls worshipers not to generate their own proclamation about God nor to muster up their own acclamation to God, but rather to receive the gift of the Word of God and to participate in the worship offered by Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. This understanding of liturgy commends liturgical actions which acknowledge the mediation of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and reflect the joy, confidence, and gratitude that is a fitting response to gifts of divine grace.

—John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1997), 297

The Neglected Trinity (11)

Communities and individual worshipers who participate in fully trinitarian worship are formed over time to set aside any vague, hazy, quasi-deist, subtrinitarian way of construing God and to embrace a much more vibrant, grace-filled, life-giving trinitarian way. . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is not merely a set of abstract ideas. Rather, it is a description of the reality in which we live, move and have our being. As such, it shapes— indeed, it unsettles and transforms—how we approach basic practices of prayer, Bible reading, evangelism and community life.

—John D. Witvliet, “What to Do with Our Renewed Trinitarian Enthusiasm: Forming Trinitarian Piety and Imagination through Worship and Catechesis,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, 245-6