Trinitarian Worship

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When someone mentions Trinitarian worship, we may immediately think of the times when we make specific reference to the Trinity in our worship services. For example, we may think of some of the classic hymns of the church that mention the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The great hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” praises “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!” Or we may remember the progression of thought, from stanza to stanza, in “Come, Thou Almighty King.” After a stanza is devoted to each person of the Trinity, the hymn offers praises “to the great One in Three.” Frequently we sing the so-called “Doxology,” which concludes with, “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Besides the hymns we sing, many churches recite one of the ecumenical creeds each Sunday. These statements of faith are structured around the Trinity. Certainly the doctrine of the Trinity receives continual attention in classic Protestant worship.

But worship that is in spirit and truth is Trinitarian also when the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly mentioned. In worship, the congregation lifts its collective heart to God to declare His worth. As the flow of worship progresses and God is praised, the congregation’s approach to God is always Trinitarian.

Paul taught this when he wrote Ephesians. In chapter 2 verse 18 he wrote, “For through him Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” This announcement belongs to a paragraph that presents several reasons why Christ’s church is one. Paul explained that all Christians today, whether Jews or Gentiles, enjoy the same peace with God and stand on the same foundation where Christ is the cornerstone. Though, in the past, there was deep hostility between Jew and Gentile due to God’s sovereign dealings with mankind, the dividing wall of hostility was destroyed when Christ atoned for our sins. Now all who trust in Christ for divine forgiveness share one approach to God: through Christ, in one Spirit, to the Father. This universal — or catholic — approach to God is always Trinitarian.

The reason true worship is Trinitarian is that God’s revelation of Himself to us, especially His saving revelation, is Trinitarian. When the Father sent the Son, the Son came in the power of the Spirit. Since the Father saved us through the Son by the power of the Spirit, we approach Him using the same pathway: through Christ we all have access in one Spirit to the Father. It becomes clear that our worship is our response to the Gospel of Christ. Our way of approaching God reflects the way He has approached us.

Trinitarian worship is experienced in all the parts of a Christian worship service. When the early church assembled together, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Many Protestant reformers saw in this verse the content of the worship services that were under the authority of the apostles. The early church assembled to sit under the teaching of God’s Word and to engage in “fellowship,” or sharing, which included sharing financially with the needy. Through God’s means of grace, they received assurance of faith through the sacramental signs, and they prayed together. In these various acts of worship the church either received grace from God or offered itself to God’s service. In each part of their corporate worship they engaged in worship that was Trinitarian.

The church receives grace when it prays, receives God’s Word, and receives the sacraments. These are means appointed by God for the Holy Spirit to impart or strengthen our Christian faith. Receiving grace through the use of these means is a Trinitarian experience because they are appointed by God to offer grace, they direct our faith to the Son of God, and they are powerless unless the Spirit is present to apply grace to our hearts. As the congregation lifts its heart to receive, the triune God condescends to give.

The church also lifts its united heart to God when it offers itself to God’s service. Our prayer and gifts are offered “in the Spirit” to Christ, the Father’s gift to us (Eph. 6:18). The congregation’s psalms, hymns, and spirituals songs constitute some of its prayers to God. Such songs are addressed to God in Jesus’ name and are enabled by the presence of the Spirit. Singing that properly belongs to Christian worship offers to the triune God our words of praise, confession, and thanksgiving. Through these acts of worship, including prayer and gifts both offered to God, the church approaches God, depending on Christ’s merits to be received and on His Spirit’s presence to be sanctified.

Such worship is both simple and profound. It is simple because God’s grace directs our faith to Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man. In Christ we meet the face of the Father and the power of the Spirit. In Christ we entrust ourselves to the gift of the Father and the testimony of the Spirit. In Christ we become children of God and the temple of the Spirit. By worshiping in the name of one person, our Lord Jesus Christ, we engage in Trinitarian worship.

True worship is also profound because we never exhaust all that there is to know, do, or feel in God’s presence. Certainly the reality of God’s transcendence, mercy, and presence will always humble us, move us, baffle us, and excite us. Through faith in Christ we enter heaven, the home of God, and God enters us, making us His temple. In Christ we begin to experience the privilege for which we were first created: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Therefore we sing: “For His favor, praise forever unto God the Father sing; praise the Savior, praise Him ever, Son of God, our Lord and King. Praise the Spirit; through Christ’s merit, He doth us salvation bring” (from the Trinity Hymnal #243, “Praise the Savior Now and Ever”).

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