At this year’s “Christ Our Future” Conference Peter Toon addressed the theme of Christology by considering prepositional imagery
LITURGISTS AND LITURGIOLOGISTS have told us incessantly over the last thirty years that the public liturgy is the work of the people. It is what we do together in Celebration. And we have been given explanations of the Greek word underlying LITURGY to reinforce this teaching that worship is what we do before God — leitourgia meaning public service, service of the gods, public worship.
Obviously the public liturgy occurs when people come together at a specific time in a sacred place and in an ordered way both address words to God and perform symbolic, religious acts. Thus it may be claimed that the people are working in the sense that they are using their minds, hearts, wills and bodies to perform religious work.
Let us presume that the assembled people are performing this religious work using an orthodox liturgy and appropriate ceremonial and symbolism. Is the result of their work genuine Christian worship? Is it really and truly the divine Liturgy?
Let us be honest. The public liturgy can be merely a glorious (or a poor!) show on earth, occurring in what we may term the horizontal mode and with no real vertical [heavenward] dimension to it! It can be merely a cooperative work of a gathering of sincere, religious people on this earth, of this world and only for this world. Further, it can actually celebrate a this-worldly existence using God-language. And it can be exciting. In these circumstances, it probably has no connection with the worship going on everlastingly in heaven!
The point I am trying to make is this. There is a widespread view within culture and within the churches that understands and portrays worship as something WE, the people with our pastor, do. We orthodox or modernist or whatever go to the church, we sing our canticles and psalms, we participate in the prayers of the people, we hear the sermon, we share the peace, we give our tithes and offerings and we offer the eucharistic sacrifice and so on… If asked, we all admit that we do this with God’s help and because Jesus and his apostles told us to do it. However, we are the ones who actually do it!
In reality, the basis of the exercise is that in such a context the liturgy is what we do and it is basically our work! And where a congregation has moved away from the traditional words of historic rites and into modern, non-excluding or politically-correct forms of speech, this sense of the liturgy being OUR liturgy and what WE do for God or to God is usually the greater. To reject the naming of Yahweh as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and to choose instead to say the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier is to announce with clarity to heaven and to earth that WE are in charge and this is truly our liturgy which we control. We are doing our thing and exercising our rights.
From a biblical perspective and in the language of patristic theology the doctrine of worship understood as that which WE the people (orthodox or unorthodox!) do is really this: the only priesthood is our [human] priesthood; the only offering is our [human] offering, the only intercessions are our [human] intercessions. It is a kind of do-it-yourselves with your priest and be sure to enjoy the celebration in community of your community together.
I put this to you: Do those who claim to be biblical and orthodox need to ask whether they have been so indoctrinated with fashionable liturgical notions that they habitually think in these terms. It is of course entirely natural (in terms of fallen human nature) to see religious activity as our activity and what we as creatures offer to the deity. Thus the notion of liturgy as our work is easy to grasp and easy to teach and this is certainly one reason why it is so widely popular even in circles which emphasize their biblical orthodoxy.
In summary: the temptation facing of all us always and everywhere in a sinful world and with imperfect human natures is to make or to allow our worship (whatever rite is being used) to be man-centered (or humanity-centered); to be in the horizontal and not the vertical.
You ask: but, what is the alternative? Must not all so-called worship be our work, our activity, and what we do and say? Surely, if we gather in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, if we offer our worship to the Father of the same Lord Jesus Christ and if we assume the assistance of the Holy Spirit, then we must be on the right lines! Is it not perfectly acceptable to see Christian worship as do-it-yourselves together in response to Jesus Christ and what he has done for you?
To answer these questions, to proceed with this discussion and to identify what makes worship genuinely and vitally Christian worship, we need to do three things: (a) recall the full identity of our Lord Jesus Christ; (b) recall the dynamic, biblical doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and (c) recall what is occurring everlastingly in heaven unto ages of ages.
(a) Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us, and he is the Word made flesh: he is the Savior of the world and he is the only Mediator between God and man: he is the Lord of lords and King of kings: he is the Prophet who as the eternal Word speaks the living Word: and he is also the Priest, who now exercises an eternal priesthood. In his exaltation into heaven he did not shed his humanity (which he assumed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary) but he perfected, glorified, divinized and supernaturalized it in order for it to be fit and suitable for the life of heaven. Thus the Son of God lives for ever as One Person made known in two natures (as the Council of Chalcedon declared in 451). His sacred humanity has not been eliminated or turned into divinity, but as glorified human nature belongs wholly and entirely to him as the Lord Jesus Christ unto ages of ages.
(b) The biblical portrayal of the Holy Trinity is not only in one direction, what we may call the downward movement — FROM the Father through the incarnate Son in and by the Holy Spirit (in creation, revelation, redemption and salvation). There is also the upward movement of the created order (specifically the new creation) which is TO the Father, through the Son and in/with the Holy Spirit. There is no approaching God the Father Almighty except through his only begotten Son, who is the Word made flesh and who is One Person with two natures. This movement TO the Father THROUGH the incarnate Son and WITH the Holy Spirit is presumed and even declared in the great eucharistic prayers of the Church. The celebrant specifically offers the bounden duty and service through, by, with and in Jesus Christ to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
(c) The activity of Heaven With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify thy glorious Name… In the heaven of heavens, the vast orders of holy angels together with the increasing society of the redeemed from humanity join in perpetual praise of the glorious Father Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible. But their adoration and praise of the Father is through, in, and with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of the Father, and it is with the Holy Spirit. The Incarnate Son as the new Adam is the first worshipper and the created order of the invisible world joins with him. The redeemed humanity not only joins with but also worships in and through him for it is united to the Son by reason of his sacred and vicarious humanity and of being in the Body of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Humanity of Jesus
From these three themes, we need for our purposes to focus on one unifying element — the sacred and the vicarious humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Body of Christ [the Household of God, the Church] is in, with, by and through Jesus to the Father only because he first assumed our human nature in the womb of the Virgin. His connection with us is not only that the Father created us through him (John 1; Col. 1) but also that he has made his very own our human nature unto ages of ages. With and in this human nature he matured from boyhood to manhood, he was tempted and tested, he spoke the words of God and worked miracles, he suffered, died and was buried, he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be exalted at the right hand of the Father. At all times (as the Gospel of John makes very clear) Jesus as the Man for others enjoyed perfect communion with the Father. The Son of God in his assumed human nature always and everywhere worshipped the Father in and with the Holy Spirit as he lived in intimate communion and fellowship with him as the new Adam on earth. Now, in heaven, as the exalted Messiah he continues this intimate communion with the Father unto ages of ages.
It is most important that we rejoice in what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in his vicarious life of obedience to the Father, his atoning death upon the Cross and his being raised bodily from death into heaven for our justification. By what the Son has done for us in his vicarious humanity we receive forgiveness of sins, we are placed in a right relation with his (now our) Father and we are given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit and of eternal life. And by what the Son is now doing for us we enjoy the results of his redeeming activity on earth in all kinds of practical ways unto sanctification and deification. Here we are focusing upon our duty and ability to worship the Father Almighty and we are confessing that genuine worship is participating by the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.
Genuine worship of the Father almighty on earth is only possible when the church militant on earth is united with the angels and the church triumphant in heaven, which are themselves united in and by the Holy Spirit with the Lord Jesus Christ he perpetually and everlastingly as our Priest adores and magnifies the Father in his communion with him.
Such worship is truly liberating and ennobling for creatures on earth. It is called for in the Eucharist by the Sursum Corda — Lift up your hearts…
The Son of God
Let us now turn to the Scriptures and specifically to the Epistle to the Hebrews. Here we find a transcendent conception of Christ which sees him as the Son of God clothed with all the attributes of God (Yahweh). The keynote is struck in the opening verses where Jesus is contrasted with both the prophets and the angels. They are servants of God but he is the Son, through whom God works as through a fellow in whom he (God) is reduplicated and whom he (God) addresses by the great names peculiar to himself — God and Lord.
Further, as the Son there are assigned to Jesus Christ divine works both in eternity and in time. Yet most striking of all is what we are told about the real identity of the Son rather than what he has done and does. He is the very effulgence of Gods glory and the very image of his substance which is a rich and suggestive way of saying that the Son as Son is just God’s fellow. He is the repetition of God’s glory (the divine nature), the reiteration of his substance (nature and attributes).
In terms of our salvation, this Son, who is God with us, is given various functional titles by the author of Hebrews. He is the Messiah (Christ) appointed by the Father to inaugurate the new order of things and to bring his people safely into the experience of the promised salvation. As the Mediator of the new covenant he gives his life for the redemption of his people, establishing a new relation between them and God by the shedding of his blood. As the Originator of salvation he tasted death for every man. receiving in himself the penalties due to them (not to him). As Author and Perfecter of our faith he endured the Cross, despising the shame that he might be not only our example but also our Savior. As the great Shepherd he laid down his life for the sheep. As the Apostle and High Priest he is the one appointed by God to make sacrifice of himself for the sins of the people.
The red thread of redemption in blood is woven into all the allusions to the saving work of the Son of God. And the chief means in this Epistle for the expression of this teaching is the representation of our Lord’s work as priestly in its nature and the proclamation of him as the great High Priest. From Psalm 110, and its use by Jesus, himself the early Church learned to confess Jesus as Lord. From the same Psalm and from their knowledge of the role of the High Priest of Israel on the Day of Atonement, they also learned to confess Jesus to be a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. The writer to the Hebrews made this Priesthood of Christ to be the means to proclaim not only the vicarious atoning death of Jesus as a sacrifice for sin, but also his eternal intercession for his people in heaven. The glorious truth is that the Incarnate Son who brought redemption to his people by his sacrifice at Calvary now also worships the Father in his manhood and intercedes with the Father as their unique, heavenly Priest.
The New Adam
One thing we must not do is interpret our relation to the eternal Son, our great High Priest, and to his Father in individualistic terms. We err if we think of our relation to God the Father as a kind of one on one! Though our personhood is ennobled by the grace of God we are always persons in relation, and specifically in relation (a) to the Lord Jesus Christ, who became one of us and one with us, and (b) to our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ within the communion of saints.
Jesus Christ is One Person who is also the new Adam, the representative and the vicarious Man, our great and heavenly high Priest. He is the One for the many and the many are included in him. Thus as the Messiah and the Savior what he did in Galilee and Judea he did not do for himself but for us. What he does now as the heavenly Priest in offering worship and making intercession is not for himself but for us. We are all included in him as his Body, even as the names of the Israelites were engraved on the breastplate of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, when he entered the holy of holies of the Temple. Whether we are conscious of it or not our heavenly Priest acts on our behalf everlasting. There are no days off: his Priesthood is exercised always and without ceasing.
The myriads of angels join with the Lord Jesus Christ as the new Adam in his adoration, praise, thanksgiving and intercession. The company of the redeemed in heaven, with the Blessed Virgin Mary as first citizen, is there in heaven only because it is in the Body of Christ and thus it both prays through and in him and with him as the Priest of all creation to the Father.
The church on earth is called by the Gospel to join this heavenly worship and to do so by the presence and assistance of the Holy Spirit. And since the church on earth, as the church in heaven, is the society of the redeemed, the prayer is first through and in Christ and then with Christ. If it were only with Christ then it would be individualistic prayer and prayer which proceeds without reconciliation and redemption. But it is prayer and worship in Christ because it is our inclusion and participation in his sacred and vicarious humanity which guarantees our salvation and creates the possiblity of genuine prayer.
Thus our essential prayer (be it the Daily Office or the Eucharist or other) is in a vital sense already being prayed. It is as if we simply add the particulars of our own specific situation to the general offering of adoration, praise, thanksgiving and intercession which is the heavenly work of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Priest. Truly we only pray when we pray through and in him as our Saviour and with him as our Priest — and all in the Holy Spirit. Even my solitary cry for help in an emergency only is a prayer to the Father because being in Christ my prayer is joined to his intercession and is heard for his sake.
Yet we pray not simply out of duty as obedient creatures but also as adopted sons, joint heirs with Christ, who delight to be in communion with the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit. Thus the height and the depth of Christian worship and prayer is the enjoyment of vital communion with the Father through and in the Son and with the Spirit which brings both the peace that passes understanding and also the rejoicing with great joy. Also and importantly, this communion becomes the basis of the energy and desire to proclaim to others by word and deed the Gospel of the Father concerning his Son. We go forth into the world to proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation because we know the Father through, in and with the Son and by the Holy Spirit.
In our daily vocations we need to remember that the Scriptures and holy tradition teach us that freely given unto us in Jesus Christ is both a God to man movement of grace and a man to God movement of grace. And this is of great importance. If we think only of Jesus Christ in his great and wonderful Incarnation and saving work on the Cross, in Resurrection from the dead and in Exaltation into heaven we have a limited even if true understanding. Out of such a view, prayer and worship tend to be seen as what we do in response to our glorious redemption — a kind of extended thank you to God. Thus our thank you Lord can become seemingly monotonous and tired and we are tempted to think that we have constantly to adjust the shape and content of the Daily Office and of the Sunday Liturgy to make them more attractive relevant and celebratory (which is what has been happening in recent decades).
However, if we also dwell in our meditation upon the Lord Jesus Christ in glory as our King-Priest and Prophet then we shall find that the Daily Office and Sunday Liturgy become the place where we are given joy, peace, strength, energy and desire to do the works of the kingdom of heaven to the glory of the Father. Then we are not interested in perpetual innovation and change; rather, within the received traditional discipline, we seek to live within the fullness of the mediatorial and priestly work of Christ. Thus, for example, when praying the Daily Office it should not matter to me whether I am alone or with others or even whether some parts seem tedious. The truth is that I am joined in the Communion of Saints with the holy angels in and with Jesus Christ the heavenly Priest towards communion with the Father. Likewise, in the holy Eucharist I am also united with others in and with the Spirit into union with Christ and through him to the Father in the communion of saints and with the holy angels. Thus because of the man-God relation and movement given us by grace in our Lord Jesus Christ, worship is not merely a duty it is also a joy and a means of communion and friendship with the Father as his adopted sons.
A Royal Priesthood
So we may join the New Testament in speaking of the Body of Christ, the assembled people of God, as a royal priesthood. Because baptized believers as the household of God are both in Christ and with Christ in prayer and worship, they share in his priesthood of offering the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, of worship and prayer, to the Father in and with the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that any single Christian is a priest, who as an individual person has an individual right of access to the Father in prayer. There is only one true Priest in the New Covenant, Jesus the Christ . Thus to speak of the priesthood of all believers can be both erroneous and confusing for it suggests that there is an individual priesthood of each individual believer! What is true is that the holy, catholic Church of God is called by grace to share in the royal Priesthood of Christ, the King of kings, in praying not only for the enrichment of its own life but also for the salvation of the whole world. Thus the Church is truly a royal priesthood as it exists through and in Christ towards the Father.
It is perhaps worth remembering that when the Church downplays the theme of the praying Christ in heaven (in order for example to safeguard the deity of Christ) the tendency is to replace the pivotal role of Christ as Priest with an over emphasis (a) on the role of the ordained ministry (priesthood) of the Church, or (b) on the priesthood of all believers.
Worship of the Trinity
The Church worships the Holy Trinity. This means that the Church worships the Second Person as the God to whom we pray. We worship and we adore the only begotten Son of the Father, the Word made flesh. But we also come to the Father of the Son, to the Father almighty, through this same Son who for us and for our salvation became man and in that manhood restored us to friendship and communion with his Father. Thus we come to the Father through and in the Son and so our relation to the Father is wholly dependent upon and included within the unique relation of the Incarnate Son to the Father. Through him and in him and with him we (the Body of Christ) enjoy communion with the Father by the Holy Spirit.
In conclusion, let us return to the point where we started. The civil liturgy for the ancient man was the expression of a will other than his own through his own labour as it was joined to the labour of others. The polis, or the emperor as the embodiment of the polis, willed that the roads be swept. That was then expressed in the street sweeping by each householder of the area assigned to him. His own sweeping by each householder, by itself, was not the liturgy; nor was the aggregate of street sweeping by all individual householders; but the union of the will of the polis, the will of each householder, and the united action of the whole.
Once up a time this was the basis of the idea of a body politic, but this is a meaningless term to those who have been raised under a doctrine of atomized individualism. The Corpus Christi is, however, the body politic of the City of God; and Christian liturgy is the expression of his will through corporate action. The new religion men simply cannot understand this; or they act in intentional rebellion against it.
The Liturgy we use ought to be (as the Orthodox say) the divine liturgy, where the emphasis for Christians is upon the adjective, DIVINE, not upon liturgy as the work of the people. In other words, there is true worship when the liturgy ceases to be the mere work of man and becomes participation in the vicarious humanity of Christ as we acknowledge that Jesus, the high Priest, is the unique Leitourgos (Hebrews 8:2), who leads our worship and who intercedes for us. We pray through, in and with the Lord Jesus Christ our great high Priest.
Peter Toon is the President of the Prayer Book Society and the author of various books, including, Our Triune God (Baker, 1996), and Yesterday, Today and Forever…the doctrinal decrees of the seven ecumenical councils (Preservation Press, 1996). This paper was delivered to the York residential conference of Forward in Faith.