Keeping it practical: So, whose response is it?

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

“I doubt that there is any other factor with undermines the mission and worship of the church more tragically than the widespread failure to appreciate the Trinitarian dynamic of worship….”

Those are strong words!  They come from Alan J. Torrance in his endorsement of the book Worshipping Trinity:  Coming back to the heart of worship, by Robin Parry (2005 Paternoster Press).  Alan is Chair of Systematic Theology at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews (and if his name sounds familiar, he is son of James Torrance and nephew of Thomas Torrance, each a highly respected minister, mentor and Trinitarian theologian).

Certainly none of us want to unknowingly undermine mission and worship in our congregations, so what is this Trinitarian dynamic of worship, and how might we be failing to appreciate it?  We already believe in grace, so what’s the big concern?

Robin Parry writes, “(Some) people think that although God has offered us salvation free of charge through grace, worship is still primarily our response.  This DIY (Do It Yourself) view of worship is common among Christians….” (p. 100).

“Although it stresses the God-humanward movement in Christ, the human-God ward movement is still [made out to be] ours!  It emphasizes our faith, our decision, our response in an event theology which short-circuits the vicarious humanity of Christ and belittles union with Christ…. [It implies] that God throws us back on ourselves to make our response” (pp. 100-1).

“Week after week we have to stir ourselves up and offer God his due…. [however] The Trinitarian view of worship presented by the Bible….does not call people to whip themselves up into a worship frenzy but simply points people to the worship that Christ is currently offering and invites them to join him in it.  And even our response to God’s grace is a response that God has provided us with himself as a gift” (pp. 101).

“[What enables us to worship acceptably] is the worship of Jesus, the Word-made-flesh.  Jesus, the perfect human, offers perfect human praise to the Father – and it is that worship that we need to understand if we are to have a Christian understanding of what it is that is happening when we worship (pp. 87-8).

And continuing, “The place to begin is with the ancient Christian doxology ‘Glory to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit’.  The roots of this doxology are found in the deep structures of New Testament thought that bubble up in Ephesians 2:18: ‘Through him [the Son] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.’  There it is in black and white.  As Christians, we come first and foremost to the Father.  We come to him through the work of the Son, enabled by the Holy Spirit.  This insight is key to understanding worship…. [and] can be summed up in the words of a recent Matt Redman song, ‘Gifted Response’ (Matt is pictured right):
This is a gifted response;
Father we cannot come
To you by our own merit;
We will come in the name of Your Son
As He glorifies You,
And in the power of Your Spirit
(2004 Thankyou Music)
Parry feels there have been “blind spots” in the way many churches go about worship, and he encourages us to develop and maintain a clearer picture of the God we worship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and attempts to offer practical ways to shape a worship meeting so that the congregation becomes aware of meeting with the Father through the Son in the Spirit.

The author repeatedly stresses that our prayers and worship will be acceptable because Christ’s worship and prayers are acceptable, and it is his worship and prayer in which we are sharing.  He lives forever interceding for us (Heb. 6:20; 7:25-28; 8:1-6), and our petition is simply, as Karl Barth puts it, “a repetition of his petition.”  So we can be confident God hears us.

In coming days we’ll look at additional quotes from this book as we continue to explore what it means to appreciate the Trinitarian dynamic of worship for our congregations.  In the meantime your comments and questions are always welcome, and can help determine which aspects we might examine more in depth.