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THE UNIQUENESS OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP: WHAT MAKES WORSHIP CHRISTIAN?

THE UNIQUENESS OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP: WHAT MAKES WORSHIP CHRISTIAN?

By Ted Schroder,
Trinity Sunday
June 19, 2011

What is distinctive and unique about Christian worship? What makes Christian worship different from the offerings of other religions? How does our understanding of what we do in worship differ from non-Christians?

The difference is our understanding of God as Trinity. Because we believe that God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that God has come in the flesh as Jesus Christ, and is present by his Holy Spirit, we approach worship differently from other faiths. This is how the letter to the Hebrews expresses it.

"The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven." (Hebrews 8:1, NIV) "So, friends, we can now - without hesitation - walk right up to God, into 'the Holy Place.' Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God." (Hebrews 10:19-21, The Message) "Our risen and ascended Lord is the high priest over the house of God, the minister of the sanctuary, who leads us in our worship. The worship of Christ gathers up the worship of Israel, replaces it, and is the substance of all Christian worship. The real agent in all true worship is Jesus Christ. He is our great high priest and ascended Lord. He lifts us up in to the very triune life of God." (Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace, James B. Torrance, IVP)

Dr. Torrance argues that there are two kinds of worship - two ways in which people approach God.

THE FIRST WAY IS HUMAN-CENTERED WORSHIP

Probably the most common and wide-spread view is that worship is something we do. We go to church, we sing our hymns to God, we pray for the world, we listen to the sermon, we offer our money, time and talents to God. No doubt we need God's grace to help us do it. We do it because Jesus taught us to do it and left us an example of how to do it. Worship is what we do before God. It is human-centered. It is a kind of do-it-yourself-with-the-help-of-the-minister worship. God is seen to be generic.

Our focus is our immediate relationship with God, our present-day experience. It is a moralistic view of Christianity - where Jesus is the teacher of ethical principles, and where the religious life is our attempt to follow the example of Jesus, living by the golden rule, 'doing to others as you would be done by.' It is about what we do not who God is and what he has done for us. There is no need for the Trinity, for the incarnation, for the atonement, for the grace of God. The church becomes simply the gathering of true believers with a common experience and similar needs.

THE SECOND WAY IS CHRIST-CENTERED WORSHIP

Worship is a participation through the Spirit in the Son's communion with the Father. It is a participation in union with Christ in what he has done for us in his life and death on the cross; 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. We draw near to God our Father through the one true High Priest, through the one Mediator between God and humanity. He is the one acceptable offering to God. It is through his offering on the cross that we are enabled to come to the Father. The church is a royal priesthood participating in the priesthood of Christ.

Instead of being outside looking in, like spiritual street urchins, hanging about in the rain outside the Father's great house or palace, looking in through the windows at the lights, the partying, the food and festivities, or like tramps hanging around the back door hoping for some leftovers, we are invited in to join the company of heaven. (q.v. Parable of the Great Banquet, Luke 14:15-24)

The outsider is brought inside. The excluded is included. The rebel is reconciled. The alienated is accepted. The filthy is cleansed. The guilty is pardoned. The lowlife is lifted up. The depressed is relieved. The lonely is befriended. The despised is honored. The grief-stricken is comforted. The lost is found. The disabled is made whole. The cynic is softened. (Eph.2:12,13) The Father puts his arms around us, welcomes us as friends of his Son and treats us like family.

Worship is our response to our Father for all that he has done for us in Christ. It is our response to the one true offering made for us in Christ, our response of gratitude to God's grace, our sharing by grace in the heavenly intercession of Christ.

Christ lifts us up out of ourselves and our painful human condition to participate in the very life and communion of the Godhead, the life of communion for which we were created. With inward peace we are lifted by the Spirit into the presence of the Father, into a life of wonderful communion, into a life of praise and adoration in union with Christ. We know that the living Christ is in our midst, leading our worship, our prayers, and our praises. The focus is not on the preacher or pastor, or the soloist or choir, nor on the congregation, but on the communion of the Trinity.

Worship is not just something which we do to please God, but Christ our Deliverer comes to live in our hearts by the Spirit and draws us into the very life of God. We receive the Word of God into our hearts and minds. We receive the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ into our hearts and minds and spirits. We receive the saving presence of Christ into our lives. The movement in worship is from God to us, not from us to God. Faith is the empty hand of the beggar receiving the gift of the king. And we are all beggars who are transformed by grace.

At the center of the NT stands a unique relationship between Jesus and the Father. "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.... I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me." (John 17:3,22,23)

Christ is presented to us as the Son living a life of union and communion with the Father in the Spirit, presenting himself in our humanity through the eternal Spirit to the Father on behalf of humanity. His prime purpose is to lift us up into a life of communion, of participation in the very triune life of God. Here is a picture of acceptance, of intimacy, of indwelling, of such unity and closeness, such communion, such love, that only peace and harmony can co-exist. Such is the promise of heaven which is meant to be experienced on earth in worship. We can only approximate it now in time. When we come to worship remember that Christ is our High Priest, God is our Father, and through the eternal Spirit, invites us to draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. We come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. It is a window into heaven - a foretaste of that which is to come. "Let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe." (Hebrews 12:28)

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