This past week, one of my worship team members asked me an interesting question, "does God care about what we wear in worship?" She explained that in the past she had used makeup and clothes to hide who she was out of a feeling of inadequacy but that a few years ago God convicted her about her use of cosmetics so much that she stopped using them for a while. Through that experience, she learned that she was beautiful just the way that God made her and that she didn't need her brushes and bottles to make herself acceptable in his eyes. However, she still struggled with whether or not wearing makeup or fancy clothes while leading worship was somehow necessary, for lack of a better word. After all, we're supposed to bring God our best, right?
The question she is asking effects all of us, not just women. Personal appearance is important. The way we present ourselves - our clothes, speech, and mannerisms - goes a long way in determining how others perceive us. Even so, we know that "man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Sam 16:7). What is the right thing to do?
While it is possible to find people in America today who have made radical simplicity a virtue (the Amish come to mind), the vast majority of us live in a culture that hyper-focuses on appearance. Whether we are looking at the professional world or the influence of the media, there are expectations and pressures to ensure that we look a certain way. On the one hand, physicians are often required to wear a white coat; lawyers must wear suit and tie; and worship leaders aren't recognizable without a deep v-neck t-shirt, skinny jeans, and outrageous facial hair - fortunately that's only for the men. On the other hand, celebrities become icons of body image and fashion and entire industries have arisen to critique the best and worst of the Hollywood elite.
These pressures tend to push people to extremes. For some, the temptation is to hide behind the clothes out of a sense of inferiority. They feel like if they look the part others will accept them - fake it 'til you make it. For others, the draw is to use their wardrobe as a way of gaining attention for themselves. Fear and pride, respectively, drive them to extremes. Neither option is a biblical response to the culture. Both are highly invested in their appearance as an indicator of their personal value.
The value of a human life is not determined or even expressed by the clothes we wear. The life of each individual is precious because everyone has been made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Man or woman, adult or child, short or tall, fat or skinny, movie star or septic tank cleaner we all bear the image of our Maker. It is as reflections of the glory of God that we find our worth. It is not a value intrinsic to ourselves, determined by our birth or accomplishments. It is the free gift of God and in his sight we are all highly valuable.
There is, of course, a problem. While we do bear the image of God, it is a disfigured likeness. It is twisted and marred by sin but still recognizable. We all know that something is wrong and we try to cover it up with makeup, fancy clothes, or good deeds. Sometimes we simply try to forget and pretend that nothing is wrong. Either way there is nothing we can do to fix the problem. We need more than an image consultant. We need to be re-imaged.
This is where Jesus comes in. In him, all things are made new. This includes us! He redeems the image in which we were created when we place our faith in him. He restores that image back to its original glory as we are progressively made more like him through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. In Christ, God looks at us and says, "it is very good" (Gen 1:31).
At this point, I'm sure some of you are thinking, "yeah, we know all of that. Whats your point?" Simply this: we need to keep our priorities straight. Peter's exhortation to wives (1 Peter 3:3-4) is instructive for both women and men. His point is that we need to take more care of the inward matters of the heart and how God sees us than we do for our outward appearance. Peter isn't saying that we can't dress nicely. Rather, our emphasis needs to be on the things that matter to God. As worship leaders, if we spend more time and effort on how we will look during the worship service than we do preparing to lead our brothers and sisters into the presence of God then we need to do some soul searching.
New Man, New Clothes
As mentioned above, there is a desire in worship that everything be done with excellence and that we bring our best before God. When it comes to physical appearance, we need to avoid the one extreme of hiding behind our raiment and the other of using it to bring attention to ourselves. Beyond this, there remains a wide variety of options ranging from extremely casual to the very formal. What is appropriate will vary from one context to another based on the culture of the church and the individual. We need to take these into consideration because as Christians we represent Christ to the world not simply in what we say and do, but also in how we look.
At the end of the day, however, our outward image is of secondary importance. The real issue is how well we are conforming to the image of him who called us out of darkness. Paul reminds us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13:14). While it may not be fashionable in the world's eyes, we know that it brings a smile to the Father's face when we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ - and of all the critics, he is the only one who truly matters.
So, to sum up, there is nothing wrong with dressing nicely and wearing our best to worship - feel free to wear that old tuxedo that's just hanging in the closet - but there is also nothing wrong with wearing more casual clothing. The thing that matters is the heart. We need to ask ourselves, why am I wearing this? Who am I trying to impress? And most importantly, am I more concerned about being Christlike or being cool? Let's make sure we keep our priorities straight. To paraphrase Romans 14:17 - the kingdom of God is not a matter of clothes and makeup and accessories but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
In worship we commune with God. That’s number one. But does it matter what elements we include in worship, or even in what order? We’re all familiar with the old adage about changing the medium but not the message, but in truth the medium colors the message and will either enhance or diminish the truth that is presented.
Because worship is primarily about connecting with God on an intimate level, the words we say and the things we do reveal something about who we believe God to be. In my experience, this can be most readily observed in the correlation between formality/informality and transcendence/immanence. Churches that tend to emphasize a transcendent view of God also tend to utilize more ritualized actions and formal language, while those who understand God as primarily immanent will often use informal language and almost no ritual. As with all generalizations there are plenty of exceptions, but on the whole, a more or less formal a service tends to be reflective of a congregation’s view of God as primarily high and exalted or close and intimate. God, for his part, is both most high (El Elyon) and with us (Immanuel), and we must strike a balance that recognizes him as both. It is the same for practically every divine attribute in that we have some that we love to dwell on and others we’d rather not, but we must worship God as he is, not how we would prefer him to be.
It’s pretty easy to see the impact that what we say and do has on the overall feel of our worship. But what about the order? Does it really matter if the songs come first or the sermon? What about confession or the table? Actually, confession makes an interesting case study. For churches that make confession a regular practice, they generally do it in one of two ways. One tradition places confession early in the service because they understand that for worship to truly happen the hearts of the people must be cleansed to be in the presence of God. The other places confession after the sermon as a response the preaching of the word in preparation for the table because they understand that it is the Spirit’s use of the word that reveals our often hidden sin. They are both right in a sense but choose to highlight one view over the other. And what they choose says something about what they believe.
Our acts of worship not only declare what we believe, but also reinforce those same beliefs. Sometimes there is a discrepancy between what we profess and what we practice. In those cases it becomes imperative to change the practice to be more in line with the beliefs of the church. In the context of worship, however, this problem is not always obvious. The trend over the past several decades has been to whittle the service down to a block of music followed by a block of preaching. Any other actions like prayer or reading Scripture have become almost incidental in that they are often short, spontaneous, and performed from the front. The danger here is at least two fold: 1) it reduces worship to a spectacle to be observed and 2) it has the potential of become more about our subjective emotional response to the music and message than about reveling in the truth of the gospel which restores us to relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.
At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves who is this God we worship and what does he require of us as we come before him? Then we must measure our worship practices against those answers. When we prayerfully do this we honor the One we serve and better proclaim his greatness to a world in need.
Last time we examined some ideas about the Holy Spirit and worship – mostly misconceptions that do not help us understand his presence or work in worship. If the work of the Holy Spirit in worship is not solely or even primarily found in charismatic phenomena, how then can we understand his role? Three concepts are helpful in casting light on this area: binding, directing, and empowering.
Binding may seem an odd choice of words. After all, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). Paul talks about being a slave or bondservant of Christ (Phil 1:1) and while the notion is related, it’s not what I mean by the term. The binding I’m talking about is the deep connection that the Spirit gives us to the inner life of the Godhead and, consequently, to each other. Christ has made a way for us to be reconciled to God, but it is in the Spirit that reconciliation is made a reality.
The Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to the church and the two are so intertwined that we can say that where the Spirit is the church is also, and where the church is, there is the Spirit. He is our constant companion and guide. In him we are drawn to worship God and are lifted up into the presence of the Almighty. The Spirit forms the bond of love between us and God in much the same way that he does between the Father and the Son in Augustine’s vision of the Trinity. The cord of love that binds us to God is the Spirit. As the Spirit binds us to the Trinity, he also binds us to each other. When we submit to the leadership of the Spirit, we also submit to one another in love. This is true for both individuals within a given congregation and between congregations. Just as each believer is bound by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, so the local expressions of that body are bound together in the Spirit.
I should be careful to note that though the Spirit is God’s gift to the church, he is not possessed by it. The Spirit is, and remains, completely God. We can no more command the Spirit than we can command Christ or the Father. He is continually with us, but in the partnership that exists between the Holy Spirit and the church, the Spirit is the senior member.
The close connection binding God and his people dictates both the form and content of worship. We are not trying to reach up and to grab the attention of a disinterested God. Instead, our worship revels in the presence of a God who loves us so much that he has brought us into an extremely intimate relationship with himself at great cost to himself. Like old friends, we reminisce with God over his mighty acts in history. As grateful recipients, we proclaim the praise of our benefactor. As adopted children of God, we listen to the voice of our Father and celebrate at the table of Jesus, our big brother. All of this is done because the Spirit binds us to God, and God to us.
Unlike binding, directing is much more straightforward - the Spirit directs our worship. The New Testament repeatedly references the state of being “in the Spirit.” Most often the phrase implies a submission to the leading of the Spirit. A few of the actions we see being taken in the Spirit include rejoicing (Luke 10:21), praying (Eph. 6:18), and making ministry decisions (Acts 19:21). The first two easily fit into our typical notions of worship. Less obvious is the Spirit’s leadership in these areas.
We rejoice in the good things that we experience and give glory to God, but why? After all, good outcomes can be attributed to our own doings just as easily as they are to Divine intervention/direction, and that’s even before we take into account chance and luck. Some might say that our propensity to give God glory in such circumstances is the product of our own belief that God works in history and directs events as he sees fit. While that is certainly true, we rejoice in our struggles just as much as in our victories (1 Thes. 1:6, James 1:2-4). I find it difficult to accept that a mere mental assent to God’s overlordship can produce joy in difficult circumstances – perhaps it can create endurance, but not joy. Rather, it is the presence and work of the Spirit that leads us to rejoice in all of life’s twists and turns. We rejoice in the worst that life has to offer because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence in our lives. He connects us in Christ with God the Father and creates in us the desire to rejoice. Regardless of what we encounter, he will never leave or forsake us. The assurance provided by the indwelling Spirit that we will never be abandoned, cast off, or marooned is the sole source of our joy in the midst of overwhelming heartache. Even in good times, when it is so easy to find other causes of joy, the Spirit remains our fountainhead of rejoicing.
Prayer offers us an area where we more readily acknowledge the leadership of the Spirit. We commonly talk about God laying someone or something on our hearts as we are praying. We have all experienced times when we felt led to pray, as if God were calling us to speak to him. These are both examples of the directing work of the Spirit, but there is another sense in which we can pray in the Spirit. There are times when we do not know what to pray, but we are led to pray nonetheless. In these moments the Spirit, “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 2:26). I have experienced this kind of prayer most often in moments of intense emotion – an overflow of either sorrow, anger, or joy – where I have been led to pray but did not have any words to say. Again it is the Spirit who leads us to pray but in this case he intercedes on our behalf making the inmost thoughts of our heart known.
Rejoicing and prayer are just two examples of how the Holy Spirit directs us, but the pattern is instructive. The Spirit does not draw attention to himself, but draws our attention to Christ, and through Christ to the Father. In fact, his work is often so subtle that we regularly miss that he is the one leading us to such a response. The same is true for the other things that the Scripture tells us are done “in the Spirit.” The Spirit’s work is not flashy or self-aggrandizing but it is effective and powerful.
All Christians agree that Jesus is the model par excellence for the life that is pleasing to God. But the life that Jesus led and his ministry were not done in his own power alone but by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the same way that the Spirit empowered Christ, he empowers us as well. This is most easily seen in the gifts of the Spirit.
The Spirit endows each believer with particular gifts intended to build up and encourage the church. The individual gifts listed in Scripture are varied and include abilities like prophesy, wisdom, knowledge, healing, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues as well as offices like apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. It may seem odd that both abilities and offices are listed as gifts of the Spirit. After all, aren’t prophets those with the gift of prophesy? Well, yes and no. We need to keep in mind that the purpose of the gifts is to build up the church. Just because someone has the gift of wisdom does not mean they are gifted to be a teacher. Likewise, not all who are gifted to be pastors are bestowed with prophesy. Rather, all are empowered by the Spirit to serve the church in their respective roles.
From the earliest days, Christians have had a bad habit of focusing on the gifts themselves instead of the purpose of the gifts. The Apostle Paul felt the need address this shortcoming in 1 Corinthians. His answer was that three things would last: faith, hope, and love – and that love is the greatest of all. His point was that these three things are also gifts of the Spirit, and while not as flashy and impressive as tongues and prophesy, these three are the higher gifts in that they are given to all believers and allow the proper exercise of all the others. Moreover, love is given the place of honor because it alone serves as the ethical basis for employing the other gifts.
The Spirit empowers believers to be the church through the gifts of the Spirit and thereby bring glory to God. This is the essence of the church as worship. Redeemed individuals are brought together by the Spirit and empowered to worship by exercising the gifts they have been given to build up the church by spreading the Gospel and strengthening the faith of other believers. These tasks are not ends unto themselves but are the means through which God brings glory to himself.
As we interact with God, the standard trinitarian pattern of action reverses – we worship the Father through the Son in the Spirit. All of the motions of worship that are addressed to God follow this pattern. When we pray, we pray in the Spirit. When we sing, we sing in the Spirit. When we give or serve, it is in the Spirit. The Spirit binds us to God, directs our action toward the Father in Christ, and empowers us as we worship. The action of the Holy Spirit is so integral to what we do in worship that without his involvement our actions cease to be worship at all, becoming instead a frenzied attempt at grabbing the attention of a God with whom we have no real connection. If Christ is the door by which we enter into the eternal life of the Trinity, it is the Spirit who enlivens us and draws us to that door. He does this not by making himself the object of our focus, but by setting our attention on Christ. The Spirit, as ever, remains the shy member of the Trinity.
It is often said that we need more of the Spirit in our worship. Is that true? And what leads people to make this statement? How can we know whether we have more or less of the Spirit than before?
Of the three persons of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is the most enigmatic. Throughout the New Testament he is ever present yet always just on the edge of the spotlight. The simple reality is that the Spirit doesn’t draw attention to himself, but, even in his most astonishing movements (Acts 2), always points others back to Christ. The Spirit’s work undergirds the whole of the Church’s existence and ministry and our experience of him is immediate and powerful even today. In him we receive all the benefits that are available through Christ. Moreover, it is in the Spirit and through the Son that we have access to the Father.
The Spirit and the Trinity
The word spirit is derived from the Latin word spiritus, which originally meant breath. Likewise the Hebrew ruah, the Greek pneuma, and the English ghost all have the same meaning in their original senses. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God. But he is more than the exhalation of the Deity. In the Old Testament the breath is both the life and power of a person. Even so, throughout the Bible we see the Spirit working and acting as something more than an impersonal force – he is a personal being. The Spirit loves, teaches, helps, and can be grieved.
Whenever God acts, the three persons of the Trinity act together. The most common pattern of divine action can be summarized as coming from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. So, while the Father made all things through Christ, they came into being by the power of the Spirit and are preserved by his continued presence and action. The Son was sent by the Father to be sacrificed on the cross and rise again, but he was made flesh, lived obedient to the Father, ministered, and was resurrected by the power of the Spirit. We are reconciled to the Father through faith in Christ, but it is the indwelling of the Spirit that sanctifies us and guarantees our salvation. It is the Spirit who calls us to Christ by convicting of sin. Just as the Spirit preserves the created order, it is he who empowers believers for ministry, and matures us into the likeness of Christ, growing within us the fruit that bears his name.
The Spirit in Acts
This background allows us to make some helpful observations as we turn to the Spirit’s movements in the book of Acts. For the sake of simplicity, lets break these into two categories: the day of Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit that marked his presence with the disciples. Many, many books have been written on this topic. What follows here is simply a summary of my thoughts, not a detailed exposition.
The events of the day of Pentecost serve as a marker for the new creation that God has wrought in Christ. On that day, the Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem from across the known world heard Jesus' disciples from Galilee speaking the languages of their homelands. The message that was proclaimed gives us the clue to the importance of the event. Peter’s sermon called all those who heard to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be reconciled with God. The event forms a negative image of the events at the tower of Babel where God confused the languages of the people and scattered them over the face of the earth. Now, in the power of the Spirit, God is drawing all mankind to himself as a holy nation through Christ. This work of the Spirit serves as a foretaste of the day when our faith will be made sight and the divisions that separate us will fade away in Christ.
The gifts of the Spirit seen in the book of Acts provide an amazing picture of what it must have been like in those early days in Jerusalem. Yet, these, too, serve as heralds of the kingdom of heaven that was inaugurated at the resurrection. The gifts are always exhibited to proclaim the gospel or to highlight its acceptance in a new group of people. They are used as ministry tools for reaching those who have not heard the message. At no point in Acts do we see them used in corporate worship, though their performance often occasions worship. The Apostle Paul does mention spiritual gifts in worship in 1 Corinthians. He stresses two points in this regard: that everything should be done in an orderly fashion and that love is the greatest of all the spiritual gifts.
Seeing the extraordinary events and actions recorded in Acts as hallmarks of the Spirit’s action stems from a failure to understand the Spirit’s role in the divine economy. The Spirit is pointing back toward Christ just as Christ is point us back to the Father. This is what the Spirit does. He glorifies the Son, not himself. It is for this reason that he is called the shy member of the Trinity. The amazing events we see in Acts do not serve as paradigms for either worship or the Christian experience. The presence and work of the Spirit does not always manifest in extraordinary and miraculous ways, but his work is always present in the lives of believers. If we want to see the impact of the Spirit on worship, we will have to look deeper.
This post is based on a communion guide for lay leaders that I wrote in 2015.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. -Acts 2:42
I grew up in Baptist churches, so the Lord’s Supper was something we did every now and then. The idea was that by celebrating communion infrequently we made the act more special. Maybe it worked that way for some folks, but for me, it made the Supper an awkward intrusion into our normal worship. But hey, Jesus said we have to do it.
It was only when I went to seminary that I began to learn there was more to communion than what I had seen. I began learning about the early church as well as reading patristic theologians and I was stunned how much time they devoted to talking about communion. Then I learned that the Lord’s Supper was not something the early church did only a few times a year, but in nearly every service! It was a cornerstone of their worship. Their experience of worship was so vastly different from my own.
The Symbol of the Gospel
Precious gems are cut to have many facets. Each facet sparkles and shines but it does not contain the whole beauty of the stone. Rather, the stone’s true beauty is revealed as we examine each facet and how the light plays between them. The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. The many themes contained in the act of communion come together to reveal the greatness of the gospel – as a symbol of Christ’s death, we are essentially talking about the gospel when we talk about communion. The whole of what Christ has done for us can be seen in this one act. There are at least six theological themes that are bound up in the symbolism of the Supper: the memorial, thanksgiving, covenant, community, mission, and eschatology.
This is the old Baptist standard. It is also the most apparent on the face of things. We remember that Christ died for our sins. The bread is his body, broken for us. The cup represents his blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the foundation of the Christian faith. In the same manner, the remembrance of the price that was paid for our redemption forms the basis for all of the other aspects of communion. Matt 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:13-20, and 1 Cor 11:23-26.
From the Greek term eucharistia (from whence the term eucharist is derived). We remember that we have been set free because of Christ’s death and resurrection. This theme is an immediate response to the revelation of Jesus’ sacrifice. We are thankful for the price that was paid. We rejoice in our restored relationship with the Father, through the Son. Where the memorial is reflective and sorrowful, thanksgiving is joyous and celebratory – we are redeemed! 1 Cor 5:7-8, 1 Cor 10:16-17, Col 3:15.
Christ has created for us a new covenant, a new relationship with God. We remember to whom we belong. Jesus tells us that the cup is “the cup of the new covenant.” The Law and its purpose are fulfilled in Christ. We no longer need the sacrificial system and its accouterments because Jesus has made the perfect sacrifice once and for all. In him we are restored to relationship with the Father. We are also clothed by the Spirit in the righteousness of Christ. We are new creations, co-heirs with Jesus and children of the Most High. As we come to the table we have the opportunity to commune with God in a tangible and intimate way. Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25.
Christ has made us members of his body. We remember who we are. The Didache, an early Christian text from around AD 100, states in an example communion prayer, “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom.” While not Scripture, it is illustrative of the truth of Scripture and its expression in the symbols of the Supper. Bread isn’t made from a single grain of wheat but from many grains, made into flour and combined with leaven and water. The same is true of us. God has taken disparate people from every tribe and tongue and given us the Spirit to make us into one body, the Church. None of us are saved alone, but together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Acts 2:42, 1 Cor 10:16-17, 1 Cor 12:27, Eph 3:6.
We are the hands and feet of Christ. We remember that he had given us a job to do. Augustine of Hippo spoke to new believers about the Supper saying, “Be what you see, receive what you are.” He was talking about how the body of Christ is made up of individuals, but his words point to an additional reality. Christ sacrificed his body and blood that mankind might be saved. As members of his body, we also have a role to play – giving our lives as holy sacrifices. We are to be broken and poured out for a lost and dying world, just as Jesus was. Rom 12:1-8.
We celebrate his death until he comes again. We remember that he will return. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the wedding supper of the Lamb. One day, we will feast with Jesus in a new heaven and earth, but until that time he has given us permission to come to his table and dine with him. Just because he is unseen, his presence is no less real for it is he who presides over the celebration. But one day we will see him face to face! Matt 26:29, Luke 22:16, 1 Cor 11:26.
As a closing thought, the word remember is closely tied to the Supper. Jesus commands that we “do this in remembrance of me.” In contemporary culture, remember often carries the meaning of something we don’t forget. I would suggest, however, that the remembrance we are called to do is not a passive thing. Rather, we are to actively enter into the work of Christ as we recall his passion.
So, why did the early church celebrate communion so often? I think it was because the Supper functions as a recapitulation of everything that God has done for us in Christ. In this one act we can experience, in symbolic form, the fullness of the Gospel, from the Old Testament precursors to the eschatological realization of the promises of Jesus. But these things are not necessarily readily apparent. They must be highlighted and explained as we gather around the table. When we look at the Lord’s Supper in this light, it is by more frequent celebration that the act’s deeper significance is brought out and communion is made more special. The power of the Lord’s Supper does not come from the symbols of bread and wine but from the presence of Christ made manifest by the Holy Spirit. As we come to his table, he meets us there to nourish our souls as we feed on the truth of the Gospel.
 The Didache, Chapter 9, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm.
 Augustine, On the Nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, sermon 272, http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm.
This is the second in a series of articles that looks at the impact the Trinity has on Christian worship. The material has been adapted from my doctoral thesis.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated that he dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color or their skin but by the content of their character.” Character is an interesting thing. One has it before any action is taken, but another cannot see it until it is displayed by action. Character is something intrinsic to the person. An individual’s character defines him. He is his character. It is the same with worship. It is easy to think of worship as something the church does; after all, worship is a verb. But there is another sense in which the church brings glory to God by its existence. The church is worship.
How can this be? Simply put, it is why humanity was created. Genesis 1:27 states that “God created man in his own image. . . male and female he created them.” God did not create an individual but a pair, a community of people. Even in the following chapter in Genesis where Adam is created first, the story highlights the fact that the individual was meant to live in community with his own kind (Gen 2:18). While creation in the image of God does confer all individuals with worth and natural rights, the image of God applies equally to the creation of the community and its most basic unit, the family. From the beginning, this original community included God, but the presence of sin has broken this fellowship. It is only through the work of Christ that true community, a community that embodies the image of God in relationship with God, can be reestablished. This restored community is the church.
The hallmark of the Christian community should be the same as that of the Divine community: love. God has many attributes, but love is only one that applies to God in himself. All of the other qualities we think of – goodness, holiness, mercy, etc. – are in relation to created beings but love his how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other. Likewise, love is meant to saturate the church. At the first, this love relationship is expressed between the church and the triune God because, as the adoptive children of God, Christians share in Christ’s filial relationship with the Father thus participating in the life of the Trinity. The reality of the life of the Trinity as the model for the Christian life means that the relationships expressed within the Trinity are as important as God’s character and his commands. We are to love others – both inside and outside the church. The trinitarian relationships of the church can be expressed in the same language as the relationships with the Godhead. Inside the church, we find three primary categories: unity and diversity, authority and submission, and mutual indwelling. Relationships outside the church can be expressed in terms of mission.
Unity and Diversity
Within the Trinity, there exists a unity of being/essence and a diversity of persons, as well as a unity of purpose within the whole and a diversity of action in the particular. In the same way, the church is one body made up of many local assemblies, or on the smaller scale, it is a local gathering comprised of many individuals and ministries. Christians do not share a single essence as the Trinity does, but rather a kinship, all being made sons of God and coheirs with Christ. All of the redeemed, being clothed in Christ, stand equal before God (Gal 3:28). Even so all Christians are not the same and reflect a wonderful diversity. As with the Trinity, so with humanity, there exists no conflict between the equality of all and diversity.
The key here is diversity as opposed to division. In the Spirit, believers are united in Christ but there exists a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, purposes, and gifts (1Cor 12:12-14). We are to honor and respect the differences among believers so long as those aspects are not contrary to God’s character or law. As sinful creatures, it is easy to distort the variety that God has ordained for good. On one hand, there is a tendency toward uniformity, which by necessity erases all distinctions, and on the other, is the desire to turn distinctions between individuals and groups into barriers of fellowship. The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 which leads directly into the famous love passage. The point is that the diversity of the body of Christ is a good thing when expressed in love, for it is love that leads to unity and from unity love leads to expressions of diversity. With the Trinity, contemplating the three leads back to the one which in turn leads back to the three – and so with the unity and diversity of the church.
Authority and Submission
Just as the unity and diversity of the triune God is a model for humanity, the same is true regarding issues of authority and submission. Within the Trinity, the Father is the source of authority. It is he who sends the Son and the Spirit. For some people, relating to God as Father is difficult because of their experiences with their own fathers. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to look at the situation. The Father is the source of all fatherhood. In the same way that the image of God was scarred by sin, all human experiences of fatherhood have been likewise damaged. We must see beyond human experience to glimpse at the truth. The Father is the perfect father, and the Son is the perfect son. Their relationship is the paradigm for all relationships where authority and submission come into play.
The Father sends the Son, and the Son readily obeys. The Son also asks things of the Father, which the Father does, but it should be noted that the things the Son asks for are in concert with the Father’s will in sending the Son. The unseen animus here is love. It is out of love for the Son and a desire to glorify him that the Father sends the Son who obeys out of love for and a desire to glorify the Father because love exercises rightful authority and love also submits to rightful authority. Because these types of relationships exist within the Godhead, they also exist among his creatures. When we live in harmony with each other in rightly ordered relationships we brings glory to God.
At first glance, the idea of perichoresis among human beings seems absurd. The closest thing to it I can imagine is dissociative identity disorder in which a person exhibits multiple personalities. Without question, this is not what God intended for humanity and cannot be an expression of the image of God. The issue changes, in my opinion, as we reflect on the Divine image among groups, specifically the family and the church. Within these groups it is not uncommon for one person to act on behalf of the whole, bearing the consent and goodwill of the larger body, and using resources gathered by the community. In such cases, the actions of the one are recognized as actions of the whole. As Christians, we experience unity in Christ through the work of the Spirit who dwells within each believer. So it is not that we indwell each other, but the Spirit who abides in all believers who makes us into the image of God.
This union in Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit creates a new community where we are connected and dependent on each other to supply our needs. This interconnection and interdependence allows for the many to participate in the actions of one, or to put it another way, for the one to act in place of the many and the many to act for the one. Where one weeps, all weep. Where one rejoices, all rejoice together. This indwelling happens in various ways: through prayer, giving, and service. True, the type of indwelling that exists with the Father, Son, and Spirit does not exist within the created order, but what does exist within the church is a reflection of that perichoretic relationship.
Lastly, we see the church as worship by virtue of its efforts to fulfill its mission. Participating in the mission of the Trinity is not a mere imitation of the trinitarian paradigm – it is a participation in the life of the Godhead itself. At no point is the mission simply that of the believer. Rather the believer, through union with the Son by the Spirit, participates in the Son’s mission from the Father. There is a tendency, to think of the mission of the church as simply the evangelization of the nations. Though evangelism is certainly a part of the church’s mission, the reality is much broader. We are meant to be an eschatological community that provides a foretaste of the full restoration of creation and images the triune God to the wider world.
In its unity and diversity, authority and submission, mutual indwelling, and mission the church enters into the life of the Trinity. Furthermore, the church brings glory to God by reflecting the image of the Trinity in the community we were created to be. This worship is done primarily through relationships within the community of believers in Christ with the empowerment of the Spirit. It has nothing to do songs or sermons, buildings or budgets. It has everything to do with how we live our lives in communion with the triune God and with each other. These are the worshipers the Father seeks.
Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005).
 This statement and some of what follows can equally be applied to the individual believer. I have refrained from making the case for the individual in the interest of keeping things simple and highlighting how the community of believers follows the pattern of the Trinity.
 It is not my intent to make light of anyone’s painful experiences, but we all must attempt to understand God as he has revealed himself, and not lean too heavily on our prior experience or preconceived notions.
This is the first of a series of articles that looks at the impact the Trinity has on Christian worship. The material has been adapted from my doctoral thesis.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a knot of seeming contradictions that is held together by the belief that everything revealed in Scripture is true. This bundle of contradictions sits at the center of the Christian faith much like the hub of a wheel. At its core, the Trinity is a way of understanding who God is in himself. As such, all Christian doctrine flows from the reality of the Trinity. What the individual or church believes about the Trinity will either true the wheel of belief or skew it one way or another. There are three main propositions in the doctrine of the Trinity that must all be affirmed: 1) there are three persons, 2) each person is fully God, and 3) there is only one God. These affirmations guide us in the study of Scripture allowing as much of a glimpse into the infinite that the finite can hope for.
One of the first things that come into focus as we reflect on the Trinity is the relationship that exists between the three persons. The name given in Matthew 28, Father, Son, and Spirit, describes the Divine relationships evidenced in the pages of the New Testament. These relationships define each member of the Trinity based on his relation with the other two. The Son is the Son precisely because of his relationship to the Father, who is likewise Father because of his relationship to the Son and the Spirit. Moreover, these relations are eternal. The Father is eternally Father because the Son exists eternally. These distinctions between the persons as Father, Son, and Spirit are tremendously important to the Christian faith. Were these differences merely temporary, the whole of hope of the Christian would be only empty promises because humanity’s relationship with God takes place in and through the incarnate Christ. Imagine for a moment that Christ decided that he didn’t want to be human anymore. There would no longer be a human being bound up in the eternal love of God, and by extension we would no longer have a place in the triune life. Beyond being a foundation for salvation, the distinctions between the persons of the triune God also give rise to a perceivable order in which they not only relate to each other but to creation as well.
Before investigating this order, however, we must briefly look at perichoresis. Stanley Grenz defines perichoresis as “the interrelation, partnership, and mutual dependence of the trinitarian members not only in the workings of God but even more foundationally in all their very subsistence as the one God.” To put it another way, each of the persons of the Trinity, being completely God, contains the other two within himself. This mutual indwelling means that whenever one of the persons is in view, the others must necessarily come into the picture as well, for none exists alone. Examining the three persons draws us inevitably back to the one being and the one leads back to the three. Additionally, perichoresis is not merely a state of being but also impacts the way in which God acts. Whatever God does, it is the Trinity as a whole that does it – wherever one member acts, the three act together.
As the three act together, a discernable pattern emerges in which the action begins with the Father and is accomplished through the Son in the power of the Spirit. This pattern of from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit is repeated over and over in Scripture. Nearly everything God does exhibits this order. Conversely, when the movement follows in the opposite direction, it is a movement of worship. The Spirit glorifies the Son, who in turn glorifies the Father. What is more, the cycle of glorification does not end there. The Son is glorified by the Father and in turn, becomes the glory of the Spirit. The Trinity functions a community in which the Divine Persons eternally give and experience perfect love in the form of worship.
The ramifications of the economic order of the Trinity on worship are enormous. Too often worship is thought of as the action of the believer toward God. But within the trinitarian paradigm, worship is first and foremost the action of the Trinity and we are allowed to participate in the giving and receiving of love by the power of the Spirit. Worship does not begin and end with a church service or anything we do; it is eternal and ongoing within the Godhead. As we enter into worship by the power of the Spirit, we enter into the Son’s continual worship of the Father. From a human perspective, Christ is the only one true worshiper and we participate through him. Christ holds a unique position as the incarnate Son, he is both completely God and completely human and the only fit mediator between God and humanity. James B. Torrance notes that this mediation is a “relationship between God and humanity realized vicariously for us in Christ, and at the same time a relationship between Christ and the Church, that we might participate by the Spirit in Jesus’ communion with the Father in a life of intimate communion.”
The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus our leitourgos, which means minister or worship leader. By following the example of Christ we learn how to worship, and it is by worshiping united with Christ in the Spirit that communion with the Father is achieved, and the life of the Trinity open to humanity. Such a scheme is certainly Christocentric but not to the exclusion of the Father or the Spirit. Each person of the triune God is active and involved in bring people to worship, and our worship should recognize each member of the Trinity. Worship that focuses on only one person of the Godhead to the detriment of the others is a misrepresentation of the reality of the Trinity. Even worse is worship that recognizes God without any remembrance of the Three.
It is all well and good to say that the Trinity exhibits order, exists as a community of love, and that Jesus is the prime worship leader, but does this stuff really have any bearing on the lives of actual Christians? There are two broad categories of practical application that we will focus on in the next parts of the series: the church as worship, and the church at worship.
Cocksworth, Christopher. Holy, Holy, Holy: Worshiping the Triune God (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd Ltd, 1997).
Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004).
Parry, Robin A. Worshiping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012).
Thompson, John. Modern Trinitarian Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
Torrance, James B. Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1996).
 Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 68.
 James B. Torrance, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1996), 31.