Worship, as Christians understand it, is one of the fundamental practices of the faith according to the Bible, and has taken many forms, both in the biblical account and though the centuries since. Today, a heated controversy exists between several camps as to how we should view worship, how we should practice it and how we should even define it. Is worship even a thing? James Torrance, in his book, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, gives us his answers to questions such as this and several key themes emerge, a few of which I will wrestle with here in order to flesh out my own reaction to the ideas Torrance presents.
The first theme I want to address is that of evangelical repentance. On page 55, Torrance presents the concept that it is not in fact our own acts of penitence, regardless of the degree of sincerity behind them, that move God to forgive us our sins. Before the sin is even committed, God the Father made the decision to send Christ to make the propitiatory payment that will make us right with him. Christ is the only one who can offer the perfect and proper penance, because his offering is not in the least tainted by sin.
I have listened to many who believe that their own sins are forgiven simply based on a belief in Jesus Christ based on convincing evidence presented to them, and that there is nothing else required of them. Many of these do not read the Bible, do not pray, and do not even see a personal relationship with God as a priority in their lives. They see salvation as an entitlement that they receive as a result of their opinion that the events chronicling Jesus’ death and resurrection are true accounts. There may have been a legal repentance which took place at conversion, but sometimes the feeling of forgiveness can grow stale and become complacency. I myself, who came to faith a mere three years ago, might very well have fallen into this spiritual sinkhole had it not been for the loving admonishment of the Lord and the leaders in my local church.
I am blessed that someone took the time to challenge me with Scripture. The apostle James tells us that “faith apart from works is useless.” He challenges his brethren to “be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The key to these statements is in his command to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” It all stems from humility. It is humility in response to the knowledge that God’s goodness and grace is so wonderful and undeserved by me. Yet before I even repented, he did what was necessary from within himself to atone for my wrongdoing, because there is no way I ever could. There is no dollar value, no fair exchange of time or service or worldly goods that could ever pay for my offenses to a holy God whose love is eternal and whose truth is absolute. It is in recognizing that God knows the dimensions of all my sins, and we who would be holy can do naught right but respond to his grace and the propitiation of Christ humbly and with gratitude, with no room for wilful disobedience. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was too high a price for us to do any less, or to attempt to decide who will receive this gift. All who come to ask forgiveness shall receive it.
The second theme I want to explore is that of Trinity, particularly the way Torrance speaks of the Trinity on pages 75-77 in the context of Baptism and Communion. Where he tells the reader of the conversion experience of the evangelist Kohlbrugge, I am moved to interact with this concept in that as the church, as the body of Christ we all, in one moment all those years ago, were baptized in the waters of the Jordan, drawn and filled with God’s Spirit, and blessed by the Father. Thus, it would seem it is not by our decision that we are now saved by his grace, but by the decision made by God the Son to obey God the Father and be led by the Spirit. For most people I would imagine this would raise a few hackles and bring into focus the question of free will, however it is the very concept of Trinity that is necessary for freedom in its purest form. The Trinity is not, as some mistaken notions would have him, a set of three “pieces of God,” in my understanding. As such, because of the unity of the Godhead, there is no chance that any one single person of the Trinity ever acted without implicit knowledge, assent and omnipresence of the other two. In essence, one God, in three distinct but not separate persons decided as one being to set humanity free to return to the right and good way of life in his own footsteps, and regardless of our musings and speculation, even our rebellion and denial, he made the only right decision for us and for him, and thus is entitled to our sincere worship.
The third theme I present here is that of gender equality in worship and in life. Torrance links it to the theme of Trinity on page 107. He touches on the recent tide of radical feminism and its railings against the seemingly male names of God the Father and God the Son. He reminds us that in Scripture, these are names God has given himself as he reveals himself to mankind. I believe that male and female were created both in the image of the one God, and that the two together form a clearer image, though hardly a complete one. The interaction of the two genders, both relationally and sexually, mirror the relational aspects of the Godhead, when we factor in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as part of our being, resultant from our salvation by his power through the Son, returning without spot or wrinkle to the Father. In such a paradigm, there can be no inequality, because the three persons of the Trinity are absolutely equal one to another, and have differing roles and purviews which do not conflict nor bear any greater importance than those of the others.
Together, these three themes interact with one another at a very basic level. God has set us free from the sins of our ancestors, from the iniquities of society, and from the curse of spiritual oppression. We are as believers one in Spirit, one in Christ, reconciled to our Father equally and loved equally and given the gracious gift of opportunity to worship equally.