Worship and Prayer
For Torrance, the relationship between the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and the Church’s worship is rooted in God’s covenant relationship with ancient Israel, wherein God required the people to walk before him and be perfect, while graciously providing them, in the cultic liturgy, the appointed way of response to his divine requirement. The prophets, insisting that this vicarious response be enacted by way of obedience into the life of Israel, pointed ahead to the servant of the Lord as the chosen instrument for its actualisation. The role of the servant of the Lord in fulfilment of the covenanted way of response is exactly what occurred throughout the whole course of the obedient life of the incarnate Son (Torrance, 1971:158). Torrance continues:
[Jesus Christ] fulfilled in Himself the Word of God tabernacling among men, the covenanted way of response to God set forth in the ancient cult, and constituted Himself our Temple, our Priest, our Offering and our Worship. It is therefore in His name only that we worship God, not in our own name, nor in our own significance but solely in the significance of Christ’s eternal self-oblation to the Father.
The cultic liturgy of Israel is now embodied in Jesus Christ. Throughout the entirety of his life, through death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus Christ fulfils the covenanted way of response by offering himself through the Spirit on our behalf, so that “he remains for ever our sole offering in deed and word with which we appear before God.” Like Israel of old, we draw near to God neither empty-handed nor through worshipful “self-expression” but only with “hands of faith filled with the self-oblation of Christ,” who, in his vicarious humanity, constitutes “the eloquent reality of our worship” (Torrance, 1971:158). Elsewhere (1992:87) Torrance writes:
Jesus Christ embodied in himself in a vicarious form the response of human beings to God, so that all their worship and prayer to God henceforth became grounded and centred in him. In short, Jesus Christ in his own self-oblation to the Father is our worship and prayer in an acutely personalised form, so that it is only through him and with him and in him that we may draw near to God with the hands of our faith filled with no other offering but that which he has made on our behalf and in our place once and for all. (emphasis in original)
In regard to worship and the vicarious humanity of the incarnate Son, “the whole of our worship and ministry reposes upon the substitutionary work of Christ.” By standing in our place, Jesus Christ substitutes his humanity for our humanity, so that we must deny ourselves and follow Christ (cf. Matt 16:24), displacing our own “centrality” by letting him take our place. From first to last, the ministry and worship of the Church is governed by the fact that Jesus Christ stands in our place as our substitute, so that our worship is displaced by his. Thus, when we appear before God, it is not in our own name, or by virtue of our own acts of confession, contrition, worship, and thanksgiving, but solely by virtue of what Christ has done in our place on our behalf (Torrance, 1960:243).
Following John McLeod Campbell, with whom he is clearly in agreement, Torrance (1976a:139, 140) describes worship as “a form of the life of Jesus Christ ascending to the Father in the life of those who are so intimately related to him through the Spirit, that when they pray to the Father through Christ, it is Christ the Incarnate Son who honours, worships and glorifies the Father in them.” Thus, while our worship of the Father through the priestly mediation of the Son is still the worship of the Church on earth, it is “essentially a participation in the heavenly worship beyond where Christ ever lives in the presence of the Father, for it is worship in the one Spirit by whom we have access through Christ to the Father . . .” Torrance’s younger brother James (J. Torrance, 1996:71) describes the human response of worship more simply: “[Worship is] the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and his mission from the Father to the world, in a life of wonderful communion.”
The relationship between the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and worship also applies to prayer, for worship and prayer are intimately connected in Torrance’s thought. In the fallen Adamic humanity Jesus assumed from the Virgin Mary, Jesus stands in for us, vicariously offering to the Father the perfect human response of prayer and worship we are unable to offer. The incarnate Son of God has stepped into the covenant relationship in order to bring “God and man and man and God” near to each other, even in worship and prayer. He stands in that place where we cry out to God and “makes himself our prayer,” not a prayer in word and act only, “but a prayer which he is in his own personal Being” (Torrance, 1992:87). Torrance continues:
Just as in Jesus Christ God addresses his word to us in such a way that he himself is wrapped up in his word in the form of personal being, so in Jesus Christ God has provided us with prayer that is identical with the personal self-offering and self-oblation of Jesus Christ to the Father on our behalf. It is as such that Jesus Christ stands in our place where we pray to the Father, so that from deep within our humanity, where he has united himself to us, and from out of it, assimilated to his own self-consecration to God, he prays: “Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. . . .”
When we pray, therefore, we rely solely on Christ’s prayer to the Father offered on our behalf. To turn away from our own prayer in order to rest in Jesus’ vicarious prayer for us is what it means to pray “in Christ’s name” (Torrance, 1976a:141). Because we are unable to pray as we ought, Jesus “puts his prayer . . . into our unclean mouth,” so that we may pray in, with, and through him to the Father and be received by the Father in him. Citing an old hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling,” Torrance notes that we do not come to the Father in our own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, taking refuge solely in his atoning sacrifice (Torrance, 1992:88). He continues:
In worship and prayer Jesus Christ acts in our place and on our behalf in both a representative and substitutionary way so that what he does in our stead is nevertheless effected as our very own, issuing freely and spontaneously out of ourselves. Through his incarnational and atoning union Jesus Christ has united himself with us in such a reconciling and sanctifying way that he interpenetrates and gathers up all our faltering, unclean worship and prayer into himself, assimilates them to his one self-oblation to God, so that when he presents himself as the worship and prayer of all creation, our worship and prayer are presented there also.
Torrance (1992:88, 89) sums up the vicarious nature of Jesus’ prayer with poignant reference to his own private devotion:
At the end of the day when I kneel down and say my evening prayer, I know that no prayer of my own that I can offer to the heavenly Father is worthy of him or of power to avail with him, but all my prayer is made in the name of Jesus Christ alone as I rest in his vicarious prayer. It is then with utter peace and joy that I take into my mouth the Lord’s Prayer which I am invited to pray through Jesus Christ, with him and in him, to God the Father, for in that prayer my poor, faltering, sinful prayer is not allowed to fall to the ground but is gathered up and presented to the Father in holy and eternally prevailing form.
Noting that the Father has promised to send the “Spirit of the Son,” mediated to us through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, Torrance is assured that when he cries, “Abba, Father,” he is, despite his own infirmities, caught up in the “inarticulate intercession” of the eternal Spirit of the Father and the Son, from whose love nothing in heaven and earth can separate him (Torrance, 1992:89).
In regard to worship and prayer, Torrance clearly sets force the Pauline principle, “I, yet not I but Christ.” Because we are inseparably united with Jesus Christ in his incarnational assumption of our humanity, we are gathered up in him, so that we may pray and worship as we could not do otherwise. When the Father accepts us in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, there is no distinction between Jesus’ prayer and our prayers, for they are “one and the same,” “wholly his and wholly ours.” As Torrance argues, we can adapt Galatians 2:20 to our prayers and worship and rightly say, “We pray, and yet it is not we who pray but Christ who prays for us and in us; and the prayers which we now offer in the flesh, we offer by the faithfulness of the one who loved us and offered himself for us.” In all our prayer and worship, whether formal or informal, we come before God in such a way that Jesus Christ takes our place, replacing our offering with his own, “for he is the vicarious worship and prayer with which we respond to the love of the Father” (Torrance, 1992:88; J. Torrance, 1996:89).
Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ has profound implications for the Church’s worship, for our doctrine of God determines our understanding of worship and prayer (J. Torrance, 1996:71, 72). Throughout his life and work, Torrance sought to recover a Christ-centred, trinitarian worship for the Church, one that is evangelical, orthodox, and catholic (Newell, 2008:49). Torrance argues that over the course of time an over-reaction to adoptionism and Arianism caused the Church to focus on the “perfect deity” of Christ, with a consequent emphasis on his divine priesthood. As the Church in both the East and the West lost sight of the saving significance of Jesus’ humanity and his human priesthood, a “liturgical Apollinarianism” arose, as evidenced in the hymnody that praises the exalted Christ, rather than the human Suffering Servant who assumed our poverty. As the humanity of the incarnate Son was obscured by the emphasis on his divine nature, not only did the veneration of the human saints arise, but a powerful “substitute priesthood” began to mediate between God and man in the place of Jesus Christ. Torrance rightly calls the Church to recover an emphasis on the incarnation as God coming “as” man, as a “human” priest who vicariously does for us what we are unable to do for ourselves (Torrance, 1976a:185ff; cf. Newell, 2008:49ff).
Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and his substitutionary and representative role in both worship and ministry brings a much-needed critique to all forms of sacerdotalism, whether Roman Catholic or even Protestant. Against Roman sacerdotalism, Torrance rightly asserts only Jesus Christ is Priest; only Jesus represents humanity; only Jesus presents our prayers before God; only Jesus brings an offering with which the Father is well-pleased. To be sure, no one stands between God and man but Jesus Christ, who, in his incarnate constitution of divine and human natures, is the only Mediator. Against what he calls “Protestant sacerdotalism,” Torrance adds a timely critique of the personality-cult of much contemporary Evangelicalism. He accurately notes that in much modern Protestantism, the whole worship and life of the Church revolve around the personality of the minister. He or she is the one who stands at the centre of worship, offering the prayers of the congregation, and mediating between the people and God by conducting worship entirely on his or her own. Consequently, the humanity of Jesus Christ is displaced by the humanity of the charismatic leader, who obscures the person of Christ by his or her own personality. Against all forms of sacerdotalism, including any ministry that displaces Jesus Christ as its centre, Torrance cogently argues that Jesus Christ must be given his rightful place as “the Head and Lord of the Church, as its sole Prophet and Priest and King” by “being set right in the centre” of the worship, ministry, and life of the congregation “as the Body of Christ alone” (Torrance, 1960:244-246; cf. 1976a:206).
Newell, R. J. 2008. Apollinarianism in Worship Revisited: Torrance’s Contribution to the Renewal of Reformed Worship. Princeton Theological Review, vol XIV, no 2, issue 39, pp. 49-63.
Torrance, T.F. 1960. Justification: Its Radical Nature and Place in Reformed Doctrine and Life. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 13, pp. 225-246. Also available in Torrance (1996b:150-168).
Torrance, T.F. 1971. God and Rationality. London: OUP. 216 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1976a. Theology in Reconciliation: Essays toward Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 302 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.