Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trinitarian or Unitarian worship?

In the coming weeks I hope to delve into salvation issues including the precise nature of saving faith, justification and sanctification. First, however, I want to say a bit about Christian worship and its relation to the Trinity.

Christians Worship a Trinity

My last post sought to highlight the implications that the Triune nature of God had for religious dialog among Christians. Now I want to ask what implications the Trinity should have for Christian worship.

Christians worship a triune God: one God in three distinct persons. Christians worship the Father. Christians worship the Son. Christians worship the Holy Spirit. For high churches and many liturgically oriented Protestant churches, this is obvious. The shape of the liturgy, as it has come to us through the rich Christian tradition, is unmistakably Trinitarian. Prayers are addressed to all three persons of the Godhead. Creeds acknowledge each person. Each person is integral to worship and each person receives worship. For liturgical traditions, at least in form, the worship is Trinitarian.

The Unitarian Danger of Non-Liturgical Worship

A problem arises with certain Protestant traditions that have departed from traditional liturgy. In many Protestant services the sermon, not the Eucharist, is the highpoint of worship. Creeds are absent and prayers are largely extemporaneous. This departure from traditional liturgical forms does not necessitate a departure from Trinitarian worship. However, it does greatly increase the risk. This type of worship often puts extra pressure on the sermon and the songs/hymns to achieve a properly Trinitarian form. Unfortunately, these elements in many Protestant churches fail to highlight or even acknowledge the triune nature of God. The result is that many Christian congregations, who are theoretically Trinitarian in belief, worship in a functionally Unitarian manner.

This Unitarian worship is most evident in contemporary worship music. Robert Parry, an astute Pentecostal theologian, ran a statistical survey of Trinitarian content for nearly 400 songs coming out of the Vineyard churches (an extremely influential contemporary Protestant force in worship). What he found was that many songs were addressed to a generic “Lord” or “God.” When one person of the Trinity was singled out, it was overwhelmingly Jesus who received the nod. An extremely small portion of songs mentioned the Holy Spirit at all, and almost none focused on the Spirit exclusively. Vineyard songs do not represent the totality of contemporary Protestant worship; however, they are fairly representative. Thus, when non-liturgical Protestant churches select worship music (if they are not extremely discerning) they will most likely create a worship music experience that is functionally Unitarian (most often worshiping either a generic “Lord” or “Jesus”).

What’s the big deal?

Besides the fact that all Christians theoretically believe in a Triune God, it is immensely important to worship in a Trinitarian fashion. If God is Triune then we Christians should worship Him as such. We should care about worshipping Him as accurately as possible. Humanity was made in the image of the Triune God. Since we have all fallen into sin, God has continually been trying to get us back into right relationship with Himself. This right relationship is expressed in its highest form through worship. Worship is where we as creatures approach our creator. We as the redeemed Church approach our Redeemer. We as the continually sanctified body approach our Sanctifier. Worship is the closest we get to heaven on earth. It is when we corporately express our right relation of adoration to God.

Through proper Trinitarian worship Christians can come closer to a realization of right relationship with the God who is triune.

What can we do?

My main advice for non-liturgical contemporary churches would be to adopt traditional liturgies. They are ready made triune vehicles of worship; you can’t go wrong. If this is not a possibility or simply not desired there is still plenty that can be done.

1. We should encourage our music leaders and song writers to write songs with substantive Trinitarian content, making sure not to neglect the oft forgotten Holy Spirit.

2. Even songs sung to a generic God can be redirected to one of the persons through a prayer that comes before or after the song.

3. Prayers should be informed by thoroughly Trinitarian language.

4. Other elements are ripe with possibility, including a Trinitarian benediction. Even the very structure of the service can evidence the Trinity.

5. Sermons should explicitly teach the Trinity and use implicitly Trinitarian language.

6. Perhaps a contemporary worship styl;e could be infused with a hymn every now and then. Charles Wesley wrote an entire hymnal (nearly 200 hymns) solely on the Trinity. \

A vision for Trinitarian worship

Essentially worship is when the body of Christ on earth, the Church, joins the Son in his continual worship of the Father in heaven, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Son is our high priest and main worship leader. He is constantly interceding on our behalf, making our worship acceptable to the Father. Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit, join in the worship that the Son has offered for all eternity. Ultimately, worship is offered to the Trinity through the facilitation of the Trinity. In inviting us to worship, God is inviting us to join the eternal loving communion of the Trinity.


Matt said...


Sorry this is a little off topic.

What about liturgy outside of regular Sunday worship services? Have you ever looked into the Liturgy of the Hours?

Great post,


David said...

Glad you're back at this.

Adam said...

I have read a bit of "The Hours" for various orders and some modified hours from the Anglican Book of Common prayer.

Was there any particular form you had in mind.

I must say some of them seem a bit daunting (I remember one order has you rise pretty much in the middle of the night to pray).

Adam said...

I am glad to be back at this. I have fortunately found a rhythm that allows me to blog weekly.

Matt said...


I am not sure you want me to eat up your combox space with this.

I was just wondering if you have looked into other forms of liturgical prayer. in this case, liturgy is used for private prayer. although the liturgy of the hours is frequently prayed in community as well particularly in monastaries and seminaries (somtimes refered to as "the prayer of the Church").

Its true that the full Liturgy of the Hours include prayer 7 times a day. For those monks/nuns that pray all 7 in community, they usually pray night prayer at around 7pm and morning prayer at about 4am. Obviously, not all of us are called to that lifestyle.

The liturgy of the hours can take a shorter form. Many layman particularly will pray the morning, evening, and night prayer (or whatever they can fit in). The idea being to sanctify the day through prayer.

Outside of Mass, this is my favorite way to pray. Although, these days, I am blessed to get in morning prayer alone.

thanks for indulging my curiosities,


Adam said...

This sounds like a good way for a Christian to enliven or resurrect their own prayer life. I have the book of Common prayer. Are there any other resources you would recommend concerning liturgical prayer throughout the day of a layman?

Matt said...


I should point out that the other name for the Liturgy of the Hours is the "Divine Office". It follows the liturgical calendar, so feast days and so forth will have special prayers and readings.

Since reading your last posts, I have noticed that the Liturgy of the Hours also incorporates these themes of Trinitarian worship.

For years I used the Magnificat which is monthly magazine primarily for laypeople. It has a shortened version of the Hours with only morning, evening, and night prayer. It does not have the full office of readings.

I am currently using a book called 'shorter Christian prayer'. It is also a shortened version (but not as much as magnifcat). It does not contain the office of readings and only includes a few of the feast days.I have several extra copies, you can have one if you wish.

Here is a website that has it all free online. It also has office of readings. It even has an iphone app.

There is also a larger one volume version that contains everything for morning, evening, and night prayer. Also, there is a four volume version that has everything for all 7. You could check any of these out at Benedictus Book Store in Lexington.

If you really want to experience this in its fullness, I recommend traveling to a monastary where it is chanted such as Gethsemane (of Thomas Merton fame) in Bardstown or the Passionist here in the 'boro or St. Meinred also near the 'boro.