Reflection #17, part 2, on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 17, part 2, in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #17: Worship leaders are using Trinitarian language more and more in their prayers and transitional comments, a good sign.

I began last week’s post talking about the increased use of Trinitarian language in 41CN19MoT1L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_contemporary American worship; citing a greater awareness on the part of contemporary worship music (cwm) songwriters of the need, at very least, to acknowledge all three Persons of the Trinity in their lyrics; utilizing the writing of Dr. Lester Ruth to offer some ways to think even more intentionally about the role of the Trinity in cwm lyrics; and offering, courtesy of James Torrance, a description of what the absence of a Trinitarian perspective on worship produces: human-centered activity that often leads to weariness.

Torrance’s Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace is one of the most-cited texts on this subject.  As an antidote to what he calls unitarian worship, Torrance offers the following.  It’s a bit long, but stay with it; it’s worth the effort.

“[Trinitarian worship] takes seriously the New Testament teaching about the sole priesthood and headship of Christ, his self-offering for us to the Father and our life in union with Christ through the Spirit, with a vision of the Church as the body of Christ.  It is fundamentally sacramental, but in a way which enshrines the gospel of grace–that God our Father, in the gift of his Son and the gift of the Spirit, gives us what he demands–the worship of our hearts and minds.  He lifts us up out of ourselves to participate in the very life and communion of the Godhead, that life of communion for which we were created.  This is the heart of our theology of the Eucharist, of Holy Communion.  So we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit into the community, the one body of Christ, which confesses faith in the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which worships the Father through the Son in the Spirit.  We are baptized into the life of communion.  The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar of this participatory understanding of worship and prayer.

“This view is both [universal] and evangelical.  Whereas the first view [see last week’s post] can be divisive, in that every church and denomination ‘does its own thing’ and worships God in its own way, the second is unifying.  It recognizes that there is only one way to come to the Father, namely through Christ in the communion of the Spirit, in the communion of saints, whatever the outward form our worship might take.  If the first way can engender weariness, the second way, the way of grace, releases joy and ecstasy.  With inward peace we are lifted up 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.”

Deep stuff–and, admittedly, not the kind of information that can be tossed off quickly via transitional comments in the midst of a worship set.  And let’s acknowledge that some might find all of this too cerebral for contemporary worship: “No one actually thinks about this stuff during worship!”  Exactly my point.  Worship leaders that find opportunities to share thoughts along these lines with their congregations–judiciously, graciously, and regularly–will help the process by which their congregations mature in their faith, moving from the milk, say, of “Jesus Loves Me,” so crucial during spiritual infancy, to the meat of deeper theological reflection and understanding, which leads, I would argue, to a richer and more satisfying worship–and serves as a fitting response to the command of Christ to love the Lord our God with all of our mind.

So what might that look like?  Here are a few suggestions for worship leaders who wish to help parishioners become more familiar with and appreciative of the Trinity in worship:

  • Close public prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • Specifically address the Holy Spirit in prayer (i.e., pray to the Spirit).
  • In transitional comments, point out song lyrics that are Trinitarian and shed light on their importance for worship.
  • In calls to worship, use sentences that promote the Trinitarian ideas of Torrance’s writing–e.g., “Today we worship the Father, through the intercession of the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit”–or consider this direct quote from the same book: “Christian worship is . . . our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father.”
  • Use Paul’s Trinitarian benediction from 2 Corinthians 13:14 as a closing blessing.

Whole books have been written on this subject, so incremental change is the key here.  The Lord be with you worship leaders as you endeavor to help your congregations embrace a fuller understanding of the paradigm-shifting concept of Trinitarian worship!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Worship space as it relates to appreciating the worship of others.

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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