Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace
This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.
When the Rev Professor James B. Torrance died at the age of 80 in 2003, Christianity Today magazine chose to highlight three areas of his life of service – 1) he was Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at University of Aberdeen in Scotland, 2) he was known as a mentor to other Christian leaders, and 3) he wrote “Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace” (IVP, 1997).
He had also been a family man and a pastor, and whether serving in pastoral ministry, teaching theology, writing, or in mentoring others, Torrance was keen on worship and on discussing in simple but profound language the relationship of grace and the continuing priesthood of Jesus in Trinitarian worship.
It is interesting to note that “Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace” [WCTGG] contains a mere 130 pages, and yet it has gained wide influence in denominations around the globe, as in it Torrance offers a brief but profound discussion of prayer and worship that is Christ-centered, incarnational and Trinitarian. The book is an expanded form of lectures on the theology of worship he gave in Manchester in 1994, and is also from articles he wrote or lectures he gave in different countries in the 70’s and 80’s. It has been pointed out that these themes have struck more of a chord in the last decade or so than they did in some theological circles in the earlier years. With this easy-to-read book Torrance is still helping “mentor” those of us serving in ministries today. Here are some excepts from WCTGG:
There is no more urgent need in our churches today than to recover the Trinitarian nature of grace—that it is by grace alone, through the gift of Jesus Christ in the Spirit that we can enter into and live a life of communion with God our Father.
Worship is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.
The Father has given to us the Son and the Spirit to draw us into a life of shared communion—of participating through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father—that we might be drawn in love into the very Trinitarian life of God himself.
Whatever else our faith is, it is a response to a response already made for us and continually being made for us in Christ, the pioneer of our faith.
In worship we offer ourselves to the Father ‘in the name of Christ’ because he has already in our name made the one true offering to the Father, the offering by which he has sanctified for all time those who come to God by him (Heb 10:10, 14) and because he ever lives to intercede for us in our name.
(Trinitarian worship) means 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. It also means participating 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. When we see that ….. (and) that the unique center of the Bible is Jesus Christ, ‘the apostle and high priest whom we confess [Heb 3:1], then the doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the ministry of the Spirit, Church and sacraments, our understanding of the kingdom….all unfold from that center.
We are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into the community, the one body of Christ, which confesses faith the in the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which worships the Father through the Son in the Spirit. We are baptized into a life of communion. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar of this participatory understanding of worship and prayer.
(We need to) return to the ‘forgotten Trinity’ – to an understanding of the Holy Spirit, who delivers us from a narcissistic preoccupation with the self to find our true being in loving communion with God and one another—to hear God’s call to us, in our day, to participate through the Spirit in Christ’s communion with the Father and his mission from the Father to the world—to create in our day a new humanity of persons who find true fulfillment in other-centered communion and service in the kingdom of God.
The first real step on the road to prayer is to recognize that none of us knows how to pray as we ought to. But as we bring our desires to God, we find that we have someone who is praying for us, with us, and in us. Thereby he teaches us to pray and motivate us to pray and to pray in peace to the Lord. Jesus takes our prayers—our feeble, selfish, inarticulate prayers—he cleanses them, makes them his prayers, and in a ‘wonderful exchange’ he makes his prayers our prayers and presents us to the Father as his dear children, crying ‘Abba Father’.