It would be good to examine two different types of worship that James Torrance labels “Unitarian worship” and “Trinitarian worship.” At face value Unitarian worship is about worshiping God the Father and about us bringing a sacrifice to him. The problem with Unitarian worship comes when this question is posed: what, in and of ourselves, do we have to offer God that would be pleasing to him? The only answer is: nothing, absolutely nothing. Trinitarian worship is a bit more complex; through the power of the Holy Spirit we are connected with the Son in his worship of the Father. In his book, Experiencing the Trinity, Darrell Johnson offers the following:
“I am often asked to identify myself using one of the theological or ecclesiastical labels of our time. Am I Evangelical? Conservative? Reformed? Charismatic? If I must identify myself, I prefer the label ‘Christo-centric Trinitarian.’ For as I love and worship and obey Jesus Christ, I keep ending up at the feet of the Triune God. And then, all I want is all that the Father is, and wants to give me, and all that the Son is, and wants to give me, and all that the Spirit is, and wants to give me. What I want is to be alive in the intimacy at the center of the universe.”
This understanding of worship being an encounter with the Trinity has plenty of Biblical support, none bigger than in Ephesians 2:18, “For through him (Christ) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
As I think through my previous times of leading worship (we can discuss the validity of that title another time) my worship was often more Unitarian, or at best, semi-trinitarian. Neither of which provide a full understand of how we ought to worship God.
My times of singing and playing music and bringing the congregation into God’s presence often become about me isolating one part of the Trinity to focus on, and then I do my best to pull off a music set with excellence. All this is done with a heart that is pure, but I often become what Robb Redman would call, “a producer of the sacred.”
My focus on providing a sacrifice of excellence often trumps my reliance on the Spirit to connect me with the Son. If worship is truly not about us, then my focus on excellence has got in the way of a truly worshipful connection with God. If excellence, from a human standpoint, has a limited role in worship then it should also be said that our disagreements over style, song choice, and volume have absolutely no role either.
If worship is truly not about us, then it provides us with an opportunity to join in a subversive act. This subversion is the shift we need in today’s worship understanding. I love how Marva Dawn talks about this:
“The focus (during worship) was on us, instead of on God and what he reveals. Such worship fosters the basic perspective that faith depends on how well we notice God’s glory, rather than on the gift of God’s revelation that God’s grace enables us to receive.”
The pragmatic side of me looks at this idea of Trinitarian worship being a subversive act and I wonder how that plays out in our churches. I don’t think it changes much of what we specifically do during our weekend gatherings, but it does provide a context in which worship can truly be an interaction with Christ, to the Father, by the Spirit. In this context the song, the style, the volume, the clothes, the people on stage, .etc; none of it matters in the least.
This is the way it should be because worship is not about us it is about Him.
Thinking through a normal week of my job, this seems unattainable, but it sure would be wonderful. Today’s church needs this in a big way. The weird thing is that it isn’t anything they can do.
What is your theology of worship?