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The Trinity and Public worship

August 2016 | by Kevin Bidwell

The Trinity needs to become much more central to public Christian worship and preaching. Each part should be richly infused with the knowledge of Jesus Christ — the mediator of the new covenant and second person of the Trinity — and the Trinity itself.

Preaching should draw out a strongly trinitarian understanding, so the church is equipped to evangelise in a multi-faith world. How much emphasis and heat has been expended on the subject of baptism, while overlooking baptism’s core doctrine — that entrance into the church is in the name of the triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Fresh appreciation

Each aspect of worship requires a fresh appreciation of the Trinity. This will enhance our theology and make us more effective in responding to the mission needs of our day. I have written elsewhere of this ‘Trinity-Christ’ connection (The church as the image of the Trinity: a critical evaluation of Miroslav Volf’s ecclesial model; Wipf and Stock, p.239).

Sometimes, I have worshipped in evangelical churches and been left with the impression that the church is Unitarian. What do I mean? I mean that the only person of the Trinity mentioned was the Lord Jesus Christ, with barely any reference to the Father or Holy Spirit. Have you also experienced such an unbalanced presentation of God?

The answer is to pray for a recovery of the Trinity in worship. Here are two areas where this might be exemplified: the Christian sabbath and the ‘call to worship’.

Christian sabbath

‘There are two memorial ordinances in the New Testament, and there are only two’, according to the late Professor John Murray. These are the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day. ‘The one celebrates the Lord’s death, the other his resurrection’.

The Lord’s Day points people to faith in Christ, as a result of his resurrection. And accounting the ‘sabbath a delight (Isaiah 58:13–14)’ is sanctioned by the Directory for the Public Worship of God (DPW), a document produced at the Westminster Assembly. This affirms that the ‘whole day is to be celebrated as holy to the Lord’.

The church has moved forward from an Old Testament outlook, so now the first day of the week is commended for rest and worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1–2; Revelation 1:10) instead of the Jewish sabbath (Exodus 20:8–11) (see too, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.59).

The church is ‘an image of Christ and the Trinity’ when it celebrates the Lord’s Day, because it recalls creation by the triune God (Genesis 2:1–4), Christ’s redemptive work and resurrection (John 20:1–29), and our eschatological fellowship with the triune God in the new creation. R. Scott Clark confirms that the three main lines of Reformed teaching, from Calvin to Hodge, on the Lord’s Day are ‘rest, worship and anticipating heaven’.

Public worship on the Lord’s Day is a pivotal truth to recover, if the church is to represent itself as an image of Christ and the Trinity to a multicultural world.

Call to worship

As, in 1539, the Reformation was launched in Leipzig, Martin Luther preached (from John 14:21–23) that ‘the entire Trinity dwells in the true church’. He proclaimed that the true church is composed of people where the Word of God is spoken, heard and loved; and that such a place is where the three persons of the Trinity make their home among us (John 14:23).

He declared, ‘These are fine heart-warming words — that God wants to come down to us. God wants to come to us and we do not need to clamber up to him; he wants to be with us to the end of the world. Here dwells the Holy Spirit, effecting and creating everything in the Christian church’.

So it is entirely appropriate that the DPW affirms the need for a clear call to worship at the beginning of each church service by linking the ‘great name of God’ to the mediation of Christ: ‘The congregation being assembled, the minister, after solemn calling on them to the worshipping of the great name of God, is to begin with prayer. “In all reverence and humility acknowledging the incomprehensible greatness and majesty of the Lord … all in the name and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ”’ (83).

Examples

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) explicitly states that ‘religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … in the mediation … of Christ alone’ (21.2). A Christian minister, at the beginning of public worship, should make clear that worship is addressed to Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the mediation of Christ Jesus.

Two examples of how this might be expressed are: ‘We worship God on this Lord’s Day, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, through the one mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ’; and ‘This gathering is for the triune God, and it is in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that we the covenant people are called to worship on this Lord’s Day, through Jesus Christ our mediator of the new covenant’.

This movement in a Trinitarian–Christological direction should go all the way through to the closing benediction. The unconverted, as well as Christians, should be left in no doubt just whom the congregation is approaching, and in whose saving name. We are coming to the holy Trinity through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Kevin Bidwell is minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church (other articles on http://kevinbidwell.blogspot.co.uk).

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