Lecture 08: Worship in the New Testament (Part 1)
Lecture: Worship in the New Testament (Part 1)
A. Trinitarian vs Christocentric
You can tell that he has read the Book of Hebrews. Is his vision of worship trinitarian or Christocentric? Which is dominate, trinitarian or Christocentric emphasis? I think he is aiming at a trinitarian view of worship. There is this whole mystery line of teaching in the New Testament of the end Christ experience of the Christian. You died; your life is hidden with Christ in God when Christ who is your life appears. Worship is our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father. There is a great trinitarian emphasis here without any question and even though you see a strong Christocentric element, the end result of this is something trinitarian. It reminds me a little of what Gordan Fee shared about his work on the Holy Spirit; Paul’s theology of the Spirit. In doing the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I became radically trinitarian, he says. Wherever you see the Spirit, there you see the Father and the Son. This book strikes me as being Christocentric and as you unpack this theology, the result is trinitarian; you can’t separate the Father from the Son from the Spirit. They are in the same business.
B. Three Quests of Humanity
Another aspect of this; when we worship here on earth, not only are we joining ourselves to the communion of the trinity, but we are joining ourselves through the church universal and suffering and the church triumphant. We are part of something much bigger than ourselves. We can picture the elders falling on their faces before the throne and the angelic host; we are part of all of that. Torrance links all of this to our very nature; this is part of what it means to be human and to be made in the image of God. Some of you have talked about these three quests from John Stott. There are three quests of humanity: one quest is the quest for community or intimacy; secondly, the quest for significance and third, the quest for transcendence. Stotts’ point is that in every age and culture and especially today in talking about contemporary people; in every age, people are always hungry for these things. Then he challenges the church to provide the answer to these three points. Although people will go off in false directions such as running from relationship to relationship, organizations to organizations. People will amerce themselves in philosophies or in movements and for transcendence, people may try drugs or other spiritualities and mysticisms.
The church’s best answer to these three points has to do with community in our fellowship. We answer that hunger when the church is experiencing true fellowship. We answer significance through our preaching and through our teaching we answer that hunger by proclaiming the truth. In the search for transcendence, we offer our worship which helps people connect with something much larger than themselves with the divine. Unfortunately, the church is often very weak and awkward so those hungers go unmet. So, in relationship to Torrance’s book; there is a sense in which worship has the potential to be the key environment in which all of those hungers are genuinely addressed. Of course, preaching has been an element in the worship but not just through the preaching, but all of the truth that is exposed in the worship. Not only is there something transcendent in terms of our Spirit, but our minds understand the significance of who we are and we enter into something very powerful at the level of community when we are worshipping. It is back to the liberties that the truth of the Scriptures offers us. It is liberating. The burden isn’t ultimately upon us. I was reminded of how important truth is and that fact of how it sets us free. It is how much we do in the name of worship that is still about our efforts in trying to appease God and earn God’s favor and merit his attention or his love. Remember, Jesus is our Sabbath and we enter into the finished work of Jesus when we worship.
C. The Church is Brinitarian in Practice
Torrance provides us with some reformed views of the sacraments. We said that theologically, he is very trinitarian. I mentioned Gordan Fee who also said that in theology we may not be unitarian but in practice, we may be. Fee mentioned another thing that struck him as he more and more studied the doctrine of the Spirit in the Epistles of Paul; for the most part the church is radically trinitarian in our theology but Fee thinks that the evangelical church is basically brinitarian in its experience and practice. We theologize three persons, but in our practice, the Holy Spirit isn’t very present and active. He is there in our theology but not there in our experience. I wondered if such a charge might be raised by this book. Theologically, I think that it is very trinitarian but when I tried to envision his vision of what worship might look like in our experience; I’m not sure that I saw the presence and power of the person of the Holy Spirit present in the vision of worship that comes through his book. Sometimes, in reading, I wondered if worship has been reduced to the cognitive plain. If you grasp this truth, then that is it. Truth sets you free and we can minimize that by any means. I affirm the central truth that is presented by Torrance in this book. But I wonder if worship is being reduced to primarily a cognitive experience.
D. The Truth in Jesus will Set You Free
Perhaps these are the limits of the book; this is all the author is trying to aim at, was the theology of worship and not so much the practice of our worship. There is a mystery that he is beginning to unpack here and I think this is valid and biblical. I think it is great that he can even lay a hold of as a good theologian and it is certainly greater than we can lay a hold of. There is something more than we will ever understand. We try to understand and more towards these understandings but there is a great sense where the truth will set us free. Therefore, we need to lay hold of some of these central truths; he is the one meditator or worship; he presented the acceptable offering in worship. We do enter into the communion that is already present in the trinity and he is the perfect representative of humanity. All of this is true, but it seems that we get reduced to simply nodding our head to these theological truths. Is that all that we do in the place of worship or is it something at a very deep mystical level in going to communion, we then realize that this is it. Sometimes, I think in general Christian living, the role of the Christian is reduced to affirming certain theological truths. Think about sanctification, for example, in some circles the experience of sanctification in the daily outworking of lives sometimes gets lost. Someone defined sanctification as being the process of getting use to your justification. We understand that we are born again in Christ and declared righteous in Christ. Some people say that we are accepted in Christ and that’s it. There is no more discussion. We are never going to make any progress in this world. The whole idea of Christian progress is a myth; you are not going to make any progress, but simply rejoice in the fact that you are free accepted into the beloved. There is something very appealing to this and true about it.
E. Sanctification is a Biblical Process
However, if I were to look totally at my experience, God has made changes in my life. This is one truth. Beyond this there are many places in the Scripture where I am exhorted to grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus. I am exhorted to add to my faith, goodness, and knowledge. I am exhorted to make my body my slave and work out my salvation with fear and trembling. There are too many places in the Scriptures where sanctification and daily experience is to be taken seriously and we are exhorted to grow and to be transformed into his likeness. This is not just accepting a theological true; it is action. This is a both/and and there need to be a pairing of these things. You need to lay hold of the theological truth because that sets us free to experience the practical reality. If I really want to experience sanctification in the way Paul encourages us in Romans 6 & 7 and to experience it fully, I need to lay hold of the truth that he has laid out in Romans 5 & 8. To know that we are totally accepted and justified and that we have died. That is a theological truth. Only when I understand that I am dead, then in my experience I can say no to sin. If I am living under the myth that my old self is still alive, then I think sin would have power and authority over me. Sometimes, I get a little concerned that the reality of our experience is downplayed and we just sort of enter into the theology. There are two extremes on this issue of sanctification as it is relevant to what we are saying in regards to worship. On the one hand, you have the problem of condemnation and then you have the problem of complacency. For sanctification, some will say that we can never go anywhere despite all our efforts; we are just condemned at the end of the day. Others say that it doesn’t matter so they become complacent. Others say that sanctification isn’t possible in terms of growing into the likeness of God. But we are commanded and exhorted to grow and so we have to. We do it only by the grace of God. It is God who works in us to will and act according to his good purpose. But we don’t just sit still and hang out until he comes again.
So, in summary, I love the theology of the book but I hope we don’t limit our experience of worship to just accepting theological truth with a nod of our heads and do nothing about it. You could certainly look at all the teachings on the spiritual disciplines and perhaps find yourselves critiquing that from the opposite side. This is a both/and with many theological truths to lay a hold of here.
I. Continuity and Discontinuity
In terms of understanding of worship between the Testaments, taking some of the ideas from Torrance and considering some of the things we said last week about some Old Testament ideas of worship. As we move from Old to the New Testament, do we find more continuity when it comes to the issues of worship or do we find more discontinuity? Is New Testament worship essentially the same as Old Testament worship or is it more radically other than Old Testament? So, the changes in the New Testament are not radical departures from the principles from the Old Testament. Perhaps we can say that they are a fulfillment of or deepening of the Old Testament. I think the key is the shadow substance idea that we talked about. It is a both/and but not in the sense of any radical departure from the theology or what the hopes of the Old Testament are. Even in this point in regards to what John Piper said about all the nations. While it is true when we get to Revelation 7:9-10, it’s fulfilled in Acts 8 and 10; it was already present in the heart of God and evident from the very beginning of Genesis that God was to be God of all the nations with Israel being a light for all the nations. A number of Psalms talk about God bringing in the praise from all the nations. So, it’s a fulfillment rather than a radical departure that represents something in God’s will or direction; it is more of the shadow substance kind of issue.
When it comes to worship, some of the things that we have spoken about already; what doesn’t change in moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament is the basic understanding of what worship is. All the things that we have said about the meaning of worship is essentially unchanged
along with the character of God. The attributes don’t change, but our understanding of what it means that God is one. We could go back to the Hebrews 1:1-3 passage where God has always been revealing himself. He is a God who speaks forever, but in these last days, he has spoken through his Son. We have seen the power of the incarnation for unveiling the heart of God. I think that it would be inappropriate to say that God’s character has changed in any way. But clearly our understanding of him has taken radical steps forward through the incarnation. This is a Pauline doctrine and we would also have to say that we can expect a radical step forward yet again in our understanding of him. The incarnation is a perfect revelation of him, but we are not perfectly capable of fathoming all of that revelation. So, the revelation is total and complete in his Son, but we see only a poor reflection as yet in a mirror. This is because we are limited in finiteness. My favorite saying in this regard, God is a mighty ocean and I am but a paper cup with a hole in it. I’m a sinful little paper cup. So, what worship is, it is unchanged. The character of God is unchanged although our understanding of him has deepened and clarified through the incarnation.
Some of the elements of worship are still present. Perhaps we are assuming that some of the features of the worship of Israel that we find throughout history in the Psalms for example; the elements of singing, shouting, clapping, bowing and dancing haven’t changed. But unfortunately, we don’t have any clear New Testament evidence that this is the case. So, it becomes a debate and there are those who would say that anything that isn’t pacifically found in the New Testament should not be found in our worship. This is part of the issue in continuity and discontinuity. Therefore, some churches will not allow any musical instruments at all in their worship services. They see that the New Testament gives no warrant to have any instruments in the worship services. We are adding on to what the Lord has given to us. That is a theological position that begins with the assumption that discontinuity is the norm. So, discontinuity must be the norm and therefore anything that is in the Old Testament, we will assume that it isn’t there unless it is repeated in the New Testament. I think that this is a faulty assumption. I think that it is a difficult argument to make that the Psalm 150 exhortation that everything that has breath praise the Lord, suddenly no longer applies in the New Testament. My thinking would be, when in doubt, we start from the opposite side. We start with the idea that continuity is the norm. This is because God is the same and Jesus was Jewish and all his followers were Jewish and certainly none of the new believers ceased to be Jewish.
The whole concept of revelation and response has also continuous from the Old Testament. These are unchanging as God is still the God who reveals and we are still obligated to respond. In the Old Testament, God was more concerned about a lifestyle of worship than about particular religious acts of worship. I think this is unchanged. The whole balance between individual, habitual worship and intentional cooperate worship still applies in both Testaments. For the most part, we can just assume that the ethnical demands of the Scriptures are the same and unchanged. It is still about justice and
B. Discontinuity (Substance of the Shadow)
Our understanding of God has been enlarged or deepened or clarified further through the incarnation and our approach to God through worship has changed. The best way to consider this is in terms of shadow substance. There is a shadow substance movement here; a lot of the features that were in the Old Testament related to worship, we understand them differently now. We have the whole sacrificial system which was fulfilled in the lamb of God who said that it was finished on the Cross. In this shadow substance idea, we can see even for this point, continuity and discontinuity. There is continuity in the sense that God is still a holy God and sin is still a horrible thing and atonement is still required. But rather than a high priest offering sacrifices on behalf of the people every year, there has been a once for all sacrifice offered in the person of the Son. So, there is the continuity and discontinuity of one thought. The same idea would apply to the whole priestly code and system. It is fulfilled in Christ, our great high priest. We can call this part A of the fulfillment. I think there is a part B of the fulfillment where part B is the priesthood of all believers. So, we have only one high priest now and that is Jesus, but there is another sense in which we become a priesthood, a royal priesthood. This is part of being in Christ’s reality; through Christ we experience this. In regards to the torn curtain, the accessibility to God; God is still holy, absolutely holy, but now there is an access that is available to all of us, at all times and in all places.
For some people and you can find this in some books on worship; they would say that we can find in the layout of the design of the tabernacle and the temple a paradigm for our worship experiences. It is about how people come from outside from the outer courts; they come with washing and confession and then they go into the inner court and eventually into the holy place. Some people think we should design our worship experiences in such a way. When we come together from our various worlds, we enter his courts with praise and then go through confession of sin and ultimately, we move into the presence of the Holy of Hollies in our worship. Some would say that we should do this with the music; there should be a progression in the music from exuberant praise into the depths of the inner sanctuary. We should also do that by movement from singing and then ultimately to preaching of the Word and then through prayer, we enter into the Holy of Hollies with the cerebration of the Lord’s supper. What do you think about seeing this as a paradigm as our worship today in terms of design and experience? There is some phycological reality maybe attended to if we take such a thing. It does take time for us to gather ourselves in order to move into more intimate understanding. If the veil has be torn into from top to bottom; we now live in the permanent reality of that truth. Whatever we want to do, we have to be careful that we are not trying to reconstruct the tabernacle and the barriers associated with that. There should be nothing that would influence a separation of the people and God in the church. The architecture would have to reflect the reality
that we have full access through the Son of God.
A person by the name of Horton challenges anyone who criticizes, for example, the praise songs that talk about touching the Lord and going into the Holy of Hollies. His point is that God is a consuming fire and holy and we have boldness to enter into his presence through the blood of the lamb. I see that there is a need for teaching on both sides here. It is true that we live in the light of this access, but unless people understand his holiness, all of this stuff becomes misunderstood and taken for granted. Even if we are going to magnify the theological truth that we are granted access into the Holy of Holies through the blood of Jesus. We have to continually let people know what that means.
C. Use of the Church Calendar
We briefly mentioned about the use of a church lectionary and how it can hold a pastor accountable making sure they are being faithful to the whole council of God. Tied to this is the use of the church year which I think has great value. It can not only keep us accountable of preaching regularly through the Scriptures. It has great power in the ability of retelling the church story; the story of God’s redemptive acts in Christ. It is powerful for teaching and evangelism and it holds us accountable keeping us on track. It is also a model that has been laid down for us in the Scriptures. In the Hebrews scriptures and practice, there is a retelling of the God’s redemptive viewing every year through the holy days and seasons. At the very least, I believe that we could do a lot better in the church instead of giving these days over the gods of consumerism. Another way of thinking about the access; we could think in terms of time and space. We understand that there’s not a certain place that is the right place to worship. We also understand that we can access God at any time and at any place. This is the John 4 passage and that is a beautiful feature of New Testament worship.