Modalism and Modern Worship (Horton)

 One of the many blessings of a liturgy shaped by biblical truths and phrases is that it gets in you.  If a liturgy is full of biblical truth, it teaches the truth.  Both kids and adults learn good theology from a good liturgy.  On the other hand, if a liturgy doesn’t closely follow Scripture or biblical truths, the opposite happens: people absorb not-so-good theology or even unbiblical theology that is very man-centered.  And, of course, every church has a liturgy!  The only question is: how biblical is it?  Michael Horton explains one aspect of liturgy in the following section of his 2017 publication, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit.

It is in the public service – the weekly gathering of the communion of saints – where this [Trinitarian] faith is won or lost.  Whatever is received, done, or said there shapes our personal relationship with the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.  In the fourth century Basil of Caesarea revised the liturgy then in widespread use to more intentionally inculcate a full Trinitarianism, calling pastors ‘to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving, both in confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught them at their baptism.’  One example was Basil’s introduction of what we know as the Gloria Patri: ‘Glory be to the Father, and do the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,’ which stirred no small controversy among those who denied the appropriateness of worshiping the Spirit.  It is not only a creedal rule that the Holy Spirit is to be ‘worshiped and glorified’ together with the Father and the Son; these liturgies lead us to invoke the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

However, in many churches today prayers and songs have been stripped of Trinitarian references that had in earlier generations been woven into the warp and woof of worship.  Not surprisingly, the result is often extemporaneous prayers that reflect our default setting of modalism.  Even in doctrinally orthodox circles, one hears prayers that are confusing, as if the persons of the Trinity were interchangeable – perhaps even the same person.  At least it seems that the person being addressed shifts back and forth without any specification.  Sometimes the Father is thanked for coming into the world to save us, for dying for our sins, for indwelling us, or as the one who will return again.  Very frequently, prayers conclude with ‘in your name, amen.’  In whose name?  Scripture teaches us to pray to the Father in the name of Christ: it is not the Father or the Spirit but the Son who is our mediator.

Some contemporary praise choruses reflect and reinforce this confusion of the persons, with praises directed to the Father for specific acts of the Son or to the Son for specific acts that the Scripture attributes to the Spirit, and so forth.  For example. in the popular chorus, ‘You Alone,’ believers are led to pray as if they were Arians: ‘You alone are Father / and You alone are good / You alone are Savior / and You alone are God.’

[However], worship songs are intended not merely to facilitate personal expression of one’s feelings, but to sing the truth deeply into our hearts: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ Paul exhorts, ‘teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (Col 3:16)….

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p. 23-24.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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One comment on “Modalism and Modern Worship (Horton)

  1. […] Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

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