Recently a Roman Catholic bishop suggested that Christians could pray to Allah. Al Mohler posted a response on his blog. He wrote:
From its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim — the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father. If Allah has no Son by definition, Allah is not the God who revealed himself in the Son. How then can the use of Allah by Christians lead to anything but confusion . . .and worse?
While I doubt that anyone who normally reads Worship Matters is thinking about worshiping Allah, it did remind me how important it is to identify the God we worship when we meet together.
Scripture tells us that the one true God exists in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are equally and eternally the one God. He is Three in One, or triune. We see something of the centrality of the Trinity in worship from Eph. 2:18, which says: “For through [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” This passage implies that Christian worship is defined and enabled by the triune God. John 4:24 implies something similar. God the Father brings us into relationship with himself through the redeeming work of his Son, and applies that work to our hearts and lives by his Spirit.
“Father” isn’t a term we invented to describe God’s relationship to us. God has been the Father of Jesus from all eternity. And we don’t interpret God’s fatherhood through experiences we’ve had with our own father, whether good, bad, or non-existent. We derive our understanding of what fatherhood is from God himself (Eph. 3:14-15). God’s Word makes it clear that the Father is worthy of our worship (Phil. 4:20).
We come to the Father through the Son because he is the one mediator between us and God (1 Tim. 2:5). He came to live a perfect life, to receive the judgment against our sins that we deserved, and and to rise victoriously from the dead. Jesus is the perfect mediator because only he is both fully God and fully Man. As God, he can completely bear God’s wrath against our sin. As one of us, he is able to serve as our substitute both in his perfect obedience and in atoning sacrifice. Because he is God he is worthy of our worship, and the Father is glorified as we honor the Son (Phil. 2:9-11).
We come to the Father in the Spirit because the Spirit draws our hearts to Christ, to the Father, and to one another (1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 2:22). The Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, enables us to participate truly in the relationships of the Trinity, for our good and the glory of God. While the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship as God, his primary role is to magnify the Son for the glory of the Father, and to reveal God’s presence to us.
I could spend a lot more time expanding upon the nature of the Trinity. But that would make this post interminably long and there are books that have done a far better job than I ever could. I’ve listed some at the end of this post and I encourage you to read them.
The question is, how much do the songs we sing on Sunday define, articulate, reflect, and praise the God who has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit in Scripture? How many of our songs are limited to general second person pronouns or simply, “God?” Would there be much change to our song repertoire if we found out next week that God wasn’t triune? Would anyone in our churches even notice?
As a worship leader, I’m responsible to lead people in an accurate knowledge of God. I want people to be aware that we glorify the Father through Jesus the Son in the power of the Spirit. I can do that through the songs I choose and the way I pray. Saying that I don’t understand the Trinity (who does?) is no reason not to seek to understand God better and to display the glories of his triune nature as we meet. I want to be intentional about singing songs that draw attention to the distinct roles and relationships of the persons of the Trinity, while acknowledging that we worship the one true God.
A few years ago we sang a trinitarian song that simply exchanged the names of Father, Jesus, and Spirit in each verse. That made us aware that God was triune but didn’t help us understand the unique relationship and roles that each member of the Trinity possesses.
We can do better. While every Sunday doesn’t have to sound like “Trinity Sunday,” our song selections and prayers over the long haul should reveal our love for the Triune God. Some songs mention two persons of the Trinity (Jesus, Thank You by Pat Sczebel, O Great God , You Are My King by Billy Foote, You Have Been Good by Twila Paris), while others mention all three persons. Here are a few that we sing:
Obviously, there are many more. The question is, are we using them intentionally? Let’s make sure that no one in our congregation has to wonder if the God we worship is Allah.
If you’re interested, some helpful introductions to the Trinity include Making Sense of the Trinity by Millard Erickson, God in Three Persons by Allen Vander Pol, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by Bruce Ware.