Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The distinctive presence of Christ in corporate worship

In my humble opinion, Dr Garry Williams is always worth listening to. I have just had an excellent pre-breakfast work out with his paper from the John Owen Centre 2015 conference on Putting Theology Back into Practice - Everything is Ordinary: Pragmatic Minimalism and the Presence of God.

Really helpful Reformed Scholastic clarifications on the presence of God applied to corporate worship (especially preaching, supper and prayer).

Some very scrappy notes below will give a flavour:

How normal might public worship be? How comfortable can the non-Christian expect to feel in church?
A peculiar presence of God in public worship
A Reformed Scholastic map of God’s presence
God’s infinity – an aspect of God’s moral qualities – God is infinitely holy
immeasurability – (1) temporal – eternal – (2) space – immensity – in and beyond all places, unbounded by place
Omnipresence – (1) his operations – he everywhere acts, of power
(2) His knowledge
(3) His essence – the Socinians denied this – Stephen Charnock – God fills heaven and earth
God’s immutability implies omnipresence
We are present circumscriptively, circumscribed
Angels have a definitive presence – place but not circumscribed
God has his own unique repletive presence – he fills all space
Turretin – this language is possibly too physical
Helm – our language is time infected – it is also place infected
God accommodates himself to us – he speaks creaturely to us
God speaks richly to us

God not contained by creation. It is contained by him. God is not extended like a body but simple infinity of essence. (Turretin)  

God is everywhere, but not physically by multiplication, mixture, extension, diffusion, division etc. (Charnock)

God is beyond the world but not just by being in other places – e.g. not just in the heavenly throne room – beyond all worlds – God is beyond space in himself – but notice the “in” even here

How is God distinctively present in some places?


Operation – sustains all things

In heaven – not by essence but by physical manifestations of his glory – not the prison of his essence but the court room of the revelation of his majestical presence (see Charnock)

Gracious and covenantal presence with his people, efficaciously

God’s presence to the lost – in grace, sustaining but also in wrath

Present to bless or departing from us with his blessing, leaving us to his frown or coming to us in with the arms of his blessing

Distinguish but not separate these presences – God’s essential presence is the foundation of his operational presence

Tabernacle – not more there in essence than elsewhere but in a heaven like visible manifestation of his presence, there for

Col 1:19 – in Christ – the essence of God not more present there than elsewhere – the distinctive operation of the hypostatic union – God made Christ’s humanity uniquely his

God’s presence in us by the Spirit – which bit of me? Not like my heart or lungs! Not physical – God relates to us in a new way, operates in us

Corporate worship – special operational presences of God in corporate worship

(1) Preaching – 2nd Helvetic Confession – the preached word of the God is the word of God – God is present speaking

Eph 2:17 – when did Christ preach like this? In his death? In his earthly ministry? Through the preaching of his messengers, the ascended Christ preaches

Rm 10:14 – how do they believe him whom they have never heard? – Cranfield, not just heard about – Christ is the one who is heard – he speaks to bring about faith

Acts 26:23 – the risen Christ proclaims to the Gentiles – also 4:31; 13:34

1 Thess 2:13

Gal 3:1 – The preacher’s words, which are the words of Christ, presence Christ in his glory before the people – an oral manifestation of cross aurally received – equivalent effect of the physical presence of Christ


(2) The Lord’s Supper

1 Cor 10:16 – cf. Pagan concepts of communion with demons – you can feast with demons

OT background

Thisleton – sharing in Christ

We share in Christ’s body and blood in the Spirit

An actual deepening of the believer’s relationship with Christ – an exclusive union which excludes others (demons), bound in covenant with Christ

(3) Prayer

Mt 18:19-20 relate to previous section v18, “on earth” – thing – pragma – the stuff you agree about – sometimes a specifically judicial sense – subject of forgiveness next too – primarily about the judgements of the church which Christ is present to underwrite – name, presence – Ex 34 – Christ is the glory of God present with his people who meet in his name

All 3 of the above presences of the risen Christ by his Spirit

All of life is lived in God’s essential presence

Christ’s operational presence in corporate worship

Christ is here to do stuff in corporate worship – what are the practical implications of this?

See Westminster Directory of Public Worship for attempt to state the non-negotiable elements of public worship – preaching, praying etc. – The debates are about how / the manner of preaching and praying

An ethos and habit for corporate worship

“atmosphere” / “temperature” – The Lord Jesus is here to do something

A habit – habitus – disposition of the soul

What if the preacher thinks of his words as the presence of Christ speaking, not a person standing up to talk about Jesus or explain the Bible? Not just A talking to B about C. God remote, removed, 3rd person – almost deist. C talking to B through / in the words of A. I / you.

The operative presence of God should be accompanied by fear (awe) and joy (Acts 2, phobos came upon every soul). Not joking around, flippancy, triviality, not dower, dull, cold, unfriendly, uptight.

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