Is Christ-Centered Worship Anti-Trinitarian?

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought5 Comments

An Irish Trinitarian Shamrock Cross

I was recently blessed to lead a breakout session at the Doxology & Theology Conference in Frisco, TX, on “The Worship Leader and the Trinity.”  If you’d like to grab my notes for that, go here.

In some of my closest worship leader circles, where the cross is lifted high and the gospel is seen as the shaping paradigm for the Christian life, much is made of the concept of “Christ-centered worship”—worship that focuses on Jesus, especially the imputation of the merits of his life and the atonement of his death onto believers.  Yet, as orthodox Christians, we profess that our God is Triune—one God, eternally existing in Three persons.  And while each Person might have unique roles, we’re careful to point out that Their oneness encourages our worshiping the Three by neither excluding nor neglecting any one Person.  In the words of the Nicene Creed, around which all Christians should be able to rally, we rightly adore “the Spirit, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.”  So is “Christ-centered worship” challenged by this notion?  Bryan Chapell helps answer the question:

The redemptive flow of biblical worship inevitably makes our liturgy Christ-centered.  This does not mean that Christian worship diminishes the honor of any other member of the Trinity.  God the Father makes our worship Christ-centered by redeeming us through the work of his Son, and giving the Spirit to testify of him.  Because worship is a response to this witness of redemption, the grace God provides through his Son is the thread that sews the service together.*

So, in other words, Christ-centered worship and Trinitarian worship are one and the same.  To speak of Christ-centered worship is to make explicit what Trinitarian worship is—approaching the Trinity through Christ, who is applied to us by the Spirit.  Christ, the only mediator between the Godhead and humanity (1 Tim 2:5), is the door through which we walk to enter the blessings of the mutual, self-giving love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Even more profoundly, and certainly more mysteriously, the Spirit unites us with Christ—we are one with Him—such that we somehow are experiencing the Trinitarian life as we are in Christ.  This is getting at what Scripture means when it says that our life is “now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3) and why we in some sense here and now have “died with Christ” (Col 2:20) and are “raised with Christ” (Col 3:1).  This is what John the apostle is meaning when he says that “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:4), and it is what Peter is pointing to when he says that we “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4).  In the words of John Piper, “God is the gospel.”  The good news is that in Christ, through what He has done for us in His life and death, we’re invited to experience the joy and life shared by the Magnificent Three.  So gospel-centered is Christ-centered is Trinitarian.  The three are one.

*Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 113.  

5 Comments on “Is Christ-Centered Worship Anti-Trinitarian?”

  1. Thanks for the meditation, Zac. I think it's right on to say that Christian worship is inherently Trinitarian for the reasons Bryan Chapell mentions (and which are further discussed in your notes). In my experience, even churches which understand this too often leave it unsaid in the course of the liturgy, short-circuiting the worship of the other persons of the Trinity, and I think that's where some versions of "Christ-centered worship" can fall short. If we believe the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity for worship, we have to express it corporately as well.

    Thanks for posting about this and for the good resources.

  2. Centrality of Christ is very different from Christ exclusively.

    Centrality of Christ celebrates His diety & humanity, bringing us to God
    But to worship Christ exclusively only heralds His humanity. In fact, it quickly becomes about projecting ourselves into the Christ that we worship, as if to say he is made in our image, rather than the other way around: "he's just a better version of me." We lose all sense of context in regard to the God who was [from eternity past]. We only believe in the God who is & is to come. Modalism, at best.

    P.S. I completely agree with you about Christ-centrality as Trinitarian worship. Sadly, I've seen a huge shift in the direction of exclusively worshipping Christ, without understanding the rest of the Godhead (and really, the .entire story of Scripture).

  3. Peter, very well-put. You parsed it better than I did. Thank you! I definitely needed to get into the very things you (and Bret above) have brought up. Thanks, man!

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