What makes Christian worship Christian?

Accuracy regarding the subject and object of worship is essential. In a day where the media heralds that Christians, Mormons, Jews and Muslims all worship the same God, it is essential to address and acknowledge God as he has revealed himself, rather than as we think or wish him to be. Otherwise, we commit idolatry by thinking thoughts of God that are unworthy of him. What, then, are those factors that make worship distinctively Christian? I believe the factors that must be present in corporate Christian worship are that it must be Trinitarian, Christocentric, and must be offered by redeemed worshipers.

Trinitarian

The Trinity is a chief Christian doctrine, duplicated by no other religion in the world. It has great implications for why and how Christians gather (this will be discussed later). If Christians are to pay homage to this God, we must season our speech, songs and prayers with this central tenet: God is Triune. Saliers goes so far as to state that “no true worship is possible without the naming of the blessed Trinity.” The follow portion of the 5th century Athanasian Creed gives an orthodox depiction of the Christian God:

That we worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.

For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Spirit.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.

Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Spirit.

The Father uncreated: the Son uncreated: and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

The Father incomprehensible: the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Spirit eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

As also not three uncreated, nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated: and one incomprehensible.

So, likewise, the Father is Almighty: the Son Almighty: and the Holy Spirit Almighty.

And yet they are not three Almighties but one Almighty.

So the Father is God: the Son is God: and the Holy Spirit is God.

And yet they are not three Gods but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord: the Son Lord: and the Holy Spirit Lord.

And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.

Christocentric

In addition to being Trinitarian, Christian worship is made possible by Christ, and is centered upon the Christ-event. In commenting on the centrality of Jesus Christ to Christian worship, Old Testament professor Andrew Hill submits:

In the writings of the apostles, nothing is clearer than the fact that everything in sacred history–event, object, sacred place, theophany, cult–has been assumed into the person of the incarnate Christ. The Old Testament temple and altar with their rituals and sacrifices are replaced not by a new set of rituals and shrines, but by the self-giving of the Son of God in reconciling obedience to the will of the Father.

Professor and author Gerald Borchert interprets John chapter 14 to mean that Christ was revealing to the Disciples “that in him they were facing nothing less than the mysterious divine reality itself – the subject of their worship!” Jesus must be central in any Christian action that purports to be Christian worship.

Not only must Jesus be central, but there must also be specific belief in his regard. He must be acknowledged as Lord and God (John 20:28), resurrected and victorious (Rev 1:17-18), and forgiver of sins (Matt 26:28). Professor Hill stresses, “True worship pleasing to the Father is none other than participating in the saving life, death and resurrection of Christ, to which we are called to participate, whether assembled or

dispersed.” Celebrating the Christus Victor (Victorious Christ) must be a central theme in Christian worship.

Performed by Redeemed Worshipers

If you have ever accidently walked into the wrong restroom, you may understand the feeling and realization of “I don’t belong here.” Scripture is replete with examples of worshipers who find themselves in the presence of a holy God. Moses was asked to take off his shoes on God’s holy ground. Isaiah felt “ruined” when he found himself in the heavenly throne room. In the New Testament, Jesus describes it this way:

“But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. (Matt 22:11-12)

The feeling of arriving at a function and being completely underdressed is a nightmare that many may have experienced. It is sometimes enough to prohibit entry. This describes the situation of unredeemed people in the presence of the Tersanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy God. You can’t just saunter into His presence.

But Christ has re-deemed us, and has made us worthy to attend God’s celebration. Peter says that Christ has “brought us to God” (1 Peter 3:18), while Isaiah declares God to have “clothed me with garments of salvation . . . wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Is 61:10). The “I don’t belong here” feeling gives way to the feeling of “I am home.” Our confidence to worship God is not based on our own goodness, or even on the fact that we are made in the image of God. The writer of Hebrews (10:19) reminds us: “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh.”
It has been said that God looks on us with rose-colored glasses, stained red by the blood of Jesus, and declares us worthy to enter His presence. Christian worship must be offered by redeemed worshipers.


[1] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of The Holy (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961), 11.

[2] Saliers, Worship As Theology, 45.

[3] Robert E. Webber, Worship Is A Verb, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1998), 34, 36.

[4] Andrew E. Hill, taken from class lecture notes presented during the January 2005 session of the Institute for Worship studies, class 701.

[5] Gerald L. Borchert Responding to Mystery: A Worship Introduction to the New Testament (Chalice Press, 2006), 78.

[6] Andrew E. Hill, taken from class lecture notes presented during the January 2005 session of the Institute for Worship studies, class 701.

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