Worship, Community, Triune God (Torrance)

Torrance, James B. Worship, Community, & The Triune God of Grace. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

James Torrance identifies Trinitarian worship as “our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession” (Torrance 15). He also clarifies what his brother meant by Christ’s “vicarious humanity.” In his humanity Jesus brings our worship to the Father.

The first bad model is unitarianism, aka Protestant liberalism.  What matters is my soul’s relationship with God.  The second bad model is functional unitarianism, aka the Experience model.  This can be seen in both Bultmann and modern evangelicalism. It looks good on the outside: God addresses man and man responds.  What is missing is Christ.  There is no place for Christ to lead our worship and present our prayers before the Father (29).  As Torrance notes, “It ignores the fact that God has already provided that response which is alone acceptable to him.”

Finally is the Trinitarian model. It begins with God and the humanity “vicariously realized in Jesus Christ” and a relationship between Jesus and the Church (31). This understanding of worship allows us to perceive “a double movement of grace–(a) a God-humanward movement, from (ek) the Father, through (dia) the Son, in (en) the Spirit and (b) a human-Godward movement to the Father, through the Son in the Spirit” (32).

Some Criticisms

Torrance uses the language of perichoresis with regard to the Trinity.  That’s not wrong, but it isn’t exactly how it was used in the early church.  Perichoresis applied to the two natures.

Torrance never adequately developed his definition of person as a relational being.  I agree with him.  I also agree with him that Boethius’s definition is problematic.  But Boethius’s definition has tremendous explanatory power.  To overturn it your definition has to be just as persuasive.

Conclusion

Torrance has a fine appendix on names and metaphors for God. Granted that God is beyond sexuality and isn’t physically male, then why is “Mother” not acceptable? Doesn’t the Bible use motherly metaphors for God in the prophets? Torrance points out that the Bible uses similes for mother in the Bible, not metaphors. A simile is a weaker concept. Furthermore, Father isn’t a metaphor for God. It is God’s naming himself, which is a stronger reality.

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Frame: Worship in Spirit and Truth

Frame, John. Worship in Spirit and Truth.

Caveat: I generally don’t like contemporary worship, so while I might agree with Frame, that doesn’t mean I like modern worship services per se.

The first 40 pages or so is a basic review of Covenantal history. This is familiar topic to most reformed readers, and while quite good, is probably not why people are reading this text. He then analyzes the RPW. He agrees with the claim that worship must be regulated by the Bible, but is concerned that RPW advocates have painted themselves in the corner. Per the RPW, Frame asks

What are these “circumstances” (WCF 21.1)? The Confession doesn’t say, except to note “light of nature.” I’m open to general revelation, and I would agree with the WCF on this point, but general revelation by its very definition resists specificity.

Saying “circumstances” are secular elements (also common to ordinary life–time, place) isn’t quite accurate. Frame notes, “There seem to be some matters in worship which are ‘not common to human actions and societies,” concerning which we must use our judgment (Frame 41; e.g., what precise words to use in our prayers). Prayer is not “common to society,” yet aside from repeating the psalms as prayers (and one could do far worse), it appears that we will have to use our own judgment. Frame scores points here.

Frame suggests we use “application” instead of “circumstance” (41). This avoids the Aristotelianism of earlier language. Can one use the language without adopting the concepts? Probably, but it’s hard and eventually something must change. I understand the Aristotelian distinction between substance and accidents, but when applied to worship we really don’t see the Bible using that approach.

Regarding Nadab and Abihu, Frame is correct to point out that this verse does not teach “What is not commanded is forbidden,” but “what is explicitly forbidden is forbidden.” Nadab and Abihu did not use the right kind of fire. They were doing a forbidden act.

Elements

I agree that the Bible regulates our worship. This statement is quite different from the typical RPW claim (see below). We have the premise:

1. We may only perform what Scripture commands.

We must add another premise:

2. In the end God only commands broad generalities (52).

Frame develops (2): Where does Scripture bifurcate worship into elements and circumstances? Scripture (a) nowhere divides worship into independent elements and (b) then brings them together. Which activity is elemental in character and which is simply an application of carrying out certain elements (53).

For example, per the above view, the Scripture prescribes singing psalms, whose content is identified. Scripture also prescribes public prayer and preaching, whose content is not really specified beyond “being biblical,” etc.

The things we do in worship are not always easily separated into elements and circumstances. Singing and teaching are not always distinct. When we sing a hymn, we teach other people (Col. 3:16).

In pp. 56-60 Frame gives his own list of a worship service, which is basically what you will find in any Reformed, non-covenanter service.

Instruments

The no-instruments Presbyterians say that instruments were tied to the temple worship and were abolished in the death of Christ. Frame responds:

Instruments were not always tied to Temple worship (see Miriam and David in the Tabernacle). Later, they were, and one could argue for progressive revelation, but the point is that they did not always have a Temple-only function (nor did God say that).
Further, we do actions today that were part of Temple worship: we pray in worship; we take oaths in worship; and we teach God’s word, yet none of this was abolished in the death of Christ.

We don’t really see Music in the OT as being set forth to typify the work of Christ.
True, we don’t see music in the synagogues, but we don’t know why so we can’t give a firm reason why not. How can one claim to be no-instruments yet still rely on a pitch pipe?

What about the body?

I can agree with Frame that dancing, clapping, etc is biblical. But there are also other biblical premises: don’t distract others. Let it be done decently and in good order (the OPC theme verse). It’s hard to imagine how one can have “spontaneous dancing and clapping” and not distract others in worship.

Criticisms

Frame doesn’t seem give weight to a particular sequential format of worship. To be fair, Scripture is not explicit on this point, but if there are biblical patterns of God’s redemption, should not our worship incorporate that? Personally, I am undecided on this point, but it is probably not accidental that many Reformed churches have a generally similar sequential order.

On another point, I understand his concerns about needing to express God’s truth in contemporary language, but it’s really hard to separate the medium from the message on this point. Frame acknowledges the point concerning “thrash metal” music in the service (141). Some forms of entertainment are so thoroughly identified with the most degenerate elements of culture that it is not wise to import them.

And Frame is very aware that worship is “not to cater to unbelievers” (146). Being a Christian has a grammar and a way of living. Yes, it should be intelligible to others, but the Christian life is also one of growth and maturity; sometimes it might be legitimate to express worship in a way that adequately corresponds to the richness of God’s redemption. On the other hand, I understand the Puritan desire for simplicity for the sake of not distracting from Chris

Worshiping with the Church Fathers (Christopher Hall)

fathers

The first 3rd of the book deals with sacraments and the structure of worship, if only briefly per the latter. If you’ve read much into the history of the sacraments, there isn’t much here that is new. The rest of the book deals with prayer, and it is one of the best treatments on prayer I’ve ever read. Most manuals on prayer usually focus on “You need to pray more” or “Communion with God” or something like that. No doubt true. It is the fathers, however, who give you practical guidelines on how to pray.

Order of service. The key witnesses are Justin and Tertullian. We have to be careful with Tertullian, since he prescribes “sisters” exhorting and prophecying. The “president” of the assembly gives an exhortation, followed by a group prayer. Eucharist was weekly.

Oil was used to chrism the baptized (n55).

Relationship between baptism and regeneration: Later fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa assigned it an almost medicinal function, though not by the nature of water itself but by the working of God.

Eucharist

While the fathers hated gnosticism, as we all must, they also lived deeply ascetical lives. This wasn’t a contradiction, for the athletic-like control of the body allowed them to fully participate in the spiritual realities to which matter pointed.

So what happens with the elements? The fathers don’t have anything so refined as transubstantiation, though their language is strongly realist. The key point is that the Eucharist isn’t a repetition of the cross, it is rather a remembrance in the sense that the realities come rushing toward us. This is accomplished by the epiklesis.

Ignatius of Antioch encourages the Ephesians to gather often for the Supper.

Hall doesn’t specifically address it, but his comments on Cyril of Jerusalem show that the elements were received in both kinds. You held out your hands, the right and left hands forming a cup in which to receive the King.

Gregory of Nazianzus’s sister, Gorgonia, couldn’t be healed by the physicians, so she fell down before the altar at midnight. Gorgonia took the leftover Eucharist and applied it to her body and was healed.

Prayer

Prayer flows from our dispositions–our habituated thoughts, words, and actions. This is why praying the psalms is important. Athanasius argued that when we read and chant the psalms, those experiences become our own. Therefore, when we pray the psalms daily (specifically, various cycles of psalms), we aren’t engaged in vain repetition. It is rhythm for our life.

Pray without Ceasing

There is a connection between continual prayer and bodily behavior. Continual prayer requires an assault on our passions, which the fathers took to mean something like but stronger than “bad habits.” Rather, it is “a conglomerate of obsessive emotions, attitudes, and desires.” They are “logismoi” or “dialogismoi,” little maggot-eggs from which evil will spring. Combine these buzzing thoughts with the power of memory, and it is hard to enter into quiet, continual prayer.

The physicality of prayer ties in with what scientists call the “plasticity” of the nervous system. This is why habit-forming practices are so important and even inevitable. As to the how or “what” of prayer, Abba Isaac recommends Paul’s advice in Phil. 4:6-7.

Supplication arises from our sorrow over sin. Intercession is woven by our love for others. Thanksgiving requires a long memory. Sometimes we move into wordless, almost fiery prayer. This is given by God.

Abba Isaac recommends Psalm 70:1 as the key verse to cry out at all moments of the day, whether in adversity or prosperity.

Antony, Athanasius, and Discipline

Antony didn’t know what we moderns know of neuroplasticity, but he had the same idea. Body and soul aren’t the same thing, but they are intimately related to each other. As Hall notes, “Antony habituated his body to labor that maintained the soul’s strength.” Antony’s ascetic labors lasted at least 35 years. Hall’s prose here is simply lovely.

And the stories about Antony are really neat.  His body was neither gaunt nor fat when he emerged from the fortress.

I strongly recommend this book in Hall’s series of the Church Fathers.

Review: Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life

If you have read Frame before, then you know what you are getting:  carefully argued positions, fair treatment to opponents, and a staggering amount of biblical reflection. His tri-perspectivalism is on display here, as in earlier books.  I will address it as the review moves forward.

He defines ethics as “living under God’s law, in God’s world, in the presence of God himself” (Frame 3). Further, these are Lordship ethics, and Lordship has three attributes: 1) Control: 2) Authority  3) Covenant presence. 

He begins with a description of ethics and a brief (too brief, perhaps) survey of autonomous ethics.  He notes that autonomous ethics are hamstrung by rationalist/irrationalist dialectic:  man proclaims his own reason as the standard yet denies it is able to reach knowledge of God. 

Following this he gives a commentary on the Decalogue, noting key particular applications.  I am not going to give a summary of each commandment.  Rather, I will note some of his more controversial claims, his more helpful sections, and other notae bene he makes.

Per the Second Commandment, and the Regulative Principle:

RPW advocates see three categories for what is biblically permissible: 1) express commands, 2) approved examples, and 3) theological inferences.  Well and good, but adding these extra categories mitigates the simplicity of the RPW.  Even worse, it “gives considerable scope for human reflection, in even determining ‘elements’” (471). 

What about the specific words of our prayers? They don’t fit in the above categories.  Are they circumstances? They can’t be that, since they aren’t “common to human actions and societies.” 

What about temple worship?  Not everything in the temple was typological of Christ’s sacrifice. It had prayer, teaching, and praise, yet these weren’t abrogated.

On the sixth commandment he gives an eloquent, and quite frankly emotionally-moving, defense of the unborn, with some interesting history on Operation Rescue. On sexual ethics he points out the naturalistic fallacy in the Roman Catholic arguments against *some* birth control methods. 

In his discussion of the Decalogue he hints at a rebuttal of Kline’s “Intrusion Ethics.” Kline argued that some of God’s more extreme measures (Canaanite genocide) are actually intrusions of God’s final justice.  Well, yes and no.  True, that was a positive command and not to be repeated by the church today. Frame notes that we “do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace” (535). Is this a time or sphere of common grace?  But even if it is, God’s blessings fell upon elect and non-elect within theocratic Israel. 

Is Kline talking about government?  Perhaps, and a holy government is one that bears “the divine name” and “the promise of being crowned with consummation glory” (Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 96). But does Scripture ever describe a government as such? Israel is a “chosen people,” to be sure, but is the nation itself promised with consummation glory?

In any case, as Frame notes, nothing in Genesis 4-9 suggests a distinction between holy and nonholy governments (536).  And even if it did, that wouldn’t help explain how the modern magistrate, who might happen to be a Christian, is to rule.  What does it mean to rule according to common grace?  How could we even determine which application of “common grace” is more “gracey” or right than the other one?  General Franco of Spain probably had more common grace than either Hitler or Stalin, yet one suspects that the modern advocate of intrusion ethics wouldn’t praise Franco’s regime.

Worship in Spirit and Truth (Frame)

Frame does a decent job defining the RPW, and he is aware of the element/circumstance distinction, but he asks a number of tough questions:

What are these “circumstances” (WCF 21.1)?  The Confession doesn’t say, except to note “light of nature.”  I’m open to general revelation, and I would agree with the WCF on this point, but general revelation by its very definition resists specificity.

  • Saying “circumstances” are secular elements (also common to ordinary life–time, place) isn’t quite accurate.  Frame notes, “There seem to be some matters in worship which are ‘not common to human actions and societies,” concerning which we must use our judgment (Frame 41; e.g., what precise words to use in our prayers).  Prayer is not “common to society,” yet aside from repeating the psalms as prayers (and one could do far worse), it appears that we will have to use our own judgment.  Frame scores points here.
  • Frame suggests we use “application” instead of “circumstance” (41).  This avoids the Aristotelianism of earlier language.  Can one use the language without adopting the concepts?  Probably, but it’s hard and eventually something must change.
  • Regarding Nadab and Abihu, Frame is correct to point out that this verse does not teach “What is not commanded is forbidden,” but “what is explicitly forbidden is forbidden.”  It is not simply that Nadab and Abihu did not use the right kind of fire.  They were doing a forbidden act.  

Elements

Agreed that the Bible regulates our worship.  We have the premise:

(1) We may only perform what Scripture commands.

We must add another premise:

(2) In the end God only reveals broad generalities (52).

Frame develops (2):  Where does Scripture bifurcate worship into elements and circumstances?   Scripture (a) nowhere divides worship into independent elements and (b) then brings them together.  Which activity is elemental in character and which is simply an application of carrying out certain elements (53).  

(3) For example, per the above view, the Scripture prescribes singing psalms, whose content is identified.  Scripture also prescribes public prayer and preaching, whose content is not really identified.

(4) The things we do in worship are not always easily separated into elements and circumstances.  Singing and teaching are not always distinct.  When we sing a hymn, we teach other people (Col. 3:16).

In pp. 56-60 Frame gives his own list of a worship service, which is basically what you will find in any sane Reformed, non-covenanter service.

Celebrating Holidays

What do we mean by the word “celebrate?”

Exclusive Psalmody

Frame gives a number of powerful arguments against exclusive psalmody.

  • EP works if one can prove that “song” is an element of worship, and not a circumstance.  Frame, however, has shown that this distinction breaks down.  Further, we teach by songs (Colossians 3:16), yet few would deny the so-called elemental nature of singing.
  • Scripture never says the Psalter is the “divine hymnbook.”  In fact, such a view would militate against Scripture.  There were worship songs before the Psalter (Ex. 15; Num. 27; Dt. 32; Judgs 5).  After the Psalter, did God then forbid the use of these songs?
  • God often calls for “a new song,” even in the Psalms themselves! (Pss. 33:3; 40:3; 144:9; 149).  In fact, his people are supposed to respond to his mighty works with new songs and praise.
  • The last criticism is practical:  how seriously can we take the EP claim when the only way it works is to severely “work over” the psalms into metrical and versified form?  

Instruments

The no-instruments Presbyterians say that instruments were tied to the temple worship and were abolished in the death of Christ.   Frame responds:

  • Instruments were not always tied to Temple worship (see Miriam and David in the Tabernacle).  Later, they were, and one could argue for progressive revelation, but the point is that they did not always have a Temple-only function (nor did God say that).
  • Further, we do actions today that were part of Temple worship:  we pray in worship; we take oaths in worship; and we teach God’s word.
  • We don’t really see Music in the OT as being set forth to typify the work of Christ.
  • True, we don’t see music in the synagogues, but we don’t know why so we can’t give a firm reason why not.
  • How can one claim to be no-instruments yet still rely on a pitch pipe?

What about the body?

I can go with frame that dancing, clapping, etc is biblical.  But there are also other biblical premises:  don’t distract others.  Let it be done decently and in good order (the OPC theme verse).  Charismatics routinely fail on these two points.

Criticisms

Frame doesn’t seem give weight to a particular sequential format of worship.  To be fair, Scripture is not explicit on this point, but if there are biblical patterns of God’s redemption, should not our worship incorporate that?  

On another point, I understand his concerns about needing to express God’s truth in contemporary language, but it’s really hard to separate the medium from the message on this point.  Frame acknowledges the point concerning “thrash metal” music in the service (141).  Some forms of entertainment are so thoroughly identified with the most degenerate elements of culture that it is not wise to import them.  

And Frame is very aware that worship is “not to cater to unbelievers” (146).  Being a Christian has a grammar and a way of living.  Yes, it should be intelligible to others–and this is my main criticism of Greek Orthodox in America–but the Christian life is also one of growth and maturity