Reformed writer Robert Letham speaks of the functional Unitarianism of Reformed worship. Of course he doesn’t call it that, but that is what it is. What is the old saying? Lex ordandi…? In considering and trying to remedy the lack of invocation and plain old mention of the Trinity in Reformed worship (deformed worship?) he doesn’t seem to stop and ask why it is that way in the first place. It might have something to do with how Protestant debates over the Trinity shaped their understanding.
In one of the chapters of my book, The Holy Trinity, I describe at some length how the worship of the Western Church has been truncated by the comparative neglect of the doctrine of the Trinity. For most Christians-and I include members of Reformed churches-the Trinity is merely an abstruse mathematical puzzle, remote from experience. Despite our reservations about many aspects of the Eastern Church, Orthodoxy in contrast has maintained a pronounced Trinitarian focus to its worship through its liturgy, which has roots in the fourth century. This is no incidental matter; worship is right at the heart of what it means to be Christian and what the church should be doing. The sole object of worship is God. The God whom we worship has revealed himself to be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in indivisible union. I have argued elsewhere that this is his New Covenant name (Matt. 28:19-20). It follows that our worship in the Christian church is to be distinctively Trinitarian. Yet if we were to thumb through any hymnbook, we would be hard pressed to find many hymns that contain clearly Trinitarian expressions, while many of our favorites could equally be sung by Unitarians-think of “Immortal, invisible” or “My God, how wonderful thou art.” As for the average person in the pew, why not try a random survey next Sunday-ask a haphazard selection of half a dozen people what the Trinity means to them on a daily basis, and see what results you get? Then compare your findings with the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, who wrote of “my Trinity” and “when I say God, I mean the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
If this problem is as real as is generally recognized but yet as important as I have presented it, how do we go about seeking to redress it? There are no easy, slick solutions. This is not a matter to be resolved by a quick twelve-step program or in an adult Sunday school class. It will take much thought, careful teaching, and a concerted plan to put right what has for so long been askew-since I argue this has been a problem for centuries, with notable exceptions, at least since Aquinas. What is needed is to instill in our congregations a mindset directed, as of second nature, to think of God as triune. From there will come ripple effects on the way we think of the world around us, and of the people with whom we mix. What we need is to develop a thoroughly Christian view of God, the world, the church, ourselves, and others.