Christ, our worship leader

This post is the first in a series exploring the book Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace by James B. Torrance. For additional posts in the series, click a number: 2, 345, 67.

Though not a prolific writer like his brother Thomas F Torrance, James B Torrance (often referred to as JB), through a life-long career in university-level teaching, had a profound influence on, perhaps, thousands of students (who in turn influenced many others). In this way, JB made a significant and lasting contribution to the resurgence in our day of the ancient Nicene faith with its confession of an incarnational and Trinitarian theology. Key precepts of JB's teaching are set forth in his book, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. Here is a summary of its contents from IVP, the book's publisher:
James Torrance points us to the indispensable who of worship, the triune God of grace. Worship is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son's communion with the Father, writes Torrance. This book explodes the notion that the doctrine of the Trinity may be indispensable for the creed but remote from life and worship. Firmly rooted in Scripture and theology, alive with pastoral counsel and anecdote, Torrance's work shows us just why real trinitarian theology is the very fiber of Christian confession.
I've often quoted JB's book on this blog, and now I want to take a comprehensive look, beginning here with the introduction: The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship. JB notes that God, who "made all creatures for his glory... made men and women in his own image to be the priests of creation and to express on behalf of all creatures the praises of God." In this priestly role as followers of Jesus we are called to to "gather up the worship of all creation" (p. 13). But who among us is righteous and otherwise able enough for this lofty vocation? The answer is that there is but one human who is: the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, our High Priest. JB comments: "The good news is that God comes to us in Jesus to stand in for us and bring to fulfillment his purposes of worship and communion" (p. 14).

In his vicarious humanity, and through his role as High Priest, Jesus stands in for us, worshipping the Father on our behalf, and on behalf of all creation. Jesus, the Source and Head of all created things (for he created the universe out of nothing, and by his power sustains it), sends the Spirit to form the church to be his body on earth, calling them to be "a royal priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices" in order to join him in his "great priestly work and ministry of intercession" (p. 14). JB summarizes these thoughts with this powerful statement:

Through what is referred to as the wonderful exchange, "Christ takes what is ours (our broken lives and unworthy prayers), sanctifies them, offers them without spot or wrinkle to the Father, and gives them back to us, that we might 'feed' upon him in thanksgiving" (p. 15). JB comments further:
Christian worship is... our participation through the Spirit in the Son's communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession. It is our response to our Father for all that he has done for us in Christ. It is our self-offering in body, mind and spirit, in response to the one true offering made for us in Christ, our response of gratitude (eucharistia) to God's grace (charis), our sharing by grace in the heavenly intercession of Christ. Therefore, anything we say about worship---the forms of worship, its practises and procedure---must be said in the light of him to whom it is a response. It must be said in the light of the gospel of grace. (p. 15)
JB challenges us to ask ourselves: Does our worship make the real presence of Christ transparent, or does it obscure his presence? Is it reflective of the triune God of grace, or is it reflective of "the contract God who has to be conditioned into being gracious by what we do" (p. 16)? JB reminds us that the author of Hebrews describes Jesus Christ as the one Leitourgos---the "leader of our worship" (Hebrews 8:2). As JB notes, the book of Hebrews contrasts Jesus' work as lead worshipper under the new covenant with that provided by Israel's priests under the old covenant, noting that Christ's form of worship "gathers up" the worship provided by Israel's worship and "replaces it."

Baptism of Jesus by I, Davezelenka,
used with permission via Wikimedia Commons
The worship Jesus provides us under the new covenant focuses on baptism and the Lord's Supper (the two sacraments of our faith). And because Christ's worship is our worship, his baptism is our baptism, and Christ's sacrifice is our sacrifice. Indeed, Jesus' own "righteousness is our righteousness apprehended by faith," and thus we understand that "the real agent of true worship is Jesus Christ" himself. Sadly, this truth is often overlooked (or obscured) in Christian circles. Why? Largely due to a neglect of "the continuing priesthood of Christ" (p. 17). JB comments:
We cannot have a true understanding of worship, prayer, baptism, and the Lord's Supper without a New Testament understanding of the priesthood of Christ. It is he who calls the church into being as a royal priesthood to participate by grace in his continuing ministry, lifting us by the Spirit into the very triune life of God in wonderful communion. (p. 18)
And so JB begins his book clearly establishing the foundation and the means of our worship in the person of Jesus Christ, who by the Spirt leads us in worshipping the Father. We'll see more about this Trnitarian, personalized shape of Christian worship as we proceed through the book.