The Deep Things Of God: Understanding the Trinity
- Monday, September 20, 2010
If the sermon is good and the spirit of the congregation is right, a fixed liturgy may appear to be an irrelevance, even a constraint on the freedom of the Spirit....But when the times of dryness come, when we reach a plateau in our spiritual growth, then the structure of a liturgy that keeps both biblical depth and the biblical balance can provide us with fresh inspiration and keeps us from falling into the many diffrent errors caused by our natural proclivity toward omission and distortion. A person who is well trained in biblical liturgy will have a feel for what is orthodox because it will be embedded in his consciousness. Furthermore, he will have a sense of the right kind of Trinitarian balance, because whatever the sermon may be like, there will be a doctrinal framework to restore his spiritual equalibrium and keep him from going off the deep end.
Bray goes on to make the connection between this benefit of liturgy and the doctrine of the Trinity:
Good theological liturgy...is not (or should not be) a substitute for preaching, or a way of stifling spiritual fervor, but a framework in which to place biblical teaching and an encouragement to explore areas of it that we might otherwise neglect. Once again, words like structure and framework provide the key. Start discipling your faith into a structure, and you will inevitably come to the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the most basic and universal structure of all.
Thus liturgy functions as the tacit dimension that provides the basis for explicit Trinitarian doctrine. Indeed, as Bray suggests, on more than one occasion a healthy liturgy has kept a church from sliding into errors it would otherwise have embraced. A Unitarian theologian once lamented the fact that it was nearly impossible to turn Anglican churches against the doctrine of the Trinity as long as they kept using the Prayer Book. "The Prayer Book used by the Unitarian clergymen . . .familiarized the minds of worshippers with addresses and petitions to the three persons of the Trinity. Whatever the parson said or left unsaid from the pulpit could not sink into the mind as did the prayers from the reading desk and the responses from the pews repeated Sunday by Sunday."42
Another location of this tacit dimension, according to conventional wisdom, is tradition itself, especially the deep sense of tradition espoused by churches in which the ecclesiology is centered on claims of apostolic succession and institutional continuity. For these churches, tradition is a kind of deposit that we can adhere to and exercise implicit faith in without necessarily specifying the propositional content of that faith, or at least not needing to specify all of it at any given time. "I believe what the church believes" is the guiding principle here. However, there is an even deeper sense of tradition sometimes invoked by high-church theologians. Andrew Louth, in his evocative study Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology,43 advocates an approach to Christianity that lays greater stress on liturgical action than on proclaimed words. Claiming to follow Richard Hooker in laying "emphasis on the deeper power and significance of deeds," Louth links "the importance of the Incarnation, and, in dependence on that, the importance of the sacraments, and indeed of liturgical worship—which is a matter not just of words but of actions—in general" and argues that this constellation of concerns points to a very special significance for tradition:
For the central truth, or mystery, of the Christian faith is primarily not a matter of words, and therefore ultimately of ideas or concepts, but a matter of fact, or reality. The heart of the Christian mystery is the fact of God made man, God with us, in Christ; words, even his words, are secondary to the reality of what he accomplished. To be a Christian is not simply to believe something, to learn something, but to be something, to experience something. The role of the Church, then, is not simply as the contingent vehicle-in history-of the Christian message, but as the community, through belonging to which we come into touch with the Christian mystery.
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