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

Advertisements

Divine Action in Worship

Our incarnating God continues to meet us where we are: as imaginative creatures of habit. So we are invited into the life of the Triune God by being invited to inhabit concrete rituals and practices that are “habitations of the Spirit.” As the Son is incarnate—the Word made flesh meeting us who are flesh—so the Spirit meets us in tangible, embodied practices that are conduits of the Spirit’s transformative power…. The material practices of Christian worship are not exercises in spiritual self-management but rather the creational means that our gracious God deigns to inhabit for our sanctification. So while liturgical formation sanctifies our perception for Christian action, Christian worship is primarily a site of divine action…. Our incarnating God descends to inhabit these practices precisely in order to lift us up into union with Christ.

—James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, 14-15

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

Trintarian Worship

Ponder Robert Jenson’s evocative image: “The particular God of Scripture does not just stand over against us; He envelops us.” In this vision, we still pray and sing ‘to’ each divine person “Holy, holy, holy. . .blessed Trinity!,” but we are also aware that we pray and sing “through Christ,” “in the power of the Spirit.” This is also a remarkably active vision of God. The picture here is not of God as a passive being up in heaven, waiting for us to sing a little louder and pray a little harder before conferring a blessing. That description better fits Baal! (I Kings 18). No, God is active in prompting our worship [Holy Spirit], in receiving it [Father], and in perfecting it.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Opening of Worship/Trinity” in A More Profound Alleluia, 8